Name of Story: Absolution
Summary: Even the most unflappable person can be haunted by past actions.
Rating: PG (Minor swearing)
Category: Angst, Major Bonding. No action (Sorry, but I suck at action scenes.)
Disclaimer: I don't own TKR. Never have, never will. (Darn!) The show and its characters are owned by Universal Studios. I don't own the song "Friends Will Be Friends" by Queen either.
Feedback? Why of course! Writers live for it! Flames will be extinguished with Beast's handy-dandy fire extinguisher, but constructive criticism, encouragement and free rides in any of the vehicles will be kept close to my heart and cherished.
Archive: Sure, but let me know where.
Spoilers : 'Inside Traitor'
Timeline: Between 'The Return Of Megaman' and 'Angels In Chains'
Notes: I had the first idea to this story in April 2002. I even wrote one sentence back then, but that never made it into the finished version. I got back to it in September of the same year, when I went at it again and finished it in less than a week. Hope you'll like it. Enjoy!
This is the third time I try to update this, and I have no idea what I did wrong the first few times. A very big thank you to Christina for explaining the difference between "ex-Marine" and "former Marine". Being German, I had no idea about that. I apologize for any kind of offense I might have inadvertently given. As of this update, I corrected it.
By the way – If you're more comfortable with the German version, you can find it right here in the German language section.Absolution
Jenny Andrews sat in her chair in Sky One's situation room and looked at her teammates as they walked in. They all looked relaxed and happy. They had solved their last case with relative ease and now had two days to themselves before FLAG would give them their next assignment.
There was Kyle Stewart, the leader of TKR. As always, Jenny's heart skipped a beat when their gazes met. He had every reason to be proud of his team, and it showed in his eyes.
Duke DePalma, solid and dependable, took his seat and immediately started arguing with Attack Beast, his AI partner. Alanis Morissette again. Jenny couldn't help but chuckle. If Duke and Beast ever stopped their squabbles, the world would most likely stop in its orbit.
Erica West was next, clad in a form-fitting black top and khaki pants. She took her seat next to Jenny and ran a weary hand over her eyes. Jenny wanted to ask her friend if everything was all right, but Erica seemed to avoid her gaze on purpose, something the former con artist had never done before.
Trek Sanders came in last. He wore frayed jeans, his black leather jacket and a white Men In Black – t-shirt with a large red stain. Kyle's eyebrows rose at that.
"Don't look at me like that", the young genius said. "I had a piece of pizza on the way back and didn't have time to change."
"Don't let Clayton see you", Duke told his friend.
"Too late. I met him on my way here. You never heard such whining."
They chuckled good-naturedly at that.
"You won't have to wait too long to change", Kyle promised. "I only wanted to let you all know that FLAG requested we all be present at the fundraiser next week at headquarters."
Trek and Duke both made a face at that. They knew what that meant. Black tie events were not exactly what any of them were comfortable at, not the least reason being that they both hated having to wear tuxes.
"No way out?" Duke asked, although he already knew the answer.
"None at all", Kyle answered. "I already asked."
"Lovely." Dante's rotating picture appeared on one of the wall screens. "People will be all over us and leave finger prints everywhere."
"Let them try, " Beast said in his most menacing voice.
"At least you don't have to wear tuxes," Kyle sighed. He hated black tie events just as much as Duke and Trek did, and for the same reasons.
Even though, Jenny thought to herself, Kyle looked strikingly handsome in a tux. She would never say it out loud, but she was looking forward to the event solely for that reason.
"Hey, Erica," Trek teased. "One week should be just enough time for you to decide what to wear."
To everyone's surprise, the blonde merely nodded. What – No snappy comeback? Only now did Jenny see the dark circles under her eyes. Erica looked as if she had not slept in a while. "Are you okay?" Jenny asked the question she had postponed earlier and put a hand on her friend's arm.
"Yeah, I'm fine." To the former Marine's confusion, Erica pulled away abruptly, as if Jenny's gentle touch had burned her. "Just tired."
"I'm not going to keep you any longer. I just wanted to let you know," Kyle said. The others took the opportunity and left the situation room. Erica was the first one out, followed by Duke and Trek.
