STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright by Voyager Entertainment and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Huge shout-out to Annie and Eva, who gave me the courage to let strangers read my writing!


Chapter 6


May 13, 2202

How could I have been so selfish?  Carina spent another night staring at the ceiling.  Mark’s words, while not exactly harsh, had been strong enough to snap her out of the self-absorbed fog she had been in.  She had been using him.  He was right.  Sure, she was afraid and hurting right now, but Mark was, too.  Of course he was.  He had never done anything to hurt her.  He had only tried to help her, and she had treated him horribly for the past month.  Her best friend.  How could I have been so stupid?


Until yesterday, she could have probably apologized and promised to behave better going forward, and that would have been the end of it.  But now he probably hated her – she had behaved like a grade-A spoiled bitch.  She wouldn’t blame him if he never wanted to see her again.  He had tried to call her several times Wednesday night, but she had been too ashamed to answer.  She needed to pull herself together and figure out how to apologize before she could face him.


Thursday dawned grey and cloudy.  When the first rays of light shone dimly through her window, she sighed and dragged herself out of bed, pulling her hair back and dressing sluggishly, searching for clean things to wear.  It was going to be a rough day at the office – she couldn’t stay home because the colonel was away on business, but at least his absence meant she could shut her door until someone requested her assistance.


The thought sustained her as she powered up her computer and stared out her office window at the drizzle that was beginning to come down outside.  She jumped when she saw movement in the window’s reflection – it was too early for anyone else to be here.  Whirling around, she was surprised to see Mark standing in her doorway, his face partially obscured by a vase that contained an impossible number of wildflowers.  When he saw her, he lowered the vase and made an attempt at a smile, his expression nervous.  Carina’s stomach lurched uncomfortably, but she tried to smile back.  “Hi.”  It came out as a shaky whisper.


“I didn’t think you’d be in yet.”  His voice was equally quiet, which she found somehow reassuring.  After a few moments of awkward silence, he stepped forward and put the flowers on her desk.  “I was hoping to surprise you when you got to work.”


“They’re beautiful.  Thank you.”  Looking at the flowers gave her something to do other than stare at him.  She fussed with them.  “You shouldn’t have brought me anything, Mark.  I don’t deserve it.”


“I had to do something.  I was way out of line, Carina.  I’m so sorry.  So sorry.”


His voice, earnest and nervous, brought a lump to her throat.  She faced him again, willing her eyes to stay dry.  “You have nothing to be sorry for, Mark.  I’ve been horrible.  I hope you can forgive me.”


“Of course I can.”  He began to reach toward her, then dropped his hand.  “I know this isn’t easy for you, Carina.  Whatever you need – time, space, anything – take it.  I promised you we’d always be friends, no matter what, and I’ll be here whenever you’re ready for me.”


What did she need?  She needed his friendship, she knew that.  But even though she was less afraid today, the idea of more than friendship from him still frightened her.  She knew that, too.  She was so relieved that he wasn’t angry with her; still, she did need time to sort through the thoughts crowding her head.


“Give me a day or two?  Let me figure it out for myself, then we’ll talk, OK?  I can’t do it today.”


He looked disappointed.  “Sure.  Call me if there’s anything I can do.”


“Thank you, Mark.”  She could tell he didn’t want to go, but turned away from him.  She had too much to think about – his presence was disconcerting.


When he was halfway to the door, he spoke again.  “I’m going to request that a new secretary be assigned to my office.  You were right about Chrissie.  She’s a troublemaker.”


She met his eyes in the window and nodded.  “That’s probably a good idea.”


As he exited, he turned to her one more time.  “Carina—“


“Mark,” she interrupted gently, her back still to him, “I’ll talk to you later.”


He hesitated another moment until he saw her reflection give his a faint smile.  He returned it, nodded and left for his own office.  When he had gone, Carina shut her door, collapsed into her chair and finally allowed herself to cry.



It never failed – the days on which she wanted to be left alone the most were the days when the boys needed the most help.  Carina felt much better after seeing Mark, but all she wanted to do was sit and think, and she had very little time to do it during the day.  She decided to go to the gym before heading home – she would be able to think and also work off some of the tension lingering in her muscles.


