They made a strange tableau: a hearty looking, broad-shouldered Keeter in one armchair, his feet propped up on the bed, a pale and rather dishevelled Mac sitting on the same bed, her body visibly tense, and not-a-hair-out-of-place Porter Webb seated in the other armchair, some distance away from the other two. Her pearls glistened, her legs were crossed and her heavy perfume slowly creeping across the room. The moment it hit Mac she realized she knew that scent. It used to cling to Webb from time to time, his suits had soaked it up. That was before though. Now the only thing he reeked of was alcohol. Bile almost rose up in her throat.

"You are not looking too good, my dear," Porter Webb broke the awkward silence as if she were a close family friend. She almost sounded concerned. Mac felt her eyes measuring her and she wanted nothing but to crawl under a blanket and away from the other woman's gaze.

"I missed my make-up appointment," Mac managed to utter, struggling to sound nonchalant. This woman she had only met once before and that meeting was nothing but lies. This woman had raised the man who... who...

"Perhaps you should see a doctor if you are feeling ill?" Poeter Webb suggested.

"Tell us what you have come to tell us," interrupted Keeter with a snort. "I'm sure both Mac and I are going to feel much better the moment you leave so don't drag it out."

Webb's icy stare did nothing to shake him, though his expression turned from flippant to serious. He did not like this woman whom he knew only by the word of mouth and an occasional glimpse at CIA social events. She reminded him of a snake, although he would bet no snake was as cold. He would be damned if he let her torment Mac a second longer than necessary.

"Yesterday night my son disappeared," Porter Webb finally said matter-of-factly. "He was... under supervision of two bodyguards to ensure he would start the treatment of his... problem, but he managed to wrestle the gun from one of them, shot him and left the house."

"What the actual fuck!" exploded Keeter and jumped to his feet. "What kind of amateurs did you hire? Is this how you operate? You were supposed to get him off the streets! That was the deal! It has been hardly a few days and you have already..."

"Stop yelling at me, Mr Keeter," she interrupted him harshly. It was fascinating, really, how her voice had not changed the volume or modulation, yet it held as much power and command as if she were shouting. "I realize more than well that the security I thought sufficient had failed and I will not make the same mistake again. At the same time, this is my son we are talking about and currently, he is God knows where doing God knows what and the Company is about to declare an open season on him."

Shadows. Mac could see them. They have suddenly sprung up from the corners and from below the hotel furniture. They were creeping toward her. Her vision was tunnelling. Keeter's booming and Webb's sharp tone sounded as if from afar. Him. Free. Out there somewhere again. Waiting. Watching. She could almost sense him getting near. Perhaps he was already there. In the lobby. Behind the door. Any second now and he would knock on the door.

Before her sanity could leave her completely, she did the only thing she knew would help. With all her might and a cry she grabbed a glass from the night table and threw it on the floor. But before she could step on the shards, Keeter's reflexes and quick thinking kicked in. In one swift motion, he kicked Mac's legs from under her and pushed her onto the mattress. She was not getting hurt on his watch. He then kicked away all of the shards and barked: "Get a grip, Marine! Nobody is coming for you just yet!"

So she did. When she had fallen on her back she almost had the wind knocked out of her. The shock had worked to snap her out of the starting panic attack. She repeated Jack's words to herself several times, taking deep breaths. Nobody is coming just yet. Nobody is coming just yet. Nobody is coming...

Eventually, she sat up again, slightly trembling but also more resolute. Get a grip. Get a grip. Get a grip...

Keeter was standing now, his eyebrows knitted together. Porter Webb, on the other hand, had remained perfectly still. Like a sphinx.

"I really do think you should visit a doctor, dear," she addressed Mac once more.

"What do you want from me?" asked Mac. Because that had to be it. This was not a polite social call and neither had Porter Webb any interest in bringing a mere warning. She was here to ask for something and Mac already knew she would not like whatever it turned out to be.

"Clever and observant. I can see why my son has such a fondness for you. Well," she paused for a second, "at least partly I can understand."

Fondness. The word felt like a slap.

"Whatever Clayton's failing, he is still my son," the other woman continued. "I will not have him hunted like an animal. He needs to be brought home, where he is going to receive treatment for his problem..."

"Yeah, we all know he is a junkie, you don't need to beat about the bush," interjected Keeter. The woman unsettled him and he was trying to mask it with sarcasm, but Porter Webb was already going on as if he had not been present at all.

"...and this time he will have proper security. However, I have some trouble locating him. Hence my visit to you."

"I don't know where he is," Mac shook her head. If she knew, if only she knew! She would grab her gun and shoot him. She would pack her meagre new belongings and flee. She would do something. She was so sick and tired of being so helpless, so powerless...

"I realize that. If I cannot find him, you certainly can't," the older woman admitted but did not seem disappointed in the least. "Still, you are instrumental in him returning safely - and most importantly voluntarily - home."

Perhaps it was because Keeter simply had more experience with the devious minds of the CIA or because his brain was not fogged by pink pills and his lower abdomen wasn't cramping cruelly that he knew even before it was explained.

