Author's Note: It's been a while since I updated. Have a short chapter and thanks for making it this far!

LXXXIV
Lull

Percy's attention appeared to be focused solely on the TV when Riane finally found him. She had heard various rumors from any number of soldiers as to what exactly Percy did when he wasn't in his office, which meant finding him proved to be a difficult task. Fortunately, it only took her about three hours before she finally decided to check the small and unfinished workout room on the base. Percy didn't strike her as much of a physical type. While it was true he was in good shape and kept himself as such, she couldn't picture him actually taking the time to work out.

Yet there he was, wearing only a pair of a gym shorts and a PT shirt covered in sweat, staring intently on the news. The reporter rambled on with so-called "experts" about the current blockade in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Two weeks – now almost three – and still not a single peep out of either side. She heard him sigh. Absentmindedly he padded the sweat off of his neck. She crept up behind him, her arms extended; she wasn't sure whether she was going to try and scare him or give him a back massage.

He caught sight of movement in the workout mirror just to his right, and from his peripheral vision he watched her approach. He purposely waited until she was mere inches from him before he greeted her.

"How are you, Miss McDermott?"

She froze, surprised to have been caught. Hesitantly, she allowed her hands to rest on his shoulders. "You must have eyes on the back of your head," she teased. There was no physical response from her touch, which also stunned her. He had always seemed so jumpy about everything.

"What can I help you with?"

His tone was even, neither overly concerned or annoyed but merely polite. His eyes were back on the TV, engrossed in the news. She remembered why she was looking for him. "I wanted to ask you something," she said.

He waited patiently for the question, but when more than ten seconds passed and nothing was said, he spoke, "That's to be expected, considering you're a journalist."

"It's about the last mission. The search and rescue operation for Wallace and the others. Why was that all you did, and nothing else? You didn't launch an attack on any installations; you didn't try to secure any VIPs – nothing. You just went after Wallace. Why?"

She waited for him to acknowledge the question. Her hands began to rub his shoulders to get his attention, and eventually traveled down his arms. They stopped and pulled away on instinct when they felt a nasty scar on his right arm. "Ankara, almost two years ago now. An ambush nearly took my arm off. But you weren't asking about that, were you?"

"Um, no. But I appreciate your openness. I think it means we're getting somewhere," she said. The last bit was whispered directly into his ear. Again, he showed no physical reaction to her closeness. It wasn't as though he was completely ignorant of her obvious flirting. He was an expert at ignoring things like that.

"Look at that," he said, his eyes still never once leaving the television. "The Navy is more together than ever before. It seemed as though it was falling apart from the inside just a month ago. Now that the nation's safety is at risk, they'll take orders even from a usurper. Our best chance to win this quickly is gone."

She took a seat next to him on the bench. His attention still did not leave the TV, although he could feel her arm stay on his back. "You sound defeated," she said.

"Hardly. I will win. It'll just be more difficult."

Silence settled. William had asked her to inquire about Percy's intentions involving the blockade, and she had overheard Conroy's rant about Freddie interrupting his morning. She was also very curious. Even she had assumed the best time to do some real damage was during this supposed international crisis. As the thought of her ex-husband crossed her mind she had involuntarily flinched. Percy felt the movement and finally turned to face her. Her one eye was near him, yet he still couldn't read any emotions off of her. What he did notice, however, was a small cut on her lip.

"Did you get hurt in Plattsmouth?" he asked.

At first, she was confused, but then the pain of her sore mouth returned. "Oh, that? No. Actually Plattsmouth was an easy ride compared to a few other things I've seen since I've come here. This is from last night. There was a fight at Tom's."

"Between the soldiers and some farmhands. I heard about it. I also heard that Captain de Wilde decide to save a civilian who was hurt over a soldier."

"You sound disappointed."

"My soldiers deserve the best, and they're always first."

"I don't think you realize that's exactly how General Ellis feels," she said. He was shocked enough he allowed himself to show it. "This war is being fought because of that mentality. General Ellis just wants the best for soldiers, and for them to always be first. But there are people out there like General Trotter or Major Cristello who refuse to believe that way. They believe that an individual doesn't deserve any special treatment for any reason at all. Everyone should be equal and free, because that is just."

"Is that how you feel? Is that why you're here in Union?"

She smiled at him and said, "I told you before, I'm here for the truth."

"And that's it?"

A moment of silence passed as she truly thought about the question. When she answered, he was listening. "I grew up sheltered on a big farm in the Midwest. When I went to college and met the Attaways, my world changed. I saw the way certain people live, how certain people have power because of their birth, and I felt that wasn't just. I want to fix that."

It was personal, and he could tell that just from the tone of her voice. If there was anything he considered himself good at, it was understanding a person's speaking habits and their body language. Still, the question she asked didn't seem to be a question for any article she was writing. He had to ask, "So, you told you to talk to me about the Plattsmouth mission? Was it the Attorney General or that buddy of his that followed him here?"

The way she flinched, it was clear she'd been caught. The only answer she could come up with was, "Does it matter?"

"No. Because I'm going to win this war regardless."

Across the room, Barton has long stopped his own workout to watch the interaction between Riane and Percy. The snappy Percy had calmed somewhat toward the snoopy journalist. Gone were the days of the snarling comments and they had been replaced with an uneasy peace. Percy hadn't grown to like her so much as he had grown aware of the fact he had to put up with her. At least, that was how Barton saw it.

"They make a cute couple."

Barton turned his head to see his wife Michele and their little rugrats approach. He grabbed his youngest and lifted her up while he spoke. "Yeah, I don't think that's a very good assessment of their relationship." His eyes were removed from his family to glance back at Percy and Riane; when he turned back, his two sons were playing with the weight equipment. One look at his wife and he figured a harsh question was about to be asked, so he started it off. "What is it?"

She was quiet for a moment, being careful to word her sentences properly. "I saw Derrick on the way here. He said we should probably leave –"

"That idiot."

"No, let me finish. He said he's afraid the military is going to issue a strike here. Richard, how true is that? How real is this war becoming?"

He had no qualms about being honest. In fact, he would have made it clear to her sooner if he had given himself the time. "It's very real already. And it's going to stay that way until we win it. I don't think the government is going to attack this town directly and definitely not anytime soon."

"Are you sure this is what you want?"

"I told you before; this is – without a doubt – what I want. It's more than that. It's what we need."

His eyes had found themselves back on Riane and Percy. Their conversation had seemed to drift away from politics for a moment, and both appeared relaxed. Michele saw his line of sight and asked, "And you worship him as a King?"

No hesitation. "I do. Not from the moment I met him, or even for a year after that. But I love him and I do worship him as a King."

"Francis Attaway is out there making speeches about liberty but you're fighting for a King?"

"Because he is just. He knows what's best. And he loves people. I've seen it in peaceful moments and in war time. That man a Godsend."

His eyes had grown distant as they peered back into a different time and different place. She knew this look, so she move next to him and place an arm around him. "What is it, honey?"

It wasn't until his daughter, still in his arms, reached up to touch his face that he was brought back to reality. "It's nothing. I'll tell you some other time, Michele. For now, let's go home. I just want you know that I love you, and I love our children. And I wouldn't do this if I didn't think it wasn't best for all of you."

She smiled, kissed him on the cheek and said, "I know."