The marine working the security desk gave her a strange look when she walked in.  She figured he either noticed her haggard appearance or noticed that she had come alone tonight – he had seen her here frequently enough when she was here with Mark.  She didn’t really care about his opinion on either subject, she thought as she changed and headed for the boxing ring.


Sparring with a robot “coach” was an exhausting workout that didn’t require much thought.  As she jabbed and blocked, Carina tried to sort out her emotions.  She loved Mark – of course she did.  She was beyond denying that.  The bigger question was whether she trusted him.  A month ago she had trusted him completely.  What had changed?


She knew, of course.  It was the support group she’d been attending.  How could she listen to those young women speak week after week and not be affected?  Her head was filled with their nightmarish stories.  But they were just stories, right?  Honestly, Mark had never given her any reason to doubt him in any capacity.  She trusted him with her life.  Did she trust him with her heart?


Yes, a voice coming from her heart told her.  It might take a little time for her to let go of her fear enough for that trust to reach the right level – maybe it wouldn’t happen tonight or tomorrow, but soon.  Her first step toward happiness, she decided, would be to drop the support group.  As long as she was regularly exposing herself to those terrible stories, she would never have peace of mind.  After she did that, and her relationship with Mark got back to normal, she would allow herself to let go and love him the way he deserved.  It was a frightening but thrilling prospect, and she felt a genuine smile cross her lips for the first time in weeks.


It was late when she finished showering and exited the locker room into the gym’s entrance hall, and her mind was still crowded enough with thoughts that she didn’t hear the door close and lock.  When she approached the exit she was surprised to see the marine who had been at the security desk earlier.  She walked past him with a muttered “Excuse me,” but he grabbed her arm.


“Where you going?  There’s no one else here.  Let’s have a little party.”


Fear rose in Carina’s throat.  “Let go of me.  What do you think you’re doing?”


“Come on.  I’ve seen you around here.  Had a fight with your boyfriend?  I can make you feel better.”


Trying to remember what her self-defense training had taught her to do in this situation, she struggled to wrench her arm away and raised her voice.  “Let go of me!  Now!”  But the marine was huge and easily overpowered her, pinning her arms behind her back and pushing her against the wall so she hit her head hard.  She saw stars but screamed for help.


He closed a brutal, crushing hand on her throat.  “You don’t want to do that.  There’s nobody around to hear you, anyway.  You stayed late tonight.”  She could barely breathe and began to panic, her heart racing.  He kept his hand on her throat and slammed her head against the wall again while his free hand tore open the front of her uniform shirt.  She smelled the booze on his breath and felt his hand groping roughly at her belly and chest, but her head hurt and she didn’t have the strength to fight him.  Deciding it was probably smarter not to fight anyway, she let her arms go limp and closed her eyes, offering up a prayer of supplication as he slobbered on her face and neck, fumbling with her belt.  She thought crazily that she was glad she’d worn pants today and not a skirt.


The marine’s hand continued to squeeze her throat, making her breath come in jerky gasps.  As she began to black out, a crashing sound registered vaguely in her brain.  It was followed by an angry cry, and she felt the marine being pulled away from her, knocking her head against the cement once more as he pushed her to the wall.  She opened her eyes to see what had happened.


Her vision was blurry, but her eyes were drawn to one thing.  Mark.  What was he doing here?  They were fighting.  He was fighting the marine and yelling something to…  Orion.  He was here, too.  Carina pulled her legs into the fetal position and covered her face with her hands, blocking out the fight.  Struggling to remain conscious, she pushed herself into the corner, trying to make herself as small as possible.  She rocked back and forth, moving her hands to her ears to drown out the sound.


When a hand touched her knee she pushed herself back into the wall, whimpering in panic, but the hand moved gently to her shoulder.  “Hey, hey, hey.  Shhhh – it’s me.”  A wave of relief washed over her as her eyes focused on Mark.  She looked around wildly and spotted the marine where he lay on the floor behind Mark, out cold.  “You don’t have to worry about him,” he said angrily.  “He’s not going to wake up any time soon.  Orion should be on his way with the MPs.”  He put his hand on her cheek and spoke more gently.  “Are you all right?  Do you think you can stand?”  She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out.  Instead she nodded and reached for him to help her up.  Her balance was shaky; she had to lean on him.


