Once again into the breech... oh, wait, wrong story... or is it? Anyway, Here I am again, with yet another story. I've bee
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Too bad he couldn't just shoot them and put them out of his misery.
He listened (yet again) to their proposal. It was actually a pretty good deal, but he simply did not like the people involved. As the boss, he could allow those small prejudices a bit of free rein. Now, if only they'd shut up and let him leave....
"So, you see, Mr. Straker, we'd really like to film in the beautiful English countryside, I understand you're not far outside London?"
"Yes." One of the things he really disliked was that they wouldn't maintain eye contact. Perhaps that was why he was going to turn them down, he simply didn't trust them. Not that he was paranoid, mind you; well, no more paranoid than any other general leading a war; and his war was the most secret one of all time. He wondered, occasionally, what some of these people might think if he could actually tell them about it. His lips twitched into an almost-smile, which made the negotiators think he was about to agree with their proposal.
"So, what do you think?"
His attention returned to them and any sign of softness disappeared. "I'm afraid I'll have to decline, gentlemen."
They actually looked shocked. "But, why?" one of them whined... another point against them.
Straker stared. "I don't like you," came the simple reply. The three men exchanged shocked looks. No one had ever just come right out and said anything like that to them before, but instead of accepting it, they tried to argue. Straker shook his head, stood up, and turned to leave. This was certainly a wasted trip...
They were just movie people and he'd let his guard down. He only realized his danger when it was too late, turning back just in time to see all three coming at him. With no room to maneuver and not wanting to actually pull his gun, he was swiftly tackled and then someone hit him with something hard, which made his ears ring and his vision dim. He never saw the second blow coming.
The three men stared down at the unconscious man. "Shit. Now what do we do?"
"It's his word against ours. We'll just sneak him out and dump him in an alley somewhere. Nobody needs to know a thing about it."
"Right. He'll call up his security people and they'll just come and take us out, instead," countered one of the partners.
The third smiled. "I got an idea." The other two looked at him expectantly. "Let's take him to the party."
First they frowned and then, slowly, smiles spread across their faces.
"You got the roofies?"
"More than enough." So it was decided.
When Ed Straker regained consciousness, he was startled to find himself on some kind of platform, spread-eagle, and naked. His pulse and headache pounded in time to the music that was much too loud. Glancing around, he realized he seemed to be the focus of a number of also-naked men. Somehow, that fact was not reassuring, particularly after he realized he was restrained. He tried to move, but the hands holding him down, tightened.
"Hey, he's awake! Time to Par-tee!"
The touch of stranger's hands on his body made him begin to struggle violently. There were too many and they already had him at a disadvantage, but he struggled anyway. Their touch made his skin crawl and his mind wanted to scream, but he clenched his teeth and continued to struggle. He managed to bite one of the men holding him, who cursed and let go, long enough for him to get that hand free and swing on the man holding his other arm. There was laughter and several more came to restrain him.
"Let me go!" he demanded, to their amusement. The first one, who applied lube, made him struggle all the harder, but to no avail. For the most part, he struggled in silence, but when a heavy weight pressed him down and the excruciating pain filled him, he grunted and his struggles took on a sense of panic.
The fifth one finally made him scream.
The call came in at 0245. It wasn't the first time they'd had to break up a 'party' at that address, but it didn't do to take chances. Their sergeant met them with a couple more units for backup. Approaching the front door, they were about to knock when they heard the screams. Glancing at one another, the sergeant tried the door and found it unlocked. Entering, they froze at the sight before them. They'd heard of such things, but had never actually seen one. The victim was hemorrhaging badly and his attackers were laughing. While the sergeant called for an ambulance, the six officers went to work.
It's rather hard to run away when you have no clothes on.
From the way they'd all seen him restrained, it was obvious to the cops that the victim had not been a willing participant. From the bruises all over his body, it was equally obvious that he'd put up a tremendous fight, and had lost. Finding a tablecloth, the sergeant covered the injured man and directed his officers, as well as assisting them as they struggled with the participants.
At first, no one noticed that the victim had regained consciousness, not until one of the partygoers shrieked. Turning, the sergeant was startled to discover their victim, with an enraged, feral look on his face, holding the blood-coated genitals of one of his attackers. They were no longer attached to their owner's body. The man dropped them and grabbed two other men by the privates. They both began screaming and the sergeant went to rescue them. Knowing what they had done, he was just a bit reluctant, but he had his duty, even to the criminals.
Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he spun, prepared to defend himself. He frowned, recognizing the uniform of a police officer. He raised his eyes to the man's face and allowed him to guide him to a chair. He couldn't sit, though, it was too painful. He had a sudden, blinding headache and closed his eyes, pressing the backs of his hands to his eyes as he groaned.
The sergeant caught the victim as he passed out. Whether it was due to shock from the loss of blood, he had no idea, but he covered him again and when the paramedics arrived, directed them to take care of the victim first, before they went near the three men the victim had attacked.
Considering the three in question had the victim's blood on them, and where; he considered, just for a moment, to deny them aid, but since one was bleeding to death, changed his mind and called one of the paramedics over to help the man. The other two were in only slightly better shape. The victim obviously had very strong hands. He wasn't looking forward to the report on this one, but there was plenty of evidence. The DA was going to love this.
When they discovered the Ropanyl, he called the hospital to test the victim for it. It was no surprise that the man had been heavily dosed with the date-rape drug, as well as several other 'recreational' substances.
His lower back ached abominably, even more than his head did. His stomach roiled and he wondered if he was going to vomit, but managed to swallow the bile that threatened. He recognized the smells and sounds of a hospital and wondered what had happened? He cracked his eyes open, closing them again immediately. The bright lights of the hospital room hurt. Squinting, he tried again. He glanced around the room, frowning. What the hell had happened? Cataloguing his hurts, he still couldn't figure out what could have occurred. Surely he hadn't had a car wreck? He tried to move and found himself restrained. That set him back. His heart started pounding and he had to force himself not to hyperventilate. When the door opened, he stared at the nurse who entered. When she saw he was awake, she smiled.
"Welcome back. How are you feeling?"
"Why am I restrained?" He lifted his hands the full two inches he was able to.
"Sorry, but you were rather belligerent when they brought you in. Do you remember what happened to you?"
"No. Take off the restraints," he demanded, glaring at her.
She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. "Not until the doctor says so."
"Get him. Now."
She smirked. "He'll be by in about an hour. He's in the middle of rounds at the moment, so you'll just have to wait your turn."
His face burned in furious embarrassment. "Let. Me. Go."
"I'm sorry, but...." She was interrupted by the entrance of the doctor, who frowned at her.
"Turn him loose," the doctor said. He'd heard what was going on. He was surprised the entire hospital hadn't heard. He made a note to have her removed from his floor, not liking her attitude.
The nurse, a surly expression on her face, did as instructed.
"You may go, nurse," the doctor informed her. "Don't come back," he added. She threw her shoulders back, lifted her chin in the air and marched out. If it were possible, she'd have slammed the door.
"My apologies. First off, we didn't find any ID, so we need to know who you are."
That explained why no one was here with him. "Edward Straker."
The doctor wrote it down. "Is there anyone we can contact for you?"
"Yes. Alec Freeman, but he's in England."
The doctor blinked in surprise. "England?"
"Yes. That's where I live. I was here on business...." He trailed off, wondering what exactly had happened. "For some reason, I have no idea what happened." He looked expectantly at the doctor, who frowned and looked at his chart.
Seeing what was in the tox screen, he nodded. "You were drugged with Ropanyl, I'm afraid. You probably won't remember much. How are you feeling?"
He thought about it. "Thirsty, my lower back aches, and...." He trailed off uncertain of his cataloguing.
The doctor nodded. "I'm sorry. There was some extensive tearing. According to the police, it was forcible."
Straker frowned. It wasn't registering. He knew what the doctor was saying, but it wasn't quite real, despite the pain. All he felt now was rage. "Police?"
"Yes. They want to talk to you. They got a call for an overly loud party and when they arrived, well." He hesitated a moment and then repeated what he'd heard. "They heard you scream and went in without knocking. Lucky for you, I suppose."
Lucky. He closed his eyes and tried to force himself to relax into the pillow. Lucky? Not hardly. He tried tracing his movements from the time he'd arrived, wondering when he'd lost track. "How long have I been here?"
"Two days. You were brought in the night before last."
"I suppose the police are waiting to speak with me?"
"Yes. I can put them off for another day if you'd like."
"No. No, that's all right. I'd just as soon get it all over with. Can I call out long distance from here?"
The doctor frowned, wondering about the man's seeming indifference and made a note on the chart. "Certainly." He lifted the phone and got him an outside line.
You know you travel too much when you know multiple international phone numbers without having to look them up. He barely glanced at the numbers as he pressed the buttons. The phone was picked up on the first ring.
"Hello, Miss Ealand. Is Mr. Freeman about?" He only had to wait a moment before his friend and second in command was on the line.
"Where the devil did you get off to?" the angry voice of Alec Freeman bellowed.
"Good to hear your voice, too, Alec." He almost smirked, but was feeling too sore and tired to bother. "I'm afraid I'm in hospital," he began, only to be interrupted.
"You're WHERE?" Almost didn't need a phone for that particular exchange.
"You heard me. I'm still trying to remember what happened, and the police will no doubt be by ere long so I may have more when you get here. Meanwhile, I'm still alive and once again conscious."
"How bad is it?" Alec didn't try to disguise the worry in his voice.
"I'm a bit beat up, but that's nothing new, now is it."
There was a dry chuckle, which cheered Straker no end. "All right. I'm on my way. You know, one of these days, you're going to go on one of these 'simple' business trips and actually come away without any injuries."
Ed snickered. "And the day that happens, I'll get home and fall and break my neck."
"Nah, just your sense of humor."
Ed was smiling, now. "I was under the impression that I didn't have one?"
"Then maybe a good fall will knock one into you," Alec joked. "Let me speak to your doctor, please?"
He had known that this was coming, so he simply held the phone out to the doctor, who had been taking his blood pressure while he waited. "He wants to talk to you," Ed informed him. "Don't be surprised by the third degree," he warned.
"Yes, this is Dr. Tracy."
Ed didn't bother to listen and turned his attention back to trying to remember what the hell had happened. He was asleep by the time the doctor had finished filling Alec in.
He looked down at his patient, looked at the bruises on his body, the bruises on his hands from defending himself and had to remember that this man had managed to kill one of his assailants in a most horrible fashion. Not to mention ruined two other of his attackers. Not that he blamed the man. He imagined he'd have done something similar, if he could. Of course, his friends would never resort to force, thankfully. He finished his examination on the now sleeping patient, made some more notes on the chart, and left.
When he next awoke, he was unsurprised to see what could only be a police officer. He didn't bother to try sitting up, merely looked at her and waited.
She was reading his chart. Glancing up, she realized he'd awakened and was looking at her. She smiled a bit ruefully and put the chart back. "I'm Detective Li," she informed him. "Feel up to answering some questions?" She had already placed a chair by the bed and came around to sit in it.
"I can try," Straker agreed.
She nodded. It was odd, interviewing a man. Not that it didn't happen, but it didn't usually come to charges and interviews. However, this time, there were seven cops who witnessed it. The ending, at least. Best to just get on with it. "Name?"
"I live just outside London." He gave the address. "By the way, did you find my wallet and briefcase?" He wondered if he should mention his gun?
"Yes." She frowned at him. "Along with your pistol and clothing."
"I have a permit," he replied, inordinately relieved at the news.
"I saw it. I can't give you back your gun until you're released from the hospital. Then you can come downtown and pick it up, if you wish."
"I've someone coming. He'll pick it up."
She blinked. "You have someone coming from England?"
She frowned. "You must be very rich," she murmured, glancing down at the report they'd gotten when they queried their system on him. Ran a movie studio in England, ex-Air Force, ex-Intelligence ops. Tough man, from the report. She glanced at him. He didn't look like a movie guy to her. He was too... too hard, too... controlled. Now, a spy, she could accept. He looked like a spy, or like some of the cops she knew, or maybe a soldier, but a movie producer? Hardly.
"The company pays for it." He didn't understand why he was so tired all the time. Perhaps he was more seriously injured than he thought? He sighed, wishing the detective would just get on with it.
"Sorry. You just don't look much like a movie mogul," she said softly.
His eyebrows raised in mocking query. "And what is a movie mogul supposed to look like?"
"Overweight/underweight. Too tall, too short, just right. Soft in the middle or has a 'hard body' from working out with a personal trainer... do you have a personal trainer?"
He smiled. "Sort of. Alec generally gets me down to the gym a few times a week for handball or something."
"You don't lift weights?"
"Not generally. I prefer more pleasurable pursuits."
She nodded. "Of course. Elbow bending exercises and the casting couch, no doubt."
"I don't drink."
That one surprised her. She looked at him. "You don't?"
"Don't like the feeling it gives me, being out of control. So I don't drink."
"So you have other vices, no doubt?"
"I smoke. Cigarillos, mostly. Drink too much coffee. Work too much. I have my vices."
He hadn't mentioned the casting couch. "Lots of women, no doubt."
"None, actually. I haven't the time nor the inclination at this time in my life."
She frowned. "Do you prefer men?"
That was emphatic. She nodded. "So, what do you remember?"
He sighed. Closing his eyes, he thought back. "I arrived on Monday, just around 0800. My first meeting was at 1030, followed by a very boring luncheon, followed by another meeting. Tuesday, I had three meetings in the morning, followed by a pitch in the afternoon." He frowned, "What's today?"
"I missed another day?"
She shrugged. "I guess. They said you awoke yesterday, but then went back to sleep. You just now woke up again."
"Damn." He wondered where Alec was? He should have been here by now. Unless.... His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a nurse trying desperately to keep someone from barging in.
"I'm sorry, sir, you're not allowed..."
"Ed! Call this woman off, will you?"
Alec. Ed relaxed. Everything was going to be fine, now. "It's all right, nurse. He's my 'who to call in case of'." The nurse gave up, causing Alec to stumble a bit coming in. He straightened up and glared, first at the nurse, then at the woman talking to his boss. Ed glared right back at him. "What took you so long?"
"Sorry, had some incoming," Alec replied. His words conveyed precisely what was needed. Straker nodded his understanding and he was able to relax. Alec was here. Alec would take care of everything.
"Alec, this is Detective Li. Detective, this is my second, Alec Freeman."
She smiled up at him. A bigger man than Straker, but softer, as well. Not so much physically, she observed, but personality-wise. "I'm getting the information needed for my report," she announced.
"Good. I'm not too late, then," Freeman smiled at her ingratiatingly. "Hope he's not being too difficult?"
"No. Not at all." She turned back to Ed. "So, Tuesday afternoon?"
"I'd gone to listen to a pitch for a movie. The premise was okay, but not really promising. I remember they bothered me. There were three of them pitching the project." He looked up at Alec, knowing he'd understand. "No eye contact. Didn't like them, and I turned them down." He thought for a moment. "I don't remember anything after that, I'm afraid." He frowned. "I should, though." He closed his eyes trying to figure out what had happened next, but there was a blank. He shook his head. "I don't recall," he admitted, his frown turning into a scowl.
"What were the names of these people?" Detective Li asked softly, so as not to alarm him.
"Uh, Carter, Willets, and..." He paused for a moment more, trying to remember.
"Jeffers," Alec supplied.
Ed nodded. "Jeffers." He looked at the detective. "So, tell me what happened, and why don't I remember it?"
"Well, from what we can piece together, according to Willets and Carter at any rate; they were a bit upset - their words, not mine - that you had turned them down flat. Supposedly, Jeffers attacked you and knocked you unconscious. Then, they decided to dope you up and take you to their party."
"Party?" Alec asked, his rage building. He hadn't been told everything, only what had happened to Ed, and this was just pissing him off.
Detective Li shrugged. "That's what they called it. They doped Mr. Straker with Ropanyl and a few other little fun things. Since you don't use drugs, Mr. Straker, they basically overdosed you on everything. You're actually lucky to be alive."
Ed nodded. "Is that why I keep falling asleep and losing days?"
She smiled at him. "Probably. What's the next thing you remember?"
"Waking up here."
"You don't remember being rescued?"
She sighed. He didn't remember. Probably never would. The drug cocktail they'd given him would no doubt see to that. It also meant, fortunately, that he wouldn't remember what had happened to him, as well. That might be a good thing. She knew that it would have been a good thing for her, but she hadn't been quite as lucky. She stood. "Thank you for your time. If you think of anything else, here's my card. You can call and leave a message if I'm not there."
"What happened to Jeffers?" Straker asked softly.
She was almost to the door and she stopped. Turning to look at him, she wondered... but then she simply told him. "You killed him." She watched him as he frowned, trying hard to remember.
"I did? How?"
She shook her head. "I don't know if you'd want to know that, Mr. Straker."
"Want? Not necessarily. Need? I think I do. Please. Tell me what happened?"
She glanced at Alec, who was leaning against the wall beside Straker's bed, watching her closely. She sighed. "You ripped his genitals off with your bare hands." Alec paled and turned a little green. Straker just stared at her, judging her veracity. Finally he nodded.
She shook her head, feeling suddenly afraid of this man. He showed no emotion whatsoever. "Thank you for talking to me. Like I said, if you remember anything else, give me a call?"
She glanced at Alec, who was staring at his boss like he'd grown another head. Shrugging slightly, Detective Li left.
"Damn," Alec whispered.
"I imagine I was a bit annoyed with them," Straker said musingly.
"A bit annoyed? Ed...."
Straker continued as though he hadn't heard. "I don't know whether to be pleased or annoyed that I can't remember, though." He sighed. "Dr. Jackson's going to have a field day with this one, I'm afraid."
"Ed." When he had his attention, Alec continued. "To hell with Dr. Jackson. How are you feeling?"
"Tired, still. I'll probably be falling back asleep any time, now." He frowned. "I don't like it, Alec. I should be able to stay awake for more than an hour or two, wouldn't you think?"
"I'll check with the doctor, all right?"
"Thanks." Straker leaned back into his pillows and tried to think of more pleasant things. Within moments, he was asleep. Alec frowned down at his friend, then shrugged and went in search of some answers. He'd decide after hearing them whether or not to share the information with his boss.
"Well? What do you think?"
She sat before him, scowling. "Who is this guy, an apprentice of Mengele's?" she asked.
He frowned. "What do you mean?"
She sighed. He really didn't know. "You sent me this report for review, right?"
"Right. Is he a security risk or not?"
"Based on this report? Yes." She watched his eyes glint strangely and continued. "Is it his fault? No. This Dr. Jackson of yours is doing his damnedest to destroy this man," she announced with irate finality.
That stopped him. "What?"
"Oh, please. Didn't you ever have to take a psych course?" she snapped at him.
"Not in years. What are you talking about?"
"This doctor," she tapped the report, "Has been practicing isolation on this man. They did a study many years ago, using newborn babies. Some got lots of love and attention, others got none or minimal. The ones denied physical contact tended to be sickly and many of them died. The term 'failure to thrive' was coined from that study."
"What's that got to do with this?"
"Humans need physical contact with other humans. This man hasn't had any in over a decade. Of course he's volatile. Of course he's manic. I'm surprised he hasn't lost control by now. He's a human being, with all the same needs other humans require. If it were up to me, your doctor would be in a sensory deprivation tank for a month or so to see how he likes it." She didn't add that she'd like to do the same to him for allowing this to go on.
He frowned. He'd had no idea... "You're saying that his erratic behavior is due to a lack of being touched?" He still didn't quite believe that.
She looked at him. "Everyone needs human touch. Some subsume their need in other ways, gluttons, for example, with food," she gave his girth a pointed glare. "Or those old ladies with a zillion cats. Others throw themselves into their work until they die of a coronary or go completely insane. A lot of them commit suicide. Is that what you're hoping for? That he kills himself?"
That shocked him. "No!" he protested immediately. "Certainly not!" He frowned, wracking his brain for what to do about it. Finally he gave up and simply asked her. "So, what do we do about it? How do we fix it?"
"We?" She laughed. It was a nasty little laugh that sent shivers up and down his spine. "There's not much you can do, now. It may already be too late."
That stopped him again. His breath caught and he realized that he might have made an enormous mistake. Not in calling her in, but with Jackson. "He's needed. Isn't there anything you can do?"
She heard the worry and concern in his voice. He didn't like the man in the report, but he also realized that he needed him, as well. She sighed. "I'll need to see him," she finally said. "I can't promise anything. The report says he has only one real friend. Tell me about him?"
"Colonel Freeman's an Australian, second in command. They've been friends for years. He tends to watch out for Straker, take care of him when necessary." He shrugged. He had no idea how their friendship worked.
She shook her head. "Sexual preference for both men?"
"Hetero. Freeman's quite the ladies' man."
"No one. That's the whole point, isn't it? Basically, he just needs to get laid a bit more often, right?"
She glared at this insensitive jerk. "No. What he needs is someone he can trust. Someone he can talk freely to, who will give him a hug now and then," she growled. She shook her head. "You're hopeless, you know that?" She stood.
"Wait, where are you going?"
"You're going to just walk away from this?"
She glared at him again. "What's the point? You wanted me to declare him incompetent and unable to do his job. I gave you that. Of course, you did it to him, so I hope you're happy with what you've done. Personally, I feel sorry for him."
"You don't know him."
She shook her head. "I don't need to."
"He's impossible. It's like trying to pet a porcupine."
She smiled. "I had a pet porcupine, once. They're really quite sweet, as long as you're careful." She turned back to the door and got it open.
She looked back again, waiting.
"What do you want?"
"Jackson far away from him, with no access."
"Free rein to do as I deem necessary."
"Providing it doesn't break security."
"Done, then. Anything else?"
"Yes." She turned back and approached his desk. She pressed her hands on the top of it and leaned towards him, deliberately invading his space. "You keep your filthy hands off of him and let him do his job. No more monkeying with his work, his life, his friends. He's given everything to this organization and deserves as much peace as he can find."
He stared at her and finally nodded. "Done." He watched her as she straightened up. "What are you going to do?"
She sighed. "I'm going to go and see Alec Freeman, first. I need to enlist his assistance if this is going to work."
"If you must."
"I insist. As the only one he trusts, his part will be pivotal in Straker's recovery. They're in England, now?"
"Freeman may be. Straker's in California."
She sighed. "I want to talk to Freeman. Get me a number. If I need to travel, it's coming out of your budget, not theirs, understand?"
He scowled, but seeing the implacable expression on her face, finally nodded. "Understood."
Four hours later, back in her hotel room, she got the report. She was furious. From the date, the old bastard had had it with him when she'd been there earlier. Fuming, she called him up, planning on reaming him a new one, only to be told that he'd gone on a short holiday. Oh, yes, run and hide, leaving her to clean up his mess. Snatching up the phone, she called and made arrangements to fly to California.
Once her travel arrangements had been made, she called the number she'd been given for Alec Freeman's cell phone. It rang half a dozen times before it was finally answered.
"Colonel, my name is Lewis. General Henderson gave me your number."
Alec glanced over at the sleeping Ed. Frowning, he stepped outside to speak to her. "Yes? What's this about?"
"It seems that your Doctor Jackson's been doing some authorized but highly suspect experiments on your boss."
Alec paled. "What kind of experiments?"
"Not very nice ones, naturally. I've got him put on ice, so to speak, but the damage may already be too far advanced. I need your help."
"How do I know I can trust you?"
She smiled. "You don't, of course. I'm surely suspect just because of where I came from. Look, I'll be flying into Edwards early in the morning. Is there any way you can meet me and we can discuss this?"
Alec thought about it. He didn't really want to leave Ed alone, but this sounded like it could be important. "What time?"
"I'll be there."
"Thank you. I have the report on his current condition. How does he seem to you?"
"He's sleeping too much. I'd suspect he was drugged, but I'm not sure."
"Keep an eye on him and everyone who comes in, will you? If they give him something, let me know what it is when I get there?"
"All right. What am I looking for?"
"Sedatives, anti-depressants and the like. Just keep him quiet and it should be all right." She thought a moment. "Don't leave him alone any more than you have to?"
Now that Alec could readily agree to. "Done. I'll see you in the morning, then."
"Yes, thank you."
After she hung up, she packed her bag and called for transport to the air base. She hated long boring flights, particularly military, but this was the fastest way there...and Henderson was paying for it. If she had her way, he'd be paying a great deal more before she was through. She sent copies of all her documents on the case to her safe-drop, knowing that they couldn't possibly find it. Then she went downstairs to await the limo that would take her to her plane.
She spent most of the flight sleeping, or rather trying to sleep. She was rumpled and travel-weary when they landed, but she didn't have a lot of time to waste. Col. Freeman was waiting for her as promised. He insisted on carrying her bags for her. He even held her door for her, as well. Her impression of him went up a notch. Henderson might call him a womanizer, but he was a gentleman, as well. She slid gratefully into the seat and fastened her seatbelt. Sighing, she leaned back and rested her head against the back of the seat.
She glanced over as Alec got behind the wheel. He glanced at her, wondering just what was going on. "So, what's this all about?" he asked.
"Is there somewhere safe to talk?"
He frowned. "Here is good. Car's one of ours. Scanned daily for vermin."
She smiled. "Good. Let's get off base and park somewhere. I've something to show you."
His frown turned into a scowl, but he did as she told him. Once off the base and part way back to LA, he pulled off at a rest stop. Turning to look at her, he realized she'd fallen asleep. He parked and shut off the motor. Gently touching her arm, he awoke her. "So, what's going on?"
She stretched, surprised she'd dozed off and grateful he hadn't turned out to be someone who had to talk to fill all the silences. She dug in her briefcase and handed him a copy of the report she'd presented to General Henderson. "Read this, then ask any questions you want. I'll answer them."
He took the report, a dubious expression on his face. He turned on the dome light and began to read. First he frowned, then scowled, and by the time he was finished, he was shaking with fury. "What the hell are they playing at!" he demanded.
She shook her head. "I don't know. Henderson authorized it, originally. I think he began to suspect it wasn't quite what he'd been led to believe. He may not like the Commander, but he knows that SHADO needs him. I'm afraid I rather bullied him into allowing me to come and see if there's any way to counteract what's happened."
Alec leaned back in his seat, his head pressing against the headrest. "Damn them. Damn them all to hell!" His hands tightened into fists, crumpling the report. Realizing what he'd done, he stopped himself and handed it back to her. "Sorry."
"Don't be. You have every reason to be angry. I was furious, and I've never even met the Commander."
Alec was trembling. "You have any idea how long it's been since anyone's bothered to touch him?"
He frowned and looked at her. "What do you mean?" he asked, annoyed.
She smiled. "Human touch is not limited to sex, Colonel. It includes a pat on the back, the touch on a shoulder or arm. Any physical contact counts. You touch him, don't you?" He nodded, still frowning. "Then it may not be hopeless, yet. When was the last time someone gave him a hug, do you have any idea?"
He had to wrack his brain for any kind of an answer. "That would have been when he granted permission for two of the Moonbase crew to marry. Three years ago. For sure, that is. Perhaps Ms Ealand would know of something more recent."
She shook her head. "Well, it's something, at least. How is he, by the way? I got the report on what happened," she added by way of explanation.
"He's spending too much time sleeping. He'd normally be yelling to be released, but he's not. He's just sleeping a lot. Has no memory of the attack, thank God, and is just generally lethargic."
"Not acting like himself, then, right?"
"Right," Alec agreed. He looked at her. She wasn't beautiful, but there was a quiet inner beauty that shown out. He wondered what she was going to do. "So, now what?"
"Let's go to the hospital and see him?"
He nodded and started the car. She fell back asleep for most of the two-hour drive back. Instead of getting her checked into the hotel, he drove straight to the hospital. She left almost everything in the car, not needing it. She followed him up the stairs and into the private room where Straker lay.
She frowned to see him restrained. Before she could ask why, a nurse bustled in and tried to make them leave. She became belligerent and faced the nurse down, with Alec providing backup. Between her attitude and his looming, scowling presence, the nurse turned and left to go find a doctor to back her up.
The first thing she did was to remove the restraints. His wrists were raw where he'd struggled against them. At least he wasn't bleeding, although there would be painful welts from them. He remained unconscious even as she freed him. As soon as the restraints were gone, however, he turned onto his side, drawing his legs up into a semi-fetal position. She tried to smooth his hair back, but he flinched, even though still asleep. She frowned. He should be awake, now. She gently shook his shoulder.
"Mr. Straker?" She shook his shoulder harder. Then she checked his pupils and found them to be mere pinpoints. That meant he'd been given something. Or perhaps it was residual from the drugs his assailants had given him. But for them to still be working four days later? Not very likely. She shook him again. "Mr. Straker?" Still no response. She shook her head and turned to the worried looking Alec. "See if you can rouse him, please?"
Alec sat in the chair by the bed and gently touched Ed's shoulder. "Ed? Come on, now. Wake up. Ed? Come on. Wakey wakey. Someone's here to see you."
Ed's eyes opened lazily and he frowned at Alec. "Wha?"
Alec smiled as he glanced at the woman, whom he abruptly realized he didn't know. Just a single name: Lewis. His smile turned to a frown.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Straker?" she asked, him.
"Fine. Who are you?" His voice was sleepy.
"Doctor Louise Lewis," she announced and waited for the inevitable joke.
"Didn't know anyone named their daughters that any more," he murmured sleepily.
That was a pleasant change from the norm. Usually someone would make a crack about Louie-Louie. She glanced at Alec, who just met her gaze head on with no expression. She smiled. "I was born before that idiot film Thelma and Louise. Thank God my parents didn't name me Thelma."
Alec snickered and Ed smiled. "'M tired," Ed announced and closed his eyes. She scowled and straightened up. Going to his chart, she read it, searching for the reason he'd been restrained and to see if he'd been given anything to make him sleep. There was nothing listed and she muttered angrily.
Looking at Alec, who just watched her, she shook her head. "Something's not kosher, here. Do me a favor and see if by some miracle Dr. Jackson's around?" That got a reaction. With a scowl of his own, Alec headed out to search the hospital staff. She sat near Straker and watched him sleep. She noted how pale he looked. Not the kind of pale that comes from not ever being outside, but the kind of pale brought on by sickness or injury. The livid bruises on every bit of skin that showed bothered her. Some of them seemed much more recent than four days old. She wondered if he was anemic? She stood and picked up his chart to read through again and decided that it was a fair possibility, and not a good one.
She was leaning against the wall behind the door when it opened and a nurse came in. She never saw her standing there and approached the bed with a syringe. Louise watched her, frowning. As the nurse pulled the covers down to expose his buttocks, Louise moved. The nurse caught the movement and jumped, the syringe jabbing Straker. She tried to push the plunger, but Louise was on her and knocking her away from the unconscious man. Knowing that whatever was in that syringe wasn't going to be good, she managed to jerk it out as the nurse came back at her. Using the syringe like a knife, she stabbed forward with it, catching the nurse in the breast. She pressed the plunger home as the nurse yelped.
Louise let go of the syringe and watched in horrified fascination as the nurse collapsed onto the floor. The sound of running feet brought her around and she set herself, prepared to again do battle, if necessary. Fortunately, it was just Alec.
He took one look at the scene and, once he made sure Ed was all right, asked, "What the devil happened here?"
Louise shrugged. "I was reading his chart. She came in and was going to stick it in him. I went to stop her. She stabbed him with it, but I shoved her away and pulled it out. Then I stabbed her with it and pushed the plunger." She looked down at the nurse. Her eyes were glassy but her breathing was strong. "I don't know what was in it, but that's probably why he's sleeping so much. Now, my question is why?"
"I don't know," Alec replied. He glanced at her, "So, now what?"
"Well, go find a doctor and drag him in here if you have to. I've got a lot of questions for him."
Alec nodded and started to go, then he turned back. "What about her?" he asked.
"I'll leave that up to their doctor," Louise replied. If it had been up to Alec...but it wasn't. He nodded and continued on his way.
She glared down at the spaced-out nurse, wondering who she was working for. Whoever it was, they were going to be disappointed. She checked Ed's vitals and was satisfied with them. When Alec returned a few minutes later with a doctor in tow, she confronted him, allowing all her anger to rise to the surface.
"What the hell kind of hospital are you running here, anyway? Whose idea was it that that woman should be giving him injections, and what the hell was in that syringe?" she demanded, bristling.
The doctor frowned. "I'm sorry, but what are you talking about?"
Louise moved aside and he could see the nurse on the floor, the syringe still sticking out of her. He frowned and moved to check her. "She's..."
"Higher than a kite. Yes. I know. I stopped her from injecting him with that, then accidentally injected her with it in the struggle. I'm going to call our security, now, and hopefully they'll be able to figure out what's going on. Meanwhile, I want to check every single thing done to him and you will give him absolutely nothing without my approval, understood?"
"Who are you?"
She'd put her ID in her pocket before they came in. She handed her AMA card to him. "I work for Mr. Straker's company and as of now, you do nothing without my approval. Is. That. Understood?"
The doctor nodded, still somewhat in shock at her steamroller technique. She turned to Alec. "Stay with him while I get this mess cleaned up, will you?" she asked softly. Alec, awed by her demeanor, nodded. Pulling the chair up, he sat with his back to the table by Straker's bed and watched them as Louise removed the needle from the nurse and helped the doctor lift her and carry her out. He shook his head. That was one tough broad, he thought. Then he glanced at his friend.
"Ed? I think we've met our match in this one," he murmured, looking forward to the two of them butting heads. He didn't think he'd want to lay a bet on either of them at this moment.
Alec was dozing lightly in the chair when Louise came back. He snapped to attention when the door opened. Seeing who it was, he relaxed. "He's still out. Do you think they've been drugging him?"
She shrugged. "No idea. I need to draw some blood for analysis, though. I want to know exactly what's running through his bloodstream. He shouldn't still be out." She pulled the covers back in order to lift his arm. Seeing the hideous finger and hand-shaped bruises from where he'd been held down, she bit her lip in consternation. Checking both of his arms, she finally gave up and simply drew a sample from one. She frowned...she'd been doing that a great deal in the past couple of days, she thought to herself. "See if you can get him some pajamas, would you? He's had enough trauma without having to be subjected to a Johnny-coat."
Alec stood. "On my way. It'll take me about an hour. Will you stay with him in the meantime?"
She smiled up at him. "Give me five minutes to get this to their lab and I'll be right back, then you can go."
Alec sat back down to wait. He looked over his friend and shook his head. "You look like you've been through the mill, my friend," he murmured. There was no reaction from Straker. He gently stroked his friend's head, soothing the seemingly permanent worry-lines from his face. When Louise came back, she watched him for a moment and smiled, pleased. It might not be quite as dismal as she'd painted for Henderson. Obviously, Alec had no fear of touching his friend - had, in fact probably been the only one who wasn't. She came in and he looked up.
"You're all right, Freeman," she murmured.
Alec looked confused. "What?"
"That report I showed you was based on what Jackson's 'research' showed. I guess he doesn't know that you're a touchy-feely sort of guy, huh?"
"What do you mean?" Alec replied guardedly.
"You touch him. Probably a lot. Here you are, sitting here, petting his head. Very soothing, I'm sure. He's not been totally without human touch, but I'm willing to bet that when you do touch him, he leans into it, am I right?"
Alec shook his head. "I don't think so. Ed's pretty reserved, even among friends."
"Not with you, I'll bet."
She shook her head. "I don't think so. Go on, now. I'll keep an eye on him until you get back." Alec reluctantly took his hand from his friend's brow and headed out. He hoped he could make it back faster than an hour. Despite Dr. Louise Lewis being one of theirs, she'd come via Henderson, and he just didn't trust that man. After all, that was where Dr. Jackson had come from.
She sat beside him. The time difference was rapidly catching up to her. She looked at her watch and saw that it was nearly noon. That put it at three p.m. at home and eight p.m. from where she'd begun this trip. She'd been up since the previous morning at six and she was feeling the strain. With a groan, she stretched; trying to stay awake, she stood and walked over to look out the window. It was a bright, sunny day. The smog levels didn't seem too terribly high and the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains were visible. She leaned against the wall by the window and closed her eyes for just a moment. With any luck, Alec would be back soon and she could find some place to crash for an hour or six. Even fifteen minutes might help at this point.
Alec hurried. This time of day, the traffic was bad...come to think of it; traffic was always bad in LA. He went to the hotel and, using Ed's cardkey, entered his suite and gathered up some things for him. He yawned and realized he'd been up far too long. He thought about Dr. Lewis and wondered how she was holding up, knowing that she'd been on the go for something like thirty-six hours. He didn't see them getting any real respite until Ed was released from hospital. Then, he planned on sleeping for a day or three before going home. Providing the enemy stayed quiet. He sighed. He placed the items he'd gathered into Ed's small duffle, including his shaving kit, and headed back out. As he was driving back to the hospital, he realized that he was hungry and stopped to get something for himself and Dr. Lewis. Louise Lewis. Her parents must have hated her, he grinned. He hoped she liked Pastrami. It certainly smelled good, and he had a hard time not digging into one before getting back to the hospital.
