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Regenesis

Chapter Text

Thick pillars of black dust spiral wildly into the midnight air, behind the tires of the old white truck barrelling away from the woods. It’s cold, dark and eerily quiet in this dense thicket just half a mile off the main highway, about 18 miles outside of the city.

 

...A perfect place for eternal rest.

 

Just out of sight from the turn onto the main road, the truck stops abruptly, two tail lights shining defiantly into the night, tires screeching to a halt along the dry earth.

 

Will Jackson sighs heavily as he stares out the windshield, teeth gnawing vigorously at his bottom lip. He’s just played the role of undertaker, but now his conscience is kicking in. Absolutely, the bitch deserved to fucking die for everything she’s done...but was he willing to live with the nightmare for the rest of his life? The sound of the dirt as it poured over her thin wooden coffin, slowly muffling her blood curdling screams. Did he have the courage to live with that inside his head as he lay down to sleep every night?

 

Despite the chill of the winter air, he’s sweating profusely and can’t seem to catch his breath. He rips down the zip of his hoodie and yanks the hood off his head with a growl, running his hands roughly through his sweat drenched hair.  With a final sharp intake of breath he releases an animalistic cry, banging his hands violently against the steering wheel, palms stinging and bright red from the force of the blows.

 

He puts the truck back into gear and slams his foot on the accelerator, squalling the tires as he heads back into the direction he just came, rage and morality dueling in his tired mind.

 

He pulls up a few meters from the makeshift grave, turns off the ignition and sits in the cab for a long moment, mustering up the willpower to do what he came back to do. He gets out, zipping up his jumper and takes the ski mask from his pocket, pulling it over his head before topping it with the hood. He retrieves the shovel from the bed of the truck and walks with purpose back to the pile of branches he’d dragged over the freshly covered hole in the ground.

 

He’d expected to hear screams, but it’s deathly quiet and his heart begins to pound loudly in his ears as he realizes he might be too late. He digs at a frantic pace as he says a silent prayer, not for her sake, but for his own. He’s not prepared to live with the nightmares, after all.

 

When the shovel makes first contact with the thin wood of the box, he begins to hear the muffled cries from below the dirt. The terror that had been apparent in them before is gone, replaced by a hollow, almost ghost-like moan that he finds distinctively more unnerving.

 

Shoveling the last scoop of dirt from the top of the box, he turns back and stares into the hole, breathing heavy with exertion. She’s begging now, frantic but faint cries of “Please...help me” wafting up from beneath the long crack in the top of the box. He takes a moment, relishing the terror in her voice.  

He leans in and sticks the tip of the shovel blade into the crack and wrenches it back, easing up as he hears the wood splinter further. With another strong pull, the lid breaks and a large chunk of wood flies back, opening to reveal the tortured soul within.

 

Her face is smeared with dirt, her hands bloody from her feverish clawing, now raised in defense as she anticipates a blow. Even in the pale moonlight he can see the raw horror in her eyes. He smirks beneath the nylon of the mask . So now the beast knows fear.

 

He stands there silently for an ominous pause as she watches him, frozen in place. Finally, he turns slowly and walks back to the truck, slamming the door as he gets in and burning the tires as he drives away.

 

Once he returns to the main road, he picks up the burner phone Jake had given him, dialing the number as he pulls off the ski mask.

 

“State Emergency Service. What’s your emergency?”

 

“Yea, I’d like to report a woman who I think might need assistance along C739, out by Mount Ridley.”

 

“Ok sir, are you with her now? Do you know her?”

“No. I was driving and passed her walking along the road. She was wearing a blue or green tracky, hard to tell in the dark. I tried to stop and ask her if she needed help, seemed a bit odd for her to be walking that stretch this late, but she just mumbled something and kept walking.”

 

“Alright sir, we’ll have the local police circle by to check it out. Would you like to leave your name and number for a call back?”

 

“Nah, it’s alright, just doing my public service.”

 

“Well thank you for the information sir and have a good night.”

 

“Yep, thanks. Bye.”

 

He throws the phone back into the console, a smug smile spreading across his lips.

 

He may not fit the role of executioner, but he’d be damned if justice wasn’t served.

Chapter Text

The opportunity had presented itself all too easily.

 

If she hadn’t been so desperate, she would have been more cautious about accepting Jake’s proposal, or at least thought it through and planned her part more thoroughly. But she was pressed for time and her life depended on it, so she took it. Beggars (though she’d never use the word, in regards to herself) can’t be choosers, after all.

 

Like hell would she let these pigs of women best her. They’d rip her to shreds, like only feral creatures know to do. There’d be no dignity in the death they gave her. Fuck them all if they thought she’d ever allow them that.

 

***

 

Jake had escorted her to the workshop during dinner, telling her in hushed tones which box she was to seek. She’d slipped inside it and waited, her heart only marginally slowing from its thundering pace when she heard the sounds of the truck opening for a second time and felt her box being moved to what she assumed was a warehouse floor.

 

She waited in silence until she was certain the coast was clear. Finally, reaching for the small bag near her left ear to remove the tweezers, she released a controlled breath knowing this ordeal was almost over. Only a thin slip of wood and four staples separated her from freedom.

 

As she began to pull the first staple from its place, she heard the sound of a garage door rolling open and she froze, listening as heavy footsteps rang across the floor, coming to a stop just behind her head. She held her breath and scrunched her face against the ringing in her ears, the icy grip of anxiety squeezing her chest. She had no idea what was happening, but she knew in this moment she was helpless against it. She closed her eyes, steadied her breathing and prepared herself for the wait.

 

She could tell she was moving, most likely in an open truck as she could hear the wind whistling around her and there was a distinct drop in the ambient temperature. She had no idea of direction, but she knew from the amount of time that passed that they must be well out of the city by now. She took the time to flex and stretch, as best she could, her now stiff and aching muscles. Just a bit longer and I’m free.

 

She felt them slowing down and then a bump as the surface they drove across changed. Assuming they were near the final destination, she released a measured sigh. When she heard them stop completely and the door of the vehicle open, she grew still, straining to listen for any clues to her current setting.

 

There was the crunching of boots and rustling of leaves and then suddenly, she felt the box being pulled from the end her feet were resting in. There was a sudden, painful jolt as she felt the box slam to the ground from the back of the truck. She bit her lip hard to quelch the cry that nearly escaped.

 

The box scraped across the dirt as it was dragged a short distance. Another aching jolt told her she’d been moved down some other level. She swallowed the groan that rose from the pain now radiating in her tailbone.

 

The next sound sent a cold shiver down her spine, extinguishing the pain that resided there. She recognized it instantly, but shock...and fear...rendered her initially mute. The steady cascade of dirt continued, showering down unwelcome rain as it began to build her final resting place.

 

The thin wood on the top of the box finally cracked under the weight, sending a shower of dark powder down onto her face. She wiped at it hysterically and it was then that she finally found her voice, yelling with rising alarm as she begged to be heard. Her heart raced, her ears rang, her chest grew cripplingly tighter...but the dirt rain continued.

 

Clumsy fingers searched frantically for the small lighter she knew was in the bag near her head. Finally feeling it between her fingers, she pulled it in front of her face, feverishly running a trembling thumb across the wheel. The flame sputtered and danced as she finally got it lit and she raised it to illuminate the top of the box above her. Through the fiery glow Bea Smith stared back at her, a knowing smile plastered across her graphite face. It was in that moment she realized she’d been deceived. In shear terror, a blood curdling scream escaped her lips.

 

She screamed until she could emit little more than a strangled whisper, until she tasted blood deep in her throat. She kicked and punched at the box, scratching like caged animal until her fingers bled, though she knew deep down it was all a futile effort, a waste of energy and precious air.

 

Eventually she grew still and it was then that the tears began to fall, thick and fast, choking sobs that wracked her exhausted body. Not even the pigs at Wentworth could have thought of an end for her as cruel as this. Fear turned to rage turned to overwhelming despair in only a matter of minutes.

 

Closing her eyes against the physical and mental pain, her mind conjured a thousand images, memories; snapshots of a life lived.

 

Sitting in her mother’s lap, she must have been about three years old, as her mother cradled her against her breast and sang softly in her ear.

Years later, her mother setting a plate of Lamington cakes before her with a brilliant smile. That afternoon, her mother’s lifeless body as it lay in the bathtub.

 

Her father, standing over her as she cried, heaving sobs, after she cruelly smashed the life out of a lizard she had captured, now overwrought with guilt for her crime.

 

Standing on the podium after winning first place in a regional fencing tournament. She was 15. It was the only time she ever saw pride in her father’s eyes.

 

Her father standing in the dark corner of the room as he forced her to remain in the en garde position for eight hours straight, completely naked, after being caught flirting, as he described it, with a boy.

 

Watching her cancer stricken father take his final breath...as she pressed down harder on his shriveled throat. The flash of recognition and knowing smile that moved across his face as he faded away.

 

The first time she kissed Jianna; Jianna’s hand as it moved beneath her skirt. Shayne snuggled tightly in Jianna’s arms as she sang him to sleep. Jianna’s lifeless body as she cradled it in her arms.

 

Her first day at Wentworth. Doreen. Will Jackson. The fire. The smirk on Bea’s face as she drove the screwdriver into her ribs the final time.

 

Vera. Her expressive eyes. The look in them as she slapped her; as she stared into the camera with the syringe to her throat; as she looked up to see the bloody screwdriver in her hand; as she glared at her through the glass cell in protection; as reality set in when she told her the truth about Jake; when she saved her life; when she admitted defeat.

 

Eventually even the tears subsided as she became weak and increasingly short of breath. At least in death she would have peace, and freedom from the ghosts inside her head.

 

***

 

She lays half conscious in deafening silence.

 

Some time later, her mind’s too fuzzy to know how long, she hears the dirt begin to shift above her. Her heart begins to pound again as she listens, growing increasingly worried by what may happen next. She’s too weak to defend herself if it’s needed. She tries to speak, to call for help, but it only comes out as a garbled whisper.

 

The sudden bang of metal to the top of the box makes her jump. She lifts a weak fist to pound at the flimsy wood. A glint of metal slips into the crack and she pulls back her hand as it wrenches the gap open further. With another twist of the blade she feels fresh cold air against her cheeks and the glint of moonlight between her half-lidded eyes.

 

She takes in gulping breaths and opens her eyes fully to see the masked figure towering above her. She lifts her hands to her head, in a feeble attempt at self defense. The figure stands silent, peering down from above like the grim reaper, before turning and walking away. She hears the tires squeal as the truck speeds off into the distance.

 

She waits for only a moment before lifting herself with great effort from the box and crawling out of the shallow hole in the ground; her makeshift grave. A cautionary glance tells her she is alone and in some type of wooded area.

 

After another struggle, she makes it to her feet and heads slowly at a ninety degree angle from the direction that the truck drove away.

 

Like the phoenix, like Jesus Christ himself, she is risen.









Chapter Text

She runs under the cover of night. Until her lungs burn and her legs threaten to give way from the trembling. The pain lives only in the periphery of her consciousness; it’s the urgent need to hide, to protect this precious liberty that takes up the immensity of her thoughts.