“That son of a bitch,” Mark growled.  “How badly did he hurt you?”  She put her hand on her throat to tell him she couldn’t speak.  His eyes widened when he looked at her neck.  “Oh – don’t try to talk.  I’ll take you to the hospital as soon as the guards get here.  Is your head all right?”


It hurt, and she was a little dizzy.  She shook her head but took a step back, trying to stand alone.  When she did, a blast of cool air reminded her that the front of her uniform was hanging open; she glanced down and blushed hotly at the realization that the one clean bra she’d been able to find that morning was also her one sexy bra.  Mark’s eyes followed hers; his cheeks turned pink, but to his credit he quickly pulled his eyes to her face and looked her in the eye.  “Here.”  He took off his pea coat, slid the sleeves over her arms and zipped it for her.


Surrounded by his warmth, by his scent, she suddenly knew she was safe.  It was over. Mark would protect her.  She began shaking uncontrollably, tears filling her eyes; the next thing she knew, his arms were wrapped tightly around her, stroking her back as he whispered soothing sounds in her ear.  “Shhhhh.  It’s all right – I’m here.  You’re safe now.”  She thought she had never felt anything as warm and comforting as his arms holding her while she cried into his shoulder, unaware that Orion had arrived with the MPs until Mark handed her over to him.  “I need to talk to them, but I’ll be right back.  I promise.”


Two of the MPs had handcuffed the marine and were taking him from the room.  Orion stood with her awkwardly while Mark talked to the remaining guard, who followed him back to Carina’s side a few seconds later.  “The guard is going to take us to the hospital,” Mark told her.  “I’ll give him a statement there while the doctor looks at you, and then you can talk to him.  OK, honey?”


The endearment made her feel like a little girl and brought fresh tears to her eyes.  She blinked them back and nodded at him, taking his arm for support.  The guard led them outside to his aircar, where he phoned ahead to the hospital.  Carina was relieved to hear Nova’s voice come over the speaker from the ER.  Mark squeezed her hand and leaned forward when the guard finished speaking.  The guard started the car as Mark spoke.  “Nova?”


“Mark?  What are you doing there?”


“It’s Carina, Nova.  She’s the one who was attacked.  Is Doctor Sane there?”


“Oh, no!  I think he’s still here.  If not, I’ll call him in.  Carina, are you all right?”


“She can’t really talk.  We’ll be there in a minute – will you be able to see her?”  He ran his hand up and down Carina’s back soothingly.


“Of course.  Come to the desk and ask for me.”


Mark sat back and pulled her to his side, and she felt her mind drifting off.


The next thing she knew, she was seated on an examining table wearing a paper robe.  Nova was giving her a quick once-over.  “Your neck looks pretty bad and those lumps on your head are nothing to sneeze at, but you can breathe OK, huh?  And you’re not dizzy anymore?”  Carina shook her head and watched as Nova moved to check her blood pressure.  “I don’t have to tell you how lucky you are that Mark went looking for you.  I’ve never seen him as angry as he was when he brought you in here.”  It was true – as gently as he was handling Carina, Mark was still visibly furious with the marine who had attacked her.  “Or as sweet as he was being with you,” she added.  “That man would do anything for you.”  Carina glared at her, but Nova was undeterred.  “You know it’s true.”


Fortunately, Dr. Sane entered the examination room at that moment.  He gave Carina a critical eye as he read Nova’s notes.  “From what I understand, you’re a very lucky lady, Carina. Venture and Orion had stayed late to do some training.  Venture spotted your car and went looking for you.  If he hadn’t already been so worried about you, he might have let it go.”


Carina hung her head in shame.  Mark was always looking out for her.  She didn’t deserve him.


The doctor looked in her eyes and down her throat, ran gentle fingers up and down her neck and checked the lumps on her head.


