tagLoving WivesS7: Jihad

S7: Jihad

byqhml1©

I died.

And it felt...comforting. I'd gone out looking into the face of the second woman I had ever truly loved, while the dead body of the first lay just feet away. Maybe I'd see her soon.

Then I felt a searing pain in my chest as an electric shock ripped through me, hearing someone yell "CLEAR!" as I got zapped yet again. I fell back as I heard someone say "We got rhythm! Good work, team."

Then I died again, floating in a sea of calm, without pain.

........

And then I was born again.

My eyes fluttered open, and it seemed like forever before they focused. The first thing I saw was Maddy, and damned if she wasn't crying again. Wondering if I was still laying in the wreckage of the attack, I tried to reach up and caress her cheek, but couldn't get my arm to move. I looked down, noticing the straps.

"Don't move honey. Not just yet. Welcome back. I've missed you terribly, my man."

She stood up, and I noticed her leaning on a cane. She saw my expression. "It's nothing, honey. Bastards blew out part of my hipbone. The doctors are going to replace it in a few months. Right now I'd rather worry about you."

It all came flooding back. I bucked against the restraints, and all kinds of bells and whistles went off. A male nurse stuck a needle in my IV, and I drifted off again.

I woke again, to feel Tatiana rubbing my cheek. When my eyes opened she jumped back, yelling in an excited voice "Mama! He's awake!"

Maddy came rushing in, Josef right behind her. She wasn't crying this time, and kissed me tenderly, before backing up and turning. "You see, children? I told you he would not leave us. You can hug him, if you do it gently."

Tati gently kissed my cheek, whispering, "Welcome back, Papa." Josef just took my hand and held it tightly, tears in his eyes.

A doctor came bustling in, followed by two nurses.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Major. I'm going to examine you, and when I'm done you can have dinner with your family. Maybe we can unhook you from a few appliances before I leave. We'll elevate you to a sitting position if you like."

I did indeed. I had a sinking feeling I'd been in this position for quite a while. And why the hell was he calling me Major?

He tested motor skills, hands and feet, and asked questions which I answered in a raspy voice. I had a hell of a sore throat. "I'm afraid your vocal cords sustained a little damage, sir, but the main reason you sound like this is the tube that was down your throat."

"How long?"

"Oh, a week or two. Then you'll sound almost normal."

"No, doctor. How long have I been out?"

He suddenly left, telling me my primary doctor would be there soon and explain everything. I looked at Maddy.

"How long have I been out, honey?"

She sent the kids out and hesitated before answering. "You were in bad shape, Pete. Your intestines were out, and you lost a few inches when they repaired it. You were shot through the left lung, and almost bled out into it. There were a few minor puncture wounds across your body that had to be attended to after they removed the shrapnel."

I knew there was more. "And?"

"And they had to rebuild your face. The impact when Jo hit you was massive. Your nose was broken, one cheekbone was crushed and the other cracked, you lost fourteen teeth, and your jaw was broken in three places."

She paused, gathering her thoughts. "There was no choice, honey. They had to totally rebuild your face. They did a lot while you were out, but there is a few more procedures you'll need to go through. You will look like a completely different person when they're done."

"Where am I?"

A tall man in his forties strode in. "You're in Scotland, Major Jones (the name they used instead of my own, for security, he explained. It was a military hospital, so there wasn't much chatter. The official story was of a returning officer who had gotten hit by a particularly nasty roadside bomb. Maddy had whispered the bare bones to me the first time we were alone.). You were brought here just after the incident, on orders from very high up the food chain. Some of the best trauma specialists in the world were flown in to treat you. Honestly, I don't see how you survived. Your face is pretty much bandaged up right now, and we need to leave them in place for just a few more days. If I deem you fit enough, we'll begin rehab then also. You've been stationary for a very long time, sir."

He looked down at his tablet. "Ninety-eight days to be be exact. We had to keep you sedated to treat you."

Ninety-eight days! I started to rise, and then realized I didn't have the strength. He patted my arm.

"I'm so sorry, but it was necessary. I'll leave it to your wife to fill you in on what's happened."

