Regret -- the bitter pill you have to swallow to get past the guilt in order to keep on going.


Bitter Medicine

By:  M. J. Cogburn and C. E. Krawiec

 rate the episode

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.




The last thing in the world that Vaughn wanted to do was to go to his parents’ quarters and what surely waited for him there.  It would have been far easier to remain with Johanna, his partner; Johanna of the body that that so effortlessly and willingly fit itself to him.  Johanna, the woman who had held him in bleak hours of the day and the unending small hours of the night while he cried bitter tears for his sister and best friend who had been the final sacrifice to the 'god' that had been the goal he had wanted more than anything.  Too late the tall leaper with confidence to spare had paid the price for his goal.


Waiting by the elevator until the doors closed, taking Johanna to the medical level, Vaughn pushed the call button and waited for the next car to arrive.  The ride up to the family quarters level was accomplished in silence even though the car stopped a couple of times along the way to allow some to disembark and others to get on.  It hadn't mattered when some girl he knew huffed when he didn't recognize her immediately.  He barely spared her a bit of a glance as he finally stepped off the elevator and started down the broad hallway.  A couple of kids running ahead of their mother had to be sidestepped, but within a few moments, he was standing at his parents’ front door.


'God...I don't want to do this,' he thought.  But there was no way he could just not do it.  As he raised his hand t he swallowed then took a deep breath as he waited for the door to open.  When it did all he could say was, "Mom, I'm....."  It was all he got to say.


Vivian Rickar heard the knock at the door and moved toward it in a trance.  Ever since she'd found out from Lothos yesterday morning, that Danessa -- her baby girl -- had been killed, she didn't want to go on.  No mother should outlast her own children.  Period.


When she had demanded to know what had happened to her daughter, after the shock that she had received for her behavior, Lothos had told her that Danessa had been killed by her brother and that any questions about her death needed to be asked to Vaughn himself.


Her own son... killed... his sister.  Even as tears welled up in her eyes again at the thought of it, she put her hand on the doorknob and began to twist it open. 


Seeing Vaughn standing before her, and hearing him start to say something, she couldn't control herself.  Her palm came in contact with his cheek so hard that his head turned sideways and he stepped back with a slight sway. 


Hearing from behind her, "Vivian, let him in," she turned back around to look blankly at her husband, Neil, before shooting a thumb over her shoulder.  "He... k-killed my b-baby," she whispered then crumbled onto the floor in a heap.


Neil Rickar had felt his world shake beneath him when he'd gotten a hysterical call from his wife shortly after he'd arrived on duty.  The only words that his mind seized and held to were, "Neil! Danessa's dead!  She's been killed!  Vaughn killed Danessa!"  Not even the threat of physical reprimand could have deterred the shock-numbed man from dropping what he was doing and tear out of the office and get to his wife as fast as his feet would carry him.


By the time he'd reached their quarters, he heard her wails of grief as well as other feminine cries of grief before he reached the door.  Inside his front door, Vivian had fallen into his arms and it was only then that he allowed his own grief to begin to seep out.


It had been an exceedingly long and bleak day of mourning.  He and his family clung to each other.  He had been grateful to his son-in-law for being with them.  And the night had been a thousand years long.  Now he just stood at stared at his only son with the bleakest of expressions, barely noticing his wife's sobbing form on the floor between them.


"Why?" was all he could get out. 


Vaughn had heard his father's question as he stepped into their quarters and closed the door.  Telling him why, he blinked and cringed as his father let loose of both canons and blasted him. 


What he heard sent his emotions out of control.  "YOU MURDERED YOUR OWN SISTER FOR A GADDAMED POSITION?!  YOU HEARTLESS BASTARD!"


Vaughn's brow furrowed and he hung his head shamefully as tears came up.  He tried to blink them away.  "It was quick.  She felt no pain..."