“You’re going to have to stay in bed for a day or two, but I don’t think there’s been any permanent damage.  These bruises on your neck are going to look pretty scary in the morning, and you’ll have some redness and swelling on your chest as well.  You don’t have a concussion, but you should use an ice pack on those lumps on your head.  I’m going to give you a sedative to help you sleep and an anti-inflammatory syrup for your throat that will allow you to talk, but you should try to keep that to a minimum as well.  Understand?”


She nodded, and Doctor Sane wrote on a prescription pad.  “Nova, run over to the pharmacy and pick these things up for me, will you?”


“Of course, doctor.”


While she was gone, the doctor applied an antiseptic spray to Carina’s scrapes, then left her to dress.  She washed her face as well as she could in the examining room’s small sink before opening the door for the doctor to come back in.  He returned with Nova, who gave Carina a dose of the syrup the doctor had ordered for her throat.  She wondered, not for the first time, why mankind could rebuild civilization over and over again but couldn’t make a pleasant-tasting medicine.  Still, the bitter liquid was effective.  It began to work right away – she could actually feel the swelling in her throat receding.


Nova took her arm and led her to another room, where the MPs were waiting to talk to her.  They passed Mark in the hall on his way to have Dr. Sane look at the injuries he’d sustained during the fight.  Carina reached her hand out as they crossed; he squeezed it and gave her an encouraging nod.


The MPs’ questions were brief.  They had two witnesses to the attack and only needed her to fill in the details of how she had come to be alone with the marine.  Satisfied for the moment, they let her go, reserving the right to talk to her again when she was feeling better.


Nova sat with her silently, holding her hand until the doctor finished examining Mark, who then took her arm and led her to his aircar, brought to the hospital by Orion.  Nova followed, giving him the instructions for Carina’s meds and promising to come by to check on her in the morning.  After helping her into the car and climbing in opposite her, Mark reached across and took her hand.  “I’ll get you settled before I go home.  If you need anything – anything at all – let me know, OK?”


There was something, although she hesitated to ask him for any sort of help after the argument they’d just had.  “Mark,” she croaked nervously, “do you think…  Would it be OK if I stay in your spare room tonight?”  He looked at her, surprised.  “I don’t want to be alone.”


“Sure.  Of course, honey.  We’ll stop at your place to get a change of clothes and then go, all right?”  She nodded at him gratefully and sat back, relaxing.  After a minute he turned to her again.  “You know what?  How about if I stay in your spare room instead?  You’ll sleep better if you’re in your own bed.”


It was what she’d really wanted; she hadn’t dared to ask him, but she was grateful for the offer.  Nodding shyly, she squeezed his hand.  “Thank you, Mark.”  He packed an overnight bag and they returned to her apartment.  Unsure of what she should do when they got there, she asked him if he wanted some tea.  He probably hadn’t had supper yet…


The offer made him smile.  “Why don’t you get ready for bed, and I’ll find something for both of us to eat.  You don’t mind me poking around your kitchen, do you?”


She shook her head and retreated to her room, where she closed all her curtains and checked in the closet and under the bed before slipping into her pajamas.  When Mark knocked on the door, she found him carrying a tray that held ice cream and chamomile tea.  “I figured this would be easiest on your throat.”  Tears came to her eyes again – he was so kind and thoughtful, despite the way she’d been treating him, and he made her feel so safe.  She sat on the bed with her back resting against a pillow, patting the mattress beside her to invite him to sit.  He placed the tray on her lap, fed her the sedative provided by Dr. Sane and swung his legs up.  She leaned toward him tentatively, wanting to tell him...  There was so much to say, but she didn’t know how.  She ate a few spoonfuls of ice cream while she tried to think of how to thank him.  Her head was already beginning to feel foggy from the pill.  “So…” she began haltingly.  “That marine…  He was huge, but you knocked him out.”  Looking up at him, she smiled weakly.  “Well done.”


He put his arm around her.  “I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry in my life,” he said grimly.  “The filthy bastard is lucky I didn’t kill him.” 


“Don’t say that.”


“I was torn apart when I saw him hurting you.  I almost lost control.”  As he drew her close she snuggled against him and sighed.  He made her feel so much better.  Or maybe it was the sedative.  Suddenly she was very tired.