She'd dozed off. For how long, she wasn't sure. It was the smell that roused her. She looked up as Alec came in, a duffel bag in one hand, a brown paper sack in the other. He looked at her and held up the paper sack. "Hope you like Pastrami," he said, grinning.
"Oh, my, yes." She stood and took the duffel bag from him. She looked through it, nodding in approval at the items he'd brought. Pajamas, soft knit cotton. Underwear, sweatpants, a tee shirt, and a turtleneck, with a light jacket. Socks and a pair of running shoes. Perfect. Nothing to chafe a bruised body. She pulled out his pajamas and frowned at him. "Hmmm. I guess we'll have to wait until he wakes up to get him changed, won't we," she grumbled.
Alec chuckled. "Bet I can get him awake without too much trouble," he declared.
She quirked an eyebrow up at him. "Oh? How?"
"Simple. I'll just go downstairs and come back with some coffee."
She chuckled. "Eat first, then coffee, if you don't mind. I hadn't realized how hungry I am. Come on, pass that pastrami."
He went out and brought back another uncomfortable visitor's chair and they sat together as they ate, neither one saying a word as they quickly consumed their sandwiches.
"Thank you. That was delicious," Louise said as she gathered the wrapper from her sandwich. She stood up and offered to take his, as well. She took them out of the room and down the hall to the nurse's station to dispose of. One of the nurses sniffed and smiled.
"Someone obviously went to The Hat for lunch." She smiled at Louise.
"Is there anywhere to get a decent cup of coffee around here by any chance?"
"Sure. The staff lounge is right down there, second door on the right. Help yourself."
Louise thanked her and headed down the hall. There were large Styrofoam cups and she filled two of them. She doctored hers to her taste and took back packets of creamer and sugar with her. Alec smiled up at her when she came in.
"Bless you," he murmured as he took the second cup. He drank his coffee any way he got it, be it light, dark, sweet, or bitter. Just as long as it was coffee. He grinned at Louise. "Watch and learn," he told her. He added creamer and sugar to his cup, and then he held it just in front of Ed's nose. They watched in silence as Ed stirred, his nostrils flaring just a bit as the smell of the coffee registered. Moments later, his eyes opened and he stared at the cup as though mesmerized.
He withdrew the cup as Ed's hand reached for it. "Ah-ah-ah. None of that, yet. Not until the doc says so."
Ed looked petulantly at his friend. "Then why did you bother to tease me with it?"
"Wanted you awake for a few minutes. Got something for you." Alec grinned. Ed sighed and waited. When Alec was unforthcoming with the information, he turned to Louise for enlightenment.
She shook her head. "Don't tease, Freeman." She set his pajamas by his hand. "Thought you might like a bit more on," she told him. She grinned. "Alec can help you if you need it, unless you'd rather I..."
"No! Thank you. I'll manage," Straker spoke quickly. He sat up, wincing at the pain of bruised muscles and other things. She pulled the door closed behind her thankfully. Alec stood up to help him, if needed.
As long as he didn't try to bend over too far, he could move. His lower back still ached abominably, but the interior hurts had stopped. The bruises were annoying, but livable. He looked at the pajamas, then at Alec. "Shower?" he asked.
"Let me ask." He went to the door and opened it. Louise, leaning against the wall, looked up at him.
"He wants a shower. You think that's all right?"
She nodded. "Sure, just don't let him scrub himself raw, okay?"
"Don't leave him alone. If his legs give out, he could hurt himself," she admonished. Alec waved in acknowledgment and went back in.
The water felt wonderful. Alec had insisted it be warm, and the spray was soft. He stood beneath it for a very long time, allowing the warmth to soothe many of the sore places. It felt especially good on his lower back. The soap left something to be desired, but he put up with it. It felt good to be clean. He didn't even mind Alec hovering. Much. When he finally turned the water off, Alec was waiting for him with a towel. He was stiff and aching, still, but he managed to dry himself without Alec's help. Much to both men's relief. Stepping into his pajama bottoms made him feel a lot better, as well. He started to pull the top on, but it chaffed the bruises on his arms and back and he decided against it. He'd be fine with just the bottoms, he decided. With Alec right behind him like a sheepdog, he headed back to bed. He was a bit concerned that he was so tired all the time and wondered if there wasn't something else wrong with him. Dr. Lewis was waiting for him. She had a tube of some sort of cream in her hand and smiled at him.
"Good, you left the top off. If you can manage it, sit on the edge of the bed for a few minutes while I rub some of this on your bruises, will you?" He sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. She sat beside him, turned towards him slightly. The cream went on cold, making him shiver for a moment, but then it sent out a soothing warmth into his skin and the muscles beneath.
"What is that?" Alec asked. It didn't smell like liniment, but from the look on Ed's face, it certainly felt good. Or, remembering the report, maybe it was the feel of another human being touching him that was causing the reaction.
"It's a homeopathic remedy for bruising. It's got DMSO in it, along with emu oil and some herbs," she said softly as she gently kneaded the knots from Ed's shoulders and back. She paused for a moment at each scar, but not enough to be obvious about it. Alec watched in amusement as he realized that Ed was practically falling asleep from it, his head hung down and there was a look of peace and almost contentment on his face.
"Feels good," Ed murmured. He felt her hands slowing and wanted to beg her not to stop, but tensed just a bit to keep from saying anything.
"Okay. Into bed, face down and I'll rub your back some more," she offered. Ed did as instructed without prodding. Anything to feel those warm hands kneading the aching muscles of his back. After a few moments, he realized the muscles weren't sore, it was the skin itself, mostly, but her hands, soft and gentle, felt so very nice as they rubbed against his bare skin and he wondered if she'd continue if he asked her.
He fell asleep before he could, however.
Alec tried to send her to the hotel for some rest, but she refused, just as he did when she tried to send him off. They took turns sleeping in the uncomfortable visitors' chairs. Neither was able to get more than an hour's sleep at a time, however. When they fed Straker, he would wrinkle up his nose at the food and mostly just pushed it around on the plate. Louise could understand, as it looked like something she wouldn't even feed a dog. She looked at Alec and, while Ed was in the bathroom, suggested he go out and bring back something more appealing. With a grin, he was gone like a shot. When he returned, he brought with him something far more suitable, and enough for all of them.
Straker didn't have much appetite, but at least he made the attempt to eat. He was still terribly lethargic and tired. Once he'd eaten what he could, he settled down and was soon sleeping.
While Louise was out scrounging more coffee, Dr. Tracy came in and woke Straker, giving him some pills to take. He assured them that it was nothing harmful, only something to help him relax. With a shrug, Ed took the pills, chasing them down quickly with a cup of water. Soon, he was again sound asleep.
It was after midnight. The lights were off in the room and both Alec and Louise were dozing in their uncomfortable chairs. There was a sound and both of them awoke. Straker was shifting about and whimpering. Louise recognized that he was dreaming and reached out a hand to try and wake him.
Ed cried out at the touch, gentle as it was. Alec then reached out and stroked Straker's head, cupping his hand along his jaw. It was obvious when Ed leaned into the touch, with a soft murmur of need.
"Wake him up, Colonel," Louise softly insisted.
He couldn't. And whenever he took his hand away, Ed was obviously again beset by whatever night terrors he was suffering from. He looked worriedly at Dr. Lewis. "Why can't I wake him?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. It's like he's drugged."
Alec froze, "Dr. Tracy gave him some pills earlier, when you went out for some fresh air."
Louise positively growled. "All right. We're getting out of here. I'm not letting them near him again. I've seen his chart and I don't see any reason for him to stay, and I can think of a lot of reasons to leave." She scowled. "Okay, here's what we're going to do. Get him dressed and I'll sign him out." She looked up at Alec. "Do you need any help?"
"With him out like this? I'm afraid so." He was frowning, wondering what to do. Of course, she was advocating vacating the premises and going back to the hotel. Ed's suite had two bedrooms, so he'd simply sleep on the sofa in the lounge, giving her one bed and Ed the other.
"All right," she agreed. "I'm a psychiatrist, so I had to finish medical school, first. Do you think he'll mind terribly if I help dress him?"
Alec thought about how modest Ed was about his body and shook his head. "Why not just put his pants on over his pajama bottoms? Save time when we get to the hotel."
She grinned at him. "I guarantee he doesn't have anything I haven't seen before."
Alec shook his head. "But it wasn't his," he disagreed.
She nodded. "All right. No need to upset him any more than absolutely necessary. Let's do it."
Between them, they wrestled him into his sweatpants and tee shirt. The jacket was much easier. Once the patient was ready, Louise boldly went up to the nurse's station and signed him out, despite the protests from the staff. However, she was an MD, and that gave her the right to take her boss out. They loaded him into a wheelchair and took him downstairs. While Louise stayed with him, Alec fetched the car.
Fortunately, the car was a sedan, which made it a lot easier to get Straker in it. There was no way to make him particularly comfortable, and it was even harder to get him strapped in, but they managed. As they got in themselves, Louise spotted several people coming out after them.
"Time to get going, Colonel," she said, reaching over to turn the key in the ignition. Alec had seen them and stopped trying to get his seatbelt on and simply put the car in gear and mashed his foot down on the accelerator. Louise watched out the rear window, wondering if they were going to get shot at, but that didn't happen. As Alec turned onto the street, she turned back around and reached across him for his seatbelt, buckling it for him. Then she settled in her own seat and fastened hers.
"What the hell's going on?" Freeman grumbled.
"Probably Dr. Jackson's friends," she mused. "How safe do you think that hotel's going to be?"
Alec grinned, "Safe as houses," he replied.
She looked at him. "How can you be sure?"
"Because I brought some of our people to provide security if necessary."
"How can you be sure they aren't in league with Jackson?"
His grin faded and he huffed. "I can't. Damn. Any suggestions?"
"Well, I suppose we can ask them."
Alec groaned and shook his head. "Maybe we should just head home?"
"Or not. He needs some peace and quiet. And I want to get him somewhere where he can sleep off whatever they've given him."
Alec nodded. "All right. So, the hotel for at least the rest of tonight, then. Providing nothing happens, we'll consider our other options in the morning."
"Sounds like our best bet at the moment." She turned to look back, checking to see if anyone seemed to be following them. Satisfied, she looked down at her patient and smiled upon seeing no signs of distress.
It was a bit difficult when they got to the hotel. Straker was still totally out and they had to half-carry, half-drag him in. The clerk was away from the desk and they were grateful to be able to get him to the elevator and safely out of sight. Once in the suite, they got him back down to just his pajama bottoms and into bed.
"You take the other bedroom and I'll sleep on the sofa in the lounge," Alec insisted.
She shook her head. "No. One of us needs to stay close to him in case he wakes up."
Alec nodded. "I'll do it. As you've pointed out, he trusts me."
She smiled. "Yes, he does." Checking Straker once more, she straightened up and held out her hand. "Keys?"
"Keys?" Alec asked, confused.
"Car keys? Luggage?"
"Oh!" He blushed slightly at the oversight. "I'll take care of it." He headed for the door. "Be back in a tick." And he was gone.
She looked down at her sleeping patient and shook her head. He was certainly a handsome man. If he were the type to indulge, he could have been surrounded by starlets wanting his attention. But he wasn't that kind of man, or if he was, he was extremely discrete about it. She tended to take the reports at face value. He'd been married and divorced; his son had died from an accident. She could read between the lines. This was a man unwilling to take another chance. She looked him over. The hands were strong and well defined, the nails manicured. He had a businessman's calluses on his fingers from holding a pen and using a keyboard, as well as from driving; the calluses from using his pistol and other weapons were harder to see. They weren't soft hands, by any means, but had strong ligaments and tendons that were fairly prominent. Good hands, she decided. While she was at it, she looked at his face. He was a handsome man, despite the livid bruises. A bit too thin, perhaps, but striking with that impossibly blond hair and those big, blue eyes, not that she'd seen much of them, yet.
She noticed him shiver and frowned. It wasn't cold...she felt his forehead and noticed he seemed a bit warm. She sighed. With his allergies to antibiotics, it could be a problem. She determined to keep a close eye on him. In the meantime, however, she drew the covers up more securely about him. She debated tucking him in but remembered that he was claustrophobic. As she smoothed his hair across his brow, she noticed how he at first shifted into her touch, and then almost flinched away. It wasn't a hand he was familiar with and even in his drug-induced state he knew the difference.
She heard the door open and went into the lounge to see Alec coming in with her bags and Ed's small duffel. She quickly grabbed her two pieces of luggage and took them into the second bedroom. She looked blearily at the clock on the nightstand and realized that it was after midnight and that except for a couple of sort-of meals and several quick naps, she'd been up for nearly three days, now and the sight of the bed was almost overwhelming.
Alec paused in the doorway. "If you'd like, I'll stay with him. You've got to be running on empty by now."
She nodded. "I am, really. If you're sure don't mind?"
Alec grinned. "Not in the least. I'll just sack out in the chair in his room. If he stirs, I'll hear."
"Thanks. A shower, first, though. It's also been three days since I saw one of those, too."
"I hadn't noticed," Alec said gallantly. She grinned at him and shook her head. No wonder he had the reputation he did. It seemed honestly earned. And she'd heard no complaints from when he and his ladies eventually split up. That in itself was a rarity.
She shook her head at him again and headed for her suitcase for something to sleep in and then the shower. The hot water felt wonderfully soothing on her tired body. It was a good thing she opted for a shower, because she was certain that she'd have gone to sleep in the tub. Turning off the taps, she stepped out and tiredly dried herself and wrapped her sopping hair in an extra towel. She pulled on a pair of soft cotton knit boxers and a tank top. She wandered into the lounge as she toweled her hair dry. Going into Straker's room, she smiled. Alec was sitting in a comfortable upholstered chair beside the bed, sound asleep. She noted with satisfaction that Straker seemed to be sleeping comfortably, and wondered if he could somehow sense his friend's presence. She turned out all the lights and headed back to her room and that lovely, enormous bed...
It was late morning before anyone stirred. Straker was the first one to wake. As had become his habit when not in his own bed, or the cot he used at the office when he'd spend days at a time there, he showed no signs of having regained consciousness. He listened and recognized the soft snoring of Alec nearby. He didn't notice any hospital smells or sounds, though, so he opened his eyes. He glanced around and frowned, recognizing his hotel suite. He winced as he pushed the covers back and sat up. He still ached abominably. As expected, Alec was slumped in a nearby chair, sound asleep. He grimaced in sympathy at his friend's position, knowing how much his neck was going to be hurting when he awoke. He vaguely remembered being in hospital and wondered how and why they'd moved him. He shook his head and cautiously rose to use the bathroom. He decided on a shower, since there wasn't anyone to tell him he couldn't. He noticed the Jacuzzi and changed his mind, running it full of nice, hot, water. Sinking gingerly into the almost too-hot liquid, he softly moaned in half-pain/half-pleasure as he turned on the jets and adjusted them. He sighed as his body began to relax in the soothing pool.
Louise awoke and stretched luxuriously. She could hear the Jacuzzi in the bathroom in use and wondered if it was Freeman or Straker. She rose and looked in. Straker was leaning against the side of the sunken tub and looked positively angelic. She grinned and slipped into the separate WC without being noticed, until she flushed. When she came out, it was to find Straker staring at her and frowning.
"Dr. Lewis, remember?" she asked.
He nodded. "Henderson's latest shrink, right?"
"Not exactly. I'm afraid that the general and I didn't quite see eye-to-eye on things."
"Oh? What sort of 'things', if I may ask?"
"I'll let you read my report, if you like."
His expression was cold and hard. "Report? Declaring me unfit for duty, I suppose?"
She smiled ruefully. "Perhaps, but it's not quite what you think."
"Oh? And what do I think?" His voice had dropped about forty degrees in temperature.
"Read the report, first. If you have questions, I'll answer them."
He scowled. It was quite a formidable scowl, she noted. Probably very good at frightening people. But she knew things about him he probably didn't even know. "If you want to read it now, I can bring it in?" she offered.
She nodded and left the room, only to come back a few minutes later with a somewhat the worse for wear file. He shifted to his knees and leaned over the edge of the tub so as to not get the file wet. He read it quickly the first time, and then read it again, more slowly. He frowned the entire time. When he finished, he looked up at her.
"So, am I relieved of command?" he asked bitterly.
She smirked and shook her head. "No. I told him that if he wanted, he could remove you, but I also told him that it was his fault for allowing Jackson to use you as his guinea pig." Seeing his surprise, she continued. "I asked if Jackson were a disciple of Mengele. Henderson was not amused."
Straker looked at her in surprise and a faint smile quirked the corners of his mouth up. It wasn't much, but she could extrapolate that if he tried, he'd probably have the most beautiful smile....
"I can imagine. So, why aren't I relieved?"
She dropped her head down and looked up at him through her bangs. "Because I told him that I'd make the report public to the rest of the people involved and he'd find himself in a lot more trouble than you ever would."
"But...." He shook his head. "I don't understand. Why?"
He looked her in the eyes and tried to read her. "Why should you defend me? According to this report, I'm about to go off the deep end head first; that I'm, what did you call it? Volatile and unstable?"
"Yes. But that's not your fault. Because of Dr. Jackson's very careful manipulation over the past twenty-some years, you're exhibiting symptoms of psychosis. But it's the same kind of problems seen in other studies of this type, with one major difference."
He raised his eyebrows in interest. "Oh?"
She smiled at him. "You've got a lot more character than most people, and a lot more dedication, not to mention chutzpah."
He stared at her for a moment, and then laughed. She'd been right; his smile was brilliant.
They both turned towards the door as Alec shuffled in, rubbing the back of his neck and trying not to moan. Seeing them both he glowered. "It's too bloody early for you two to be so damned cheerful," he grumbled, heading for the loo.
She grinned. "I take it that you didn't sleep well, Alec?"
"Damned straight, I didn't!" There was a piteous moan, but she noticed that Straker was grinning. She cocked her head at him, and he winked.
"But Alec, I seem to recall your telling me that...."
"Not one word!" Freeman thundered.
Louise recognized the banter as something personal between two old friends. She nodded to herself and slipped back into her room. Obviously, she hadn't had all the facts. Her report was wrong...but how wrong, she still wasn't sure. Straker's reaction to being touched indicated that Jackson's experiment had done quite a bit of damage, but at the same time, he was obviously comfortable with Alec...his one real friend. A bit more observation was definitely in order.
Alec ordered breakfast for them. Louise watched the interaction between the two men and was relieved. Straker had the reputation of being a hard-assed, no-nonsense kind of man; totally focused on his mandate and God help the hindmost. He was driven. He'd been a soldier all his adult life and didn't know anything else. It must seriously gall him when he had to take time from the important things to do silly movie-mogul stuff. Yet Col. Freeman was obviously able to tease him and joke around with his boss. She found herself liking the big, bluff Australian. He helped keep Straker sane; and a sane SHADO Commander was vital to their success.
Their meal consisted of ham, eggs, toast, cranberry juice, and three pots of coffee. Obviously both men were heavily addicted to their caffeine, not that she wasn't, as well. Straker actually ate all his food, somewhat to her surprise. Of course, Alec had kept the conversation light and had even gotten the Commander to smile a time or two. As they sat over coffee, Straker looked at her, consideringly.
"So, now what, Doctor Lewis?" When she met his eyes, he continued, "Where do we go from here?"
"I'm still reading your personnel file, sir. But I'd like to hear it from your point of view, if I may?"
Straker grimaced. "All right. Where do you want to begin?"
She opted to avoid his childhood as being too personal at this point. Instead, she decided to focus on his military career. "You attended a military school?"
"Yes. Graduated at sixteen and got an appointment to the Air Force Academy. Graduated at twenty with a commission as a first lieutenant. Went to MIT and had my Masters by the age of 24, as well as having been fast-tracked, getting my silver oak leafs upon graduation. I volunteered for a tour in Viet Nam and ended up there two years."
"Two years? That's more than one tour, isn't it?"
He looked at her blankly for a moment. "One of those years was spent as a POW, doctor," he reminded her gently. She blushed, having forgotten that little tidbit of information.
"Sorry. Go on?"
"A group of us managed to escape and were rescued. I spent some time in hospital and when I was released, I got my eagles and was assigned to General Henderson."
"And the rest, as they say, is history," Alec remarked with a grin.
She debated asking about his ex-wife and son, but didn't want to cause more hurt than she had to.
"So, do you have a significant other?"
"SHADO is a demanding mistress. I haven't the time, nor the energy for more," Straker admitted wryly.
She smiled. "I can fully understand that. Do you have anything you indulge in, like massages?"
She looked at him. "Well, my first prescription is that you start indulging in at least a weekly full-body massage, maybe even two or three times a week."
He frowned. "Why?"
"For the human touch." Seeing his puzzlement, she sighed. Men. "Contrary to popular opinion, 'touch' does not necessarily mean sex. Despite what some people may say." She cast a quick glance at Alec, who was trying to look innocent. "A nice, soothing massage is sufficient. And, it will help with your stress."
Straker nodded, thinking of the way she rubbed that ointment into his bruised back the night before and how good it had felt. "I think I might enjoy that," he admitted, to his own, as well as his friend's surprise.
"Good. If you like, I could give you one now. I want you to rest and take it easy for the rest of the week, at least. Normally, I'd have kept you in the hospital for a few more days, but it didn't seem safe."
Straker looked at Freeman. "How secure are we, here?"
"It's our usual contract hotel. Most of the staff are ours, but how many of them work for Henderson or Jackson, I've no idea." He stretched, still trying to loosen his aching neck. "I can do some checking to make sure."
"It's probably all right, or something would have happened last night." He frowned and sighed. "Where's my briefcase? I've missed four days of meetings and need to reschedule, if I can. Damn. This means that I'll probably be here at least two more weeks."
"I suppose I could take them over for you, if you'd rather go home, Ed," Alec reluctantly volunteered.
"No. No, that's all right. As everyone's always saying, I need to do some of this myself. I'll manage. Once you double-check security, you might as well head back."
Alec frowned. "Well, Colonel Foster is sitting in at the moment. It's been a while since I had any time off. How about I put in for a bit of leave and keep you company?" He said it nonchalantly, but Straker wasn't fooled, nor was he meant to be.
Ed's grin showed his gratitude. "Are you sure you want to put yourself through this, Alec?"
"Sure, why not? Besides, maybe we can do Magic Mountain while we're here."
Straker laughed. "All right," he seemed to remember Dr. Lewis. "Doctor, I suppose you want to stay and observe?" There was a hint of mockery in his voice.
"Yes. I need to spend some time with you just to justify your 'cure' to Henderson."
"Cure? According to that report, I was under the impression that I was hopeless."
She looked at Freeman, but spoke to Straker. "I didn't have all the facts...Jackson's study pushed you into isolation, cut off from people. What he didn't realize, or understand, was that Colonel Freeman here wasn't a part of his study. I'm sure he was aware that he was undermining his experiment, but I don't think he realized just how important Alec is for your well-being." She turned back to Straker. "It was an egregious error on his part." She grinned. "So, we need to make a few changes in your habits, and I don't mean that I'm going to make you stop smoking. That's your decision, not mine. So far as vices go, you've only the one, really, so I'm not going to begrudge you that one."
"Thank you," Straker replied with a wry grin. "Meanwhile, let me see if I can salvage my itinerary." He opened his briefcase and pulled out his planner. He sighed as he realized just how many meetings he'd missed. He reached for the phone, only to have it snatched away before he could touch it, and his planner was lifted from his lap. He stared up at Dr. Lewis in surprise.
"No calls, just yet. I want you to rest and have a chance to heal, first. Now, you have a choice, you can go back to bed and get some more sleep. Or, you can go back to bed and I'll give you a nice massage, after which you can take a nap, or you can watch daytime television."
Straker shuddered. "Please, no daytime television!" He sounded truly horrified. "The massage sounds good, though."
Louise grinned. "Fine. If you're very good, I might even let you go out in a couple of days; once I'm certain you're on the mend, that is."
Alec grinned. "You sure you don't want me to see about running interference with those appointments you missed, Ed?"
"No, thank you, Alec. That won't be necessary."
Alec watched enviously as Dr. Lewis gave the commander a massage. She was obviously being extra-careful to avoid further damage to his bruises. She had him lie face down on his bed and straddled his behind in order to get even pressure as she rubbed his back.
Louise realized her mistake the moment she straddled his hips. He tightened up involuntarily and she grimaced. She leaned over him and softly shushed in his ear, "Shhh, it's all right. I promise, this won't hurt a bit." She ran her fingers through his hair, gently massaging his scalp. Then she slowly worked her way down his neck and across his shoulders. She didn't apply much pressure, not wanting to irritate the bruises. She kept her touch light and soothing, and after a few minutes, felt him relax beneath her. She continued gently rubbing until she sensed him falling asleep. Carefully, she eased away from him, pulled the covers lightly over him and turned away to let him rest and heal. She caught the look of envy on Freeman's face and grinned.
"How's your neck?"
"Come along, then and let me take care of that for you."
She didn't have to offer twice. He was up and into the lounge in half a second, with the doctor right on his heels. She closed the door softly behind them and she pointed to the other bedroom. "In there."
He raised his eyebrows at her. "Why?"
"Because if you're like any other man I've ever given a massage to, you'll be asleep in about ten minutes, long before I'm finished with you."
Alec chuckled warmly. "Sounds lovely," he murmured, grinning.
"Move it, Colonel, before the offer is revoked." He moved.
She was as good as her word. Within eight minutes, he was sound asleep. She continued to rub his neck and back for several more minutes, until she worked all the tension out. Smiling, she headed into the lounge and pulled a book from her purse and settled down to read.
It was late afternoon before either man moved. Alec awoke feeling wonderful and stretched luxuriantly. Sighing in pleasure at how good he felt, he got up and headed into the lounge to check on the others. He found Dr. Lewis dozing on the sofa, and a quick look showed Ed to still be sleeping, a peaceful look on his face.
The sound of the toilet flushing woke Louise and she first glanced at her watch, then rose and went to check on her patient. He was just beginning to show signs of waking, so she went back out and called down to room service, ordering them some food and lots of coffee. Alec exited the bathroom in time to hear her order and grinned.
Hanging up the phone, she smiled up at him. "Nice nap?"
"Oh, definitely. Thanks. That was wonderful. How long was I out, anyway?"
She glanced at her watch. "Four hours?"
He chuckled. "Well, I did want to sleep for a few days, after spending three days at that hospital. How about you?"
"I dozed a bit. Nothing major, maybe an hour's nap." She smiled up at him. They both turned when they heard the door to the commander's bedroom open. He came shuffling out, hair mussed and still looking half-asleep.
"How're you feeling, Ed?" Alec asked, watching his friend for any signs of distress.
"Like I just woke up. Slept great. What time is it?"
"Just after six," Louise replied.
"A.M. or P.M.?"
Straker grunted and shuffled off towards the bathroom.
"He'll be fine, once he gets some coffee into him," Alec promised.
"He seems fine to me right now," Louise replied with a smile. "He's not apparently in any pain, he's coherent, he slept well, and he's in a good mood."
Alec chuckled. "What makes you think he's in a good mood?" he asked.
"He didn't snarl."
There was a knock at the door and Louise went to let in the bellboy with their food and, more importantly, coffee. She tipped him well and closed the door behind him. Turning back, she saw Alec fixing Straker's coffee for him so that when he came back out it would be ready.
When he came out of the bathroom, his hair was brushed, and he was more alert. He'd obviously washed his face and dampened his hair to get it to stay in place. He gratefully accepted the offered mug of coffee from Alec and sank down on the sofa.
"So, now what?" Straker asked, sipping his coffee.
"Now, we eat and maybe watch some television, or read, or something else inane. Then back to bed for some more sleep."
Straker grimaced. "Fine, let me have my briefcase and I'll get some work...."
"What?" Straker looked at her in surprise.
"You heard me. No. No work. Your only job at the moment is to take it easy and heal. Understand?"
"But it's been almost a week," Straker began to argue.
"And you're still sleeping twenty hours a day. You need to rest in order to heal. You also need to eat more." She bit her lower lip and sighed. With a glance at Alec, she continued. "I also need to take some blood samples and run them through a dependable lab. I don't quite trust that hospital. Too many strange things going on there."
Straker frowned. "Yes, I did notice that we're back in the hotel. Any particular reason for that?"
Alec shrugged. "Dr. Tyler drugged you, those pills he gave you, we don't know what they were, but we couldn't wake you up. That's when Dr. Lewis decided we needed to get you out of there. I can't say as I disagreed."
Straker nodded. "All right. I'll accept that. But surely doing a bit of paperwork won't hurt me?"
"The only paperwork you're to do is read the television listings or books and magazines. No work. You're recovering and until I deem you fit for duty, you're going to relax and recuperate. And that's final." Straker had been about to protest, but seeing her implacable expression, stopped.
"Fine. What's to eat?"
Louise and Alec both smiled.
Surprisingly, after they ate and watched the news on the television, they were all again ready for bed. Louise let Alec talk her into taking the bed while he kept watch on the commander, although she was a bit reluctant. Still, they were friends and she was still something of an unknown quantity. She certainly couldn't blame them for wanting to be careful.
By the end of the third day, Straker was showing definite signs of stress. While Alec was permitted contact with the outside world and, more importantly SHADO, he was being kept isolated from his duty, and it rankled.
Alec drew the doctor aside. "You can't force him to stay cooped up in here much longer. He's going stir crazy."
"I know. I'm thinking of letting him out for a bit tomorrow. What do you think of trying for some kind of amusement park?"
"He'll hate it." Then he sighed. "Why won't you at least let him know what's going on back at the studio?"
"Because if he knows, he'll want to step back in and take over and be in charge. He needs a break. Wasn't that the original reason he even came here?" At Alec's reluctant nod, she continued. "Well, he ended up getting hurt. So, now he has to physically heal, and with any luck, we'll also get him a bit of genuine R&R."
Alec sighed. "It'll never work."
"I've dealt with workaholics before. Try and trust me, I do know what I'm doing."
Saturday morning, a week after taking him from the hospital, she finally allowed him access to his briefcase. His jaw was tight and his lips compressed in an annoyed line. He looked through his planner and sighed.
"I still have half a dozen meetings I need to try and reschedule." His scowl was formidable. He sat down on the sofa and reached for the phone. Louise snatched his planner and the phone away from him. He glared at her, but she cheekily grinned back at him.
"Oh, please. You're the head of a studio. You don't make your own calls." She took the phone with her to the table and sat down to start making calls.
An hour and a half later, she hung up the phone in frustration. "Seems that no one works weekends, sir. I've left messages on everybody's machines, explaining the situation, as I'm sure you heard. With any luck, they'll all call back Monday morning to reschedule." She looked over at the two men. Straker was sitting in an armchair, relaxing with a script and his ever-present cup of coffee, and a cigar.
"Yes, thank you, Doctor. So, Alec, what do you suggest now?"
Alec glanced at Louise and cocked his head to the side. "Magic Mountain?" Louise grinned at him and nodded.
"What a lovely idea. I adore roller coasters."
Straker grimaced. "I despise them," he grumbled halfheartedly.
"What would you prefer to do?"
He shrugged. "Here? Perhaps go to the beach, or maybe to Griffith Park?"
"Ooh, we could go to the zoo!" Louise suggested, grinning.
Alec laughed. "Oh, yes, and compare the animals with everyone we know." Even Straker grinned at that.
"Perhaps go horseback riding?" he suggested.
"Lovely ideas. It's early, yet. Why not both?"
"I haven't the clothes for it, I'm afraid," Straker said with a shrug. "I just came with things suitable for meetings."
"Wear your sweatpants."
"Your jogging suit. That's suitable to ride in."
"And for shoes?"
"Your jogging shoes will be fine."
He looked at Alec, who was smirking. "I suppose you came prepared for this?"
"No, but I suppose I can get by with the one pair of denims I brought along. I'll have to make do with my boots, however."
"Great. Get dressed, guys and let's get this show on the road!" Louise was up and heading into the bedroom even before either man could come up with an excuse not to do this.
Straker stared after her. "What just happened, Alec?"
"I think we were out-maneuvered, Ed."
"I think you're right." He looked at his friend and both men grinned.
It was a beautiful day, temperatures in the seventies, a slight on-shore breeze and almost no clouds. They arrived at one of the stables just outside Griffith Park and filled out the questionnaire before being handed helmets and assigned horses. Straker had ridden a few times, but not recently and Alec, although he'd ridden as a boy in Australia, was more of a city kid now. Louise, oddly enough, had the most experience. When asked how long a ride they wanted, she suggested two hours. Both men cringed at the prospect, but agreed. There was a moment of worry as Straker winced as he settled into the saddle. Thankfully, they had a mounting block that was high enough that he didn't have to stretch too much, but even so, his bruised body protested and he had second thoughts as to the advisability of this whole idea.
Fortunately, the horse stood quietly as they were given instructions on the handling of their mounts. If they wanted to go right, gently pull the reins right and press with the left leg...left, pull reins left and press with the right leg. To stop, simply pull back on the reins gently and smoothly. No sudden jerks of the reins and there would be no running. Not that either man was interested in going any faster than a walk. The ride was escorted, thankfully, and they headed out behind a young woman who thoroughly enjoyed her job.
"So, you folks related?" the girl, Tori, asked.
"We work together," Straker replied.
"Oh, cool. What do you do?"
There was a moment's silence and then Alec replied. "We, uh, make movies, I'm afraid."
"Really!? Cool. We don't get many movie people here. Most of them own their own and keep them at the LAEC."
"LAEC?" Louise asked, wondering what the acronym stood for.
"LA Equestrian Center. It's over across the river, there."
"Ah. Well, we don't live here, so that's not an option," Louise said, grinning.
"You from back east?" Tori asked, looking at Straker. For an older guy, he was very good looking, slender and fit looking, despite the bruises visible on his face. He looked like he'd been in a fight recently.
"I'm from Boston, originally, but I live near London, now."
"Oh, wow. So you two are English, then?"
Alec stiffened. "Hardly," he said dryly. "I'm from Australia, originally. Been living with the Pommies for quite a while, now, though." He glared when Straker chuckled.
"And I'm from Canada, originally," Louise added. "Quebec, although English is my first language."
"Whoa, real international group, you guys are. So, what brings you here?"
"I had some meetings. Unfortunately, I was mugged and have missed most of them. We're trying to reschedule and had some time to kill. So, here we are."
Tori loved the way he talked, although he said 'shed-yule', like the English. "What kind of movies do you make?"
"Very bad ones, I'm afraid," Alec said, chuckling.
"Documentaries, mostly," Straker added, smirking. He didn't add that they were very bad documentaries.
"Cool." Tori shifted in her saddle and pointed. "We have to go through this tunnel up ahead. Don't yell as we go through, because sometimes the horses spook." She led the way in and Straker felt a moment of panic as the world darkened and the walls of the tunnel closed in on them. It was only a few seconds until they were out the other side, but he was already perspiring heavily.
Louise noticed his distress and wanted to kick herself for putting him through this. The poor man was still recuperating and probably should have been back at the hotel, lounging around the pool or sitting in the Jacuzzi, instead of up on the back of a horse, like this. A few minutes later, however, they were into the trees and she saw Straker begin to relax and look around. His knuckles were no longer white where they held the reins, and his right hand was no longer clutching the saddle horn. She watched him take a deep breath and a faint smile graced his lips.
Alec was enjoying himself. He couldn't have imagined himself doing this, but it was a pleasant diversion. The scenery was nice, the company comfortable, and the horses safe. He watched as Ed relaxed more and more. It was good to see him taking a bit of time for himself. Hopefully, the mood would last.
They stayed on the trail around the park, going past Travel Town and the zoo, with Tori pointing out the sights. As they came around a bend in the trail, out away from the populated area, they startled a coyote eating a rabbit. The animal, upon seeing them, snatched up its kill and ran off, ears down and tail between its legs in fear. All of them watched avidly as the animal vanished into the brush. It was obvious that none of the visitors had seen such an animal before.
"What was that?" Louise asked.
"Coyote," Tori replied.
"So, that's what they look like," Straker said. "Looks like a small, scrawny Alsatian, doesn't it?"
Tori frowned. "What's an Alsatian?"
Straker shook his head and chuckled. "I've been in Britain too long, I'm afraid. An Alsatian is a German Shepherd."
She smiled at him, flirting. "Oh. Cool."
Alec, seeing the way the girl was reacting to the Commander, coughed and caught Louise's eyes. Both of them grinned. Straker seemed oblivious of the girl's reaction to him, much to the amusement of his companions. He frowned and looked at them blankly, which made them both giggle.
