Mika’s Note: Has this gotten utterly ridiculous yet? Or is it just me?
“I’d take you up there now, but I’m sure that’s where Lockhart’s headed.”
“Why can’t they just give us one night? Don’t they know it’s a little too late for keeping me away completely? She admitted to getting caught e-mailing me.”
Albert nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s the whole point. Damage control.”
“They’re gonna see some damage if I can’t be with her.”
He grinned. “I think I like you, Cowboy.”
“Please don’t call me that…”
“Not unless you plan on sleeping with him…” Shana interjected.
“Not freakin’ likely, Red!” They said in unison.
“Good. I’d hate for Ali to have to murder her brother for stealing her man.”
“Hey Shana?” Albie asked, a bit too sweetly.
“Yeeess?” she asked, not completely trusting him.
“Would you do me… us… a favor?”
“For him, you mean?” She nodded towards Blake. “Of course.”
“Please go distract Lockhart. He was going to go ream Ali for her little, um, joke.”
Shana grinned. “Yeah, I heard. Okay. On my way. I’ll call when the coast is clear.”
“Hey Caleb?” Shana asked, poking her head into the control booth.
“I’m busy now, Shana. Can it wait?”
“Not really. There’s a disturbance outside and…”
He turned angry eyes on Allyson. “Why didn’t you catch that? Can you not get anything right tonight?”
“If you’d stop yelling at her, she might be able to do her job.”
“Are you defending her?”
“Nope. What she did was wrong but what you’re doing is worse. Yell at her once we’re back at base and let us do our jobs. Sir,” he added as an afterthought.
“Fine. Show me where this disturbance is.”
Shana allowed Caleb to stalk out ahead of her, taking the time to throw her friend a friendly wink.
“What the hell was that all about?” Jacob asked.
“I’m not sure, but you will back me up when I plead innocent later? Because whatever it was is likely to get me shot on sight.”
Meyers and Kruger looked at each other and then at Ali’s confused expression. “Sure.”
Shana followed Caleb to the outside of the building. Passing Blake and Albert, she gave a covert ‘thumbs up’.
The boys looked at one another and grinned. “Excellent!”
Jacob turned at the knock on the door. “Enter.” The door opened and Albert entered, followed by Blake. “Um, Ali…”
“Yeah?” she asked, not taking her eyes off the screens in front of her.
“She doesn’t love me anymore.”
“Huh?!” She spun around quickly in her chair. “Oh gawds, Albert! What have you done now?”
“Gee Blake, I guess she really doesn’t love you anymore.”
“I don’t love him any less either. You on the other hand…”
“Go take five, Lieutenant,” Captain Kruger told her. “We’ll make this half of the Dorkwad Duo take your place.”
“…but you will,” Albert finished for her.
“All right.” She and Blake stepped outside the control room and looked at each other, unsure. “Why’d he bring you back here?” she asked.
“Because I asked him to. This is so messed up I can’t even tell you.”
“I know but they have their reasons.”
“And those are?”
“My job. I can’t be in the public spotlight.”
“You’ve told me that before, and I think it’s bullshit. My ex-wife was rarely in the spotlight. The majority of my fans didn’t even know I was married until I got divorced. Wanna try again?”
“I’ve screwed up in the past, Blake. Badly.” She looked away from him quickly.
“Couldn’t have been that bad? Could it?”
Ali shook her head sadly. “I made a serious mistake once, through no fault of my own, and it nearly cost my brother his life. They haven’t let me forget it either.”
“Doesn’t seem like he holds it against you.”
“No,” she agreed. “He’s the only one who’s forgiven me for it.” She reached out and squeezed his hand. “But, it’s why they’ve made me agree to back off. I don’t want to, but I’m not being given a choice. It happens every time I start to get close to a man. They step in and make me give him up.” A small smile crossed her face.
“Bazooka told me I should become a lesbian.”
Blake choked. “No, please don’t. It’d be a waste.”
Ali laughed. “Glad to hear it, Cowboy.”
He touched her face lightly. “Care to tell me what happened? And what it has to do with me?”
“The sad thing is it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Except that you’re male. And attractive.” She shook off all the bad thoughts forming in her head. “I can’t tell you. Not right now.”
