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Mission of Mercy: Aftermath

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It was a brand-new day in every conceivable use of the word. The sun had risen barely an hour earlier, but Tona Baudin had worked hard the other day, saving her entire homeplanet, and so she had celebrated by sleeping in for a time. Of course, there was even more work to do this morning, and a lot of special people to visit.

One person in particular had been her priority. Tona walked through the front door of the infirmary carrying a large mixing bowl, covered with a dish towel, lovely smells drifting out from under it as the girl's movements caused it to flutter in the breezes. She hummed a light, tuneless song to herself as she checked the various beds, until she found the one containing a slim redhead still curled in sleep.

Tona set the bowl down on the nightstand next to the bed and crouched down so that her head was level with Sam's. She watched her girlfriend slumber, marveling at the look of peace on her face. Just yesterday this (beautiful, brave, clever) girl had teleported a few thousand people many miles out of danger, and it had cost her mightily. But looking at her now, Tona couldn't imagine that there was anything wrong with her, anything wrong with the entire world.

She reached out and brushed Sam's hair back, resting her hand on the other woman's cheek. "Bonjour," she said softly, not wanting to disturb the rest of the patients in the infirmary. "Time to wake up, mon amour."

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The world is black. A thick, warm, dreamless darkness, impenetrable by the outside world. A black so real Sam can wrap herself up in it like a blanket, unthinking, uncaring, safe.

Turns out, a fourteen hour nap is just what the doctor ordered.

The first thing to break through the blackness is a smell. Something delicious that makes her mouth start watering; the second sensation to pierce the veil. Then, pain; a sharp pang of hunger. But nothing she can't manage.

A warm, familiar touch on her cheek is enough for her to stir, green eyes fluttering open, her face lighting up with a smile. She's about to greet Tona in turn when she's struck.


The fight. Tona fighting... someone. A brutal display, a flash of blood, and...

Fear flashes in her eyes, and she flinches away from the touch. Though she tries to regain her composure, she's already betrayed her thoughts. "Morning," sh offers weakly.

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Tona recoiled at the look of fear in Sam's eyes, but she pushed it aside. Maybe her girlfriend had a bad dream; maybe she didn't expect to see someone so close to her when she woke up. "A very good morning," she agreed, helping Sam sit up. "The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and my people are safe. The Terminus is behind me, forever. I never thought I would live to see the day, but here it is."

She sat on the edge of the bed, pulling the bowl with her. She flipped off the cloth and revealed the contents; a loaf of bread so fresh that it steamed when she broke it in half, jars of honey and preserves, some dried fruit, and a thermos. Tona handed the thermos to Sam and pulled a can of V8 juice from her pocket. "I can't begin to thank you for everything you did," she said, "but this is a start."

Edited by Raveled
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Sam's eyes go wide at the sight of the bread, tracking its every move as her stomach roars. It's been nearly a day since she's eaten, and she's moved a small army across a country blind since then. It's enough to leave anyone ravenous.

Of course, she was quite well-educated in matters of decorum at the proverbial dinner table, and knows how to conduct herself as a proper lady while eating.

She simply chooses not to this time.

In a flash, the smaller loaf is in her hand, and she rips off a chunk, shoving it in her mouth before slathering another chunk in honey so she can scarf that down as well.

"Fank you..." she manages between enthusiastic bites. But half a loaf in, she slows down and instead starts sipping the V8. Not normally her favorite, but right now, she's not about to complain. It's definitely more filling than water.

She reflects back on the mission, especially those final moments before she blacked out, and studies her drink as a solemness overshadows her appetite. "But it isn't over, you know. They let us go."

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Tona wrinkled her nose when Sam grabbed the vegetable juice out of her hands. "That wasn't for..." She sighed and unscrewed the top of the thermos, letting the bitter smell of coffee fill the room. The archer found it borderline undrinkable, but other people apparently liked it when they woke up.

She took a bit of bread and drizzled honey on it before popping it in her mouth. She smiled at Sam's ravenous hunger, chewing forcefully. She was layering strawberry jam on a bigger chunk of bread when Sam pointed out the obvious. Tona's jaw clenched in tension but her tone was defiant. "Then the Terminus made a mistake," she said. "I don't have any reason to go back there, and if they attack Sanctuary they'll be facing a goddess, and she can call in every hero Earth has." It was slim comfort to imagine the protectors of her adopted home dying for Sanctuary rather than Earth, but she had hope -- if not confidence -- that they would succeed.

