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Beck shot a glance through the glass of his office. He was glad to see Heather on the other side of it. She was at her desk, working. True, they’d moved her desk so it was right next to his on the other side of the glass, but she had started working – when she felt up to it – at her own desk. She sensed him looking and shot him a small smile. That small smile meant the world to him, and he smiled back.
Then he noticed a courier come in the door. It wasn’t the usual courier, he noticed. He began to clear off his desk – the courier was clearly delivering quite a bit – and just about had it empty as the courier entered his office.
“The daily mail, sir. I need your signature on these.” He said, handing over a stack about six inches tall, as well as a box.
“Of course.” He began to sign. “Is Mitford ok, or does he have the day off?”
“Bit of a cold, sir.”
“Ah.” He continued to sign his way through the pile. About three-quarters of the way through, he noticed the courier looking through the glass at Heather. She did look pretty damn cute right now; her clothes hid the scars and the casts, and the courier couldn’t see the gentle baby bump when she was seated at her desk.
“Don’t bother, soldier. She’s taken.” He said gently.
“I don’t see a ring… ” was the wistful reply. Beck decided he needed to bring the hammer down. Heather was doing well, but he didn’t know if being hit on right now was a good idea.
“I couldn’t find a jewelry store.” He said, letting his voice harden. The soldier straightened instantly, facing the wall behind Beck’s head at the announcement that that was Heather, Major Beck’s wife. He waited silently for the Beck to finish. When the final item was signed for, the courier took the clipboard and marched out of the office, never once looking towards her desk.

Major Beck was sitting on the front porch of the house with Heather, enjoying the sunset. Heather’s morale – hell, his morale – had improved greatly since they’d found the bastard, apparently in town as a spy. He’d taken several hours to die, and Kenchy hadn’t wasted any pain meds on him. Edward was sure that that was a violation of the Hippocratic oath in some way, but he didn’t very much care.

A giggle brought him back.

“The baby just kicked.”

“Yeah?” he asked. He reached over to feel her belly and was rewarded with another kick. “Oh my, we’ve got a soccer player in there.” He grinned at her, struck by the sudden urge to kiss her senseless. He settled for a kiss on the cheek. She looked at him oddly, sensing his restraint, and cocked her head to the side.

“When are you going to ask me to marry you?”

He burst out laughing.

“God, I’ve been waiting for you to say that.”

“Really?”

He ran a hand through her short hair.

“Yeah. I didn’t want to rush you, but I’ve been wanting to ask…”

“How long?”

“Since the day you were taken. I don’t ever want to lose you.” The unspoken again hovered in the air between them.

“So?” she said expectantly. He chuckled, and moved to kneel in front of her.

“Heather, will you marry me?”

“Of course. Now get up here and kiss me properly.” Her response got a few chuckles from the others on the front porch who had heard the whole thing.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She kissed him back with an enthusiasm he hadn’t expected, despite her request. But she eventually broke off, breathing heavily, a huge smile on her face that mirrored his own. Then the applause started. Heather blushed, and tried to hide in his arms.

“Too late, Heather.” He whispered in her ear. “Hi, Reverend. Finishing up your rounds?”

Reverend Jones saw that?” Heather squeaked.

“Every bit.” The Reverend said. “And there’s nothing to be ashamed of, so relax.”

“But you’re –”

“Heather, I’m a reverend, not a prude. I’m not going to tell God that you need to go to hell for kissing.” He saw her hand move to her belly, now beginning to show. “Or even that. The formalities matter very little; it’s the commitment that matters, not the ceremony. It’s obvious you two love each other; you don’t need rings or a piece of paper. Of course, I’m happy to help you make it official.”

Edward looked at Heather, eyebrow raised.

“Now?”

“Why not? I have been waiting for a while.”

“I – can I at least invite the Greens?”

“Of course.” He gestured at a private, who ran over to the Green’s Pines house. Gail, Emily and Jake had all moved into Emily’s house to make it easier for Gail and Emily to assist with Heather; it was one block over from the military compound.