He held a quiet conversation with Maddy on the other side of the room, wished me good night, and left. Tati and Josef left with him.

.........

Three days later, as Maddy read to me, I stopped her, sighing. "All right, fill me in. How many people did I lose?"

She sniffled a bit before clearing her throat. I knew then it was going to be bad. "Well, you know about Jo. I'm so sorry she's gone. Even with what she did to you, she wasn't a bad person."

"Who else?"

The names came out of her like physical blows. "Teddy. Sherry. Every member of the team I had with you. Most of the SAS who were guarding Teddy and the rest of the group. Moshe was hurt but has made a full recovery. Ian and Trevor were both injured but will bear no lasting reminders. Jack was hit pretty hard trying to protect Polly and the baby. The baby never got a scratch. Polly got hit in the shoulder, but she will be fine. Fatima, your mother and ex mother in law came off with scrapes and bruises from the blast."

"Collateral damage?"

"Twenty three dead. Fifty one wounded, from the loss of limbs and sight to minor wounds."

I knew there was something she wasn't telling me.

"What is it, Maddy?"

The tears started. "Josh...Josh is gone, honey. He didn't feel a thing, if it's any comfort."

I sagged back against the pillow like I had been struck a physical blow. My son, dead? Tears slowly tracked down my cheek as I fought for control. It didn't help, and when Maddy held me to her breast, I wept like a heart broken child, because that was how I felt.

I'd never again see his lopsided grin when he thought he was getting away with something only to discover everyone knew because he was a terrible liar. I'd never get to see the children he and Celeste were going to have. They were all gone, and it was my fault. Poor Celeste, how she must hate me now!

.........

Three weeks later I stood and made my way from the bed to the bathroom, inordinately proud I could now pee standing up. That was about the extent of my accomplishments so far, but I was getting better every day. I was being released next week, to the cottage Maddy had rented. The kids couldn't wait.

I felt their unease the first few times we were together, and asked Maddy about it when we were alone.

"They're afraid of you honey. Afraid you'll reject them because of what their mother did. Afraid if you reject them that I'll reject them too. Please, please, please don't make me choose. They're as much to me now as they would be if I had given birth to them. I got really lucky, honey, a worn out spook who has a chance at a normal life, complete with kids and a man who loves her. I'm begging you not to take it away from all of us."

I looked at her for a few seconds as she shifted nervously.

"Kiss me."

She was startled. "What?"

"If you love me, kiss me."

I was still just barely able to move, so she leaned down intending to give me a loving kiss when I bit her lip. She flinched back, rubbing it. "Ow! Why did you do that?"

"Because I haven't got the strength to get out of this bed and paddle that ass. You are my woman, understand? MINE! Those kids love you heart and soul, you can see it in their eyes. They belong to you, as plain as day. And because of that, since you're mine, they're mine. Not just because of you, but because I've always been fond of them. They're great kids, honey, and I'll be proud to call them mine. Maybe this is God or Allah or Buddha or whoever giving me a chance to start over. A wife I love, kids I'm proud of, how could it get any better? Now I need you to do something. Go get them and bring them here, and leave us alone for a few minutes. Please."

The little speech had worn me out, so I sagged back into the pillow, about thirty seconds before her lips were all over mine. Damn, would she ever stop crying? Every time we were together she ended up in tears. When she recovered she went to the cottage and got them.

Shoving them into the room, she shut the door. They stood, plainly scared, and I asked them to come sit on the bed with me. They perched gingerly, ready to flee. I took Tati by the hand, motioning Josef closer.

"Kids, I never knew a finer man than your father. Strong in body and beliefs, he was a man of honor, loyal to his cause and his friends, and died defending both. I'm sure his last thoughts were of you and your mother."

I had their attention now, this wasn't going like they thought it would. Tati had unconsciously tightened her grip on my hand.

"Your mother was a good woman, lost and alone, grieving the loss of her husband, with children to provide for in an unstable environment. Sometimes, when you're hurting and vunerable, people can influence you in ways you can't understand. She was lost for a while, but in the end, it was her love for you that won through. She was shouting to warn you and running away so you wouldn't get hurt, even knowing she would die. So I need you to remember your parents as good, loving people."

