Another blurb based on the "Glimmer of Twilight" storyline not long after "Mustang Madness"…hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading.
Matt sat on the wooden bench inside the headquarters of the United States Attorney's office and waited for her return.
Two hours had passed since C.J. had left him there and followed two attorneys dressed in three-piece dark suit and a dressed down investigator into the conference room. They had grown used to this routine, of when she had been called to the field office in the middle of downtown Houston to give additional statements, to answer another endless list of questions that usually left her emotionally exhausted when these interviews ended.
He had just returned from a business trip carried out as part of his job working as a consultant for Dan's security firm. While in Chicago, he had spent some time visiting with relatives of one of his closest buddies, Too Mean Malone who had given his own life to help Matt save his cousin, Will from a warlord's prison camp ending the young man's marathon stint among the prematurely declared dead.
The former football star turned bodyguard and muscle for hire had a mother and two sisters who still lived in the city that had raised him and they had welcomed quickly into their embrace and their homes. He had thought that they might harbor some blame against him for what had happened to their beloved relative but no, they had been thankful that Matt had ensured that he wouldn't stop cutting through endless red tape to have the man's remains delivered to his family from the foreign soil where he had died. He had spent the previous day, Veteran's Day visiting the gravesite with the women in the military cemetery as the matriarch of the family placed a bouquet of white roses along with some of his favorite bottles of beer on his gravesite.
Matt and one of the sisters had opened up a bottle apiece and sipped it thoughtfully as they remembered the man who had embraced both of their lives, talking very little. Just finding comfort in not being there alone with their memories.
It had proven to be a memorable trip indeed but now he had returned back to Houston to find out that once again C.J. had been called in for another interview with prosecutors preparing to launch the biggest criminal trial against a ring of human traffickers in history. The remnants of that arm of the octopus anyway that had plenty of tentacles left that permeated into every corner of the globe.
A reality that the key witness in that proceeding lived with every day of her life.
He had sat with her waiting for the prosecutors on the same bench, her hand clasped with hers, until they had arrived. She had shot him a quick smile of reassurance before he released his hold and watched as she followed the three men into a small room where the door quickly closed. He just sighed deeply, closing his eyes and settled in for the long wait.
C.J. had been sitting in the hard wooden chair in front of the scarred wooden table inside the sterile environment of the conference room for two hours. They had gotten her coffee and had joined her, while the court reporter sat typing away on her device in the background. Listening to them pepper here with questions, she had been reminded of the good cop/bad cop scenario that she and Matt had become so familiar with when being interviewed or having clients interviewed by police officers. But as time passed, she felt her patience ebbing again. Finally she folded her arms and stared at the head prosecutor.
"Am I on trial here?"
They both looked at each other and then at her.
"Why do you ask that," the younger man asked.
Answering her own question, with a question had been a tactic she had also grown familiar with and she just rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair. They just looked at her nonplussed and she figured they were probably asking why she wasn't being a good little witness and providing the appropriate answers to her questions. But then she hated sitting here interview after interview sharing the most intimate details of her life with members of the opposite sex, the same gender as the man who had terrorized her.
"Because before this happened to me, I worked as an investigator in L.A. and Houston…and I saw this dynamic play out scores of times."
They frowned at her mention of Matt which didn't surprise her because she knew they didn't like his attitude most of the time when he had told them a couple of times to get lost after a couple of interrogations had ended with her unable to leave the conference room. That had been earlier on in the arduous process when she had just been learning to toughen herself up to handle these sessions, back when her emotions had still been mostly raw, like wounds that even a whisper of breath would trigger an intense reaction.
"So am I on trial here?"
The older man cleared his throat.
"Of course not," he said, "Our office knows that you're the witness in this case."
A lot more than that, she thought, after all what she had told them, what had been transcribed from hours of recorded material had been her own experiences, every sight, every sound and smell she could recall from the time she had been abducted from that parking garage in L.A.
Even though it had begun much earlier than that some years ago thousands of miles away in Boston when she had first crossed paths with him.