***

Her first request after he’d carried her over the threshold of their quarters was a kiss. He obliged, of course, carrying her over to the couch. The kiss evolved into a quite pleasant makeout session – until he started to lean her back on the couch, whereupon she stiffened in his arms.

“Sorry.” He said. “We don’t have to – ”

“I know. But it’s our wedding night, I thought I should give you something. And, honestly, I’d forgotten how much fun kissing was.”

“Tell you what. When all this is over – when you’re ready – we can renew our vows – full church wedding, fancy dress, three-tiered cake, open bar, the whole nine yards – and then I’ll take you on a proper honeymoon. Someplace with beaches, palm trees, hammocks…margaritas… sunblock…” I know just the place, too, assuming it’s still ours. His family’s beach house had been the location of many a honeymoon.

“Oh, I like the sound of that. Particularly the honeymoon.”

“I look forward to it.” He said, moving a stray hair. At the look on her face, he asked. “What is it?”

“I – I’m relieved, I guess.”

“Relieved?”

“That you still want me.”

He rocked back in his seat in shock.

“Wha- of course! I just married you! How could you think - ”

“Eddy, I know you love me.” She put as much conviction into it as she could. “But you’re human – and I’ve seen the way you look at my scars. I –”

“Heather, your scars don’t make you ugly or ‘undesirable’. And that would be an extremely hypocritical position for me to take.”

“Then what is it?”

“They remind me of things I didn’t prevent. Things I damn well should have prevented.” He gently traced one of her scars, slowly fading from pink to white. “They remind me of how I failed you.”

Heather felt a large lump in her throat.

“Eddy – ” she wrapped her arms around him. “You didn’t fail me. You’ve been here for me. You’ve done more than I could ever ask, more than I could ever repay.”

“But – ”

“Eddy, I was the one who refused a sentry on the door. I was the one who opened the door when I shouldn’t have. Don’t you dare go blaming yourself for this.”

“I should have put a sentry on the door anyway. I let my feelings for you cloud my professional judgment.”

“All that proves is that you love me, you fool. Now stop beating yourself up over things you didn’t cause.”

“But – ”

“Eddy.” Her voice was suddenly firm, and she looked him right in the eyes. “Stop. You didn’t cause this. You took steps to prevent it. It happened anyway, when I disobeyed protocol. It is not your fault.” She held his gaze until he nodded. It wasn’t  outright acceptance of her statement, but it was in the right direction. “Better.” She said softly. “Now how about a nice game of scrabble?

  Captain Larry Baker was preparing his plane for takeoff after unloading his cargo in Jericho when he noticed the unusual nature of his passengers for the return trip. Major Beck was pushing a pale woman in a wheelchair; behind him was a older woman in scrubs carrying two civilian duffle bags. The party was finished off by a Lieutenant Posly, carrying two army-issue bags.
  “Hey, Joe, would you see what those civvies are doing here?”
  Larry finished his checklist and wondered where Joe was. He went to go look for him and saw him in the hold still. He glanced over at his passengers. The major was strapping the pale woman into the restraint, and there was something about his manner that stuck in his mind, though he couldn’t put a name to it. She was close enough now that he could see the woman was injured, casts on her wrists and multiple bruises. The nurse was talking to Joe, apparently asking him where best to stow the wheelchair. He watched the scene unfold until the passengers were settled and Joe returned.
  “So, what’s the deal? Who are they?”
  “The woman in the wheelchair is Heather Lisinski, the local liaison. The older woman is her nurse, Gail Green.”
  “Gail Green? As in Jake Green?”
  “I believe so.”
  “Huh.” He paused in thought. His orders said he was to pick up Major Beck and a couple of his staff - for debriefing, he assumed. He supposed that covered ‘local liaison’, but nobody had mentioned that they’d be bringing along a nurse. Speaking of which… “Is Miss Lisinski well enough to fly?”
  “I think so. I get the impression that Mrs. Green wouldn’t allow her to come if she weren’t.”
  “Then what’s so serious that she needs a nurse?”
  “I don’t know, specifically. Mrs. Green was reluctant to talk about it.”
   Just then a buzz of static interrupted them.
  “Charlie Romeo Niner, come in please.”
  “Charlie Romeo Niner, here”
  “Be advised, enemy planes headed your general direction. Suggest you leave soonest.”
  “Copy that. Joe, let’s get going.” Larry still wasn’t sure that this Heather should be flying on a military cargo plane, but at this moment that was a secondary concern.
 