The moment the words were out of his mouth, he wondered when his mother had become so agile.  She came up off the floor, and her hand came in contact again twice with his face before she shoved him up against the door.  She approached him once more and this time it was to thump him on the chest with the back of her hand.  “Congratula-tions, Vaughn.  Glad you got your damned position."  She slapped at his chest again and again as she continued to talk to him.  "How dare you take her away!  She was twenty-five!  She was going to be twenty-six next month for God's sake!" With both hands this time, she shoved him once more then threw up her hands and went to the couch to plop down on it.  "Damn you, Vaughn," she muttered.  "Damn you to hell."


Neil Rickar wasn't as forgiving as his wife.  As his distraught wife went to fall on the couch, cursing their son to hell just before her grieving turned loose her tears again, Neil advanced on his son, who just stood where he'd been backed, against the door.  Without a word, the older Rickar balled his fist and slammed it into his son's face, not once but twice.  Black fury laced heavily with his own grief for the 'baby girl' of his heart, though he loved all his daughters equally, and he felt nothing as he watched the blood running from his son's nose.


The longer he looked at the tall, handsome man that he had reared with a firm hand and certain standards, the less Neil wanted anything more to do with him.  In those moments, he remembered the afternoon his only son had been born and how proud he'd been.  Now the sight of the same son...the one who had doted on his youngest sister and had been closer to her than any of her other friends, and now, her murderer... sickened him.


Drawing himself up to his full height, Neil squared his shoulders and lifted his head, his gaze steely and cold as he met his son's gaze.


"Get out of my house, you murdering bastard.  And don't ever darken my door again."  He felt his rage roar up when Vaughn dared to take a step toward him, pleading, "Dad...."


"GET OUT OF HERE!" he screamed, his body shaking with the fierceness of his anger and grief.  "I HAVE NO SON!  GET OUT OR SO HELP ME TO HEAVEN, I'LL KILL YOU WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS.  GET OUT!!"


Vaughn couldn't believe what he was hearing.  He shook his head as he looked at his father seething at him, glanced at his mother who was sobbing on the couch.  "Mom..."


Receiving another punch from his father, this one in his abdomen, Vaughn coughed and bent over in pain from it but straightened up as he looked at his father once more. 




Vaughn felt his chin quiver as he came up to his full height and raised his head slightly.  "Then go ahead and kill me dad.  I deserve it.  Just go ahead and put me out of my own misery!" his voice rising as he spoke until he was yelling as well.  "YOU HEARD ME!  DO IT!"


When he felt his father grab at him, he closed his eyes and just hoped that whoever met him on the other side wouldn't tarry to take him where his mother confined him.  He was more surprised when he heard the door open and then he was shoved, jerked and then kicked out of the door.  He opened his eyes to glance back at his dad from where he was on the floor and raised a hand up toward him.  "Dad... please... don't..."


"DON'T COME HERE AGAIN!" Neil Rickar yelled at his son then slammed the door with every bit that was in him and went to his wife.  Once she was in his arms, they cradled each other, grieving not only for the loss of their daughter, but also for the loss of the son they had just given up on.





Vaughn lay there in the hallway, looking at the door marked Level 6 1153, and his ears still ringing with his father's condemnation.  And he felt nothing.  No emotion...not anger or sorrow or anything... was strong enough to pierce the numbing... but deserved... shock of being physically thrown out of the place that he had called home since he was old enough to understand the concept.  A small sound caught his attention and he looked up - right then left- and saw that two or three doors further along the hallway had opened and the occupants were gazing at him curiously.  Then, as if nothing had happened, the curious ones withdrew into their quarters and closed their doors.


Slowly Vaughn got to his feet.  For a moment he looked at the door again, wondering if he dared to try to talk with his parents again.  It was the muffled sound of his mother's sobbing that drove him away toward the elevators.  But as he reached it, he remembered Kate.  Turning aside, he headed down the southern hall and wended his way to the quarters she shared with her husband and two young daughters.


Before he knocked, Vaughn carefully wiped his nose on the sleeve of his uniform and then used his hands.  He didn't know how effective the wiping had eliminated the blood from his face but he didn't care.  Knocking twice, he waited.  By the sound of the somewhat heavy tread he heard, as well as the high pitch voice of six year old Kimmy shrieking, "Let me, Daddy, let me open the door."