The younger man clasped his hands on the table in front of him and nodded.
"We really need your cooperation on this matter," he said, "This is to help you."
She sighed, reining in the emotions that once again threatened to run away with her. After having worked her butt off in therapy, she still felt sometimes as if she were stepping backwards as much as forward.
"I know what this means more than anyone," she said, "and somehow it doesn't feel like it's being done to help me."
She raised her hand up.
"No, I just spent the last two hours sharing with you what it felt like to have that man show a picture that he took of the man that I…well of Houston…and tell me that he could be executed with one phone call if I didn't do what he wanted when he wanted it…How it feels like to close my eyes so I don't have to look at him while I…while he made me…"
"But you just say that you agreed to do those acts."
She ran her hand through her hair, for not the first time and then she looked at her hands, the scars which intertwined with her fingers after lacing her palms. The linear scar which circled her wrist from where it had been sliced open by a surgeon to repair her broken wrist and the same hands that Matt had kissed before they made love the first time. While he told her how wonderful they had felt stroking his skin, knowing that their scarred appearance made her feel self conscious and made her remember.
"I didn't have a choice…you know I didn't…you know by now they had men following him everywhere he went," she said, "They could have killed him at any given time and made it look like an accident or a random murder that no one would question."
"I hated myself for what I did to keep them from killing him," she said, "Until I learned not to do it anymore."
One of the men jotted something down on his notepad.
"I did what I had to survive and to protect him…each time that Andre came to me for what he wanted."
The younger man finally nodded and looked at the other prosecutor.
"Coercion through using threats against another person does fit with the crime of rape…"
She barely resisted rolling her eyes at the junior prosecutor's definition of the criminal statute and took a deep breath instead as she'd been taught.
"After that first time…he told me afterward he used force to teach me not to fight back…that resisting him was useless…and he was right…I tried so hard to stop him…but he let me wear myself out before he… after that, he…found other ways…"
Even now, she had a difficult time saying the words in front of two men in business suits. Maybe if she had a female attorney…but it might not make any difference. She sensed their frustration with her each time she sat down and performed for them. But she couldn't find the way to do it right and at this point, she didn't want to, she just wanted to find her way toward speaking the truth without feeling ripped apart anew inside.
She knew that Andre had spent years studying her and keeping close tabs on everything that she did in that time in preparation of the day he would spring his plan into action against her…picking the one moment when she had been alone and her guard the most down. Even engineering his accomplice, Scott, to motivate Matt to leave town to find himself, all the time keeping his true intentions hidden and he had fooled everyone including her.
C.J. already knew that and if the other guy needed to be reminded, then she was really wasting her time helping them. Because that's what she was doing, spewing out a lot of submerged ugliness and translating into words devoid of the emotions that sprung them. But they didn't seem to understand, Diana had prepared her for that part of it but there was no rehearsal for the reality of what lay ahead of her. She hadn't yet reached the point where telling about her experience left her anywhere but feeling assaulted all over again.
"But you didn't fight him physically…"
No, but she had found other ways against a man who had been too strong. She had found herself a safe place to hide, the garden from her childhood that she had recreated inside her head whenever she needed its refuge. But she didn't feel like sharing that so she just stared at them, icily.
"Fight him how…I told you he was stronger than me. Have you ever been pinned by a man who outweighs you and is a trained fighter? He screens out those who work in his security by only allowing those in he doesn't kill in his hiring tests."
They had known that when they had dug up the skeletal remains that had been men still dressed in the coveralls that had been given for them to wear for these tryouts. About a dozen men in graves amid an even larger number of female bodies that had been buried there at the Washington compound. They had found smaller numbers of leftovers at the one on Sapphire Island.
After watching the two prosecutors confer with each other and the investigator scribble some notes, she had felt like getting up and walking right out of there. She had done that before but they had just called her back in for more questioning, a bottomless pit of interrogations, each of them more invasive than the previous, like they had taken an onion and were trying to peel away its layers. But she didn't want that to be done with her, with every layer of herself that revealed itself, came the same emotions all over again, fresh as if just being discovered for the first time.