 
  Forty-five minutes later, they were out of range of the enemy planes and the curiosity about his passengers resurfaced. He handed the controls over to Joe and headed back to the hold.
  “Sorry for the rush, ladies and gentlemen, there were some people we had to avoid.”
  “Not a problem.” Major Beck replied. Quietly, so as not to wake the woman sleeping soundly on his shoulder.
  “I see. You do know she’s drooling on your uniform?”
  “I do.” His tone was, inexplicably, grateful. At the captain’s confused look, he explained, “It means she’s actually getting some real sleep.”
  “Ah.” He turned to nurse Green. “As a pilot, is there anything about Heather’s needs I should know? Will she be okay at regular altitude? You do know this plane is not known for smooth landings?”
  “I think she’ll be okay. It’s obviously not ideal, but it will do.”
  “Just so you know, my orders don’t exactly cover transporting you, Mrs. Green. I don’t know as they’re expecting you. I’m not sure what kind of accommodations there are for you.”
  “I don’t need much. Just so long as I’m with these two.” She said, nodding at the major and Heather. “It might just be easier to get Heather a room in the medical wing. Edward and I can take turns with her.”
  “ ‘Take turns with her’?”
  Beck spoke up.
  “While it’s true she’s coming along as a member of my office staff, she’s also going to take advantage of your medical facilities.”
  “Uh…ok…”  Beck sensed his hesitation, and realized that there was probably a restriction on civilians receiving medical care.
  “She received the injuries because of her position in my office. The least the army can do is give her medical care.” His voice was very firm, and something about his manner made it clear any other option was unacceptable.
  “You should talk to Major Dawson, sir.” Beck nodded.
  “Of course, there may be an easier way. They treat military dependents, right?”
  “Well, usually. Things have gotten fuzzy with the lack of documentation…”
  “I’ll sign any document they want.”
  Captain Baker’s eyes narrowed in comprehension; suddenly the major’s complete lack of objection to drool on his uniform, even though he was flying to meet high-ranking officers for the first time, made perfect sense.
  “Hey, Larry!” Joe yelled back into the hold. The major, the nurse, and the lieutenant all winced at the sound and immediately looked to Heather.
  “Dammit, Joe! Be quiet!” he called back, trying simultaneously to be quiet and yet loud enough for Joe to hear him.
  “Larry?”
  “Hush!” he started back to the cockpit to shut Joe up.
  “What? I didn’t hear that! Oh, nevermind, I’ll - ” Joe came back and nearly ran over Larry on the stairs.
  “Shut up!” Larry pointedly looked over at their passengers. Heather wasn’t awake, but was clearly reacting to the noise in her sleep. She winced at something only she could see, and Major Beck gently reached out and touched her hands. She reacted by grabbing onto his and holding on to them with a white knuckled grip as she fought the menace in her dreams. After nearly thirty seconds, her eyes popped open, wide with terror as she looked around.
  “Eddy!”
  “I’m right here. I’m right here. It’s over, you’re safe.” He pulled her toward him, but was hampered by the restraints. He looked over at the pilots. “We’re not expecting any turbulence, right?”
  “Th-that’s correct, sir.” The wide-eyed Joe replied, watching as the major immediately unbuckled Heather and pulled her up into his arms. “S-sir, Ma’am, I – I didn’t kn- I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again.” Beck nodded acknowledgement, but his attention never left Heather.
  “We should go now.” Larry said, prodding Joe in the appropriate direction.
“Right.” Joe replied, breaking his gaze.



