Written and posted on pretendfic in August 1999.

Note and Disclaimer: The Pretender and its associated characters, locales, etc are the property of whomever they belong to and are obviously not mine. I use them only for the purposes of personal enjoyment and as a tribute to good television. No copyright infringement is in any way intended. The character of Joseph is my own, however. This is a sequel to my previous piece, "Confession".

Penance by Deichtine

I run through the hallways, looking back at the men chasing me. They are all exactly identical, wearing dark suits and ties, hair parted on the right, clutching guns in their fists as their feet pound the ground. A chill runs through me as I see their faces. The faces are all the same - a person I know very well. It is myself.

I sit upright in bed, sweating and shaking. Clutching my head, I begin to weep softly, turning into the pillow so as not to wake my wife - so as not to let her see me like this. She and my children wouldn't understand, but I understand all too well. I know exactly where this dream is coming from, and though I know what I need to do to rid myself of this haunting, I cannot do it!

Forgive me God, for being so weak! I know what I must do. I know that I am the only one who will do it. Yet I am too scared! It sounds ridiculous, a thirty-five year old man, strong and trained to kill, to say that, yet it is true, to my everlasting shame. I am too afraid to do what must be done.

I get up slowly, gently, leaving my wife to sleep untroubled by my restlessness. I go into the bathroom, and stare into the mirror. Who is the man staring back at me, with the dishevelled brown hair, the haunted, red-rimmed eyes? Who am I inside? It is time to decide. I have waited long enough. I can turn my back on the task ahead of me and on the man I know needs me, or I can stand straight and do what needs to be done, even though I know that, by doing so, I risk my life. Am I a Man?

So many thoughts swirl in my head as I fight to decide. What will my family do if I am hurt or killed? Why should I care? Can't someone else help? Am I ready to die? Is one man worth this much? Am I a fool to think that I could even make any kind of difference? I can't do this! Yet all of these doubts are overshadowed by one unrelenting fact: there is no one else who will. If I turn away from this, nothing will be done to stop this evil.

I make my choice.

I stand before a locked door and seize the handle. Roughly inserting the key, I turn it forcefully, glancing nervously up and down the corridor before slipping into the room.

The room is small and bare, empty save for a few necessities, a small bed, and the man who lies upon it.

Waking instantly, the man sits up in the bed, going directly from deep sleep to full alertness. "What's going on? Who's there?" he asks, looking into the darkness. As his eyes adjust, he recognizes me. "Joseph?" he asks. "Is that you?"

I nod. "I've come to help you," I say quietly, not moving any further into the room, so as not to attract the attention of the ever-vigilant camera trained on the occupant of the bed.

"What?" he asks, confused. "Help me to do what?"

"I want to help you escape, Jarod."
His eyes widen in hope and gratitude. "Thank you! How?"

"I don't know - all I know is, I have to try."

I am standing at my usual post when the alarm goes off, and I do not have to feign my startlement, as the ululating wail intrudes into my turbulent thoughts. Reflexively, I leap into action as do my fellow sweepers all around me. We move as one, yet I alone am fully aware of what is about to occur. We come to a junction in the corridors, and I increase speed until I am in the lead. As we reach the intersection, I point left, shouting, "There! Jarod!" My heart pounds, but it has nothing to do with the minor exertion of running. I lead the block of sweepers down the left passage, looking back once, ostensibly to make sure we are all together, yet I alone see the dark shape of Jarod flit silently down the right hand passage to the the ventilation shafts and freedom.