“I’m sleepy.”  It came out much louder than she intended, and she sounded like she had a bad cold.


 “I’m sure you are.”  Mark kissed the top of her head.


“I am.  Plus my voice is weird.”  He gave her a squeeze.  They hadn’t sat together this way since he’d gotten back from Iscandar; it was nice.  “This is the first time we’ve snuggled up together since you came home in March.  I like it.”  She hadn’t meant to say that out loud.  “I’m saying everything I think.”


“Must be some pill Doctor Sane gave you.”  He sounded amused.


“Mmm hmm.  Do you need help finding anything in your room?”  Her speech was becoming slurred.


“I think I can find the bed, thanks.”


“Will you sit here until I fall asleep?”

“Of course, baby.”


Once more her eyes filled with tears.  “I love you, Mark.  I’m so sorry I’ve been so awful.  I’m sorry we had a fight.”  She thought of something else.  “And I’m not going back to that support group again.”


He was silent for a moment.  “I’m glad.  It wasn’t good for you.  I know you’re sorry, honey.  I’m sorry, too.”  He kissed her head again.  “And I love you, too.”


He didn’t understand.  She had to make him understand.  Struggling to stay focused, she reached up to wind her fingers in his hair, looking in his eyes, inches away.  “No – I mean it.  I really –“


“Shhh.”  He silenced her by putting a gentle finger over her mouth.  “Why don’t we talk about this when you’re feeling better?  Your head’s a little muddy right now.”


His breath was warm, enticing; she wanted to talk about it now.  She leaned into him, her hand sliding down over his chest.  “Mark…”


He gripped her hand and pushed her back with a choked laugh.  “You’re killing me, Carina.  But you’ll thank me in the morning.”  When she dissolved into tears, his expression changed from touched and amused to confused and frightened.  Pulling her back to his side, he stroked her hair comfortingly.  It was getting harder to keep her eyes open as she tried to listen to what he was telling her.  “Please don’t cry.  We’ll talk soon, I promise.  OK?”


“OK.”  She was disappointed, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it as her eyes drifted closed.



Mark didn’t sleep very well.  After Carina had fallen asleep he had tucked her under the covers and taken their dishes back to the kitchen.  He had retired to the guest bedroom and tried to read, but he couldn’t focus.  He turned on some music, which helped a little, but his brain wouldn’t shut down.  How was he supposed to sleep when the woman he loved was right on the other side of that wall, especially after her little display just now?  Besides, every time he closed his eyes he saw that – that animal – with his hands on her, and he became furious again.  What would have happened if he hadn’t checked on her?


The radio provided a degree of distraction, at least, so he left it playing as he tossed and turned.  He fell into a fitful sleep sometime after midnight but jolted awake about an hour later – Carina was crying out in her sleep.  Going to her might not be the best move, but he couldn’t stand listening to her.  With a sigh he climbed out of bed.  He made his way into her room, where he saw that she was thrashing as well as crying in her sleep.  Sitting beside her, he put his hand on her shoulder.  “Hey, it’s OK.  I’m here – I won’t let him hurt you again.”  She seemed to calm when he spoke to her, so he swung his feet onto the bed and ran his hand up and down her arm, murmuring.  “Shhhh.  It’s all right, love.  He’s gone.”


She stopped crying and opened her eyes.  She didn’t look completely awake, but when she saw him she took his hand and smiled weakly, pulling him toward her.  “Stay with me?  Just for a little while?”


For a minute he just stared at her.  He had no idea what he should do.  She was under the influence of a heavy-duty sleeping pill and he had no intention of taking advantage of her, obviously, but it didn’t seem she was going to make things easy for him.  He should go back to his own room, but if she needed him…  With a sigh he slid down and lay beside her, staying on top of the blankets.  She rolled over so her back was to him, holding his hand.  He kept his arm draped carefully over her waist and left as much space between them as he could.  Now he definitely wouldn’t sleep.  This girl had him wrapped so tightly around her little finger…  But, he admitted, he liked it.  Besides, if the situation were reversed, he knew she would be right here beside him taking care of him.  She was vulnerable, both from the attack and from the argument they’d had yesterday; now was the wrong time to bring up the subject, but as soon as they were past this he would clear the air with her once and for all, tell her how he felt.  Maybe next week when they were in the US training them on the fleet…


Against all odds he found himself drifting off.  He slept long enough to dream: he was alone in a bucolic area when he spotted Carina at a distance, wearing a light summer dress.  She approached him with a soft smile.  “You saved my life, Mark.”