  “Major Beck.”
  “Major Dawson.”
  “I understand you want us to treat…” He checked his paperwork “Heather Lisinski.”
  “I expect you to, yes.”
  “You’re aware that we don’t generally treat civilians here?”
  “Her injuries are a direct result of her work for the military. It would basically be workman’s comp.”
  “How so?”
  “I hired her as my local liaison. She did her job so well the local insurgents put a bounty on her head. Despite my efforts, they got to her anyway.” His voice was bitter with self-condemnation.
  “Got to her?”
  “Kidnapped her. Tortured her. Raped her.” His voice was hard. Then, a note of pride. “But she didn’t break. She didn’t surrender.”
  “I’m sorry.” Major Dawson’s voice was sincere. “But there’s something else I need to ask you about.”
  “Anything.”
  “What is your relationship to her?”
  “I love her.”
  “Well, that’s fairly obvious. But…fiancée? Wife?”
  “Not yet. It’s complicated.”
  “I can imagine.”
  “We were lovers. I didn’t want anyone to know. Constantino already considered her a traitor twice over, already had a bounty on her head; I didn’t want him to find out she was literally ‘sleeping with the enemy’. And the ASA – well, you know how they use loved ones.” Dawson nodded. “We’d managed to more or less keep it under wraps when we found out she was pregnant. That was the same day she was taken.” Beck paused. “I’d considered asking her to marry me as soon as the possibility of pregnancy came up. I just didn’t get the chance. Now I can’t. Not yet.”
  Dawson looked over through the glass at Heather. She held Mrs. Greens’ hand, but her eyes had never left Major Beck.
  “Somehow I think she’d say yes.”
  “Yes, but why? Because she needs me? Because she’s afraid to be without me?” He looked at Major Dawson. “That’s not the kind of yes I want.”
  Dawson looked at him for several seconds. Then he rose.
  “I think I can find a room for her.”
  “Thank you.” The gratitude in his voice was palpable.
They were at the monthly town barbeque when it happened. A tradition born out of the new way of life, it was the social event where people could relax, dance, play football, date, and enjoy fresh meat instead of salted or smoked.
He and Heather were sitting next to the bonfire with Jake and Emily when raucous laughter started behind them. Heather’s reaction to the sound was instant and total. She went rigid with a hiss of recognition. She didn’t have to explain anything; Edward immediately rounded on the trio of laughing men.
“YOU!”
The laughter immediately stopped, as did the conversation of everyone around them. All three men in his field of vision looked at him in fear, but it was easy to spot the one he wanted. The other two men were scared and confused; the one in the middle was simply terrified. As Beck’s focus narrowed on the one he wanted, his companions hastily scooted away.
The remaining man froze, like a deer in headlights. Time itself seemed to pause. Then, like hitting play, the scene began to move again. The as-yet-nameless man turned tail and ran. There was initial resistance from the crowd, until they realized what was going on, and opened a path for the major. Nobody tried to slow down the runner, either; there was clearly no need, and nobody wanted to get involved when there was the slightest chance of coming into contact with an enraged Beck.
In hindsight, he was glad the bastard had run away from the crowd. It meant that the children didn’t see what happened next. How he turned his years of army training on its head. He had been trained to kill quickly, and when need be, quietly.
This was neither.
He was simply pounding away. Despite the blood pounding in his ears, he’d heard bones break; he knew there were likely ruptured organs and internal bleeding. From the way he was breathing, there was probably a rib in his lung. Taken individually, emergency surgery could fix his injuries. Together, they equaled a slow and painful death. Something the bastard seemed to grasp.
“Just…just kill me… already.”
The words actually caused him to pause. He considered it.
“No.”
And he walked away, leaving him to die a slow, agonizing death.
 