Leaving her feeling exhausted and wanting to flee her own memories but they just followed in pursuit.
Matt looked at his watch as another hour had passed and he looked back at the closed door of the conference room, imagining what took place inside. C.J. shared some of what she experienced inside those walls but she kept a lot of it to herself. She seemed to want to spare him the worst parts of this part of her experience which had defined her life but he wanted no part of that. Sometimes he pushed against it and she resisted, until tears spilled down her face just when she thought she had been tapped out of them. He would wrap her up in his arms, feeling her struggling for a moment until she finally relaxed against him, her tears wet against his shirt.
But since they had come back from Silver Lode, much differently than they had arrived, now as a couple who were still feeling their way across unfamiliar territory filled with landmines that threatened the intimacy they now shared each step of the way. Sometimes she would pull away from him, telling him that he needed a woman who was whole inside rather than fragmented in pieces, honed sharply enough to injure both of them. But over time, his soft words and even gentler touch had worn away some of those edges as happened with sea glass after months or years of being tossed around in the tides of the oceans.
Occasionally, when they walked hand in hand on the beach, whether the Gulf of Mexico near Houston or the Caribbean Islands where they visited friends or even more recently, in Malibu after C.J. had gone to L.A. to put her demons to rest, he would pick up a sparkling piece of sea glass in different hues of the rainbow and place it in her palm, folding so that she could look at it and be reminded that just like the glass, her own jagged edges would be smoothed over time spent in the embrace of those who loved her. And she had spent a lot of time in the embrace of a man who loved her and who patiently helped her find ways to feel whole again.
And over the past year, she had accumulated quite a collection of sea glass which she kept in a glass jar by her bedside there, even when she had other reminders that despite everything, she had made progress in reclaiming her life and rebuilding it.
She thought about it resting there where it greeted her in the mornings as she stared at the men sitting there looking at her, as if waiting for her to start reading off of a new script, preferably their own and she still had been writing her own…her mind still struggling with how to define how her kidnapping and the rapes that followed had shaped her life including the months spent on the run with Matt.
"Okay…so you resisted then," the older prosecutor said, "in other ways than physically against a stronger man."
She thought about those acts of resistances, the places her mind would go to escape from the man who forced her into sexual slavery. The people she had been with, who she focused on defining in great detail to keep her mind away from her body being violated. Andre had been frustrated that she never surrendered to him emotionally, except the terror she had expressed at times. He had grabbed her face to force her to look at him but her eyes didn't see him. How could she explain that to men who had never faced what she did, over and over again?
In the world she had inhabited, men dominated and women were subjugated to their will. Through force, threats or any means necessary to break them into malleable figures devoid of their strength, and eventually over time, their souls. She knew how close she had come to losing hers before her mind took over and made the decision to escape from him. To kill anyone who tried to stop her from succeeding in getting away.
When the federal agencies had learned that she had killed and more than once, she had been under investigation herself for those acts, standard procedure it had been called and after lengthy inquisitions, she had been cleared of any criminal charges herself. But her soul had still remained marked forever, in ways that legal decisions about culpability and innocence couldn't remove.
The older prosecutor looked at her suddenly, and then nodded.
"We're done for now," he said, "You can leave but as always we'll keep in touch with you as this process continues onward and call you if we have more questions."
The same mantra in the same tone of voice they had repeated so many times already and which this time, elicited a simple nod from her as she stood up and stretched, before they opened the door allowing her to leave.
Another piece of her remaining behind.
Matt looked up and saw her approach him, the wariness in her eyes that the interrogation had put there showing once again. He kept at arm's length knowing that after these meetings, had been when her nerves felt the most raw, and that she would let him know when to approach her again. They left the building in silence and after getting in the car, he heard her exhale next to him. He glanced sideways at her and saw her looking out the window.