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Sam looks at the can of juice, then at Tona. "Oops," she offers as she sets it down on the table next to the bed with a silly little pat. She didn't gulp down too much of it.

But, the moment's embarrassment is washed under worry. "They know that, too," she points out. "But there's always another way," she sighs. "There's always another way. And they'll try to find it. Everyone thought you had to get past the Furies to get off of Dis, and they're unstoppable. So we went around..."

She looks out the window, knowing Tona won't like what she's about to ask of her, but still, it has to be said. "But when they do come, and Sanctuary puts out the call... don't want you to be there. I don't want to... to lose you."

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Tona felt something hitch in her throat. She pulled back from Sam, her mind reeling under the request. "I... how can you say that Sam?" She almost felt wounded; it sounds like her girlfriend has asked her abandon everything she was. "Why would you ask me that," she said softly, almost whispering. "Everything we fought for yesterday -- everything I've ever dreamed about -- is here on Sanctuary. And you want me to just give it up?" The enormity of it was overwhelming to her; it was simply too big of an idea for her to consider.

"Sam, I... I have to help Stesha here. I have to be on call for Sanctuary. Not even if they were attacked." She moved forward, taking Sam's hand in her own. "Months ago, I helped Stesha here when people were stealing from this settlement. If something like that happens again, I will help again. I can't possibly turn down anything she asks me to do."

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Sam frowns, knowing her request would not be taken well. But it's too late to back down.

She shakes her head, and tries to stay calm. To be rational. To be strong.

"I'm not asking you to give up on anyone. I'm not asking you to abandon Sanctuary. I'm not asking you to let this place fall. You said it yourself. If Terminus attacks, Sanctuary can call on Earth's heroes to protect it. People we can trust. People who can keep it safe without you," her calm slips away as she goes on, until she's positively pleading with Tona.

But she pulls herself back together. This is too important. "I watched you murder a man today."

The words hang in the air for a heavy moment before she explains.

"We've been in a lot of scrapes. Seen some dangerous stuff, and sometimes, I worry you'll get hurt, or worse..." she stares at the coffee, appreciating the smell more than she ever would the taste. She needs coffee doctored up beyond tasting it to really enjoy it. "But... if you got hurt fighting for something worth fighting for... I could live with that. It comes with the trade. I understand that. But this is the first time I was afraid I'd lose you! The way..." she chokes up, trying to hold back tears. "The same way I lost Fox..."

Still, she holds herself together, placing her hand on Tona's, looking for the strength to continue. "Back... where I come from," she alludes to Dis, "I've seen a lot of people killed. In a lot of ways. For a lot of reasons. And what I saw today, you... you killed that man because you wanted to! Not to protect someone, or because he was a threat, or because of the things he did. That might be why you wanted to, but when you went after him, it's because you were angry, because you hated him, and because you wanted to do it. I understand why you did it, but I know what that kind of poison can do to a person, and if you go up against Terminus again, if you kill like that again, you... you won't be you anymore!"

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Tona stood and walked away from the bed, her hands clenching into fists. "I can't believe you would... If you had any idea... He was a..." She bit her words off and turned away, stalking angrily to a nearby window. Like every window in Sanctuary it showed a quiet, pastoral scene out of Earth's unreachable past. Tona imagine seeing the sky dark with flights of Omegadrones, the sun replaced by the hellish glow of the Doom Coil, the ground ripped up by Omega's warmachines in their constant thirst for more to consume. The idea of this bastion of peace and life subjected to the cruel whims of the Terminus, of her people enslaved again, made her literally tremble with rage.

"No." She turned back to face Sam, crossing her arms over her chest. "I killed him because he needed to die. The things that he did against my people meant the he needed to stop living, and I was the one who was there to make him die. And if I see him again." She paused and thought for a moment, considering her next words carefully. "I will do whatever it takes to drive him away again."

Edited by Raveled
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Ugh. Always so stubborn. Sam's eyebrow starts to twitch, but she restrains herself. Tona's had it rough. The resistance is understandable.

Stay calm. Stay strong.

"Would you become him? We wouldn't be any better off. Don't forget, you're talking to one of the only people on Earth who understands. I came from Hell. And I had less than you coming up. I didn't have a village. I didn't have a father who loved me. This brand on my back? It means one of my parents decided after looking at their darling baby girl that they'd rather sell her soul for something before I had any say in it. All I had was Shrike and Mouse, and I knew full well one of them would feel zero guilt over eating me. And that was me getting lucky with the folks I met. So we can play the angst game over who has more right to get angry all day, but that's not what this is about.

