Title: Just One Reprieve
Feedback address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date in Calendar: 20 June 2008
Word Count: 4885
Summary: Facing a darkness that lived deep within her mind – is there anyone that can help her?
Series: Light, Water, Muses (an alternate universe for a variety of television series). See disclaimers below.
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DW07
Author’s Notes: Written for the FemSlash Advent Calendar::Dog Days of Summer 2008. Huge props to AJ and Jenn for all they do to produce these amazing calendars!
Beta: Beta: A very special thanks to AJ and Jenn for the beta, the amazing suggestions and for allowing me to dip my toe in the Light, Water, Muses fandom.
Just One Reprieve
I miss the sensation of the jaguar. I miss the thrill of being a thief. I miss life. Why can't I have a damned life? Is this isolation some sort of atonement for my sins? Is there no compassion in the cosmos to allow me just one reprieve? Is that really so much to ask for?
An excerpt from Alexis' story as seen in Strega - A Journey by A. Magiluna Stormwriter
How it began…
Alexis Barnes was a precocious child, full of life and energy. Energy - in an all too real sense - seemed to spark from her clear blue eyes. The other children knew she was different and so they either shunned her or teased her. Those who teased her would find themselves with stomachaches or headaches and so, before long, little Alexis was left alone.
It was both a blessing and a curse for the little blonde-haired girl. As she began to truly feel the effects of this isolation she withdrew into a world of her own making. A place where she was a princess, where everyone loved her and no one was afraid…
Years later, a fully-grown and heartbreakingly beautiful young woman would find her way into a world of crime. Using her feminine wiles as well as her uncanny abilities, she became a premier cat burglar; able to get into places no one dared to even attempt. She commanded enormous fees for her work and lived a life of luxury, but still, she was alone.
It was both a blessing and a curse for the beautiful young woman. As she began to truly feel the effects of this isolation she withdrew into a world of her own making. A place where she allowed her thoughts to be translated into tangible works – paintings, sculptures and sketches littered her loft. Her art was her one release – the thing that grounded her and kept her from going insane…
All things must end, and so it was that Alexis Barnes found herself caught – imprisoned both literally and figuratively. The notorious thief was sentenced to three years of solitary confinement. Never had she felt so alone.
It was both a blessing and a curse for the blonde. As she began to truly feel the effects of this isolation, she withdrew into a world that was not of her own making – a place where she faced a darkness that lived deep within her mind – a darkness that nearly broke her spirit and left her forever changed.
Her captors never realized just how much of a punishment they were meting out. Unable to paint or sculpt, Alexis withdrew from reality, turning her view inward and living inside her mind. As she sat in what would be complete silence to most, she realized that she could hear things; she could hear the skittering of insects across the floor and up the wall. As she sat in what would be complete darkness to most, she realized that she could see the greenish glowing outlines of the few items in her cell. Amidst the odor of cleaning agents and her own sweat, she could discern the distinct smell of each of her guards as they approached. As her captors stood before her, she could hear the beating of their hearts, and so she knew who feared her and who did not.
She began to wonder – was this an after-effect of her solitary isolation or had these traits been lying mostly dormant within her from the very start? She always felt different, like a stranger in her own skin at times, and this was no exception. Upon her release, Alexis returned to her life with a vengeance, producing works of art and procuring the most unattainable items for less than savory characters. She pushed herself with her artwork; pushed herself with her burglaries; pushed because she couldn’t stay still… All the while, she could not explain what was happening to her – she was changing somehow and she didn’t know what to do.
Then she found herself in Sierra Verde, where she crashed her car because she felt like her skin was on fire and her eardrums were bursting and she couldn’t see where she was going. She met Blair Sandburg and felt an immediate connection to him. He tried to explain to her what it was she was experiencing – why her senses were heightened. Then she met Jim Ellison and found out who, no, what she was. He made her see her true self, and it fascinated and terrified her. She had to know more and so she went to the temple in Peru, looked into the face of God, and nearly died…
She awoke some unknown time later, barely lucid yet in full restraints. She would later learn, during one of her rare lucid moments, that she was in a psych ward near Quantico, and that her care would soon be under the supervision of Federal Agents Monica Reyes and Dr. Dana Scully. These women would become her link to reality as they tirelessly tried to help her find her way back through both conventional and unconventional means.