The expression on Ted Hilburn's face nudged him to tell his oldest daughter, "Kim, go to your room. ... Now, Kimberly." 


Vaughn managed a semblance of a reassuring smile to the little girl who had said, upon seeing her uncle, "Hi, Unca Vaughn!"  He didn't say a word to the child when her father sent her back into the apartment.  Only when Ted Hilburn turned back to face him, holding the door semi-open, blocking any attempt by Vaughn to enter did Lothos' new Chief Leaper speak.  He didn't waste words.


"Ted. I need to talk to Kate...please."


Ted's eyes dropped as he glared at the man before him.  "Why?  So you can lie to her about what you did or why you killed Danessa?" he asked softly enough so that any small ears around couldn't hear him.  "Or is it to give you an opportunity to get another sister out of the picture?  Either way... you're not getting to see her.  Not if I have anything to say about it.”


Hearing a squeal of delight coming loudly from behind him, Ted turned to see his youngest daughter, Allison, come from around the hallway, calling out as she came, “Unca Vaughn!  Unca Vaughn!”  She giggled as she ran up to the door and was more than a bit upset when her father put down a hand to stop her from getting to her uncle.


“Allison, go to your room.  Now.  No… no.  Did you hear me?  Go.  Now.”


“You don’t have to do that,” Vaughn said to Ted even as he spoke to his daughter.  “I’m not going to hurt them.”


Ted turned to look at Vaughn heatedly then firmly took his youngest daughter by the shoulder and twirled her around toward the hallway and planted his hand on her bottom.  “Mind me,” he warned.  He watched as she sniffled and moved away with her thumb in her mouth, but her words cut through both men as she took her thumb out of her mouth and asked, “Where’s Detesta?  She posed to stay and play with us.  Daddy?” she sniffled once more.  “She said she be here today.  I want Detesta!” she cried out, her bottom lip pouching out as she ran to her bedroom.


Ted straightened up and met Vaughn’s gaze as a single tear fell down his cheek.  “You already hurt them, Vaughn, and your not getting the opportunity to do it again.”


“Ted… please… I need to talk to Kate.”


Katherine Rickar Hilburn came out of her room when she heard the crying of her daughter and turned to look at her husband to find out what was going on.  Seeing him standing at the door, it partially open and hearing the voice of her brother, immediate anger welled up in her features as she marched over to the door.  Grabbing her husband’s shoulder, she forcefully moved him so that she could stand where he was.  Meeting her brother’s gaze, hearing him call out her name softly, she repeated the same action as her mother had done when she saw her son.  Even though her hand hurt from the slap that she gave him, it wasn’t enough to calm her down and yet another slap followed in procession.


She set her jaw as she looked at the man before her and she shook her head.  “What do you want, Vaughn?  Another shot at murdering another sister?  Is that why you came to see me?”


Vaughn accepted that his family had every right to vent their anger and grief at him for what he'd done.  But had any of them for even the briefest instant considered how it was affecting him?  Kate's last words stung worse than the two prints of her hand on his face.


"That's not fair," he said evenly, even as another tear slipped down his cheek.


"Fair?  You want to talk about fair!?" Kate asked as she felt her husband's hand come up on her back to try to calm her and she jerked away from him.  "We came to you because Lothos called us down to find out about this path that you were choosing - for you to get a higher position as a leaper, right?"  She paused as she looked at him and saw him drop his eyes.  It was in that instant that Kate's face fell and a realization that she hadn't thought before dawned. 


"Ohhh my God," she said as she backed away from both men and put a hand out to find something to sit down on.  "A path... a choice.  You had to choose between us."  Immediate tears came into her eyes and Ted came to her side as she placed her hands on her abdomen.  A glanced up at Vaughn showed how her brother had fallen to his knees at the door, his head bowed in guilt and shame.


