To be consoled, to confess, or to find comfort, you only need one person to listen who will not judge you.

 

Consolation... Confession... Comfort

By:  M. J. Cogburn and C. E. Krawiec

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Vaughn led Johanna, now leaning against him for support, to the isolation room, closing and locking the door.

 

Talking was out of the question, both too severely emotionally and physically drained to waste energy with words.  Instead, Vaughn helped Johanna to her bed, drawing back the covers then removing her boots before helping her to stretch out.  Then he removed his own boots and carefully joined her on the bed and took her into his arms, cradling her against his heart.

 

Throughout the daily routine of his complex in all its variety of situations and problems, Lothos kept an eye on the two emotionally exhausted leapers, both of whom had paid a high price to help him achieve his ultimate goal.  He noted that they simply lay silent, clinging to each other, sometimes one or the other crying and being comforted by the other.  He had two trays of food sent to the room in the evening; both trays were returned untouched.  Not until near midnight did either leaper fall asleep, each dragged down by exhaustion.

 

As he watched them sleep, Lothos had already begun to determine what their first assignment would be.

 

 

PART ONE

 

Johanna Royden opened her eyes and once again the pain of what she had done just the previous day hit her smack in the middle of her stomach.  Even though she felt Vaughn's arms around her, she roughly pushed away from him and tumbled out of the bed only to rush toward the restroom.  She barely made it to the toilet.  She emptied her stomach... whatever was in it since she hadn't eaten anything since the other morning... then clung to the toilet for a moment only for it's coolness. 

 

She slowly pulled herself away from it and rid the toilet of the acid then went to wash her face.  She brushed her teeth then moved back into her room where Vaughn sat up in the bed, his head in his hands.  She reviewed the day shed had yesterday after the competition was completed and she remembered how they had comforted each other.  No words spoken... just by being near to the other, holding... and it was then that she also remembered how Vaughn had cried.  Whatever hed had to do to win had to have been just as catastrophic.

 

Slowly, she made her way over to him and eased down onto the bed beside him.  She reached up and put her hand on his and he lowered his hands, his cheeks once again stained from tears.  Johanna didn't know what to say as she gazed into his eyes as her own emotions began to play havoc on her.  Seeing a grown man cry... something was tearing his heart out... and that something had been Lothos.

 

She licked at her lips and suddenly the words just blurted out of her mouth.  "I don't know what you had to do to win, Vaughn... and you don't have to tell me, but... I killed Melissa Underwood -- my best friend.  I should have just taken a lower rank.  At least she would still be here.  I..."  Johanna's emotions took over as she blatantly admitted her sin.  "I... didn't... have... the guts.... to..."  Johanna's speaking broke up as she began to hiccup from her sobs.  "... kill q-qui-ckly." 

 

Johanna's head tipped so close to her chest.  She felt so horrible and the pain ripped through her.  She reached up and slapped her shoulder only to bring more pain onto herself.  "I... should... b-be... d-dead.  N-not her. 

She looked back up at Vaughn.  "If... you... don't want me... around... even your... observer.. I... I don't blame you."

 

The comfort of the dreamless sleep of the exhausted ended when something pushed against Vaughn's chest, and he opened his eyes, blinking slowly.  The sound he heard off to his right was familiar and he focused his sleep-fuzzy mind on it...and then he recognized it.  He also realized that it was Johanna making those sounds.  He didn't make a move until he heard the toilet flush followed by the sound of water running in the sink; then he slowly sat up then swung his legs over the side of the bed and nothing more.  He couldn't do more; the far too clear memory of the day before rose up before his mind's eye and refused to let him see or think about anything else.

 

"Dessie," he whispered, his voice breaking as he put his face in his hands again and tried not to cry.  He cried anyway.  Even when he felt Johanna sit down beside him, Vaughn didn't want to look up at her....at anything.  Only when he felt her hand on his, remembering in that moment the devastation he had seen in her eyes when she had returned to the lecture hall after completing her final challenge, did he lift his head to look at her.  Trying to hide his tears didnt occur to him as he gazed at her, seeing the raw pain still in those dark brown eyes.  Johanna's sobbed confession, gasped out as if the words were being torn from her heart, only served to magnify his own pain as he listened without interrupting.