How it is now…
Today was one of her better days. She was fairly lucid – even managing to scribble a few images on the paper provided to her. She wouldn’t speak or acknowledge my presence though, at least until I got within a certain range. If I were to get within about six feet of her, she would emit this low, almost sub-vocal growl. It was quite disconcerting, and I knew not to press my luck. The reports of her strength were not lost on me, so I was extremely careful around her. Monica Reyes closed her journal and sighed. Alexis had come so far since those early days, but it seemed they’d reached an impasse. If only she could find a way to help this woman. Had she made the right decision – moving her from the asylum near Quantico to the complex in Nevada? How many times had she had this same mental debate? It was always one step forward – two steps back with Alexis. On her good days, she appeared quite normal, charming and polite, if a bit reserved. On her bad days, she would stare sightlessly; completely oblivious to her surroundings, and on more than a few occasions she was downright violent.
Monica was startled by the call but quickly recovered when she realized it was just Dana. No, never just Dana – Dana was her life and she still found it hard to believe that the lovely redhead making her way over loved her. “Hey yourself,” the brunette answered as she accepted the offered hug.
“You seem pretty down, Monica. I know you’re frustrated by all of this, we all are, but baby, you’ve got to give yourself a break once in a while.” Dana placed a gentle kiss on the brunette’s lips. “Kim is coming over tomorrow for a session and Dace is bringing the kids, so I was hoping we could spend the day together.”
Monica smiled brightly; she knew Alexis’ condition improved greatly after a visit with Kim and the kids. “That sounds wonderful, sweetheart. Let me finish up with my notes and I’ll meet you at home.”
Dana placed a lingering kiss on Monica’s lips; she wanted to make sure the brunette didn’t forget that she’d be waiting. “See you soon?”
Looking a bit dazed and more than a bit aroused she answered, “Absolutely!” Monica watched the sway of Dana’s hips as she moved across the floor; turning to write in her notebook only after the door had closed completely.
There’s something going on... something unexplainable. I’ve seen some strange things in my life, experienced things first-hand and discovered things about myself, and the people around me, that most would not understand. This is one of those experiences… I feel like something is going to happen soon. I just hope it’s something positive.
Closing the journal once more Monica placed it in her desk and locked the drawer. She really had been preoccupied lately so she planned to make it up to Dana tonight. Anticipating her night with the redhead, she shook off her strange feelings and began to focus on the many pleasurable ways she could make it up to her lover.
A few months had passed and Alexis had shown marked improvement – remaining cognizant of her surrounding for longer periods of time. She also started to draw and sculpt again, producing something almost every day – from a sketch of the children to sculptures of animals. She seemed a bit more at ease in her own skin and everyone was hopeful that she’d turned the corner for good.
Then one day she started drawing in a frenzy, quick sketches of a dark-haired woman, a spotted panther and an ape. Then, much to everyone’s surprise, she drew herself. There were drawings of the panther and the ape together, the dark-haired woman and the panther together, but Alexis never paired herself with any one of them. No one recognized the other woman and Alexis had no idea who she was, stating that she simply could see her in her mind and so she drew her. The level of detail was pretty amazing – you could see a scar just under the woman’s left eye that extended to the corner of her mouth. There was evidence of a once badly broken nose on an otherwise pleasant face. Large, dark eyes with thick eyebrows and a head of unruly dark curls topped a body that was short, compact, and very fit. Alexis was adamant about the fact that she felt like this woman was real – that she existed in reality and was not a figment of her imagination. She felt comforted by her even though she’d never met her.
Dace had joined the children on their latest visit and was intrigued when Monica showed her the drawings. “Wow, these are really good!” the blonde stated as she flipped from one sketch to the next. “This one is amazing. I feel like she’s almost breathing. I think we should make copies of these and send them around to see if anyone knows her.”
“So you think she might really exist?” Monica asked, praying that the blonde shared her hope.
“Weirder things have happened, Mon,” Dace replied with a wink. “Just think what this could mean for Alexis if this woman is real and can help her,” Dace added, remembering her life before meeting Catherine.
It was decided that they’d start the search in-house so to speak, and so the next day the best of Alexis’ drawings were copied and sent out to the Four Suits, requesting their assistance in putting a name to the woman. Making a formal request directly to the Kings and Queens was a show of respect – they knew the information would be quickly passed on through the ranks.
For Monica, it was no longer just about the Sentinel program; she had come to love and respect these people and was proud to be accepted by them. Her past had taught her that people aren’t always accepting of things they don’t understand; but she never let that affect her behavior in any way. And now, at last, she has found a group of kindred spirits – people who celebrate their diversity instead of hiding it, and it felt like home.
How it could be…
It was about a week later when Dace received a call from Jane requesting her assistance in a matter among the Amazons. Dace responded quickly and made her way to Chicago and the home of the Clubs.