"But they're gone. Part of my family are gone the same way, victims of an undeclared war. What's left is us. You guys. Maddy. Me. It would never be the same as it was, but I really think we belong to each other. I want to hold Maddy's hand someday, and point you out, maybe at your college graduation Josef, or when I give you away at your wedding even though I don't want to, Tati, and brag that you're ours, and you were the best kids parents could ever had. Will you let us have our dream?"

Tati screamed and threw herself on me, and as every nerve in my chest howled in pain I held her tightly while she sobbed. The scream brought Maddy charging into the room, and Josef grabbed hold like he was afraid if he let her go she would disappear. Maddy immediately started crying, again. The nurse looked in to see what was going on, smiled, and closed the door.

.........

It took another four days before I was allowed to leave the hospital. Even then, I had two follow up surgeries scheduled as soon as I was well enough.

They had repaired most of my face while I was out, and it was kind of creepy when they allowed me to look into a mirror the first time. They had taken any mirrors in my room out, so I had no idea until then what I looked like. My cheekbones were higher, and my jaw was shorter and much more square. The lump I'd had in my nose, courtesy of a line drive I'd missed as a teen, was now gone. Oddest of all, my hair was now white. The doctors said they had seen or heard instances where that had happened, and most agreed it was triggered by trauma and stress. Maddy was right, even I didn't recognize myself.

Since I had no mirror and my hands were considered too shaky, there was usually a cute volunteer around to shave me every morning, flirting and giggling.

Maddy walked in one morning and saw it and melted the poor girl with her most dangerous 'spook' stares. The next day she was there early, with a new razor and hot towels. It was an old fashioned straight razor, honed to a perfect edge.

She lovingly lathered me, then shaved me with short, precise strokes, letting it linger at the base of my throat for a second. "Mine," she said softly, before starting again. I got the message.

The second day in the cottage, with the kids in class (Someone had pulled strings, and they were day students at a very high end boarding school), I asked Maddy what else she wasn't telling me.

She sighed. "I was going to wait a few days, but if you're ready, I'll tell you everything."

I nodded, wanting to hear it all.

"First, the world thinks you're dead. The powers that be on both sides of the pond deemed it best. After all, the clip of you walking forward, screaming through the blood of your broken face, your intestines hanging out, only to fall from a gunshot wound, had everyone convinced there was no way you could survive. You were safer that way. I know you will want to see your children, but stop and think. With you dead, no one has any need to attack your family. You were buried beside Jo, in a closed casket because of your wounds."

Well, hell. Even alive I was dead, and while I desperately wanted to see the girls, it would be best to continue being dead, at least for now. "Did they send us off in style?"

"You can pull it up and watch it on the internet. There was a small, private service for family and friends, and then they moved it to the university football field, where you lay in state for four hours. The stadium was full, they estimated thirty thousand people came to see you off. Your friend the Dean did your eulogy, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house as he described you as a scholar, a teacher, and a solid family man. Jo was described as a loving mother and a successful businesswoman, and he broke down when he railed about the injustice of robbing Josh just as he was poised to enjoy life. There was a great shot pf your kids, Jack in full uniform, in a wheelchair, Polly with her arm in a sling. Jess and her husband holding your mother and Marie as they all wept. America was enraged, and demanded action."

"Wow. Anybody famous show up?"

"The Governor, and every area politician on the state and federal levels. The Vice President was there, giving a short speech after the service was over, vowing that the full weight of the government would be behind seeking justice for your deaths. I think he was actually sincere."

Well, it seems I went out in style. I asked about Teddy.

"The service was at Westminster Abby. The Queen attended, sitting with the family. His widow was one of her closest friends. Every royal family in Europe was represented. His many friends filled the place, and they installed loudspeakers and a few big screen televisions so people could watch the service from outside. Security was incredibly tight, there were literally hundreds in and out of uniform, forming a tight ring around the place. Our country was represented by the senior members of the consulate, and the Secretary of State. Turkey, Syria, Israel, sent representatives, as well as the Kurd separatists, all in homage to his effort to record the history of the region."