 

When at last she finished, Vaughn just looked at Johanna Royden as she wept for the friend she had killed and now...only now...beginning to feel the weight of that burden she'd bear the rest of her life.  He wouldn't let her think what she was thinking about their situation.

 

"I can...say the same," he began, his voice fading as he choked up, fresh tears beginning to track down his face as he watched her.  When Johanna's dark eyes fixed on him, Vaughn tried to swallow the lump in his throat, failed, tried again, failed again then spoke over it.

 

"I wish to God it was me...." The words evoked again the picture of the light of life fading from his sister's eyes and he forced himself to keep talking.  Reaching to take one of her hands in his, Vaughn whispered in a low, hoarse voice, "I'm sorry you...lost your friend.  I....I lost my best f..friend, too.  But...." a sob caught in his throat and the leaper's eyes began to burn hotter as his pain increased. "She was more... Dessie w..was...she was my sister.  Oh God!" he sobbed, breaking down yet again, dropping Johanna's hand to hide his face in his hands as he wept.  "Dessie....I...I'm so...sorry. I'm so...s..sorry!"

 

As soon as he had confessed of who it was, Johanna's stomach dropped yet again.  Tears that she had felt for herself... vanished.  They weren't for her friend anymore... but for Vaughn and his sister.

 

Moving closer to him, she slid her arms around his torso and held him.  She felt his arms slide around her as well, and the way that they clasped to on another was mind numbing.

 

"Ohhh, Vaughn," she whispered softly as she held him.  "Forgive me..." she said as she felt his head turn in toward her neck, his tears falling on her skin.

 

*You bitch,* her conscious rang out at her.  *So you killed your friend... his was personal... a family member... someone who loves you unconditionally... and you're weeping over it... grow up!*

 

'But... she was a part of my family,' Johanna answered back.

 

*No!  You knew Danessa... she even helped you to work out... remember... that bubbly thing that was just a helpful Hannah?  That's who he....*

 

'Ohhh god...' Johanna thought to herself. 

 

She felt Vaughn move back from her at her previous words to him and she tilted her head slightly.  "I knew Danessa... if I had known what the competition was like... I never would have put her at risk.  Anyone... I..."  Johanna closed her eyes and it was feeling something on her lips that made her open her eyes in surprise.

 

"No," Vaughn whispered, putting a finger against Johanna's lips at her words.  When she opened her eyes, the look in them one of surprise at his action, he shook his head.  "It wasn't your fault," he told her softly, trying to keep his voice steady.  "Dessie...Danessa's death was my fault...alone."  He shook his head at her, pressing his finger more firmly against her full lips, determined to finish.  "I.. I don't know...don't need to know who you had to...choose amongst, but we each had the option to do...nothing." He paused, watched her closely then slowly removed his finger from her lips then ran that hand through his hair as he went on.  "We knew what we were doing...we both wanted that...position," he spoke the word as if it left an indelibly horrid taste in his mouth.  "And we made our choices.  We each have our own guilt to bear, but....if..." he laughed mirthlessly, bitterly at what he said next.  "If I could turn back time....if I could have a second chance....I'd have let you win."

 

"But you didn't." Johanna said softly, no accusation, only crystal clear understanding and sympathy in her voice.

 

"No," he agreed quietly.  "I won....Lothos won...when Dessie died."  He paused and just listened to his thoughts for a couple of minutes.  There was no need to tell her...remind her of a fact they both knew.  Only Lothos could take their ranks from them. They also knew that only deliberate and flagrant defiance or sabotage would get them released from the work that was now theirs to do.  At last he closed his eyes and sighed a deep, quivering sigh before look at his partner again.  "Lothos won...and we....we go on.... serving him and doing what he wants done."

 

Vaughn didn't examine the 'why' when he turned to Johanna and put his arms around her.  Right now he didn't want to know why.  Right now, for this moment, he didn't want to know anything.  All he wanted was to be close to someone who understood his pain.

 

"Hold me," he whispered.  "Please...just hold me."

 

Johanna listened to him and knew that he was right about ... everything.  When he slid his arms around her once more, whispering for her to hold him, Johanna didn't have an option.  Her hands slid around his body, and held him close to her. 