“I don’t have the time right now. And besides, it hurts.”
He kissed her cheek and smiled at her. “I’m here for you, you know.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I want to…”
“But then you’d have to kill me?”
“Somethin’ like that.” She grinned. “Give me some time. I’m trying to convince General Stone that being with you is good for me. I know that it makes me feel better.”
“Me too. I’m cranky without you.”
“I have a hard time believing that.”
“Well, it was worth a try.” He looked over his shoulder as Albert came out of the booth.
“We’ve gotta split. Hawk’s on his way over here.”
“Thanks, bro. I owe ya,” she pecked his cheek.
“Yeah, add it to the tab.”
“Bye, Cowboy. Break a leg.”
“Allyson? Come in.” Stone. Not good.
Groaning, she pulled her two-way off her hip. “Go ahead.”
“Can I make a peace offering?”
“Peace offering? I was expecting detention.”
“You just might get that, too. Get your butt down here to me.”
“Yes, sir. Hart out.”
“What did you need, General?” Ali asked, approaching him carefully.
“Shana has informed me that I’m not treating you entirely fairly.”
“I said he was acting like a prick, to be exact.”
“That’s enough, Shana.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“Anyway, I realize she’s right. You and I both know why you can’t be involved with him, but to completely isolate you wasn’t right. To make up for it, I wanted to give you the option to watch his performance, at least.”
She caught his eyes and realized he was sincere. “You’ve only done what was necessary. I appreciate the offer, and I’m grateful, but it’d be easier to watch from out back.” She took a deep breath. “Anything else, sir?”
Stone stared in disbelief; Shana was shaking her head. “If that’s your choice, then no, nothing else. Dismissed.”
“Thank you, sir.” She turned and headed back to the control room.
“Ali!” Shana called, once out of Stone’s hearing.
“What?” She didn’t slow.
“Why don’t you want to watch Blake perform?”
She stopped and hung her head. “It hurts too much. I want to hate Albie for bringing him around, but I know he was only trying t help.”
“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have guilted him into it, if I’d known.” She patted her friend’s arm.
“It’s not your fault, Shana. I knew better back at the beginning.” She sighed heavily. “I just couldn’t resist. Thanks for the thought, anyway.”
“You’re welcome.” She watched Ali start to walk away again. “Hey, how ‘bout a drink later?”
“If I’m not in the klink, then yeah.”
Shana laughed. “By the way, love that you sent her to a closet. Classic!”
“You can thank Andy for that one. It was his idea.”
“Hey Cookie, are ya listening?”
Ali smiled at her two-way. “Yeah, I’m here, Cowboy.”
“I just wanted to hear your voice before I went out there. Wish me luck.”
“Luck, honey. You’ll do fine.”
“I know, but I still worry.”
“Keeps ya on your toes. I’ll be watching you from out here.”
“At least you’re watching.”
“He’s headed out now, Ali.”
She watched him strut out onto stage and launch into his newest ballad. Her heart ached at the sound of his voice. All she wanted was just one more night. One night to make him understand.
Not a chance.
It was over before she was ready. He was taking his bow and soaking up all the crowd’s enthusiasm. He sure knew how to get them going. Me too, she thought sadly. She watched him walk off the stage and onto another monitor, this one in the wings behind the stage area. He slowed, blew her a kiss, and walked back to his dressing room.
“Well, all in all, we had a pretty uneventful night, doncha think?”
“Yeah, man. Great.” She forced herself to be more excited. “It’s good that the bad guys have focused their attention elsewhere for awhile. Targeting musicians never made much sense to me. Other than the crowd factor, that is.”
“Yeah, they seem to have a fetish for blowing people up.”
Ali gave him a smile and headed to the door. “I’m going to find Stone and then I’m going home for a bubble bath.”
“Care to make it a double?”
“Sorry, Andy, not tonight, but thanks for the offer.”
“Aw man! You never let me have any fun!”
Kruger chuckled. “I’d have to agree on that one.”
“You two are horrible! Good night!”
“Night, honey!” They chimed back.