Kate sighed heavily with a sob then heard several feet come down the hallway, turned her head to see Kimmy and Ally standing there, concern etched on their faces. "Mommy?  Why you crying?" Kimmy asked quietly.


"Ted, take the girls to their room, please.  Vaughn and I need to finish here."


Ted Hilburn looked closely at his wife's grief stricken face for a moment, searched her eyes then finally nodded and stood up.  Moving past her, he went to the hallway door, holding his hands out to usher his small daughters ahead him back down the hall to their room.  Just before he followed them, he glanced back at Vaughn, his gaze lingering on the other man.  Shifting his attention to Kate he told her, "If you need me...."  Seeing her single small nod was answer enough.  Shooting one last look at his brother-in-law, Ted followed his children to their room, closing their door gently behind him.  As he had expected, he was instantly awash with a half dozen questions about their uncle as well as their mother.  Using the cover of their chatter, he said above them, "Who’s going to pick a book for me to read?  First one who finds a book gets to go first."


It was enough to send the two girls, one strawberry blonde, the other with long dark hair like the aunt she had asked about, scrambling to the small bookcase loaded with well worn storybooks.


"The Three Bears!" Allison cried out as she scampered to her father, the large, slim book clutched against her little body.


"No, me first!" Kimmy insisted, wiggling and wedging herself between her sister and their father. "Curious George."


As he worked out whose book would be read first, one daughter now sitting on either side of him on Kimmy's bed, he paused a moment to slip an arm around each girl and hug her close to himself.  Softly he kissed each child's head, making a silent vow to always protect his girls from men such as their uncle, a man he would now forever be watchful of around his and Kate's children. 


'And I'll be damned if my son is going to be named after him, either!'


"Once upon a time there were three bears who lived deep in the middle of a big forest...."




Kate sat on the couch and rubbed her face hard before she looked over at her brother.  Her voice was plain and stricken with sorrow.  "What do you want, Vaughn?"  Before he could even look up at her, she tilted her head to the side and said, "Let me guess.  You want us to forgive you."


The look in his eyes, even though the tears were flowing now, told her that yes, that was what he wanted.  Kate shook her head sadly for a moment then with her chin quivering she stood and went to the door, knelt down before her brother and looked at him.  She didn't try to console him or to touch him.


"I can't," she said softly as he met her eyes. 


"Kate...” Vaughn reached out toward her but she shook her head and slapped at his hand.


"It's too fresh, Vaughn.  I can't.  Not now."  Kate licked her lips and took in a slow deep breath as she tried to control her emotions.  It was the next words that were the hardest for her to say, even though she knew why he had done it... all of it... at least to her own reasoning.


"It's hard to say thank you for not leaving my children motherless, or for not killing the baby inside of me," she said softly, tears once more flowing down her cheeks.  "But..."


"Katie...Kate," Vaughn began to plead yet again, shaking his head slowly from side to side as he looked at her.  "Don't say it.  I...I had to choose.... Ahhh!" he gasped at the sudden sharp jolt of pain that radiated down his spine from a point at the base of his neck.  He had been warned.


Looking to his sister again, he saw her the startlement in her face at what had just happened to him. But he also saw that it hadn't affected whatever it was she had been about to say.  He couldn't let her say.  No, that wasn't right... he couldn't bear to hear her say it.


“Thank you.”  It was spoken softly enough for only him to hear.


Slowly, he unfolded himself and got to his feet and after a moment's hesitation, held out his hands to her.  "Let me help you up," he whispered softly.  It cut him to the quick when Kate ignored his offer and managed to get up on her own.


Brother and sister stood for several moments just looking into each other's eyes.  Both were looking back... back a hundred years to the day before yesterday.  Back to the time when nothing could have separated them.  Vaughn was the first to move, taking two steps backward into the hall.  He kept his eyes on his oldest sister as she reached for the door and began to close it in his face.


"Let me know when..." He nodded in response to her soft nod.  Then as the door was very quietly closed against him, he called to her, his voice aching. "If you ever need me."


