SPRIGS OF LAUREL: MISSING FACES

By Delia Lavender

(I do NOT own the T.V. Series "Terra Nova". I do not own any of its characters.

I write only for my own amusement – not for profit).

He stood on the Rover's running board, as it entered the gates of Terra Nova.

His people, all the ones present near the gates and in the market, ran forward to greet him.

They cheered and wept, some of them reaching out, touching his hand as he extended it toward them.

A tear escaped his own eye.

Missing faces. Her missing face. His lieutenant would never be here to greet him, ever again. The best soldier he had ever known...his right hand...his loyal one...

His lover.

The Rover was swiftly mobbed. He was enveloped as he jumped off the running board. Reynolds stayed close by, making sure the crowd behaved themselves.

And for a moment there, Reynolds actually stepped forward, interjecting his body between his Commander and the people...

But Taylor swiftly motioned him away. He stayed where he was for several minutes, embracing the women and children, shaking hands with the men.

Scanning the crowd, searching for the missing faces.

Many he already knew about, through Jim Shannon and Dr. Elisabeth. But he wouldn't know everything...not until he saw the casualty lists.

Some of the missing faces might be in the infirmary, or occupied elsewhere.

Ben O'Malley thrust himself forward, grasping Taylor's hand.

"We're so glad you're back, sir!"

"O'Malley...it's good to be back. Where is your wife...is she well?"

"She's fine. But there's been substantial damage to..."

"Later. Come to my office in half an hour."

Taylor nodded in dismissal, immediately turning his attention to four-year-old Scotty Chang, who was earnestly trying to climb up his leg...

###

His office was structurally intact, but it had been trashed by Lucas. Commander Taylor had a weary moment of hate, as he thought of his son.

Why had he thought the boy could ever love him, after what had happened to his mother? How could he or his wife, his wonderful Ayani, have produced such a brilliant, irrational, conscienceless child?

Because Lucas would always be a child. He would never grow up, he would never be a man...

He should have saved Ayani, instead of Lucas. But, during that terrible time in Somalia, he had known exactly what Ayani would want. She would want him to save their son...

Their murderous, worthless, destructive son...

Taylor called some corporals in, to help clean up the mess. As he was shuffling some papers, Sergeant Norris brought in the newly-assembled casualty lists.

Lists of the dead. The injured. The ravished...

He read a name on the third list, and his blood froze.

Honey Reyes...Molly Montgomery...Leilani Caruso...

"Sergeant, these women...how badly are they hurt?"

"It was worst for Honey Reyes, sir. She was working in Boyan's bar. Three of the Phoenix soldiers attacked her. Their superior officers didn't like it, so they're in our brig. They were abandoned there, when the Phoenix Force left Terra Nova. Miss Reyes is still in the infirmary. Molly Montgomery attracted a stalker..."

"Is she all right?"

Sergeant Norris hesitated, just for a second.

"Her husband came home, just as the stalker...a Private Fagin...was struggling with her. He hit Fagin over the head with a metal vase, killing him. Brandon Montgomery was executed, later that day. Private Fagin left with..."

"I understand. And what happened to Leilani Caruso?"

"At least she wasn't injured physically, sir. A Phoenix Team Staff Sergeant coerced her into..."

"Who was he? What did he do to her?"

Sergeant Norris looked up. The Commander's face had blanched and tightened. His jaw twitched a little. His eyes, suddenly ice-cold and hard as flint, stared directly into his...

Norris wanted to take a step back, but he held his ground.

"It was a Sergeant Lance Butcher, sir. He also left Terra Nova, when the Phoenix Force withdrew. Apparently he met Miss Caruso when he was supervising a weapons search. He returned later, threatening to have her arrested, if she didn't let him move in with her..."

"What reason did he have, to arrest her?"

"There was a sonic pistol in her house, sir...but it couldn't have been hers. It was the model used by Phoenix Force. It was probably planted there by Sergeant Butcher, himself."

"I see. Is Ben O'Malley here, yet?"

"I think I hear him outside."

"You're dismissed, Norris. Send O'Malley in, on your way out."

###

"Oh, come on, Leilani – loosen up. I'm not going to hurt you...not unless you force me to..."

She heard his voice in her head, constantly. She told herself it was normal - Sergeant Butcher hadn't been gone long. She ought to take the pills that Dr. Elizabeth had given her. But then she'd sleep, and the terrible dreams would come...

"You're lucky, you know. A lot of the guys like to share their girlfriends - but I don't. Imagine how you'd feel, if it wasn't just me..."

She still ached all over...but she hadn't cried in front of him. She'd been able to control herself, that much. But now he was gone, and she cried constantly. She even cried during her frequent, endless showers...