 

She most definitely understood his pain... it was a part of her own and she turned her head toward his neck and she nestled her head on his shoulder.  She closed her eyes and felt his arms tighten around her slightly.  She opened her eyes slightly as the way that he held her was causing her shoulder to throb.  "Vaughn," she whispered his name intensely.  "My... shoulder..." she gasped slightly.

 

Vaughn clung to Johanna, finding comfort in her nearness.  It was the sound her calling his name, pain in her voice when she gasped, "my.... shoulder..." that got through to him.  Releasing her, forgetting about his own emotional pain, he released her, instantly focusing on his partner's injury.

 

"Johanna.... Im sorry," he said hurriedly as he saw her pained expression.  "Do you need to go to the infirmary?"  He stood up, facing her.  "We'll go now if....."  He didn't stop to think beyond what she said next, acting solely on the face value of the words.

 

"No. I...I need to get out of this thing," Johanna said, referring to her Fermi suit.

 

Without a word, Vaughn reached to draw her to her feet then turned her around and unzipped the garment.  He didn't ask if she needed further help, instead turning her to face him again and started to work the top down then grasped the end of each sleeve to tug them off.  He didn't think about anything except helping to alleviate some of his partner's pain.  The Vaughn of two days ago would have realized what this Vaughn didn't as he finished helping Johanna step out of the Fermi suit.  But he didn't, and proceeded to help her onto the bed, his only thought being her comfort as he drew the covers over her.

 

"Better?" he asked, for a brief moment guileless, as he looked down at Johanna, searching her tear-stained face, her dark eyes, only vaguely noticing how her long dark hair was fanned over the pillow.

 

 

PART TWO

 

Laying back on the bed, looking up at the man who had so kindly put her back into bed, she searched his eyes, seeing how he was treating her... trying to alleviate her pain.  Hearing his question, she blinked her eyes and shook her head.  She knew that his pain needed to be alleviated just as much as hers did and it had nothing to do with her shoulder.

 

When he bent down just a tad to look deeper into her eyes, she slightly patted the bed.  "Join me..." she whispered softly as she held out her hand toward him.  "Hold me..." 

 

Vaughn started to sit down on the bed and she shook her head then pointed to the Fermi suit that he still had on.  "Take it off... and come to me, Vaughn."

 

He just looked down at Johanna for a moment, wondering, for a moment uncertain, something others who knew him would have found unbelievable.  Not until he heard her say again, "Come to me, Vaughn," did he react.

 

"Johanna..." he began, but it was the way she was looking up at him that stilled his voice and the question.  It took less time for him to shed his clothes than it had for him to understand her invitation, then draw the covers back and carefully join her on the bed, turning without thought onto his side toward her, reaching for her.

 

Johanna turned slightly onto her right side and moved into Vaughn's embrace as he reached for him.  Inside the warmth of each others arms, Johanna closed her eyes and remembered how this handsome devil had tempted her just outside her room only a day or so ago.  She opened her eyes and saw his solid strong jaw and tilted her head slightly to press her lips against it then move a bit further up toward his ear to press her lips against him once more.  She then whispered softly, "I know that this... won't... help much."  She once more placed another small kiss under his ear then said, "Let me alleviate at least some of your pain, Vaughn."   She placed her lips once more beside his ear then whispered, "Please... let me help..."

 

The feel...and sight...of Johanna coming into his arms was something Vaughn had fantasized about since a couple of nights ago.  But now as he held her against him, one hand exploring the length of her naked back, from her shoulders to the firm curve of her bottom, Vaughn forgot, if not all, then the majority of that fantasy and began to accept what she was offering.

 

Turning his head slightly, he sighed at the touch of her full lips beneath his ear, his body responding to her whispered, "...let me help...." 

 

"No," he murmured a bit forcefully as he suddenly pressed her back on the pillow, lifting his head to look into her eyes.  "We'll help each other," he whispered then took her mouth.

 

For as tentative as the kiss began, it grew more intense.  So did his exploration of her body, his free hand caressing her side before moving to her breasts, fondling her roughly.  "Johanna..." he breathed her name when the kiss ended.  Anything else he might have been about to say was forgotten when he obeyed the urging of her hands as they urged him to her breasts.  He kissed the firm mounds, licked with maddening slowness between her breasts and then heard Johanna gasp his name, passion, not pain of any form, coloring her voice when he nipped her taut nipples.  His own desires were burning, and the feel of her hands in his hair as she pushed his head lower... he stopped thinking and just felt.