Louise rode up beside Straker and leaned over and said softly, "She's flirting with you, Commander."
He blinked in surprise and then looked at the girl, who was now frowning at Louise. Realizing the truth of her observation, he blushed a bit and gave the girl a somewhat sickly smile. "Thank you, Doctor. I'll keep that in mind," he said loudly enough for Tori to hear and watched as she smiled at him again, thinking that Louise had simply been giving him medical advice.
There were several sections of trail where they were allowed to trot, and Tori was surprised to realize that all three of them posted their trots, even in the big, heavy western saddles. She pointed out the path they were to take and dropped behind to watch them, Straker in particular, post... Afterwards, she started flirting with Alec as well, having observed just how nice he looked from the rear... both men had nice, tight butts, she noticed, and she reacted accordingly, much to Louise's amusement, Ed's consternation, and Alec's pleasure.
They finally returned to the stables and again used the mounting block to dismount. They took off their helmets and returned them, then thanked Tori for the tour and turned to leave.
"Uh, look, if you're not real busy, maybe we could...I don't know, go eat somewhere, maybe?" Tori asked.
Straker blushed. He was probably at least as old, if not older, than her parents. He heard Alec stifling a laugh, and a quick glance at Louise confirmed that she was doing the same. Without turning to the girl, he replied. "I'm sorry, but no. There are things we still need to do, today."
"Oh. Okay. Too bad, though." She watched them walk away, her eyes alternating between the men's posteriors.
Nearly back to the car, Straker growled to his companions. "Not one solitary word, either of you." Immediately, Alec burst out laughing, hardly able to contain himself. Louise glanced over and barely managed to remain silent at his embarrassment.
"I should think you'd be flattered, sir."
Straker glared at her. "Oh? Why?"
"Because she sees a handsome, virile man, and is interested."
"I'm old enough..."
"All the more reason to be flattered, don't you think?"
"I've never had an interest in having sex with children, Doctor Lewis."
"Ah, come on, Ed. I assure you she wasn't thinking of age, only form... you should have seen her staring at your backside." Then Alec guffawed.
"Yes, pretty much the same way she looked at yours, Colonel," Louise countered. She was pleased when Straker glanced at her to see if she was serious and how his lips twitched with amusement when he realized that she was. Alec, meanwhile, choked on his own laughter.
"In that case, the girl is simply a grave robber."
Louise chuckled. "I don't see either of you that close to the grave, yet. By the way, how are you feeling? Up to a nice, long walk around the zoo?"
"How about something to eat, first?" Alec countered.
"Yes," Straker agreed. "Food would be nice. Of course, so would a shower and a change of clothes, but I suppose that's out of the question, since we'd just be coming right back here."
"Right...oh, I know! How about the hot-dog stand by the zoo entrance?"
Both men frowned at her. "Hot dog?" Alec asked uncertainly.
She gaped at both men. "Oh, puhleez. Don't tell my you've never eaten a hot dog?"
"I can't recall ever doing so," Alec muttered. Straker pondered as they got into their car.
"Well, I can't remember the last time I had one. Probably in college, come to think of it. Too poor to afford much else, as I recall." He looked at Louise. "I wonder if they have Chicago dogs?"
She grinned at him. "Probably not, but something similar, no doubt.
"What the devil is a 'Chicago dog'?" Alec complained, realizing he was outvoted.
"Sauerkraut, chili, mustard, pickles, relish, catsup, and cheese, as I recall," Straker replied.
"All mixed together?" Alec asked, aghast.
"I don't think my stomach could bear the thought, let alone the reality," Alec grumbled.
"They should at least have kraut dogs, don't you think?" Louise asked. "With mustard and pickles, perhaps?"
"Oh, I certainly hope so." Straker was grinning and pointed the direction he wanted Alec to go. With a resigned sigh, Alec put the car in gear, backed out of their parking space and then shifted into drive and headed for the zoo, shuddering to think of what on earth they were going to do to themselves to assuage their hunger.
Much to his surprise, he found the polish sausage with sauerkraut to be not only edible, but that he liked it. The mustard and kosher dill pickles only added to the pleasant taste, although he drew the line at adding onions, like Louise did. Not only was it tasty, it was also filling, even with a soft drink to wash it down.
"You know, an ale would have been perfect with that."
"You're driving," Straker reminded him with a grin.
"Sad to say, that's true," Alec gave a martyred sigh, much to his companions' amusement.
Paying their admission, they entered the zoo and began their tour, eschewing the tram in favor of walking. Much to Straker's surprise, his aching body seemed to like the exercise as the use of muscles eased the stiffness and soreness. He'd noticed that he felt more limber after the horseback ride, and was just waiting until his body froze up on him, but with any luck, that wouldn't be until tomorrow.
Pausing at the rhinoceros pen, Straker snickered and mumbled, "Reminds me of General Henderson." The others took a good look at the surly beast and chuckled.
"Poor baby," Louise crooned to the animal, "Being compared to such a terrible person." The men just laughed. They continued on; at the peacock pen, Alec commented that they reminded him of Paul Foster, much to Straker's amusement. Louise hadn't met Foster, so refrained from comment.
When they came to the dingoes, they watched the male race back and forth, bouncing off the walls. "Hmmm, who does that remind you of, Alec?" Straker asked.
"The aliens," Alec replied seriously. Straker laughed.
When they came to the grizzly bears, Louise pointed to a laid-back male and said, "There's you, Alec," At a glance from the men, she explained. "You look soft and cuddly, but put those you care about in danger, and you'll tear them a new orifice or five."
Straker chuckled and said a heartfelt, "Thank God for that," much to Alec's pleased embarrassment.
When they got to the aviary, Alec pointed to the bald eagle. "There's you, Ed. Impossibly noble, and with that crown of shocking white." Louise watched as Straker blushed.
"Hardly noble, Alec. They're as much scavengers as they are predators, you know."
"Yeah, I know." He patted his friend on the shoulder and walked along to the next pen, leaving Straker gaping after him.
Louise giggled. "I think he's got you right, sir. You make due with whatever you can get your hands on, to get the job done." Straker stared at her for a moment, and then nodded.
"I suppose you're right." He looked again at the bird. "The biggest difference is that I'm not locked up in a cage."
"Aren't you?" she asked softly. "True, the cage is of your own making, but still, you're trapped in your job, with no hope of ever escaping."
"Doesn't everyone trap themselves that way, Doctor? Don't we all build our comfort zones about us and dare anyone to try and change them?"
She grinned. "Yes, to one extent or another. You're just one of the more extreme cases, I'm afraid." She turned and followed Alec, leaving Straker with a surprised look on his face. He turned to look at the crippled eagle on display. Remembering it was the national symbol of his native land, he drew himself to attention, saluted, and then followed the others.
At the hyena compound, all three of them pointed at the ugly animals and said in unison, "Dr. Jackson!" and then turned to look at one another and after a moment's shock, began laughing.
When they got to the giraffes, Straker glanced at Louise and then at the long-necked animals. "Hmmm."
"What?" Alec asked, turning to look at his friend.
"Reminds me a bit of Dr. Lewis, here."
She looked surprised. "Whyever for?"
"They're always sticking their necks out and hoping no one chops their heads off."
Alec chortled at the comparison. Louise thought about it for a bit and then nodded.
"Yes, I can see that. Of course, they're also one of the least hunted animals, as well... they can kill most predators with a single, well-placed kick, you know."
"Yes. I can imagine. Anyone who can take Henderson on and win has my vote for giraffe qualities," Straker said with a smile.
Louise grinned. "I'll take that as a compliment, then."
"It was meant as one," Straker said gallantly. Alec watched the interplay with interest. If he didn't know better, he might think that his friend was flirting with the lady, but that wasn't very likely, now, was it? His eyes widened when Louise laughed and gave Ed a quick hug. And the shocked, hungry look on Ed's face as she did so made Alec realize just how much his friend had given up for this war, that the report he'd read was dead on, and that he was still very human. If she hurt him, though, he'd kill her.
"Shall we go?" Ed asked a few moments later, as he released Louise and cleared his expression back to its normal cool, calm, and collected appearance. Alec nodded and gave Louise a warning glare as he passed her, but she met his gaze head on with a wink, and he realized that she had deliberately hugged his friend, giving him more of that missing human touch the report talked about. Touch that didn't necessarily mean sex. He'd have to remember that part.
They spent several hours wandering around the zoo, looking at the animals and simply relaxing. Alec realized that this was probably one of the safest places they could have come. After all, who would expect the head of the most secret military contingent on Earth to be wandering around looking at captive animals? It didn't mean that Alec let his guard down any, and he could see Straker frequently checking their surroundings and the people nearby. Dr. Lewis, Alec was pleased to note, kept her attention on her patient, suggesting rest breaks and frequent pauses for something to drink.
When they tired of the animals and the heat of the day, they headed to the beach for a change of scenery. Louise handled the map while Straker leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, resting. She debated for just a moment whether they should return to the hotel and decided that they'd be better off exhausting him throughout the day to make sure he was able to sleep at night. Besides, this way, he couldn't brood on other things, and he didn't need to be brooding.
Looking at the map, she directed Alec towards the beach. Once they came to the Pacific Coast Highway, she directed him to turn south and they cruised along the highway, looking at the ocean and occasionally stopping to watch a group of surfers or sunbathers, and once to marvel at a pod of dolphin sporting offshore. As the afternoon waned, they found themselves in the town of Redondo Beach and decided on the pier for their dinner. Alec parked and they got out.
"We're not exactly dressed for a restaurant, you know," Straker pointed out.
"True," Louise agreed, "but let's look around, maybe we can find something a little less formal?" The men nodded in agreement and they sauntered off towards the pier. It was, naturally, mostly for tourists, but there was a fascinating little section beneath the main pier that included a fresh-fish market. They looked at the tanks of live crab and glanced at each other.
"Looks good to me," Straker murmured. "When's the last time either of you had truly fresh seafood? I know it's been a very long time for me."
Alec looked at the price-list and nodded. "They've got salads to go with it." He sounded hopeful.
Louise looked and nodded. "Nice, fresh, healthy food. I want coleslaw and fries. Chips, to you two."
Straker grinned. "Crab or fish?"
"Crab!" his companions chorused.
After they placed their order, chose their crabs and paid, they had twenty minutes to waste until it would be ready. There was a line of shops next to the fish market, so they wandered through them. They amused themselves with the cheap tourist souvenirs and the wildly patterned clothing. Alec held a bright blue Hawaiian style shirt up to Ed and grinned.
"It's definitely you, Ed. Really brings out the colour of your eyes," he teased. Ed looked at the garment and grinned. "I'll wear that, if you'll wear..." he looked around and grinned, "This." He held up an even louder shirt, with a bright orange background and decorated with fuscia coloured flowers.
Louise giggled. "And what colour would you put me in, gentlemen?"
The two men exchanged delighted grins and turned back to the racks; both of them reached for the same shirt, a bright green covered in fuscia, orange and blue. They turned to her, broadly grinning with their prize.
She flinched at the eye-searing colours. "All right. But you both have to wear yours to work your first day back. With shorts."
Straker looked shocked. "Shorts? In London? I don't think so."
"I don't even own any shorts," Alec agreed.
Louise grinned. "Oh, good, that means I get to choose yours for you." She went to the racks of baggies and picked out two horribly clashing pair for them, handing the purple ones to Alec, and the yellow ones to Ed.
Straker winced. "No. Absolutely not."
Alec saw the disappointment on Louise's face and despite his own horror at the colours realized what was really going on. Stifling a sigh, he nudged his friend. "Come on, Ed. We could make like tourists for one day, don't you think?"
Louise teased, "Yeah, Ed, don't be a party pooper."
He froze for a second. That was the first time she'd called him Ed, and he realized that he liked it. He looked with dismay at the wildly pattered shorts and shook his head. "Not the shorts," he insisted.
She quickly rehung the shorts, gathered up the shirts and headed to the counter with them, hiding a smirk at her success. The two men followed her, sighing. Both of them were thinking that their shirt would find a very dark corner in their closet and never again see the light of day.
As Louise prepared to pay for their new clothes, she glanced back at the men and said, "Why don't you both go and get us a table and our food?" She received nods and watched as the two men turned and left the shop. She smiled at the clerk and put the three extremely loud shirts back and exchanged them for considerably less eye-searing ones, although she agreed with Alec about blue being the perfect colour for Ed. She picked out one with a lot of muted greens and browns for Alec, and a bright blue and green one for herself. She went back to the counter and the clerk grinned at her as she took her credit card and rang up the purchases.
She met the men back at the fish market, where they were just setting out their meal. They each had a wooden mallet for breaking open the crabs, but plastic forks for eating. They quickly dug in and found themselves enjoying their meal, and the company. By the time they were finished eating, it was beginning to get dark and they decided that it was definitely time to head back to the hotel.
Once back in their suite, Louise ordered both men to shower and get ready for bed. Ed stiffened, ready to balk, and she smiled and said, "Unless you don't want your nightly massage?"
Ed and Alec exchanged a look and both men headed for the bathroom. Ed got there first and Alec had to wait. He chuckled and instead headed for the kitchenette and poured himself a tumbler of whiskey. He looked at Louise to offer her one, but she shook her head.
"Are you another of those tea-totalers?" he asked, taking a sip.
"No, but it's not one of my favourite things, either."
"You and Ed should get along famously, then."
She smiled. "I have medical reasons not to drink. My parents were alcoholics and I don't want to be one."
Alec looked into his glass and sighed. "I suppose I'm an alcoholic. Can't seem to function without it. Been that way for decades, I'm afraid. And I'm not about to stop."
"No, I suppose not, but it doesn't interfere with your job, does it?"
He smiled. "No, it doesn't."
"Then I'm not going to worry about it."
When Straker came out, he'd a towel around his hips, not having taken the time to get his pajamas in the race for the shower. Alec grinned at him and headed in for his turn at washing up, while Ed went into his bedroom.
He jumped a bit when Louise followed him. He frowned at her. "Give me a minute to dress?"
She shook her head and pointed to the bed. "Face down, Commander," she ordered.
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Oh?"
His lips thinned as he debated with himself on whether to balk, then he sighed and shook his head and carefully stretched out on the bed, making sure his towel stayed snug about him.
She left him there for a moment as she prepared. She'd brought some aromatherapy body oils with her in anticipation of this. She opened one bottle after another and held them close to his face and watched his reaction. He lay with his eyes closed, relaxing and waiting patiently. When she held out one bottle, she observed him take a deeper breath, followed by visibly relaxing further. With a smile, she poured a bit into her hands and began to gently stroke it across his back, then she began to gently knead the muscles, starting with his neck and slowly working her way down to his shoulders and down his spine to the edge of the towel.
It was a warm floral scent that reminded him of sunny days and meadows full of flowers. He found himself taking deep breaths, just to get more of the smell. The hands gently stroking his back and then kneading his muscles soon had his mind totally muddled, and all he could think about was that he could stay like this forever with those gentle fingers manipulating muscles that he couldn't remember when they weren't tight. He was nearly dozing when she stopped work on his back and shifted down and began again with his feet, starting with his toes and working her way up. By the time she reached his buttocks, he was sound asleep.
She grinned. Aromatherapy strikes again, she thought. She'd planned on doing a full-body massage, but she was only half finished and he was asleep. Deeply asleep and totally relaxed. Probably the most relaxed he'd been in decades, she mused. She'd originally prepared by pulling the covers back and covering the sheets with bath towels, now, instead of trying to move him, she simply pulled the covers over him before going back to massaging from his shoulders down to his fingers. Finished at last, she turned away with a gentle pat to Ed's butt, only to come face-to-face with a highly amused Alec. She grinned at him and made a shooing motion and followed him out.
"I wouldn't have thought he'd go for it," Alec said, still grinning.
"Well, not with no clothes on, at any road." Then his smile turned tender. "Thank you. He really needed that."
Louise returned his smile. "Yes, he did." She looked at him. He was wearing pajamas and a robe. "So, if you'll get out of those clothes, I'll do the same for you," she said, looking again through her bottles.
He leered at her. "Want us both out of our clothes, do you?"
She laughed. "Yes, but I want you face down on the bed with me on top!"
Alec froze for a moment and then roared with laughter. "Done!" He turned for the other bedroom. "Of course, that means you get the sofa or the chair, tonight," he teased.
"Nope. I'll take the floor, thank you very much."
Alec looked at her in surprise, but didn't comment. He went into the other bedroom with her following right behind him. Totally without modesty, he undressed and stretched out on the bed, a bit disappointed that she didn't show any reaction at all at his nudity. She left him lying there as she went through her box of tricks and Alec sighed.
She had a method to this. She always opened her aromatherapy oils in a precise order and she wasn't going to change that now. She needn't have bothered. Alec reacted to the same scent Straker had, much to her amusement. She began by stroking the oil over his neck, shoulders, and back; then she started at the base of his skull and worked down and across his shoulders and back. She grinned when he groaned in pleasure as she worked.
Momentarily finished with his torso, she started again at his feet and worked her way up. She could hear his sighs of contentment and feel him relax beneath her fingers. He startled a bit when she began kneading his buttocks, but then let out another pleased sound.
"You could do that forever and I'd never complain," he murmured.
"On your back, Colonel. Time to do the other half." She watched him in amusement. She knew perfectly well why he was reluctant to shift onto his back.
"Just do it, Alec. I know what's going on, believe me. I worked my way through medical school doing therapeutic massage."
"I bet your clientele left you great tips," he muttered as he turned over.
"As a matter of fact, some of them did. Others thought they should get more than a massage for their money."
"Believe me, I'm more than happy with just the massage."
She got a good look at him and realized again why he was so successful with the ladies. She began with his throat and moved down each arm to his fingertips. His eyes closed as he relaxed into her ministrations. She finished with his hands and began working from his shoulders and down his chest. He moaned in pleasure as she reached his waist and then whimpered in combined pleasure and pain as she stretched the tendons in his hips. From there, she moved down and started with his toes and worked her way up, finishing again at his hips. By the time she was finished, he too was asleep.
She drew the covers over him and grinned. She packed up her equipment and put it in her bag, and then leaned back, trying to stretch her own tired muscles; wishing, not for the first time, that there were someone to reciprocate on the massages.
She looked at the expression on Alec's face and smiled tiredly as she turned off the light and left the room. She had already gotten her nightclothes from her bag and took them into the bathroom, where she first showered and then filled the Jacuzzi, climbing in to get her own little bit of comfort.
As relaxed as she was going to get, she dressed in her boxer shorts and tank top and with a single blanket wrapped around her, she lay on the floor by Straker's bed and went to sleep.
He'd had wonderful dreams. They were the kinds of dreams he couldn't remember having since... well, since ever. He awoke slowly, warm and comfortable. It was dark and he wondered why he was awake, when his bladder reminded him. He pushed the covers back and swung his legs off the bed. He frowned as he noticed something light on the floor by the bed and realized it was someone sleeping on the floor. Stepping carefully to avoid them, he walked softly into the bathroom to relieve himself.
Upon his return, he paused and crouched beside the sleeping figure, somewhat surprised to see that it was Dr. Lewis. He frowned. She looked quite uncomfortable there. Realizing he was naked, he shook his head and got into his pajamas, still looking at the sleeping woman. Tightlipped, he realized he couldn't in good conscience leave her on the floor. Crouching beside her again, he eased his arms beneath her and lifted. His back protested only slightly and he gently placed her atop the bed, tucking her blanket around her. He was a bit surprised she didn't waken, but counted himself lucky. Then he moved to the other side of the bed and slipped back under the covers. In moments, he was again asleep.
Alec awoke feeling great. He stretched and even his arthritis didn't hurt this morning. He grinned, pleased. The faint scent of the massage oil lingered and he relaxed back into the bed, breathing deeply. Finally, however, he got up. After a trip to the bathroom, he looked in to see how Ed was doing and was startled to see Dr. Lewis snuggled up close to the commander, and Straker's arms around her, his head pillowed on her breast. Well. Imagine that. He looked a bit more closely and realized that to be more exact, Louise was atop the covers, wrapped in a blanket and Ed's arms. Very interesting. He grinned and slipped back out, closing the door behind him.
He called down and ordered a pot of coffee. While he waited for them to wake up, he opened his briefcase and began going through some of the reports he'd brought with him. He sat back and grinned, wondering what was going to happen when they woke up and found out where they were.
Tom. She hadn't dreamed of him in the longest time. Not since... well, not since he'd died, really; except for the nightmares/memories of how he'd died. He'd been fun loving and an absolute joy in her life. Until that fateful day outside of that tiny village she could never remember the name of; when that peculiar noise attracted their attention and they'd looked up to see the end of their world coming.
She was never sure why they left her behind, but they did, murdering Tom and then running, well, flying away. She was surprised when an odd-looking aircraft appeared and engaged the murderous craft, blowing it to smithereens. But it was much too late for Tom. Too late for her, for that matter. She'd lost her unborn child and her husband and when she was well enough, she went hunting for answers and had found them.
And been recruited by General Henderson.
But there was the feel of arms around her and a warm head pillowed against her breast, and that reminded her of Tom... but if Tom was dead, then who...?
Her eyes opened and she glanced down to see a crown of startling white hair and she frowned for a moment before remembering. Straker. But what was she doing in bed with him?
She looked around and realized that this was his room. Okay, how had she gotten here? Wait, right. She'd slept on the floor, but why was she now in bed, and how did she get here without knowing about it? She started trying to extricate herself from his embrace and realized that she may have been on the bed, but was not technically in bed with him. However, as she tried to move, his arms tightened around her and he made a soft, pleading sound. She lay quietly for a few more minutes and tried again, finally managing to extricate herself, at least partially. As she moved away, he made a soft sound of protest and then loss, and brought his legs up, curling into a ball.
She bit her lip, debating with herself. What harm would it cause to cradle him against her body as he slept? It was clear that it was something he truly wanted, at least subconsciously; but what if he wanted more?
Shaking her head, she slid out of bed and headed for the bathroom. She spotted Alec busy with his reports as she went through the lounge and wondered if he'd seen? Sighing, disgusted with herself, she shook her head and entered the bathroom. When she came back out, Alec was sitting back, looking at her with a speculative expression on his face. She paused, waiting for him to speak.
"You hurt him and I'll kill you," was all he said as he went back to his reports.
She tilted her head, considering the threat. "What if he hurts me?"
Alec paused, looking at her in surprise. "Is that possible?"
She grimaced. "Unfortunately, yes." She regarded him for a time. "So, what's the answer?"
Alec frowned, considering. "Be very careful?"
"Thanks a lot, but that's not much help, I'm afraid."
"I suppose it isn't. How'd you end up in bed with him, anyway?"
She shook her head. "I have no idea. I know that I didn't crawl into bed with him, if that's what you're wondering."
Alec shook his head. "No, actually. I knew you hadn't because you weren't between the sheets with him. He probably just woke up and saw you on the floor. That is where you said you'd be, isn't it?" At her nod, he continued. "Then you must have been more tired than you thought, since you didn't wake up on being moved."
"Sounds about right. I'm still tired. If you don't mind, I'd like a bit more sleep." She started for the other bedroom when Alec stopped her.
"Let him wake up to you, please?"
He looked at her. "I'm not asking you to have sex with him, just to stay with him and let him wake up with you. Hopefully, he'll remember putting you in bed with him and get all flustered over it," he added with a mischievous grin.
She regarded him for a long moment and then nodded. "All right," she agreed and turned back to reenter Straker's room.
Alec was a bit surprised, but grinned, wondering what Ed would do upon waking up with the girl in his bed?
She slipped carefully back into bed, pulling the blanket around her as she settled into place. She stroked Ed's shoulder and he uncurled just a bit, and a few moments later he reached for her and soon his head was again pillowed against her breast. Aware, now, she let herself touch him, one arm around his shoulder, the other gently stroking through his hair. It was soft and baby-fine, much to her surprise.
Mary, he wondered? He shifted, nearly awake. No, too soft for Mary. Who, then? Confused, he opened his eyes and looked up. Seeing who he was using for a pillow, he scrambled back away from her, shocked. Her eyes opened and she smiled at him.
"Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
He gaped at her. "I slept... How did... wait, I put you on the bed because you were sleeping on the floor," he muttered, trying to figure out what was going on.
She smiled. "Thank you, although I was probably quite comfortable where I was."
He shook his head. "You didn't look comfortable, so I just picked you up and lay you on the bed." He was blushing. "My apologies," he muttered, obviously embarrassed.
"No need. You were a perfect gentleman."
He regarded her with puzzlement and then his head tilted to one side and he asked, "But were you a perfect lady?" His lips curved into the faintest of smiles, but his eyes glowed with amusement.
"Of course not. I took dreadful advantage of you." She almost laughed at his shocked expression. "I ran my fingers through your hair. It's baby-fine, and possibly the softest I've ever felt."
She grinned as he blushed again.
From the doorway, Alec chuckled. "Imagine my shock when I came to check on you and found you all snuggled together. Shameful, Commander. Absolutely shameful. What would General Henderson say?"
To the surprise of both men, Louise spoke, in a very passable imitation of the general, "Just like I said, he just needs to get laid, right?"
Alec guffawed while Ed blushed crimson. Louise grinned and reached over to gently stroke Ed's cheek. He looked at her in surprise, having to stop himself from turning into the caress.
"I told him that touch doesn't have to be sexual. Did you feel sexual when you woke up, Ed?"
"No," he admitted, with a puzzled look in his eyes. "I felt...." he frowned and cast a nervous glance at his friend before admitting to any more. "Cherished," he finally said and braced himself for what he expected to be their reactions.
He was surprised when Alec didn't laugh, but more surprised by Louise's words.
"You are, Ed. At least by the people in this room."
He frowned at her. "You don't even know me," he challenged.
She shook her head. "Not so. From the records, you're a highly motivated, dedicated soldier, determined to win this war. You've given up all personal goals and desires in order to save the world, to your own detriment. You consistently push yourself beyond human endurance, but do not expect those under your command to do any more than they are capable of... and due to your leadership, your command consistently exceeds the expected parameters of their mandate."
Both men stared at her. "That's quite a speech, Doctor," Alec murmured, amazed at her perspicacity while agreeing with every word.
She smiled. "General Henderson described the commander as 'prickly as a porcupine'; I told him that they're wonderful pets as long as you're careful." She glanced over at Straker and saw him blush again. She reached over and stroked his cheek again and his impossibly big blue eyes widened in shock. She also saw a flash of pain and regret and knew that he'd known about the isolation he'd been mandated to, and had embraced it willingly. She shifted towards him and kissed his forehead and then slipped out of bed without looking to see the surprise or the wistfulness that flashed through his eyes.
But Alec saw. He saw everything. He was beginning to understand Dr. Lewis, and he wondered if it was such a good idea after all. If she succeeded in making Ed Straker a 'normal' man, how would that bode for SHADO? For the world? For Ed?
Louise could kick herself. It was one thing to flirt, but what she'd done was far beyond that. She knew Straker was fragile where it came to people and caring. Everyone he'd loved had left him, or been taken. The worst thing was that she knew what that was like. Knew what it was like to lose everything important until the only thing left was this damnable war. She couldn't honestly be annoyed with Alec, however. He'd probably been hopeful that she and Ed might have gotten a bit cozier, but that wasn't likely. She hadn't been interested in anyone since Tom died.
But Ed Straker was the most badly damaged soul she'd ever met, more crippled than some of the children she'd dealt with on the outside, before her world ended. She sighed and wondered if he'd ever considered anyone other than his ex-wife and decided it was time to ask. Surely Mary hadn't been his first love, had she?
Ed dressed slowly, uncertain of his feelings. Normally, feelings weren't something he dealt with, burying them deeply, right next to what was left of his heart. He sighed. How had he slept, she'd asked. Truth to tell, he'd slept better than he had in longer than he could remember, and that was a very long time, indeed. He closed his eyes and cursed himself for a fool. He flashed for a moment on Mary; and that, as usual made him think of Johnny, his son; and that reminded him of that great aching void in his life. Johnny would have been twenty-four this year. He'd have been a man grown, possibly with a wife and child of his own. He looked out the window and fought the pain such thoughts always brought him, but for once, he was unable to stop the hitch in his breathing or the single tear that slipped past his iron control and trickled down his cheek. He closed his eyes again and took a deep breath, forcing himself back under control. Grimly, he finished dressing and went into the lounge, where he stole Alec's cup of coffee, desperately needing the comfort of the hot but stimulating beverage.
Alec could have kicked himself for a fool. What had he been thinking to send her back into the commander's bed? He knew what would happen. He would bet a year's salary that Ed was in there right now thinking about Mary and Johnny. Ed Straker should have had half a dozen kids. He'd seen how well he got on with them, the rare occasions he would find himself having to deal with them. He also knew just how much his friend had loved his ex-wife and late son.
He sighed. Far too late now, unfortunately. Too late for all of them. Even if Ed were to fall in love again, he'd never allow children. Too dangerous, too painful... too late.
He looked up in surprise when Ed snatched his coffee cup and drank, but he shouldn't have been. He got up and fixed another cup, handing it to his friend, who almost smiled as he accepted it, replacing Alec's cup on the table. They didn't speak; they didn't need to after all these years.
Breakfast was subdued, to say the least. Straker mostly drank coffee and only pushed the food around on his plate. His expression wasn't one. Just a cold, brooding face. Alec knew better than to speak just then. He'd patiently wait until something happened to change Ed's mood - hopefully, it wouldn't be days before that happened.
Louise sighed, watching the two men. Alec, obviously, had been through this before, but that didn't help her any. She caught Alec glancing over at the well-stocked bar, and had an idea. She glanced at her watch and tried to come up with something to distract them through the day and put her plan into motion that evening.
"Shall we do the tourist thing again?" she asked softly, with just a tiny note of hope in her voice.
Both men jumped when she spoke, and then frowned. Alec tried giving her a clue by catching her eye and shaking his head, but she ignored him, focusing on Straker.
"I've never been here, before. Since we can't expect any return calls until tomorrow, why not do a bit more sight-seeing?"
Ed's lips thinned in annoyance as he bit back his first response. He glanced at Alec and saw his carefully composed features. He threw his napkin on the table and stood. "Hell, why not?" He went to the desk and got the tourist guide and dropped it on the table by Louise's hand. "Take your pick."
Louise flinched at the cold, hard tone of voice. She lifted her eyes to his and said very softly, "I'm sorry." He glared at her for a moment, and then sighed, his expression softening.
"Forget it," he replied, sitting back down and lifting his cup. He gave Alec a wry glance. "Just forget the whole thing, shall we?"
Alec smiled, grateful that Ed was handling this so well. Louise just nodded, knowing that she daren't forget, ever.
Since he'd put the tourist guide by her, Louise picked it up and began perusing it. Most of the museums were closed on Sundays, so she looked for other amusements. There were a lot of amusement parks, and she glanced at her companions. Alec was looking longingly at the bar, while Ed was glaring into his coffee. She was about to suggest Disneyland, when her eyes caught another destination.
"How about Universal Studios?" she asked softly.
Both men stared at her as though she'd suddenly turned green and started breathing liquid. "What?" they chorused in shock, then glared at each other.
"Universal Studios. They have tours and rides and bands and all sorts of stuff." She smiled at them and saw when the corners of Ed's mouth twitched. She turned her eyes soulfully to his. "After all, I've never been to a movie studio before."
"And I live at one," Ed replied, trying not to laugh. Alec looked at the two of them and groaned.
"I guess that makes it unanimous," Ed grinned as he stood. Louise laughed and stood as well, then both turned to stare at a very reluctant Alec.
"Do I have to?" he whined.
"Yes," Ed insisted. "Besides, it'll be good for us, to see how real movie people do this."
Alec groaned again and got to his feet. "I'm going to live to regret this," he muttered as he followed them out.
The tour guide was perky, that was for sure, much to Alec's continued dismay. Ed and Louise apparently had decided to simply have fun and he was simply along as chauffeur. But Ed was smiling again, and that made it worthwhile for Alec. After all, Ed was the one in need of cheering up, wasn't he?
During the filming demonstration, Ed leaned across Louise to Alec and mumbled something about how much better the results were when you used film instead of videotape, and Alec laughed and agreed, and then reminded him of the difference in costs, to which Ed grinned and replied, "You mean, we're supposed to make a profit?" Some of the nearby tourists looked at them oddly and wondered. Straker certainly was movie-star handsome, and both of the men seemed more interested in the actual process than the thought of spotting some celebrities.
Unfortunately, their luck didn't hold. The tour was nearly over when one of the staff came up fast in one of the little golf carts they used and stopped the tram. An out-of-breath young man got aboard and looked at the tourists and asked, "Mr. Straker?"
Ed frowned at Alec, who shrugged. He looked at the harried young man and replied. "Yes? Is there a problem?"
The kid stared at him and pasted on his best smile, which made Alec cringe inside, knowing how much Ed hated insincerity. "Oh, no, sir, it's just that you shouldn't be on this tour, sir."
Louise could feel him bristle. "Oh, but I wanted to be on this tour, so if you don't mind, I'll just stay here."
Ah, yes, Alec thought, the American mule at his finest.
The kid's face fell, "B-but Mr. Straker, they told me..."
Ed remembered that one of the meetings he'd missed had been with someone from Universal and he sighed. "Tell them to call me tomorrow and we'll reschedule. We tried contacting you yesterday, but the offices were closed." The young man didn't move. "That's all I'm going to say, so I suggest you go back to your masters and tell them I said no thank you."
It was a very dejected young man who left the tram, and forty people staring at Ed Straker and wondering who he could possibly be. The tram started up again, and the tour guide nervously continued her spiel, but her audience was far more interested in the other passengers.
Thankfully, the rest of the tour was uneventful, although Ed and Alec made fun of some of the 'special effects', and discussed how they might do the same sort of thing, only better. For a busman's holiday, they rather enjoyed themselves, much to Louise's relief.
Of course, there was a contingent of suits waiting for them at the end. Ed grumbled a bit and Louise took charge, deciding that if Mr. Straker wanted to play tourist, then the powers that be should not deny him his small pleasures. The two men watched in appreciative awe as she approached the waiting group and proceeded to tell them in no uncertain terms that if they wished any of Mr. Straker's time, they could make an appointment. When one of them mentioned that he'd missed their appointment two weeks before, she gave them a gimlet eye and spoke very softly, leaving the complainer blushing. Unfortunately, she spoke too softly for her companions to hear.
She smiled and nodded her head, ignoring the man's offer to shake hands and, head high and imperious, she returned to her companions. She was smiling just as insincerely as the suits had been. They waited until they were in the parking lot before anyone spoke.
"What did you tell them?" Alec asked.
She cast a quick glance around and then blushed. "I asked them where they were when he'd been attacked and was in the hospital. Then the old one said he'd call to reschedule their appointment tomorrow morning, if that was all right. I told him it was."
Both men stared at her for a moment and then glanced at each other. "I think Miss Ealand should be concerned for her job, Alec," Ed blandly said as he took out cigars and offered one to Alec.
"Most assuredly, sir," Alec agreed, grinning and taking the offered cigar and letting Ed light it for him.
Louise sighed in relief. "No, thank you. Although, I would be willing to become your personal physician..."
Both men gave her speculative looks and then Alec asked, "Would that by any remote chance include those wonderful massages?"
"Minimum of once a week," she grinned.
"Make it three times a week, and you're hired," Straker said, then opened the car door and got in, leaving her gaping at him like a fish. Alec chuckled and she looked at him. He opened the back door for her and motioned her in.
Leaning down close, he whispered, "I do think he rather likes you."
They debated where to go for dinner and finally decided on Mexican food. Checking with the concierge at the hotel, they made reservations at La Fonda's on Wilshire Blvd. They arrived on time and were soon seated. Perusing the menu, they quickly made their selections. When the waiter came for their orders, Ed simply asked what were the spiciest items on the menu, and ordered several. Alec shuddered at his choices and requested whatever was mildest. Louise giggled and ordered from the middle on the Schoville scale.
"What's so funny?" Alec asked.
Louise snickered, "Just had a picture of us as the three bears. Papa bear," she pointed to Ed, "Mama bear," Pointing to Alec, "And baby bear," indicating herself.
The two men stared at her in consternation, and then Ed got it and began laughing. Seeing Alec's confusion, he shook his head and explained. "The porridge, Alec. In the story?"
"The what?" Alec asked, confused.
"In the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Papa bear's was too hot, mama bear's was too cold, and baby bear's was just right," Ed explained. Alec just frowned in puzzlement.
"I think I'll just have to take your word for it," he muttered in continued confusion.
Louise, seeing the flash of pain on Ed's face and realizing that he'd again flashed on his son, bit her lip and wanted to kick herself for bringing it up. Much to her surprise, however, a wistful, melancholic look entered his eyes, and he gently began to speak.
"Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was blond, and beautiful, and her parents doted on her and gave her everything she ever wanted. One day, she wandered off into the woods. She was following a butterfly, and after a while, realized she was lost. Fearful, she turned around to try and find her way back, but all the trees looked alike and she started to cry. Not knowing what to do, she continued wandering, searching for the path home. Eventually, she came upon a little cottage. She didn't bother to knock, but simply walked right in. The cottage was empty, but there on the table, were three places set. She was hungry, so she climbed up into a chair, took the spoon, and tasted the porridge set there to cool. It was hot and burned her tongue, so she dropped the spoon and went to the next bowl. She tasted it, but it was too cold, so she went to the third, and smallest, bowl. She took a bite and it was just right, so she ate it all. Then, she wandered into the next room. She saw an enormous chair and climbed into it. It was too hard, so she got down and got into another chair, which was too soft. She tried the third, and smallest, chair and it was just right. She started rocking, and she rocked so hard, she broke it. Tired, now, she wandered up the stairs and found a bedroom with a huge bed in it. She climbed up, but like the big chair, it was too hard. Going into the next bedroom, she climbed into the bed, but it was much too soft. Trying the third bedroom, she found a little bed and it was just right. She lay down and moments later, was sound asleep."
Louise watched in fascination as he told the story. Glancing at Alec, she noticed he was as enthralled as any toddler might have been. Somehow, this had been missed in his education.
"When the owners of the cottage came home, they found the front door standing wide open. Now the owners of the cottage were a family of bears. They had gone for a walk while they waited for their porridge to cool. Papa Bear sat at the table and growled, "Someone's been eating my porridge!" Mama bear looked at her bowl and said in a softer voice, "Someone's been eating my porridge, too." Then the little Baby bear looked at his bowl and cried, "Someone's been eating my porridge and ate it all up!" They went into the next room and Papa bear growled, "Someone's been sitting in my chair." Then the Mama bear said in her softer voice, "Someone's been sitting in my chair, too." The Baby bear looked at the remains of his little chair and cried, "Someone's been sitting in my chair and has broken it all to bits!" Looking at one another, the family climbed the stairs. Going into the first bedroom, Papa bear snarled, "Someone's been sleeping in my bed." Going into the next bedroom, Mama bear said in her somewhat softer voice, "Someone's been sleeping in my bed, too." Then, from the third bedroom, Baby bear's voice squeaked, "Someone's been sleeping in my bed, too...AND THERE SHE IS!" The noise woke up little Goldilocks and she stared up into the faces of the three very angry bears and she screamed. Jumping up, she ran for the window and broke it out to escape. Running as fast as she could, she soon found herself back at her own home, none the worse for her adventure."
Louise smiled as Ed did the different voices for the characters. Alec was grinning, now, and had a bemused expression on his face.
"After that, Goldilocks never again ventured into the woods. As for the three bears, they cooked up some more porridge and sat down to their breakfast."
Alec shook his head. "How on earth do you remember that?" he asked.
Ed's smile was sad, "It was Johnny's favourite," he explained, looking up as their appetizers arrived.
Louise, understanding a bit more about him, now, snagged a jalapeno from Ed's plate and took a bite. Alec looked at her in surprise, but her expression made Ed laugh. "Hot, is it?" he asked, taking one and eating it whole, much to his companions' horror. He looked at the rest of his plate and grinned. "Want to try a habanero?" he offered.
"Good Lord, no!" Alec replied, still watching Louise battling the heat of the jalapeno. "I'll leave that to you with your asbestos taste buds."
Ed laughed. Louise grinned at Alec as the possible disaster was averted.
Alec and Louise watched in awe as Ed added hot sauce to his already searing food. Face flushed and sweating, he had a pleased expression on his face as the fire in his mouth traveled down into his stomach. Alec shook his head and drank Dos Equis to counteract just the thought of putting anything that spicy into his system. Louise just shook her head and ate her own far less incendiary meal.
They talked about the studio tour and the way they'd been singled out, and on a Sunday, no less. They decided it must have been Ed's credit card that had alerted the studio, although they wondered why. Just how closely did they monitor such things, anyway?
After dinner, Louise suggested a walk along the beach. Both men frowned at her, wondering if they hadn't had enough exercise for one day, when she pointed out that there was a full moon. Shaking their heads, the two men agreed.
They drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, again, only this time, they went a bit further south. At Torrance Beach, they parked along the strand and headed for the beach. It was high tide and they all just stood by the car and stared out at the water for a while.
"I'm going to take off my shoes and go walking in the surf," Louise announced, suiting action to words. Her companions looked at her oddly, then at one another. Ed shrugged and bent down to take off his own footwear. Shaking his head in bemusement, Alec followed suit.
They sauntered down to the water and then headed south along the edge of the surf. The cold water washing over their feet made them try and dodge the waves, resulting in playful shoving and pushing one another. When they'd walked a bit more than a mile, they paused and looked out across the darkened water, then back along the beach towards the lights from the city.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Louise asked, taking deep breaths of the cool salt air.
"I suppose," Straker replied, taking out his cigarillos and offering Alec one and then lighting them both. "It certainly seems peaceful enough." He took a deep drag and looked around, noting the nearby cliffs and the distant sounds of traffic.
Alec sighed. "I can't help wondering if there are any ufoes down there," he muttered, gesturing towards the ocean.
"Spoilsport," Louise grumbled, the mood having been broken with Alec's comment.
"Hmmm," Straker mused, then turned away from the water and started to head back up the beach towards the car. "I do hope we can get the studio business cleared up before too long. I keep wondering what's going on and what am I missing?"
Alec replied, "It's been blessedly quiet for the most part. That always worries me, makes me think they're going to be starting a big push soon; and I wonder if we'll be up to it."
"Yes, it does seem to work that way, doesn't it," Straker agreed. They got back to the car and put their footwear back on before driving back to the hotel.
Louise ordered coffee for them all and poured a liberal amount of vodka into it while the men weren't looking. She made sure she added enough cream and sugar to Straker's mug to mask the taste of alcohol as much as possible. He was so unfamiliar with the taste that he didn't seem to notice anything amiss. Alec, on the other hand, knew immediately what she had done. He looked askance at her and got a look that could freeze water. He decided to just sit back and watch. He wondered what Straker would do to her when he found out what she'd done. And why was she doing it?
He was tired, and the coffee was wonderful, if a bit bitter, although he noticed after the first cup that his throat seemed a bit sore. He added even more cream to his second cup and sipped it quietly as they watched a movie on the television. Thankfully it wasn't from their studio.
He drank two more cups of coffee and when he got up to get a fifth, he found his balance somewhat off-kilter. He frowned and shook his head, which almost made him fall down. He reached out a hand to steady himself against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes.
"Are you all right, Ed?" Alec asked.
"Head rush. Stood up too fast, I suppose." He poured himself another cup of coffee and added cream and sugar.
Alec frowned at Louise and received a nervous smile in return. When Straker returned to his seat, she took a deep breath and looked for an opening. Fortunately, the movie had a somewhat implausible story line, which aided her in her quest.
"That's ridiculous, don't you think?"
"What?" Alec asked, hoping he was playing along.
"That idea that anyone ever forgets their first love." She turned to Alec, "Who was the first woman you ever loved, Alec?"
He grinned, "My mum, of course."
She laughed with him, "Not that way, you goof. Your first love... or, I suppose in your case, your first sex partner."
"Ah, that would have been Sheila."
Both of his companions eyebrows went up at that. "Isn't that Aussie slang for any girl? Like 'chick'?" Louise asked.
Alec chuckled. "Yes, but in this instance, it really was her name. Sheila Marsden." His expression turned wistful as he remembered her. "She was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. Sweet, warm, loving."
"What happened?" Louise probed.
Alec's laugh was self-deprecating. "She found out that I was also seeing Frances."
Straker shook his head. "You're incorrigible, Alec. How old were you, twelve?"
"Fourteen, actually." He grinned at Louise's surprise. "I was a precocious child."
"Precocious man, too," Straker mumbled, closing his eyes and leaning back against the cushions. "What about your first love, Doctor?"
Her expression turned sad. "Tom. My late husband. We were next-door neighbors. In the same classes throughout our school years. Got married right after college. He worked for social services while I got my Doctorate, then we worked together in several remote areas, getting health care to places where it wasn't easy to get to."
Straker frowned. "What happened to him?"
"Six years ago, we were in some God-forsaken little town up above the arctic circle. We were taking a walk when we heard this strange noise." She had both men's full attention, now. "This thing landed and these people in red and silver spacesuits came out and pointed their guns at us. They...oh, you know. You've been dealing with it for decades. They killed Tom, but left me after they realized I was pregnant." She wiped the tears from her eyes. "Then they got back in their ship and took off. Then this odd looking jet appeared out of nowhere and blew them to smithereens. Too late for Tom, and too late for our baby." She looked away and swallowed hard. "Should have been too late for me, but it wasn't. After I got out of hospital, I went looking for answers and found General Henderson. He recruited me. That was four years ago. I've been doing the entry-level psychological testing on the new recruits."
The two men only nodded. Her story was similar to many of SHADO's operatives, but they didn't know most of them, except peripherally.
"I'm sorry," Straker murmured softly, hesitantly touching her arm. She smiled at him.
"Mostly I'm over it, but it still makes me sad."
"What about you, Ed? Who was your first love?" Alec asked, wondering if his friend was going to say his ex-wife.
"First love?" Straker smiled. "Research, actually."
Alec laughed. "Person, Commander."
"Ah, well, that would have been Phu Lin Duk."
He was too inebriated to realize what he was saying, but Louise began to gently probe. "Who was she?"
Alec was surprised. "A Vietnamese girl? Really?"
Ed nodded. "She was maybe eighteen, and I was in a bar and some guys were giving her a hard time, scaring her, threatening her. I got annoyed and stopped them." He had a gentle smile on his face as his memories drifted through his conscious mind. "She followed me 'home' and I kept her."
"Oh, come on, now. You've got to be joking."
"It wasn't much more than that. She needed help, so I gave it to her. Set her up in an apartment there in Saigon. Kept visiting her, eventually, well... I was young and idealistic, then. She represented the people we were there to protect," he chuckled dryly. "I fell in love with her. She was beautiful, black hair, eyes so dark that they sometimes looked black. Soft, gentle hands." He rolled his head to the side and opened his eyes to look at Louise. "Like yours. She gave the best backrubs...." His eyes drifted closed again.
"What happened to her?" Louise held her breath waiting for his response.
He sighed. "I don't know. I wish I did. I fell in love with her and asked her to marry me. I even wrote home to tell my parents about her." A flash of pain crossed his face. "I got up that last morning and asked her to marry me, and she told me that I had a great future, but not if I married her. We argued, and then I had to go..." He looked away, eyes squinting at the remembered pain. "That was the day I got shot down. By the time I got back, even though I looked for her and asked about her, she was gone. I was shipped home and never saw her again." His eyes closed, trying to fight back the tears he'd never allowed himself to shed over the pain of that first loss. Alec and Louise exchanged a long look.
Alec nodded. Phu Lin Duk. They had a name, and SHADO had the world's best databases available. If she was anywhere, he'd find her.
Louise smiled. Alec knew what she wanted him to do and would do it. Maybe they'd get lucky and the woman was still alive and maybe even still cared about her long-ago affair with a young lieutenant colonel.
Straker was nearly unconscious. Louise got a large glass of water and some aspirin and got Ed to take the pills and drink most of the liquid. Then they poured him into bed and hoped he'd sleep through the hangover. Once he was settled in bed, they went back out to the lounge.
"So, you want me to find Phu Lin for him, right?"
She cocked her head and looked up at him. "Yes."
Alec frowned. "Why?"
"I've got a feeling."
She shrugged. "Tell me about his ex-wife?"
Alec sighed and poured the last of the coffee into his mug. "She was wrong for him from the start. Insipid, shallow..." He shook his head. "Her parents had Ed followed. This was back when we were just starting out. There was no time for her, but she demanded his undivided attention. It was a disaster. Then when Johnny died... well, she blamed Ed." He glared at her. "It wasn't his fault. If anyone is to blame, it's Mary. She sent him away, knowing he was waiting for Johnny to come and show him the model he'd built from a kit his dad had sent him. Ed, as usual, gave in to her demands and left. Johnny ran into the road and was hit by a car. Unfortunately, Johnny was as allergic to normal antibiotics as Ed is." He swallowed hard and looked away. "Ed had arranged for a SHADO jet to bring a new antibiotic from the US, but I... I diverted it for a UFO incident in Ireland. It got here too late to save his son." His mouth frowned grimly and he fought for control. "He never blamed me. Only himself for not saving his son."
Louise closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She then opened them and shook her head. What a pair these two men were. She moved close and put her arms around him and held him tightly. "You're right. Mary is to blame. Her son would have never run after his father if she hadn't made him leave. Let it go, Alec. It's not your fault. It's not Ed's fault."
"He never blamed me, though. But I was the one who diverted that flight."
"It wasn't deliberate. Don't keep beating yourself up over it, Alec. How long ago was it? Fifteen years?"
"Seventeen." He pulled away from her comforting embrace. "You want the exact date and time? I can give it to you."
She shook her head. "I'm sure you can. You want to know the exact day and time my husband and I were attacked? I know that, too. It doesn't change anything. There is nothing we can do to change the past, and with very few exceptions, I don't want to change it." She took a deep, shaking breath. "If I hadn't lost Tom... I don't know what would have happened with us. I loved him, I still do, but he's gone, and I like to think that I'm a stronger person for my loss. It gives me an edge in helping people. If I'd never been hurt, how could I possibly understand hurting people? I wouldn't be able to relate to them, to offer help, to do what I do."
Alec smiled and took her into his arms as her tears fell unnoticed down her cheeks. "You'd be like Dr. Jackson, maybe?"
She chuckled. "Lord, I hope not! But I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't know how to help the commander, or you."
"Me?" Alec let her go and pulled away to look down at her.
"Yes, you. You and Ed are a lot alike, the obverse and reverse of the same coin. You're his conscience, his soul, while he's the rational half. I have read all the files... well, most of them, anyway."
"So, what are you expecting to discover if we find this woman?"
She looked up at him and grinned. "I'm wondering if we'll find out that he's got a child out there somewhere."
Alec's jaw dropped in shock. "A... why?"
"His description of their argument... why would she tell him she wouldn't marry him? He was in love with her, what went wrong? He never had the chance to go back and find her. Where did she go? What happened to her?"
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out."
"Good. Not until tomorrow, though. Tell you what, I'll play secretary with the studio business tomorrow while you see what you can find out, all right?"
Alec nodded. "All right with me."
"Fine. You get the bed, I'm going to take this lovely sofa."
Alec smirked. "Sure you want to sleep alone?"
She froze for just a moment, then smiled softly. "Thank you for the offer, but no. I need to try and keep at least a tiny semblance of impartiality, here. It wouldn't do to fool around with my patients, you know."
Alec's voice was a soft purr, "But I'm not your patient, Ed is."
Louise smiled. "True enough, but are you positive I'm not supposed to be treating you as well?"
Alec shook his head. "Now that sounds like something a shrink would say."
"Good. Now, go to bed, Colonel. We have a lot to do tomorrow, and I'm rather hoping that the commander sleeps in."
"Well, considering he normally uses tranks in order to sleep, I don't see much difference with vodka."
"Ah, but pills don't give you that wonderful hangover." She paused, frowning. "But he's been sleeping just fine and he hasn't had any sleeping pills all week."
Alec grinned. "Magic hands. I've had a lot less to drink than usual this week, too." He headed for the bedroom. "But sleep sounds good. I'll see you in the morning. Sleep well and pleasant dreams."
"You too, Alec." She smiled and hoped that after talking about Tom that she would have good dreams.
They'd all had enough to drink that they slept very well, and fortunately, Hollyweird wasn't known for early rising offices. They were all still sleeping soundly when the phone rang at eleven. Louise was closest and woke up, groping for the phone.
"Hello?" she mumbled.
"Is Mr. Straker in?" The voice was well-modulated and professional.
"May I ask who's calling?"
"Mr. Peters, calling to reschedule Mr. Straker's appointment with John Bracken."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Peters, give me a moment to find..." She scrambled for Straker's planner and opened it. "Yes, when would you like to schedule?"
"Well, Mr. Bracken is rather busy this week, but he thinks he can squeeze him in on Thursday, perhaps, if nine a.m. isn't too early?"
Louise had to choke back a laugh. 0900 was hardly early; to the military, that was the middle of the day. "Thursday at nine. Yes, that will be satisfactory. Will the meeting be at Mr. Bracken's office?"
"Actually, Mr. Bracken was hoping to meet on the golf course; Mr. Straker does play golf, doesn't he?"
"Rarely, I'm afraid, and he doesn't have his clubs here." She waited patiently for Peters to figure out something else.
"Oh, uh... Well, Mr. Bracken is available for breakfast that day, but that's at seven a.m. - that's a bit early, I'm afraid." He sounded flustered.
"Seven would be fine, Mr. Peters. Where shall we meet?"
"Uh, will the studio cafeteria be all right?"
"That will be fine, Mr. Peters. Thursday morning, seven a.m. at the studio cafeteria. We'll be there. You will have passes for Mr. Straker and Ms Lewis at the gate, correct?"
"Yes, of course, Ms Lewis. See you Thursday."
"Ta-ta," Louise hung up gratefully and took a deep breath. She looked up to see a very rumpled Ed Straker looking at her oddly. "Good morning, Commander. I'll order up some coffee. What would you like for breakfast?"
"What the hell did you do to me last night?" He looked queasy and her hope plummeted with the realization he had not escaped the hangover.
"Is something wrong, sir?" she asked innocently.
"Yes, something is wrong. I have an horrendous headache and my stomach hurts and it feels like something died in my mouth. Now, what did you do to me?" His tone was petulant, and Louise had to fight to keep from smiling.
"Please, Ed, keep it down. I knew there was a reason I don't care for vodka. Oh, Lord. Where's the aspirin?"
"Kitchenette. On the counter. Get some for the Commander, while you're there, will you? I'll order the coffee. And I guess we'll skip breakfast this morning."
"And lunch," Alec agreed. Straker just looked confused.
"Vodka?" he asked plaintively.
"Well, yes, I'm afraid so, sir."
"Why? You know I don't drink."
Louise nodded, yes, she knew. She'd done what she felt she needed to in order to get information she needed without causing undue stress; unfortunately, her method had left something to be desired.
Just then, the phone rang, providing a blessed interruption. "Hello?" she said into the phone. "Yes, Mr. Straker would like to reschedule, Mr. Davis. Thank you, that would be fine." She filled in a space in the planner, time, place and contact name. "Yes, thank you. We'll see you then, good-bye." She hung up.
"That was Universal. Tomorrow at eleven."
"Fine. So, Tuesday and Thursday mornings. How many others are we waiting for?" His hangover forgotten, he slipped into business mode and came over to look at his planner, wondering who else he still had to see.
"Three other independents." She looked at him a moment. "Unless you just want to cancel them?"
"No, no. If they call, fit them in between the others. No dinner meetings, please." He was awake, now, and it seemed his queasiness had passed. She watched with relief as he headed into the bathroom.
"You got lucky, you know," Alec said softly.
"I know," she agreed. She reached for the phone and called down for several pots of coffee and some toast, realizing that none of them were quite up to any real food, just yet.
Most of the other calls to reschedule meetings didn't come in until after two that afternoon. By then, Straker was in full form, going over reports from headquarters and gearing back up to get back to his real job. He seemed to have no memory of the previous evening's discussion, or if he did, he refused to mention it. Alec went out as soon as he'd gotten enough coffee and started the search for Phu Lin Duk. With any luck at all, they'd be able to track her down, and soon.
By late afternoon, they were all quite hungry and ready to eat some real food. Because of the week he'd been forced to remain in their hotel room, Straker wanted to go out. The others readily agreed. They opted for an Italian restaurant nearby.
Dinner was quiet. Straker was still annoyed at the breech of trust exhibited by the others in getting him drunk the night before. At least he didn't think he'd done anything too embarrassing. He hoped not, at any rate. He remembered that they talked of personal matters, but since it hadn't involved security issues with SHADO, it was of no real importance. He had, however, dreamed the night before of a dark-eyed beauty he hadn't thought of in decades. It brought, as always, a slight melancholy and wonder as to what had become of the woman. And, as always, he pushed the feelings aside to focus on matters of the present. The past was dead and gone and there was no point digging it back up.
They were quiet, and when they got back to the hotel, Straker headed straight to bed without a word to the others. He made his disappointment known by ignoring them as much as possible, not realizing he was hurting them at least as much as they'd hurt him.
Once they knew he was asleep, Louise looked sadly at Alec and said, "Ouch. Is he always like this?"
Alec shook his head, "No. Usually it's just me who does something to hurt him and he yells at me. But this time, it was both of us. You must have done a great job at disguising the vodka in his coffee."
She shook her head. "No, he's not used to alcohol and didn't recognize the burn at the time. He mistook the vodka for bitterness in the coffee and added more sugar and cream, is all. He won't be fooled again."
"And he might not trust either of us again, as well."
Louise winced. Taking a deep breath, she sighed, "That's as may be, but it was the only way I could think of to find out that information. You know how private he is about himself. Did you know about her?"
Alec shook his head, sadly. "No, and I wish I had. I might have gone looking for her a quarter of a century ago and thus avoided a great deal of pain for him."
Louise nodded in sad agreement. "He's very Hamlet-esque, isn't he?"
Alec chuckled. "Sometimes. Others, he's the coldest son of a bitch you could ever imagine."
Louise shook her head in disagreement, "You're wrong, Alec. He uses the cold faade to cover his very strong, deep, heated emotions. But then, you already knew that, didn't you?"
He looked at her in surprise, "I didn't think anyone else realized it. I cover for him, let everyone think he doesn't care, but you're right, it couldn't be further from the truth. The problem is that he cares too much."
She grinned at him, "Ah, yes. The 'tragic hero' and his trusty side-kick. You make a good Tonto, Alec."
Alec chuckled softly. "Thanks, I think." He glanced towards the closed door, "He'll probably have nightmares tonight. I'll sleep out here and handle them."
"Are you sure?" she asked, frowning.
"Yeah. Like you said, he trusts me. Even when I've hurt him, he still trusts me."
"You're his anchor, Alec. His tether to reality and humanity. He can't do without you, you know."
Alec's smile turned pensive. "I know. We need each other, I'm afraid. I just wonder what either of us will do if something ever happens?"
"I shudder to contemplate that, Alec. We've got to make sure it doesn't happen."
On that note, Louise headed off to bed, leaving Alec alone to contemplate whether or not to drink himself into oblivion or not. He looked longingly at the bar, then at the two closed bedroom doors and sighed. Not tonight. He'd need his wits about him when the nightmares came, he was sure of it.
As predicted, Alec awoke at the first soft sound of distress from his friend. He arose silently and pulled on his robe as he shuffled over to the closed door and opened it. With any luck, he'd be able to awaken his friend without setting off his kill-or-be-killed reflex. He spoke from the doorway, first.
A soft moan was his only answer. Sighing, he went in. "Come on, Ed, it's time to wake up. It's all right, mate. Ed?" He frowned. Straker was face down, his arms above his head, not one of his usual sleeping positions, he seemed to be squirming and he suddenly realized that he was probably reliving the attack from a couple of weeks ago. "Shit." Alec turned and hurried to get Dr. Lewis.
"Louise, I need your help."
"Wha?" She sat up at the urgency in his voice.
"Your help. I think Ed's reliving the attack and if he is, I certainly don't want to be the one to awaken him."
"No, of course not." She threw the covers back and hurried out, not bothering with her robe. Going into Straker's room, she took one look and nodded. "I think you're right, Alec. Go order us some coffee, will you? I'll waken him."
Alec relievedly went into the other room to call room service. He looked at the clock and winced. It was almost four in the morning. At least they'd had a good four hours of sleep, already.
While Alec arranged for coffee, Louise quietly moved towards the nightmare-ridden man. "Ed, wake up, now. Ed?" She reached the bed and took a deep breath and reached out to touch his shoulder. He reacted as she expected him to and leaped back to avoid his fight response.
They were holding him down and hurting him. They were laughing as they hurt him. Faces of strangers, hands, groping and bruising. A stranger's touch on his shoulder and suddenly he was free and able to defend himself. He reacted as he'd been trained and almost succeeded in grappling with his perceived assailant. As consciousness returned, he found himself standing in a dark room with only a single person before him, but the form was that of a woman, not one of the men who attacked him. He frowned, not understanding the reality vs. the dream.
"Easy, Commander, it's all right, you were dreaming," Dr. Lewis said in a soft, soothing voice.
He was gasping from the adrenaline rush from his nightmare. "Oh, God," He moaned as the memories assailed him. He began shaking violently and she stepped close and drew him into a hug.
"It's all right, you're safe. Relax, now. There's no one here but you, me, and Alec. Hush, now, shhhhhh, it's all right, now, you're safe. Shhhhh." She pulled him down to sit on the bed beside her as she held him close. He was trembling like an aspen leaf in a gale and she began to gently rock him, holding him tightly against her.
Alec came in and watched her as she gentled his friend back from the abyss of his nightmare. He wanted to go closer and help, but was afraid he would only make matters worse. He was still watching when the bellboy arrived with the coffee and he turned to let him in.
His own hands were shaking as he fixed coffee for them all. He made Ed's extra light and sweet and debated adding a shot of brandy to them all, but decided not to. He quietly reentered the bedroom and set their cups down on the bedside table. He was relieved to see that Ed had stopped shaking so badly and his breathing was approaching normal. He met Louise's eyes in the darkness, the only light filtering in from the lounge. She nodded towards the coffee and he lifted Ed's mug.
"Ed, here, coffee," he said very softly.
Straker had clung tightly to the refuge of Dr. Lewis's arms. She was strong and gentle and it felt good to lean heavily on her as he allowed his horror to run its course. When Alec mentioned coffee, however, he took a deep, shuddering breath and let go of his temporary anchor, grateful for their presence. His shaking hands reached for the mug and he took a long drink of the hot, soothing beverage.
"I'm all right, thank you," he said softly. They didn't believe him, as he was still shaking. Louise put an arm around him and lay her head on his shoulder.
"You don't have to pretend with us, Ed. You're safe with us."
"Am I?" There was an uncertain note in his voice.
"Yes, you are," Alec agreed.
"Then what about last night? What was that all about?"
"I'm sorry," Louise said regretfully. "I needed some information and you are notoriously reticent about yourself and your past."
"Why did you need to know about Phu Lin?"
She shook her head. "I have this feeling. I don't often get them, but when I do, I've learned to trust them and follow through. If I'd only learned to follow those hunches sooner, Tom might still be alive."
Straker pulled away from her and frowned, looking her in the eyes. Alec simply watched curiously.
She shrugged. "I had a bad feeling about that day. I wanted to stay home, but Tom insisted. We went, he died. If I'd insisted, we would have never seen them, they'd have never seen us, and I'd be fat and happy with my family still intact."
"When else have you had such hunches?" Alec asked.
She smiled. "Yesterday morning. Well, I guess it's the day before yesterday, now. I had a hunch, so I followed through on it. I'm sorry I hurt you, Ed, but my hunch says that you'll be happy with the results."
Straker shook his head. "I wish I could share your feeling, but I simply don't think Phu Lin is alive any more. I tried to find her after I escaped, but she'd completely vanished. There was no trace of her and no one knew anything about her."
"Give me a few days, please? My hunches have always been right; it's only when I ignore them that there's trouble."
Ed sighed and shook his head. "All right. At least I'll finally know for certain. That will be something."
"Closure," Alec agreed.
Louise nodded. "Closure." She shifted a bit, pressing closer to Ed, and caught Alec's eye. She looked from him to the door, indicating she wanted to be alone with the commander for a few minutes. Alec frowned. Her gaze grew fierce and he took the hint.
"Um, I'll be right back. Need the loo." With that, he rose and left the room, pulling the door softly closed behind him.
Louise put both arms back around Straker and held him. He sighed and set his coffee down on the table. "You want to know about the nightmare, right?" he said.
"If you're up to it."
There was no humor in the dry chuckle he emitted as he shook his head. "Why not. I'll need to call that detective, anyway." He took a deep breath. "I was held down by a bunch of strangers. I can remember their faces, and I remember being angry and afraid. I still don't remember the details, but I do remember some of the faces. I, I bit one on the hand, drew blood, I think. He was bigger than Alec, and a lot heavier, but more fit. Looked like a body builder. There were the three men from the earlier meeting, and I remember two others, a scrawny little man with spectacles and another big muscled one with a shaved head. I don't have any idea as to who actually..." his breath caught, "Oh, God." He started shaking again, wishing he hadn't remembered. He had not, thankfully, remembered the pain and actual assault, but he remembered faces and fear, and he intellectually knew what had happened, but that part was still mercifully a blank. Still, he clung to her and shuddered with the terror he'd felt that night.
"You're safe, now. No one's going to hurt you. I'm here, and Alec's here. We won't let anyone hurt you, shhhh, you're going to be fine, Ed, it's all right, now. Shhhh." She started rocking him again and held him cradled against her breast as she spoke soothingly to him. After a while she eased him back into bed and stretched out beside him, still holding him as he slept.
Alec watched silently from the doorway as she comforted his friend. When she eased him down, he half-expected her to simply tuck him in and leave him to sleep, and perhaps have the nightmare return. He was pleased when she pulled him against her and continued to hold him against the return of his night terrors.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Alec whispered softly.
"Well, you could always climb in here with us, but that might make it worse, I suppose. Just be prepared to do a lot of extra touching, tomorrow. He needs reassurance and acceptance. He still hasn't remembered the actual attack, thankfully. With any luck, he never will. He remembers some faces of the men who restrained him, and the three men he had the meeting with," She whispered as she gently held her patient against her. His breathing was almost normal, and she didn't think Alec was aware that Straker had cried. She'd try to keep that bit of information quiet, unless Ed decided to say anything about it. Alec might suspect, but he wouldn't know for sure and besides, he'd never betray his friend like that.
"All right. He's got that meeting tomorrow afternoon, remember, and three more on Wednesday and the last one Thursday morning. Do you think he'll be up to it?"
"I'll stick close to him and will take care of him. Of course, if we see any of his assailants, I won't guarantee we won't end up in jail for murder."
Alec snorted. "Well, I happen to feel much the same, myself. I've seen you in action; you can run interference with the best. I know you'll take good care of him." He watched as she continued to hold Straker, her hands gently stroking his back as she cradled him against her. For just a moment, he wondered... but then he pushed the curiosity away and accepted that she'd do what she felt would be best for her patient. And he remembered her saying that human touch didn't need to involve sex.
"If you need me, call. I'll hear you and be here in a tick."
"Thanks, Alec." She closed her eyes, her hands continuing their gentle stroking and soothing of the sleeping commander.
Alec envied him at that moment, despite knowing the reasons why he was being held by this warm, caring woman. Shaking his head in bemusement, he headed back to bed.
For the second time in less than a week, he awoke cradled against a woman's breast. This time, however, he wasn't shocked by it. In fact, he felt rather good about it, remembering how she'd confirmed his feelings the last time. This time, however, he was actually 'in bed' with her. She was a warm and comforting pillow and he relished the contact. He rested quietly against her, basking in her warm, somnambulant embrace and wondered if there was something more possible, here. He sighed and decided to stop thinking and simply enjoy it while it lasted.
This time when she awoke with a man's head cradled against her breast, she didn't think of Tom, but of Ed. The realization startled her, but she didn't physically react, only her breath caught for a moment. She felt him shift away from her and opened her eyes to look up into his eyes and seeing his amusement.
"I'm afraid I could get used to this," he said, self-mockingly.
She smiled ruefully. "I'm afraid I could, too. So I guess that means it's got to stop, eh?"
His expression turned pensive and he sighed. "I suppose so, but it was nice while it lasted." He shifted away from her and stretched. She watched him, amused at how blas he was trying to be. Impishly, she rolled onto her side, rose up a bit and kissed him, just to see his reaction. He was definitely surprised, but returned the kiss in kind, but kept his hands to himself. Pulling reluctantly away, she locked eyes with him. His gaze was regretful, not for the kiss, she was sure, but for the hopelessness of the situation. They both knew he was married to his job and nothing would ever come between him and his duty.
"'The saddest of these, it might have been.'" She quoted softly as she stood up and left the room. His eyes closed in a moment of regret; she understood, thankfully, but that didn't help him now. He wondered if he could bear to have her near him without being able to touch, allow her to touch him without permitting himself to touch her in return. Shaking his head in annoyance with himself, he got up and went into the lounge.
Alec was sitting with the newspaper and drinking coffee. He looked up at Straker, a concerned frown on his face. Ed shrugged and poured himself a cup of coffee.
Alec shook his head and silently bemoaned the fact that his friend was such a noble idiot. Still. Maybe, once he found out what had happened to Phu Lin, he might convince these two that they could be good for each other. Both had lost everything they held dearest to this bloody war, and maybe it was time for them to find comfort in each other. He smirked to himself over what an old yenta he was becoming, but still couldn't think of a better or more deserving man for a bit of happiness; even if he was twenty years older than she was.
While Alec made excuses to keep Louise with Ed, and while he searched for Phu Lin, Straker seemed to take it in stride, being the perfect executive, while Dr. Lewis acted the part of the perfect executive secretary.
Their afternoon meeting went well, particularly after Louise leaned over and murmured to Ed that their host was afraid of him for some reason. At that, Straker came on stronger and their negotiations quickly turned in the favor of Harlington-Straker, much to his amusement. Once the deal was signed and notarized, they headed back to the hotel.
"You know, you could be very useful in negotiations, Doctor. It hadn't occurred to me before what an asset a psychiatrist could be."
"Well, considering the caliber of psychiatrist you've had to deal with in the past, I'm not in the least surprised." To keep up appearances, she was driving, and Ed laughed at her response.
"Yes, well, I think it has a lot to do with the mentality of the psychiatrist, too. You actually enjoyed that, didn't you?"
She grinned at him. "Yes, as a matter of fact."
"Then you'll stay on, at least for the rest of the week, before you go back to your regular job?" he asked hopefully.
"Of course." He was looking out the side window and missed the quick flash of sadness cross her face.
Dinner was a celebration, but afterwards, back in the hotel, Straker remembered to call detective Li. She was surprised to hear from him, but came right over with a stack of photos for him to pick through. He identified every one of the men he'd remembered with no hesitation or doubt. The detective was relieved, as his statement would help them seal their case. She asked him if it came to trial if he'd be willing to return and testify. He reluctantly agreed. Louise had input his statement into his laptop, printed off a copy and he signed it for the detective before she left, saving her another trip.
After she was gone, Louise, noticing the expression of melancholy on Straker's face and in his body language, stood up and made him an offer he could hardly refuse.
"How about a nice massage, Commander? You haven't had one in a couple of days."
He looked up at her standing beside him and smiled, a bit sadly. "Yes, thank you. That would be lovely." He rose and went to take a shower, first.
"He's falling for you," Alec murmured softly as he looked at the closed bathroom door.
She sighed. "It's mutual, I'm afraid, but he's made it quite clear that he's married to SHADO and nothing else. Surely you aren't surprised?"
Alec sighed in return. "No. Disappointed, perhaps. I think you'd be good for him. Those massages were a great idea, you know. But I suppose, under the circumstances, you wouldn't care to take up that offer to continue them?"
She bit her lower lip, thinking. "I don't know if I'm strong enough to stand the stress. I need things, too, you know."
"Yes. I know," he agreed sadly, wishing for just a moment that it was himself she cared for.
Ed loved the touch of her hands on his body. He no longer felt uncomfortable in her presence unclothed, as her touch was professional, without being harsh. Even when she straddled him, he didn't react, only to the pleasure of loosening muscles and the scent of the aromatherapy oil. He fell asleep faster than with any drug after her ministrations, and he invariably slept through the night with no nightmares. Alec benefited, as well. She understood him even better than she did Straker. The man was a sensualist and loved touch and closeness to others; it explained his penchant for the ladies, and their mutual like of him, even though he couldn't ever settle for just one. Alec Freeman might be a tomcat, but he was a chivalrous tomcat.
For herself, she again had to make do with the jacuzzi.
On Wednesday, they had the meetings with the three independent filmmakers. One, Louise determined was nothing more than a scam, the other two were on the up-and-up and Straker agreed with the proposals.
