Morning. Sunshine peeped over the horizon. A gentle breeze ruffled pale hair on the sleeping man's head and danced away to ruffle leaves on trees. Straker slept on into the morning until his hosts worried about him.
Harrison arrived at breakfast first, accepting his vegetarian omelet with a smile. He was shortly joined by Debbie, her flaxen hair caught back in a braid, and Suzanne, still looking sleepy. The girl grabbed a bowl of cereal, a banana, two pieces of toast and several pieces of bacon. Suzanne settled for coffee, black. She flumped into a chair and blinked owlishly at both her daughter and Harrison who grinned at them both.
"How do you do it?" she asked peevishly.
"Act – so - :;yawn:: chirpy in the morning."
"Right. I wish I was a cat." She sat and quietly drank her coffee while Debbie filled her in on what was going on in her home school session that day.
Norton wheeled in as Debbie finished breakfast, kissed her mom and dashed off to her lessons. He also helped himself to coffee, black and joined the other two at the table as Mary came down the stairs. He smiled at her as she sat down. A pot of hot tea stood beside the chair she usually sat in. She was greatly appreciative of the tea, especially this morning.
"Good morning," she greeted her companions.
"Morning." Suzanne's response was sleepy.
"Good morning," Norton and Harrison both greeted her.
"Taking a break today?"
"I think we hit overload yesterday," Norton agreed.
"Overload?" Paul asked as he walked in and poured himself a cup of coffee. He was dressed in fatigue pants and an olive drab t-shirt already stained with sweat.
"Let me guess, out running?" Mary inquired.
"Sometimes you astound me."
He looked puzzled by her comment. "I do?"
She opened her mouth and shut it again. Sometimes he was just as incomprehensible as her ex-husband. "Never mind."
Those eating finished breakfast in a companionable silence. It was Paul who noticed they had not been joined by their guest. He looked around curiously, then let his gaze rest on Mary.
It took her a moment to realize what was bothering him. Ed. Odd, he didn't usually sleep this late. But it had been a long day. Perhaps he'd overslept. Perhaps he needed sleep since he'd taken a jet from London to LA and then gone right to work with the Foundation.
"He may still be asleep."
"We have work to do."
"Paul –" came the protest from Suzanne, Norton and Harrison simultaneously.
"Give it a break, Paul. We've ingested so much information in the last twelve hours that our heads are ready to burst. We need time to sort it out, to come up with a plan, a way to benefit both organizations. It's Sunday. We're resting."
"All right. But we should make certain our guest is all right?"
Mary smiled at that. "I'll go." She wiped the corners of her mouth with the linen napkin, set it on the tablecloth and pushed her chair back. "If he hasn't changed a great deal, he hardly sleeps at all for days and then he sleeps through half the day suddenly." She went back up stairs, found his door and tapped gently. No response. He was probably asleep. She turned to walk away and stopped. Bird song?
Carefully, she turned the knob and pushed the door open. The bed was empty. It looked like it had not been slept in. She frowned and looked around. Chair. Window. Just the top of his head was visible. That looked like a good way to get a stiff neck.
She walked across the room, not trying to make noise but not trying not to either. She stopped beside the chair and looked down. He looked like he could use about twelve hours of down time. But not in that position. Hoping he wasn't in the habit of automatic defense, she put a hand on his shoulder and called his name.
His eyes snapped open, slightly unfocused. He was very, very still. Someone was touching him. Arm. Slender. He looked up. Mary. She smiled down at him.
"I think the bed would be better. Not so likely to induce stiff necks – and backs – and shoulders –"
"Yeah," he agreed as he started to move. The hand was withdrawn. He was stiff. How long had he been sleeping there? The bedside clock said 8:30. Only three and a half hours after his normal time to get up.
"Jet lag? Information overload? Stress?" Mary offered.
"Reasons you slept late. Although, not particularly reasons you'd sleep in a chair."
That got a slow smile. "No. Too much thinking to do."
"Well, I think you have everyone's permission to take some time to wind down and then digest and plan. Even Paul's looking tired."
He nodded and moved to the bed, pulling back the sheet and climbing in. He looked at her for a moment. "We need to talk."
"I know. But not now. Get some sleep." She reached to pull the blanket up for him. Their hands touched. He caught her hand in his. The strength in her hand surprised him. Their eyes met again. "Sleep."
He let her go. This time, his choice as well as hers. He lay there for a while after he heard the door close behind her and wondered at that. Maybe he was healing, finally.
"Y'know, if your gonna sleep the day away, the least you could do is let me know."
The twang was familiar. He opened his eyes. The sun outside was full overhead. Noon? The clock confirmed this. "Eliza," he said softly.
"Right here, honey bunch." She sat on the side of the bed. He could see the rest of the room through her.
"What are you doing here?"
"Keeping an eye on you. That's what guardian angels do, y'know." He frowned at her. She smiled back. "I know. Aliens and angels don't seem a real great fit, do they?"
"No, they don't. Caleb?"