Jenny remained behind. Erica's reaction had hurt her, and she wondered whether she had done something wrong. Kyle gave her a curious look. "You okay?"
"I'm fine," Jenny answered. "But I don't think Erica is."
He nodded. "Yeah, I noticed. She looks as if she didn't sleep well."
"It's not just that," Jenny sighed. "She's avoiding me. I wonder if I did something to hurt her in any way."
Kyle shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Erica isn't the type of person to leave something like that unsaid. We'll just have to look out and see what happens." He met Jenny's gaze and had to remind himself once again not to let himself drown in her beautiful eyes. It would be so easy…
She saved him (and herself) by giving him a grateful smile, rising to her feet and leaving the room.
* * *
Erica bolted upright and blindly groped for the light switch by her bed. The nightmare never left her these days. It was always there whenever she closed her eyes. And it was always the same.
Damn, why did this come back to haunt her now?
Erica buried her face in her pillow and cried.
* * *
The next morning, Sky One took to the air and was on its way back home.
Jenny sat in the driver seat of her vehicle, a red and white Ford Mustang convertible, and listened with a smile on her face as Domino, the AI inside the car, and Trek were bantering good-naturedly about an upgrade all the vehicles were to receive upon arrival.
Suddenly she thought about something. "Be right back," she told Domino.
"Of course, honey," Dom answered in her gentle voice. She always seemed to know somehow what was going through Jenny's mind. The young woman gave her AI partner a smile and got out.
Jenny didn't have far to go – Her goal stood on the other side of the garage. "Good morning, Kat. Can I ask you something?"
"Sure," the AI inside the silver motorcycle answered. "But if you want to know what's bothering Erica – I have no idea. I asked, of course, but she didn't tell me anything."
Jenny sighed. "I hoped you could tell me. She seems to be avoiding me in particular, and I have no idea why."
Trek came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. "It's not just you. She's avoiding all of us. And she looks as if she does everything but sleep during the night."
"All I know is that it started four days ago," Kat added. "I don't know what I can do to help her." She actually sounded worried sick, which was no surprise to any of them. As much as Kat and Erica used to argue, all the others knew they really cared about each other.
A clattering sound announced Clayton, Sky One's resident chef, bringing breakfast. Kyle and Duke were hot on his heels. All of them were quite hungry by now.
Trek touched his comlink. "Hey Erica. Breakfast is ready!"
"I'm not hungry," she answered after a moment.
"Excuse me?" Clayton sounded equally injured and baffled. "You already didn't eat anything yesterday evening. You're not ill, are you?"
"I'm okay, I'm just not hungry." Erica severed the connection before anybody could ask any more questions.
They all exchanged worried looks.
"Maybe someone should look in on her," Clayton suggested rather timidly. He didn't think it was his place to make suggestions – He wasn't really part of the team, after all. But he was rewarded with assenting nods all around.
"Clayton's right," Kyle agreed and all the others nodded.
"I'll pay her a visit later," Trek volunteered. "Hope it'll help."
"Thank you," Kat said.
"Don't thank me yet," the young man told her. "I might not get anything accomplished at all."
"I meant to thank you all for trying to help," the AI clarified.
"What kind of friends would we be if we didn't at least try?" Duke said.
"Besides, she would do the same for each and every one of us," Jenny added, and they all knew that it was true.
* * *
It was the middle of the night.
The glowing screen of the computer in the situation room was the only source of light. Jenny tried, as she had frequently done, to access information on Michael Knight. This night, though, she didn't get done much. Whatever was wrong with Erica, it made it close to impossible for Jenny to concentrate on the task at hand. Before really trying anything, she powered the system down again and left the room on silent feet.
Trek had tried to talk to Erica that afternoon, as he had said he would, but she wouldn't even say anything to him, except telling him to go away. Deeply frustrated, the young man had left. So had Clayton, who had tried in vain to bring something to eat to her quarters. Twice.
Jenny had talked to Kyle about the situation again. The TKR leader had decided to take steps if Erica wasn't better by tomorrow. Jenny could tell from the expression in his eyes, though, that he wanted to do something immediately. He only held back in order not to intrude too soon.
Damn, what was wrong with Erica? Why wouldn't she talk to anyone? All of them were deeply worried by now. Even Plato had expressed his concern for her, something the quirky AI had never done before.