"Wow" seems to be my favorite word. "What about Sherry?"

"She was taken home and buried, in a private service, just family and a few of her closest friends. I went, even though I was in a wheelchair. I need to tell you, honey, her father and brother are two angry men right now. It's my guess there will be a steep price paid for the attack."

"How bad was Moshe hit?"

"He'll have a tough time flying from now on. He has a three inch plate of steel replacing the part of his skull that was pulverized. He also lost the sight of his left eye, and is almost deaf in that ear. He's doing well though, and Ruth fusses over him constantly. He'll be a professor again when his wounds heal enough, ancient Middle Eastern studies, and his classes are fought over by students already. His country has recognized his achievements, giving him awards, and activated his military pension, as a full colonel. He wore his new uniform to the awards ceremony."

For the first time my anger surged out. "Damn them. Please tell the countries did something about it."

"Oh, they did something. They put England on lockdown and got most of Europe to go along. They got the identity of the shooters, and the two remaining terrorists they captured sang like canaries, after a little persuading. The kind of persuading where you don't survive. Deportations, arrests, scandal that rocked four governments were the results. The ability to spread mayhem by certain factions has been greatly reduced."

There was something she wasn't telling me, but I could wait. She would know when it was time.

.......

My days were filled with pain, as my dormant muscles were awakened. I stuck to it, and just as soon as I was able to take care of myself and the children Maddy had her hip replaced. Then it was her turn to go through the hell of rehab.

While I recovered physically, I would have bouts of depression and irrational anger. They were worsened by the rigid control I maintained around the kids. I didn't under any circumstances want them to view me in anything but a favorable light. It made it that much worse when I was alone and could explode. I had a punching bag hung from a tree in the glen behind our cottage, and I would beat it until my hands bled, even under wrapping. I was nowhere near my old skill level, but I was remembering.

The highlight of that time was our wedding. As soon as Maddy could walk again, we tied the knot at the local church. We had slowly assimilated into village life, to the point where we would be greeted on the street, invited to teas, share a story of what the children of the village, our two included, had gotten in to. Everyone called me Major, and once at the pub I told them if I was the Major, then Maddy was the General. They started calling her that, teasingly, until she accepted it.

She was enjoying her new life immensely, immersed in the mundane of normalcy, driving the kids to dance class, both of them, because they had been exposed to the ballet and classical music by their father since birth. It made shy little Josef a big hit with the girls, and led to teasing from the boys. A few examples of the martial arts both Maddy and I had been teaching them paid off, and they accepted him for what he was. When it became evident the girls liked his dance moves, they even asked if he'd help them with a few tips. Of course Tati, who was developing into a very attractive young woman, was drafted to help. She brought in a few of her friends, and soon every Saturday was filled with dancing. The parents would sometimes come along, and we'd sit in the late evening sun and watch them and remember. Every once in a great while, if we'd had a pint or two, the old folks would take a turn, amusing the children no end.

It was during one of our rare, shuffling dances, that I whispered something in her ear that made her stop and burst into tears. The women old and young clustered to her instantly, shooting evil looks in my direction, until she explained why she was crying. Then the party really started.

Everyone thought we were already married, so she told them I'd just asked her to marry me again, a full ceremony in the local church, a chance to renew our vows. Only Maddy, the priest, and me knew it was a real wedding.

It was supposed to be a simple affair, but the whole village turned up, as well as all off duty staff at the hospital. Josef was my best man, and Tati was the lone bridesmaid. The ceremony was simple, but sweet and full of promise. We thought about writing our own vows, but decided the standard ones pretty much covered it all.

We even took a short honeymoon to the French coast, enjoying the nightlife. I was hesitant to go on the beach, until Maddy dragged me out one afternoon and dropped her robe, revealing the smallest one piece I'd ever seen. High on the hips, the bottom little more than a glorified thong, the neckline plunging until it looked like her nipples were going to pop out any minute. She was hotter than a lot of the younger women, even the topless ones, and I told her so, and how much I loved her.

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