He returned to Heather, taking over for Emily who was comforting her.
“Eddy.”
“It’s okay now.”
“Is he dead?”
“He will be soon. Is there anything you wanted to say to him?”
“No. But I want to see his face. I want - ” she broke off; Edward understood. Being able to identify your enemy was important. Otherwise, you saw him everywhere, in every stranger’s face.
“Later, then. After.”
“Okay.”

The first time a child had run to greet Heather, just after leaving the hospital for the first time, Edward had cringed, and began to warn him off; her parents, seeing his reaction and knowing Heather’s condition, tried to call him back. But Heather had greeted her former student with open arms, pulling him in for a hug. As they watched Heather talk with Mark, they saw her smile.

It didn’t take long for word to spread. Now, when one of Heather’s students saw her on the street, their parents sent them to say hello. Frequently, they had a gift for her – a drawing, a flower, some trinket they had made. And always a hug. There were occasional instances of a child being less than cautious in their affection and hitting a sore spot, but Heather forgave them instantly, just as she had Elly when Elly had come to visit. Or, as she’d told Edward, told her she’d forgiven her. Elly had done nothing wrong, nothing that needed forgiveness, but she wouldn’t understand that until she was older, so she had accepted the apology with a smile and a hug.

These days, it took them longer to get anywhere. But Edward didn’t mind; Heather would arrive at their destination with a smile on her face. And if she was feeling really bad, he’d take her for a st(roll) through the park; it was better than any medicine they had in the pharmacy. He remembered fondly the day they’d talked her into joining them on the swings. He’d done the pushing, but Heather’s childish cries of ‘Higher! Higher!’ had left him smiling all day.

Heather knew exactly what everyone was doing, but it didn’t make it any less effective. She needed the reminder of hope for the future, of the kindness that still existed. And children were its most potent carriers. They let her know that their child would be born into a world where cruelty was the exception, not the norm, despite her experiences.

“ - And that’s where we stand as far as resources, sir.”

Colonel Nelson nodded. Overall, he was impressed. They had taken very little and turned it into a lot. These houses, for instance, were a clever use of under-utilized property.

Just then, he heard a whine from the bed. A puppy had just accidentally rolled off of the body pillow she had been sleeping on, disturbing her slumber. He smiled at the scene. Then, the body pillow started to move.

“What the - ?”

“Sir?”

“Is that a person in bed over there?”

“That’s Heather.”

“You realize how inappropriate her presence is?”

“It’s irregular, I admit, but – ”

“You can’t have a civilian here! It’s against all sorts of regs. And a hell of a security risk – we were discussing classified material!”

“Sir, please don’t wake her.” Beck noticed her face. Too late, she was coming around. Angry voices always triggered nightmares. Dammit.

“Good, then I can ask her to leave.” The colonel moved towards her, as if to shake her shoulder  – and was immediately intercepted by Major Beck, who grabbed his wrist.

“Touch her and I’ll break your arm.” The flat threat was backed up by a bark from the bed – and the major’s entire staff had placed themselves between them and Heather. Nelson blinked, wondering what the hell had just happened. He outranked everyone in that room, but rank didn’t matter right now. He decided that discretion was the better part of valor and stepped back. Beck released him and went to the woman in the bed, putting his arms around her. Beck, looking over Heather’s shoulder, addressed him one more time.

“You should go now.” He turned to the door. “Private Morales!”

The door opened.

“Please escort Colonel Nelson to the visiting officer’s quarters.”

“Yes, sir. Uh, where would that be, exactly?”

“Not in this house.”

Morales took in that clipped reply – and the defensive positions of the others – before addressing the colonel in a classic “I’m not even going to ask” tone.

“Right this way, sir.”

Once safely out of the house, he asked the question.

“Who is she?”

“That’s Heather, sir.”

“Why is she there? And why - ?”