Just after Jane learned that Dace was on her way she received a package from Jesse containing a folder of sketches. Talk about coincidence… as soon as she opened the folder, she knew she might have an answer to her problem as well as Dace’s. The unknown woman in these sketches just happened to bear an eerie resemblance to the young Amazon she was hoping to help.
Once Dace arrived, she was shown to an observation room where the usual fare was voyeurism, but in this instance it was being used to keep an eye on Tory, one of Jane’s Amazons who’d begun having seizures – each one progressively worse than the one before. During a few of her more recent episodes, she had called out in fear of a large cat. Although all conversations were one-sided to the onlooker, it became apparent that this “cat” was trying to convince her that she would not be harmed.
“Hey Dace, thanks for coming so quickly,” Jane said as Dace moved to the two-way window. “I think this Amazon’s situation is more interesting than I first thought. It appears she may be the woman in your sketches.”
Dace’s eyes widened at that comment and she moved quickly to the window to have a look at the figure behind the glass. “I’ll be damned. If that’s not her then she has one hell of a doppelganger running around.” Dace looked to Jane. “Does she have a scar on her face, like the one in the larger sketch?” Dace asked as she indicated the area under her own left eye.
“She does, pretty much exactly where it’s shown in the drawing.” Jane shook her head in wonder. “It’s nice to know, after all this time, that I can still be surprised by things.” The blonde chuckled. “This one’s really got my curiosity piqued.”
Dace watched through the glass as the young woman paced nervously. “What do you know about her? How did she come to be in your tribe?”
Jane joined Dace at the glass. “One of our contacts at Lincoln Park brought her to my attention. Seems she was carried in after being beaten nearly senseless trying to protect a fourteen year old girl that was about to be gang-raped.” Jane blew out a breath before continuing, “Same old story – no one wanted to press charges. In other words the threat had been delivered.”
Jane could hear the deep rumbling growl emanating from the woman next to her, and almost feel the angry energy radiating off her. “Don’t worry, the situation was taken care of when we went to pick Tory up from the shelter.” The two women stood silently for a few moments before Jane continued with her tale, “As far as we know Tory is almost twenty-two years old, she is of Latin descent and she’s in very good shape.” Jane chuckled. “She puts most of my Amazons to shame as a matter of fact, but she lacks the discipline needed to make the total package.” Jane’s brow furrowed as she recalled the events leading up to today. “We’d just started working with her spiritual side. She seems to have a knack for deep meditation. Nenet, our Shamaness, believes she may have taken a soul flight.” Jane grinned at Dace’s confused look. “Apparently she left her physical body and travelled somewhere else... we’re not sure where, but shortly after that the seizures started.”
“About the seizures… how bad are they? I’d like to get her to come to Nevada and meet Monica and Dana.” Dace continued to watch the dark-haired woman. “I want them to check her out before we decide if she should meet Alexis.”
Knowing that Dace had her hopes up about this situation, Jane answered honestly. “The seizures aren’t bad, she simply drops into a deep meditative state at random times.” Jane placed her hand on the blonde's arm to get her to meet her eyes. “Dace, I can’t guarantee that she’ll want to go with you; it has to be her choice.”
Dace smiled into the vibrant green eyes in front of her. “I agree that it has to be her choice, and I have every intention of providing her with all the facts regarding Alexis.”
“Okay,” Jane answered with a smile of her own. “Let’s go meet Tory.”
Jane knocked before opening the door and the two entered slowly. Tory smiled upon seeing Jane but quickly went on guard when Dace entered behind her. Dace understood this dance all too well and she quickly projected her dominance to the dark-haired woman. The next few minutes would let her know just how much more she’d have to adjust her attitude in order to gain Tory’s trust and have a true dialogue with her.
“Tory, this is my friend Dace. She’s very respected among the Suits and she’s come here to seek your help in a matter of great importance.”
Tory looked from Jane to the taller blonde standing slightly behind her. She felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck but she didn’t feel threatened, not exactly. “She needs my help? I’m hardly in a position to help someone out.”
Dace moved forward slowly, maintaining eye contact and continuing to project dominance tempered with concern. “I’m hoping the experience will be mutually beneficial…” Dace told her as she handed her the sketches.
“What the hell is this?” Tory snarled as she leafed through the drawings. “Has someone been getting their kicks drawing me while I’m cooped up in here? And what’s with the monkey?” Getting to the last of the drawings Tory’s eyes widened. “You think this is funny, drawing that damned cat that’s been haunting me?” The brunette was royally pissed now and was just about to lash out at Dace when a sound stopped her in her tracks.
Dace had seen the anger simmering in the dark woman’s eyes, seen her posture becoming more and more defensive, and knew it was only a matter of time before she would have to assert control. As if on cue, the brunette threw the drawings down and began to advance on Dace. For her part, Dace didn’t move a muscle, but she did call on her feral self and started to emit a low growl. The effect was immediate as Tory stopped in her tracks and stared at the woman in front of her.