Jenny was deeply in thought and also a bit nervous about being found out of her quarters, so she almost jumped out of her skin when suddenly she heard a piercing scream! She instinctively dropped into a nervous crouch, looked around and found herself in front of Erica's quarters. Without hesitation, she hammered on the door. "Erica! Erica!"
There was no reaction, so Jenny did something she never had to do before – She used the override code reserved for emergencies exclusively. The door opened.
The small lamp by the bed was on. Erica was sitting against the wall, sobbing quietly. Jenny quickly went over and sat down beside her. At her touch, Erica looked at her and seemed to be unable to believe her eyes. "Jenny?"
"It's okay, Erica, I'm here."
"But I…" Erica interrupted herself and closed her eyes tightly. It was always the same, except the dream appeared more and more real every time. That's all it was, all it *always* was – a dream.
She opened her eyes again and looked at Jenny. The compassion in her friend's dark eyes brought tears to her own once more. Finally she allowed Jenny to take her into her arms as she cried.
* * *
"Had a nightmare?" Jenny asked when, a while later, Erica had calmed down a little.
"Too often to count during the last few nights. And it's always the same one." Erica's voice sounded raspy from crying.
Jenny got up and fetched her friend a glass of water. "Wanna talk about it?"
To the surprise of both young women Erica smiled through her tears. "How ironic." At Jenny's surprised look she added, "This dream is about you, that's why." She took a sip of water.
"What do you mean, it's about me?" Jenny asked.
Erica's eyes clouded. "The Galbraith case."
Jenny nodded. Erica had fired two shots at her, but the bulletproof vest she had worn back then had reduced the damage to two large bruises that had remained with her for quite some time. Erica had known about the vest, but Jenny remembered how relieved the former con woman had sounded upon hearing her voice.
It occurred to her suddenly that the two of them had never really talked about what had happened. Erica had sincerely apologized to her for what she had done – An apology Jenny had gladly accepted, of course. But they had never really shared their feelings about that case in particular.
"Back when I…when I shot you…I knew you wore that vest, I wouldn't have done it otherwise," Erica went on.
Jenny nodded again. "I know. I knew it back then, too."
"I have to admit, though – I worried. I worried a lot." Erica drained her glass.
Jenny knew what that meant, before Erica even said any more. Erica wasn't as selfish and insensitive as she appeared to be sometimes. "You worried – But you had to keep it to yourself."
Erica nodded. "We were in almost constant training after that, I probably would have gone crazy otherwise. Maybe I'm going crazy now." She took a shaky breath. "Everything seemed to be fine once we were done with that case. But a few nights ago, it came back to haunt me. In my dream, I shoot you – like I did back then – but it always ends with me finding out that you didn't wear a vest after all and that I…that I killed you." Once again, she began to cry. "Every time I get to sleep, I have that dream! Sometimes I wake up not knowing what is real and what's not! I can barely get to sleep now, the thought alone…" Her voice abandoned her. Jenny once again held her close and offered silent comfort.
Erica slowly felt herself calming down again. It had been an immense relief to finally share with someone what had bothered her those past few days. She had never been able to open up to anyone like this before and wished she could find the words to tell Jenny what her support meant to her.
One look into her friend's dark eyes told her, though, that no words were necessary. For the first time in days, Erica was able to smile again, a smile Jenny was happy to return. It didn't stop at that, though. They shared a brief chuckle when Erica was unable to suppress a huge yawn.
"I should go and let you get some sleep," Jenny said and got up.
Erica felt some of the panic return. She didn't say anything, but it showed in her eyes when Jenny looked at her.
Once again, there was no need for words. Jenny pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat down. Erica gave her a smile shining with gratitude and closed her eyes. For the first time in quite a while, she fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
* * *
Erica had almost forgotten how it felt not to be woken up by nightmares. She had not felt this refreshed and relaxed in days. She did experience a bit of a shock, though, when her gaze fell on the clock. It was already 12.30 p.m. and they had a mission debriefing scheduled at 9!
Erica jumped quickly out of bed. Only then did she see the piece of paper sitting on the small table. Growing curious, she picked it up.