"Where you want to go?"
Silence greeted him at first and he didn't think she'd answer but she finally looked at him and tried to smile.
"I want to see the ocean…"
He nodded and they drove in quietness to the familiar spot which was located near a cove, where they had often picnicked in the summer time during holidays taken which interrupted their busy lives. The beach knew them intimately and after he parked the car, they left it and walked down a narrow little dirt path through an endless carpet of ice plants until they hit the sand.
He instinctively felt her hand reach slowly for his and he took it in his own, intertwining his fingers with hers. They walked together until they reached a small dune and after ascending it, sat down together on its summit.
The water sparkled like a rare gem in the light of the sun as it journeyed across the sky towards the endless horizon. As they sat, he began to stroke her hand that still remained clasped to his, gently with his other hand. He didn't need to look to know that she had closed her eyes, surrendering to the sensations, the interview she had just left ebbing away…slowly as it always did like a tide returning to the depths of the ocean.
"Tough day," he asked finally.
He felt her squeeze his hand then in response.
"You might say that…"
He reached out with his other hand and stroked the hair off of her face and she let him. So she had started to come down from these interviews more quickly as time had passed.
"It just feels that every time I think I have come…to terms with everything…that I go in there and all the healing is undone…it's like falling down a flight of stairs after almost reaching the top…over and over."
He understood in his own way what she had meant, having experienced similar after some of the most traumatic experiences in his life which had been enveloped between being kidnapped as a young child and later on, as an adult and in that case framed for murder. If it hadn't been for the patient love of the woman beside him…well he would be in a much different place than where he sat right now.
She sighed again, some rawness in the sound as she fought against the familiar feelings that had bubbled up from where she had kept them.
"I'm so sorry…"
"About what," he asked, still stroking her hair.
"About all this…it's not what you signed up for I know."
He closed his eyes knowing that what he had to say mattered and it hadn't been difficult at all once he found the words.
"You've got nothing to be sorry about….as for what I signed up for maybe not…but what I've found is something so much better."
She seemed to relax a bit.
"I came back to win your heart but I lost mine," he said, "Only to find it's in the right place where it always will be."
She sighed even as she squeezed his hand again.
"It's been so hard on you…everything…I mean me keeping you at arm's length and not being the woman I used to be."
He tilted her face with his finger so her eyes met his own.
"You're the woman I've been in love with longer than I knew," he said, "and as for what you've shared with me, I've never known anything so special in my life than what you've given me even when it's scary. That kind of gift means more than I can say so don't tell me what kind of woman you think you should be or what I want. There's no timetable to this that you have to follow...you just need to listen to yourself and do what feels right for you and we'll take it from there."
She narrowed her eyes but she didn't try to avoid him.
"We've been making our way okay so far," he said, "There's been tough times sure but I wouldn't trade what we share for anything...or anyone."
His voice remained gentle.
"No buts," he said, "My father raised a patient man who's willing to travel this road with you for as long as it takes because I love you and it's taken most of my life already to realize that it's really just beginning but once a Houston decides what we want, we go after it."
Then those dang eyebrows of his, resting above his earnest eyes waggled in that familiar way.
"And when words fail us, we find other ways to communicate..."
He kissed her lips gently them, caressing them. When he pulled away, she stroked his mouth with her fingers while regaining her breath.
"Okay… but this could be a long road…"
He smiled and his eyes gazed at the sand until he found what he looked for and picked it up with his fingers. He then placed it gently in her palm so she could see for herself. And what she saw brought a smile to her face.
"It's beautiful…it must have been carried by the tide for ages to reach this luster," she said, "I'll add it to my collection."
"It just about matches the green in your eyes," he said, "the same pair I fell in love with the first time I saw them."
Just a reminder that he had given her that even the most jagged of life's experiences that could wrench apart a person's soul could be healed over time and the love of family. They both looked at it and each other for a long moment, before he helped her up and they walked with their arms around each other's shoulders to the car, their backs to the setting sun.