"No bloody way," he said. This time Porter Webb acknowledged him with another cold stare.

"What?" asked Mac. "What is it?"

"She wants you to be some kind of bait, am I right?" Jack threw over his shoulder but never turned away from Webb's mother.

"No, Mr Keeter. Sarah is not going to be bait. She is going to come with me now and I am sure my son will find his way back home soon enough. She is then going to stay as an honoured guest with us to give my son support and motivation for his treatment."

The way she spoke... she couldn't possibly be serious, could she? She went on and on though, and with every word what had seemed bizarre took on a solid and monstrous form.

"Do not worry, my dear. You will be perfectly safe and very comfortable. My son only needs to know you are there for him. These past few weeks he had been suffering terribly and he needs some relief. Surely you can understand that as a mother I merely look for what is best for him. You do not need to stay once he recovers and realizes his behaviour was not what it should have been. At the same time, I can arrange for a psychologist for you. I am sure you too would benefit from some professional help and our manor is perfect for a recovering patient. Perhaps you two could even find your way back to each other. As a mother, I should be jealous of a woman who had made my son suffer as much as you have, but I am also a woman and I know sometimes we need time and men can get difficult."

Mac closed her eyes. The images Porter Webb was painting for her were flashing through her mind. They terrified her. Surely, this could not be real? Certainly, she could never ask this?

"Do you know..." Mac started slowly and quietly. "Do you know what your son did to me?"

"Yes, indeed, and I must assure you he regrets it very deeply. And I too can only apologize."

A burst of bitter laugh forced its way out of Mac's throat.

"You apologize and he regrets. Amazing. Incredible. Your precious son raped me. Don't flinch, Mrs Webb, to you it is just a word, isn't it? Perhaps you need more than one word to understand what that actually means? Well then, you can have it. Your son exploited my kindness, blackmailed me into submission, threatened my life and hurt me. Do you need details?"

Mac's voice was rising. Porter Webb looked uncomfortable and Keeter was suddenly wishing he was anywhere else. He did not want the details. But there was no stopping Mac anymore. She had talked about her rape. She had confided. But she had yet to scream it out in rage. The woman in her had cried and grieved and still needed healing and comfort. The Marine in her had finally, finally woke from unconsciousness.

Her rape was not an unfortunate incident.

Her rape was a crime against herself.

She was a victim.

But she was also a survivor.

She was a hero.

And she was done feeling the shame which was not hers.

It was Claton Webb's.

And she would rise out of its ashes like a phoenix, while those who had harmed her would be reduced to ashes themselves.

The words came out like a flood: "He was brutal and violent! He pushed me on the ground and ripped off my clothes! I can still hear that sound of fabric ripping! He stank of alcohol and something else, he had not washed for days. He stank! And he was sweating like a pig! He held me down and I almost passed out from the pain! He held me... he held me so firm and so... like... he had done it before! I know he had! Do you know? How many women had he raped? Were they girlfriends? Prostitutes? Or some women on a mission? Why should you care, right? He knew exactly how to hold me so that I could not defend myself! And it hurt! It hurt! He forced himself inside me! He violated me! Why do you close your eyes? You weren't there! You weren't the one with his dick inside of you and your insides burning!"

Jack Keeter felt a desire for murder flare up inside of him. And at the same time - pride. Yes, he was proud. He was so proud of Mac right at that moment! She was standing with her head held high, her eyes flaming, her skin flushed and her voice sharp and cold and loud. Gone was the fragile little daisy who would not even meet his eyes. He felt proud of her rage. She was returning to life. And Clayton Webb was a dead man. He didn't give a fuck about any CIA deals anymore.

Porter Webb grew deathly pale and somewhat small in her armchair, but Mac wasn't finished yet.

"I am not a toy you shake in front of your fucked-up baby boy and he comes running home! And I don't care if somebody takes him out or if he drugs himself to death! He is out of my life! Forever!"

"You are in a great way responsible for his current state!" Porter Webb finally found her voice. "I am not asking you to love him! I realize he had hurt you! But you have hurt him and he deserves that you right your wrongs!"

It was at that moment that Sarah Mackenzie realized something. What a thousand tender admonitions couldn't do, one cruel accusation did.

She was worth more. She deserves so much more. She was not responsible for anyone's choices and failings. She was done bearing the blame for the actions of others. The realization hit her like a freight train. She felt light-headed and... completely free. There was no need to suppress the gentle, loving Sarah because her fears were not real. She was not Mac the tough and sensible one or Sarah the fragile and vulnerable one. She was both. And it was OK to be both.

"Your son raped me," Mac said, suddenly calm and steady. "He deserves nothing but my contempt and that is exactly what he will get. Leave, please. Find your son. And you can both go to hell."

Keeter was bursting with pride. He would never admit to blinking away some traitorous tears. He could not make sense of the sudden quick pressure followed by a sharp pain in his shoulder and abdomen. Only when he heard Mac cry out, Porter Webb say "You are coming with me anyway" and his knees went from under him did he understand that he had been shot.


He hated silencers. Surely, he was not hurt that bad? Surely... he could... walk it off... Surely...