Shaking her head all the way to Stones’s side, Ali just couldn’t believe the guys she worked with some nights. “Permission for a bubble bath, sir!”
Stone rolled his eyes. “I’d say you could go home, but we have a discussion to finish.”
“You didn’t start it.”
“Well duh, as you’d say. You, me, Tracey and Lockheart are all going to get this settled before any of us go home. Understood?”
“Why do I have to be involved?” Caleb asked, walking up to their little group. “I’ve made plans.”
“That is precisely the reason you’re going to be involved. Rogan made a very valid, if crude, point earlier. Now, both of you, back to base!”
Ali and Caleb snapped to attention. “Yes Sir!”
“About freakin’ time.”
“You know, General…”
“You’re starting to sound just like her.”
“Please don’t remind me, okay?”
“Now,” General Stone began, pacing the briefing room, “we have a situation here that has got to be resolved pronto.” He glared at Allyson and Lockheart. “You two have screwed up, big time, and it’s time to own up.”
“I apologize for antagonizing Miss Morgan.” Ali fessed up. “It was childish and I was jealous.”
“It was childish. I think you’re lucky that hick boyfriend of hers likes you so much or you might’ve been in some real trouble.”
“Ex,” she whispered.
“What was that?”
“Didn’t think so. Anyway, that’s only part of why you’re here tonight. Your entire relationship with the man was expressly forbidden from the beginning. Yet, you proceeded to get involved anyway. Care to explain to me why?”
Ali hung her head. How do I explain this to them? “I’m sorry sir. I don’t know what to tell you.”
“How about the truth?”
“The truth is stupid.”
“He’s a nice guy.”
“And… he’s a nice guy. There ain’t much more to it than that.”
“That’s not good enough.” Bryan.
“Sorry, sir. No juicy tales to tell.” Caleb laughed in disbelief; she glowered at him. “Well, I could tell ya some stories that’d curl your toes, but they all happened long after I was taken off that assignment.”
“Please keep on task here.”
“Sorry General.” Ali held her hands up in surrender. “I don’t know what to tell you. Aside from this bozo here, I haven’t had a boyfriend in close to ten years. Not since Thé.” She paused and attempted to rein in her rampaging emotions.
“You are not…”
“For crying out loud, General!” Ali screamed at him. “I was married to him for four years! How can you tell me I’m not allowed to mention his name?” She threw her arms up in disgust. “I haven’t had a boyfriend since Cal and I split up close to three years ago. The closest thing I’d gotten to a date before Blake was going out with either Albie or Zook.” She paused thoughtfully. “Although, Andy was kinda fun that night…”
“What!?!” her commanding officers cried out together.
“When did you…”
“Lockheart – it’s not important! She has a life of her own!” Stone reprimanded.
“Since when?” she mumbled under her breath.
“I heard that, Lieutenant!”
“Sorry sir. But, I’m serious. Since we discovered that Thé turned traitor, I haven’t been allowed a relationship with anyone outside of this base. And sorry guys, but none of you really interest me.” She walked away and stopped at the bulletin board. “That’s not even completely true. The whole point is that I like Blake. I even trust him. And that’s saying a lot, considering.”
Stone stared at his hands. Caleb and Bryan stared at each other and at Ali. She sighed and walked back to the group. “Just forget it. I’ll go back to being on my own and play-dating Albie and anyone else who is desperate enough to spend the evening with me.”
“Hold it right there. We have security to think of…”
“Oh yeah, Blake’s a real threat. Can I go now while you all decide my fate? I think I need a drink to go with that bubble bath.”
Stone came over and put an arm across her shoulders. “Look, I don’t like this any more than you do. But sometimes we have to make sacrifices…”
“For the greater good.” She shrugged his arm off. “Feed me another line. You’ve used that one on me before. Good night.”
Ali walked out and let the door slam behind her. The three men looked at one another and sighed.
“Anyone know where we can find a country singer on short notice?” Stone asked.
“Funny you should mention it,” came Rogan’s voice from the doorway. “I just happen to have a spare.”
“For once, Albert, I have to say that I’m thankful you’re thinking of your sister first. Please sit, Mr. Matson. We need to talk.”