Meanwhile, Alec finally got a line on Phu Lin Duk. He was puzzled when he learned she'd been brought to the States shortly after Ed's capture. When he found out who had sponsored her immigration, he was horrified. Tracking down all available information, he learned that there had indeed been a child. Two, actually. Fraternal twins, a girl and a boy. How was he going to tell him? For that matter, what was he going to tell him? He gathered the information and placed it in a file. He'd run it past Louise, first. He shook his head. Ed was not going to take some of the information well. Hell, he wasn't taking it well.
Later that evening, while Ed was in the shower, he showed her the information. He could see the fury in her eyes.
"Good thing he's dead or I'd kill him myself, Alec." She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "How could he do that to his own son?"
"She wasn't 'suitable'," Alec replied. "She was dead on about their relationship. He'd have probably never advanced if he'd married her. I know it's wrong, but that's how it was. But what that rotten old bastard did, that was unforgivable."
She was shaking with rage. "Can you go to San Francisco and try and find them? See if they want to meet their father?"
Alec grinned. "Got a four a.m. flight already booked. I'll be there at first light and waiting on the doorstep when their shop opens. What if they don't want to see him?"
"Convince them. Tell them the truth, show them the documentation and use that masterful charm of yours to convince them, Alec."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll do my best." They heard the water turn off and Alec quickly took the file and put it in his briefcase while Louise tried to regain her composure. She pulled out her aromatherapy oils and opened the one that the two men liked and took a deep sniff. It did what it was supposed to and helped her regain her calm and equilibrium. She sent a quick prayer that this would work.
Ed didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary and readily accepted his massage. One of these days, she was going to start with his front and then his back, because every time she rubbed his back, he fell asleep within minutes. At least he slept well, afterwards.
Ed was annoyed to discover that Alec had gone off somewhere before dawn. Louise's reassurance that it was not SHADO related didn't ease his disquiet, but when she began to knead his neck and shoulders, he immediately relaxed.
"Are you sure I can't convince you to come with us back to England?"
"I don't know, Ed. It would be very hard for me, you know."
He understood. "Yes, I suppose I do, at that. I wish...."
She laughed softly. "If wishes were horses, we could turn them all loose on the aliens and have done with them, once and for all."
He laughed. "I suppose so." He leaned back against her and felt the pleasure of her arms wrapping around him. If only....
Their breakfast meeting with John Bracken began badly with a glitch at the studio gate. Louise was not on the list, although Straker was. The gate guard, getting the full benefit of Straker's icy glare, quickly phoned the front office with the problem. He was glad when he was told to let them in and give them directions to the canteen.
"Bloody fools," Straker muttered in annoyance.
"Just a glitch, Commander. Don't let it worry you. Perhaps it was a ploy to try and fluster you before the meeting?"
He took a deep breath and let it out quickly. "Yes, yes. I suppose so," he agreed. "But if they wanted me flustered, it didn't work."
She glanced at him in the rear view mirror. "Could have fooled me, sir."
He met her eyes in the reflective surface and shook his head. Another deep breath and his lips twitched up. "Flustered? No. Annoyed as hell, yes. I don't negotiate well when I'm angry. I tend to take my toys and go home."
She grinned at him. "That could be useful, sir."
"Yes, I suppose it could." He was still tense when they parked and got out of the car, however. Louise noticed and gently reached up to quickly brush her hands across his shoulders from behind, the touch not only removed the non-existent dust from his coat, but also served to soothe and relax him.
Her massage sessions were paying off, just brushing her hands along his shoulders did the trick. He smiled at her and was ready to face the coming battle. He held the door for her and she smiled back and entered, then took her place just behind his left shoulder and followed him into the studio cafeteria.
An insolent young man was waiting for them. "Mr. Straker? I'm Mr. Peters, Mr. Bracken is waiting for you, sir. This way, please."
Straker's spine stiffened. Peter's attitude was, perhaps, perfectly polite, but there was an underlying tone and subtle body posture that put him on alert. It wouldn't do to turn his back on this man, he was certain.
His subtle change of posture did not go unnoticed by Louise and she became more alert. If anything happened to the commander, Alec would have her guts for garters and she'd deserve it. When they arrived at the private dining room, a man slightly taller than Straker stood to greet them, smiling. His hair was silver, but from having gone gray, and his lined face indicated an interesting and long life. She guessed his age at nearer to eighty than seventy, but he was still going strong. Comparing the two men, Straker came off as the better looking, not to mention much younger in appearance.
"Mr. Straker, at last. John Bracken." He offered his hand and Straker took it. "I'm glad you could make it. You've recovered from that unpleasantness a couple of weeks ago?"
"Yes, thank you. This is my assistant, Dr. Lewis. Louise has been taking care of me through all this trouble."
John Bracken smiled at her. "Ah, an angel of mercy, no doubt." She smiled warily at him. She didn't trust a lot of people on first meeting, and her intuition on this was that this man was a shark, a real man-eater.
"Hardly, Mr. Bracken," she demurred. "Just ask Mr. Straker, I'm sure he'd enjoy telling you how I've been bullying him until he's completely healed."
Straker's smile was tight. "Yes, well, it was necessary, I'm afraid. I don't like being still for any length of time."
Bracken was sizing them up, glancing over, he frowned as he saw Peters was still hovering. "Thank you, Peters, that will be all for now." No one missed the flash of anger on the man's face as he spun on his heel and left the room. Bracken sighed and shook his head.
Looking apologetically at his guests, he said, "There's a very good example of why one should never practice nepotism."
"A relative?" Louise asked.
"A nephew, I'm afraid, well, great-nephew, actually. He thinks he should be a director or an actor, without having to do anything other than be related to the boss. Please, sit down," he added, motioning to the chairs.
"Thank you," Straker replied and held Louise's chair for her. The table was angled so that from any two seats, you could monitor the entire room, much to Straker's relief. Although he couldn't see the door from where he sat, he could pick up the reflection in the window opposite his seat. Louise had a good angle on the door, but had her back to the window; still, it wasn't uncomfortable for a paranoid like he'd become over the years.
They used the process of ordering their breakfasts to feel each other out and set the tone for negotiations. Straker observed that Bracken was a good example of a studio executive; probably better than he'd ever be, but he didn't have Straker's ruthlessness or ulterior motives.
Bracken felt like he was negotiation with some kind of military person. High ranking, too. General, perhaps. The man certainly had the posture to have been military. Odd that he'd have gone into the movie business. He'd done his homework and knew that with few exceptions, Harlington-Straker Studios were hacks in the business, although their work for the BBC in doing nature documentaries was top-notch, as were some of their cult-sci-fi films. Somehow, though, Straker didn't seem the type of man to accept the mediocrity of his studio.
Louise simply sat and observed. It was something she did well. Bracken, like Straker, took his coffee light and sweet. But this was a long-time studio executive, the top of the pack, here. Of the producers she'd observed, this was the only one she deemed worthy of the title. She watched them as they verbally sparred, finding the similarities interesting.
As they sat over coffee, Bracken finally got down to business. "What I'm looking for, Ed, is an alliance. Like an alliance between countries, you have England and Europe at your fingertips, I have the western hemisphere. If we go into business together, we can both save costs, both for travel expenses and location shooting. If I have something that needs the English countryside, I send you the cast and you provide the crew. Likewise when you do something with an American backdrop. What do you think?"
Straker liked this man. He made good eye contact and knew how to negotiate. "I think it would be better for you than for me, John." He sipped his coffee. "We haven't made anything for the American audience except documentaries in over fifteen years. Oh, sure, we've done some special effects, but ILM has pretty much cornered that market, these days."
Bracken nodded, "But you've got the same capabilities they have, and you've got some tricks I still haven't seen mastered by others. When it comes to space shots, I don't think even NASA could outdo you."
Straker allowed himself a small smile. There was a very valid reason for that, but he couldn't possibly say anything about it. "Yes, well, we have had a few off-the-wall cult classics, I suppose. Personally, I'm rather embarrassed by them, but the fans love them, so what can I say?"
"You know perfectly well that the only thing that matters to the stockholders and backers is the amount of their profit. I admit that I come out better in this deal, but it will give your people added work and exposure, too. Think about it, that's all I ask."
Straker nodded. "I shall." He looked over at Louise, who was frowning at something behind him. He glanced quickly at the reflection in the window, and then turned to get a better look. Bracken glanced up and scowled.
"Peters, what do you want?"
"Sorry, but I just thought that I'd remind you to invite them to the party this evening, is all." He was surprised. Normally, no one noticed him hovering in the background.
Bracken shrugged. "We've a studio premier this evening, if you'd care to join us?" He smiled with no expectations.
The thought of going into a large group of strangers sent an unexpected shiver up his spine. "Thank you, but no. I'm hoping to be heading home in the next day or two, and I've no desire to prolong my stay any longer than absolutely necessary."
Bracken grinned and nodded. "I know exactly how you feel." He leaned closer and his voice lowered to a soft purr, "Can't stand these things, myself. Spent a good many years like you, Ed, staying out of the limelight as much as possible."
Ed smiled. "You understand, then." He glanced at his watch, "Well, we don't want to keep you from your golf game; we'll see ourselves out and I'll call you within a day or two and let you know my decision." They all stood and the two men shook hands.
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Ed. You're an oddity in this business, you know. Someone who isn't made of plastic."
Ed chuckled, "I could say the same for you, John. It's been a pleasure. I'll talk to you soon. Louise?"
"Thank you for breakfast, Mr. Bracken," she murmured politely as she offered her hand. She almost giggled when he lifted it to his lips and kissed her fingers.
"The pleasure was all mine, dear lady." His eyes twinkled as he flirted with her. Her initial thought was he needed Alec to give him a few lessons.
Ed watched with interest how she reacted to Bracken. She didn't seem at all fazed by his actions and he wondered what she was thinking, as he saw the genuine amusement in her eyes as she took up her place behind his left shoulder.
Bracken watched them leave. From Louise's position behind and to the side, he thought her more of a bodyguard than an assistant. As they reached the door, Peters was mostly blocking their way. He saw Straker stiffen and then Louise stepped in front of him, planted her heel on Peters' toes and leaned close to whisper something to him. When she shifted back, Peters got out of their way and even held the door for them. He smiled. He liked them, and he hoped the deal would go through. If it did, he'd be sure to keep Peters far away from them.
"Are you all right, Ed?" She knew that the thing with Peters blocking the exit had upset him, the too-close proximity of a stranger, and she was surprised it hadn't happened before. Of course, before, there had always been both Alec and her to buffer him from too-close contact with strangers. She noted with concern that he was pale and his breathing was a bit fast. She got him back to the car and got him inside the front passenger door. She quickly circled around to the other side and got behind the wheel. He had his head tilted back against the headrest and was perspiring. Biting her lower lip, she put his seatbelt on for him and then her own. She started the car and drove as fast as was safe to get them out of there. At the gate, she gave the guard their visitor's badges and drove out the gate and into traffic. She glanced over at Straker and saw the faint trembling of his hands where they rested on his thighs. She silently cursed Peters to the twelfth generation. She needed to get somewhere safe as soon as possible. She'd had enough experience to recognize the signs and Straker was armed, after all.
If she ever saw Peters again, she would... well, she wanted to. Smarmy son of a sea biscuit.
She tried talking to him, but he didn't seem to hear her, and her light, tentative touch on his arm made him jerk away from her. She kept talking, even though it seemed to get no reaction.
She got them safely back to the hotel. Straker, by sheer force of will, had brought himself back under control. His teeth were gritted and he was still pale, but he was breathing normally again. His hands were fisted against his thighs and he was again looking around, searching for trouble.
She followed him silently back to their suite. He practically tore his jacket getting it off and then flung it on the floor. Striding purposely, he went into his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. He hadn't said a word to her.
She took several deep breaths and went into the bathroom and filled the Jacuzzi. When it was ready, she walked into his room to find him standing at the window, glaring out.
"Come with me," she said softly. He glanced back at her.
"I want you in the Jacuzzi, now."
"I don't give a damn about 'doctor's orders', Ms Lewis."
"I know. Go in the bathroom and get in that Jacuzzi, now."
He turned to face her, his arms folding across his chest. "And if I don't?"
"I'll drag you in there, kicking and screaming, strip your clothes off of you and throw you in."
"You wouldn't dare." But there was just a hint of fear in his eyes at the thought.
"Don't try me."
His chin came up as he glared at her. "What then?"
"Then, you soak in that nice, hot water, run the jets until you relax, then you come back in here and I give you a massage."
His posture slumped. "As much as I enjoy those, what good will it do if I can't bear to have anyone closer than six feet to me?"
"You're going to work at it, and we're going to help you recover."
"Alec and I, and anyone else you trust enough."
He looked away, chewing on the inside of his cheek. "There isn't anyone, but you already knew that," his voice had lowered and he was looking defeated. "I don't even remember what happened, but I know what they did to me. I. I don't like this!" He spun and glared out the window again.
"What don't you like?" she asked softly, trying to draw him out and admit what was wrong.
His teeth ground for several seconds as he fought for control, then he turned to look at her, his eyes desolate.
"Feeling like this. Afraid. Spooked because someone gets too close to me. How can I possibly function like this?"
"Obviously, you can't." She saw his jaw clench again and hurried on. "So, we have to work at it, get you to be able to let strangers get close again. You didn't have any trouble at Griffith Park, the crowds at the zoo or the pier didn't bother you, and you were just fine at Universal."
He looked confused. "Then what happened today? What was so different about this time?"
"Well, Alec wasn't there, for one thing."
He shook his head. "No, that's not the answer. He hasn't gone to one of the meetings, only you have, so what was different this time?"
He scowled. "What about him?"
"He was deliberately in your space, crowding you, trying to play big dog."
He was taken aback. "Big dog?" He didn't understand.
She smiled, realizing the truth of her words. "Yes, of course. Haven't you ever seen two strange dogs meet? They cautiously approach, hackles up, and carefully move about, sniffing each other, right?"
He nodded, a confused frown on his face. "Yes, so?"
"So, people do something similar. His body language was saying he wants to be top dog, but he's really only probably a delta."
"Delta? You've lost me."
"Right. Okay, the top dog is the alpha, right?" He nodded. "The second dog is the beta, the third in the hierarchy is the gamma, then the delta, and all the way down to the omega, depending on the size of the pack."
He nodded, understanding, but still not getting the correlation.
"So, when a new dog joins the pack, there's a brief period of readjustment, to determine where the new member fits in. He's low in the pack and wants to move higher. So, he's pushing to see if he can back you down."
"So, because I freaked out, he's seeing himself in the superior position?"
"Maybe. Except that I'm obviously inferior to you and I backed him down. Besides, you made eye contact with him and held it until I got him to move out of our way. I think we did very well. You basically couldn't be bothered with the young pup and let a lower ranked individual take care of him. You're probably on equal footing with Bracken on that one."
He shook his head. "But my reaction when we got out, what about that?"
"Adrenaline surge, no doubt. Fight or flight. You didn't want to shoot the fool, and hitting him wasn't exactly called for, either. You glitched, is all."
"Glitched?" He was smiling, "Sounds like a computer problem."
"Greatest computer ever designed, and it's all organic. You came upon a situation where your logical reaction was inappropriate to the situation and it fizzled for a moment. So, we need to reboot. Now, into the Jacuzzi and then I'm going to give you a complete massage until you're so relaxed you can't move."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Is that wise?"
She grinned mischievously at him. "Don't worry, I'll protect you."
He couldn't help the chuckle that escaped. "Fine, you win." He headed for the bathroom, then paused at the door to look back at her. "By the way, where is Alec?"
She paused. "He's doing some research for me. Is that a problem?"
"No, I suppose not. What sort of research?"
She bit her lip, not wanting to say anything until she had more information. "When you have a need to know, I'll fill you in, all right?"
He scowled but nodded. "Fine, then you can both answer all my questions."
She smiled. "Gladly." Particularly if this all works out the way I want it to.
Alec slept on the flight to San Francisco. He had only his briefcase and had been looked at rather oddly by the ticket agent. He simply smiled and told her he had one meeting and would be flying back that evening. The woman shrugged and handed him his boarding pass. His ticket was one way, since he didn't know how long it would take to convince the Duks that he was sincere.
He rented a car and drove north through several small towns until he reached Daly City, a small former town, now a suburb of San Francisco itself. He found the address and parked, waiting until the shop opened. He looked around. The area was mostly lower class, with a goodly amount of street people. His rental car got a few looks, but was mostly ignored. He spotted a coffee shop just up the street and got out of the car, locked it, and went into the shop to sit and wait and drink lots of coffee. He'd like something stronger, but not just yet. He might be a drunk, but he was a responsible drunk.
At seven-thirty, he spotted someone unlocking the door to the Duks' shop. He paid his bill, left a generous tip, smiled at the waitress, who smiled back when she saw what he'd left for her, and headed out.
He looked at the young woman who was struggling with the metal mesh gate, trying to open it. "Here, let me give you a hand with that, may I?" She spun to look at him in surprise and a little fear. Seeing his suit and briefcase, she relaxed.
"Thank you." She let him help and between them, they got the gate open.
"Are you the owner?" Alec asked hopefully.
"One of them. What are you selling?" She had no accent.
"I'm not, actually. I'm looking for information."
She looked up at him, judging his trustworthiness. "What kind of information? We don't deal drugs, we don't deal in contraband. We just sell movies and books. What kind of information could we possibly have that you would want?"
"I'm looking for information on Phu Lin Duk," he said simply.
The young woman's breath caught. "My mother? She died a long time ago."
He nodded. "Yes, so I discovered. Actually, I'm interested in finding out about your father."
Her eyes widened in surprise and Alec almost gasped at the sudden resemblance to Ed. Her eyes were large, an odd shade of grayish brown and she had her father's features, but in a more delicate manner. Even her hair, although a muddy brown colour, had the same look to it. "My father?" she said bitterly. "Never met the man."
She frowned, obviously upset. She bit her lower lip and looked down, thinking. Deciding, she took a deep breath and nodded, looking up at him. "Come in. I'll tell you what I know."
"My mother lived with him in Viet Nam, for several months. I think she loved him, but he was shot down and captured."
"Captured? Not killed?"
She shook her head. "No. My mother said they fought the morning he was shot down, over getting married. He wanted to, she didn't." She bit her lip again, frowning and looked up at him. "She'd just found out she was pregnant, but was afraid. Afraid of the hatred in Viet Nam, afraid of the hatred in the US. She thought she was in a no-win situation, and then he asked her to marry him. She told him no. They fought, he went away and got shot down."
Alec nodded. So far, the story exactly matched what Ed had remembered, except for the information that Phu Lin had known she was pregnant. "Go on," he encouraged.
"A month or two later, she was contacted by his father, offering to bring her to the States, because he found out she was pregnant and he thought it was his only chance to 'carry on the family name'." She said it bitterly. Alec winced.
She shrugged, "She came here. Lived here until we were born, then, word reached us that he'd escaped and would be coming home and my 'dear, sweet grandfather'," she said it like an epithet, "sent us away, because now his son had a chance to find a 'suitable wife' and give him 'proper heirs'."
Alec sighed. That certainly sounded like Straker Senior. He carefully opened his hands from the fists they'd unconsciously formed. "What did your father have to say about it?"
She looked surprised. "I don't think anyone ever told him. My mother never tried to contact him; I do know that. She always spoke well of him, but once he was back, our grandfather wanted nothing to do with us." She looked up at him. "Why are you so interested in ancient history?"
Alec grinned. "Well, I was doing a bit of research and found mention of your father and mother. I got curious."
She liked his manner, it was neither condescending nor obsequious. "Okay, so what are you going to do with the information?"
"I'm not sure, yet. First, I need as much as I can get. What happened to your mother?"
She looked sad. "When we were eight, she was killed in a robbery. We were made wards of the state, and I guess they contacted our grandfather, who sent a lawyer to hire someone to take care of us. That's the last I heard of him. Why?"
Alec was shaken. Probably Ed's father's final act before his death was to take care of his grandchildren, even then keeping their existence secret from his son. Bloody bastard.
"Have you any interest in ever finding your father?"
She smiled. "Oh, sure. Eddie and I dreamed of it all the time, growing up. But how many pilots who were captured in Viet Nam were named Edward? There's no way for us to find him, not without my mother's knowledge."
"What about your grandfather?"
She shrugged. "Never seen him. Never heard his name. No way to find out, now. It's been too many years."
"But if you could find him, would you want to meet him?"
She looked at him, puzzled. "I'd like to know if he knew about us, yes. As for meeting him... that would depend. Would he care about a couple of half-Asian brats he fathered when he was younger than I am?" She shrugged, but bit her lip wistfully. "Why should he care after all this time?"
"But what if he did? Care, I mean?"
There was the sound of the shop door opening and they both turned to see who had entered. The young man who came in was carrying a toddler, who looked over and started to wriggle and stretch his arms towards the woman.
"Mama! Mama!" With a quick smile, she stood up and crossed to the young man and accepted the child from him. Turning back, her expression turned shy.
"This is my son, Alexander, and my brother, Eddie."
Alec started. What an odd coincidence that Straker's grandson should have a name similar to his own. He smiled. "Nice to meet you. I'm Alec Freeman. I was just asking your sister here some questions about your parents. Perhaps you might have something to add?"
The young man snorted derisively. "My father's family can rot in hell, as far as I'm concerned."
His chin came up, "We weren't 'suitable' for the great white family. When he came back, we were tossed aside like last week's newspaper."
"What if your father never knew about you?"
Eddie scowled. "Why wouldn't he have?"
"Who would have told him? Your mum? His father? Come on, now. Can you see your prideful grandfather telling his son about you? Not if he wanted, as you say, 'suitable' grandchildren."
Eddie frowned, considering the idea. "Yeah, that sounds plausible. So what? I don't even know what my grandfather's last name was. How would we go about finding him now?"
The young woman, whom Alec realized he didn't know her name, smiled. "You know him, don't you? Our father?"
Perceptive little Sheila, Alec thought. He nodded. "Yes." The twins looked at each other and he again saw the resemblance both bore to their father. Eddie was a bit less Asian-looking than his sister, but they both had those huge, Straker eyes, and the long, thin Straker nose, and those mouths.... There could be no doubt.
"Lily, don't get your hopes up," Eddie said softly enough that Alec had to strain to hear.
Lily turned to Alec. "So, does he want to meet us?"
Alec gave them a rueful grin. "I have no idea. He doesn't even know you exist, yet."
The twins looked at each other in consternation, then looked back at him. "I don't understand," Eddie said.
Alec sighed. This could be tricky. "Your father's visiting in Los Angeles, on business, and was injured. Due to some other considerations, his new doctor came here to take care of him. One of the things she discovered was the existence of your mother. I did some research and found out about you. Your father has no idea what ever happened to your mother. Oh, and before you ask; when he escaped the POW camp, he tried to find her, but unbeknownst to him, his father had brought her here, already." He saw the doubtful expression on Eddie's face. "He did look for her," he repeated emphatically.
Eddie chewed his lower lip while gazing into his sister's eyes. She lifted one eyebrow in a familiar gesture and nodded slightly. He sighed and nodded as well. Looking back at Alec, he nodded. "Yes. We'd like to meet him."
Alec beamed at them. "Great. Let me call and see about making arrangements. Do you have time to come today? Or should he come here before going home?"
"Where's home?" Lily asked.
"Why's he live there?" she replied.
"It's where his work is," Alec replied guardedly.
"Oh. Uh, what does he do?" Eddie asked curiously.
"He runs a movie studio."
The twins looked at each other in surprise. "Movies?" they chorused.
"I'm afraid so." He was smiling as he dialed the number of Louise's cell phone.
"Got them. They didn't know, Ed's father didn't tell him, they want to meet him." he rattled off without preamble.
Louise sighed in relief. "Can you see any resemblance?
"Very definitely." He was smiling.
"When will you be back?" Her voice sounded weary. Alec frowned.
"What's wrong? What happened?"
She quickly gave him a run-down on the morning's incidents. "I've got him in the Jacuzzi, now; but he's pretty upset and understandably so. He's finally reacting to what happened."
"Damn," Alec muttered. "So, what shall we do?"
"Well, let me tell him and see what he says?"
Alec closed his eyes, wishing he could be the one to tell his friend, but understood that that wasn't possible. "Very well, then. Call me soonest?"
"Absolutely. Ah, he's getting out, now. I'm going to give him a thorough rubdown and see if I can get him relaxed enough not to detonate at the news."
Alec's chuckle was commiserating. "Good luck."
"Thanks, I'll need it. I should be able to call you back within an hour and let you know."
"Oh, one other little titbit of information,"
"He's got a grandson, Alexander, who looks to be about a year and a half old?" Lily smiled and nodded.
Louise's voice sounded pleased. "Even better. I'll call soonest."
Alec disconnected and closed his cell. He looked at the twins, who were looking concerned. "She's going to tell him."
"What's wrong?" Eddie asked.
"He had a little problem at a meeting earlier. He didn't react well."
"What's wrong with him?" Lily asked, letting her squirming son down.
"He was badly beaten a couple of weeks ago, and he reacted badly to someone invading his space." The good news was that he hadn't killed the bleeding twit.
Eddie nodded. "Panic attacks. I know the feeling," he admitted softly. Alec raised an eyebrow and looked askance at him.
"Got beat up a few years back, and robbed. Any time I got into a group where I didn't know everybody, I'd have a panic attack."
"How'd you get over it?" Alec asked with great interest.
Eddie shrugged. "I just did. Lily and a few close friends always made sure I never went anywhere alone, and if I'd start showing signs, they'd get me away somewhere quiet until I calmed down."
"And we'd talk to him the whole time, telling him he was okay, that we were there, that he wasn't alone. That sort of thing." She smiled at her brother. "It took about a year, but he goes a lot of places alone, now. Even after dark," she added, teasingly.
Eddie chuckled. "Yeah. Of course, the self defense classes and the gun help, too." He cocked his head at Alec. "Being armed and knowing how to use it goes a long way towards making me feel safer."
"Have you ever drawn your gun on the wrong people?"
Eddie's smile faded. "Not so far. Came close a time or four, but not yet. I hope I never do."
"But he did use it one night, here in the store, and stopped a robbery," Lily added.
Alec nodded. "That's something to consider." Of course, Straker was already proficient in self-defense and the use of his pistol. But the idea of not letting him go anywhere alone for a while sounded like an excellent idea. Maybe what he really needed was a bodyguard.
The shop door opened and several customers came in, putting an end to their discussion. Alec watched with interest as the twins conducted business. He nodded in approval at the way they treated their customers, like treasured clients. It was no wonder they stayed in business.
"On your back, Commander," Louise ordered.
He frowned. "My back? Why?"
"Because this time, I'm going to give you that full-body massage I've been promising you and I'm not going to let you fall asleep before I'm half-way through."
Towel snugly about his hips, he stretched out on the bed. As usual, she began by pouring a bit of the aromatherapy oil into her hands, only this time, she spread it across his chest and abdomen. He closed his eyes and relaxed as she began at his throat and clavicles and worked out to the ends of his fingers. Then she worked down his chest and abdomen to his waist. Then she started over at his toes and worked her way up, then he grunted as she did a psoas release at his hips. It was painful, but in a good way, like when the crick in your neck suddenly pops.
"Over, now," She said softly and he rolled onto his stomach. She began again, smoothing the oil over his neck, shoulders and back. Then began massaging his scalp and working down his spine. He was nearly asleep when she began to speak.
"Alec's got some news."
"He found out about Phu Lin."
He stiffened a bit, fighting back awake. "Oh?"
"I'm sorry, but she died in 1974."
He sighed, disappointed. "Oh. Well, that's that, then."
"No. She left a set of eight-year-old fraternal twins. A boy and a girl."
He did the math and came to the logical conclusion. "What happened to them?" he whispered, afraid of the answer.
"They were placed in foster care, arranged by their grandfather."
"Phu Lin was an orphan, Doctor," he protested.
"The same grandfather who arranged to have the pregnant Phu Lin brought to the US, the same grandfather who sent them to San Francisco upon learning his son had survived and was coming home."
My father. Ed's eyes closed in anguish. "Why didn't she contact me? Tell me she was here?"
"You know the answer to that, Ed. Your father didn't think her 'suitable'."
He sighed and shook his head, sadly. "Of course not. They're thirty this year. Are they all right?"
"Well, your daughter has a little boy who's about a year and a half old."
His breath caught. "I have a grandson?" he asked in wonder. "May I see them?" he asked, almost pleading. "Where are they? Do they know about me? Do they want to meet me?" His breathing accelerated with excitement.
"Yes, yes, San Francisco, they do now, and yes. Alec's waiting for me to call him back and say if it's all right."
He rolled out from under her hands as they worked on the muscles of his back and stared up at her. "All right? All right?! Of course it's all right! How soon can they be here? Can we pick them up at the airport? Are you sure they want to meet me?" He was babbling and totally unaware of it.
Louise laughed, "I have to call him, yes we can pick them up at the airport, yes I'm sure they want to meet you. Now, back down so I can finish this, and when you wake up, it'll be time to go and pick them up."
"I don't want to sleep, now! There are things to do, preparations...."
"There is nothing for you to do but keep calm and relax. Everything will be taken care of. Now, lie back down or I'll put you down!" She had to struggle not to laugh at him.
With a disgusted sigh, he turned face down on the bed again. "Yes, Doctor," he huffed.
She began again with his scalp and worked her way down. She was nearly finished with his legs before he finally fell asleep. She continued kneading his muscles for several more minutes, wanting him as deeply relaxed and sleeping as possible. Then she eased away and went into the other room to call Alec.
He fidgeted nervously and uncharacteristically as they waited for the plane to land. Would they like him? Would they look like their mother? Like him? What would they think of him? His daughter had a son. He had a grandson. Would they like him? Would they want to get to know him? What about SHADO? He certainly couldn't tell them about that! What did they know about him? What had Alec told them? What had their mother told them about him? What did they know of his father and how poorly he'd gotten along with him? These and a thousand other questions flitted through his mind as he anxiously awaited debarkation.
What if they didn't like him? What then? Suddenly, here was another chance at a family, but what if they took one look at him and turned around to go back? What would he do then? Oh, please, not that. A chance, that's all he needed. He'd do anything, well, almost anything, to please them. The arrival was announced and his breathing was starting to be labored. He felt Louise take his arm and squeeze it, distracting him for a moment and he looked at her.
"It's going to be all right. Stop over-stressing or I'm going to have to give you a sedative, Straker."
"You don't understand," he whispered back, eyes never leaving the crowd of passengers now coming towards them. He sought out the one figure he'd know anywhere and when he spotted him, looked for the three people who were supposed to be with him.
When he first saw them, all doubts vanished. Except for colouring and a slight Asian look to them, it was pretty obvious they were his. His breathing suddenly steadied and a calm descended over him.
His son and daughter were looking at him, and he smiled in welcome. They stopped beside them and he looked hungrily at his children before focusing on his grandson.
"Hello," he said softly, almost shyly, glancing from his children to his grandson. The toddler looked at him, smiled, and reached for him. Surprised, he looked for permission from his daughter and she smiled shyly and handed him the little boy.
"Why, hello there. Aren't you a handsome young man." His eyes went back to his daughter. "Thank you for coming," he said softly.
She glanced at her brother and they exchanged relieved smiles. "It's so nice to finally meet you." She hesitated a moment, and then added, "Father."
His heart nearly stopped and his breath caught in his throat. He blinked tears from his eyes and looked from his daughter to his son, who was smiling and nodding, as well.
"Uh," Straker began, then frowned, turning a scowl on Alec and Louise, "Unfortunately, no one thought to tell me your names," he complained.
There was a moment of shocked silence, and then Alec chuckled. "Sorry about that, Ed. Eddie and Lily are the adults, and that little darling is Alexander."
Eddie? His son was named for him? He looked at the young man in surprise and saw the same consternation he'd felt in his son's eyes.
Eddie scowled at Alec, his expression nearly identical to his father's of a moment before. "Seems to me that no one thought to tell us your name, either. I know it's Edward, since my mother named me after you, but what's your last name?"
"Straker," his father replied, grinning.
"Straker," his children repeated, testing it out.
Louise shifted and lightly touched Straker's arm. "I hate to break this up, but people are starting to stare. I suggest we adjourn back to the hotel."
"Excellent idea," the commander agreed. He started to reluctantly offer his grandson back to his daughter, but she smiled up at him and with a quick stroke down her son's back, allowed him to continue carrying the boy, who seemed fascinated by the silver haired man.
Alec and Eddie gathered the luggage while Louise went to get the car. Pulling up outside, Alec loaded the bags in the trunk and held the door for them to get in. Eddie quickly fastened Alexander's car seat in the middle of the seat and got in on one side while Lily got in on the other. Louise got the center of the front seat and was grateful that the vehicle didn't have bucket seats. Alec drove, and Ed squirmed around so he could talk to his family in the back.
"How was your trip?"
"Bumpy," Eddie replied, shaking his head. "Mr. Freeman swore they went looking for air pockets and thermals to make it worse."
Straker laughed. "Well, that's a pilot for you. They'll always claim to be able to do a better job than the current one." He looked at his daughter. "I'm glad you came," he said softly.
Lily smiled, visually examining every inch of her father. "I am, too. We used to wonder what you were like, if we looked anything like you, or if you'd even want to know we existed." She swallowed hard and blinked tears from her eyes, "I'm glad you do. Of course, you might not feel that way after you get to know us, better."
"I doubt that," her father replied. "You have no idea how important finding out about you is to me." He gazed as avidly at his children as they looked at him, memorizing what they looked like, how they sounded. Once at the hotel, Ed was thrilled to be allowed to again carry his grandson. He couldn't get over the idea of having not only two children, but a grandchild, as well; a grandson, at that.
They'd booked the suite across from theirs for his family. Louise had the card keys and let them in. Neither of their visitors had ever stayed in a luxury hotel before. They tried to take it in stride, but they couldn't help looking about in awe. Alec and Eddie brought in the luggage, then Louise and Alec beat a quiet retreat to give them time to connect without an audience.
As he closed the door behind them, Alec cast an amused glance at Louise. "Well? What do you think?"
"I think this could be one of the best days of his life. What do you think?"
Alec nodded, grinning. "Definitely. I like them. They're hard-working, honest and dedicated. If they weren't Ed's kids, I wouldn't mind recruiting them."
Louise shook her head. "Not a good idea. You wouldn't want to put him in the position of choosing between his family and SHADO again, would you?"
Alec paled slightly, "That's why I prefaced it with if they weren't his kids. I like them. They're real."
"Then they should get along well, don't you think?"
"Unless and until SHADO gets in the way," Alec reminded her.
She wrinkled up her nose at the idea. "And that's bound to happen, sooner or later. I sometimes think it would be better if everyone knew about SHADO, but then I think of how I felt when I learned the truth and realize that secrecy is necessary and probably always will be."
"But in the meantime, Ed's got a family. A bit older than perhaps he'd like, but they're his, don't you think?" he added the last, suddenly uncertain.
"No mistaking those features," Louise agreed. "Or those vocal patterns. I'd say they're obviously his. I wonder if they'll be interested in changing their names to his?"
Alec grinned. "Good question, but for another time, I think. Now, tell me about what happened earlier. You say he had a panic attack? Seems young Eddie has had a bit of experience in that area. We should compare notes."
"Good idea, you order the coffee."
Now that they were alone, none of them were quiet sure what to say. Ed finally broke the uncomfortable silence with a question. "What did Alec tell you about me?"
"Not much," Eddie replied. "He said you never knew anything about us, that your father didn't tell you."
Ed's lips pressed together in a moment of anger at his father. "No, he didn't." He looked at his children. "I did look for your mother, you know. It never occurred to me that my father might have done anything. I'm afraid my father and I didn't get along very well."
"Mother always said good things about you," Lily said, laying a hand on his arm. It was like an electric shock for them both. Ed's breath caught in a gasp and he carefully set his grandson down and reached for his daughter.
She smiled and melted into his embrace. Eddie watched, surprise, awe, and envy on his features.
"Hey, can I have one of those, too?" he asked softly. His father, tears streaming down his face looked at him and laughed.
"As many as you want, whenever you want them," he agreed, releasing his daughter for a moment and crushing his son to him. After a few seconds, they parted and the three of them embraced, all of them crying and not feeling the least bit embarrassed by it.
All their lives, Eddie and Lily had dreamed of this moment, the moment their father would find out about them and love them. They had resigned themselves to it only being a dream, but the reality was overwhelming. They stood together for what seemed like hours, just soaking up the warmth of the emotions from one another, until a small voice interrupted them.
"Hug. Hug. Hughughug!" Alexander wanted in. The three adults parted, laughing and crying at the same time and Ed scooped his grandson up.
"You want hugs, too? All right, then, I'll give you a hug." He hugged the little boy hard, making bear-noises, much to the toddler's delight.
Alexander squealed in delight and returned the hug as best he could with his short little arms. Eddie and Lily watched in pleasure as Ed joyfully held his grandson.