 

Only when she finally reaches her intended destination does she slow her pace, eventually coming to a stop to bend over and gulp in heaving breaths of air. After a few moments rest she extends to her full height, brushing back the tendrils of her dark mane that had come loose in the frenzied journey.

 

There’s minimal threat of anyone seeing her here, and even less threat of anyone giving a damn if they do. This old and rundown apartment block on the edge of the questionable part of town is full of people looking to hide. A broken and busted Australian Vegas: What happens here, stays here. It’s dwellings for the “dregs of society”, as the fortunate ones would call it.

 

She finds the right building and is pleased to see it’s tucked away in the back of the complex, nestled against a dense and unruly copse of trees. She begins the slow and steady climb to the third floor, each step causing a surge of pain in her aching legs. It’s welcome pain however, as it reminds her she’s alive.

 

In front of unit 918, she stops, taking in a deep breath before knocking gently. It’s nearly dawn, so after a few minutes with no response, she tries again, a little harder this time. A minute later, she hears shuffling on the other side of the door. Her heart begins to race as she silently hopes her idea will go as planned. This is damn near her only hope.

 

There’s a mumble from inside and the sound of the lock releasing causes her to tense with anticipation. Timid eyes lift to meet the stunned gaze that stares from the threshold of the open door.

 

“What the fuck are you doing here?” He asks in shocked irritation as he stands holding the door.

 

“Shayne, please. I...I need your help.” She implores with her gravelly voice. He stares at her blankly for a moment, before shaking his head in dissent.

 

“No way, I’m not gonna fuck up my probation again...sorry.” he replies with a frown and starts to close the door.

 

She reaches up and stops it, pushing weakly against it as she begins to beg.

 

“Please Shayne, I don’t have anywhere else to go.” He holds the door in place and stares hard at her, his glance softening slightly as he registers the desperation in her eyes.

 

“I just need a few days, just a few days to get myself sorted and I promise I’ll be out of your hair. Please Shayne...please.” She clasps her hands in prayer between them.

 

The stalemate drags on for a prolonged silence; a pause worthy of the great works of Pinter, full of conflict and meaning. She’s locked in hopeless anticipation, he dancing uncertainly between morality and sympathy. Finally he breaks the silence with an exasperated groan.

 

“Fuck, Franky”  he sighs in frustration as he fully opens the door, stepping back, giving silent consent. She releases the breath she’d been holding and steps inside.

 

“You’ve got three days, that’s it. My mate comes back from Sydney then and you’ve gotta be gone.”

 

She follows him into the tiny living room, standing awkwardly in the small space as he clears a place for her to sit on the couch. She takes the offered seat with a grateful smile and registers for the first time since her escape just how tired her body actually is. Her mind, however, is a completely different story.

 

He takes a seat in a chair across the cramped room and watches her silently for a moment before pulling a cigarette from the pack on the table, lighting it and taking a nervous drag.

 

“What the fuck were you thinking; escaping? You’re mental, you know that?” He asks her, his tone kinder than the words spoken.

 

“You know I didn’t kill Pinisi. I have to prove I’m innocent.” She sighs and slides further into the couch, collapsing against the worn cushions as she sweeps a nervous hand across her disheveled hair.

 

“I can’t go back there Shayne….or it might kill me. I have to get proof.” Tears prick the corners of her eyes as she gnaws on her bottom lip, arms crossed protectively across her chest. He watches her with a sad and knowing expression.

 

“How are you gonna do that?” He asks gently, despite his skepticism. She leans forward on the couch, the long mulled over ideas flowing in a rush from her mouth.

 

“Iman killed Mike because she was jealous of his obsession with me. She said he had a whole wall full of photos he’d taken of me while I was out. He had been stalking me, that’s how they fucking knew about the gun. But the police didn’t find anything in Mike’s house and I think it’s because she took it all down, to cover it up. If I can get inside her house maybe I can find all those photos and anything that ties her romantically to him, it would prove she had motive to kill him and could force them into further investigation.”

 

“How do you know she even has the shit and she didn’t burn it or something?” he counters.

 

“Because she was fucking boonta! She got into prison just to kill me. She was totally obsessed with Mike, so there’s no way she got rid of any memories she had of him.”

 

He knows the conviction in her voice and if there’s anything he’s learned about Franky Doyle it’s that she always follows through when she’s put her mind to something. He takes another drag from the cigarette and leans forward in the seat, resting his elbows on his knees, looking directly at her as he speaks.

 

“Look Franky, you do what you gotta do, but other than giving you a place to crash, I can’t help ya. I’m finally getting my shit together and I don’t wanna fuck up again.”

 

“I know Shayne, I know. And I’m so proud of ya.” She leans forward and squeezes his knee as she offers a kind smile.

 

“And you gotta make yourself scarce when you’re here. Vics came by asking questions last night. About you and Aun….Joan.” Franky sits up straight at the mention of the name.

 

“Ferguson? Why are they asking about her?”

 

“You don’t know? She pulled a runner too.”

 

Franky’s jaw hits the floor.

 

“No fucking way.” She blurts in shock.

 

“Yea. Jacks came by asking if I’d seen her first, then they asked about you. Said you both escaped and could possibly be together, which I knew’d be bull shit...but I didn’t say nothing.”

 

She sits in a stunned silence, shaking her head in disbelief, until the realization hits her.

 

“Shit! Oh fuck…it was her that got in the other box!” The recognition sends a nauseating jolt to her stomach and she stands up and begins pacing the small room.

 

“Someone, a friend, was supposed to come with me but she backed out. I didn’t know until after we had escaped and I found the note she must have slipped into my pocket. I heard someone getting into the other box and just assumed it was her, but when we were dropped at the warehouse another truck came. I didn’t see it, because I was still inside the box, but when I got out, her box...Ferguson’s box, was gone. I found Al...my friend’s note after that, but I was too worried about getting out of there to think about who was in that box.”

 

“So you’re saying she got out and someone picked her up?” He sits up, placing the half burned cigarette in the overstuffed ashtray on the table. She stops her pacing and stares at him in disbelief.

 

“Fuck…” he muses with a shake of his head, as he runs a hand through his bed-messy hair.

 

“Yea,” she collapses back onto the couch, pulling her bottom lip and rolling it between nervous fingers.

 

“Well, good fucking riddance.” She utters after a long silence. “As long as she doesn’t come looking for me, she can stay running for the rest of her life. But promise me you will turn her in if she ever makes contact with you. She’s a psycho, Shayne.”

 

“No shit! I want nothing to do with that psycho bitch.” She nods her approval as he finishes his cigarette and stands up with a tired yawn.

 

“Well, I’ve got work in 5 hours, so I’m gonna go back to bed for a bit. Bathroom’s down the hall, on the left. Ain’t got much to eat right now, but cereal and some two-minute noodles, but you can have whatever you find.”  

 

“Thanks Shayne...I owe ya.” She says with a warm smile. He turns back to her with a smirk of his own.

 

“Yea, ya do! I big fucking fancy dinner when your arse gets out!” She tosses a pillow his direction with a smile and he catches it, throwing it back to her.

 

“Hey, you got a computer or tablet? Something to get on the internet?” She asks before he goes.

 

“Nah, but you can get on with the PS. You know how to use it, right?”

 

“Yea.”

 

“Alright, password’s ‘big tit Sheila’....just don’t go fucking googling crazy shit that’ll get me in trouble...and don’t mess with the porn settings!” He points a stern finger and raises his eyebrows.

 

“Oh, get out, ya dipstick!” She calls as he heads down the hall laughing.

 

She grabs the controller and turns on the console as a nervous energy gives her tired body a second wind.

 

It’s time to get down to business.

Chapter Text

The last twenty hours had been a blur of chaos and questions; an endless stream of increasingly infuriating questions. Channing, the police, the other guards, the inmates...everyone had questions that Vera didn’t have the answer to, including herself.

 

Channing had asked her to work a double and she’d agreed, only so some of the other staff could get some rest before returning for morning shift. She certainly wasn’t doing it to help that arrogant piece of shit. Funny how he needs me now, she thought as he had asked the question.  

 

Jake had stayed on as well and tried to send her home at the start of night shift, but she’d refused, partly out of spite and partly because she knew she wouldn’t get any rest if she went home anyway. He’d finally given into her suggestion that he go instead, leaving her in charge and promising to be back in the morning. His pathetic attempt to show kindness and apologize, yet again, made her want to gag.

 

Eventually sleep had granted it’s reprieve and the prison had gone quiet. She was glad to finally have some peace and solitude. It was nearly 3am and after checking in with the night shift in the other units, she had found herself en route to H5, pulled by a compulsion she could not fully comprehend. She had removed her shoes before approaching to slip soundlessly into the cell.

 

The room is eerily silent but she feels an odd comfort in this tiny pristine space. She steps to the small cot and takes a seat, exhaling with a soft sigh; it’s the first time she has sat down in hours. Leaning back against the cold wall, she feels the welcome chill of the bricks burning through the layers of clothing to soothe her tense shoulders. With a deep inhale she closes her eyes and welcomes the meditative silence.

 

In her half-sleep state, her mind falls to the horrific image of Joan hanging from the basketball hoop in the yard, face mottled red and blue, as life slowly escapes from her body. The next image is her bloodshot eyes as they bolt open when she gasps for breath, her haunting voice echoing “Why did you do it?” as the image fades. Vera awakens with a gasp and leans forward, resting small elbows to knees as she tries to regulate her heart rate and breathing.

 

She’s asked herself the same question a dozen times since the event and still isn’t entirely certain of the answer. She only knows that in spite of everything the wretched woman had done, she couldn’t bear to watch her being strung up to die. Sheer panic had settled in her bones as she watched the horror play out from behind the gate and she’d acted as a gut reaction. Despite the woman being hell-bent on destroying her, Vera still didn’t think she deserved to die, and definitely not in such a heinous manner. She remembers the relief she felt when those coffee eyes flew open and Joan took a gasping breath. Then there’s the guilt, that sickening feeling that she’s never managed to shake; knowing she too had some responsibility in Bea’s death, in Joan’s main reason for wearing the teal.

 

With a heavy sigh she rises from the bed and paces about the room. It’s odd looking through Joan’s personal things, knowing how fiercely private her former mentor is and she’s surprised at the twinge of sadness she feels when she realizes it doesn’t matter anymore. Joan’s gone, and even if she’s caught, she likely won’t be back here again. That thought generates an odd mix of sadness and satisfaction. Within the walls of Wentworth, Joan’s days were numbered, but outside, or at another prison, perhaps she would be safe.

 

She runs an idle finger across the books lined alphabetically along the desk, skimming the titles as she goes. She stops at one that catches her eye; the author known to her, but only in name- Sappho. Curiously, she pulls the book from the desk and opens it, skimming slowly through the pages. She flips to a page nearly halfway through the book and a small slip of paper wafts out, fluttering slowly to the floor. She picks it up and instantly recognizes the writing as her own. It’s a short ‘thank you’ note she had written to Joan after the night she had brought dinner to her and her mother, nearly a year ago.

 

It strikes her as odd that Joan would have kept it, especially after she had set out to systematically destroy her. Compelled by curiosity, she looks to see what is written on the bookmarked page.