"I want a pretty girl and a nice place to stay - that's all there is to it. You ought to be grateful..."

But she wasn't...and she didn't feel lucky...

"I've heard rumors that Old Man Taylor used to come sniffing around - until you turned him down. That was real smart of you. Dr. Lucas doesn't like women who sleep with his father. He would have killed you – just like he killed your friend, Lieutenant Washington..."

Oh, Alicia...how she missed her. If only she could have been more like her...if only she could have been stronger...

"Loosen up...how many times do I have to tell you to loosen up? You're clenching your muscles. Here...have some whiskey...you can put it in your damn teacup..."

He'd brought lots of whiskey. Sometimes, when the Sergeant was home and wanted her, it helped a little. And somehow, thinking of Commander Taylor also helped her...

"Great...I knew you'd come around. "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker"

...that's what my great-grandad used to say. Now let's have us some fun..."

At least, it was fun for Sergeant Butcher.

###

Ben O'Malley was an engineer. Commander Taylor was going to need him – he would need his expertise, if the damage to Terra Nova was ever to be repaired...

But Commander Taylor wasn't thinking about repairs...at least not yet.

"O'Malley...I want you to tell me about Leilani Caruso."

Ben swallowed before speaking "Well...I guess you heard about what happened to her..."

"Yes...Sergeant Butcher of the Phoenix Force "imposed" himself on her. How is she, now?"

"Not very well, Commander. My wife, Agnes, is doing the best she can. But things are hard, right now. We've wanted to take Leilani in, but we already have Catherine Fisher and her two children. Their house was destroyed during the first attack..."

"Catherine Fisher...the science teacher."

"Yes. We would take Leilani, in any case...but she refuses to come."

"Her house is intact?"

"It is. But she doesn't want to see anybody...she doesn't go out. She won't let anyone in but Agnes."

"Did she see Dr. Elisabeth?"

"We insisted on it. But Agnes says she's refusing to take her medication..."

"Thank you, O'Malley. I'm grateful for the information. I'll do my best to help you, Agnes and the Fisher's. I want a complete list of the structural damage by morning. And meanwhile, let me know the names of anyone needing emergency shelter or assistance..."

###

Missing faces. Ayani...Lucas...Wash.

He had wanted Leilani. Now was she lost to him, as well?

It was his fault that she'd ever entered Terra Nova.

He was the one who had sent for her. If he hadn't, she might have withdrawn her application. She might have chosen to die in a time-line at least familiar to her...

But she'd looked so much like Ayani...he couldn't allow it. Not after seeing her hologram.

Most people were lonely, from time to time, but his loneliness had teeth.

His loneliness had clawed deeply into his guts. It had shredded his heart...it had overbalanced his mind.

He had not behaved in an honorable fashion. In fact, he'd come close to behaving like Sergeant Butcher...

He'd entered her house, where she'd offered him tea. He'd given her a magnolia bouquet. The two of them had barely made it to her sofa, before he'd grabbed her and declared his intentions.

Wash, thankfully, had been passing by. She had heard the shriek and the crash, as he and Leilani had overbalanced, falling off her sofa and onto the floor. Wash had intervened: walking in on them and tactfully restoring order.

And yet...Wash had understood him. She had forgiven him. She'd actually talked Leilani into giving him a chance...into granting him one night with her, for the good of the colony.

Oh, what a fool he'd been. A horny, deluded fool. He had actually thought he could win Leilani over...that what he did with her wouldn't matter to Wash.

But madness and amnesia had restored his mind. After his exposure to the human-caused pathogen from Science Outpost 3, he had become violent - a menace to his soldiers and finally, to himself...

Wash had been actually been forced to shoot him...

Her pistol had only been set on "stun", but it was remarkable how well it restored his perspective on life.

He had finally accepted that Ayani was gone - and that Leilani was not her substitute. He had known for a long time that Wash loved him...he was finally prepared to offer her the affection she deserved...

And he was determined to release Leilani from her promise.

He remembered that day: how he'd entered the school building, spoken a few words to Agnes O'Malley, the Head Teacher; how she had escorted down the hall, to Leilani's room.

"Recess in five minutes...you can talk to her privately, then. Mrs. Fisher is taking playground duty, today."

"Thank you, Agnes."

Leilani, having the least seniority, had been relegated to the back schoolroom, where she baby-sat the preschoolers.

He'd paused for a moment, peering at her through the door's narrow, observation window.

She was sitting in a low chair, with Erin Luis in her lap. He could see Erin's bright red hair resting again Leilani's shoulder. Six other little kids sat on the floor, forming a half circle around her feet.

It was story time...and she was reading "The Cowardly Komodo".