For the first time in his life, Vaughn Rickar felt utterly alone and isolated in the underground complex that was home and work to nearly twenty-five hundred people. 


"I'm sorry, Kate," he whispered to the closed door then turned and walked slowly down the hallway.  Once in the elevator he reached to press one of the floor buttons; he didn't know which, he didn't care.  Then he did care, and reached to press the button for the first level.  He needed some air; all of a sudden the ambitious man for whom nothing was too much to sacrifice to attain his goal couldn't get enough air.


Not until he walked through the doors and breathed in the tang of the salt air scented with some flower fragrance, did Vaughn allow himself to feel.  But it was too much for him and he ran blindly down a path and then kept running through the gardens, tripping and getting up, running and running until he couldn't run any further.  He had no idea how far he had run when he tripped over a nub of a tree root and went sprawling yet again, but this time he didn't try to get up.  He laid there, his bitter tears of regret and remorse soaking into the ground with only a few sea birds soaring lazily through the bright blue sky to hear him cry.





Johanna listened vaguely as the nurse tsked and began to talk about finding someone who could see her at the moment.  She leaned against the desk and already knew that she couldn't talk to Quinton Sylvane or to Linda Finland since she knew that they had already found out about Melissa's death.  And if they had, they would know what happened to her... who did it... and they wouldn't be likely to forgive her.  She decided then and there that if she should see them that she'd try her best to blend in with the wall and pray that they didn't beat her into a bloody pulp.


Not paying attention to the blathering woman before her, she was shocked when she felt a touch on her elbow.  It was the nurse and Johanna refocused on her and listened. 


"Dr. Vanderweld will be able to see you in just a few minutes.  Come with me, dear." 


"Yes ma'am," Johanna said as she followed her and then entered an examination room.  She looked at the gown that the woman had handed to her and frowned.  She hated the infirmary gowns but nodded at the instructions and sat on the bed after changing into it.


Johanna put her elbows on her legs and then placed her head in her hands.  She was totally and completely expended – not just body and mind, but also heart, mind, and soul. 




Kevin Vanderweld was just coming on duty when Trudy Matthews stuck her head into the small doctors' lounge nearest the first nurses' station nearest the elevators.  To her, "We've got a walk-in," he asked what the problem was.  He paused as he slid his arms into his white lab coat when she said, "Were you on the other evening when Steven had to go to the training level to cauterize that leaper's shoulder?"




"It's the same one," Trudy told him.  "Guess whatever was going on is over with, and she needs more medical attention for her shoulder."


Kevin followed her back to the station then continued to the exam room she mentioned.  He knocked once, softly, before entering.  He was a bit surprised at the way she jumped when he touched her arm after calling her name.


"How long have you been there?" she asked him quietly a bit in shock that he was standing there looking at her his eyes full of concern.


"I just walked in," he answered.  Scanning her face before focusing on her shoulder injury, evident by a light bloodstain on the shoulder of the gown she was wearing, he asked, "Is everything okay?"  As she responded, he untied the strings at the back of the gown and pulled it down from her left shoulder.  "How did you do this?" he asked as he listened carefully and removed the bloodstained bandage to exam the wound.


Johanna explained how she had caused the injury to herself to help with a leap and how she had exacerbated the injury even further.  She then explained how Dr. Smith had come in and stitched it up, only having to come back to cauterize it for the final part of the competition.  She also told him how she'd not had any pain medication for the procedure. 


The look that he gave her was one mixed with shock and awe.  "I don't know medicine, Dr. Vanderweld, all I know is that it hurts like hell and I'm just asking for some relief right now," she said as tears came up in her eyes.  "If you can't help me, then I'll go get a hammer to knock myself out... or something until it heals," she finished as she looked up into his eyes pleadingly.


"You do that, you'll be in here a lot longer than it'll take to get you a shot of morphine," he answered thoughtfully as he resumed removing the stained bandage.  "As for this, it's just some minor seepage.  It's normal.  But I'll have the nurse give you a shot of antibiotics just to be careful about avoiding any possibility of infections.”