 

…You burn me…

 

…Again and again…because those

I care for best, do me

Most harm…

 

Once long ago I loved you, Atthis,

A little graceless child you seemed to me

 

………but you have forgotten me…

 

Like the sweet-apple reddening high on the branch,

High on the highest, the apple-pickers forgot,

Or not forgotten, but one they couldn’t reach...

 

Tears begin to well in her tired eyes as the words sinks in; she blinks hard against them as she registers their meaning. Is this how she felt about me?

 

Carefully she places the note back into the book, closes it and tucks it into the waist of her pants before slipping silently back out of the room, tears now streaming fully down her face.

Chapter Text

Limping at a frustratingly slow pace due to pain and sheer exhaustion, she finally makes it through the wooded area and finds herself in the Mount Ridley Nature Conservation Reserve, as evidenced by the carved wooden sign she uses as a crutch for a few moments rest. She’s at the edge of a narrow dirt road, lined with overnight camping sites on each side. It’s still dark, sometime after midnight she suspects, and perfectly quiet, but she knows she needs to seek cover quickly.

 

About 300 metres ahead stands a small wooden building, illuminated by a single light post casting an eerie shade of yellow on the ground below. Beneath it, she can just make out a sign with male and female symbols; a toilet. As if on cue, her throat begins to burn and she wearily rises to make her way to water. She stops midway in her journey, nicking a pair of red trackies, a large black hooded jumper and towel from the clothesline at a campsite along the road.

 

A sigh of relief escapes her chapped and cracking lips as she steps into the dimly lit building to discover a row of three shower stalls along the far wall. She’s too desperate to even ponder the issues of hygiene. She steps into a stall and pulls the curtain closed, collapsing heavily onto the small wooden bench.

 

With aching joints and muscles, she peels away the dirt stained teal, discarding it in a pile in the corner of the stall. Stepping under the shower head, she turns the knob and hisses as the ice cold bullets pelt against her skin. Inhaling sharply, she steps fully under the cascade, turning an open mouth, greedily gulping the water to soothe her flaming throat. Lacking soap, she washes as much dirt... death ...from her hair and skin as she can, until her body shivers violently from the cold.

 

She dresses in the stolen clothes; pants too short and a jumper that swallows her impressive curves, leaving the towel and teal in the dirty stall. In the cloudy mirror above the metal sink, she stares at her fuzzy, but obviously ashen, reflection as the sound of dirt on wood reverberates through her brain. She turns on the faucet and vigorously splashes her face, trying to wash the haunting music from her memory, though she knows no amount of cleansing will ever make it go away.

 

She lifts her head from the sink and nearly jumps when her bleary eyes make contact with the troubled stare of an older woman standing a cautionary distance behind her. The woman timidly approaches, as if she’s approaching a wounded animal... really, she is... stopping at the sink next to Joan. Concern is etched across her generously wrinkled face as she takes in the pallid color of Joan’s cheek and the red and bloodied knuckles of her hands. Joan watches her warily in the mirror.

 

“Miss, are you ok? I don’t mean to pry, but you look like you need help.” The woman leans slightly closer and meets Joan’s gaze in the mirror.

 

For a moment Joan doesn’t respond; her ever calculating mind flipping through an array of possible plays for the scenario, seeking the best method to protect herself. Her mind’s not as sharp as normal, which frustrates her, but after a few seconds she falls upon the perfect plan. Ever the master manipulator, she commands her eyes into performance, willing the fat crocodile tears to well and then tumble down her cheeks. With a ragged breath and trembling lip, she replies.

 

“My….my husband….” she trails off weakly, meek eyed, yet ever watchful of the older stranger’s reaction. The woman’s eyes fall to Joan’s bloody knuckles, then up to the red ring that’s just begun to peak from below the neckline of the hoodie.

 

“Did he do that to you?” Joan intentionally drops her gaze and shoves her hands into the pocket of the jumper, a perfect picture of a battered woman. The stranger steps closer and lays a gentle hand on Joan’s bicep.

 

“Would you like for me to call the police?”

 

“No, no, he just does it when he drinks too much. I just…if I could just get to my sister, she’ll take care of me...but I don’t have a car.”

 

“Where is your sister? Could she come get you?”

 

“She’s at work and I don’t want to call and worry her. She works at a 24 hour cafe in Mernda.” She reaches up and wipes fresh tears from her cheeks. The older woman stands silent for a moment, it’s clear she’s thinking and Joan nearly smiles at how easy it is to deceive.

 

“Why don’t you come back to my camp with me and I’ll wake my husband. I’m sure he’d be willing for us to take you there, it’s only half an hour or so from here anyway.”

 

“Thank you. I would appreciate that very much. I just want to be away from here before he realizes I’m gone.” With a shy smile and nod of agreement, Joan allows the woman to guide her out the door.

 

Ten minutes later, she’s crouched in the backseat of an old Volkswagen Golf that reeks of mildew and greasy chips. Thankfully the ride is mostly silent as the elderly couple seems to be at an uncomfortable, for them at least, loss for the appropriate words. For Joan it’s a relief because the headache pounding relentlessly against her temples is threatening to destroy any remaining amounts of her composure. They reach the tiny cafe just off Schotters Rd at half past four.

 

Pulling into a spot near the door, the old man meets Joan’s eyes in the rearview mirror. There’s a kindness in his mossy green gaze that Joan thinks rare to find in men, at least most of the men she’s encountered.

 

“Would you like for us to accompany you inside?” He asks her gently.

 

“No, you’ve done more than enough. Thank you for your generosity and I’m sorry to have robbed you of your sleep.” He offers a small smile and nod.

 

“It was no problem at all Miss; I’m just glad we could help. And listen…” he hesitates slightly before he continues, “you deserve better than a man that thinks it’s ok to treat you that way.” Joan offers a timid nod in response, then slips wordlessly out the car door.

 

She enters the cafe and moves off to a corner, out of view from the car, where she can watch for their retreat. She waits another five minutes before she leaves, making her way around the back of the building to the small street behind it.

 

It’s an old section of the town, where the few small homes and their elderly inhabitants stubbornly defy the test of time, forgotten and mostly left to decay, until some property development company comes in from the city to buy it up and build some new modern community. For now it’s ignored, a perfect secluded place if one should need to hide, which is precisely why Nils had kept the property when his aunt had passed away, transferring everything to his ownership under a pseudonym.

 

Reaching the small white cottage at the end of the street, she climbs onto the porch with growing fatigue and retrieves the hidden key from the high beam of the eave overhead. She steps inside the cottage, closing the door and leans heavily against it with a sigh of relief.

 

Knowing she is safe, exhaustion permeates every fiber of her being, weighing heavy in her limbs and aching body. She makes her way into the single bedroom at the end of the hall and collapses onto the bed that’s too short for her frame. Curling into a fetal position, she closes her eyes and quickly succumbs to a fretful sleep.

Chapter Text

Nimble hands work hastily in the frigid half-light of day break. With a simple hairpin clasped between surgical glove covered fingers, Franky works quickly, bottom lip between teeth, to jimmy the lock free. A final jiggle and twist, and the knob turns in her grip. Her heart flutters with excitement and she smiles at how easy it was.  

 

Stepping into the dimly lit living room, she cautions a glance around the surprisingly inviting space, with it’s soft neutral tones and pale wood furnishings. The aesthetic surprises her; she’d expected something darker, more...chaotic, given the nature of the woman who had lived here.

The place looks untouched, giving the appearance of someone going on a long holiday, instead of a prison sentence.

 

After her extensive online research, she had found that the bank had only just retained ownership of the property yesterday, so no one has likely been inside since Iman had been remanded to Wentworth. She hopes that works in her favor.

 

She makes a pass through the rooms downstairs first, looking for anything obvious that might help her case. Finding nothing there, she makes her way upstairs to find Iman’s bedroom, assuming that to be the most likely place where she’d have something to hide.

 

Starting with the dresser, she combs through each of the drawers, digging to the bottom to search for anything that could link Iman to Pennisi. Coming up empty, she moves to check under the bed, only to find a foam roller and a few other pieces of fitness equipment. With a frustrated sigh she rises from the floor and moves to the bedside table.

 

The usual contents crowd the small drawer: a tube of hand cream, a bottle of sleeping pills, a sleep mask, a trashy romance novel; but the small glint of a silver picture frame in the back catches her eye. She pulls it out, flips it over and her eyes grow wide with excitement. Iman’s dark eyes stare back at her, a wide smile plastered across her face as Mike’s lips are pressed against her cheek. She flips the frame over and gently pulls back the tabs on the back, lifting the slip of cardboard from the frame. Inside is another picture, obviously from a few years prior. Mike and Iman are standing on a beach, his arms wrapped around her waist as he stands behind her, peering over her shoulder.  

 

Though these link her romantically to Pennisi, they don’t offer a clear motive or any real evidence to support Iman as his murderer. She places the frame on the nightstand, positioning it at a slight angle to face the bed then moves to the closest in search of something more concrete. The ends of the space are lined floor to ceiling with cubbies, containing mostly shoes and other wearable accessories, but nothing more. A search of the floor turns up empty as well. She turns away with a frustrated groan, running her hands over the hood of the jumper she borrowed from Shayne.

 

In one final, futile attempt to find something, she turns back to the closet and begins pushing through the clothes hanging on the bar, digging in pockets as she goes. Dividing the contents of the rack down the middle, she pushes them to opposite ends of the bar to reveal the wall behind them.

 

A mural of pictures hangs meticulously aligned on the wall. All pictures of her; stalkerish and rather unsettling in their angle of view. These must be the pictures Pennisi had. Stepping closer to get a better view in the dim light, she notices a ziplock bag in the center of the display. Looking around for a light source, she sees the string hanging from the light above her and pulls it, illuminating the closet, bringing everything into clear view.

 

Inside the bag is a single knit glove, space-dye black and white, with a dramatic splash of dusty red-brown in the center. Franky shakes her head in disbelief as she registers that the ominous smear is old blood and the implication begins to sink in. This is exactly the proof she needs to set her free.

 

She stares in silence for a long moment as the tears begin to well in her eyes. The magnitude of the find fills her heart with hope and she laughs in delight as the smiling face of Bridget flashes in her mind’s eye.

 

“I’m coming for ya, Gidge.” She whispers to herself as tears of joy stream down her face.

 

Slowly, she pushes the clothes back into place along the bar, turns off the light and closes the closet doors. Removing anything, or sending it to the police would only bring scrutiny to the authenticity of the material; it must remain here for someone else to find. The evidence is so damning, it won’t be ignored.

 

With renewed hope, she slips soundlessly back into the early light of morning, locking the house behind her, no evidence of her visit left behind.

 

***

 

Sleep deprived and in a state of near delirium, Will stares blankly into his open locker in the staff lounge. It’s the end of his night shift and the splitting headache is finally getting the better of him. The last 72 hours have been an emotional rollercoaster that he’s only barely managed to ride with the aid of copious amounts of alcohol and kickboxing, the perfect cocktail to act as an anesthetic for the pain.

 

No matter how exhausted his body and mind, the images and ghostly screams haunt him each time he so much as closes his eyes. Despite his attempt to shuck off the role of executioner, he still can’t manage to shuck the terrors from his brain.