She shook her head, her soft golden hair floating a bit as she did. "Nothin'. It's like he fell off the planet. Oops. Bad choice of words. Sorry."
"That's - I mean - "
"I know. Look, from what I can understand, if he was anywhere, I'd at least be able to locate him, which ever way he went. Somethin' else, lover. That father of his is missin', too."
Ed blinked. "What do you mean he's missing? He's dead."
His eyebrows raised. "Neither set of aliens seems to be capable of ..."
She chuckled, wind playing with water. "But so like Caleb."
Straker nodded. "You'd better go before I get caught talking to myself."
Another chuckle and she faded. He looked sad for a moment. Eliza had been a joy to know for the brief time they'd had. She'd taught him a lot about himself, about the box he'd put himself in, the box he was still in since her death. Yes, SHADO and his devotion to it had cost him dearly - Mary, Johnny, most of his chances to fall in love over the years, Caleb - but not 'Liza. He took a shaky breath. There was nothing he or SHADO or anyone could have done to change her fate. So
they'd taken what they had together and enjoyed it until it was no more. And then she'd shown up at his new home. That had been a shock. A major shock. He'd thought he'd cracked up until she yelled for Caleb. Caleb had burst into the room, stopped stock still and retrieved his lower jaw with aplomb.
"You can see her?"
The dark eyes had focused on him. "Yes. You're not crazy. She's here. Or we're both crazy and she's still here," he'd assured him with a grin and a laugh. He looked back at Eliza. "Of all the people to come back - 'Liza, you take the cake."
"Don't talk to me about food."
"Why not?"Caleb asked curiously.
"Ghosts don't eat."
"That's 'Liza, finding something to gripe about even now -"
She laughed. "Caleb, go away."
"Yes, ma'am." And he had left them alone.
They'd talked. She'd apologized for dieing. He'd told her not to be foolish. He'd seen her a dozen times since then. Guardian Angel. If anyone had ever needed a Guardian Angel, he'd have nominated Caleb, not himself.
She came to him when Caleb died - disappeared - vanished. Blackwood was convinced the aliens had grabbed the brash operative. Something about Ironhorse's reaction told him the Native American Marine wasn't so certain. If they had Caleb, they would know about the record book.
Yet the book had been left at the bottom of the cliff he'd apparently thrown himself off. And people don't just disappear. Except, maybe, Caleb.
Ed got up, washed, cleared his head and dressed. He went downstairs to find his hosts. The living room was empty. The housekeeper was in the kitchen making pies for desert after dinner. She looked up and nodded.
He was about to deny it when his stomach rebelled and rumbled for him. He got a smile. She pulled bread out of the panty; meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato out of the refrigerator and had put together a sandwich with a drink before he could protest.
"I think you'll find Ms. Rutland and Suzanne out on the deck. Dr. Blackwood is napping. Col. Ironhorse is out on the grounds checking security. And I believe Mr. Drake is - "
"Right behind you. And suddenly on the verge of starving to death." He caught sight of the sandwich. "Could I have one, too?"
"I believe you know where everything is -"
"Rats. And here I thought I could charm the lady into making it for me. Gertrude, forward 10." He rolled past Straker and toward the kitchen island where the sandwich makings still sat waiting for him.
Ed nodded to both of them and strolled out toward the deck area. Suzanne was dozing in the sun. Mary was sitting on a bench, reading. Or trying to do so. She looked around as he approached and smiled. He nodded, set his food on a small outdoor table and then moved it over so he could also sit on the bench.
"If you don't mind -"
"No, I don't mind. Actually, that looks good. I'll go hunt one up myself in a few minutes."
He took a bite. It was good. For a few moments, he ate in silence. He was aware of her eyes on him, watching his profile. He wondered what she was thinking. He took a drink of iced tea and looked around at her.
"Mary - "
They started to speak together.
"No, you. It can - wait."
"No, that's all right. - "
She chuckled. For a moment, it seemed she was someone else. No. Still Mary. "This is ridiculous," she told him, inviting him to share in her amusement by the tone of her voice.
"I suppose it is."
"All right. I want to apologize."
"Yes. I was - too young, too wrapped up in myself, too - too much looking for a fairy tale ending. And it did." She laughed softly. "You know, I never liked Hans Christian Anderson."
She smiled. "No. Have you ever read the original?"
"No, I believe he wrote in Swedish - or Danish."
She laughed. "That's not what I meant."
"No, I don't believe I've read him in translation, either," he relented.
"There are no happy endings to his stories. It was his contention that children liked to be scared. But he didn't let even one of his heroes truly win. Not even the girl who got her - brother? - back
from the Ice Queen. He wasn't whole when he came back. I wanted the other kind of Fairy Tale. I had my knight in shining armor - well, Air Force uniform, anyway - and I wanted happily ever after. Only my version of happily ever after wasn't realistic in the least. I am so sorry you got tangled up in it. It wasn't fair. I know that now. And I want you to know that it wasn't you - all right. Part of it was. Because I didn't know the man I married."