"I've seen hate, and desperation, and obsession. I've seen the people who let that control them turn into monsters. And I've seen the people who, in spite of everything, who are no less angry, or desperate, or afraid, but kept control, remembered what they are. Remembered what makes us better than demons. They're the ones who stayed human!"

She leans forward as she speaks, energetic, but she's not quite well. She gets up with a start, the blood does as the blood does, and after a moment of a rather mobile world rotating about an axis somewhere between her ears, she goes right back down. It takes a moment, but she continues, slower and, by force, calmer than what she had ramped up to.

"We will protect this place. But that doesn't mean a thing if we lose everything worth fighting for along the way. You've already given up enough in this fight. You've done your part. It's time to rest. To move on. And to trust others to carry on."

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"And what if Chicago was being attacked?" Tona snapper. "What if some big monster was threatening Chicago? Would you be content to sit back and let other people fight for your hometown?" Frustration and anger crept into the archer's tone and she punctuated her sentences by jabbing a finger at Sam.. "If Hiroshima Shadow was attacking Chicago and you had a, a, a bomb that would stop all the radiation, and not hurt anyone else -- if you could save the whole city but had to kill Hiroshima Shadow to do it, wouldn't you? Would you even hesitate to do it?"

Edited by Raveled
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Perhaps it's a good thing Sam still isn't fully recovered. If she had the energy, there would be a lot more yelling involved. She feels her blood boiling, but that last attempt at getting worked up reminds her why she has to stay calm.

"I may not get along with Miss Vance, but she's been at this a long time. She has plans, resources, and allies in place I know I can't keep up with. I am not on Fox's level yet. Miss Vance is. She faced off against her as an equal for decades. I have faith that she can protect Chicago."

She sets the coffee down, untouched, and clasps her hands in her lap, her face impassive. Stoic, green eyes piercing into Tona's accusatory gaze without flinching.

"And if it came to it? Yes. I would hesitate. I'm not going to rush in and kill someone in a blind rage. It's a choice I'd go into knowing full well that I am ending another human life. Someone who had a family once. Someone who, if they'd lived, could have made a different choice. And I would have to live with that. Killing another human being is not something you do on a reflex, or in a rush of bloodlust. That just lets the rage eat you up, destroy you, and when all your enemies are dead, or you can't get to them, you've forgotten what peace is and you can't live anymore. Then, everyone gets hurt."

She closes her eyes, the tears beginning to well, creeping past the tightly sealed cracks of her eyelids. "You've been at war long enough. Please, you need to rest. To get help."

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Tona closed her eyes and shook her head. "No. You do not understand, Sam. I am what I am now because of what I went through. I can't just abandon that now. I can't just abandon my people. And I can't believe you would ask me to do that." She jabbed at Sam, her movements curt and angry. "I never tried to get you to learn martial arts or join me in the gym. I never tried to control your diet or any part of you, and now you’re trying to control my life? Trying to tell me that I’m broken? I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you, Sam.â€

The archer turned on her heel and made an angry beeline for the door to the infirmary. “I hope you enjoy your breakfast,†she said venomously.

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"Tona, wait! Please..."

Sam throws off her covers and gets to her feet, a hand on the bed supporting legs made of rubber, only making a few steps before her body makes it abundantly clear she's not chasing anyone right now. Instead, she makes her way back to her bed, alone with her thoughts.

She only gets a minute to brood over how badly she messed that entire conversation up, what will happen if Tona fights like that again, and if Tona will even talk to her again if she doesn't change her tune- which she has no intention of doing.

Then, her stomach growls. A reminder that brooding won't get the job done. One of Fox's lessons. Her response to a botched job or bad news? A good dinner.

A good breakfast will have to do, as she spreads honey on another chunk of bread. It would be a lie to say she enjoys it, but it does help clear her head.

"There's more than one way to solve any problem," she reminds herself. "Time to get to work."

A nurse walks in to check on Sam, probably worried about a patient's guest storming out in a rage, asking if she's alright.

"I'm fine. Thank you, ma'am..." a beat, then, almost as an afterthought, "Oh! But would you be so kind as to let Miss Stesha know I would like to speak with her before I leave?"

The nurse answers in the affirmative, and then leaves.

It's a good thing she knew who Sam was talking about, because she certainly doesn't. But apparently, this 'Stesha' is someone important around here.

Hopefully, this conversation will go a little better.