 

He had thought, hoped, that his anonymous call that night would have prevented Ferguson from a real escape, but the lack of any real information about her whereabouts being broadcast on the news makes him worry his call had been in vain. Turns out, she really must be the inhuman beast he thought she was and now his guilt at seemingly setting her free is eating ravenously at the halo around his head. His desperation to set it right, to fix his mistake, propels him into action.

 

The rundown apartment building looms large above him as he pulls his motorcycle into a space in front of building nine. Taking off his helmet, he slips it under his arm and makes his way up the stairs to 918. He’s fairly certain she won’t be here, but it’s the only place he can think of to start.

 

With a balled fist, stern gaze and mouth drawn in a thin line, he bangs on the door. Perhaps the hardened exterior will mask the near panic coursing through his veins. The latch turns on the other side and he nearly jumps as it slowly creeps open. Shayne recognizes him instantly and begins to slam the door, but he butts the steel toe of his boot into the frame, a flat palm and bulging bicep forcing the door open against Shayne’s weaker opposing force.

 

“I need to fucking talk to you, mate.” He growls as he steps into the unit, Shayne staring wide-eyed, throwing his palms up in surrender. He cuts a cautious glance down the hall, but Will is too irritated to notice.

 

“Alright man, alright. What the fuck do you want?” Shayne acquiesces as he backs further into the room.

 

“Have you seen her...that Freak? She contacted you?” Will asks menacingly as he takes another step towards Shayne.

 

“Nah man.” Shayne huffs in response, relieved to know he’s asking about Joan instead of Franky.  Will lunges forward, grabbing him by the chest of his shirt, pulling him in close to intimidate.

 

“Don’t fucking lie to me, mate.” Will seethes between clenched teeth.

 

“I’m not man, I swear. She hasn’t fucking contacted me! I’d have told the Jacks if she did, that bitch is fucking crazy.” Shayne grabs onto Will’s fists for leverage, maintaining eye contact as he tries to convey the truth behind his words.

 

Finally, Will loosens his grip and steps back, lowering his gaze to the floor; ashamed of the aggressive man he’s become.

 

“Sorry man, I’m sorry.” He whispers low as he slowly begins to meet Shayne’s relieved stare.

 

The sound of a door opening down the hall pulls their attention and they both look up anxiously. From out of sight, a woman’s voice calls into the room.

 

“Shayne, I’m gonna make an omelet, you want one before you go to work?”

 

Suddenly, the owner of the voice steps into view, wet hair cascading down her neck as she blots at it with a towel. Her eyes meet with Will’s and both mouths fall open in shock.

 

“Mr. Jackson?”

“Franky?”

 

The dazed realization comes in unison as they stare at each other across the room. Will manages to regain some composure first, shaking his head in disbelief as he takes a step towards her.

 

“What the fuck are you doing here, Doyle?” disbelief and rising anger coloring his voice.

 

“Mr. Jackson, please….please don’t call the cops. I’m begging you. You know I didn’t kill Pennisi, that I didn’t deserve to be back at Wentworth. I had to clear my name! Please, Mr. Jackson….please.” Hot bottom lip trembles wildly as she stands frozen, pleading with the man before her. Shayne watches in shock, too terrified to speak.

 

With a laboured exhale, Will brings a hand to the bridge of his nose, squeezing tightly as he shuts his eyes. If he’s honest with himself, he knows Franky is innocent and he was actually a little glad she had managed to escape. He knows she’s one of the good ones, one of the ones that actually found rehabilitation at that fucked up place of concrete and wire.

 

After a long silence, he opens his eyes again, reflecting a gentle kindness that makes the terrified woman before him breathe a sigh of relief, familiar with the bleeding heart buried just under the surface of his tough facade. With a second exhale, he sinks into the chair near his right leg.

 

“And did you, have you….cleared your name?” He asks with a heavy sigh.

 

She crosses to the coffee table at his knees and sits before him.

 

“Yea, I have. Well, I’ll be cleared very soon, anyway.” She says with a small smile.

 

“How?”

 

“I broke into Iman’s house, the bank just took possession of it yesterday. In her closet, behind all the clothes, tacked on the back wall, she has all the pictures Mike took of me when I was out, when he was stalking me. There’s also a little baggie with a knit glove inside. It’s covered in blood...I think it’s probably his. When the bank sends people to pack up the house, they’ll find it, and they’ll have no choice but to notify the police. It’ll prove my innocence.”

 

He sits silent for a long moment, taking in everything she says. He has no reason to doubt her, she’s been brutally honest with him in the past. Only one thing seems to stand in his mind, in preventing her freedom.

 

“What about Iman’s death? It’s still your word against Ferguson’s since you have no proof.”

 

“I know...I’m still working on that part.” Franky bites her bottom lip and he watches her with growing interest. Seeing his shot at a chance of redemption, an opportunity to start with a clean slate for his sins, he leans forward, elbows on knees as an idea strikes him.

 

“You told me before that Ferguson was wearing gloves when she killed Iman, right?”

 

“Yea,” she replies with a shake of her head, puzzled by the question.

 

“Well, if you had those gloves, maybe they could find her DNA on them, proving that part of your story, that Ferguson had contact with her.” Franky shakes her head, still confused by what he is getting at.

 

“But I don’t have them, so how’s that gonna help me?”

 

“I can get them; I’m sure they’re in her cell. She’s gone from Wentworth….and likely won’t ever be back, so we’ll be packing it up to make room for new inmates. I can convince Vera to send them to the police for testing and with her escape, I’m sure they won’t take much convincing to look for any evidence that would support locking her up for good...if she’s ever found again.”

 

“You’d do that for me?” She asks in disbelief as the tears well in her eyes.

 

“Yea...you’re one of the good ones, Franky, you deserve to be out here. I’ve done some things in my life that I regret….this will be a chance for me to make something right.” He reaches out and places a hand on her knee, squeezing gently. She leans forward and clings around his neck, pulling him into a tight hug that he reciprocates.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Jackson...thank you.”

 

Cupping his face in her hands, she smiles through the rush of tears streaming down her face and he offers a genuine smile in return, his heart finally feeling some of the guilt begin to melt away.

Chapter Text

Side by side, Will Jackson and Vera Bennett march down the halls to H5, under Channing’s command. He wants Ferguson’s cell emptied immediately, all contents placed into storage until further notice. “Let the dust taint them there,” he’d said with a wicked smirk as they walked out his office door. Vera wanted to slap that look right off his smug fucking face.

Turning into H block, they’re greeted by Boomer and Liz, on their way to the showers. Eyes wide, Boomer runs to them, stopping in front of the box in Mr. Jackson’s arms, impeding their progress. She raises her hands with a pleading look on her face, Liz stepping up behind her to try and coax her out of their way.

“Mr. Jackson, Ms. Bennett...is there any news about Sonia? Please...please, is she ok?”

Vera looks at her for a moment, finally releasing a heavy sigh, her resolve softened by the worry in Boomer’s voice. Suddenly, she recognizes they play the same role, the small right hand to the mastermind that lead them. She reaches out and runs a hand down Boomer’s arm, her humanity winning out once again.

“She’s stable, but she’s got a long road ahead.”

Jenkins reaches a hand up to her head, her brow furrowing deep as her eyes begin to glisten.

“But, but she’s alright, yeah? She’s gonna live?”

“It’s a bit early to say, but they’re hopeful she’ll make a full recovery.” Will interjects with a measured smile. Boomer stares a moment, then begins to cry, broad shoulders shaking as her face grows mottled with red.

Liz watches silently from behind her, her heart pounding loudly in her ears. Overdosing Sonia was a means of survival, but she isn’t cold-blooded enough to feel apathy for committing murder. While grateful she’s not earned the title...yet, she can’t shake the fear of what will happen when Sonia returns. Finally she steps up to Boomer, taking her gently by the arm. She looks to Will and Vera with an apologetic gaze as she begins to address the crying woman before them.

“Come on love, you’ll feel better after a shower, yea. Let them get back to work.” Boomer rubs roughly at the tears on her face, her gaze returning once again to Vera.

“Ms. Bennett, will you give me updates when you know? I just...I’m worried.”

“Sure, of course.” Vera offers with a kind smile and nod. Boomer nods in return, finally allowing Liz to lead her away.

“She’s lost without Stevens.” Will mutters sympathetically as they continue on their journey to H5.

Vera slows her step, her chest cripplingly tight as the words sink in; the statement a perfect echo for her own inner struggle. She remains silent as she fights to keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks.

A heavy silence descends between them as they step into Joan’s cell. After a long pause, Vera moves to the desk and begins to collect the books, placing them almost reverently in the box Will deposited onto the sink. He steps to the bed and begins to remove the sheets, folding them in silence as he works.

“How did this happen?” Vera finally speaks, sadness imbuing her voice with a slight tremor. Her back remains turned to him, eyes fixed on the wall before her.

“What?” He responds in confusion, looking in her direction.

“How did everything go so horribly wrong?”  She barely contains the tremble in her voice, closing her eyes tightly against the burn in her chest, a single tear creeping down her cheek.

He sighs heavily, dropping his gaze to his hands, shaking his head sadly.

“I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

Behind closed doors the governor and deputy meet. Two snakes, resembling men, conspire to run a business. Lives may be lost, laws may be broken, but oh , how the pocket book will sing.

 Channing sits behind the desk, in a leather throne that is far too regal for his peasantry. The smarmy grin plastered on his face says he’s a man fueled solely by money. Jake sits across from him, hands clasped together in his lap. He’s become a puppet again, just a new master’s hand up his ass. He hates himself for it, but he’s too weak to find a way out. Maybe with some money he can buy himself a new life.

 “How many kilos do you have coming in tomorrow?” Channing asks bluntly.

 “Just ten this time.”

 “And who is receiving?”

 “Mercado. I’ll be there to supervise and divide the supply later.”

 “Right. So, I expect ten grand by Friday.” He lifts an eyebrow, tilting his chin to give a half smirk.

 “It’ll be transferred to your account by 3pm.” Jake nods in concession, swallowing his pride and shame like broken glass.

 A light knock on the door interrupts the exchange and they both turn as it’s cautiously opened. Will Jackson steps in with an apologetic look on his face.

 “Oh, sorry to interrupt.” He says when he sees them, feeling the awkward energy as it hangs in the air.

 “No worries, we were just finishing. What can I do for you, Mr. Jackson?” Channing replies, casting a final glance to Jake who takes the hint and rises to leave. He offers a tight smile to Will as he passes him in the doorway.

 Will shuts the office door and approaches the desk. From behind his back he produces a ziplock bag with a pair of black leather gloves. He sets it between them on the desk and chooses to remain standing. Channing cocks an eyebrow and looks up to him with an expectant gaze.

 “I found these in Ferguson’s cell.” Not understanding the connection, Channing tilts his head and narrows his eyes.

 “And?” He asks with slight irritation.

 “When Iman Farah was murdered, Franky Doyle insisted it was Ferguson that killed her. She told police and the officers here that Ferguson came into her cell wearing black leather gloves and snapped Iman’s neck. She was really adamant about her claim.”