“I don’t know if you noticed her injuries – ” he shook his head “but she’s in a bad space right now.” she fought off her own memories of the incident. “She was beaten and raped, sir. We found her chained to a bed.”

“Oh.” He shook himself. “But shouldn’t she be someplace where they can take better care of her?”

“This is that ‘better place’. It’s irregular as all hell, I’ll grant, but it’s the best solution we could come up with.”

“Really? A military barracks is the best place?”

“It’s more of a person than a place. She won’t be separated from Major Beck. Not for any length of time.”

“Why him?”

“I could say that it’s because he’s all she has - her family was gone before the nukes - or that they were covert lovers, or that she’s carrying his child.  But – it’s more than that.” She sought an explanation, finally settling on one. “It’s as if she had just enough trust left in her to trust one person completely – and she chose him.” She paused. “Honestly, sir, if he weren’t the CO of this outfit, he’d be on compassionate leave. As it is, he’s on limited duty.”

The colonel paused to digest this. The reasoning was sound, but he still had one more concern.

“And security?”

“She’s not really a security risk, sir.”

“But if she’s as fragile as you say – she would break if - ”

“Sir, she won’t break.”

“How can you be so certain?”

“Because she didn’t.” He looked at her. “She’s our local liaison. That’s why she was tortured, sir. And, well, we all feel a little responsible. I don’t know if Beck will ever forgive himself for putting her in that position.” She paused. “And even if that weren’t true, she’s not alone at all, ever. Beck does his best not to leave her. When he has to, Emily or Mrs. Green stay with her. And there’s always a guard on her door as well. Nobody’s going to hurt her again. Not if we have anything to say about it.”

They walked on in silence; the colonel returned the salutes that he received walking into the house next door.

“This is it, sir.”

He sighed as he dropped his things inside the door of the bedroom.

“Private…would you mind taking me back over there? I need to apologize.”

“Sir, if I may…I would wait. Let them both calm down. Apologize in the morning. Would you like some dinner in the meantime?”

***

The last thing Colonel Nelson expected when he reached for the bowl of macaroni and cheese was to be swatted by a spatula.

“Private!”

“Uh, sorry sir. Didn’t realize that was a colonel’s hand.” But when Nelson reached for it again, the private pulled it away. “It’s Heather’s dinner, sir.” When Nelson looked askance at him, he explained. “It’s hard to eat spaghetti with two fractured wrists.”

“Ah. Carry on.”

***

Colonel Nelson knocked on Beck’s door at city hall. He knew Beck had noticed him when he walked in, because he’d immediately closed the set of blinds closest to his desk. As he waited for the major to acknowledge him, he noticed a cot sticking out from behind the major’s desk. From the indentations in the carpet, things had been moved to create an alcove for Heather to sleep in. Her cot was in the corner; his desk was directly in front of it. Closing the furthest set of blinds gave her three ‘walls’ for a measure of privacy and a sense of security. And Major Beck is the fourth. He’d heard more stories the night before, including how Beck had assaulted Jake Green for intruding on her hospital room. A furry head lifted itself to look over the desk at him. And now she’s got an actual guard dog, too. He suppressed a sigh as Beck opened the door. He did not, however, move aside to invite his visitor in. Nelson was not surprised.

“Major, I – may I come in?” Beck didn’t say anything out loud, but the answer was clearly ‘no’. “I would like to apologize. To both of you.”

Beck finally relaxed a little bit.

“Maybe later. She just got to sleep.”

It was in the middle of a meeting when it happened. This meeting was too large to be held in their room, so they were in the living room. Heather was there, curled up on the couch next to Edward under her quilt. It had worked out well – instead of being seated by seniority, as was typical, those officers Heather did not know well sat further away than those she did, and were not offended by the fact. In fact, Heather had contributed a couple of suggestions. True, they had been whispered into the major’s ear, but it was proof she was paying attention.

But then they heard a yip and a private skidded to a stop at the edge of the living room.