Commander Taylor didn't know whether to smile or cringe. The story had been written as a sort of tribute by Terra Nova's resident children's author...a ditsy, admiring old woman named Sage Greenleaf...

"...And then Kosko, the Cowardly Komodo," read Leilani "realized he could never defeat the greater courage and cunning of the gallant Commander. Kosko crawled away, his belly scrapping the dirt of the forest floor, so dejected was he. Suddenly his friend Barney, the Brainless Brontosaurus, stepped out from between two mighty banyan trees. "You'd better repent, Kosko," said Barney "Because otherwise, Extinction is at hand." And then Barney looked down at his friend, giving Kosko his sunniest, dopiest smile..."

Commander Taylor had decided to cringe – but only a little. Then he'd squared his shoulders and entered the classroom.

###

It had taken Leilani a while, to divest him of children. Apparently they'd mistaken him for a jungle gym. And the combined weight of seven hyper excited children was almostenough to knock him off-balance. But he enjoyed answering their piping, eager questions...

No...he'd never met a talking dinosaur. Yes...komodos could be cowardly. No, he didn't want them going OTG to see for themselves. Yes...most dinosaurs laid eggs. No...he couldn't bring them one...

But then the recess bell had rung and the kiddies had dashed out the door, eager to tell the older children about the Commander's visit.

And he'd been left alone with beautiful Leilani, as she gathered up the mats used for the little one's naps.

He had followed her to the storage closet, politely holding the door open for her.

He'd followed her inside, closing the door behind him. Here they would have a little privacy, as he gave her his carefully prepared speech...

###

His mouth had dried out and, for a few moments, he couldn't utter a sound. There he'd been, in a closet with Leilani and a lot of nice, comfortable mats which, if laid down side by side...

But he'd recovered soon enough, and in a little while he'd begun his speech, as sweet Leilani moved softly, storing the mats away on a low shelf.

God, he'd thought, why did she have to be wearing that short, yellow shift today?

"...So, Miss Caruso...Leilani...I've wanted to apologize to you. I treated you very badly...but I'm trying to make up for it, now. I release you from your promise. I hope that you can forgive me, for forcing you into such a situation. You didn't deserve such disrespect from me. I'll always be at your service, if you ever need anything at all..."

But her eyes, when she turned to him, had almost undone his good intentions. Her eyes were lustrous, deep black and expressive. And was there the least bit of regret showing, down in their dark, intriguing depths?

"Oh, Commander...I want to thank you..."

And she'd hugged him...

Now, why did she have to do that? There wasn't a cold enough shower in Terra Nova, to take care of the problem she'd caused him...

Because it was too late to make this discovery...that she was still the woman he desired. Aside from her resemblance to Lyani, she was exactly the sort of woman he most responded to: feminine, gentle, vulnerable. A lady, to be protected and cherished...

His love for Wash, though strong, was love for a comrade, for a best friend, for a good soldier...

And he could not betray her - not again. He would do the right thing...and he would never see Leilani alone, ever again.

###

Leilani...why did this have to happen to her?

Missing faces...he'd been so aware of them, as he and his men re-entered Terra Nova. And one of the faces he'd searched for, though only subconsciously, had been Leilani's.

What would happen to her now? Could she be helped...or would she self-destruct?

It was 2:30 in the morning, when he arrived at her house. There was still a light on, gleaming dimly in her window.

He tapped on her door "Leilani? Leilani...are you up? It's Nathaniel Taylor."

Lord...they should be well past "Miss Caruso" and "Commander Taylor" by now...

"Leilani...please let me in."

If she didn't open up, he was going to use his pass...

But he heard slow movement within the house and, after a couple of minutes, Leilani opened her door.

She stood still, with the light behind her, her face in shadow. But even in that faint illumination, he saw that she was wearing the same long, bright blue dress she'd worn before, on the day he'd brought her the magnolia bouquet.

"Commander Taylor? Please come in." And she backed away from him, holding the door open.

He entered, watching her face as she closed the door behind him.

"Don't you think it's about time you called me "Nathaniel", Leilani?"

"I suppose so. Want some whiskey, Nathaniel? I've got almost a whole bottle."

"That would be nice." he said. He watched her carefully, as she brought the whiskey bottle out from under her counter...he watched, as she poured a goodly amount into a delicate porcelain teacup. Her movements were slower, less graceful than usual, and her fair skin had grown pasty. She looked exhausted.

"I can't stand the flavor of whiskey, so I was going to throw it out. I'm glad I waited, so that I'd have something to offer you. I know you don't like tea." She said. She handed the teacup to Taylor, and he took a sip.

It wasn't rotgut, but it wasn't very good, either. Still, he was grateful she'd offered: Lucas had left him nothing of his carefully-rationed private stock.