 “What’s your point, Mr. Jackson?” Channing questions again with rising irritation.

 “I thought you, and the police, might find them interesting. It proves that part of Franky’s story, and perhaps Iman’s DNA are on them. If hard evidence could link Ferguson to the murder of a fellow inmate here, then they’d be forced to send her to another facility, when she’s caught. Means the bitch would be totally out of our hair.”

 Channing stares at him for a moment, lifting a hand in thought to his chin. Though he’s fairly certain Joan’s too smart to get caught, he’d rather prepare for the worst. A knowing smirk slowly spreads across his face and he finally nods in approval to Will.

 “Good work, Mr. Jackson. Leave them with me. I’ll phone our friends down at the cop shop.”

 They exchange a smug smile and Will excuses himself out the door.

 

***

 

Seated in the chair in the dark corner of the room, Franky struggles to stay awake. It’s 3am and she’s exhausted, but she dares not close her eyes. On the bed, the sleeping figure stirs. Franky’s heart beat quickens and she holds her breath as she watches the woman roll over and slowly sit up.

 “Gidge.” She whispers as she rises from the chair.

 Bridget’s gaze snaps instantly to the corner and she lets out a quick, sharp scream before cupping her hand over her mouth. Franky steps quickly to the bed and kneels on the floor between her knees. Through the dim light cast from the digital clock on the nightstand, she can see the tears flowing down Bridgets cheeks. Her hands slide up bare thighs, to firmly squeeze the narrow hips before her. Bridget lifts both hands to cup Franky’s face, shaking her head in shock.

 “Baby, what the hell were you thinking?” she asks through a shaky whisper.

 “I had to Gidge. It was the only way for me to get back to you.”

 “Franky...”

 “I got the evidence I needed to prove I’m innocent.” She circles her hands gently around Bridgets wrists, offering a brilliantly tender smile.

 “How?” Franky shakes her head gently, removing Bridgets hands from her cheeks, kissing her right palm before she clasps them between her own.

 “Doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you later. I just want to be with you right now.”

Releasing Bridget’s hands, she runs her own up the sides of Bridget’s slender neck, stopping just below her jaw as she pulls her in for a deep, slow kiss. Bridget stays frozen momentarily, shock still seizing her senses. Franky pulls away, looking into her eyes and finally she snaps into the moment. She crawls up onto her knees on the bed, pulling Franky close for another passionate kiss.

 They break apart and Franky undresses quickly as Bridget pulls off the thin camisole and lace panties she is wearing. Their bodies crash into each other on the bed, clicking immediately into place like magnets. Hot lips and tongue trail between the valley of Bridget’s small breasts, as Franky makes her way down her lover’s body. Bridget gasps with the contact and shifts up onto her elbows.

 “Baby, turn around, I want to taste you too.” She husks, voice thick with lust.

Franky looks up with a devilish smile and pivots her body, throwing her right leg over Bridget’s head, hips now looming above Bridget’s face. It’s a dance they’ve shared a hundred times before.

 With perfect timing, they tease each other to climax, expert tongues servicing the other to ecstasy. Her body spent and thrumming deliciously with fulfilled desire, Franky collapses on her side onto the bed, Bridget rolling over to scoop her into her arms. They snuggle in silence for a long while, as the waves of passion slowly recede. Finally, Franky rolls over, pulling Bridget flush against her body, running a tender hand through disheveled hair.

 “I can’t stay baby, I wish I could.” She confesses sadly.

 “I know.” comes the equally sad reply.

 “We’ll be together soon though, I promise.” She leans in, placing a tender kiss on Bridget’s lips.

 “I’m holding you to it.” Bridget counters with a small smile, offering another kiss in return.

 “I love you, Gidge.” It comes out in a fragile whisper as she pushes back the tears that begin to well in her eyes.

 “I love you too.” They remain in each other’s arms for a few minutes more, not quite ready to give up the contact.

 Eventually Franky rises from the bed and pulls on her clothes, Bridget sitting up against the headboard to watch her.

 “Do you have any cash?” Franky asks once she’s dressed, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking Bridget’s hand.

 “About $100 in my purse.”

They head into the kitchen and Bridget retrieves the money, handing it over to Franky as they approach the back door. Pulling the blanket from the back of the couch, she wraps it around her body before they step outside.

 “I’ll see you soon, ok.” She wraps her arms around Bridget, pulling her in and placing a soft kiss on her forehead.

 “Be careful. I love you.” Bridget offers with a sad smile and wave as Franky nods and slowly walks away.

Chapter Text

Sweat drenched tendrils of black and silver cling to Joan’s temples and neck. Beneath the borrowed black hoodie, a sauna builds to suffocating temperatures. With a start Joan awakens, gasping for air as she frantically rips off the thick jumper. Tear tracks stain her pale cheeks and she realizes she’s been crying in her sleep. The angry crimson ring around her throat burns as if it’s on fire.

Leaning heavily against the wall behind her, coffee eyes dart to the foot of the bed as she notices a subtle movement there. In the soft glow of moonlight seeping through the curtains, she recognizes the young woman’s kind face instantly and her heart flutters wildly, threatening to burst from the constricting cage of her chest.

“Jianna?” Her voice croaks as she speaks the name she hasn’t uttered aloud in ages. Fresh tears quickly flood her bloodshot eyes.

The young woman shifts atop the mattress, sliding closer until her face is lit by moonlight. She offers a sad smile as her eyes meet Joan’s.

“You’ve changed, Joan.” Joan drops her gaze to her long fingers worrying in her lap.

“I’ve grown old.” She whispers sadly.

“No. I mean in here.” Moving closer, Jianna places a gentle hand over Joan’s heart. Joan looks up, sorrowful eyes meeting Jianna’s equally doleful gaze.

Joan’s mouth falls open, for she knows the words are true. Shame surges through her, leaving her feeling even more vulnerable, more exposed.  

“I had to. I lost you and it nearly killed me.” She whispers and blinks as a single tear falls from her eye.

“I know.”

“I...I failed you.” Another tear tumbles down her ashen cheek and Jianna reaches up, gently thumbing it away with a compassionate smile.

“No, you didn’t fail me.”

“I couldn’t protect you, or Shayne, and they took you both away from me.” She sits silent for a moment, eyes downcast until she finds her resolve. Looking up, she wipes the tears from her cheeks with aggressive swipes of her hands.

“They must pay for what they’ve done.” A silent rage burns behind her glassy eyes, pale hands balling subconsciously into tight fists atop her lap.

Jianna shakes her head in dissent and takes her hands into her own, squeezing them tenderly. Rage filled eyes close in relief at the compassionate touch; a touch she’s yearned to feel again for decades. Consumed by grief she finally falls; the fortress walls crumbling under the sheer power of emotion that surges through her.

Thick, hot tears transform to choking, heaving sobs as she gives up against the tidal wave of feelings she’s kept damned within the recesses of her heart for so long. Jianna continues to hold her hands, soothing thumbs caressing the alabaster weapons as she allows Joan the essential emotional purge. Grief, anger, hate, shame all slip out with those salty tears. After a long while, the sobs finally subside and Jianna lifts her hands, gently wiping the tears from Joan’s cheeks, crooking a finger under Joan’s chin, lifting her head to meet her empathetic stare.

“Joan, it’s time to let it go. Revenge won’t change the past; it won’t give you peace. The need for it has turned your heart to stone. What happened to the kind, gentle woman I knew then?” Joan shakes her head despondently.

“I...I don’t know, I think I’ve lost her.” Her voice sounds hollow, almost broken as the sorrow consumes her. Her gaze falls to her lap again, tears dropping on the blanket beneath their clasped hands.

“No, you haven’t. She’s still there, buried deep beneath your anger. Every time she tries to surface, you push her back down, afraid to let yourself feel.”

Joan looks up in wide-eyed shock, shaking her head in disbelief.

“How did you know?” Jianna offers a warm smile.

“Because I’m always with you. I’ve seen it, feel it in your heart. Emotions are a good thing, Joan. They make you human and help you connect with others. You’ve done some terrible things, but it’s not too late to change, to try and make some of it right again.” Joan shakes her head sadly and uncertainty fills her tired eyes.

“I’ve destroyed so much. I...I don’t even know where to begin to fix it.” She confesses hopelessly. Jianna releases a hand, reaching up to gently tuck a strand of silver behind Joan’s ear, her soft palm resting gently on a pallid cheek.

“Yes you do.” Jianna’s soft doe eyes hold her in a steady gaze and a gentle smile bows her lips.

Consumed by exhaustion, Joan stifles a yawn.

“Now, you need to sleep. You can think about it more when you’re rested and your mind is clear.”

“Will you...stay with me?” Joan whispers, sounding small and fragile, like a child. Jianna smiles tenderly with a nod.

“Of course.”

She rises and crosses to the other side of the bed, taking a seat and leaning against the wall, extending her legs out in front of her. Joan turns onto her side and nuzzles her head against Jianna’s ribs, a sleep heavy arm coming to drape across her slender waist. Soothing caresses of Jianna’s hands quickly lull her into a half sleep state, her breathing growing deep and heavy.

“Joan?” Jianna questions as she strokes Joan’s forearm draped across her stomach.

“Hmm?” Joan replies half-consciously.

“Forgive her. You know she’s not responsible for how things are between you.” She listens for the reply that never comes; Joan has succumbed to sleep, light snoring sounds emitting from her slightly parted lips.

She stays a few moments longer, smooth dark fingers coasting loving touches across Joan’s sleeping form. Holding her in the tender embrace they never got to share all those years ago; an embrace she knows Joan can one day feel, if she would only follow her heart.

At last, with a tender kiss to the top of Joan’s head, Jianna makes her final exit.

Chapter Text

Arms akimbo as she stands in the xeriscaped yard, Bridget surveys the cadre of boxes stacked along the driveway and can’t wipe the giddy smile from her elfin face. Just five months ago, she would have never imagined this could be a possibility. The night Franky appeared in the dim lights across the darkened street, she thought any chance at a future for them was done. She’d spent the following three months in a state of perpetual fear that Franky would be caught and they’d be separated forever, but true to her word, Franky had miraculously cleared her name and after a short hearing, all charges regarding the murders of both Mike Pennisi and Iman Farrah had been dropped.

The decision to move to Sydney seemed like the next logical step for them both. They were desperate for a fresh start and to escape the looming shadow of Wentworth and all the haunted memories it conjured. Through the help of a former colleague, Bridget had secured a position at Silverwater and Franky had managed to find work as a paralegal for a juvenile probation center. Despite all the planning and preparation, it hadn’t felt real until they started loading the rented moving van, now nearly full with the contents of their shared life.

“You know those aren’t gonna load themselves, right?”

Whipping around she casts a good-natured sneer as Vera approaches from the street, dressed in her work uniform.

“That’s what Franky, Will and Shayne are for.” She quips with a devilish wink and laugh. Vera falls in beside her, arms crossed leisurely at her chest as she eyes the organized chaos sprawled across the drive.

“So, how’s it going?”

“We’re just about finished, actually. They’re just getting the bed to load and then these boxes, then we’re done. Should be on the road in the next two hours.” She offers an excited smile that falls slightly when she sees the sadness settling on Vera’s face.