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The response to Sam's query wasn't swift, she had plenty of time to finish up her breakfast and look out the window for awhile in solitude. The infirmary wasn't in a traditional building, it seemed more like a large, long trailer with small cubicles for patient treatment. If the need arose, the entire structure could probably be lifted by a superhero or perhaps even hitched to a truck and taken wherever it needed to go. For now it was parked in what looked to be a small village of log or clapboard houses interspersed with larger prefab metal structures. There were not many people around at this hour, though the weather seemed lovely. She could hear voices outside her cubicle and feel the faint vibrations when someone walked by outside, but the infirmary did not seem very busy this morning despite the influx of refugees. 


Perhaps two hours after Sam made her request, there was a knock on the door to her cubicle. When answered, the door swung open to admit a figure Sam immediately recognized. Fleur de Joie was not in her full uniform this morning, having left off her hooded cowl and traded in her green leggings for blue jeans, but her flower-crowned green hair and belt of many pouches left little doubt to her identity. She looked tired and a little harried, but she gave Sam a genuine smile. "Hi, Sam, right? I was told you wanted to talk to me? How are you feeling?" 

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Sam, for her part, is in no hurry. She has nowhere to go, and little to do, save for finishing her breakfast, and in the end, finds herself glad she never touched the coffee, instead drinking water brought by the staff, then dozes off for an hour or so before her guest arrives. She takes just a moment to tidy up her hair before calling out, "Come in!"

Wait. That hair... Fleur de Joie? That's 'Stesha?'

Not surprising, really. Though Tona never mentioned being on a first-name basis with one of the Freedom League's heavy hitters.

"Better, thank you, ma'am," she answers politely. "And thank you for seeing me. I'm sure you're busy, so I'll try not to take up too much of your time."

She bites her lip, not entirely sure where to begin. And that buffer of good manners didn't do much to help. "Tona mentioned working with you before. How familiar are you with her history with Terminus?"

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"Just the basics, I think," Stesha replied, sitting down in the guest chair and looking happy to be off her feet for a moment. "She made the arrangements with me last year to bring her people out of the Terminus and to Sanctuary, and we spoke about the logistics a few times, but that's really about it. It didn't seem like something she was interested in talking about. Given what I know of the Terminus, and how it affects even the people who escape it, I guess that's not really surprising." She frowned, looking concerned. "I wonder if I should talk to Gabe about arranging for some psychologists to visit the refugees. That could be a widespread problem now." 

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"Probably a good idea," Sam says, considering just how much damage Tona has taken. The rest of her people could be just as scarred. "They need... a lot of healing. In more ways than one."

She takes a breath and steels herself, knowing she's about to ask a great deal. "That's... actually why I wanted to speak with you. Terminus has caused a lot of people scars, and that includes Tona. She's been shouldering more than her share of her world's war for most of her life, and it's... taking its toll."

A pang of guilt starts to rise, but it takes only one look at the basket once full of food, a reminder of the Tona she's trying to save, and Sam continues. "Today, she saw one of the men responsible for what happened to her world. What happened after... I've seen that kind of rage before, but not in anything human. He wasn't even a real threat at the moment, but the brutality..."

She trails off, confident she's gotten her point across. "If she continues the fight against Terminus, this will happen again. And again. Until there is nothing left of her to come home." She dries her eyes as she takes another breath.

"Next time Terminus makes a move, it will probably be here. I'm sorry, but what happened today must have drawn their attention. When that time comes, I know you will have to put out the call, but please, don't tell Tona. I will fight in her place, but she can't be a part of this war anymore. It's become a poison, and I can't let it keep eating her." She makes her case and tries not to beg, but a hint of pleading still creeps into her voice towards the end.

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Stesha pursed her lips thoughtfully as she listened to what Sam had to say, and guessed at what was left unsaid. "You may be right that the Terminus will eventually turn an eye in our direction," she allowed. "We have some protection set up, and very little that they would want that can't be gotten easier elsewhere, but at some point it could become a matter of pride. But if that happens," she continued, "one thing that's pretty universal about Terminus attacks is that they're very hard to miss. They don't go for subtle attacks. Tona's going to be living here on Sanctuary at least part of the time. Would you have me send her away from her home when she knows what's happening there?" 

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At that little nugget, Sam screws up her face in thought, then sighs. "If she were here at the time, I don't suppose you could keep her out of it without a fight," she admits.

But the gears in her head are already turning, working towards a solution to this new complication. "But her father would probably be able to..." she muses aloud, "But I can talk with him later," she returns her attention to the conversation at hand.