“Go ahead, Blake, I think he’s planning on answering some of the questions Ali hasn’t been able to.”
“Okay, but I don’t like this.” He sat down and faced the foursome.
“You’ll probably hate it by the time you’re done.”
“That’s not very encouraging!”
“No, but it’s the truth.” Albie turned to his superiors. “May I stay?”
“No,” Tracey said immediately.
“I agree. Get.”
“Caleb, Bryan, back down. I think he can fill in the gaps we know nothing about.” Rogan stuck his tongue out at the other two. “But,” Stone smacked the back of his head, “you will behave!”
“Anyway, Ali, hasn’t had an easy life. Her parents practically abandoned her to Albert’s mother.”
“That explains a lot,” Blake looked at Rogan and grinned.
“Yeah, unfortunately, it does. But Ali, being the intelligent girl she is, adapted and thrived, despite being dumped off with someone she hardly knew.”
“Ali always did well in school,” Albert told him, “but never had many friends. Usually just me. Then she met Thé. Timothé Doniciu.”
“And that’s where things went to hell in a hand basket.”
“Hey now, watch your mouth, Lockheart. Thé never did a damn thing to her.” Caleb made to protest and Albert cut him off. “Shut it! He took good care of her, always.”
“He did,” Stone agreed. “They were married when she was 17. Much too young, truthfully, but I think Ali felt like a burden on the Rogan family.”
“Sad but true,” he confirmed.
“So, they got married. She never told me.”
“Nah, I’m sure she didn’t. Ali was already being groomed by the US Government to be a special agent. She’s a linguistics genius, among other things. All good things to have in a soldier.” Albie paused and remembered back to those days. “She and I were ‘recruited’ as a pair. We’d grown up together and had a lot of the same interests. Thé never minded that she went into the military. He was a couple years older and joined himself.”
“Since they were married, and worked well together, we brought them both, along with Rogan here, into our special forces branch. That was our mistake.”
“And that’s putting it mildly, Bryan.” Stone paced the floor. “Things went well for awhile. Not long after Ali’s twenty-first birthday, we found out the truth.”
“I’d come to their apartment to pick something up for Ali. To this day, I can’t remember why she sent me home for her. But, when I got there, Thé and a friend of his, another one of us, were going through Ali’s things. They’d tossed her room and broken into her mini-safe she used to store documents. She’d always told him it contained her birth certificate, passport, and the like. But the truth was, she used it to store sensitive documents she needed for her assignments.”
“Turns out, he was looking for some schematics she was supposed to have had,” Caleb continued. “But she’d never received the documents due to some increased intelligence activity in our area at the time. She was at HQ being debriefed and reassigned.”
“That’s right!” Albert stood and shouted. “She’d sent me home for her shampoo!”
Blake covered his face with his hand. “Is this necessary?” Lockheart asked, annoyed.
“No, but it makes me feel better now that I remember!”
“Anyway,” Tracey continued, irritated at them all, “Rogan interrupted them tossing her room and they attacked him, nearly killing him.”
“Aw crap. That sucks.”
“You got that right, Cowboy.”
“What did I tell you about that?” Blake reminded him.
“Sorry, pal. Slipped out.”
“Forgiven. So, what did you do?”
“Fought back as best I could. Thé had stabbed me twice. Dan, his partner, I managed to shoot before he could shoot me.”
“Then, I stumbled upon the mess they were making of my poor apartment,” Ali continued, stepping into the briefing room.
“What are you doing here?” Stone asked, concerned.
“I came back to apologize for being such a brat. If I’d known you were bringing him back, I’d’ve stayed.”
“Albert brought him here. It wasn’t our idea.”
“Ah, but he’s here now,” she playfully leered, leaning against the wall. Blake flushed red and she grinned. The smile faded quickly as she remembered the destruction in her small home. “I’d come home to grab something I’d forgotten to ask goofy there to pick up. When I arrived, Dan was dead on the kitchen floor. And Thé…” She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, reliving the horror. “Thé had a knife to Albie’s throat threatening to kill him if I didn’t give him what he wanted.”
“The schematic thingies.”