“I’m really going to miss you.” Vera confesses shyly, gnawing on her perpetually chapped bottom lip.

“Oh now, don’t start that or you’ll set me off too! Come here.” She pulls Vera into a warm hug and before the waterworks begin they’re interrupted by a boisterous yell from Franky.

“Oy, Bennett! That’s my woman, watch your hands!” The women pull apart with a laugh, wiping the pooling tears from their eyes.

“Fuck off, Doyle.” Vera teases as Franky approaches, wiping her forehead with the cuffed sleeve of her red checkered shirt.

“Ayy, why are you both being such sooks, huh? It’s not like this is goodbye forever. We’ve got a spare room, Vera and you’re gonna come visit.” She wraps a protective arm around Bridget who smiles and nods in agreement.

“Yea, yea. Alright, one day...if Channing will ever give me the time off.”

“Oh, no worries, Will said he’d cover your shifts, right Mr. Jackson?” She shouts over her shoulder as he and Shayne approach from the moving van.

“Maybe, but it’ll cost her.” He nods at Vera with a teasing grin.

“Well, I can’t stay, but I wanted to come say bye and tell you to let me know you’ve arrived safely.”

“Ah ah, not bye just ‘see ya later’.” Franky steps forward and pulls Vera into a big hug, leaning into her ear as she offers a good squeeze.

“Thank you, for everything Vera. Your support has meant a lot to me and Gidge.” She whispers in Vera’s ear before she pulls away, green eyes flooding with unshed tears. Vera offers a silent nod and smile, working hard to hold in tears of her own.

Bridget steps up and offers her another tight squeeze and a gentle smile. “I’ll text you when we get there and we can have a chat at the weekend.” Vera nods and offers a squeeze to their joined hands.

“Drive safely and speak soon.” She calls over her shoulder as she heads to her car.

____________

Silently they slip into the darkened cell, padding softly toward the small cot. The sleeping figure lies on her back, crocheted blanket pooling around her waist, blonde curls fanned across the dingy white pillow.

A weight shifts on the bed and she awakens with a start, just as her wrists are seized above her head and a weight settles across her hips. Blinking hard to see in the dim light cast through the slit in the curtained window, Liz finally makes out the menacing smile of Sonia hovering just above her. Twisting against the grip on her wrists, she shifts her gaze further to see Booms hovering behind her with a slightly aggrieved expression on her ruddy face. A wave of nauseating terror washes through her.

Bucking her hips in an attempt to break from beneath the waspish woman, she feels a bony hand come crushing hard against her mouth before a cold pressure descends against her throat. She grows stock still and wide eyed as she watches Sonia lean in again.

“Ah ah, fighting will only make this worse,” the arrogant woman mewls condescendingly. “Hold her still, Susan, I don’t want to make a mess.” Liz looks up to see the hesitation in Boomer’s eyes, but after a moment, the grip on her wrists tightens and they’re pushed down harder against the thin mattress of her cot.

Leisurely, Stevens begins her monologue, like a Queen before a great battle.

“You see...I’ve had a lot of time while I was recovering to think about what happened to me and who might be responsible. And no matter what route I took, every road led back to you. X always marks the spot, after all.” The devilish twinkle in her eye matches the demented smirk on her perfectly lined lips. Liz mumbles beneath Sonia’s squeezing fingers in an attempt to protest, but is quickly quieted when the shiv presses harder against her throat. With a wicked smile Sonia inhales deeply, relishing the euphoric buzz that begins to fill her chest; she always has enjoyed playing God.

“As impressed as I was that you had the fortitude to follow through, I don’t respond well to people trying to murder me. So naturally, you can understand my compulsion to...return the favor.” The shiv presses harder into the delicate flesh of Liz’s throat, splitting the skin and drawing a thin trickle of blood that runs down the curve of her neck to stain the pillow beneath. Hot tears swiftly roll from terror-blown blue eyes as she’s petrified by the demonic glare in the beady brown eyes above her.

Suddenly, Sonia releases her hand from Liz’s mouth and grips her fingers tightly into the blonde ringlets crowning her forehead, yanking her head back roughly to expose her abused throat further. Trembling and choking on her tears, Liz squeezes her eyes shut, too afraid to watch the executioner do her work. She waits for the cut, the searing pain, the slow bleed and eventual descent into darkness. Time seems to stand still, an eternity drags on in this limbo of presumed purgatory.

The rough jerk of her head makes her finally open her eyes. She blinks through the flood of tears until her vision is cleared to reveal the macabre view. With a cheshire cat grin, Stevens looms over her with a fistful of blonde curls in her grasp. She roughly seizes Liz’s jaw and leans in closer, waving the sizeable bundle of hair inches from her face.

“I recommend you do exactly as I say from now on, or the next cut will be across that fat neck or yours.” She hisses, flames of thinly veiled rage burning behind her umber eyes. With a final cocky smirk, she climbs off of Liz and breezes out of the cell.

Boomer releases her wrists and crosses to the door where she stops and lingers for a moment. She turns back, barely able to meet Liz’s gaze under the dark curtain of her messy fringe. Shame is clearly written across her rubicund cheeks. She moves to speak, but words fail her, so she simply turns and trudges out of the cell, closing the door swiftly behind her.

Alone, Liz sobs herself to sleep.

_____

“Governor, could I have a word with you?” Vera tries to keep the disgust from her voice as she enters Channing’s office. He looks up from his computer with his normal forced smile and watches her as she closes the door behind her.

“Ahh, Vera. What is it this time?” He’s not nearly as successful at hiding his disdain. She ignores his snarky remark and crosses to his desk, stopping before him where she meets his gaze with a steady, unyielding stare of her own.

“Why did you deny Liz Birdsworth’s request to be moved into protection?” His beady green eyes narrow as he meets her gaze with a snide leer.

“A haircut, as sloppy as it may be, is not the same as bodily harm. If she wants to provide the name of her hairstylist, then perhaps I could provide punishment for that individual, but I see no need to take up space in protection for someone who sustained no injury.”

“Well, she was very clearly attacked, with a weapon, so it is our duty to protect her if she feels her life is in danger.” Vera counters, presses the issue further. She’s no longer afraid to stand up to the bully on the playground.

“Are you telling me how to do my job, Vera?” She ignores the comment and presses on.

“You can’t just ignore her complaint. If you do and there’s a death in custody, the responsibility would fall on you.”

“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you... Officer Bennett.” He sneers, lips curled in a menacing snarl.

“I could take this to the board.” Ice runs through her veins as she stares him down. He disgusts her, the way he plays with the lives of these women.

“Be my guest. Though I doubt your opinion will hold much value now, after all your errors in judgement.”

She stares him down until her lip begins to twitch and she fears she might reach across the desk and strangle him. Turning sharply on her heel, she marches out of his office without a word. The smirk of “victory” never leaves his face.

____

Parking in her driveway, she turns off the ignition and sits for a moment in the car, inhaling deeply as she tries to release the tension building in her slender frame. She knows Channing is right, that the board won’t listen, but it’s not because of any mistakes she made. He’s got them all wrapped around his finger. She knows it’s up to her and the few officers she can trust to ensure that Birdsworth stays safe.

Finally, with a tired exhale, she gets out of the car and slowly makes her way to the front step. On the porch, propped up against the siding by the door, a plain manila envelope catches her eye. She thinks it momentarily odd that it should be there instead of in the mailbox, but assumes it must have been to large to fit. Picking it up, she flips it over to find both sides blank. She heads inside to the kitchen, depositing her bag on the counter and pulling a knife from the block to open the end of the sealed envelope.

Dumping the contents on the counter, a folded slip of paper comes out, as well as a smaller manila envelope. She picks up the folded paper and opens it to read the handwritten message scrawled across the page in neat, cursive writing:

 

             For the greater good.

She knows the handwriting instantly and her heart begins to race with the discovery; Joan was here. With hesitation, she reaches for the smaller envelope and carefully slips the knife through one end, slipping the contents out and spreading them across the counter.

There’s a folded stack of paper documents and a collection of parolee photographs. Pretty, young girls that she recognizes as the ones Joan showed her over a year ago.

Unfolding the documents she begins to read and quickly realizes what she has to do.  

Chapter Text

Fresh from the shower after his morning run, Jake stands over the kitchen sink as he eats his omelet. His cell phone rests on the edge of the counter and the blinking green light catches his eye. Picking it up, he enters his passcode to view the notifications- five missed calls and a text message. Surprised by the unusually high call volume, he taps the phone icon to view the call log. The first two missed calls are from Wentworth, the next is from Channing’s personal cell phone and the last two are again from Wentworth’s main line. Confusion knits his bushy brows together as he switches over to the new text message that was received just over a half hour ago; it’s from Channing.

I need you here. NOW.

Instantly, he dials Channing’s cell phone, dropping his plate in the sink as he dashes to his bedroom to get dressed. He’s scheduled for the mid shift today, but assumes there’s been an incident: an overdose, a scrag fight, a death in custody, so he’s already mentally preparing himself for a long day of paperwork and bitchy women. Channing’s phone goes immediately to voicemail, so he leaves a quick message as he pulls on his uniform.

On the drive to the prison he calls the main line of Wentworth and is surprised to find that the after hours answering machine picks up his call. Anxiety makes his heart quicken. The situation must be more serious than he thought; he may well be walking into a lockdown.

Pulling into the carpark, from all outward appearances it looks like business as usual, so he breathes a sigh of relief as he parks in an empty space next to Channing’s black town car. Making his way inside he heads straight for the governor’s office where he’s immediately greeted by an extremely irritated Vera.

“Where the fuck have you been? We’ve been trying to reach you all morning.” She growls as she marches up to him the second he crosses the threshold into the outer admin office. He throws up his hands in innocent protest and tries to ignore the thought of how hot she looks when she’s angry.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here til 11. I was out for a run and didn’t have my phone. I got here as soon as I saw the governor’s text to come in. What’s going on? Where’s Channing?” Looking past Vera’s shoulder he can see that Channing’s office is empty.

She rolls her eyes at him with an agitated sigh and is about to offer a very curt explanation of the situation but they are suddenly interrupted by Will and an unknown gentleman following behind him down the hall as they’ve come from the now vacant prison psychologist’s office. Will bears a grim expression on his face as he passes between them and the other man stops, addressing Vera in a professional, but courteous tone.

“Officer Bennett, we’re ready for you next.” He turns to greet Jake with an extended hand. “You must be Deputy Stewart. I’m Detective Prescott, we’ll be with you right after we speak with Officer Bennett.”

Jake shakes his hand automatically, but confusion is clearly written across his face. Vera follows the detective down the hall, leaving Jake and Will alone once they disappear behind the psychologist office door.

“What the fuck is going on, Will? Is it….” Jake asks in an urgent, hushed whisper, offering a silent gesture alluding to their shared secret about Joan. The secret they haven’t spoken of since the initial arrangement had been made, all those months ago.

“No. That’s done, taken care of, so shut the fuck up about it.” Will counters in a whispered snarl, but it’s paranoia that lights his dark chocolate eyes as he shifts his gaze around to see if anyone was within earshot.