The private looked embarrassed, which was quite a contrast to the cheerful yaps of the half-grown puppy running around the living room.

“Sir, I’m sorry. I’m trying to train her.” Then he addressed the dog firmly. “Come.” The puppy just looked at him, cocking her head.

“How long have you had her?” Beck asked.

“A couple of weeks. Her siblings are coming along just fine, but this one…I don’t know what I’m going to do with her.”

The puppy, continuing to ignore its trainer, had hopped up onto the couch and plunked down on Heather’s lap like she’d always belonged there. Heather, unable to resist the puppy-dog eyes, was petting it. Major Beck, unable to resist Heather’s smile, turned to the private and sighed.

“What’s her name?” he asked in a wry tone.

“Katie, sir.” He said. He was fighting a smile, as were most of the officers in the room at the preemptive adoption they’d just witnessed. “Should I bring some food by later?”

“Sure, why not?”

And that was how Katie adopted Heather.

He came back into the bedroom to find Heather quietly sobbing on the couch, and immediately felt guilty. He’d done his best to have a quick shower while she slept, and he’d left the door open so he’d hear her if she had a nightmare. He immediately went to her side and put his arms around her, waiting for her tears to stop.

“Heather, I’m sorry. I should have heard you.”

“It’s okay. It wasn’t a nightmare. It was the wheelchair.” She told him, leaning into his embrace.

“What?” he asked, not seeing the connection.

“It was squeaky.”

“Squeaky?”

She nodded.

“I got the WD-40 out to fix it. I – it was so hard to spray with these stupid casts – I got it everywhere but the chair. And then the smell hit me.”

“Wha – Oh.” Her voice replayed itself in his mind. ‘he smelled like – paint thinner, one time. WD-40, another.’ “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault. I just won’t use it again.” Her words made his heart sink. The helplessness caused by her fractured wrists was bad enough, but they would heal, eventually. But Heather loved tinkering. If that bastard had ruined that for Heather – well, he had just given Edward yet another reason to kill him. Slowly.

It was the most unusual military base he’d ever seen – because it consisted of a block of upscale but neglected, empty houses that had been converted into barracks. He’d missed the conversion, being in the hospital with Heather, but he’d been kept up to date on its progress. Heather had been interested in the progress reports, too, since it had been her suggestion, and he had encouraged the distraction.

The house with the biggest kitchen had the new mess hall; the house with the built-in generator housed the CIC. There was talk of making the yards into crop-bearing fields – most every home had revived the ‘victory garden’ concept, and these houses had a lot of acreage. One of the more off-the-wall suggestions had been to convert the pools into fish farms.

They walked into their new quarters. They were the only ‘private’ quarters in the newly christened Military quad. It was the master bedroom, of course, but the reason that they’d picked this master bedroom was that this bathroom was wheelchair accessible. There was also a small sitting area/table, so that Beck could work, even hold small meetings without leaving Heather alone.

“So, what do you think?” Edward asked, leaning over Heather’s chair.

“It’s big.” She said quietly.

“True.” He said. “What would you like to try first, the bed or the sofa? I’m told they’re both quite comfy.”

“Let’s try the sofa. I’m not that sleepy right now.”

“Alright.” He wheeled her over, and helped her stand and pivot onto the couch. She winced anyway; the cuts on her feet were still pretty raw. He waited for her to settle into a comfortable position.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at an object on the table covered with a cloth and a bow.

“What’s what?” he looked. “Hmm, dunno. They must have left it here for us. Wanna see what it is?”

“Sure.”

He pulled off the cloth with a flourish.

Heather gasped.

“Oh my God.”

It was a Scrabble game. And not just any Scrabble game; a deluxe turntable edition with raised edges. Heather had been looking for a new board, since hers was nearly split down the middle. She hadn’t found anyone willing to give theirs up. Prying loose any board game was nearly impossible anymore. This was – well, amazing especially since they had ceased production of the turntable edition since before the bombs had gone off.