“What are you?” the brunette said as she watched the woman in front of her seem to shimmer between a large cougar and her human self.
“It’s a very long story that I’d be more than happy to relate if you agree to come with me to help a friend in Nevada.”
Tory was confused, she should be ranting and raving and fighting, and yet she felt unnaturally calm. “Is your friend like you?”
“Yes, but she’s lost her focus.” Dace watched as the brunette contemplated her next move.
Tory decided to relax her stance, her curiosity was getting the better of her and so she asked more questions. “Did she draw these?” Tory started retrieving the drawings from the floor, looking more closely at them as she did.
“Is she the cat from my dreams?”
“Yes.” They were simple answers, but they appeared to affect the brunette greatly.
Clutching the sketches to her chest she looked up at Dace. “How can I help her?”
Dace could sense no subterfuge and so she responded accordingly, “Come with me to Nevada.”
Tory stared into the clear blue eyes of the woman standing before her and realized that, for some reason she could not fathom, she trusted her. She never trusted anyone so quickly, and despite the whole cat/human thing – or perhaps because of it – she decided to see where this would lead. “All right, I’ll go with you.” The brilliant smile the blonde bestowed upon her nearly took her breath away. And for the first time in a long while, Tory felt excitement and hope for the coming days.
The next morning Dace and Tory were ready to leave for the airport and were saying their final goodbyes to Jane and Nenet.
“Take care of my little monkey, Dace,” Jane said, chuckling when Tory grunted in protest at the nickname.
“Monkey?” Dace questioned curiously since Alexis had portrayed Tory as an ape of some kind.
“Oh, yes,” Nenet provided the answer. “When she first came here she kept busy by working out in the gym. Her favorite activity was the climbing wall; she could scale the thing in half the time of anyone else, hence the nickname.”
Dace just laughed, deciding to keep her own counsel for now about Tory’s spirit animal. The brunette had a lot of information to absorb as it was, so that chat would have to come at a later time. “Well, Nenet, thank you for taking care of the little monkey over here.”
“Hey, how’d you like it if I start calling you gigantor!” Tory exclaimed.
Ignoring the comment Dace turned to Jane. “A pleasure as always,” she said as she placed a soft kiss on the smaller blonde’s cheek.
“Have a safe flight, and let us know if we can do anything more to help,” Jane replied as she hugged her tall peer and moved to stand in front of Tory. “I hope you find answers ,Tory, for Alexis and for yourself. Take care and always remember, you are a member of this tribe and you will always have a place with us.” With that she hugged the brunette tightly.
“Thank you, my Queen, for everything,” Tory answered respectfully before turning to the Shamaness. “And thank you, Nenet, for showing me how to look inward. I hope to return one day and continue my training.”
“When you are ready, I will gladly mentor you,” the Shamaness stated in a serious tone, and then she smiled. “Little monkey!”
They all had a good laugh as the blonde and brunette got into the car to catch their flight to Vegas.
No sooner had the pair settled into their seats than Tory began asking questions. “So, what gives with the cat thing? Are there more like you and Alexis? How did she know how to draw me if she never met me?”
“Whoa there, take a breath and give me a chance to answer!” Dace laughed as the brunette’s mouth snapped shut and she turned her attention to the blonde. “Okay, the cat thing… It is believed that there once was a race of warriors with enhanced senses that acted as Sentinels for their tribes. These warriors each had a spirit animal, usually a large cat of some kind, from which they drew their strength, but it was not an easy thing to be and many went mad. Those Sentinels who survived each had a person of great importance to them who could help them maintain their sanity – ground them in a sense. These people were known as Guides and they too had spirit animals, most of these were of a canine variety.” Dace gave Tory a moment to digest all of that before continuing. “The gene has survived through the ages, although in much smaller numbers, and those of us who have this gene have started joining together to provide help and guidance for those who come after us.”
“So, it’s genetic?” Tory asked.
“Yes, it is.” Dace marveled at the fact that Tory wasn’t looking at her as if she’d lost her mind.
Tory contemplated all that she’d heard before asking another question. “Am I a Guide? Alexis’ Guide?”
“No, Alexis’ Guide is most likely dead. When a Sentinel does not have their Guide, they usually go mad and quite probably die.”
“But if I’m not her Guide, how can I help her?”