"I want to know exactly how you're doing, Leilani."

She gave a short, ironic laugh "You always get right to the point, don't you? I suppose you heard all about me and Lance the Lecher...I mean...Sergeant Butcher. I'm all right...I really am..."

"Well, you look like hell. Aren't you sleeping? Didn't Dr. Elisabeth give you some medication?"

"Yes...but I don't want to take it. I don't want to sleep. When I do, I dream..."

"And what do you dream?" he asked softly, keeping his expression calm and his voice soothing.

"Sergeant Butcher, of course. He always turns up in my dreams...always wanting a "bit of fun", as he put it. Always reminding me that...that...this was better than the brig." She covered her face with her hands and started to cry. "Soldiers tore Honey Reyes to pieces...and Brandon Montgomery is dead! And Alicia...oh, poor Alicia...!"

He put the teacup down on the counter and went to her, guiding her gently into his arms. She put her head against his chest and sobbed aloud.

"Go ahead and cry. Sometimes I feel like crying, myself. I loved Wash... Alicia...very much. But Honey Reyes will heal. I called Dr. Elisabeth, and she told me so. And I'll do what I can for Molly Montgomery. But now I want to help you. Tell me what I can do."

"I can't forgive myself...Alicia would never have allowed this to happen to her..."

"Lieutenant Alicia Washington had more preparation – and training - than you can imagine, Leilani. And, on a couple of occasions, even she was caught off guard. She too, was captured...a couple of times. She would agree with me: you reacted in the only way you could..."

"I saw your son, Dr. Lucas."

"You did? What happened?" He held his breathe...

"There were...rumors about us, in Terra Nova. The Sergeant heard them. And then Dr. Lucas sent for me, one afternoon..."

"What did Lucas do?"

"He questioned me. He asked me if I'd been sleeping with you...and...and...I told him "no". That I couldn't stand the sight of you. And that, before you left Terra Nova, you'd ordered me out of my house. You'd wanted me to move across the compound and into the barracks."

Taylor nodded admiringly "That was a good lie – one that he'd want to believe. But did he believe you?"

"I was lucky...in a way. Sergeant Butcher was there to back me up. He told Lucas about all the...the..."fun" we'd had. He told him how...how much I enjoyed it. He said I shouldn't be detained...that I couldn't be used as leverage against you...because you didn't care what happened to me."

"Well, bless his illusions," said Taylor "because they got you away from Lucas. But he was wrong, Leilani...I do care about you."

And softly, carefully, he tightened his arms around her.

###

She didn't wake up until early afternoon, the next day.

It had been the first decent sleep she'd had in days.

Leilani stretched and yawned, rolling over to face the window. Her dress had twisted a little, bunching and folding beneath her. She absent-absentmindedly lifted her hips, tugging at the fabric until it was smooth.

Of course Nathaniel was gone. She knew he would be. She had learned much from Alicia, so she understood the challenges that faced him, every single day. And now...now there was the rebuilding of Terra Nova. He would be in charge of that, too.

Yet...he had devoted several hours to her. He had lain chastely beside her, alert while she slept, watching for her nightmares.

She'd had at least two. During the worst she had fought and clawed, waking up with a scream, to find herself in the arms of Nathaniel.

"It's all right, Leilani," he had told her "I'm right here. Go back to sleep."

And she had. Finally...she'd felt safe enough to sleep.

Before Terra Nova, there had been only one man in her life...Evan Culpepper, who'd left her to marry the school district superintendent. She remembered how young she had been, when she first met him. He'd been dignified...he'd affected a pompous military bearing...although that bit of theater had fooled no one but her. She remembered the hastily-stifled jokes, the smirks, the pitying glances, whenever she entered the staff lunchroom. Strange to think about it, now...how she'd completely deceived herself. For far too many years. How had she ever dreamed that Evan was the man Nathaniel was? Was it wishful fantasy? Inexperience? Or was it just part of growing up?

But she knew better, now.

She would do what she could for Nathaniel...even if he never came back.

Because he was a man worth waiting for.

She got up, wandering out into her kitchen – she badly needed some tea.

It took her a moment, but she noticed something new...an addition to her counter.

She started the tea kettle and then went back to look. On her counter were half-a-dozen sprigs of laurel, arranged in a tall vase.

Sprigs of laurel were tokens of courtship, here in Terra Nova. Leaning against the vase was a hand-lettered note: "I'll be with you as soon as I can. I promise. Don't worry. N."

She would wait. Nathaniel – even before she had met him - had been the missing face in her life.

Leilani had some tea and cookies. Then she bound up her hair, changed into jeans and a shirt, and pulled on sturdy hiking boots.

Terra Nova was now her home. She would help it rebuild.

THE END