Summoning a nurse, the doctor made his request for a fresh dressing and two shots - one for pain and one of antibiotics.  Thirty minutes later, her shoulder re-bandaged and already starting to feel the effects of the morphine, Johanna accepted the nurse's aid in dressing.  She walked quietly with the nurse out of the exam room, listening to the instructions.  She looked up at the doctor when he admonished her firmly, "You get yourself to your quarters, get into bed and stay there for at least twenty-four hours, and that is an order, leaper or not."


Johanna blinked at the doctor's orders to her and shook her head slowly at him.  The morphine that was filling her senses, was making her a bit dizzy, and she most definitely wasn't feeling any pain in her shoulder now, but she somewhat understood what he was talking about, however, she couldn't stop herself from shaking her head at him.  "No, my g-good doctor," she said with a slight slur to her words from the medication.  She watched him as he tilted his head to the side and folded his arms across his chest.


She licked her lips and brought up a hand to hold up a finger and shook it at him and tutted at him.  "If Lothos calls," she said as she slowly blinked up at him, "I go.  There... is no... question or qualm," she said as her eyes rolled slightly as she closed her eyes.  She could feel the effects of the morphine so strong at the moment that all that she honestly wanted to do was to just lay down on the floor, curl up on her side and go to sleep - hard floor and all.  It would do.  "You should know by now..." she said softly as she opened her eyes once more as she looked at him, her head slightly tilted back to look at him.  "We all know -- right?" she asked as she swayed.


She didn't receive an answer from him but she did notice how he took several steps toward her as she felt a tear slide slowly down her cheek.  She licked her lips then said, "We all know who's... in charge... and how our choices... decide our own f-fate as well as others."


Hearing Dr. Vanderweld ask, "Johanna, let me walk you home, okay?" Johanna took a step back from him and shook her head a bit too hard to find herself staggering from the spinning sensation then said, "I... can make it."


But feeling his hand come up to her elbow, his arm snaking around the back of her body to help guide her, she took in a shaky breath and wanted to reject but decided against it.  She now wasn't sure if she could make it to her room or not... and she sure didn't want Lothos mad at her for not following Dr. Vanderweld's instructions either.


"Doctor V..." she called only his initial just to grab his attention then looked up into his light green eyes.  "Thank you.  You don't have to."


John Vanderweld had seen similar reactions to morphine in his career, and so wasn't surprised or annoyed by the leaper's reaction...especially since she was a leaper.  And judging by her last couple of sentences, he strongly suspected that emotions were as much involved as physical pain.


"I insist," the doctor replied patiently as he slipped an arm behind her waist and with the assistance of a nurse got Johanna to her quarters in short order.  He steadied the now visibly woozy young woman while Karen Miller turned down the bed.  Between them they got Johanna undressed to her underwear and put her to bed.  Not one of the drug-driven and sluggish attempts by her to push their hands away as the covers were tucked over her seemed to have any effect.


"Go...way," Johanna mumbled as she watched through a haze as the doctor with thinning blond hair straightened up. "I it."


"Maybe when you wake up tomorrow afternoon," the doctor told her patiently.  "For least the next few hours.... I'll have a nurse stop by to check on you."


He watched the injured leaper struggle to make her eyes focus, to stay open; then he watched her lose the fight.  John waited about two minutes before he ushered the nurse out ahead of him. In the hallway he gave her instructions to come back every two hours for the next four to check on Johanna.


As they returned to the infirmary, he mused aloud, "I wonder what's eating at her?"  But he was a lifetime resident of the complex and knew there were some things better not known. Period.


Back in the infirmary, he checked in and seeing there wasn't anyone waiting to see a doctor, John decided to catch up on some file notes on the Royden chart.  But he had barely sat down at the desk in the small office used by the physician on duty when he was startled by the sound of the doors into the emergency area being slammed open and people shouting.  Dropping the pen, John dashed out and down the short hall to the area now alive with the sound of nurses and residents in evident high gear, as well as the screams of agony from whoever the patient was.