“How in the hell did they find this?”

Edward murmured something and went to the door. He found most of the office staff there, looks of anticipation on their face.

“How’d she like it?”

“She’s impressed. So am I. How did you get it?”

“Bargained for it.”

He looked at them disapprovingly. He knew how much that must have cost.

“Before you object, sir, you should know – well, we have a bit of a confession to make.”

Lt. Goodman stepped up.

“We, uh, started a small betting pool about a month ago.”

“A betting pool?”

“On when you two would get together.”

After a moment of shock, Edward felt his lips twitch, giving way to a chuckle.

“Obviously, nobody won. So…we got you this.”

“Then thank you. Thank you very much.”

The corporal stopped the vehicle at the hospital and stepped out. Colonel Markham, Texan guard, followed.

“What are we doing here? I want to talk to Major Beck.”

“This is where he is.”

“Is he injured?”

“No.”

“Then why - ?”

“He’s with Heather.” Corporal Jones pointed out a door.

“Knock, or else?” asked the colonel, referring to the sign on the indicated door.

“See that crack in the glass?”

“Yes…”

“That’s from the last guy who came in unannounced.”

“Ah.”

Jones knocked on the door, waited a few seconds, then cracked the door.

“Sir?” he asked quietly.

An equally quiet voice replied.

“Who is it?”

“Colonel Markham to see you, sir.”

Papers shuffled.

“Send him in.”

The colonel stepped into the room. He found the major sitting on the bed in his t-shirt, his arms around someone – presumably Heather – who was curled up, sleeping in his lap. She wore the majors’ hat on her shaved head, which didn’t quite hide the stitches on her scalp. In the corner, he saw the major’s things, and the table next to him was covered in paperwork. Major Beck had clearly been here for quite some time.

“I apologize for the informality.” Beck said.

“No, it’s ok.” His voice was muted, taking his cue from the major.

“How can I help you, sir?”

“I was looking for a status report. Perhaps I should talk to your second in command?”

“She’s out of the office right now, checking the perimeter. We’re stretched pretty thin. I can give you an overview, but I’ve had to delegate a lot the past few days.”

“Well, I guess I’ll take the overview.” He looked around for a place to sit. Beck noticed his gaze.

“Sorry, colonel. Just move my things.” He pointed at a chair by the door. Heather stirred in his arms, her plaster-gauntleted hand sliding out from under the blanket as she shifted position. He waited for both Heather and the colonel to get settled before he started.

“Well, we’ve got the ASA conducting air raids about weekly; they do a fair bit of damage each time, inflicting casualties and draining our resources, before we can chase them off. On the other side, we’ve got New Bern.” His voice hardened. “They’re not working with the ASA, but they’re not allies either. They’re raiding us too, looking for food. Frankly, I don’t trust Constantino – their leader – at all. He’d sell us to the ASA if he thought he could get a concession for New Bern.” The colonel didn’t notice how Beck’s arms had tightened around Heather when he spoke of New Bern.

“I really hope Texas can help us out. We’re running low on men, munitions, food, medical supplies – everything. And, honestly, if nothing changes, we’re screwed. My men are tired, and their morale is declining with every raid.”

“I see. Well, Texan forces are a few days away at the rate they’re going. Perhaps an air drop can at least get you supplies.”

“That would be much appreciated, sir.”

“It would be only appropriate. If it weren’t for Jericho, we’d never have found out the truth.”

“Thank you anyway.”

The colonel stood, accidentally causing the chair to skid noisily on the floor. Heather’s eyes snapped open, and the colonel noticed an instinctive flash of fear as she saw him. She tensed, taking on a defensive posture.

“Shhhh-hhh. It’s ok, he’s not going to hurt you.”

“Of course not. Why wou-?”

Beck cut him off with a look, eyes dark with grief and suppressed rage. His eyes widened in realization.

“I’m sorry.” The colonel paused, not sure what else to say. He settled for a nod before he exited.

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