Persistence of Memory
Written February 2002
Synopsis: Madeline develops amnesia, and Paul releases her until her condition improves. However, a new terrorist organization is determined to make her re-integration into Section as difficult as possible.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
He should have called while in flight to find out what was happening in Section, but Paul couldn’t tear his thoughts away from Madeline. She was amazing and so different than she was before the coma. Before, she had been detached and unwilling to love him, afraid it would make her vulnerable. And now…aside from her frequent blushes and deep shyness, she was warm and loving and didn’t care if her feelings made her vulnerable. He knew she loved him, he could see it in her eyes. And it didn’t seem possible–or fair–but he loved her more now than he did before. He was freer to express his emotions, and she returned his feelings with a matched intensity. The old Madeline would never let him say those three little words, concerned with regulations and Section policies, but now he found it difficult to contain them. All he had ever wanted to do was love her; now he had the chance.
Michael would never have contacted him and asked him to return to Section if it wasn’t important, and Paul wondered what could have happened. And since it was only a temporary return, it must have been some sort of status change somewhere along the ranks or in the terrorist community. Paul scoffed at his own word: community. Terrorists were hardly a community. It had been terrorists who had put Madeline in a coma, not an accident or a fall as she had assumed…
She rarely went on missions, but this one required a deeper understanding of the man in question, Jerome Gibson. Madeline had been studying Gibson’s psychological profile for over a year. He was the remaining leader of Dark Moon, a particularly sinister terrorist organization that spent much of its time bombing schools and churches, anything to make headlines. The other two leaders had been captured and executed by Section several months before, but Gibson seemed untouchable. He was the worst; he showed no mercy for anyone, innocent or guilty, friend or foe. Madeline once said that he had no conscience, but the shocking truth of that statement had yet to come to light.
While Madeline had been doing research on Gibson, Gibson had been doing research on Madeline. Although Section records were sealed, there was little stopping him from finding out about her life before she joined Section. He knew everything about her past, and once she went into the field to retrieve him, he used it to gain the upper hand.
His guards surprised her team, killing the other four members but keeping Madeline alive. He made several demands: money, Section’s Directory, the promise that Section would no longer pursue Dark Moon, and others. “We don’t negotiate,” Paul had boldly announced, while on the inside he was trembling with fear. Madeline was there; Gibson had made no effort to hide her presence as she stood behind him, secured by two guards. She had already been beaten, blood trickling from her nose, bruises on her face. But she looked at Paul, her eyes pleading that he hold his ground regardless of the consequences. He made the promise with a small nod, knowing that a second team would be closing in on her location within five minutes.
“You’re making a grave mistake.” Gibson’s words sounded very threatening over the speaker, and no one in Comm made a sound. A muscle twitched angrily in his jaw as his lips curled into a devious grin. In a flash of movement, he yelled out a war cry and swung at Madeline with a metallic bat, making contact with her stomach. She doubled over in pain, but the guards at her side held her upright. Another blow, and then another, and another.
“Wait!” Paul cried. The team would be there any moment; he needed to stall him long enough for them to arrive and secure the compound. Then Madeline would be safe. That was all that mattered. “Okay, we’ll negotiate.”
Gibson looked back at him with a burning, hateful glare, bringing the weapon up to his side like a batter anticipating a pitch. The large group of operatives in Comm drew in a breath, waiting for his next move.
The reply still echoed in his head: “Too late…”
With another forceful grunt, Gibson swung the bat, connecting with her skull. There was a loud crack, and the guards let Madeline crumple to the floor. Paul could not see her, only Gibson and his wild swinging, red blood on silver steel. He stood frozen, his eyes fixed on the screen. The terrible clanging of the bat, the gasps and sobs of the operatives behind him, all of the sounds faded out, and Paul became deaf to everything but the hollow pounding of his own heartbeat in his ears.
Gunfire from the second team snapped him out of his trance, but Gibson continued his attacks until two operatives literally pulled him away from Madeline, kicking and swinging. The bat clanked on the floor. Then the screen went to static.