"I'm sorry about that. I wanted to tell you. I wanted to -"
She reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. "It's all right. I think I dealt with the hurt, mostly self inflicted, when I saw the difference in the pictures." Oh, damn. She hadn't meant to bring that
up. "Oh, damn," her voice echoed her thoughts.
"It's all right." He was gazing at her as though he'd never met her before. Maybe he hadn't. "I got your letter."
"That must have been interesting," she said with a laugh. "Here I am drawing conclusions, partially wrong, and probably worrying you horribly. I am sorry. I - I just wanted you to know that - that I was sorry. That I had finally realized that it was youth and inexperience and lack of trust that pulled us apart, not another woman. I don't why you married me, but I'm afraid you got young and stupid and very self centered instead of anything helpful."
"Your mother didn't help." The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
"No, she didn't. Neither did George. Well, he got the trophy wife he wanted and - I guess I got what I deserved. He really did cheat on me. I'm not certain I blame him. - That's not true," she amended. "I blame him a great deal. I was exactly what he wanted when he married me. If he wanted something else, he should have divorced me first."
Straker chuckled. "That is a definite change of attitude."
Her eyes met his, suddenly intent and honest. "Knowledge changes one. You know what my first thought was when I ran into the aliens?"
"That they were incredibly ugly to be trying to take over the world," she told him laughing. "All right, I'm sorry. It just occurred to me that there wasn't a lot of time to think. I was incredibly grateful that you had taught me how to shoot, over my protests." Her eyes teared up remembering her first encounter with the enemy. "I told Paul I wasn't field quality. And I asked him if these - things were in England. I was so relieved when he said no. That there were no reports of them there. I kept thinking that aliens on top of everything else would just be so - wrong. I would do anything to keep them trapped here - " her face changed as she said those words, words that were changing his own world almost as fast as they were changing hers own.
"Trapped. - That's it."
For a moment he didn't follow. "That's what?"
"Part of the answer. We know they're based somewhere in the badlands in Nevada - at least, we think they are. If we could trap them there, keep them from getting out - a blockade of sorts - " She was on her feet, their conversation not so much forgotten as supplanted by the greater need. Norton had come out onto the deck and was just finishing his sandwich.
"Maps. I need to look at the last triangulation maps out of Nevada."
"Talley ho!" he quipped and rolled along in her wake. Straker followed as well, his lunch forgotten.
They passed Paul and Harrison on the way to the computer center. Sensing something was up, the two men followed. Once they were downstairs, Mary and Norton pulled maps and started unrolling them on every vacant surface. Straker watched fascinated to see her like this. Her eyes traveled over the maps, noting coordinates, checking layers, checking her understanding against Norton's. she looked up with a brilliant smile finally. "That's it."
"What is?" Harrison demanded.
"We trap them. We blockade them in their stronghold."
Paul and Harrison traded looks. "And just where is their stronghold?"
"Nevada! The Underground Testing Grounds."
Another exchange of looks. "Prove it."
Mary laughed. "I'm not sure we can. But look at the broadcast data. About 60 percent of it originates in this area." She pointed to the map. Just about dead center of the test area. "No, we probably can't trap all of them inside unless we're very, very lucky. But we can keep the ones who are in there where they are. There are only two main arteries to take people through the area. Most of it's desolate. Yes, they can probably get around us, but if we can set up a way to monitor this perimeter - " she traced an outline with her finger. "I think we can keep their trips out to a minimum. It's better than we're doing now."
"Mary, we don't have the manpower," Harrison objected, although it was obvious he was turning the idea over in his mind.
Four pairs of eyes, two pale, two dark, all focused on Straker. Harrison grinned. Mary and Norton smiled. Even Paul's mouth curved upward slightly.
"We need a plan."
Much, much later, after a very late dinner and several calls to both England and Washington, DC to start coordinating their efforts, Ed Straker sat back in a very comfortable chair and watched his current companions.
They were tired. It reminded him of the early days of SHADO. Except, here, Mary was part of the team. He watched her and it was as though the pale, lovely young woman he married all those years ago was just a dream. A fairy tale. She was right about that. This wasn't the girl he married, the one he thought he loved so much it hurt. This was a beautiful, mature, intelligent, capable woman; one who could make her own decisions, live her own life, love a man who could love her back
for who she was now. Oh, he could fall for her all over again, but he was discovering that as much as he liked the woman Mary had grown into, the mad passion he had known before was no longer there. He felt fiercely proud of her, and protective, but not of some fragile princess to be cherished and protected from harsh reality. He felt protective as he did of all his people.
Mary was no longer the unattainable woman, she was a part of a team that was necessary to the continued survival of the human race. Now she was on his playing field, not a prize, an equal. He felt a warm glow of pride. In a very small way, he had contributed to that growth. Looking at her didn't hurt. Being with her didn't feel like a sharp stab in the heart. He could smile and mean it. He could forgive.
Now, if he could just get Alec to see reason -