"What's going on?" he demanded, rushing into the largest exam area.  His eyes told him the basic what, the who would come later, provided the man lived.


"He's Sean Fletcher," a woman in a blood-spattered Fermi suit said loudly from where she'd been shoved out of the way.  "Lothos pulled him back from an assignment."


"What happened?" Dr. Vanderweld demanded even more sharply as he got into the fray and energy of trying to staunch the blood from the gaping wound in the man's belly.


"He got distracted and the guy he was there to kill got his gun and shot him," Hillary James answered then licked her lips. "Is he going to make it?"


"Get out!" John barked at her.


"I'm staying until..."


"You'll get out, whoever you are, and you'll stay out of here or I'll have you sent for punishment for interfering with this man's care.  Now GET OUT!"


The petite woman with oriental features started to argue then turned and left the hive of scurrying doctors and nurses to care for her partner.  Outside of the exam room she looked around, made eye contact with the nurse at the intake desk then went further out into the main hallway near the elevators and began to pace.  She had made about six trips up and down the hall when the elevator chime sounded and she paused, half turning to see who would get off the elevator.  Recognizing the slow moving woman wearing an untied robe, she went to her, momentarily forgetting about her partner struggling for life.


"Johanna," she said, stepping in her colleague's path, and glancing her over.  "What are you doing here?  And what the hell happened to you?"


Johanna half-glanced around the entryway of the infirmary and seeing only blurry objects in the room.  When her sluggish eyes fell upon the woman who called her by name, Johanna looked at her and shook her head.  "W-what'd you care?" she asked hauntingly as she closed her eyes and the slowly opened them once more.  "W-why here?"


Julie Ling, a leaper with three years experience under her belt, momentarily forgot her worries for David, her partner, as she focused on Johanna Royden.  Watching the obviously drugged woman trying to see her, Julie vaguely recalled her from leaper training; she, herself, was on the verge of graduating to full leaper status three years before when the next class of recruits was getting started.  And she remembered this one, why, specifically, she didn't know.  But the face was familiar.  Even more telling to her was the glimpse of a bandage on Johanna's left shoulder revealed by the barely on robe. It was the leaper's response to her question, however, that made her move closer.


Reaching to gently take Johanna by the shoulders in an attempt to steady her, Julie tilted her head a bit to look more closely into those dark eyes.


"For one thing," she said patiently and enunciating each word carefully for the injured leaper's benefit. "Judging by the looks of you and that bandage..." she reached to lift the edge of the open robe to peer at the bandage. "I'm guessing one of the doctors loaded you up so you could rest and heal."  Waiting a moment for that to, hopefully filter down below whatever painkiller had her in its grip, Julie saw the haunted expression appear in Johanna's dark, sluggish eyes again.  The "W-why here?" made her wonder.


"Why are you here?" she repeated the question back to her, resuming her two-handed hold to keep the other woman from collapsing on the floor.  She shrugged her shoulders, replying, "I'm not sure.  Are you in pain?  Did you come to see a doctor?"


As a leaper, Julie had seen a lot in her three years as well as in training.  One thing that she, like all who sought out and were recruited into leaping, had learned to recognize early on was guilt.  It was a tool they all used in the course of their work.  And it was a heavy emotion that every leaper had to learn to deal with, personally, on an individual, day by day basis.  Right now Julie strongly suspected that the haunting quality in Johanna Royden's usually postive outlook was soaked and stained with personal guilt of sort.  With that in mind, she decided to test her suspicion.


Carefully she turned Johanna and slipped an arm behind her waist and began to lead her to a short row of chairs near the elevator.  "You want to talk about it?" she asked quietly.  "Sometimes it helps." The reaction she got didn't really surprise her.  What it did instead was to make her even more curious.


Johanna jerked out of the young woman's grip and sat down in the nearest chair and shook her head.  "It won't help to talk about it," she told the young leaper plainly.  "It's done, it's over and... and..." instant tears came into her eyes and she ducked her head even more ashamed at what she'd done.  "... and there's nothing I can do about it," Johanna slurred slightly.  "Should have known that I wouldn't win."