“I would move the world for you.  You know that.”


“I know.  And I want to thank you.  I want to show you that I would move the world for you, too.”  As her arms slipped around his shoulders, he bent to kiss her.  She kissed him back hungrily, her hands sliding down and under his shirt.  He pulled her to the ground and rolled on top of her, his face buried in her neck, his hands exploring her body.




It took a moment for him to realize he was awake – his mouth was still nuzzled against her neck and the hand he had placed so carefully over her waist had slid up while he was dreaming and was now cupping her breast.  She was so warm curled up against him, felt so good, tasted so good…  But after a few seconds his head cleared; he remembered where he was and pulled his hand away as though he was touching a hot stove.  Of all the stupid…  What had made him think curling up with her would be anything but a bad idea?  He sat up and held his face in his hands, breathing deeply…  And why was he stuck with this damned sense of honor, anyway?  Here was the woman of his dreams, practically dragging him into her bed, and he was going to walk away.  Carina stirred and reached for him, whimpering; he grabbed her hand and held it firmly down, bending over to kiss her forehead.  “I’m going back to my own room, love.  I’ll be right there if you need me.  See you in the morning.”  She protested more as he stood uncomfortably, but he knew she’d be in a deep sleep again by the time he got out the door.


He stopped in the bathroom on the way back to his room, turned the cold water on full-blast in the sink and stuck his head under the stream.  It didn’t completely solve his problem, but it helped.  He glanced at the clock as he fell back into bed: 0354.  Well, he had to be up in a couple of hours, anyway.  If he stared at the ceiling until then, so be it.



He must have fallen asleep at some point; suddenly the rising sun was streaming through the window and the birds in the tree outside were singing.  Mark groaned and turned to look at the clock.  0536.  Might as well get up – he would make her breakfast before he went to work.  He wanted to be sure she woke up all right, anyway.


First, a shower.  Her linen closet was in the same spot as his, stocked with the same government-issue washcloths and towels.  He grabbed what he needed, picked up his shaving kit and entered the bathroom.  The image in the mirror was a little shocking: he had a black eye, a fat lip and a scratch across his neck.  He sighed as he lathered his face to shave.  Maybe cold compresses would bring down the swelling and make his injuries less obvious.


While he showered, Mark thought about what had happened with Carina last night.  He knew the sedative had affected her, but he thought – he couldn’t help hoping – that she had been expressing her true feelings.  He thought again about the trip to the US they were scheduled to take next week.  She couldn’t run away from him there.  She would have to listen to him, and then if she turned him down… he wouldn’t think about that.  He wouldn’t allow it – wouldn’t accept it this time unless she specifically told him she didn’t care for him the way he cared for her, and he couldn’t believe that was the case.


After he dressed, he turned on the tea kettle – she did love her tea – and looked around the kitchen.  With her bruised windpipe, toast probably wasn’t a good option for breakfast.  Oatmeal was awfully bland…  There were some eggs and cheese in the refrigerator – that was probably his best bet.  Scrambled eggs would be soft, but they’d have some flavor.


By the time her tea was ready, it was nearly 0615.  He would have to leave for work in about half an hour.  He set a pan for the eggs on the stove to warm and carried the tea to her room along with a bag of ice for her head, knocking on the half-open door before he entered.  She was awake, and as he walked in she slowly pushed herself into a sitting position, propping a pillow behind her back.  She looked rough; her throat was badly bruised, she had dark circles under her eyes and there were several scrapes and bruises on her face and chest, but she managed a shy smile for him as her eyes flitted over the marks on his face.  “Hi.”  It came out as a half-whisper, half-croak.  He looked around and found the anti-inflammatory syrup the doctor had given her on her dresser.