“Alright, alright.” Jake relents, nervous hand pulling down his freshly shaven face. His heart is racing and despite this reassurance, he can’t help but feel that there’s trouble brewing. Will eyes him sternly for a moment before breathing a small sigh of relief, satisfied that Jake has dropped the subject and will continue to safeguard their dubious act.

“Three days ago the police received an anonymous tip that Channing was recruiting parolees to work in a brothel. They did some investigation on the leads and showed up this morning; took him in for questioning and now they’re questioning the entire staff. Seems he may have been doing this for years.”

“What the fuck?!” Jake shakes his head in disbelief. He knew Channing was devious, with his personal link to their prison drug exchange, but he had no idea about the brothel.

“He was exploiting young, vulnerable women.” Will doesn’t mask the disgust in his voice.

“Doesn’t look like he’ll be coming back, so looks like you’ll be acting governor, Deputy; just what you’ve always wanted. Someone from the board is on the way to sort the details, so you best step up and do the fucking job right, mate.” There’s a threat in his tone and a pointed edge in his gaze as he offers a rough pat to Jake’s shoulder before walking away.

Left reeling in the admin office, Jake starts to sweat. Before he can wrap his mind fully around the situation, Vera and the detective appear back into the hall and he’s called in for his own inquisition. Sweat pools under his collar, at the small of his back, in the thick tufts of his sideburns and the palms of his hands as he’s ushered into the room and gestured to take the seat across the desk from the detective.

“Deputy Stewart, sorry to have to call you in early this morning. I assume Officer Jackson just filled you in on the situation?”

“Umm, yea. It’s, it’s no problem. I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner...I was...out for a run.”

“Ah, it’s no problem. We’d just like to ask you a few questions about Derek Channing. We’re asking all of the staff, in light of the information we’ve received and the pending charges against him.”

“Right, right...sure.” He nods his head in agreement and takes a deep breath.

“How long have you known Derek Channing?”

“About three years. I met him just after starting here at Wentworth. I was hired by Vera Bennett, when she was governor and he was serving on the board.”

“When he was on the board, did he make regular appearances here, more than would be expected for a board member, would you say?”

“Uhh, no, I don’t think so. He was only here if there was an incident that required his oversight.”

“Were you ever aware of him offering assistance to help place certain parolees in halfway houses post release?”

“No, I wasn’t.” He relaxes slightly as the questions continue, their focus seeming to remain exclusively on his involvement with these women.

“Are there any specific halfway houses you routinely work with here at Wentworth?”

“Yes, we usually release to Standstead or High Marsh.”

“Any particular reason why?”

“They seem to have the most availability and highest rate of success at transitioning the women into jobs and independence.”

“And who has the final say on which halfway house a parolee is released to?”

“Usually the governor, but sometimes the board may sign off on a decision if the governor is not available.”

“To your knowledge, did Mr. Channing ever sign off on any releases when he served on the board?”

“I wouldn’t know for sure, but not that I’m aware of.”

“Thank you for your time Deputy Stewart. We won’t keep you any longer, as I’m sure your day is about to get very busy. I’ll keep you posted on our proceedings here and we’ll try to have your officers in and out as quickly as possible to minimize the stress on your staffing arrangements.”

Detective Prescott gives him a final glance and smile before extending his hand for a final shake. Jakes shakes the proffered hand with a quick nod and tight smile before quickly leaving the room and making a beeline for the staff toilet.

Standing at the sink, he stares at his reflection and tries to calm the racing of his heart and the violent tremor in his clammy hands. It appears they know nothing of the drugs and their private involvement so he allows himself a deep sigh of relief.

The rest of the day is a blur, a chaos of people whirling in and out and a never ending list of demands. Just the temporary weight of the crowns proves nearly more than he is capable of bearing; a terrible blow to his fragile, masculine ego. It’s 2am before he slips into the driver’s seat of his car, exhausted and on the verge of succumbing to a bender the second he crosses the threshold of his front door.

Arriving home, he steps inside and picks up the pile of mail beneath the mail drop slot and makes his weary way into the kitchen. Dropping the stack onto the counter, he retrieves a beer from the fridge and the bottle of whiskey from beneath the sink. Twisting off the cap, he takes a long drink, cringing against the burn as it glides down the back of his parched throat. Cracking open the can of beer, he chases the liquid fire with a sip of icy hops and begins to slowly sort through the pile of mail, loosening his tie as he shifts through the collection of bills and advertisements.

Toward the bottom of the pile, a plain white envelope catches his eye. Pulling it from the stack, he sees that it is blank, so he flips it over and slides a finger under the edge. Slipping out the contents he opens the smaller folded piece of paper first, which contains a handwritten message scrawled in neat cursive, the ink a deep crimson:

There is no out.

Your days are numbered, Jakey.

Squinting at the note he picks up the second piece of paper and flips it open. It’s a bank statement with a list of transactions between two companies- JR Entertainment and Copperhead Microbrewery.

He immediately recoils, knocking over his beer as he throws the piece of paper into the sink as if it were on fire. Suddenly he remembers where he’s heard those words before, whispered against his ear by his former puppet master. There’s no doubt the letter is from her and he knows instantly she provided the anonymous tip about Channing’s activities to the police, though he has no idea how she managed the feat, or how she’s even alive since Will reassured him she was gone.

How could he have been so stupid to think he was smart enough to play with the big dogs? Joan didn’t get to the top by being a weak link, he should have known he’d always be a step behind her. As for Channing, he knew that man’s greatest vice was the same as his own- greed.

His mind races to find a possible escape scenario. Closing down the microbrewery account would be useless. The police had been given the information three days ago and it would only be a matter of time before they tracked down the connection to him. Even if they didn’t know of the drug exchange right now, he’d still be implicated in connection with the company running the brothel, so his life would be under scrutiny and he’d be pulled in for further questioning. His business wasn’t actually in production so the large sums of money coming in and out would be a dead giveaway for suspicious activity. He could run, but his passport was expired and he had no idea how to get out of the country illegally.

The reality of life behind bars hits him with crippling force and he slams his palms hard against the counter, releasing a primal yell until his throat burns from the effort. Breathing heavy and staring at the paper in the sink, his thoughts turn to Vera; the disappointment and disgust he imagines in her eyes as she sees him being escorted from the prison in handcuffs, a condescending shake of her head dismissing him as she turns and walks away. The image brings him to his knees, where he releases a sob. His hope of winning her back comes violently crashing down around him. After a few moments, he gathers himself from the floor, collects the papers from the sink and grabs a pack of matches from the kitchen drawer.

In the bathroom he stands over the toilet and lights the papers, watching them burn down to the tip of his fingers before he drops the black remains and destroys them with a flush. Disappearing into his bedroom, he strips down to his underwear and collects the .22 caliber pistol from the case hidden in his bedside nightstand. Returning to the bathroom, he turns on the shower, allowing the spray to warm as he loads a single shot into the barrel of the weapon. With a final look at his swollen reflection, he steps into the shower and slides down to sit against the far wall.

Arm raised, warm metal kisses his wet temple and eyes closed he meets his maker.

______

From the darkest corner of the back patio, the muffled bang is heard and the figure in the shadows glides forward, tilting an ear to listen. Nothing but prolonged silence follows, so with a firm tug to the cuff of a sleek leather glove, the shrouded figure makes their way quietly into the dimly lit kitchen.

Hearing the shower spray from the bathroom, the grim reaper makes their cautious way down the hall, sure to make easy footfall for a stealthy approach. Upon reaching the bathroom door, a gloved hand gently pushes it open and steps into the steamy room. A slumped form can be seen behind the frosted glass of the shower and morbid curiosity compels the visitor forward. Slowly opening the door, the crumpled form of Jake is revealed, the bottom of the shower filled with blood streaked water, the pistol loosely held in his lifeless grasp.

This was a long game, and his day had been a long time coming. For the ultimate betrayal, for once winning Vera’s heart, he had to pay the ultimate price; if not by his own hand, then she would have done it herself.

A twisted smirk crosses wicked, bow lips as they relish in the defeat of a sworn enemy. With a final glance in pleasure over the pathetic scene, Joan Ferguson makes her silent exit, leaving not a trace of her presence, vanishing like a phantom into the crisp night air.

Chapter Text

Standing in the center of the governor’s office, a calm aquamarine gaze settles on the Wentworth Correctional Services insignia displayed on the wall.

Years ago nervous fingers had traced the outlines of that seal, stitched onto the shoulder of her very first prison issue uniform. That little symbol had filled her with wonder, pride and hope for a bright professional future back then. In truth, however, that simply would not be. Denial had finally given way to anger, bargaining, depression until she reached the fifth, most welcome stage of grief: acceptance. This is a prison, not some young girl’s fairytale; and Wentworth wants your soul.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Turning toward the interruption, she meets Will’s gaze with a small gentle smile.

“Yes. It’s time, Will; I don’t belong here anymore.” Too much trauma has passed within these teal walls and she’s finally had her fill. Some dreams are worth forgetting, if it keeps your sanity in check.

“I don’t know if I can run this place without you.” He bows his head as he moves forward, looking up to meet her gaze with his sad, coffee eyes. Wrapping a gentle hand around his forearm, she offers a reassuring squeeze.

“Yes you can. You’ll do better than I have; the women still trust you. I lost their trust the moment I saved Ferguson. Plus, you’ve got Proctor on your side. The two of you can really make a difference for these women. You’re a good man, Will, and you’ll be an excellent governor.” He doubts that, for a multitude of reasons, none of which he’ll ever have the guts to tell her.

“I’m really gonna miss you, Vera. You’ve been a real friend.” He offers her a sad smile and returns a gentle embrace as she leans in for one last hug.

“You’ve been a great friend too.” She muses as she pulls away. “Take care of yourself, and remember to lead with this and you’ll be fine.” Patting the bulk just above his heart, she smiles and nods up at him. He nods almost imperceptibly, lips pursed as he reigns in his emotions; that pumping muscle has lead him astray at least once before. With a final pat to his bicep, Vera makes for the door.

“Take care and good luck.” He calls to her as she reaches the threshold. Turning back, she offers one last sympathetic smile.

“You too.”

________________

Heart pumping and lungs burning, a runnel of sweat makes a lazy trail down the column of her spine and fresh droplets collect in the fine curls at the nape of her neck. Vera tastes the salt in the air as she takes her early morning run. Gold-tipped waves lick the sand beneath her feet as daybreak crests over South Fremantle’s horizon. At the end of her customary route, she stops along the water’s edge, taking a seat on the soft white sand to slow her heart rate and watch the early summer sunrise. She enjoys these quiet mornings, while the city sleeps, when this stretch of South Beach lies barren.

Often, these runs serve a dual purpose: exercise, as well as a time for silent reflection. In no rush since she’s off work, she lingers longer than usual, enjoying the meditative sound of the turquoise sea as it laps at the shore. Much like the waves that ebb and flow, her life here has fallen into a steady rhythm, providing comfort in it’s simplistic, but reliable pattern. She takes satisfaction in the calmness that her cross-country move has granted, her chaotic life of just six months ago slowly becoming a distant memory.