 

With deliberate slowness, Vaughn mapped the contours of Johanna's belly, flicking the tip of his tongue into her bellybutton, teasing, before continuing his journey to where they both wanted him to be.  As he moved inch by maddening inch closer to that place, he changed his position slightly, stroking the satiny length of first one of her inner thighs then the other.  The urge in his loins flared hotly when at last he dipped into her, the way Johanna arched her body then pressed against his touch telling him more than any words could.  Still....

 

"Talk to me...Johanna," he said softly between kisses that were getting closer and closer.... lower and lower....

 

Johanna was mindless and her voice caught in her throat as this man... her partner... Vaughn... kissed lower and lower, his hand exploring her body as he did so.  'Talk to you?!' her mind screamed out as he placed another kiss high on the inside of her thigh.  'You do more of that... and I don't think that I can talk,' her mind echoed.

 

"V-V-Vaughn," she managed his name out as his hand slid up her abdomen, caressed her breast then slid back down maddeningly down to her knee and inched back up her thigh.  "Ohh God..." she murmured. "You're... torturing me... or at least... t-trying to..."  She opened her eyes as her own hand slid down her chest, down her abdomen to run her hands through his hair. 

 

*Don't stop!* her conscious screamed out as one with her brain.  She moaned lowly in response as his hand came up to touch the even softer skin that they both wanted him to explore.  "Vaughn..." she called out to him, "... please..." she whimpered.

 

"Please...what?" he whispered to the whimpered plea but didn't wait for Johanna to answer him. Instead, he answered her as he inched closer.  The sound of her moan as he tasted her dusky flavor, the almost convulsive way she pressed up against him sent over the edge.  Suddenly, just the taste of Johanna wasn't enough, and Vaughn got to his knees and moved over her.

 

When he entered Johanna, Vaughn wasn't gentle; his taking her was as much want of her, as it was need.  "Ohhh," he groaned raggedly as he began to thrust deep and hard.

 

Johanna couldn't help herself when the escaped moan came deep from within.  She found herself in a cocoon of warmth and even as she wrapped her legs around Vaughn, making herself even more open to him, she gasped at how forceful and urgent his need seemed to be.  She could feel the power in him urging him on and she took a deep breath and with her hands on his shoulders, pushed on him, calling his name as she did so.

 

"Vaughn... Vaughn..."  It was only when his eyes came in contact with hers, that she moved her hands down the side of his back, down to his bottom and untwined her legs from him.  "Not... yet," she said softly even as she half-pushed him off of her.

 

Vaughn frowned slightly at her as he let her push him off.  He didn't comprehend it at the moment until she kneeled beside him on the bed and placed each hand beside his head on the pillow and leaned down and caught his lips with hers.  "My turn," she whispered against his lips then captured his lips before moving downward to his neck.  She found a small weakness under his ear when he moaned and let his hands roam down her side once more.

 

Even as she managed her way downward, kissing his pecs, tantalizing him, letting her hair sway from side to side as she went, she was a bit more surprised when he grabbed at her hair as her lips came in contact with his inner thigh.

 

It had been a while since any woman had taken his breath away with just the touch of her lips on his body. By the same token though, he had never come together with any woman under the circumstances that had brought him to this moment.  Vaughn's eyes had clouded with uncertainty when, just as he was so close, Johanna had pushed him off.  But understanding returned when he found himself on his back as she gave him the same exquisite kiss-by-kiss, lick-by-lick torture that he had inflicted on her. 

 

"Oh.... geezus!" he gasped, reaching down, tangling his hands in her long dark hair as her lips burned their mark on the tender flesh high on the inside of his thigh.  "Johanna..." he urged, now the one pleading.  "Do it.  Please...."

 

The groan that issued from his lips was as raw and visceral as it got, every nerve in his loins hypersensitive as he quivered at Johanna Royden's ministrations. 