“Don’t try to talk without taking this first,” he said.  “You can’t afford to damage that voice.  It’s your meal ticket.”  She smiled and nodded, mouthing a “thank you” as he handed her the medicine and the tea.  He sat on the edge of the bed.  “I’ll bring you breakfast before I leave for work.  Are you feeling all right?”  She nodded again and looked in his eyes, her face full of gratitude and affection, plus something more that sent that familiar warmth coursing through him.  Her hair had fallen into her face; he reached out to brush it back but she shrank away from his hand, her expression suddenly frightened.  He stood up, confused.  “I’m sorry, I – sorry.  I’ll be back with your breakfast,” he said as he hurried from the room.


What just happened?  She had been fine, and then…  Was she embarrassed by the way she had acted last night?  He didn’t think so – it seemed more like she was afraid of him.  Surely she didn’t think he was going to hurt her?  He sighed.  He shouldn’t try to guess what was going through the mind of a woman the morning after she was assaulted.  As he loaded scrambled eggs onto a plate and turned back to her room, he resolved to be patient and not take it personally.  He wasn’t going to open that can of worms again.


She looked a little guilty when he walked in and handed her the plate.  He retreated to a safe distance, but she whispered, “Hey,” and tapped the bed beside her, indicating that she wanted him to sit.  He did, and she reached for his hand.  “I’m sorry,” she began, and although she was speaking softly, he could tell that she had taken a dose of her medicine while he was gone.  Her voice no longer sounded raw.  “I wasn’t flinching from you.  I was just…”


“It’s OK, love.  I understand.”


“No, Mark, listen.  I think I was in shock last night when you – when you saved me.”  She blushed and looked down for a second.  “It hadn’t really hit me what happened.  And then when I took that sedative the doc gave me, that sort of held the fear at bay.  But this morning, it’s…  I keep seeing that man coming at me, and there’s no way to escape.  Every time I close my eyes, he’s there pawing at me.”  She had pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them; her voice had gotten very soft and she was trembling slightly, tears brimming in her eyes.  “I don’t think I can stand to be touched right now.  By anyone.  Is that OK?”


He felt his rage at the marine building again, but he didn’t want to upset her.  He kept his voice soft and even.  “Of course it’s OK, honey.  Don’t be ridiculous.  I only wish there were some way for me to make you feel better.” 


“You do make me feel better.  You always do.”  She took his hand again and looked at him intently.  “Mark, I want you to know how much your help meant to me last night.  My head may not have been clear, but I remember everything you did.  I know you sat with me until I fell asleep; I know you didn’t let me make a fool of myself when my mouth was running off from the drugs; I know you came in here in the middle of the night to hold me when I was having bad dreams.”  She put her free hand on top of his, blushing but still looking him in the eye.  “I also know you went back to your own bed when things got a little… awkward… and you didn’t have to do that.”  She began to cry.  His heart thudded in his chest – it was so hard not to reach over and brush the tears from her face.  “I hope you never feel like I take you for granted, or like I don’t appreciate you.  Because I do.  So much.  Maybe I’ve never told you…”


As she broke down completely he inched closer and pressed his lips to her palm.  “Shhhh, love.  I know.  You don’t have to say it.  Let’s forget all about that fight we had, OK?  We’ve both apologized – it’s over.”  He held her hand to his cheek and spoke gently but firmly.  “Now you eat your breakfast before it gets cold and get some rest.  Take another sedative.  I wish I could stay with you, but I have to go to work.  I’ll try to get out early, and I’ll bring you something for supper.”


She sniffled and nodded.  “Thank you, Mark.  I’m sorry – you really don’t have to do so much for me.”


“Of course I do,” he teased.  “Who else would make me blueberry muffins every other week?”  That made her smile.  He stood but didn’t let go of her hand.  “I do have to go.  I’ll ask Dr. Sane to check on you later with Nova, too, OK?”


“Thanks.  Sorry I keep crying.”


“Honey, you were assaulted last night and then given a powerful narcotic.  Stop apologizing for being emotional.”  He kissed her hand again and squeezed it before releasing it.  “I’ll see you tonight.”


He left her regretfully, wondering at the difference 24 hours had made.