Finally, at ease with each other, they sat down to talk. Ed listened in avid horror at what his father had put them through; he wished things had been different, that he had known. If he had, Eddie and Lily were sure, they'd have been accepted as his children long ago. As it was, they were all just grateful to have finally met and begun the process of becoming a family.
"So, you live in England, now?" Eddie asked. They'd finally ordered up some dinner and had finished eating and were sitting over coffee.
Ed nodded. "Just outside of London. The studio isn't far from my house, and it's convenient." He didn't mention how empty the house seemed with just him there.
"Maybe we can come and visit you there, one of these days?" Lily asked, returning from putting Alexander down for the night.
Ed grinned, ignoring the stab of fear at what would happen if they did and there was a problem at SHADO at the same time. "I'd like that."
There was a buzz and Eddie scowled and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. "Sorry, one of my friends. I can ignore it."
"No, no. Go on. We've got plenty of time to talk. It might be important," his father chided, leaning back and taking a sip of his coffee and sighing at the momentary break. He was thrilled with the discovery of the children he'd never known about, and his grandson had him wrapped around his little fingers already, much to his secret pleasure.
"No, Tan. I said no. I'm not even in town, I'm down in LA, so you can find someone else to man your stinking cameras. It wouldn't matter even if you've found a live alien, I'm too far away to be of any help...."
Ed stiffened and started listening more closely, a line of worry forming between his eyes.
"Look, Tan, if the military says it's a weather balloon, how do you expect anyone to take you seriously? If you don't have hard evidence, nothing's going to happen. No one will ever believe you. Not even with pictures. I know. I'm sorry about Pho, but you know I'm right. Yeah, me, too. I'll talk to you later, Tan. Be careful, understand?" He disconnected and sighed.
"What was that all about?" Ed asked cautiously.
Lily shook her head. "Tan's a friend of ours. His older brother disappeared about three years ago, when they were night fishing north of Marin. Tan insists his brother was taken by a flying saucer. He's been hunting them ever since. He's got a few pictures, but they aren't very good, but he's got one shot of a funny looking jet and something blowing up. He says that Earth's at war with the aliens and we need to watch for them, so they don't get anybody else." She shrugged. "Sometimes, I can almost believe he's lying, but then I look out over the Farallons and see those funny lights and wonder."
The Farallon Islands? Straker frowned. "What kind of funny lights?"
"Green ones, mostly. They sparkle like stars, or like they're moving, even when they stay still. Then they go down into the water and disappear," Eddie informed him.
*Green sparkling lights? Over the ocean near the Farallon Islands? That could explain a few things. Distracted, he stood up, "Excuse me for a minute? I need to talk to Alec about something." He turned and left them staring after him in confusion.
"Was it something I said?" Eddie asked.
"It started when you said 'alien'. He got this funny intense look and it was like nothing else mattered." They looked at each other in concern. Was their father a UFO kook, too? If so, why? And what was going on?
Lily shivered. "Eddie, I'm scared."
"Of what? Not our father, I hope?"
"No. The aliens. I don't think they wanted him to know."
"A movie guy? Why not?"
She shook her head. "I don't know, but I don't think they're going to like him knowing about them."
"If we're at war, what does it matter?"
They looked at each other, wondering.
Ed used his card key to enter his suite. He found Louise and Alec playing cards at the table. They looked at him expectantly. Seeing the serious look on his face, Alec stood up.
"Farallon Islands. Could there be a UFO base there?"
Alec blinked in surprise. "Anything's possible, why do you ask?"
"Because my son and daughter think that Earth is at war with aliens and that the aliens have a base off the Farallons. One of their friends lost an older brother a couple of years ago up north of Marin, when they were fishing. The friend, Tan, has taken pictures of ufoes and even has one of a Sky, from their description."
Louise popped open her laptop and booted it up and connected it to the modem. She quickly brought up a map showing the area around the Farallon Islands. By comparing it with Ed's information, they extrapolated that there could, indeed, be a ufoe base in the nearby ocean.
"But it's only twenty-five miles from the Golden Gate, and they have diving tours through there all summer long," Louise protested.
"Yes, right next to the rocks, but not further out, beyond the shelf." Straker looked up at Alec, gazing worriedly at the map on the computer. "I want satellite scanning started immediately and I want at least two Sky Divers and if necessary, a battleship out there ready to react if they're right."
"On it, Commander," Alec replied automatically. They jumped at the sound of a knock at the door.
Louise got up to answer it. Eddie and Lily were there, looking worried. Lily had a snapshot in her trembling hand and she held it out to them. With a quick glance at her brother, she said, "Here. I think you need to see this."
Louise took the picture and her breath caught as she saw it. She quickly handed it to Straker, who showed it to Alec. He looked at his children and took a deep breath to steady himself.
"Where was this taken?" he asked calmly.
"Fort Point," Eddie replied. "About a year ago. They're real, aren't they? You know about them, don't you?"
Straker's hand developed a faint, almost unnoticeable tremor. Louise noticed, but the others did not. "What do you know about this?" he asked softly.
"Tan's brother, Pho, was taken off the beach north of Marin one night three years ago. Tan saw one of those things and shot a picture of it. Everyone laughed at him, except his parents and a few of his friends. We didn't laugh, but we wanted more proof," Eddie explained.
"Tan took that picture last year from Fort Point, on the seaward side. He has a video he took of it, too. It came up out of the water and skimmed along on top for a while and then it went back under, way far out to sea. In the video, it just looks like a green dot, most of the time," Lily added. They regarded the three older people warily.
"You're part of this, aren't you?" Eddie asked his father, his head tilted in a familiar way as he watched them. Straker's lips compressed to a thin line.
"You were a pilot in the war, you know all about fighting and aerial combat. Who better to fight a war with people from outer space who kidnap us?" Lily added.
Alec looked at Ed, wondering what they were going to do. The kids' memories went back too far for their memory wipes to work well, so what now? They certainly couldn't kill them. Hell, Ed had just found them!
Straker looked at his oldest friend with a look that bore all the fear and grief he'd suffered in this damnable conflict. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right that he should just discover he still had a family and then be forced to destroy them because they knew things they shouldn't know. He turned his helpless gaze to Louise, who was looking pensively at the photo again.
"I wonder if they'd be any good at the studio, taking care of the film archives?" she asked absently.
They all looked at her blankly. "What?" Straker asked, confused.
"Well, they're film librarians, of a sort, with their shop, right?"
She received hesitant nods of agreement.
"So, does your studio have a film archive or library?"
"I'm sure we do, but what's that got to do with...." Straker glared when Alec cut him off with a chuckle.
"Oh, I'm sure that could be arranged, but what if they don't want to live in England?"
"Live in England?" Eddie asked, looking at his sister, who suddenly smiled a very familiar smile.
"I would love to live in England," she said softly.
Eddie shrugged. "Climate's about the same as The City, so sure. Why not. But what does running a film vault have to do with aliens?"
Louise cocked her head to one side and looked up at Straker and Freeman. "You'd be amazed what one has to do with the other."
"I'll start a G6," Alec said with a grin.
"But...." Straker was ignored, leaving him uncertain and confused.
Louise patted his arm. "You go back and continue catching up. Alec and I will take care of things here. May I have this?" she asked, holding up the picture of the UFO.
"Uh, sure. I guess," Eddie agreed, with a puzzled glance at his sister.
"Wonderful. Have you eaten yet? You have, good. Ed, here has a bad habit of forgetting, I'm afraid, but I suppose with little Alexander, you don't have the opportunity to forget, hmmm?"
"Uh, no, I guess not," Lily replied.
"Well, you three keep making friends, and don't forget to sleep some time tonight, okay?" She closed the door behind them and leaned against it, heaving a sigh of relief.
Alec grinned at her. "Well done, Doctor. However, did you notice how... um, lost the commander seemed?"
"Well, yes. He's still under a lot of stress. I need to make a call, I wonder if they've got anyone on duty this late?"
"Call? About what?"
"The commander's blood work. I still don't know what all's going on inside that body of his."
"I thought they did all that at the hospital," Alec replied.
"Oh, they did the tox screen, and the STD tests, and tested the animals at the party for nastiness, they all came back clean and they used condoms, thank God, but I want to know if he's anemic, for one thing, or if he's picked up some kind of virus or other. Physically, he's healed, which is good. I'm expecting lots more emotional and psychological upheaval before he's out of the woods. I mean, he was totally flustered about their sighting of those ufoes."
Alec stared at her. "Well, yes, of course. He just discovers he's got a family, a grandchild, for crying out loud, and in the next breath he finds out they know about Skys and ufoes? They're a serious security risk, Doctor."
She gazed up at him, her head tilted to one side. "Are they?" she asked softly. "I don't think so. They know about aliens and the invasion. They suspect that someone's fighting against them. Did they seem frightened to you? Not to me, they seemed angry. This is their world, and one of their friends lost his big brother to the enemy, and they want to help their friend find his brother, or at least find closure. Can you blame them?"
"Not at all. But in the past...."
"In the past, you had Dr. Jackson in charge of determining the best way to deal with such breeches of security. I'm not him. I believe in making allies of such people."
"Like Straker did with Paul Foster?"
Louise smiled. "That's an excellent example. Besides," she turned away and picked up his cell phone to hand to him. "I also see this as an opportunity to help pick up the pieces of the commander after Dr. Jackson's tender ministrations. Just think, they're in the film vault, cataloguing all sorts of film and video tape... and he'll have them close, and they'll be doing something useful, like keeping track of all the SHADO video, and best of all," she paused with a grin.
"It will thoroughly piss Henderson off."
Alec gaped for half a second and then joined her in laughter.
Still chuckling, he made the call to alert SHADO to the possibility of there being a ufoe base right off the coast of California.
Eddie looked at his father. "We're in trouble, aren't we? Because of Pho and Tan? Because we know about the war?"
"What makes you think it's a war?"
Lily shook her head. "We saw the funny-looking jet shoot down one of the green light ships. Pho has pictures of that, too."
Straker sighed and shook his head. "Please, just drop it, for now. We'll try and figure out something." But at this particular moment, he had no idea what that could be.
"I'm sorry," Eddie said softly. "I had no idea." He shook his head. "What do you want us to call you, anyway?" he asked, changing the subject.
He looked at his son and daughter in surprise. "Whatever you like."
The twins looked at each other and smiled, slowly. "Dad," they chorused softly.
"We always wanted a dad," Lily continued, looking up at him and smiling shyly.
There was an enormous lump in his throat and he was afraid he was going to lose control, but he swallowed hard and replied, hoarsely, "That would be wonderful. I'd like that. I'd like that a lot." He found himself engulfed in the arms of his children again, and he just stood there, soaking in their affection.
Soon, they were sitting again, and talking about their mother, and what they knew about her, and his father. He apologized again and again for what their grandfather had done, but was reassured that it wasn't his fault, after all.
Finally, Ed asked about Alexander's father, who he was and where was he?
Lily smiled sadly. "I don't know. We planned on getting married, and, well, I gave in and then he disappeared."
"That jerk!" Eddie mumbled. "If I ever find him, I'll...."
"No, you won't."
Eddie looked at his father questioningly. "Why not?"
"Because he's not worth it. Trust me. He's not worth your time." He turned to his daughter. "I don't know if we can work it out, but I'd love to have you come back to England with me. If you want to, that is. Even just for a visit." He didn't want to pressure them and thereby drive them away. They were his children, all the family he had and he suddenly wasn't quite so alone in the world any more. He'd do almost anything to keep them near... anything but quit his life's work. He realized at that moment that until the aliens came with a white flag and begged for mercy, that his work would continue... even if it meant giving up his newfound family. Even if it killed him. His spine stiffened and he smiled at his children.
"It's getting late and you've had a long day. I'll leave, now and let you get some rest. I'll see you in the morning?"
"First thing, Dad," Lily agreed, while Eddie nodded. He gave them each a final hug and left.
"He loves us, Eddie," Lily whispered to her brother.
"Yeah," Eddie agreed in surprise. "But he's scared, too. Because we know about the aliens."
"We'll figure out something. His friends will help us. Don't you think?"
"I sure hope so." They hugged each other and headed for their beds to get some sleep, if that was possible. At least to go back over the happenings of the day and think about it all.
Back in control of himself, he crossed the hall and entered his suite, only to find both of his companions on their cell phones. He listened in for a moment and then headed for the bathroom for a shower.
When he came back out, dressed in his pajamas, he looked at Alec and asked, "Well?"
"G6 in process. Seems that they've already been tagged as people to watch, but in a good way. Their friend Pho is a lot like our Colonel Foster. He doesn't give up, nor do his friends, it would seem. They were already on a list for recruitment."
Ed's eyes closed as he sighed in relief. Then he frowned and looked at Louise. "I thought you did the psych evals for recruits?"
"Yes. They may be in my queue, but I've been a bit busy the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed?" She smiled to take the sting out of her words. "I can access the information through my laptop. I'll take a look and let you know, all right?"
"Thank you," Ed replied softly. "Who were you calling?" He asked Louise.
"The lab for the results of your blood test."
"And?" He steeled himself, expecting the worst.
"Well, as I suspected, you're anemic."
Alec flinched. "You said that was expected." He glanced at his friend, who was waiting for the expected bomb to go off. "How bad is it?"
She grinned. "Lots of iron in the diet, for starters. Liver, broccoli, spinach, and cooking in cast iron."
"What else?" Straker asked, stiff with control.
"Anemia isn't enough? You can die from it, Commander. Now, we can start you off on an iron supplement, if you prefer. Something like Geritol. Or, you can have iron and B-12 injections, if you'd rather. But you'll bruise like crazy."
"And how long before supplements or diet make a difference?" Alec asked, grinning.
"Months, I'm afraid. But starting tomorrow, you," she jabbed a finger at Straker's chest, "Are on a high Iron diet. Capice?"
Straker frowned. "That's it? Nothing else? Nothing... from...."
"Nope. You're clean, and so were they, it would appear. I got the test results from the cops. Much more reliable, I think, than the hospital. Your biggest problem, besides Jackson's little experiment, is that you're anemic. And I'm amazed no one noticed it before now."
Straker seemed dazed. Anemic. He was just anemic. Something simple and normal. Something fairly easy to remedy. He shook his head and looked at the doctor. "Whatever you think best."
She smiled and nodded. "I'd like to start you off with at least one injection, but that will have to wait until morning, after the pharmacies open. Then we'll make sure you have a nice, high-iron breakfast, which you will eat, and then we'll see about adding an oral supplement."
Straker grimaced, then sighed. "If I must." Then he grinned. "Anemic, huh?" And with that, he headed for his bedroom to get some sleep.
Once his door was closed, Alec looked at her in concern. "How bad is it, really?"
She smiled. "His red cell count is much too low, but with proper diet and supplements, he'll be fine. It was probably caused by his not eating properly. Unfortunately, he may have to cut back on his coffee intake."
Alec shuddered. "That could kill him," he said, almost jokingly.
"I didn't say stop, just cut back a little. Hmmmm."
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking."
"Come on, that 'hmmm' meant something."
"Oh, it's really nothing important. If anything comes of it, I'll let you know."
"All right. You want the bed or the sofa, tonight?"
"I'll take the sofa, thanks. It's really quite comfortable, and since I'm a lot shorter than you are, it really makes more sense for me to sleep there. You go on to bed, I've a bit of research I want to do, still.
"If you're sure," Alec replied.
"I'm sure. Go on. Sleep well."
"Good night, then." With that, he turned to the bedroom and closed the door.
She did a search on iron supplements and grinned when she found what she was looking for. Perfect. She ordered online with overnight shipping, then she did a remote access to her SHADO account and started going through the files. When she found the ones she was looking for, she got straight to work.
He dreamed of Johnny. At least, it started out with Johnny, but then the aliens came and they had two abductees he instantly recognized as Eddie and Lily. He watched in helpless horror as they were butchered before his eyes. When they turned to go, he screamed after them in grief and rage and attacked them. They brushed him aside like an annoying gnat and he lay watching them and sobbing in his grief.
"Ed? Wake up. Commander!"
He gasped and sat up, still trembling from the horrors of his nightmare. "What? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. You were having a nightmare." She sat beside him, rubbing his leg beneath the covers. He sank back against the pillows and took a deep, shaking breath.
"So I was."
"Tell me about it?" she asked softly, continuing her gentle back and forth motion along his leg.
He shook his head. "Oh, the usual. Johnny. But then the aliens showed up with Eddie and Lily and I couldn't move and had to watch helplessly as they butchered them... Oh, God. When will this ever end?"
He sounded so tired and discouraged. She made a commiserating little sound and shifted closer, reaching out to hug him. He reluctantly allowed it, but involuntarily stiffened. She realized he was withdrawing back into his armored shell again and hugged him harder.
"I won't hurt you," she murmured softly.
"Won't you?" he replied, just as softly. "Even if you don't hurt me, I'll end up hurting you."
"It doesn't have to be that way," she released him and sat back, looking at him.
His laugh was anything but amused. "As long as we're at war, as long as I'm still alive and able to function in any way, it will be that way; and there's nothing anyone can do to change it."
"You have a chance to have a family again, are you going to throw that away, too?"
His face crumpled up in emotional agony. "What choice is there, really? I'd rather they had never seen a ufoe, and that their friend's brother had never been taken, but they know, and they're a security risk, and I know what I'm supposed to do and it's tearing me apart to even think it."
"You're wrong. I checked my inbox and got their files. They're perfect for SHADO. They know how to keep a secret and they know that there is a war, and they have a friend who's lost his brother. They care for their friend and have helped him. They don't have to be assigned anywhere dangerous, you know. You can get away with that one little bit of nepotism. You can have them work at the studio, taking care of the video files and the film vault. They don't have to ever be involved in the dangerous stuff, but can be near you. It's what they want, isn't that what you want, too? To have your family near you?"
"You know the answer to that," he replied coldly.
"Yes, I do. I've gone through the files on them. The G6 was completed more than a month ago, but was only forwarded to me last week. I've got their profiles and in my opinion, they are perfect candidates for recruitment. Them and their friend, Tan. I think Tan would work well with Carlin. He's young, intelligent, and has the same drive that's made Peter such an asset to the cause. I don't see any special training in the backgrounds of the Duks, but that will make it easier to put them somewhere safe, where they can help and still be close to you. I don't think, however, they should change their names."
Ed frowned. "Change their names?"
"To Straker. Although, that's up to the three of you to decide. I just thought that having two more Strakers around might frighten some of the other members of the force."
He gazed at her, just a tiny glimmer of hope in his eyes. He pursed his lips for a moment and then asked, "Do you really think it could work?"
"Yes." She watched him as he pensively thought about the possibilities and problems they would face. Finally, he nodded.
"Thank you. Forward your recommendations through the usual channels, will you? What usually happens after you give your stamp of approval?"
She shrugged. "Someone, usually a MiB goes and picks them up, sounds them out, and brings them in. Since we're here, we can simply say that we ran across them and brought them in, ourselves. No one needs to know."
He smiled. "See to the paperwork, would you?"
"Yes, sir. In the meantime, I want you face down and I'm going to give you a quick back rub."
He smirked. "Use those magic hands to put me back to sleep?"
"Absolutely." He turned onto his stomach and, as usual, within fifteen minutes, was soundly asleep once more.
She eased her hands from his back and pulled the blankets back up around his neck, then she bit her lower lip and leaned down and kissed his cheek. "I wish I could heal all your hurts, Ed, but I don't think that's possible." She patted his shoulder and stood up, turning to leave him to his rest. She spotted Alec in the doorway, watching her. Her grin was wry as she pushed him out of her way and closed the door.
"You've fallen for him," Alec accused softly.
"Fool that I am, yes."
She took a deep breath and looked up at him. "You know, I'm not."
He looked surprised. "You aren't?"
"No. He's Don Quixote, you know. The tragic knight, caught up in a fight that isn't truly his." She nodded. "No, I'm not sorry that I love him. I have my own quixotic traits, and being able to 'love from afar' is one of them."
"It shouldn't be this hard, for either of you."
She shook her head. "But it's what makes us who we are. If he can find just a little happiness, I'll be happy for him."
"We're all fools, you know."
She turned to him and hugged him. Surprised, he nevertheless hugged her back. "You're his best friend, the one sure constant in this whole thing. You're as important as he is, in your own way. You anchor him and help him maintain his humanity. Now, he's found he has a family. You saw him with his grandson. He adores him, and his children. His current regrets all involve not having been around to see them grow up or help them. We've got a chance to give him a little peace. Not a lot, but some. It may be enough."
"Lord, I hope so," Alec said fervently.
"So do I."
"So, that's the deal. Are you interested?" Alec had to be the one to handle the actual recruitment, because if they said 'no', Straker shouldn't have to be forced to make that particular decision.
Eddie and Lily looked at each other, apparently communicating telepathically, so far as Alec was concerned. He waited, hiding his fear of what must happen if they declined. It was an impossible situation. If he did his 'duty', he'd be killing Commander Straker, not just his children. He desperately willed them to agree, knowing that anything else would be more tragic than he could possibly deal with.
"Yes," Lily said very softly, turning away from her brother to lift her chin and repeat it, to make sure he heard. "Yes. I accept."
Alec quietly released his held breath and turned to Eddie. "And you?"
Eddie looked down, still thinking. His lips compressed into a familiar thin line and he looked up from beneath lowered brows. Then, he nodded. "Yes."
Alec felt a moment of vertigo from the relief. "Thank you. I hope you won't regret it, but I'm glad you agreed."
"We're not stupid, Mr. Freeman," Lily smiled. "There aren't many options. I do have one question, however."
Steeling himself, Alec nodded and asked, "And what might that be?"
"Will we be able to see our dad?"
Alec grinned. "I think that is a very good possibility, once you've gone through the required training, that is."
"What about Alexander? What will happen to him while we're going through this training?"
"I'm not certain, but I suppose some kind of day care can be arranged. It's not exactly a military boot camp." Alec couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the boy's grandfather might not offer to baby-sit.
Lily smiled. "That's all right, then. Are there many children there?"
"A few, but not many, I'm afraid."
"Does our dad know about all this? I mean, he must, since he told you about Pho, but what exactly does he do? Or you, for that matter?" Eddie asked.
Alec smiled. "That's something you'll learn later, I assure you."
"So, what now?"
"Now, you go and tell your dad what you've decided and we'll just go on from there." His smile broadened as they left the suite and crossed the hall.
Straker looked up as they entered, his face a careful mask, showing no emotion or thought. He looked at Alec, holding his breath for their decision. As soon as he saw Alec's face, he let out his breath and a beautiful smile spread across his face.
He stood and looked at his children. Alexander looked up from his mother's arms and reached for him, "Hug! Hughug!" Lily and her father laughed as he scooped his grandson from her arms and bounced him gently.
"Hug? You want a hug, Alexander?" He laughed and gave the little boy a hug, and loudly kissed his cheek. The child giggled and hugged his grandfather's neck.
He looked again at his children and grinned. "Thank you," he said softly.
Alec stood beside Louise and sighed in relief. "They knew what the alternative was, but they said yes to be with him, you know."
Louise smiled. "I'm glad. With them nearby, perhaps he can find that little bit of peace he so desperately needs."
He looked down at her. "What about you? What about the peace you need?"
She glanced up at him. "I haven't quite given up, yet. We'll just have to wait and see. Besides, I'll still be around. I've decided to move to England, too. I intend to at least get my hands on his body, even if I never manage to hold his heart."
Alec sighed and slid an arm around her, holding her close. "Give it some time. He's not really oblivious, you know. He just doesn't quite believe anyone can possibly give a damn about him."
She jutted her chin towards the trio across the room, who were smiling and talking. "They do. You do. Maybe, if I manage to play my cards right, one of these days, he'll believe that I do, as well."
"I wish you luck, Louise. I think you'd be good for him. You've both lost so much, after all."
"What about you, Alec? You've given your entire life to this, too."
"Ah, but I'm content. There are a lot of ladies still to meet, and a lot more booze to drink, so I'm fine. Besides, I'm the sidekick, not the noble hero."
She hugged him, smiling and pressing her cheek against his shoulder. "Oh, you're noble enough, Sancho Panza. Don't ever let anyone try and convince you otherwise. You're just as important as the commander, without the responsibility, for which you should be truly grateful."
"Oh, trust me, I am. Grateful. I was sweating bullets in there, scared that they were going to say no."
She nodded. "I know. The commander couldn't sit still, and I swear he drank an entire pot of coffee in the past half hour."
"Ah, well. That should keep him up until it's time for them to go. They won't see each other for a couple of months, and he's not going to be able to keep track of them."
"So, shall we leave them alone, now? I'd love to go back to the pier and get some more of that crab, or wherever you got those pastrami sandwiches from."
Alec looked down at her and grinned. "Ed? I'm taking Louise out for dinner. Don't wait up."
"Sure, Alec, whatever you like. I'll see you in the morning." He never turned his attention from his family, much to his friend's amusement. Louise paused for just a moment to grasp Ed's shoulder and smile at his children.
"Don't keep him up too late. We've got a very long day ahead of us tomorrow." With that gentle admonition, she and Alec left.
FOUR DAYS LATER
He'd begun from the moment Eddie and Lily had left to gear back up to face his real life again. He felt a bit guilty about how he'd taken advantage of her and those wonderful massages. He finally noticed on their flight to England, how worn and tired she looked. He glanced at Alec and he seemed more relaxed than usual, and he finally realized that he hadn't seen him with a tumbler of his poison of the day in... more than a week? What in the world was going on, here? He frowned and started going back through the preceding time and realized that he was relaxed, unstressed, and ready to take control back at SHADO. He hadn't had to resort to sleeping pills even once, and he realized he was smoking less. And Alec wasn't drinking. At least, not as much. Now, back on the ground, Dr. Lewis was following him and he didn't know why.
"Dr. Lewis, why are you following me?"
She looked up at him, a weary and puzzled expression on her face. "Because I have no idea where I'm going?"
He frowned. His colour had improved dramatically with the new diet and supplements, and there was a lightness in his movements that attracted attention just as much as his striking good looks. "I was under the impression you worked for Henderson?"
"In New York." She said, looking up at him.
He blinked. "I don't understand?"
She frowned. She'd spent all her time taking care of him, working to make him fit for duty, along with Alec Freeman, and he didn't understand? "I'm taking you up on your offer. Three massages a week, right?"
His frown eased into an almost smile. "Is that all?" he asked softly.
"It's what I agreed to. Meanwhile, I've never been this side of the 'pond', except for three days at the start of this whole mess, and I've no idea where I'm supposed to go or what to do at the moment. Also, I'm tired, feeling cranky, and simply want to be somewhere I can relax and if at all possible, find myself someone to give me a massage."
He stared at her. Realizing that he and Alec had been on the receiving end of the most pleasurable, comforting, and relaxing ministrations of her very talented hands, but who took care of the caretaker?
"My apologies. It never occurred to me that you might be as much in need as we were. You should have said something."
Louise shook her head and chuckled. "And do either of you know how to do a proper massage?"
"I used to be pretty good at massaging feet, once upon a time," he admitted wryly.
"Well, that's a start, but happy feet is a long way from total relaxation."
"Maybe you should teach me how to do that, Louise," Alec suggested. "I think that could be a very useful thing to know."
His companions both tilted their heads at him. "Something else in your arsenal of conquest, Alec?" Louise asked, grinning.
"Think about it. You easily wrapped us both around your little finger."
Louise shook her head. "Hardly. I seem to recall having to do a great deal of bullying."
"At first, perhaps, but after the first one, I don't remember you having to force either of us to agree to one of those wonderful massages of yours," Alec said coaxingly.
She smiled. "Well, yes, I suppose so. However. I'm in a strange, new country, I've no idea where anything is or where I'm to go, and I'm tired, and achy, and cranky, and hungry. So, someone take me somewhere, and get me something to eat and a place to sleep and I'll face it all later."
Alec grinned. "You could stay at my flat, if you like."
"Alec, you've a one bedroom flat and I seriously doubt that would be a very good way to start off with our new psychiatrist, do you?" Straker raised an eyebrow and gave his friend one of those looks that would send anyone who didn't know him as well as Alec did, running for cover.
Alec chuckled. "Can't blame a bloke for trying."
Louise patted his arm. "Yes, you're always trying, very trying." That caught Alec flat-footed and left him gaping, while Straker burst into laughter.
"Oh, Alec, There's not much you can say to that, now is there?"
"I'm hurt. You've wounded me, dear lady," Alec began to moan, his hand pressed to his chest over his heart as though in great pain. His histrionics were met with nothing but laughter from his companions. "Very well, then. If that's how it's going to be. Take her home with you, Commander. You've room to spare at your place." He smiled slyly at the sudden expression of shock that crossed Straker's face.
"Don't put yourselves out, guys. Just find me a nice, quiet hotel somewhere and I'll be just fine."
That struck both men as less than satisfactory, and they exchanged a glance. Straker's lips compressed into an annoyed line. "Nonsense. Alec's right. I've plenty of room at my place. It may be a bit dusty from disuse, but it's otherwise livable."
She looked at him, still uncertain. "If you're sure. I'm so tired right now that the back seat of a car is starting to look good."
"We can do better than that," Straker insisted. He looked at Alec. "I came in a taxi, did you drive?"
Alec shook his head. "No, I caught a ride from security. Taxi it is." He smiled and they headed through the airport, got their luggage, and got in line for customs.
Alec sat in front with the driver, giving the back seat to Straker and Lewis. She was so tired that she didn't even try and see anything on the drive through London. They dropped Alec of first, as his flat was closer than Straker's house. By the time they pulled up at their destination, Louise was dozing, her head against the window. Straker woke her by gently patting her arm.
"Hmmm? Oh, are we there?" She rubbed her eyes and took a look. There wasn't much to see between the lateness of the hour and the trees.
"Yes. We're here." He never referred to it as 'home'. He leaned forward and paid the driver, then got out and while the driver got their luggage, he went around and got her door for her.
"Thank you," she said softly and then shook her head when he insisted on carrying all of their luggage. "If you don't let me carry something, how are you going to manage the keys?" she asked.
He grinned and fished the keys from his pocket, choosing the correct one by braille.
"By letting you get the door," he replied, handing them to her.
"Oh. Right. I must be tired, as that never occurred to me." She followed him up the walk and then the steps to the front door, where she reached for the deadbolt, which automatically had a tiny light that came on to help her see to insert the key. "Very clever," she murmured.
"Hmmm. The motion detector seems to be off. Wait a moment, while I call security." He set the bags down and pulled his cell phone out and punched an auto-dial. "This is Straker. My porch light seems to be out. Is there anything I need to know?" He listened and sighed. "Well, next time, get it fixed before I come and find it for myself. Yes, that will be all." He disconnected with a slight grunt of annoyance. "Seems it burned out last week, but they didn't see a 'need' to repair it immediately." He reached past her and opened the door, pushing it wide, then he picked up the luggage and followed her in.
She looked around curiously and noted that the decor was seriously 70s and in desperate need of updating, but didn't say a word. Maybe he liked it like this. She figured it was probably more a case of not really caring. He dropped his bags in the foyer and passed her, leading the way down the hallway. "Come on, I'll show you where you'll be staying." He pointed to a door as they passed, "Bathroom." Two doors farther on, he stopped. "I hope this meets with your approval," he said managing to open the door without having to set down either of her bags. He went in and set her suitcases on the floor at the foot of the bed.
She followed him in and glanced quickly around. Except for the God-awful colour scheme, it was a nice room. "Colour-blind interior decorator?" she asked without thinking.
He frowned and looked around, then he smiled. "At the time, this was the latest thing, but I see what you mean. Pink and orange aren't very good together, are they?"
"Ummm, not really, but at the moment, it could be dirt and I wouldn't complain." She bent over her smaller suitcase and opened it, leaving it on the floor. "If it's all right, a hot shower and bed, for me."
"I've some canned soup in the kitchen, you should eat. You mentioned that you were hungry."
"Soup would be wonderful, thank you." He nodded and turned to leave, then paused.
"I'll, uh, bring you a tray."
With that, he left her, went back to the foyer and took his own luggage back to his room, and then went into the kitchen to decide what kind of soup to feed his weary guest.
"Mmmmm, chicken-noodle. One of my favorites." She smiled up at him. She'd taken a long, hot shower and was now dressed in her usual night wear of boxer shorts and a tank top. It left little to the imagination, but until now, Straker hadn't really noticed.
"I figured that everyone likes that one," he agreed, looking around the room to avoid focusing on her legs... or her bare arms, or any other part of her, for that matter. "If you need anything, my room's at the end of the hall. The kitchen is back through the foyer and on the other side. I think I'll get myself a shower and go to bed, as well."
She looked up at him, suddenly in physician mode. "Did you eat?"
He chuckled. "I had some soup while you were in the shower. And I was a good boy and took my medicine, if that's worrying you."
She smiled tiredly. "Good. In that case, good night, Commander."
"Good night, Doctor." He turned and left her, gently closing the door behind him.
She was too tired to care about much of anything. Between reassuring Eddie and Lily that everything was going to be all right and keeping their father from going off the deep end worrying about them, and Alec's flirting, she hadn't slept well in days. She was running on empty and as soon as she swallowed her last spoonful of soup, she set the tray on the dresser and fell into bed, exhausted.
Unfortunately, exhaustion and new places didn't work well for her; they hadn't for the past six years. She should have known better, but had overextended herself beyond that awareness.
He awoke to a strange sound. His eyes flashed open and his hand reached automatically for the pistol beneath his pillow. Frowning, he listened closely, trying to hear if the noise repeated. When it did, he scowled and slid soundlessly from his bed. Padding barefoot through the house, he followed the sounds to the door of his spare bedroom and remembered that he had a guest. Opening the door carefully, he slipped in, searching for anything out of the ordinary. Except for the form thrashing in the bed in the throes of a nightmare, there was nothing out of place. Placing his gun on the dresser, he slipped closer and lightly sat on the edge of the bed.
"Louise," he said softly. When there was no reaction other than another moan, he gently grasped her shoulder and shook her slightly. "Louise, wake up. It's just a nightmare. Come, now. Wake up."
With a gasp of horror and a scream fighting to get past her thundering heart, she sat bolt upright, shaking; one hand going up to cover her mouth and the other arm gripping her middle.
"Louise, it's all right, it's just a dream." Saying the words struck him as ironic. Alec had said the same words to him on more than one occasion, and it was never 'just' a nightmare. "Louise, it's all right now. I'm right here." He placed his hands on her shoulders and ducked his head a bit to look up into her face. "Louise?"
She sniffed hard and glanced at him, then away. "I'm fine. Sorry I woke you up."
It was odd, hearing his own words coming back at him under the same circumstances. "Don't be." He cautiously took her into his arms and cradled her head against his shoulder. "Why don't you tell me about it?"
She shuddered. "The usual, I'm afraid. Tom and I, that last day."
She shrugged, but snuggled closer into his embrace. "We went for a hike. He loved to take long walks on the tundra. I hadn't wanted to go, one of my hunches, but he talked me into it. We were out in the open, headed for some scrubby little wannabe trees, when we heard this weird sound. We looked up and there was a ufoe. Like sheep in a pen, we just stared up at it while it came closer and then landed. There were men inside, wearing red and silver space suits. The pointed their guns at us... I've told you this before."
"I know, but tell me again," he murmured softly, stroking her hair back from her face.
She gave a shuddery sigh and continued. "They pointed their guns at us and then one of them grabbed me, while another one grabbed Tom."
"How many were there?"
"Three. The one with the gun, and the two who grabbed us."
He nodded, "What happened then?"
"The one holding me cut me. Then he just dropped me and left me there. I remember screaming and trying to put my insides back in, then I saw them with Tom. They split him open like a pig for slaughter, took out his heart, his liver, and his lungs. Maybe his kidneys, as well, then they dropped him and took the parts back with them into the ufoe and flew away. I was still watching it when a Sky appeared and blew them to hell. That's all I remembered until I woke up a month later in hospital, still recovering from my own injuries."
He held her tightly. He knew that what she described happened, but he'd never found anyone who had survived it. "I'm sorry. Have you any idea why they didn't kill you and take your organs, as well?"
"I was pregnant. I think that when they cut me open, they saw the fetus and stopped. Maybe the hormonal changes would have made my organs unsuitable."
"I'm sorry." He rested his chin atop her head and gently rocked, wishing there was something he could do. "Was that why you weren't given the amnesia treatment? Because no one thought you'd remember, anyway?"
"I think they thought I was going to die, so it didn't make any sense. By the time anyone realized that I had survived, I'd already found General Henderson and been recruited."
"I must say that I'm grateful that you fell through the cracks. I have to admit that I'm more relaxed than I can ever recall being since this whole thing started."