"I can't ask you to stop her, but if you were to ensure she isn't informed if she isn't here at the time, and stand by Mister Baudin when he tries to talk Tona down, I think that would do it."

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That drew a thoughtful frown from Stesha. "Maybe you should tell me a little bit more about what happened that has you so concerned," she suggested. "I understand that you're worried about Tona, but it's a very big thing you're asking. Lies by omission are still breaches of trust, and trust is very important here on Sanctuary. In an isolated dimension, a lot of the time we're all we've got. You're asking me to deliberately prevent her from protecting her home, up to the point of telling her she mustn't if she happens to want my opinion. And you're asking me to turn my back on my only live-in resource for knowledge of how to fight the Terminus, right when we could have the Terminus knocking on our doors."


She shifted in her chair, gave Sam a level look. "If you've faced the Terminus, I'm sure you've seen brutality during fights. What exactly is it that makes you worry so much about Tona in this case?" 

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"That's... reasonable," Sam accepts. But where to start?

She decides to begin with misconceptions. "I haven't fought Terminus before. My experience is... elsewhere. I was born in Dis, before I escaped. Do you remember your Dante? That Dis. What I know is demons."

That groundwork laid, the story can begin. "We were escaping. I'd warped the village across the map, but we came on a bunch of omegadrones. There was infighting. Someone trying to become a new annihilist. He'd wiped out another one's army. The Steam General, from what Tona's told me. We'd opened the portal out, and the Steam General started begging us to save him, to take him with us."

With the stage set, Sam swallows, and carries on. "Like I said. I know demons. And what I saw... was a blood rage. And that is coming from someone who's seen demons of the seventh circle fight. She didn't listen to him. She charged him, gouged out his eye, strangled him to death, and spat on his corpse with a look like it was everything she'd been dreaming of all her life. And..." she bites her lip and hopes this next part isn't too surreal. "I... I can sense magic. It's kind of like a sense of smell. Sometimes, even people without magic can do things that have magical consequences. The soul is a very real thing, and it can be hurt, or diseased, or poisoned. When she killed that man, I smelled rot." Or she just imagined it. It's not like her senses are all that sharp, but if nothing else, she believes she sensed it. "If she keeps doing this, then the damage, it will be..." she trails off, not wanting to finish that sentence. The point has been made.

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Stesha listened carefully to Sam's story, her face betraying little except for intense interest. When Sam trailed off, she was quiet for a moment before speaking. "Rot is a funny thing," she said, almost meditatively. "It's nasty stuff, can be dangerous, but without it, nothing old would ever fade away. When it's gotten into a wound on a person, the only way to heal them is by cleaning it out, and that means looking at it, smelling it, and then washing it away." 


She hiked up one leg under her to sit more comfortably. "I don't know Tona well, but it's pretty obvious the Terminus hurt her badly. She got away, but it didn't make her whole again. To go back to something like that, even for a rescue mission, that's like ripping something open that's only half-healed. Maybe it's not so surprising that she took the opportunity to try and fix things. Doesn't make it right," she added, "but it doesn't necessarily mean she's evil or doomed. What it does mean, I suspect, is that she's walking around now with that wound still open. And you're right that it could fester, but it could start to heal clean now, too." 

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How dare she try and be calm and reasonable in the face of drastic measures? How inconsiderate.

But logic cuts both ways. "With rest," Sam retorts, "And treatment. I know Tona isn't seeing a therapist about any of this. If she were trying to heal, if she at least admitted she needs help, I wouldn't need to do any of this. But without help, and without rest, I won't just take it on faith that she'll just get over something that's been eating at her for her entire life and just got ripped back open. I can't. I hope for her sake that you're right, but... I've seen what happens when it doesn't heal too many times."

She starts choking up again, struggling to speak as tears start sliding down her cheeks. "I... I love her, you know? And I can't let her end up like... like that..."

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"I understand." Stesha reached out and took Sam's hand, squeezing it reassuringly. "It's hard to have to stand by and watch someone you love in trouble, no matter what kind. And you've been through a traumatic experience as well, and that makes things harder. I imagine she's been hurting for you like you hurt for her. That can make it hard to see clearly." 


She patted Sam's hand. "Why don't I try and talk with her?" she suggested. "The Freedom League has some excellent therapists who specialize in counseling heroes, and I know there are heroes in the city who've had to deal with Omega and the Terminus. I'd like to think that if she can work through her history, there might be no need for ultimatums or deception. Nobody is going to be able to hold her down and force her to get better. We can help, but she has to do it on her own." 

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