Dace smiled at the earnestness in Tory’s voice. “We’ve found that there are others who can have a positive effect on a Sentinel without being their Guide. It’s not quite as easy as a Sentinel/Guide relationship and the other person has to work harder to maintain the Sentinel's composure.” Dace reached over and touched the brunette’s arm. “We’re hoping you might be that for Alexis – since she drew you and you’ve dreamt of her, we believe there’s a connection of some kind.” The blonde squeezed Tory’s arm. “I’m hoping, just as Jane said, that you will find some answers in all of this as well.”
The two were silent for the rest of the flight, each lost in thoughts about the coming days. When they landed, they stopped for a quick meal before making their way to the ranch. Upon arriving, they were met by Monica, who seemed to be vibrating with anxiousness.
Monica smiled and hugged Dace as soon as she was out of the car. “Dace, so glad you’re back!” She smiled as she peered over Dace’s shoulder at the brunette standing there. Reaching around Dace she extended her hand to the woman. “Hi, I’m Monica. I’m so glad you decided to come!”
Tory was picking up on Monica’s nervous energy and looked to Dace.
“Monica is an agent with the FBI and the lead researcher and creator of the Presidential Sentinel Task Force.” Dace chuckled at the wide-eyed look Tory now sported. “But don’t worry, she’s a real softy. It's her partner, the redhead, you gotta worry about.”
Monica laughed at that and chucked Dace on the shoulder. “All right, missy, let’s get inside before our brains fry in this desert heat.”
They entered a doorway and travelled down a long, sloping shaft. By the drop in temperature Tory knew they were fairly deep underground. They entered an area that appeared to be a small medical facility and were met by a redhead who was not much taller than Tory. She was relieved to finally see someone of her stature.
Dace made the introductions. “Tory, this is Dana Scully, she’s in charge of this clinic here and, with your permission, she’s going to run some tests on you.”
“Tests?” Tory questioned, feeling a bit leery about this turn of events.
“Yes, Tory.” Dana explained. “We’d like to determine your state of well-being before we introduce you to Alexis. I’d also like to see if I might be able to find a scientific link to your seizures.”
The redhead’s smile was reassuring and Tory reminded herself that she agreed to see this through. Besides, she wanted some answers about these seizures, and everyone seemed just as concerned about them as she was. “Okay.”
“Great, why don’t you come with me,” Dana said as she guided the brunette into one of the rooms to start her workup. “I’ll get you two when we’re done, all right?”
“Yep,” was the answer she got from both Monica and Dace.
As soon as Dana shut the door Monica turned to Dace. “So what is she like? She seems pretty calm? How much did you tell her?”
“Whoa!” Dace found herself hit with a barrage of questions for the second time that day. “That’s exactly what she did to me on the plane! Take a breath, Mon, and I’ll fill you in.”
The two discussed the earlier events as they made their way to Alexis’ room. Once there, they looked in on the blonde who appeared a bit on edge.
“How’s she doing?” Dace asked
“I think she senses something is going on. She’s been fidgety all day, but not aggressive or confrontational.”
“Can I go in and talk to her?”
Monica thought for a moment before answering, “Just be careful. I know you can handle her but, like I said, she’d acting a bit off today.”
“I promise to be careful, Mom,” Dace replied with a glint in her eye. Her response got her a swat on the backside from the giggling brunette. “Hey now, I thought you were the spankee in the relationship?”
Monica just huffed and unlocked the door to the observation room. She moved to the two-way mirror and turned on the audio as soon as Dace closed the door.
The blonde looked up to see who was coming to visit her. She was feeling a bit on edge today and hoped maybe Fawn or Rose would stop by and sit with her. When she saw Dace, she was slightly disappointed but gave her a smile and a greeting. “Hello, Dace.”
“Alexis, how are you feeling today?” Dace asked as she watched the blonde for any signs of aggression.
Alexis was about to answer when she noticed something, Dace didn’t smell quite right. She knew all of the scents of the people on the ranch, but this was not one of them. Alexis sniffed the air and then sniffed at Dace’s clothing. “You’ve seen her? You’ve spoken to her?” she asked with pleading eyes. “She’s real?”
“Yes, Alexis. She is real.” Dace had never seen Alexis like this, a mixture of excitement and anxiety, and she hoped it would not cause her to lapse into a catatonic state. She touched the blonde’s arm and spoke softly to her, “She's real, Alexis, and she's here.”
The blue eyes widened at that and she looked to the door as if expecting the dark-haired woman to enter. When the door remained closed, she looked frantically at Dace. “Can I see her?”
“Soon,” Dace answered and then she found herself holding onto the now sobbing blonde. This was a totally new level of emotion for her, and Dace prayed that things would work out for Alexis and for Tory.
Alexis continued to weep, and for the first time in a long time she had hope for the days to come.