She nodded, nestling against his shoulder. "Thank you," she murmured.
For a moment, he didn't know what she was thanking him for, then realized that it must be for waking her from her nightmare. His arms tightened gently and he whispered, "You're quite welcome." They sat quietly together for several minutes and he found himself imagining several things he abruptly realized that he shouldn't be thinking. Things like how good she smelled, and how warm she was against him, and how soft her skin was and the way her hair felt against his cheek, and how his body was reacting....
He shifted and pulled reluctantly away from her. "Do, um, you think you can go back to sleep, now?"
She looked up at him, frowning, her eyes at half-mast, as she was nearly back to sleep. "Hmmm?"
He couldn't help but smile and gently eased her back against her pillow. She made soft little sleepy noises and snuggled down beneath the covers as he tucked them up around her neck. He gently stroked her cheek with one hand and leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Pleasant dreams, Louise." Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to walk away, back to his own, suddenly lonelier than usual bed.
When she came shuffling out of her room still somewhat disheveled and yawning, but dressed, Straker looked up from his third cup of coffee and smiled. "Good morning."
She looked at him blearily and grunted. "I'll have to take your word for it."
He frowned. He didn't recall her being this... grumpy, in LA. "Are you all right?"
"Slept like a princess, on a pile of rocks."
He frowned, confused. "Excuse me?"
"Princess and the pea." Seeing his concern, she waved it off. "The bed is fine, it's me. My back is on the fritz. Probably from trying to sleep on the plane, or I moved wrong, or slept at an odd angle. Don't worry about it. I'm just a bit irritable at the moment. I'll get over it once I have a few gallons of coffee."
That, he could fully understand. He stood, leaving the report he'd been going over, and got her a mug and spoon and filling the mug with coffee. "Here, enjoy." He placed the mug between her hands and she smiled gratefully up at him.
"Bless you." She added milk and sugar and stirred as she sat in the chair he gallantly held for her. He watched in amusement as she lifted the mug to her lips with her eyes closed, inhaled deeply, letting it out in a sigh, and then took her first sip. After two more sips, her eyes opened and met his.
"Not yet, but getting there. "What's on tap for today?"
He tapped the screen of his laptop, indicating the report. "We take a look at the Farallon Islands and see what we can see. It would appear that Tan has excellent observation skills. This says that there could, indeed, be a large alien contingent sitting right offshore from San Francisco. We need to put all the pieces together and do something about it."
"Sounds good. I'd like to nail every last one of those sons of sea biscuits to the wall." She smiled at him and drained her cup. "Give me a few minutes to make myself presentable, and I'll be ready to go." She stood up and left the room, seemingly wide-awake and almost... perky. Straker shook his head. Amazing what a bit of good caffeine could do for a person.
When they arrived at SHADO HQ, Louise was ready to take on whatever task was set before her. To Straker's surprise, Dr. Jackson's office had been emptied. Not even the furniture remained.
Straker looked around the vacant space in shock. "What on earth...."
"Well, I told Henderson to get him away from you and to leave you alone to get the job done. I guess he took me seriously." She looked around the room and her face scrunched up in distaste. "I hate yellow walls... always makes me think of urine samples. Is it all right if I paint it?"
"Well, it's your office, I think you should do as you like with it."
"Good. Can we have the exterminators in, first? Just to make sure nothing was left behind?"
"Good idea." He turned to the doorway and walked out. He frowned as he realized that Dr. Jackson's staff seemed to have disappeared, as well. "I'm afraid we're going to have to get you some clerical staff and nurses, as well." He shook his head. "Well, you certainly can't stay here. Why don't you join me in Control, see how we do things?"
"I'd love to, but I need to spend at least some time down here getting things organized. I wonder what happened to all the files?"
"Well, let's go and find out what's been going on and you can come back later, after they've been through everything."
Straker walked through control and was a bit surprised when the people on duty abruptly stood to their feet, at attention, and saluted him. Frowning, he returned the salute and said, "As you were, people. There's no need for that." He wondered just what they'd been told? Reaching his office, they entered, only to find a very harried Paul Foster screaming into the telephone. "What do you mean he's retired? Where the hell has he gone?!" He spun to look at the intruders and immediately slumped slightly in relief. "Well, you'd better have the report on the commander's desk within the hour, or he's liable to come down there and pull it out of you." There was a moment of silence and then Paul smiled an evil little grin, "Oh, really? Just a moment." He covered the mouthpiece with his hand and held it out to Straker. "Boyce in medical records. Jackson's gone, place is cleaned out and this fool hasn't any idea what's going on."
Straker took the phone without commenting on how apparently Foster wasn't any more enlightened than Boyce. "This is Straker. What the hell's going on here, Mister?" He listened for a few moments, then nodded. "I want a full report on my desk within the hour. No excuses. You've had at least a week already, so I expect results, Mister." He handed the phone back to Paul who smiled in relief and hung up.
"Welcome back, Commander. It's good to see you."
Straker read between the lines. The aliens may have been relatively quiet, but things had not been, in general. "What exactly is the scuttlebutt about my latest adventure?"
Foster looked surprised. "That you were attacked and mugged. Was there something else we should have heard about?"
Straker didn't show his relief. He hadn't been sure he'd be able to handle it if everyone knew the truth. "No, it's just that I know the grapevine. There are always a few who try to blow things up bigger than they are." Louise stifled a giggle behind him and he turned to scowl at her. Then his expression softened.
"Paul, I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Louise Lewis; she'll be taking over for Dr. Jackson."
Paul approached wearing the smile that made a great many young starlets start panting in lust. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Lewis. Welcome to SHADO HQ."
In the time it took him to speak, she'd looked him over and made some very fast observations.
"Colonel. I've seen that office. I'd like the exterminators to go through it thoroughly and I'll need to see some paint samples. You'll see to it, I trust? I can't stand the thought of working in that hideous urine coloured place any longer than I must. I'm thinking a pale, sky blue, perhaps, or a soft sea green. Oh, and I want wood office furniture, please. I hate the ultramodern chrome and Lucite or that fabric covered stuff. If you could get me a few catalogues, that would help. And most of all, I want Jackson's files. All of them."
Foster was taken aback. He'd poured on all the charm and she was coming back like a drill sergeant. "Uh, yes, of course, Doctor. I'll see to it right away." He looked at Straker with a puzzled expression but Straker didn't even look at him. Shaking his head, he headed out to do as he'd been ordered... and she wasn't even military!
"You handled that rather well. Are you usually so brusque with people?" Straker asked softly, being somewhat surprised by her treatment of Paul Foster.
"No. But 'God's gift to women' needed to know that I'm not some little starlet who thinks she can get ahead by sleeping around. Once he's thoroughly cowed, I'll start being nice to him... maybe." She grinned impishly up at Straker, who couldn't help but return her grin.
"Ah. I was hoping that you weren't suddenly going to go from Dr. Jeckyl to Mr. Hyde."
"Oh, I'm quite capable of that, Commander, when it's necessary. It's not necessary in this case. So, what now?" She took the time to look around the office and came to stand before the mural. She watched the swirling colours for a time and nodded. "Interesting. No windows, but you have light and movement. Very good for a claustrophobe. I approve, although you might consider something new. Perhaps streaming video of somewhere outside? Fields and streams, perhaps? Or a forest?" She turned to look at him, not expecting a response. "So, what do we do now, Commander?"
"We don't do anything. I find out what's going on with the Farallon Islands and then make some decisions on what to do about it."
"And what would the Commander like for his new shrink to do in the meantime?"
"Go down into records and talk to Mr. Boyce, I should think."
"Be happy to. How do I get there?" She smiled up at him and he shook his head and gave her directions. He watched her pass through control and then he turned to find out what was happening with the Farallons.
Things were coming together. The satellite photos had shown that something large and non-terrestrial was about thirty miles off the Golden Gate Bridge, and they were scrambling to get together the forces they would need to do something about them. Straker was there every single minute, overseeing, making suggestions and decisions, and pushing the entire group towards the goal of taking out whatever facility the aliens had managed to build in their oceans.
He was in his office, waiting for more information when Dr. Lewis came in without knocking. He looked up in surprise. Seeing her stormy countenance, he frowned. "Is something wrong?"
"When's the last time you ate?"
"Uh," he thought hard. He'd had a sandwich, but had no idea how many hours ago. "I had a sandwich," he said, not even trying to remember when.
She nodded. "And, have you had any sleep?"
"I caught a couple of hours," he said guardedly. He had no idea when that had been, either. Not even if it was before or after the sandwich.
She nodded and came closer, circling around his desk and trapping him in his chair. "And have you been taking your meds?"
Ah, there she had him. He glanced away and took a deep breath. "Uh, I forgot?" he replied lamely.
She nodded and leaned closer. "I've been trying to get that office space livable for three days, Commander, and I've been sleeping in sick-bay, and I've been being kept from checking on you. Do you know why that might be?"
He frowned. "Who's been keeping you from seeing me?" he asked in surprise.
"Oh, how about everyone? Alec, Colonel Foster, that nice Mr. Ford. Everyone. I am not happy. And, since you've not taken your meds for the past three days, it's my job to bolster your immune system." She opened a small black case he hadn't noticed her carrying and pulled out a hypodermic and a bottle of fluid.
He leaned back as far as he could. "Now, Louise, wait a minute..."
"Nope. Stand up, turn around, drop your pants, bend over and crack a smile."
"Wait a minute," he began again, standing up and preparing to defend himself.
"You wait a minute. I've already reamed Alec a new orifice, and when I find Colonel Foster, he's going to wish he'd transferred to Moon Base, permanently. As for Mr. Ford, let's just say he's off licking his wounds just now."
Straker frowned. He'd never seen her this... furious. "What are you so angry about?" he asked plaintively.
"Angry? You think this is angry? Why on earth should I be angry? I haven't seen fresh clothes except for these hideous yellow medical scrubs in three days. I haven't slept in a real bed, my food comes from a can, you haven't eaten at all, Foster's annoyed the hell out of me trying to keep me from seeing you, and you haven't had your supplements in three freaking days! Why should I be angry?!!!" She glared at him. "Now, I want to see your bare little behind in less than thirty seconds, or I'll bare it for you!"
He was no fool. He began undressing. One of the few times he wished he didn't like the jumpsuits so much. He pulled the velcro seam open and pulled his arms out, watching her intently, a small frown line between his eyes, until he realized that she'd been trapped here. All her clothes and things were at his place, and she had had no way to go back there... oh, dear. No wonder she was so angry. And, looking at her, he could understand her feeling about yellow. She looked ghastly in it. He had to hide the involuntary smile at her plight as he turned away and finished pulling his jumpsuit down far enough for her to give him the hated injection. Despite her anger, she was gentle with the needle, although there was nothing she could do to help the burn of the medication as it spread through the muscles, making him wince. She'd just withdrawn the needle when the door opened and Alec walked in and stopped dead in his tracks.
"Um, excuse me. I'll, uh, come back later. Didn't realize you were busy, Commander." He'd already caught hell from the doctor and started to beat a hasty retreat.
"Forget it, Alec," Straker said, pulling his clothes back to rights. "She was just letting me know that not taking those pills is an option I don't want to take again. What have you got?" He stepped around her, limping for a moment as the muscle in his buttock spasmed. No, he wouldn't want to do this again. Pills were much easier on the system.
Alec stopped his retreat and came in and closed the door. "Everything's coming together. We've got the U.S. Navy coming for 'maneuvers' and we'll have three Sky Divers in the area, and Moon Base is standing by, ready to take on any that may escape the atmosphere."
"Good. What's the cover story we've given the Navy?" Straker had already forgotten Dr. Lewis in light of more important matters.
"Destroying confiscated and dumped ordinance, guns taken by Federal agents and police departments is dumped out near there, so we're telling them that someone's been diving on this one site and brining the guns back in. They're more than happy to help. We'll be giving them coordinates and with any luck, we'll catch the aliens flat-footed. After all, the U.S. Pacific Fleet is as at home in San Francisco as it is in Honolulu." Alec grinned, but his smile vanished when he noticed that Louise still wasn't placated.
"Excellent work, Alec. Whose idea was it to use the Navy?"
"Keith Ford's. He made a cast-off remark about it being too bad we couldn't use the Navy to help us, and everyone just looked at him. You know what he's like. It was Dr. Lewis, here, who actually said it was a good idea."
Straker turned to her, "Oh? When was this?"
She looked up at him, her eyes narrowed down to annoyed slits, "While you were 'napping'. Which was approximately thirty hours ago. And your sandwich was before the nap." She turned on Freeman. "How long do we have before everyone's in position?"
Alec shrugged. "Ten, twelve hours. Why?"
"Good. The commander is taking a break. We are going to his house and I am going to feed him and make sure he gets at least a full four to six hours of sleep, then I'll feed him again and let him come back. Any questions, gentlemen?"
"Wait a minute, I need to...."
She spun on him and positively growled. "You 'need'? What you really need is a good ass whipping. In case you've forgotten, you're still recovering from what happened to you just a bit over three weeks ago. You aren't eating, you aren't sleeping. This does not bode well for you or SHADO. You are going home right now if I have to handcuff and drag you there." She saw Straker's mouth form into the stubborn line she'd already come to recognize as his 'there is no way you can make me' expression. She backed off and changed tactics. "Besides, if you think I'm going to give you a massage right here at your desk, you're sadly mistaken."
Although his brain wanted to stay and oversee every moment of the operation, his heart and body wanted to feel those magical hands soothing away the stress and tightness that had been a sharp ache between his shoulder blades for the past two days. He slumped just a tiny bit and nodded. "I don't suppose I could talk you into doing it down in the hospital?"
"My oils are with my clothes. I'd dearly love to have a nice, hot shower, and sleep in a real bed, again. Even in a hideous pink and orange bedroom."
Alec coughed to cover his smile. "I'll have your car brought around, Commander."
Louise looked up at him and smiled. "Good idea. You need to head home for a bit of a sleep, yourself, Alec. You haven't had much more sleep or food than the commander, here."
"I'm fine, Dr. Lewis."
"Oh?" She moved closer to him. "Then why are you eyeing the bar like a drowning man looking at a rubber raft?"
Alec winced, "Oh, come on, Doctor, I'm not going to go and get drunk just yet. That can wait until it's all over."
She nodded, understanding. "Tell you what, I'll trade you a full-body massage for the drunken stupor."
He looked at her, hurt. That wasn't playing fair and they both knew it. "You fight dirty, Dr. Lewis."
She smiled. "I'll take that as a definite maybe?"
He couldn't help but smile and shake his head. "All right, then. In the meantime, I'm going to steal a bunch of Ed's cigars to keep me going."
"Just remember to smoke them outside, Colonel." She turned to Straker. "Now, can we get out of here for a few hours? Since no one's been there, your house still has no supplies, so I guess we'll have to stop and eat somewhere. Since this is your stomping grounds and you're driving, I'll leave it to you to get us fed and safely home." She turned and passed Alec, opening the door. "Let's move it, Commander. Sooner we're out of here, the sooner you can come back."
He looked at her for a moment, then at the again grinning Alec. "When did I lose control?"
"I think it was the first time those magical hands of hers put you to sleep. I know that's when I lost it." The two men grinned at one another and Straker followed his new physician out.
As they passed through control, Straker announced, "I'm heading home for a few hours. If anything happens, call me; otherwise, I'll be back in time to see how all this turns out. Mr. Ford."
"S-sir?" the man lifted his nervous gaze to him, with a quick, frightened glance at the new shrink, wondering how much worse than Jackson she might be. Scuttlebutt had it that Henderson had hand picked her to replace the aging doctor, and that definitely did not bode well for them.
"Good job on bringing the Navy into this. I'll see you in eight hours, people."
"Ten," Louise murmured to him, scowling.
He lifted an eyebrow and smiled. "Shall we go, Doctor?" Grumbling, she followed him out. She was amazed and annoyed that after three days of less than minimal food and rest, he still managed to look like an advert for Gentlemen's Quarterly. It simply wasn't fair.
He was surprised to discover that it was almost dark. Underground, you lost track of time. You'd have thought that after so many years, he'd be used to it, but it still surprised him. He offered his hand to help her into his car and then closed the gull wing. One of the security men was standing by his door and handed him a note showing that they had reservations at his favorite Indian restaurant. He nodded his thanks and got behind the wheel and the guard closed the door for him.
"I hope you like Indian cuisine," he said as he put the car in gear.
"I love Tandoori." She was watching out the window and practically ignoring him. He frowned.
She turned to look at him. "Nothing. Why?"
"You seem upset."
"Why should I be upset? I've no home, no place to call my own at the moment, have been stuck in that cavern for three plus days, and would desperately love to have a full day of pampering at my favorite spa. My primary patient is running around like Superman, harrying his people like they're machines, and wanting everything done yesterday, which is raising the stress levels on everyone involved. Did you know that I caught Ford crying in what he thought was a safe corner yesterday?"
That gave him pause. He frowned. "Ford? What was he - upset about?"
"He thinks that you hate him, that you think he's a royal screw-up and can never do anything right. Did you even see the look on his face when you told him he'd done a good job bringing in the Navy? He was like a puppy with two tails, he was so pleased."
"If I thought Ford was a screw-up, he wouldn't be here."
"Have you ever bothered to tell him that?"
He glanced at her. "You really are very cranky."
"You should see my office."
Confused by the non sequitur, he frowned. "What?"
"The office. The yellow monstrosity? We've put six coats of paint on it, and the yellow keeps bleeding through and turning it a hideous shade of pea soup green."
He flinched. "White primer?"
"That's next. Then I'm going to paint it a pale Caribbean blue," her voice took on a wistful tone. She didn't bother to mention it was the exact shade of his eyes.
"Good. You need to put your stamp on the office. Have they gotten you any staff, yet?"
"I've got my own ideas for that. I will be needing a couple of nurses trained in psychology, but as for clerical staff, I've got someone in mind."
He frowned. "Been going through the personnel files, have you? Well, you can't have Miss Ealand."
She laughed. "No, she's safe. But I've got a good idea on who I want; we'll just have to wait and see if I can get them."
"You have just about carte blanche, you know."
"Yes. Thank you, for that." She turned to finally look at him. "Have you heard the rumors about me, yet?"
"No," he frowned. "What are they?"
"That the reason Henderson foisted me on you is because Jackson was getting soft."
He turned to look at her, eyes wide with surprise. Then he turned back to the road and laughed. "Little do they know."
"If you think I'm soft, think again, Straker. When it comes to the care and well-being of my patients, you're going to think a grizzly bear is a newborn kitten."
She frowned and shook her head. "What?"
"Alec's the grizzly bear, you're the giraffe, remember?"
She smiled, then chuckled. "Yes, of course. But sometimes I'm more like a lioness. Comes with the territory."
A lioness protecting the pride. Yes, he could see that. He pulled in and parked at the restaurant and got out, then got the door for her. He offered her his arm and she took it, her chin lifted regally as he led her in.
She made him order lots of dark green vegetables. Good thing he liked them, and told him quietly over their meal that if he didn't start following medical advice - he heard 'orders' - he would find himself in hospital and on an IV. After the earlier confrontation in his office, he didn't doubt her. And he somehow believed that Henderson would back her up.
He wondered if the tyrant he'd known as Dr. Jackson wasn't better than the devil he didn't really know in the person of Louise Lewis.
At least she didn't actually nag him about eating.
To his surprise, she was silent on the drive to his house. Once he'd parked and exited, she opened her own door before he had a chance to come around to get it for her. He frowned, wondering what was wrong, now? She followed him into the house and went directly to her room to get her aromatherapy oil. When she went into his room, he frowned at her.
"Go take a shower and I'll take care of you when you're ready."
"Louise, what's wrong?"
She looked at him. "I'm tired, my back aches, and I'm not sure this was such a good idea."
His heart gave one startled thump and then settled back to almost normal. "What wasn't such a good idea?"
"Coming here. You obviously don't care enough about yourself to do the simple things you need to in order to remain healthy. You're a good thirty pounds underweight for your bone structure, height, and age. When I rub your back I can feel every little bone spur in your spine and the places you've broken ribs in the past. You've broken both legs at different times, and you've enough bullet scars to be considered a paper target. Now, go get your shower and I'll see if I can't at least put you to sleep long enough for you to handle this thing in the morning." She turned away from him, muttering something he couldn't quite make out.
"What's that last?"
"Nothing. Take your shower."
"Louise," he said softly, placatingly, but her back stiffened and he shook his head in confusion. Women. With a sigh, he turned and headed for his bathroom and the prescribed shower.
He didn't realize just how much he'd missed this. The warm, meadow-y scent of the oil, the strong hands on his back... The tension magically dissipated and the gentle touch soon had him falling asleep.
She hadn't been joking about his physical condition. She could count every bone in his body as she soothed away his tension and stress. As usual, he was asleep before she'd halfway begun. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift to daydreaming. Of imagining what she'd like to be doing right now, or any other time. Knowing it wasn't likely to ever happen. He'd spoken the truth, SHADO was a demanding mistress and he would never have time for any other.
Certainly not time for her. Besides, except for the massages and medical advice, what did she have to offer him, really? But he felt so very good under her hands...
He awoke slowly, wondering what had caused it, not feeling the usual momentary panic when he awoke in the middle of the night. He knew it was a sound, but it didn't trigger his usual reaction of reaching for his gun. So, that meant the sound was 'normal'. He sat up, listening and heard Dr. Lewis cursing softly in the other room. Frowning, he got up and without bothering with anything more than his robe, he went down the hall to her room and tapped on the door.
"Are you all right?"
"No." Her voice surprised him, it was so - plaintive.
"May I come in?"
He opened the door and entered. The bedside lamp was on and she was sprawled on the floor. He crouched down beside her. "What on earth are you doing on the floor?"
"My back spasmed and I was trying to get it to pop and I can't and now I can't get back up," she practically wailed in pain and frustration.
"Shall I call an ambulance?"
"No, just help me up."
"And then what?"
She ground her teeth in pain and frustration. "I find a chiropractor or something in the morning."
He shook his head. She was obviously in great pain. "Isn't there anything I can do to help?" he asked.
She looked up at him and he realized she'd been crying. "You can pop my back for me."
"How? What do I do?"
She gritted her teeth hard and forced herself to roll face down on the floor. "I need you to take the heels of your hands, and right above my hips, put them on either side of my spine, about two or three inches apart." He stood and placed one foot on either side of her legs in order to get an even angle, bent over and did as instructed.
"Okay, now what?"
"Now, press down equally with both hands, yes, like that. Now, move your hands up an inch or so and do it again. Do that all the way up to between my shoulder blades, just an inch or so at a time." He gently leaned onto his hands. "Harder." He leaned a bit more, afraid he might hurt her. Then he moved his hands up a bit and repeated the action. Just below the middle of her back, there was a slight shifting of the vertebrae. Right in the middle of her spine, about two inches higher, there was a loud crack and she let out a slight cry.
"Oh, my. Did I hurt you?"
"Oh, yeah. That hurts sooo good. Keep going, please." Shaking his head, he continued, getting more pops higher up, but nothing like the one loud crack. When he reached the spot between her shoulder blades, there were lots of little pops and he stopped.
"Is that better?"
"Now, do it again, from the top down." His own back was starting to complain from bending over so log, so he sank to his knees, still straddling her legs. He worked his way back down, getting several more little pops. When he'd finished, he rubbed her back, from shoulders to waist and marveled to feel the muscles relax beneath his ministrations.
"Oh, that is nice. That's good," she murmured under his touch. Finally, though, she shifted and he moved away, standing back up and bending down to help her to her feet.
"Are you all right, now?" he asked softly.
She stretched and he couldn't help seeing how her tank top had stretched, nearly revealing her breasts.
"Bless you, that's much better." She wiped the tears from her face and smiled at him. Biting her lower lip, she stepped close and hugged him, pressing her cheek against his chest. His eyes closed automatically and he returned the embrace. The feel of her warm body against his was again causing what he thought to be inappropriate physical reactions. He cleared his throat and started to pull away from her.
"Hold me, please?"
"Louise, it's not...."
"Please? Just hold me. Just for a while?"
He knew she had feelings for him. She'd made that quite clear, and that she wouldn't act on them, or so he'd thought. But now his own body was betraying him and he wanted more than just to hold her or be held by her. His brain knew what he should do, but his heart and body overrode his brain, for once. His arms tightened around her and he rested his cheek on top of her head, letting his hands stroke up and down her back. She felt so very nice against him like this.
After a few minutes, she sighed and pulled away, obviously with great reluctance. "Thank you," she said softly, not looking at him.
She had to have noticed his physical reaction to her. It wasn't exactly something you could easily ignore, and he felt badly about it. "Are you all right, now?" he asked softly, hoping that if he ignored it, it would simply go away.
"Yes, thanks. I'm sorry I woke you. You need your rest."
He chuckled dryly. "Yes, that's as may be, but I'd have felt awful to wake up in the morning and found you'd been stuck on the floor like that all night." He reached out and gently stroked her cheek. She looked up at him.
She bit her lower lip again and gazed into his eyes. "Stay with me, please?"
His breath caught. "I don't know that that would be such a good idea."
"Why not? Neither of us is a child. We're both adults, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd stay with me."
"Louise," he said, guardedly.
She shook her head. "I'm not asking for a lifetime commitment, you know. I just want to feel your arms around me, even if it's just for one night. I'm alone, and I'm afraid, and just once, I'd like to wake up with someone to hold me."
He frowned. What had brought this on? "Did you have another nightmare?"
She glanced up at him and then turned away, but not before he saw the flash of fear in her eyes. He watched as her arms wrapped around her body, over her abdomen, and he realized it was probably the same way she'd originally saved herself, by holding herself together and keeping her insides where they belonged.
He suddenly thought he understood. "You have that nightmare all the time?"
"Only when I sleep," she whispered, and he closed his eyes in sympathy. He often had nightmares, Johnny's death, the accident that had made him commander, the horrendous sights he'd seen in the aftermath of ufoe attacks. But to have the exact same nightmare every single night for six years... he shuddered at the very idea. He shook his head and stepped close to her and hesitantly put his arms around her. He was grateful that his body had ceased its earlier reaction to her.
She felt his arms around her and turned into the embrace. "I'm sorry, but I really need to be held tonight."
"Why?" he asked softly.
"Because you're here. Because I want you to hold me. Because I've been touching you for more than two weeks and I want someone to touch me back." She leaned into his embrace. "Please," she repeated.
He was twenty years her senior and he'd long since accepted that he was meant to be alone. And yet. She felt so good in his arms, her body warm and pliant against him. He closed his eyes and simply felt. He'd met hundreds of women over the years; women who wanted to bed him, but they always had an ulterior motive, thinking that he would further their careers. But Louise already had a career, and it was one that would continue to bring her in close contact with him. Did he dare take advantage of that fact? Wouldn't it be more detrimental to them both in the long run? What would people say? What would Alec say? He smiled as he realized exactly what Alec was likely to say. 'About bloody time,', he could hear the accent of his friend and see his beaming smile.
He was well aware of what he'd be getting from a relationship with this young woman, but what would she get from it? That had to be considered, as well. For one thing, she'd get his presence, for what it was worth, to help her through her nightmares; and having had her hold him through his own troubled sleep, he knew how much having someone near helped. What else? Well, he was getting the massages and stress relief already, could he learn to reciprocate? Obviously he'd already learned to help adjust her back. He wondered what had caused her back problems? What else was in it for her?
"Please? I just don't want to be alone, just for tonight. Please?" she whispered into his chest and he nodded. Of course. She'd get the same comfort she gave. It only seemed fair, after all.
"All right," he softly agreed and loosened his hold on her and followed her to her bed. She held his hand, as though afraid he might change his mind and run away. If it weren't so tragic, he might have been amused. He slid onto the bed beside her, both of them atop the covers, for now. He stretched out and took her into his arms, simply holding her.
Hearing his heart beating beneath her cheek pressed to his chest was a warm reassurance. His arms around her protected her from her constant night terrors, and she sighed in relief as she relaxed against him. Then, his hand started to gently stroke up and down her back and she tightened her arms around his waist.
She was so soft, so warm. His hand, seemingly of its own volition, began to stroke her back. He almost stopped when her arms tightened around him, but then he continued, a light, gentle touch. Bending his neck, he gently kissed the top of her head. She looked up at him, her eyes shining in the soft light of the low-wattage bedside lamp. Her lips were parted just a bit and he took advantage of it and gently kissed her. For a moment, she didn't react, but then her arm came up and held his head to her as she shifted in his arms and straightened up so they were more evenly matched. He broke the kiss, only to have her respond by kissing him. His arms tightened around her and he held her closer as her mouth opened and her tongue came out and lightly caressed his lips. He responded in kind and then had to break away in order to breathe. They both lay there gasping for a moment.
When he kissed her, she couldn't help her response. It had been so long. His lips were so soft, softer than she remembered Tom's being. And he was so gentle. She initiated the second kiss and when she touched her tongue to his lips seeking to deepen it, he'd complied and they'd probed and explored until they both ran out of air and had to break apart. She made a soft little sound and as soon as they caught their breath, she kissed him again, holding his head and running her fingers through his hair.
His hand stroked down her back and over her hip, then went back up, only this time, it was under her tank top. Her skin was soft and warm and he shifted and brought his hand around to her front and slid it up to cup her breast. The soft mound overflowed his hand and he gently kneaded it as she made another little sound and arched against him. He trailed light little kisses down her jaw to her throat and then hit the top of her tank top and growled softly. She took the hint and sat up just long enough to shed the garment, and then she was back in his arms.
She pushed his robe back so she could touch him, her hand gently stroking through the scant hair on his chest, stroking firmly across his nipples and then around to his back to pull him closer to her. The softness of his skin against hers excited her further and she kissed him again, hard.
He allowed his hands to roam freely over her body. It had been so long since he'd been with anyone like this. His body reacted predictably and he began to stroke her more firmly, arousing, rather than soothing, now. She reacted by pressing into his touch, moaning softly, and he again kissed down her face and throat, down to her breasts, lightly nuzzling at them. She made a soft mewling sound and clutched at him, wanting him closer.
He slid one hand beneath her shorts and gently probed and teased, which resulted in her shifting to her back and lifting her hips for him to remove her shorts. He did so with a minimum of wasted energy. Her hands pushed at his robe and he slid quickly out of it and then they were skin-to-skin.
Their bodies slid against one another as they groped and fondled each other. She reached for him, urging him to touch, to take...
He was losing control and he tried to slow down, but his long ignored needs were overriding his usual self-control. He pressed her legs apart and he rested atop her. He dropped his head to her shoulder and groaned, trying to regain control.
"Tell me to stop," he whispered, almost desperately.
"Please," she whimpered back.
"Wait," He was gasping with the effort to stop, to think. He shook his head, "I don't have any condoms, and unless you're on the pill...."
She stilled beneath him as she gasped and held her breath, then, slowly, gently, she ran her hands from his shoulders to his hips. "It's not a problem. When they cut me open, they not only killed my baby, but destroyed my reproductive tract." She squirmed beneath him, "Please?" she moaned.
For just a moment, he pitied her for her loss, but then his own needs, coupled with hers took back over and with no further contemplation, he entered her. She clung to him almost desperately, as their bodies moved together, his wanting completion immediately. He thrust into her fast and hard for several moments and then he regained control. There was no hurry, they had hours, yet, so he slowed down and began to work more towards pleasing her than himself.
He moved slowly, alternating between slow, hard thrusts and gently rotating his hips. She moved in perfect counterpoint to him, her hands running up and down his body, pulling him tightly to her and then releasing him to run her hands through his hair and bring him down for a kiss. She wrapped her legs around him, trying to pull him even closer. Their breathing was ragged and they were beginning to spiral down towards completion, when she suddenly let out a cry and abruptly unhooked one leg from around him. He stopped, frozen in place as a thrill of fear stabbed through him.
"What is it? What's wrong? Did I hurt you?" Concerned, he began to pull away from her, but her hands stopped him and he felt her shake beneath him.
"No, it's not you. I've got a cramp in my hip and it hurts. I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
He pressed his hand into the affected hip joint and could feel the tendon there in spasm. "Do you want me to stop?"
"No, oh, no. Please, don't stop. Unless it's uncomfortable for you?"
He felt her beneath him, hot, welcoming, the angle had changed with the dropping of her leg, but it was still fine for him, but what about her?"
"I'm fine, but what about you? What do you want?"
"I want you to keep going, if you don't mind? Please. It's been so long. So very long," she whispered and her hands began to pull at him again, wanting him to move, to continue. He nodded and gently kissed her.
"If I hurt you, I'll be very upset if you didn't tell me," he warned her.
"No, no. It's all right. Just a stupid cramp. Pleeeease." The final word came out a moan, and he began moving again.
He shifted slightly, more on their sides, so he wouldn't put any added pressure on her spasmed hip, which in turn freed a hand to reach between them and touch her again, teasing and manipulating her body until she suddenly let out a long, low wail as she tightened dramatically around him. His body took over, thrusting faster and harder until his own body spasmed in ecstatic release.
Afterwards, they lay in sweaty exhaustion in one another's arms, waiting for the aftershocks to pass and their bodies to recover. After a few minutes, he shifted away from her, then reached out to take her back into his arms and settle her head on his shoulder, cradling her against him.
"How's your hip?"
"Who cares?" she murmured in response. She snuggled tightly against him, wanting nothing more than to sleep, hopefully to dream of this, rather than her usual nightmares.
He chuckled softly at her words and rubbed his cheek on her hair. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. And thank you!"
"You're welcome." They lay quietly in one another's arms, drifting into sated slumber.
When they awoke, it was still dark, and somehow, they'd managed to get themselves under the covers. They awoke together, at first confused, and then embarrassed by where they were.
The memories were clear and they watched each other in concern. "Any regrets, Commander?" she asked, steeling herself for the worst.
He regarded her, a strange, soft look in his eyes. "None. You?"
She smiled tentatively at his response. "Only if you have," she murmured and, emboldened by his answer, she reached for him and gave him a long, lingering kiss.
He held her tightly, returning the kiss with all the ardor he was capable of, then he withdrew a bit and kissed her again.
She clung tightly to him, as tightly as she had earlier while in the throes of passion and he wondered if this wasn't much more than a casual thing, for either of them. The idea of working with her, having her as his personal shrink, working together to keep SHADO functioning and on the top of its game brought warm feelings of contentment. To also have her in his bed... or her bed, as the case might be, was gaining in popularity. But what would Henderson say? Or do, for that matter. Come to think of it, what could he do or say? Nothing. Not without risking it becoming known what he'd allowed Jackson to do all this time. What other 'experiments' had he been performing, using the staff of SHADO as his personal guinea pigs? No. Henderson wouldn't dare. At least, he hoped he wouldn't.
As for the members of SHADO, well, some of them would be surprised, but he doubted anyone would particularly care, one way or another. Alec would be ecstatic, no doubt. Having stated on multiple occasions that he should find himself someone and settle down again. He wondered, briefly, how much his opinion that he didn't deserve anyone was due to the Machiavellian machinations of Dr. Jackson, and how much was his own guilt for having made such a hash with Mary?
Besides, he suddenly had a family, again. Why not make his life complete? That is... he looked down at the woman clinging tightly to him, that is, if she wanted to be in his life that much? He mentally shook himself and decided that he needed to just be in the moment, and let the future take care of itself.
He gently stroked his fingers through her hair, smiling as she pressed more tightly against him. "I think it's time for us to get back to headquarters. What do you think?" he asked softly.
"What time is it?"
He twisted to see the bedside clock. "O341," he replied.
She looked up at him, and saw that he was wide-awake and raring to go. She shook her head and looked away from him. "All right, go ahead."
He frowned. She seemed depressed, and just after their claims to no regrets.... "Well," he murmured, stroking a hand down her body suggestively, "There's still plenty of time before we have to get up." He could feel her reacting to his touch, the way she arched against him and her arms tightened around him. She looked up at him, an uncertain frown on her face.
"What are we doing?" she asked.
He stopped moving and frowned at her. "Whatever do you mean?"
She bit her lower lip. "I meant it, when I said I didn't require a commitment from you, that I only wanted tonight."
He felt an icy stab of disbelief and anger, but then thought about it, what if she was just trying to let him off the hook? What if... "Talk to me, Louise. What do you really want? Just a one-night-stand?" He couldn't help the bitterness that crept into his voice at that thought.
He saw her eyes widen in hurt shock. "No." she shook her head. "I want... I just want you to hold me. It doesn't have to be all the time, although I'd like that, but I know how important SHADO is, and I wouldn't dream of coming between you and your work, but...." she looked away for a moment, gnawing her lower lip, a sure sign, he realized, that she was confused and upset.
He frowned. "Just tell me what you want, Louise."
She wouldn't look at him, but softly replied, "You."