 

 

PART THREE

 

Johanna was never one to not give her all in anything that she did.  She knew what pampering could do to any man... and this wasn't just any man laying before her... moaning at what her hands, tongue and mouth were doing.  This man... she would be putting his life on the line every the went into the Accelerator... this man... she would give in to anytime he damned well needed her... she knew.  And in the back of her mind, it didn't faze her one bit.

 

Johanna paused in her ministrations for a moment, feeling how Vaughn's hand tried to get her to lower her head back down, as her hands spread out and touched as high and low as she possibly could.  "You're in need, Vaughn," she whispered as she let her head lower slightly, her hair falling over his hips, teasingly.  "Talk to me..." she repeated what he had said earlier before looking down at him and running her tongue along his inner thigh.  "What is it... or rather... who... is it that you need?"

 

"Come on," he panted desperately, lifting his head off the pillow to look down the length of his body and into the passion-darkened brown eyes of his partner. "You...know..."  The way Johanna shook her head softly, the ends of her hair tantalizing his skin wherever it touched, was driving him, and he had no option not to go where she meant him to go.

 

His breath was coming in short, hard pants, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he admitted, "Oh...God... I... you.  I need you...Johanna."  Licking his lips, he stared at her, watched as she dipped her head down, his body jerking at the teasing touch.  This time when his eyes met hers, Vaughn didn't hesitate.  "I want you...Johanna.  I want you...now."  The ache in his loins was becoming unbearable and he tried to move, but she had him pinned in such a way that he couldn't get away from.  No...that wasn't it.  He didn't want to get away from her.  Not right now.  Perhaps.....

 

"I'm not going to last much longer," he half warned, half pleaded with her.  As if to persuade her, he stroked her hair with one hand, letting his fingers caress her cheek.  "Johanna...."

 

Feeling the caress and hearing the pleaded warning, Johanna raised her head and looked up at him before slowly inching her way up his body.  Seeing the look in his eye, she lightly bit at her bottom lip as she straddled his hips.  As she lowered herself toward him, she whispered, "Don't forget what you want or need, Vaughn."

 

She searched his eyes before and saw a flicker of something there before she eased down upon her partner.  He filled her completely and with a moan, she sat up and arched her back slightly before she began a stroke that she knew he'd like.  The guttural growl that erupted from Vaughn was enough to her satisfaction and she slowly quickened her rate of descent.

 

She closed her eyes and tilted her head back to the side and felt his hands on her hips, the moan... the way that he called out her name...  she knew that the time was close.  It was amazing in that next moment how flexible she became as Vaughn somehow turned her over onto her back, both of them still intertwined.  Johanna ran her fingernails down the length of his back and felt him shudder slightly.  "Vaughn... " she whispered his name once more as she ran her nails back up the way she came. His words startled her into a submissive action as she wrapped her legs around him once more, wanting more than just what he could give.  She wanted a lot more.

 

A man could take just so much teasing, no matter if it was meant as a form of comfort for him, and Vaughn had reached his limit when Johanna had straddled his body, whispering to him before sliding down on him.  He had even endured the teasing of watching her supple body rise and fall once...twice...three times before he couldn't stand anymore.  It didn't matter how good her intentions were; enough was enough.  Growling low in his throat, Vaughn grasped the soft tan flesh of Johanna's hips, tightened his grip and with an ease of practice with other women, rolled her onto her back, their union never broken.  To her whispering his name as she raked her fingernails down his back, Vaughn lay down on her, slipped his hands under her shoulders, grasping them tightly.

 

"Give it up," he growled against her ear, then began thrusting, hard, punishing strokes.  He heard her whisper...something as she wrapped her legs around him.  He didn't hear her clearly then forgot about it as he achieved his climax, groaning breathily.

 

Johanna felt herself lingering over a cataclysmic event and then going way past it in an orgasm that seemingly had no end at the same moment that Vaughn climaxed.  She grabbed at him, holding onto him tightly, not wanting to be released from his hold.  As long as he was there with her, she could live... she could... reality didn't exist... it was just them.  A man... a woman... and their want.

 

They lay in the same position for a long time before Vaughn pushed up from her.  Johanna's legs seemingly locked behind him and she peered up at him as the alarm clock rang.  Each glanced at the clock that read: 6:00, then looked back at each other.  Without a word spoken, Johanna reluctantly unlocked her legs and watched as Vaughn moved off of her.