“Yeah. Those. I’m sure they’ve told you that I didn’t have them. He, of course, didn’t believe me, and he cut Albie pretty badly. He still has a scar…” She walked up behind her long-time friend and patted his chest.
“Without hesitating,” he told them proudly, “she put a bullet into him and saved me.”
“You shot your own husband?” Blake didn’t believe it.
“Murdered him,” she corrected.
“Shot, Lieutenant. Rogan’s life was at stake. You wouldn’t use ‘murder’ if the situation had been reversed and he had saved you.”
“Probably not, but we’ll never know, will we?” She sighed heavily. “I saved my best friend’s life and dissolved my marriage in one shot, so to speak.”
Blake was speechless. How could she be so calm while telling him this? “How’d you cope?”
“Not very well.”
“Um, she had some intense therapy for awhile.”
“He means they locked me up for about three months.” She smiled sadly. “They locked me up until they discovered I was pregnant. Then all hell broke loose.”
Did he really just hear that? “Wh-what?”
“Our dear lieutenant was pregnant, about 6 weeks, when this all occurred.”
Blake stared at them in disbelief. She had a child and hadn’t told him? “Where is he now?”
“Not her husband, dude,” Blake said slowly. “Her child?”
“Ah,” Stone hedged.
“They took her from me and adopted her out.” Ali caught his gaze and held it, finding strength in the depths of his blue eyes. “She was 7 pounds and 9 ounces of beautiful baby girl. Big blue eyes and a headful of dark curls.”
“Looked a lot like her daddy,” Albert added.
“That she did. I bet she’s a real beauty now.” Ali looked away as the tears came.
“How could you have taken her baby away?”
“The decision wasn’t ours,” Stone told him. “It came from much higher up than me.”
“They were afraid,” Ali said in a small voice, “that she’d turn out like her father.”
“And,” Rogan growled, “instead of letting her be raised around those who dedicate their lives to saving people and giving her a chance, they sent her away.”
“Her parents were specially selected,” Ali reassured Blake, “and were truly nice people. I got the chance to know them without knowing why they were there on our base. I wasn’t told until months later.”
Blake stood and went to her side. Taking her into his arms, he felt his own tears coming to the surface. “I’m so, so sorry. Now I understand why you didn’t tell me. Why you couldn’t.” He hugged her tightly, pressing his face to the top of her head.
“We were at least reassured that Rhi had a good home to go to. She’s being raised right and being loved. That much is for certain.”
“Rhi?” Blake asked. “Cute name.”
“Named her Rhiannah. ‘Rhi’ for Albie’s father Reese, and ‘annah’ for his mama, Anna. Thought it more appropriate than giving her one of my family names.” She gave a slightly bitter laugh, untangling herself from his embrace. “Rhiannah Rae was her name.”
“Rhiannah Rae,” Blake let the name roll off his tongue. “That’s almost as cute as you. So, where’s the Rae come from?”
Ali was obviously still fighting her demons; she just shook her head. Alex looked at her for a long time and told him, finally. “From Miss Allyson Rachael herself.” He grinned. “The middle name was my idea.”
“Ya did good, for a dope.”
“Why gee, Blake, thanks!”
Stone was watching the scene from a distance. He could see why Ali cared for this man so much. Here he was, obviously confused and full of questions, but instead of demanding answers, he was trying to distract her from the pain she had to be feeling. He was comforting her but not smothering her. And not once had he told her it was going to be okay.
He knew it wouldn’t ever be. It would never ‘be okay’ ever again. All they could ever hope for was for it to not hurt so much.
And there she was. Betrayed all over again, hurting for her lost love, her lost child, and her lost innocence… and she was just letting him comfort her. In all the years he’d known her, he’d never seen her so at ease with another man, aside from Rogan. But Albert was different; Stone wasn’t even sure she ‘saw’ him as another man. He was just ‘Albie’. But Blake… he was another story.
Stone watched as Blake traced the edge of her chin with his fingers, wiping the tears from her skin. His eyes never left hers, always letting her know he was listening, even when she was silent. The General knew he had to do something. But was it the right thing?
He was about to find out.
“Tracey, Lockheart, you two are dismissed. I think we’ve all had enough excitement for one evening.”