He took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "Me."
She nodded, still unwilling to look at him.
Gnawing that lip again, and he wondered how soon before it started bleeding, she blushed a faint pink - all over, he noticed absently - and replied almost inaudibly, "Because you're vibrant and alive, and you probably need someone to love you as much as I need someone to love."
That stopped him cold. Love? She hardly knew him, except for the past couple of weeks and reading his files, and Jackson's report... and he remembered that report, the one she'd made based on Jackson's original findings. Love? How could anyone possibly love him? Particularly on such a short acquaintance? But he felt her warm, sensuous body against his, felt her arms around him, clinging to him and rubbing herself minutely against him, probably not ever realizing that she was arousing him by those tiny movements.
It had been so long... a lifetime since anyone said they loved him. Love? She said she needed to love, and that he needed to be loved. Was that enough? Could they make it be enough? Was there any hope that they could make a relationship work? He had observed that Eddie and Lily had seemed to like her, drawing her aside and asking her questions about him. And Alec. What would Alec say?
Alec would say to stop thinking with the bloody gray matter and let his heart decide for once. So, what did his heart want? He tried to ignore his body's desires. He'd been so good at denying himself physically that he was suddenly having difficulty. Once the genie was out, and all that. He was having a hard time ignoring his body's demands.
"I'm a lot older than you are, Louise," he said softly, partly to distract her (and himself), and partly to give her an out.
"It's not as though we'd be starting a family, Ed," she replied just as softly.
That was true enough. Besides, he was a grandfather, now. He had a grandson... and what would his newfound children think of her? He'd already thought of that. Besides, it wasn't as though they'd be living with him. For that matter, it wasn't even certain that they'd be stationed nearby, much as he'd like that.
Finally, he simply told her the truth. "I'm afraid."
Her arms tightened around him. "Me, too."
She was so warm; and she smelled so good, the scent of arousal and sex was making his body react despite his usual control. His hand started to roam again, and she shifted against him, her own desire demonstrating itself.
"Please?" she asked, touching him, inviting him.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he looked at her and her eyes met his, filled with fear and desire and something more. Something that could be mistaken for love.
'You probably need someone to love you as much as I need someone to love.'
He brought his hand up to stroke her cheek. "Are you sure?"
"Of course not, but if I don't try, it will never happen, as you well know. If my stupid back hadn't gone out, I'd have slept just fine and never said a word to you."
Ironic, he thought. That something as minor as a bad back had brought them together, tonight. And it wasn't as though he hadn't known already that she cared for him. He smiled. "I don't know if we can make this work or not, but I'm willing to try, if you are."
She smiled at him. "Kiss me."
They arrived at SHADO HQ just after 0700. Everything was in place, with the U.S. Pacific Fleet having just arrived for their 'maneuvers'. There were three Sky Divers in place, and Moon Base was on alert, ready to launch at a moment's notice. They had ground crews on several of the Farallons, and the weather was clear and nearly perfect.
Alec looked at them oddly when they came in, wondering what was different. The smile on Straker's face, for one thing. The limp Dr. Lewis had, for another. Alec shook his head. Nah. Not bloody likely. More's the pity.
"Everything's set. Ready on your word, Commander."
"Thank you, Colonel." Straker took a look over everything, double checking, and simply said, "Let's get this show on the road. Signal the Fleet to attack, Mr. Ford."
Code words were sent, and four destroyers deployed depth charges above the aliens' underwater base. The Sky Divers rushed in as soon as the reverberations from the explosions had stilled and fired torpedoes at several areas that looked relatively undamaged. Then, from the top of the installation, six ufoes started trying to lift off. One of Sky 3's torpedoes blew one out of existence, but the other five managed to get clear, at least for the moment. Sky 2 and 4 launched, while Sky 3 repositioned for launch. The five surviving ufoes struggled to lift off, and Sky Diver 3 caught another ufoe with a torpedo.
The Navy was under the impression that they were destroying a weapon dumpsite, and when the four surviving ufoes cleaned the water, the crews aboard the twenty-three ships were all standing there, gawking.
Fortunately, when they went below for lunch, later, they'd forget everything they saw, including the fact that they'd been anywhere near this area. Just as long as the logbook showed that they'd successfully dropped the appropriate number of depth charges at the proper location, it wouldn't really matter that everyone seemed to have lost a few hours of time.
Sky 4 was hot on the tail of one ufoe, with Sky 2 right after another. The configuration of the Skys was such that they were highly maneuverable and possibly the best dogfighters ever designed by humankind. They had to be. Unfortunately, there were four ufoes and only two Skys available at the moment, as Sky 3 repositioned for launch. As Sky 3 broke through the surface of the ocean, Sky 4 fired on its target, resulting in a spectacular explosion as the ufoe disintegrated. Sky 2 wasn't quite as lucky, as a second ufoe fired on it, ripping one stubby wing from the fuselage. The pilot managed to eject clear, but the three remaining ufoes shot off for the longed-for safety of outer space, with Skys 3 and 4 hot on their tails. Even if they couldn't shoot them down, although they certainly fired on them, the Interceptors had already launched and were waiting for them.
Sky 3 got off a lucky shot and damaged one ufoe, and as it slowed down, its companions continued at top speed for the upper atmosphere. Sky 4 dove after the injured ufoe and finished the job. Out of six ufoes that survived the destruction of their underwater facility, only two made it back out of the atmosphere, and into the waiting missiles of the Interceptors. There were no survivors.
There were cheers as the reports announced that the ufoes had been dispatched with complete success, with no loss of life, although Sky 2 had been lost, its pilot was picked up before the Navy could even get close.
Straker smiled. "Good work, everyone. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like that installation examined and find out what they were doing down there. Send Diver 2 to handle it. I want hourly reports. Understood?" There were a chorus of 'Yes sirs!' from the crew on duty and his orders were passed on to Diver 2.
Straker headed for his office, with Alec and Louise at his heels. As the door closed behind them, he grabbed Louise up in a mighty hug and gave her a quick kiss, before noticing Alec was there, and the shocked look on his friend's face. All he could think was 'at least it wasn't Foster....'
Alec frowned and looked at them. As soon as Ed had noticed him, he'd released Louise and stepped away from her. He noticed as her expression went from pleased excitement, to hurt, to poorly executed stoicism.
"Well, if he's not going to celebrate, then I will," Alec said with false joviality as he swept Louise up in his arms and gave her a bear hug and a loud kiss. He glanced at Ed and saw the anger and jealousy before he could quite hide it. Gotcha.
He set her gently back on her feet, smiled at her confused expression and passed her to put his arm around Straker's shoulders. He guided him back towards his desk and whispered in his ear.
"If you ever hurt her like that again, I'll punch your lights out." Seeing him about to protest, he continued without letting him say a word. "I don't care what may or may not be going on between you two, but the girl's been in love with you almost from the start. Like a lot of women, she took one look at you, restrained, beaten, hurting, and helpless, and she wanted to mother you. Then, she got to know you better, and the poor thing fell head over heels for the wonderful heroic soldier who's given up everything in order to save the world. I know she's a shrink. She's also been just as badly hurt by this war as you have. For God's sake, give her a break. Give yourself a break. Take the bleeding chance on each other."
"Alec, my personal life is just that. Personal. You don't know what you're talking about."
Alec stepped back, shaking his head sorrowfully. He glanced over at the glum Louise and asked, "Why are you limping, Dr. Lewis?"
Her eyes widened in shock as she looked first from him to Straker and back. "Wh-what?"
Alec grinned, knowingly. "Looks like a groin pull, to me." With a cavalier wave, he headed out the door, pausing just as he was ready to pass through. "Take the chance, you may not get another. Don't be a bloody fool, Ed. Live a little." With a last wave, he was gone.
Straker scowled at the closed door.
He glared at her. "For what?"
"For embarrassing you."
That stopped him cold. "You didn't do anything. It was me. Making a fool of myself."
She cocked her head at him. "I thought you were celebrating a victory over the enemy." She looked away from him. "And I thought Alec was your friend, whom you trusted."
"He is, and I do."
She shook her head. "No, you don't. If you did, you wouldn't have been embarrassed. If last night wasn't a problem, you'd have told him." She saw his sudden horror at that idea and shook her head again. "Not the details, Ed, but that we, well, what are we?" When he looked away, clenching his jaw, she dropped her head down and softly said, "I think I need to find a place to stay."
His heart nearly froze at the thought. He looked at her, seeking what she was feeling. His lips compressed into a thin line. "If that's what you want."
Her head came up and she met his gaze, her eyes brimming with tears she fought to control. "No. That's not what I want. You know what that is. But if you're so afraid of anyone knowing anything, then what's the point? I won't be the secret mistress, hidden from the world. I don't expect to be paraded out in public, particularly, but I'd at least expect that you wouldn't be so afraid that you couldn't tell your best friend."
She turned away. "We'll just go back to the agreed upon deal. Three massages a week, Commander. At your convenience."
His brain told him to let her go, that he didn't need anyone, but his heart and body said different. "Wait, please."
She stopped, but didn't turn around, just stood by the door, waiting, her head down and shoulders rounded.
He stared at her for a moment, noting the defeated posture, and on a day when they'd just won a major victory, when anyone else grabbing and hugging someone would have been considered the norm, he'd backed off in embarrassment, even in front of Alec.
What did he want? A repeat of the night before? Her warm and willing body in his bed? He could have any number of those, judging from Freeman and Foster's list of conquests, although Foster's tended to be starlets, while Alec's remained friends even afterwards.
Did he want a lover, or a friend? Why couldn't she be both? She certainly didn't seem to act like a shrink, but then, he'd had little contact with the species, except for Dr. Jackson... and Jackson had used him as a guinea pig for a quarter of a century.
What did he want? A wife? A lover? A friend? He'd had a wife, disastrous as that had been. A lover? He'd had one of those, once, too. One who'd known he'd survived and denied him the knowledge of his children. A friend? Well, he had one of those, in Alec. Stubborn, opinionated, loyal Alec. The only person not afraid to tell him when he was being an ass. And it seemed he'd just made such a statement.
What did he want?
He looked at her and could see he was taking too long to decide what to say. He could see her fighting for control, trying to keep the tears at bay; probably thought he was trying to find some way to 'let her down easy'. And then he realized that that wasn't it at all.
What did he want?
Better to ask, what he didn't want.
"I work impossible hours, and am often weeks at a time sleeping in my office, or on a cot somewhere, because it's too important for me to leave. I forget everything but the job, and I often ignore the people I care about for weeks at a time, it seems. I drink too much coffee, I don't eat properly, and forget to take medication. Is it fair that I do all that to you?"
She turned and looked at him. "My job, Commander, is to make sure you remain fit to do your job. I'll do whatever it takes to keep you at the top of your game. My personal feelings are unimportant; but without you, SHADO can't do what the world needs it to do. Without you, there is no SHADO. You're the soul of this organization, and there is no one on this planet who can replace you." She stopped, and took a deep, shuddering breath, and he could see her regaining control. "If there's nothing else, Commander?"
She looked him in the eyes, and he looked away, his head dropping. She nodded sadly, and headed for the door again.
"I don't want to be alone every night. I don't want to end my life with no one to care. I admit that I'm afraid. I haven't been with anyone in a quarter of a century, and I'm twenty years older than you are. I'm tired, Dr. Lewis. I've been a soldier all my adult life. From the age of sixteen, I've been defending my country and my planet in one way or another. I'm tired, Louise. I don't want to be alone any more. I thought that I was strong enough and didn't need anyone to care about me. I thought, particularly after Johnny died, that I didn't deserve anyone. I walked into Jackson's experiment like a lamb to the slaughter, and I think you're right. I'm too bloody-minded to have broken. But last night reminded me that there are other things besides war. There are things in this world worth going after."
She was crying, now; the tears streaming silently down her face. She wanted to go to him and hold him, and maybe he would hold her, too. But she didn't. She couldn't, she mustn't.
"Please, don't go. Stay with me. I know it's too soon, and maybe last night was a mistake, but it reminded me of so much that I've missed. You were right about Phu Lin. I loved her. I never loved Mary like that, and I don't know if I can love you that much, but Alec's right. If I don't try now, I may never have another chance. Please. Stay with me?"
It was enough. She nodded and turned away, but he quickly stepped over to her and took her into his arms. "I'll probably never be able to give you everything you need, but I'm willing to try, if you are."
She melted into his embrace, her arms circling around his waist and pressed hard against him. "Yes," she whispered, lifting her face to his. He gazed for a long time into her overflowing eyes and then a faint smile twitched at the corners of his lips. He kissed her. Not the wildly exuberant kiss of before, but the gentle, uncertain, questing kiss of a man afraid.
When she responded, his arms tightened around her and when the kiss ended, he simply kept holding her tightly against him. There was a tap at the door and he reluctantly let her go, smoothing her hair from where he'd mussed it by running his hands through it, and she did the same for him and then turned away so whoever came in wouldn't see she'd been crying. Ed smiled at her; she was still trying to maintain his image, and opened the door.
"Forget something, Colonel?" He stepped back to let Freeman in.
"Yeah. Colonel Foster is on his way in. Seems he had a bit of an accident last night."
Straker frowned. "Last night? I thought he was on duty last night."
"Oh, he was. Until just before you arrived. He fell asleep at the wheel on his way home, totaled his car, but he's fine. Lucky he didn't kill anyone, though."
"Why am I just now hearing about this?"
"Because he's just now notified us. He's at the gate, in a taxi, as a matter of fact."
Straker sighed. "Send him to..."
"Tell him to come see me as soon as he's in, please Colonel. I think it's time I started doing some actual work around here." She smiled up at him and he smiled back, seeing that she seemed all right. "Commander, I'll see you later, I hope?" There was just a hint of something in her tone that Alec picked up on, and from his reaction, Straker had, as well.
"Certainly, Dr. Lewis."
"At your convenience, Commander. Alec, as soon as you're off duty, stop by and I'll give you a back rub."
Alec grinned. "Bless you, dear lady," and opened the door for her. He watched her walk away, still aware of the slight limp. Grinning, he closed the door and turned back to his friend and superior. "So, did you remove that bloody ramrod from up your arse and tell her?"
"Tell her what, Alec?"
"Oh, bloody hell! Are you going to stand there and try and tell me that you and that lovely young woman didn't spend at least part of last night in one another's close proximity?"
Straker relaxed. Alec could certainly be tactful, if he tried hard enough. Instead of stiffening and denying, he relaxed and shook his head. "What a lovely euphemism that was, my friend."
"Well? Did you talk it over? Come to some kind of understanding?"
Straker took a deep breath and turned towards his liquor cabinet and poured a tumbler full of bourbon and handed it to Alec, who uncharacteristically set it down. "Don't try and bribe me, Ed Straker. I know where all the bodies are buried."
Ed frowned at the abandoned glass and looked at his friend. "Something I should know, Alec?"
Alec flushed and looked away. "Something she said. That my drinking never interferes with my job. I'm trying to make that true. I don't want to hurt her feelings."
Close to thirty years they'd been friends, and he'd tried teasing, cajoling, threatening; and nothing had ever gotten Alec Freeman to cut back on the booze. Now, Louise Lewis, with a simple comment on whether or not it interfered with his job, had him cutting back on his own, with no threats, no pleading, nothing but the desire not to disappoint her. That was one hell of a talent.
Freemen straightened up and looked him in the eye again. "That's as may be, but what I want to know is, are you going to take the chance on that lovely young creature, or doom the both of you to the same hell you've both been living in for so long?"
Ed shook his head. "We've decided to try. I told her I couldn't promise much, that I work too much, and drink too much coffee, and that my job is my life and that she's going to have to accept the crumbs that are left; but God bless her, she's willing to accept all that, and more." He shivered and shook his head. "I can't imagine anyone caring so much that they'll give up everything for another."
Alec looked at his friend and shook his head, then he laughed. "Ed, lad, you did that in 1970, when the Member of Parliament was killed and Henderson was injured and you were put in charge of SHADO. She's chosen to save you, man. But you've chosen to save mankind. And, maybe, between the two of you, you can keep it going for another quarter of a century or until we beat them, once and for all. Either way, it's a formidable concept."
Ed grinned. "You think so, Alec? I don't know if I've another five years, or fifty years, but I do know that you were right a bit ago when you said that if I didn't take a chance now, I might never have another. I told her I didn't want to end my days alone." He admitted it softly.
"I'm glad for you, Ed. I hope you can find some peace in each other's arms. Maybe even a bit of happiness in not being alone. Besides, Eddie and Lily like her, you know. Maybe you can finally have that family you've always wanted, and unlike most parents, you get to start off as a grandfather!" Alec laughed heartily and slapped his friend on the back.
Ed grinned. "Speaking of whom, any word on how their training is progressing?"
"It's been a week, Ed. They've got at least five more weeks to go. That will be soon enough to find out."
"But what if they fail?"
"They won't. We've had thirty failures in twenty-six years. Of those, fifteen were unbalanced and didn't pass the psych analysis. Since we started doing the psych eval prior to recruitment, we've had no failures due to stress or other psychological factors. There were three who were moles, which we caught in time, and the other two, well, they simply weren't as bright as the initial reports indicated. We only recruit the best of the best, Ed. And when the recruit is missing a friend or family member to the aliens, they tend to be more determined, more willing to try, and definitely unwilling to give up. Those are the ones who make good soldiers, they're smart, creative, and bloody-minded and they'll never give up as long as there's breath in their bodies."
"That's quite a speech, Alec. Planning on giving the next commencement address?"
Alec grinned. "I just might do that, if only to see Lily and Eddie's faces when they meet the commander for the first time."
Straker looked shocked, but then he chuckled. "Maybe I'll skip it this time."
"Better not... they'll think they're no good." Alec headed for the door. "Foster should be here, by now. Better go give him the bad news that the new shrink wants to talk to him."
"When she's finished with Foster, if he's fit for duty, put him on and take off. After you get your massage, that is."
Alec grinned. "Thank you, sir. The finest hands ever to touch this old body... you lucky devil." With a final grin, he exited, leaving Straker shaking his head. Lucky devil, indeed.
"Come in Foster." She was brusque and didn't call him colonel. That did not bode well. He moved stiffly, his face a grimace of pain as he eased into the chair. She frowned at him. He was wearing a soft cervical collar for whiplash. She looked at the file he handed her from the hospital and her frown deepened into a scowl.
"This says you had a single car accident?"
"That's what it says, yes."
She looked at him. He was in obvious pain, but seemed to be trying to ignore it. "Did they give you anything for the pain and inflammation?"
"Yes." He pulled three bottles of tablets from his pocket. She looked at them. Darvocet for pain, flexeril for the anti-spasmodic, and motrin for inflammation. All standard. "What's your car look like?"
"I'm afraid I've no idea. I apparently fell asleep at the wheel and was unconscious when they found me. I don't remember anything until I awoke in hospital."
She nodded. "I need to examine you. Nothing broken, I trust?"
"Just the whiplash, they said, and a minor concussion."
"Hmmm." She had to help him take off his jacket and shirt. There was some bruising to the chest, but not a lot. She removed his cervical collar and gently manipulated his neck, which made him almost whimper from the pain. Something wasn't right, here.
"You say it was a single car accident, right?"
"Yes. I fell asleep and hit a tree, is what they said."
'Then how in hell did you end up with a whiplash, Colonel?' she wondered. "Hmmm." She put the collar back on and then looked at his back. There was bruising between his shoulder blades... odd. She looked closely at the faint bruises and squinted, trying to see if by any chance she could see any pattern to the marks. And there it was. She sat back and shook her head. No way was this a single car accident.
"I want you on the exam table, face down, please."
"Why?" It sounded uncomfortable.
"Because I'm the doctor, is why." She watched him move. Even his hips seemed to give him pain. She stopped him.
"Drop your trousers, please."
"What?" He hurt too much for that, what was she thinking?
"I want to check your hips. They're hurting you too, aren't they?"
"Well, yes," he agreed.
"Just undo them and let me check your pelvis, please." Reluctantly, he did as he was told and she saw the obvious bruise from his seatbelt.
"Does your car have an airbag?"
She looked at his face, the bruising on his chest was from his seatbelt, not the airbag. She helped him stretch out face down on the exam table and began to gently massage his back, starting at the waistband of his trousers and slowly working up. As was usually the case when she gave a massage, she could feel him relaxing under her ministrations. When she had eased the muscle tenseness as much as she could, she began massaging his scalp. When she got the sigh of pleasure that indicated he was about to fall asleep, she began to softly speak.
"I want you to go back to this morning. You've just gotten off duty and are going home. How are you feeling?"
"Tired, excited. Don't want to go home, but know I need to," he murmured sleepily. She'd activated recording devices when he'd entered, so everything was down on videotape.
"What happened then?" She continued gently rubbing his temples and running her fingers through his hair.
"Got into my car and headed home for a few hours sleep."
"Good, you're doing fine. Then what happened?"
"Car stalled on the side of the road, had a puncture, so I stopped to see if I could help."
"What did the driver of the other car look like?" as if she didn't know.
"Tall, blond. Great legs. I'd pulled up in front of her and had stopped the car, taken it out of gear, when she got back in her car and gunned the engine. She hit me and I went off the road."
As she thought. "What happened next?"
"Two men came and tried to get into the car. One of them managed to break the window out and sprayed me in the face with something and I passed out."
She'd have to draw blood and hope whatever they'd used hadn't completely dissipated. "Very good, Paul. I want you to just relax, now, and rest. I'll wake you in a bit." She moved back to rubbing his back and shoulders and soon had him breathing deeply and sound asleep.
His car might have wound up by a tree, but he hadn't head-on'd into it. She wrote up her report and forwarded it to security and Straker, along with her recommendation that Foster be put on sick leave for a minimum of one week to heal. She left him sleeping there and went back to trying to get this place set up the way she wanted it.
Straker read the report and frowned. The report from Security seemed to indicate that it might have been a random carjacking attempt, but he told them to keep on it until they found the people responsible. There was no way that they could allow someone to get away with targeting their people like this.
Although SHADO security did the work, the local constabulary did the actual arrest. It wasn't Paul, specifically, who'd been targeted. He just happened to be the one who stopped to render assistance. When Dr. Lewis had awakened him a couple of hours after her examination, his memories were clear and he was able to give a good description to the police, much to the felons' dismay.
Foster had been back all of two days when Louise happened to be present in control and made an observation. Straker was standing, as usual, behind the people on duty, gazing at scopes and tracking radars, as Moon Base chased down and destroyed another ufoe, when Lieutenant Ford came in, bearing a tray of coffee for his fellows. Foster had just turned and blatantly bumped into the lieutenant, who tried to dodge, but his feet seemed to get tangled together and he fell flat on his face, with scalding hot coffee splattering over his hands as he attempted to break his fall.
He'd literally tripped over his own feet.
"Bloody hell, Ford, watch where you're going!" Foster shouted at the hapless man.
Louise was the first one to reach him. "Easy, Lieutenant. Let me see your hands." They were already turning red from the scalding liquid. She checked him quickly for any other injuries, but except for his embarrassment and possibly a few bruises or a sprained wrist, he seemed relatively unharmed. She helped him up. He was blushing crimson, and she wondered why, until she noticed the shaking heads of several of the others. She looked at Straker, who merely looked concerned whether or not the man was hurt, and if so, how badly. It made her wonder, until she heard someone mutter something about 'two left feet Ford'.
"Let's get you taken care of before those burns get any worse, shall we?" She turned to Foster, who, except for Straker, was the only one not actively doing anything. "Colonel, could you see to getting this mess cleaned up?" Her tone had Foster looking angry, and Straker puzzled. She felt everyone staring at her as she led Ford away.
"I really should go back there and clean up my mess, Doctor," Ford said, looking over his shoulder.
"Nonsense. You've burned your hands and need them tended to."
"This? Oh, this is nothing. Happens all the time. I'm something of a klutz, you see."
Was that what he called it? She called it being deliberately pushed, herself. But perhaps he didn't realize it? "Don't be silly. It'll just take a few minutes. Besides, if Foster hadn't bumped into you, it would have never happened."
"Oh, no, ma'am. It was my fault, entirely," Ford said as if he actually believed it. She wondered what had him so convinced? She knew he was terrified of Straker over something that had happened some twenty years before, but this was ridiculous, to allow someone to deliberately sabotage him and then take the blame? Not while she was around, they'd better not.
"Well, humour me, would you, please? I'm still new, here, remember, and I don't know all the ins and outs of whatever passes for 'normal', all right?"
"Yes, Doctor Lewis."
The man reminded her of a frightened and abused child and she wondered why? If he were anything like the screw-up she'd heard him call himself, Straker would have replaced him eons ago. It was time someone got to the bottom of all this, and she was just the one to do it.
Once in her outer office, she made him sit on the exam table and she gently rolled his sleeves up above the splash marks from the spilled coffee. His hands, wrists, and forearms were already turning red from the burns. She went into the inner office, which was actually set up as a miniscule apartment, complete with refrigerator, electric burner, and bed, and got a pitcher of iced tea from the aforementioned refrigerator. She came back and poured the tea into a large basin, deep enough for her patient to put both hands in up above the burned areas.
"Sit there and soak until I tell you otherwise," she told him and sat at her desk and turned on her computer and brought up his files. She went back to his childhood, searching... and there it was.
"You had polio?" she asked in surprise.
"Oh, yes. But that was when I was little. I'm fine, now."
She nodded, oh, yes. Just fine, that's why that left foot turns in sometimes, right? "Were you in an iron lung at all?"
"No. Just sick for a while, is all. Didn't need braces or anything, why?"
"Just checking, is all." She finished reading the file, including the comments from other doctors listing his various minor injuries as 'clumsiness' or 'inattention'. Hogwash. She pulled over a referral form and began filling it in. Maybe no one else had noticed, but she wasn't them, and she really did care. She may be the 'new' shrink, but she was a doctor first, and part of her job was seeing to it that everyone in the command received whatever care necessary. If what she suspected was true, there were some people out in control who owed Ford an apology. At the very least.
After about thirty minutes, with Ford starting to fidget, wondering what she must think of him, she turned to him. "Let me see your hands." He readily lifted them from the warming liquid and held them out for her to look at. She noticed that his left hand and arm were noticeably smaller than his right, not uncommon for a right-handed man, but more than normal. "I want you to squeeze my fingers as hard as you can, please." She put three fingers in each of his hands, and he squeezed. His right hand hurt her, his left did not. She frowned and looked down at his feet. Even sitting with his legs dangling, she could see that the left foot turned in more. She reached down and lifted that foot into her lap and removed his shoe and sock, and then rolled up his pants to look at the ankle.
"How long have you had problems with this foot, Keith?" she asked softly.
He frowned in confusion. "Problems?"
She looked up at him and smiled. "Yes. Problems. I saw you fall. Your left foot turned in, and your right foot tripped on it. How long have you been having problems with it?"
He seemed confused. "Oh, I've always been clumsy, Dr. Lewis."
She shook her head and he started to look worried, and she felt the muscles spasm in his leg from the stress. Her hands began to, seemingly of their own volition, gently rub and massage the muscles back into relaxation. With luck, some corrective shoes might help. Otherwise, a brace would be in order. She wondered if anyone in control would care that they'd been making this man's life miserable for however many years due to a physical disability?
"I think you have post-polio syndrome, Keith."
She smiled and, since his leg muscles had unspasmed, put his sock and shoe back on him. "That happens often when someone has polio as a child and seems to recover fully. As they get older, sometimes they have problems from it. Like your foot turning in when you're tired or stressed. Or the way you've lost so much strength in your left hand." She watched his eyes and saw him look away. He knew there was something wrong, and he was afraid he'd lose his job over it. Not going to happen. He didn't need to be physically perfect in his job. His brain, knowledge and experience were what were important. And the innate ability to think outside the box, like suggesting using the Navy for attacking the aliens' undersea base.
"I've got a referral here. I want you to see an orthopedist at the hospital."
"Yes. With luck, a wedge or a lift or a special arch in your left shoe will help. And I'm sure there are therapies for your left hand, as well. At worst, you may end wearing a leg brace, but that shouldn't make you unfit for duty, understand?"
"Are you sure?" His frightened eyes looked deeply into hers, seeking reassurance.
She smiled. "Positive. I'll talk to the commander, myself and tell him what's what." She patted his left knee and stood. "After I have a nice, long talk with Colonel Foster."
"Colonel Foster, ma'am?"
She looked at him, her gaze hardening. "I told you. I saw it all. He deliberately bumped into you and made you trip. If I have to, I'll drag out the tape to show the commander."
Ford swallowed hard. "Please don't do that, ma'am, it will just make it worse."
She shook her head. "I won't allow it. Now, how do those scalds feel, hmmm?"
He looked down at his hands in surprise. "Fine, ma'am. They don't hurt at all."
She grinned at him and pointed towards the sink. "Good. Wash up, and then I want you over to hospital for that referral."
All of headquarters was abuzz. Keith Ford wasn't the clumsy screw-up everyone thought he was. Poor guy was just crippled. The first time Louise heard that comment, she turned on the speaker and reamed them several new orifices. Soon after that, the scuttlebutt stopped, at least within her hearing, and since she moved around like a ghost much of the time, all such comments ceased.
"I can't believe it. All these years. What was he thinking?" Straker was shaking his head as he read the final report from the hospital.
"He was thinking he'd lose his job if anyone knew there was a problem. He was afraid. At first, I'm sure, he was simply afraid of you, after you scolded him for that first mistake. He's extremely sensitive. I'm sure you're aware how tense he gets when you're in control, and particularly if you're looking over his shoulder?"
"Yes, of course I have." He shook his head. "But this...."
"'This' is just more of that initial insecurity. He's of the impression that you think he's a screw-up, despite all the attaboys you've given him. Remember, just one 'aw, shit' counters up to a hundred attaboys."
He smiled at her. "I'll have to remember that."
They were in her office, the private section. It had been a busy two weeks, after taking out the undersea alien base. They had recovered a number of alien bodies, as well as some nearly intact ufoes, which were being carefully examined, still underwater to prevent the usual disintegration caused by earth's atmosphere. Foster had been gone a week, and now, with Ford undergoing treatment who knew how many years after the problem first began, it was the first chance they'd had to just be together.
He wasn't sure how she'd managed it, but her 'private' office was a cozy little room with enough amenities to make it pleasant. Particularly the huge LCD display she'd hung on the wall that showed, at least most of the time, a lovely forest stream, via live streaming video, complete with audio available when they wanted it. It also doubled as a videophone and television. Here they were, in the deepest bowels of the earth, and it was like looking out a real window. Especially after she'd put up curtains to frame the device. He didn't even notice how small the space really was. Of course, the woman in his arms kept him well distracted, too.
"You still haven't filled all your staff, Louise."
"Oh, didn't I tell you?" At his scowl, she grinned. She hadn't even seen him since the day Foster had bumped Ford and caused her to recognize his problem. Unfortunately for Colonel Foster, the videotape she'd shown Straker had annoyed the commander and the Colonel was now overseeing the salvage operation off the Farallons. A task that could take years to complete.
"And when would you have done that?"
"In your sleep, perhaps?" She'd forced him to eat when he should, and take breaks and sleep, and with the threat of injections, she'd gotten him to see the wisdom in taking his supplements.
He pouted. "You were never here when I was."
She snuggled against him, teasing him by pulling his chest hairs just enough to keep him distracted. "I'm getting two part-time clerical people. They'll be dividing their time between here and another office, since they were both qualified for the single position open in the aforementioned other office."
"Good. How soon will they be here?" He shifted so he could reach her breasts with his mouth, and incidentally ending her torment of his poor, nearly naked chest.
She inhaled sharply. "Uh, in about three more weeks." She gasped when he slid his fingers between her legs.
"That's fine, then," he said, moving up her body until he could kiss her again.
"So, in the meantime, would you like to fool around?" she asked suggestively.
He smiled. "I thought that was what we were doing?"
"Oh, is that what this is?" She moved, pushing him onto his back and straddling him. "Mmmmm, may I play with this?" she purred, stroking his arousal.
"Oh, please do," he murmured as his hands stroked up her body.
"Definitely," he gasped.
The next three weeks were the normal series of one repelled alien attack after another, but with bits of breathing room between them. It seemed that the destruction of the aliens' underwater base hadn't dampened their enthusiasm, but may have put a serious crimp in their supply lines. One of the things found thus far in the undersea base had been 'spare parts' - hundreds of humans in transport canisters. Among them, had been one Pho Nguyn, missing older brother to one of the new recruits, Tan Nguyn, friend to Eddie and Lily Duk.
The latest batch of recruits was brought to headquarters for their commencement ceremonies and to receive their first assignments. There were a few surprises in store for some of them.
First, was when Colonel Freeman gave the commencement address. He explained how they were at war, and would continue to fight this war in secrecy and with determination until the aliens came waving a white flag and begging for mercy... at which time we, as humans, would show them mercy, despite their misuse of us for so many years. Two of the new recruits kept looking at one another in amused surprise, for they had met this man, once. They nudged their friend and whispered to him and he shook his head in amused disbelief.
After Alec's speech, the Commander was introduced, and the same pair who'd insisted they had met Colonel Freeman gasped. The Commander was their father.
He looked out over the two dozen raw recruits. Wondering how many would survive their first encounter with the aliens? How many would live to see the end of the conflict? His eyes looked at each and every recruit. So young. They were all so very young. Had he ever been that young? That certain? That determined? Once, perhaps. His determination had hardened and become stronger over the years. His idealism had given way to cynicism and realism. His eyes rested on two of the recruits for several seconds longer than the others, and a faint smile graced his stern features.
"Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to SHADO."
Louise was humming as she put some fresh-cut flowers in a vase and artfully arranged it in the center of the table. During the past few weeks, when she wasn't working or waiting for Ed to have a few minutes time for her, she'd been very busy. She looked around the dining room. It still had the black and white checkerboard tile, but instead of the hideous 1970's colours, it now had some nice neutral shades, instead. She hoped Ed didn't mind.
She'd also had the rest of the rooms painted, at the very least. There was no more pink, no more orange, and no more brown. They'd been replaced with greens and blues and something called Navajo White, which had the capability of picking up whatever colour was matched with it and reflecting it back. The black leather furniture was the same, although the zebra skin rug was put away somewhere. The ugly lamps were gone, as well, replaced with track lighting and halogen torchiers. She expected their guests at any moment, shortly to be followed by the commander, himself. She hoped. The doorbell rang and with a final look around, she went to open it to admit their guests.
She greeted them and invited them in, but before they could get inside, an old, bronze gull-winged car pulled into the drive. Straker stepped out, his expression one of pleased surprise, and he hurried to join them.
"I thought you were at your new posts," he exclaimed, greeting them with hugs.
"We start on Monday." Eddie told him, with a puzzled glance at Louise, who winked at him.
"Hughug!" Alexander insisted, reaching for his grandfather.
"Yes, of course, Alexander. Mustn't deprive you of your hugs, must we?" He willingly accepted his grandson from Lily's arms, giving the toddler a great show of a bear hug and a kiss. He beamed at his children. "Well, let's not stand out on the street, inside, children. Inside!" Amidst laughter and jostling, they went in.
He didn't even notice the change in dcor, Louise marveled. He only had eyes for his family, and her. He kept glancing at her, and when their eyes met, he'd smile. When Louise announced that his family was staying the night, he was even more thrilled with the prospect. It wasn't until sleeping arrangements were announced that he had any doubts.
Louise planned on sleeping on the sofa.
Eddie frowned and glanced at his sister, who shared his frown. "Why aren't you sleeping together?" Eddie asked.
Ed blushed slightly and lifted his enormous blue eyes to Louise to explain. She simply looked back at him. When he didn't say anything, she replied. "I wasn't asked."
Lily scowled at her father. "Why not? I thought... well, what I thought doesn't really matter, but still...."
Eddie nodded in agreement with his sister.
Louise brought up one question that had concerned her, giving Ed time to regroup and decide for himself. "Does it bother you that I'm only six or seven years older than you are?"
The twins looked surprised and exchanged a glance. "No. Should it?" Eddie asked.
"I don't know. Does it?" Louise countered. The twins looked at them then at each other and finally shrugged.
"Not to me," Lily replied.
"Me, either," Eddie added.
Ed got the hint. "Louise, will you please sleep with me, tonight?" and every other night from now on? he wanted to add.
She smiled. "Of course." Now and for always, if you'll have me. she thought.
Everyone smiled at everyone else.
In bed that night, bodies entwined, no nightmares dared to invade their rest. Arms encircling one another, no evil memories could break through the barrier of love that surrounded the couple. On Monday, barring any emergencies in the meantime, they would go back to the war; but for now, safe within their cocoon, the war was far away, and they had love, and family, and friends. Most of all, they had each other. And that was enough, would be enough, until the next battle.