Madeline was pronounced dead at the scene, but the doctor on the team managed to revive her–barely. Fear, panic, anxiety…Paul experienced them all. He was by her side the instant she was carried into Section on a stretcher. So much blood… Once Madeline’s condition had stabilized, there was nothing more he could do. The doctors made him leave, and he stood outside of Medical, the feelings of helplessness turning into rage and vengeance. Gibson would not get away with this. Fury consumed him as he stormed to the White Room, and when he saw the terrorist strapped to the chair, his deeper instincts took over.
Paul shut his eyes at the memory. He had killed many people before, even some in cold blood, but never so mercilessly and never with his bare hands. There had been no control…
The plane landed, sealing the thoughts that resurfaced in his mind. A limousine was waiting for him, and he spent the ride to Section taking a short, dreamless nap.
“Welcome back, sir.”
Michael’s greeting was meant respectfully, but Paul’s stomach turned. “What seems to be the problem?”
Michael walked alongside him to Comm. “Birkoff’s scans revealed an uprising of the HTL.”
“Are you sure? They’ve been dormant for the past six years, haven’t they?”
“Evidently, they’re merging with the remaining members of Dark Moon.”
He abruptly came to a halt and pivoted on one heel to face him. “What?”
Michael remained composed. “It could be retaliation for Gibson’s death last year, but it’s unlikely. The HTL sought them out.”
“For what purpose?”
There was no answer, so Paul continued walking, his face a stone mask. When the HTL was active, they were powerful enemies. They claimed twelve embassy bombings in six months and were responsible for over four thousand innocent deaths. If they were joining forces with one of the most frightening groups to date, Section would need a miracle to stop them.
Paul found himself immersed in work for the next three days, which was a blessing. It kept his mind off of Madeline. Images of her already consumed his dreams; it would be difficult to concentrate if she filled his waking thoughts as well. If she had been at Section, she would have offered useful insight into the HTL/Dark Moon merger, special wisdom that seemed to come from nowhere but made perfect sense. However, he was at the mercy of his new chief strategist, Lydia, which, ironically, was the same name as the heroine of ‘An Even Deeper Ecstasy.’ Perhaps even more disturbing was the name of her hero, Paul. Of all the odd twists of fate…
Lydia was good at her job, that much was certain, but she lacked the instinct that made Madeline such an expert. Everything had to be checked and double-checked before she submitted any profiles or mission plans. It wasn’t efficient enough for him; he needed quicker action, faster results. But what did he expect? Madeline had been with him for over fifteen years; Lydia was just teetering on eleven months.
On Wednesday, Paul found a few moments to call a florist and have a bouquet of red roses delivered to Madeline’s office. The gesture made him smile; he may not have had a lot of time to think about her, but he still missed her terribly.
“Birkoff, where do we stand on the Dark Moon intel?”
His head Comm analyst lifted his head. “We just received word. They’re definitely mobilizing.”
“All over. Asia, Europe, the Americas. I haven’t figured out where they’re meeting HTL because none of our ops have heard anything yet. When they do, I’ll let you know. When do you return to the field?”
“Friday night. Michael can handle things after I leave.” Hesitating slightly, he pulled up a nearby chair and sat next to Birkoff, lowering his voice. “How is he working out?”
Birkoff met his pitch. “Who, Michael?”
“I want your honest opinion on his leadership abilities.” Paul knew the young man was nervous; Birkoff immediately looked at his monitor. “Your loyalty isn’t being tested, I simply want to know what you think.”
“He’s fine,” Birkoff strained. “He doesn’t do things exactly the way you do, so it takes some adjusting, but he’s fine.”
He decided not to pry, rising to his feet. “Good. Thank you. I’ll be in my quarters, if anything changes.” He could hear Birkoff’s sigh of relief as he left Comm and headed to his room. It was nearing midnight where he was, and Madeline would probably be at home by now. Once safely inside his quarters, he dialed her number on his cell phone, a wide grin on his face.
She picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Hi, Madeline, how are you?”
There was a short pause, followed by a chuckle. “Paul? Is that you?”
“Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“No, of course not. What are you doing calling me? This must be costing you a fortune!”
He loosened his tie and sat on the edge of his bed. “Billed to the company. They’ll live.”
“Well, I’m…I’m glad to hear from you.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “I got your flowers today. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Did you like them?”
“They’re so beautiful. My secretary Jenny was almost as excited as I was when they arrived. Right now, they’re sitting on my desk at work.”
Her voice was soothing, warming every part of his body, draining the tension from his muscles. He yanked off his tie and laid on his back with a contented sigh. “I’m so glad I caught you at home. I’ve missed you.”
She made a small sound of satisfaction deep in her throat. “I’ve missed you, too. Lunch is very boring without you, but I did manage to finish ‘An Even Deeper Ecstasy.’ Have you read it? You’re the main character, you know, opposite the beautiful but chaste Lydia.”
“I haven’t had a chance to read any of them, but the flight back is longer than the flight here, so I’ll catch up then. Why don’t you read me your favorite passage?”
Madeline chuckled, and if he could see her, he was sure she would be bright red. “Paul! I can’t do that!”
“Why not? I just want to hear the sound of your voice. It’s midnight over here, and I could use a good bedtime story.” He pressed his lips together to suppress his laughter; he could just imagine the look on her face. “Madeline, I’m only–”
“Okay,” she agreed, and he almost didn’t believe his ears. “Let me get the book.”
He was too startled to object, laying motionless on the bed and waiting with wide eyes. Was she serious?
“All right, I’m back.” She even sounded like she was blushing. “Um, the background is that Paul is a private investigator assigned to protect Lydia, a reporter, after she receives some threatening letters. Anyway, this is just after they share their first kiss.” She took a shaky breath. “‘It was so wrong, but somehow it felt so right. His arms, his lips, his strong body…she still tingled from the contact. How was it possible? She had spent her whole life avoiding the instability that other people called love, but then he walked through her door and sent her world careening on its axis. She always kept her heart hidden behind a protective wall. So how, after just one kiss, one blissful moment of surrender, could she have fallen in love with him?'”
The words froze in his brain, and his pulse quickened. Was she hinting at something? She was bolder over the telephone, but was she bold enough to say that?
“Did you fall asleep?” she asked softly.
“Would you like me to read more?”
“‘Lydia stood in the center of the kitchen, trying to gain control of her emotions. If she didn’t, she knew that the next time she saw him she would be unable to fight back the passion that rose in her body. She would give herself to him completely, let him love her the way no man ever had. The touch of his hands would be like fire in her veins, then his lips would send shivers down her spine. Ice and flame, frost and fire, delicious combinations that would consume her and possess her. So she remained still, trying to hide the desire that was sparked by one intoxicating kiss from Paul Carter.'” Madeline paused. “Are you sleeping now?”
“You’re pretty quiet.”
“I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to last another two days without you.”
“I don’t know, but if you make it, I’ll cook you dinner on Saturday to celebrate your return.”
“How about seven-thirty?”
“I’ll be there at seven.”
She chuckled. “Okay. Hey, I’d better go. Cam’s on her way over; we’re going shopping.”
“All right. I’ll see you Saturday.”
He hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment. What would happen when Madeline regained her memory? Would she grow detached again, denying his affections? She once told him that the childhood accident involving her sister had made her the way she was, distant and closed off. What if he could help her through it when the memory returned? Would that change her personality, as it seemed to have done now that she didn’t remember it?
Paul crawled under the covers and turned off the light beside his bed. He didn’t want to think about the future; he wanted to live in the here and now, loving Madeline in ways he couldn’t before her coma, being in love with her. She was all that mattered to him. Sleep came for him, and he went willingly, a smile on his face.
End of part five