“Yes sir!” they both snapped quick, half-hearted salutes and headed for the door.
Ali sighed, smiling up at Blake. “Guess this is goodbye then, Cowboy. Sorry it had to end with such a sad story.”
He hugged her close one last time. “It wasn’t sad, it was just life. Things could have been so much worse. I’m sure your heart doesn’t think so, but you could’ve lost a lot more that day.” He grinned suddenly. “Ya coulda never met me, after all!” She playfully slugged him and started to cry. “Ah crap, Ali. Don’t do that. I don’t know what to do with a cryin’ woman,” he begged. “ A screamin’ tantrum throwin’ one yes, but not a cryin’ one.”
“Lieutenant?” Stone said gently. “I think it’s time to go home. Why don’t you take a few days and come back on Monday?”
Ali nodded weakly, pulling back from Blake’s arms. “Sure, General. Thank you, sir.”
“Anytime.” Stone turned to watch Blake before speaking again. He was studying Ali’s body as if he’d never see her again. Instead of the lust and desire he’d expected to see, all he could decipher was sadness and regret. Too many unspoken words seem to hang between the two. Knowing the decision he had to make, he took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Mr. Matson?”
“Yes, sir?” He stepped up next to Ali and waited.
“You’ve been here too long, if you’re responding like that, but that’s a good thing.” He cocked his head and studied the pair. “Are you ready for Rogan to take you back?”
“Albert, stow it!”
“I’m serious! One more word out of you and you’ll wind up in a cell!”
“Yes sir,” he spat.
“Mr. Matson?” Stone prompted.
“Truthfully, sir, I’m concerned for Ali. I don’t think it’s good to leave her alone tonight.”
She forced a smile to her face. “Don’t worry about me, I’ve lived with this for ten years, I can live with it for another night.”
“But you shouldn’t have to do it alone,” he protested.
“No, you shouldn’t,” Stone agreed. “Why don’t you take her home and take care of her for us?”
Blake grinned. “Aw, cool! Can I keep her?”
“You’ll have to argue that one out with him, I’m sure.” He pointed at Rogan.
“Aw man, you can have her,” he teased. “Come on, let’s go grab your stuff. Ali, we’ll be back in fifteen.”
She nodded and watched them leave. Turning to Stone, she asked, “What made you change your mind?”
“Watching you. And him. He put all his questions aside just so he could be sure you were okay. It takes a lot for a man to swallow his questions, you know.”
Ali grinned. “Trust me, I know.”
“He never once took his eyes off you. You were everything in the room at that moment.” He watched her as she digested all that for a moment. “And you. I’ve never seen you so comfortable, so at ease with anyone, any man, other than that nutcase that just walked out the door. I could see almost instantly why you care for him so much. And you were right. He is a nice guy.” He looked away for a moment. “And Tracey was wrong. It is enough.”
“I’d always thought so.”
“I hope he takes good care of you.”
“Don’t worry. Albie and Zook have already threatened him on that point. And Shana too.”
“Well, we all know he won’t mess with Shana,” Stone said, in mock horror.
“I hope not. She’s worse than me.”
“Go home, Lieutenant. Enjoy him while you’ve got him.”
“So,” she said, snuggling into his arms, “now you know.”
“And knowing is half the battle, or so I’ve heard.”
“Dork.” He got a light smack for his cheekiness. “What do you think?”
“I think you’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for way too long.”
“But, I think it’s getting better.”
“I’d have to agree.” He got serious for a moment. “Do you miss her, Rhi, I mean.”
“All the time.”
“Do you ever think about having another?”
“Didn’t we just go through this a few weeks ago?”
He grinned at her. “That was different. That was an ‘oh shit’ kind of thing. This,” he rubbed her flat belly, “is different.”
Ali was speechless. “I think we’ll need to think about this…”
“Whatever you say,” he murmured against her lips. “Just know, the offer is open.”
Mika’s end note: This chapter rips my heart out every time, even after five years. Even with all the inside jokes that no one will ever get. I hope that you enjoyed.
Oh, and my apologies – this was edited on the fly so if there are random names that don’t make sense… um, I’m sorry?