'Dear Erica,' the note said. 'Don't worry about the meeting. I told Kyle you needed sleep more than anything else, and he agreed. We can brief you on the new case later; there isn't much to be told anyway. It's a small case, they probably don't want us to get beaten up so badly that we'd be unable to attend the fundraiser.' Erica actually laughed at that, realizing she had almost forgotten how good that felt. She then finished reading the note. 'I hope everything's okay now. If anything comes up and you need someone to talk to, please don't keep it in. You know where to find me. Anytime. Jenny'
Erica had a very strange feeling at this point, a feeling she would describe as warm and content. A feeling she had never had like this before. Even though she could not yet find the word to categorize it, she allowed herself to enjoy it for a while before heading to the bathroom for a shower.
* * *
Like yesterday, Jenny sat in Domino's driver seat in Sky One's garage area, but unlike yesterday she felt happy and relaxed.
She had not told the others everything about what had troubled Erica during the last few days, but she didn't need to. They had been just as happy to know that their teammate would be fine again.
The former Marine was talking to Domino when suddenly there was a small commotion in the garage. Jenny looked around and saw Erica coming down the stairs.
Kyle, Duke and Trek had been with their respective vehicles as well, but they quickly came over to her. Jenny joined the three men, and humans and AIs alike happily welcomed their teammate back among them. It was almost like a small celebration.
Clayton entered the garage with his cart, bringing lunch. "Are you feeling better?" he asked Erica in his usual somewhat timid way.
Erica smiled broadly. "A lot better Clayton. And hungry, too." Clayton's cooking wasn't always to her liking, but right now she was ready for anything.
She felt incredibly moved, though, when Clayton removed the covering – He had fixed blueberry pancakes, her favorite. The next moment the little man found himself engulfed in an embrace and received a kiss to the cheek. His reaction to that was good for another round of chuckles and smiles.
* * *
Half an hour later Erica sat on Kat's seat doing some serious thinking. A soft smile shone on her face.
"What's going through your mind, Erica?" Kat asked in a strangely gentle voice.
"Just this warm, wonderful feeling that I have since waking up today. I don't know what it means, but I know that I never felt so happy before."
"Because you worked out what was upsetting you?"
"Yeah, but not just that," Erica answered. She thought about the note Jenny had left earlier. The warm feeling had started to infuse her when she had read it. She remembered how her teammates – and not just them – had shown their concern for her in different ways and how happy they had been upon seeing her emerge from her self-imposed isolation.
And suddenly she understood. It was such a profound revelation that it almost brought tears to her eyes again.
Kat seemed to sense the change in her. "Erica?"
"That feeling I just described…I just realized what it means." She took a deep breath and continued. "I didn't recognize it until now because…this is the first time in my life that I have friends. Real friends, I mean. Does that make sense?" Erica didn't quite know what the AI inside her motorcycle would say to that.
"Of course it does. There are two sorts of friends, those for the good times only and those for good and bad times alike. I take it you mean that for the very first time you have friends from the second group."
Erica nodded. "Yeah, that's what I meant." She grew serious for a moment. "Those past few days were just horrible, worse than the time I spent behind bars. I felt so alone, and only because I wasn't sure if anyone understood what I was going through. But Jenny did. You all did."
"And don't you forget it again." Even though Kat's voice had that prim, lecturing quality the AI so readily assumed with her driver, the softness had not gone out of it.
"Don't worry, I won't." Smiling again, Erica shook her head. "It took me far too long to realize it in the first place." She rose to her feet. "Well, I gotta go. Jenny's going to tell me what I missed in the debriefing this morning."
"Okay," Kat said. "I'll see you later?"
"Definitely," Erica promised. If they were not due to help on the case today, she would take Kat for a ride anyway. Some fresh air would do them both good.
"I'm glad you're okay again," Kat told her driver from the bottom of her CPU.
"Thanks, Kat," was Erica's equally heart-felt answer. 'If she were human, I'd give her the hug of her lifetime,' she thought to herself. "See you later!"
"Friends will be friends
When you're in need of love, to give you care and attention…"
Kat listened to Plato singing softly to himself and contentedly looked after Erica as she went up the stairs. All was well again.
So, how did you find it? Let me know!