 

Johanna saw how he turned his head to look at her, as if to say something and she moved quickly to get up from the bed and head toward the showers.  She didn't want to hear any excuse for not staying, and she most definitely didn't want to linger, waiting to see what he had to say.  If he really wanted to say anything, he'd have to come in while she was bathing.

 

The sex, for that's all it was, had done for Vaughn, in a small way, what his partner had meant for it to do.  Mixed and blended with the groans and undulations of their bodies, a tiny bit of his grief and guilt had been let go.  A very tiny bit, just enough that it perhaps he could begin to deal with it, though a lifetime wouldn't be long enough.

 

As the heat of his orgasm flared then faded, he had held Johanna, encouraging her with his hands and lips as he felt her body reach her own pinnacle and tumble into the abyss.  And then it was over but neither made a move to get up.  Quietly, their bodies still joined, the two leapers held each other...just held each other for some little time in the low light given off by the bedside light.  But even silent comfort has to end, and as if of one accord, both had looked at the glowing red numbers of the clock just as the numbers changed: 6:00 A.M.

 

Feeling Johanna unlock her legs, Vaughn moved off her to lay close by her side, but that lasted only a moment as she rose from the bed without a word and entered the bathroom.  He lay there, listening to the water in the shower come on.  Then as the faint scent of the soap Johanna was using reached him on a trail of the hot, steamy air from the bathroom, he knew it was over.  At least for the moment.  But more than that, Vaughn realized he wasn't ready for this encounter to be finished just yet. 

 

Standing from the bed, he paused to look down at the rumpled sheets, visualizing the still fresh mental picture of Johanna beneath him there.  It was that picture that sent him into the bathroom to open the shower door and step into the stall with her.

 

It was by unspoken agreement between the two leapers that though sensual, that's all it was going to be as they soaped each other, their hands gliding and smoothing the lather from head to toe.  They stood in each other's arms beneath the rainfall showerhead, the warm water rinsing the soap away.

 

By six forty both had dried off and dressed.  Vaughn helped Johanna get her boots on then watched her stand from the chair by the table.

 

"You ready?" he asked quietly.

 

"Yeah," she replied. But when he turned to go to the door, she caught his arm and he turned back to her.  He thought she was going to kiss him again but she didn't and he continued to the door, unlocking it and waiting for her to step out first.

 

The halls were already starting to bustle a bit as the first leaper training classes of the day began.  A few people spared them glances, some of them sly, others curious.  But neither Vaughn nor Johanna reacted to any of them as they made their way toward the elevator.  When the elevator arrived a couple of minutes later, Vaughn held the door for Johanna as she stepped in.  He shook his head when she asked if he was getting in.

 

"No, but you go to the infirmary and have them check your shoulder out," he said.  When pressed as to where he was going, he said soberly, "Unless Lothos summons me to Central Control, I'm going to see my parents."  Again he shook his head at her when she started to step out.  "Go on.  I'll see you around."

 

Inside, Johanna's heart hit the bottom of her stomach, but she in no way let it show on her face.  She licked her lips and nodded.  "See you, Vaughn." She let a fake smile appear on her face as she stepped back and let the elevator car close.  Only then did she press the button to go to the infirmary.

 

Even as the car descended one level down, Johanna's fake smile faded and she felt the weight of the world weighing down on her.  She couldn't even go to Melissa as she had in the past with any boy problems, and just that thought alone quickly brought tears to her eyes.  She blinked them away as the elevator door opened and she walked out into the infirmary.

 

Moving further into the room, she walked up to the nurses station and told them, "Last night, I had a procedure done on my shoulder to get me through the... a competition.  I need to see a doctor and perhaps have surgery.  It's..." Johanna blinked and frowned, her brow furrowing.  "It's been cauterized."  She blinked when she heard the nurse gasp and saw her hurry around the station to meet her.

 

"Is there anyone who could see me, now, please?" Johanna asked softly then leaned wearily against the desk.  She knew exactly why she felt weak, and now, it wasn't because of missing her friend... all she could feel at the moment was how his hands had glided over her body, cleaning her, teasing....  'Dammit,' she thought wearily.  'I've sold my soul to some one who doesn't want it.'  

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