With the sun fully risen, she decides to make her way back home before the rest of the city awakens, jogging the short distance to her bungalow just a few blocks past Hollis Park. The sale of the former Bennett estate had provided her with enough money to purchase the small property that sits on a quiet street across from an empty field, giving her the convenience of location as well as a bit of privacy.

Pulling the house key from the thigh pocket of her leggings, she startles when she hears movement on the far side of the porch. Turning toward the sound, her jaw hits the floor, heart thundering in her chest as she lays eyes on the cause. A ghost from the past rises slowly from the swing, the wide brim of a straw sun hat partly shielding her face, but Vera would know that regal profile anywhere. A confusing mixture of relief and dread produce a violent swirl of nausea in her belly.

“Hello, Vera.” To Vera, the honeyed timbre sounds like a banshee’s wail.

“Joan?” She blinks, shocked and equally terrified by the unexpected visit. “How, how did you find me?”

“Surely you don’t expect me to give away my secrets?” Joan croons with a touch of arrogance.

“I could call the police.” The tremor in her voice and violent shaking of her hands makes Joan release a low chuckle.

“But you won’t.” Her smirk widens as she takes a step closer to the smaller woman.

“What do you want?” Taking a step toward the door, Vera proposes the question even though she’s afraid of the answer.

“Relax Vera, I’m not here for trouble; Scout’s honor.” Lifting three fingers into the air, she makes an exaggerated vow of innocence. Vera eyes her suspiciously as Joan stands awkwardly at a cautionary distance.

“W-why are you here?” She questions again, her heart still hammering wildly against her fragile ribcage.

“I thought...we might have a chat.” There’s a mellowness to her gaze that Vera hasn’t seen since the time of their debriefings and even then, it was rare.

She’s not entirely certain she can trust her, but there seems to be something different about the normally stoic woman, a hint of insecurity that seems to color her movements and speech. After a long, silent showdown and against her better judgement, Vera unlocks the door and steps inside, leaving it open behind her. Joan follows in silence, closing and locking the door as she follows Vera into the kitchen. Placing her cell phone on the island between them, Vera looks up with a stern gaze.

“Keep your distance, or I call the police.” Joan lifts her hands in surrender with a compliant nod of her head, though there’s the faintest flicker of disappointment in her umber eyes.

Taking a seat on the bar stool, she removes the wide brim hat and places it on the counter. The swathes of silver at her temples have widened in the months since Vera last saw her and the usual hard glint in her eye seems surprisingly absent. She’s lost weight, but still maintains an envious figure. Her scarlet ring has dulled to a thin line of rosy pink that stands out against the porcelain skin of her long neck. At a loss for words and troubled by the confusing sense of relief she feels at seeing the escaped fallen angel, as well as the conflicting emotions beginning to bubble to the surface, Vera sets to making a pot of coffee. She pours two mugs, sliding one across the counter to Joan as she stands opposite and eyes her expectantly.

“Thank you.” Joan accepts the cup with a grateful nod and slips back into silence.

“You wanted to talk, so….” Vera finally states, irritation and a touch of fear pressing her voice a half octave higher.

Joan scrutinizes her over the rim of her mug and after another long silence, eventually speaks. “You look well tended, “ she hums as she takes a sip from her steaming mug.

“I guess that comes from finally being free of you.” Vera retorts, her green-blue eyes signalling a tempest on the horizon.

For Joan, the barb stings and she feels the heat beginning to rise in the pit of her stomach. Her lip twitches as a dull ring begins to buzz in her ears. Drawing in a calming breath, she suppresses her building irritation. “Now Vera, I’ve paid you a compliment, there’s no need to be rude.”

Vera releases an annoyed sigh. “What is it that you want, Joan? I know you didn’t track me down just to pay false compliments.”

Joan resists the urge to correct her misguided assumption; Vera’s too cautious at the moment to believe she speaks genuinely and trying to convince her now would just make her more suspicious. Instead, she chooses to allow Vera to lead the game, it’s the only chance she has of it ending as she wants it to.

Conceding to Vera’s will, she asks her true question. “Why did you leave?” Catching her off guard, it’s not what Vera expected.

Staring at the mug between her slender hands, she sighs deeply in resignation and admits the truth, “I needed a change.”

“So a move to the private sector? To Melaleuca, with it’s bleeding heart policies and programs? Let me guess, it’s that humanity again, hmm?” Unable to simply bear her true feelings, she opts for her usual defense.

The hint of condescension is obvious in Joan’s sonorous voice. The tone strikes a chord in Vera, picks open old wounds that were beginning to heal. In a sudden wave of heated passion, she unleashes her anger, reminiscent of that ill-fated dinner now years ago.

“Really? You’re going to lecture me about some decision I made when you’re the one who decided to fucking escape from prison ?! And now, after all these months you track me down and show up on my doorstep just to rub it in my face?”

“You know that was an act of self-preservation.” Joan whispers, knocked down a peg by Vera’s surprising fortitude. Coal black eyes fall to the steam rising from the mug clasped tightly in her grasp.

“Did you forget that it was me who saved your life after that lynching? Then you betrayed me by making your escape, nearly taking my entire career with you!” Joan flinches at the memory of the noose around her neck, the burn of that first gasp of air in her lungs, the sheer relief in the ocean eyes looming above before she faded out of consciousness once again.

“And did you forget that it was I who handed you back the governorship on a silver platter?” She mewls, mimicking Vera’s provocation.

Vera growls in frustration, “And that’s exactly why I didn’t take it!” she finally confesses. The curious expression on Joan’s face pushes her to further explanation.

“Every success I had at Wentworth was in some way influenced by you. My first governorship- handed to me after you burned down the prison, then this second time when you left me the files to take down Channing.”  She sighs heavily as her anger peters out. “I wanted...needed to see if I could gain my station on my own.” Her bottom lip quivers as she speaks the words, hearing them said aloud holds an unexpected painful power.

“Well, of course you could, Vera. I wouldn’t have mentored you otherwise.” It’s stated like an indisputable fact and Vera releases a sarcastic laugh as the typhoon begins to swirl in her ocean eyes.

“Oh, that’s rich, coming from you! I thought I was ‘such a disappointment’?” She quotes the hurtful phrase that started the rift that quickly grew between them. She blinks and quickly wipes the tear that slips down her cheek, desperately trying to hold together the dam that’s shuttered in all these painful memories.

“It was...unfair of me to use that phrase against you.” Joan offers a conciliatory bow of her head.

“What difference does that make, if it was true?” Vera retorts hotly.

“It wasn’t true...which is why it makes a difference. I only aimed to wound with that remark, and it seems my intent was achieved.” After a pause, she lifts her espresso gaze and again Vera sees the flash of insecurity there but recognizes the honesty in those intense eyes.

Vera shakes her head in defeat, the angry flush slowly dissolving from her face. Joan watches her in silence, bemused by this sudden change in energy.

“Joan, why are you here?” Vera presses once again, doe eyes imploring for total honesty.

“I...am leaving the country. It’s taken me these few months to finalize my arrangements, but I leave first thing in the morning.” Vera grows wide-eyed and an odd panic begins to knot in her stomach at the thought of Joan being caught and being sent back to prison. “I’ve secured connections I had through my father; I’ll be out without detection.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Confusion dominates her tone, but there’s a suggestion of hope behind her trembling voice. Joan meets her gaze, but says nothing, allowing instead the silence to stretch between them. Despite the looming finale, she still can’t express the emotions she’s hidden for years.

Vera waits expectantly and when the words never come, the monsoon within her gaze finally spills. She shakes her head in sadness as she wipes the salty tears from her cheeks.

“I gave you the chance to come clean, and you still can’t manage to tell the truth.” Surprise flashes in Joan’s dark eyes and she swallows hard, avoiding Vera’s accusatory gaze.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.” She states flatly, though it’s far from convincing.

“Aren’t you tired of this stupid game we play? We continually draw our swords, but do we even know why we fight anymore? I looked up to you, hung on every word you said. I was faithful to you as your Deputy, despite whatever ridiculous theories you had in your head. I would have done anything for you; I did in fact. I lost the respect of the women, and ultimately my power over them by saving your life that day....but I didn’t care...because I was more concerned about you.” She wipes another tear from her face and releases a sad chuckle. “How’s that for a little graceless child?”

Joan instantly looks up from the table, shock clearly written across her handsome face.

“How did you...where did you hear that?” She questions in quiet wonder. Wordlessly, Vera gets up from the island and leaves the room, returning moments later with a book in her hand. She slides it across the counter to Joan and takes a seat.

Tentatively, as if it’s a hot coal pulled from the fire, Joan reaches for the familiar tome, long fingers trembling slightly as they fall upon the cover. As she opens it to the bookmarked page, she fingers Vera’s note that she memorized long ago. Her eyes burn with the realization, but she forces back the sting.

“I found it in your cell the night of your escape. It’s about me, isn’t it?” Blinking, another fat tear rolls down her cheek. Joan looks up with a timid gaze, rendered mute by the revelation of Vera’s discovery, but the truth behind her stormy eyes is undeniable.

“I tried to reach you, countless times, but you always pushed me away.” The heaviness of the truth hits hard for them both.

Overcome with guilt, Joan simply stares, until Vera dissolves into sobs. Unsure of how to comfort, she timidly reaches for the smaller hand resting on the counter, but Vera pulls it away.

“No, don’t. Just...just leave...please.” Vera cries as she wraps her arms around her trembling frame.

Joan watches her for a long moment, compelled to offer comfort, a confession, a promise of a better future, but old habits are hard to break and her will gives way to silence. Eventually she rises from the stool and comes to Vera’s side, placing a timid hand on a heaving shoulder. Vera doesn’t move, but doesn’t acknowledge the gesture either and finally Joan concedes. Though devastation fills her already broken heart, she honors Vera’s wish as she feels there’s no other way. With a final gentle squeeze, she leans in and offers one final shot at reconciliation.

“I was wrong to ever doubt you. May my absence bring you the peace you deserve and desire. Goodbye Vera, I’ll never forget you.”

As she walks away, the woman made of stone begins to crumble.

_______

Returning home from a long day at work, Vera stops at the mailbox to collect her mail. A few colorful envelopes mix with the usual ads and bills and she smiles at the thoughtfulness of her long distance friends.

A purple envelope bears the birthday card from Bridget and Franky, no doubt picked out by Franky judging from the comedic slant. Their well wishes bring a smile to her face and she thinks of calling them later. Blue is the color from Will, containing a simple, but heartfelt message of well wishes.

One other card remains, in a deep red envelope, and confusion knits her brow as she ruminates on the possible sender. There’s no return address, so she slips a finger through the seal, curious to see who sent the unexpected greeting. The card bears a beautiful painting of a bouquet of flowers- red roses, daffodils, pink hyacinth and white chrysanthemum. Opening it, a folded paper slips down to reveal the pre-printed standard birthday greeting and a small cursive note that simply states.

I hope this finds you well.

She picks up the slip of paper and folds it open. It bears the printed receipt for a round trip plane ticket to San Diego, dated for 5 weeks from today. At the bottom of the page is another hand written message.

Happy Birthday, Vera.

Always,

        J

Trembling fingers trace the elegant initial at the bottom of the page as a brilliant smile lights her pretty face.