Johanna tilted her head up to the young woman sitting beside her and wondered why she had made it back down to the infirmary to begin with.  She had been in her bed, laying there and even succumbed to the medicine for a few moments, but the quick dream that came that turned nightmare woke her back up so suddenly that she barely managed to get out of bed and put on a robe before she found herself wandering the hallways of the project, leaning back and forth between walls to help hold her up.  She had somehow managed to get to the infirmary mainly hoping that she'd just pass out on the way there and that no dreams would come.


Johanna ran her hand through her hair and sniffed then swallowed and then even faster than she intended brought her hand up and hit her bandaged shoulder not once, but three times hard, bringing more pain onto her.  She shrunk at the pain and curled forward in her chair.  She felt the young woman's hands on her but she shook her head.  "I deserve what I get," she said plainly.


Julie reached to put a hand on Johanna's back to steady, the other's still vague comments not answering the real question: what had she done to reach this point?  But her question would go unanswered as Lothos spoke to them.


After a couple of decades of dealing with and handling the people in his complex, Lothos had seen, by his estimation, countless displays of the sort of guilt that his new Chief Observer was demonstrating.  And he handled it now as he always did.


"Ms. Ling," Lothos spoke clearly, watching the junior leaper straighten up immediately at the sound of his voice.  "Assist Leaper Royden back to her quarters and into bed.  Further, you will refrain from interfering in her personal problems," Lothos ordered, his tone one that was unmistakably a warning.


"Yes, Lothos," Julie responded instantly.  Turning to the figure stilled doubled over in pain, she reached to help her up.  Johanna, though hurting, nonetheless had enough strength to bat away the other woman's hands.  But her body as well as the morphine undermined her, giving the junior leaper opportunity to manage to get her up on her feet.  Once more, Julie put an arm behind her fellow leaper's waist and carefully drew her right arm over her own shoulder and started for the elevator.  Johanna began to try to struggle.


"Leaper Royden," Lothos spoke sharply.  "Stop resisting and allow Ms. Ling to do as I have instructed her."


He watched without further comment as the two women made their way back to where Johanna clearly didn't want to go:  back to her quarters and her bed and a silence that would invite the too fresh, too painful memories to come back to visit her.


Even as Julie and Johanna entered Johanna's quarters, Johanna looked at the bed and cringed.  She didn't want to lay back down on the bed any more than necessary.  It brought back the nightmares.  "Please..." Johanna said softly as they approached the bed and she reluctantly let Julie Ling assist her into it -- even pull the covers back over her.  Johanna reached out and caught the others arm before she turned.  "Please," she began again.  "Just... knock me out," she said softly to the leaper standing beside her.  "Just one solid punch... no... no more dreams," she said as her eyes closed from the drugs in her system.  "No... more... n-nightmares."


"Ms. Ling....leave Ms. Royden's quarters," Lothos spoke plainly, intentionally removing even the slightest possibility that the younger leaper might do as Johanna had begged her to do.


"I'm sorry," Julie said softly as she looked down into Johanna's eyes then straightened and walked out of her quarters without a single look back.  When the front door was closed, Lothos addressed the new Chief Observer.


"Deal with your guilt, Ms. Royden," he spoke in blunt, unsympathetic tones.  "There is no room in a Chief Observer for guilt.  It has a proven record of interfering with judgment and decision-making.  You have until the doctor informs me that you are sufficiently healed in which to sort out your guilt.  If you haven't, or can't, then you will be returned to your former rank, and I will test another for that position.  It is up to you.  Now, remain in your bed and rest.  That is my order."


As Lothos' words registered, Johanna knew that she had to get a grip on her guilt.  Number one, she couldn't let someone go through what she had to go through and number two, she couldn't let Melissa's death be trivialized.  Johanna blinked back a few tears and sniffled before she said, "Yes, Lothos."   It was only then that she succumbed to the rest that her body was demanding and let whatever wanted to come to her in her dreams... come.


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