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Chapter 22: What Rough Beast

 

I spent my twenties reading, still teaching at the studio, learning how to buy and sell a home and car, learning how to live on my own and adjusting to being completely alone. I still taught fencing because I really didn’t know what else to do. I eventually quit, sold my part in the place – yes, Dad had always owned part of the studios he worked in, at least for the past few years – and travelled in Australia a bit.

I saw Sydney, a few times, a city that was quite different to me from an adult perspective. That odd Opera House took far too much away from the rest of the place, but I went to performances there regardless. I always took an apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, as I wanted to be able to cook all of my own meals and not have anyone in my place cleaning up incorrectly. I couldn’t let that go. Since Dad’s illness, I found myself becoming more and more leery of dirt and germs. Dad had taught me a positive attitude towards keeping things clean, but now I never wanted to smell anything like what I had gone through with him ever again. I needed my home to be absolutely clean. I needed to ensure that I never became sick if it were at all preventable. I could not imagine the indignity of going through what Dad had gone through. If I’m not in control of myself and my surroundings, what am I? One has to be able to look after oneself and one’s environs. The idea of being dependent on others became anathema to me.

In the end, I felt I had been too long from university to return, and in truth, I did not want to. After all, my drive behind attending was to be away from home for at least a good part of the day. Now that I was free, I could read and study whatever I wanted. Law interested me, but I had no desire to be a lawyer, always having to either do mundane things such as wills or perhaps to end up having to defend those who did not deserve it. I read as much as I wanted about the subject, then moved on. I began to find myself not distracted as much as I wanted to be. I realized that I needed something routine, something engaging. I had to have a focus in life. Not having one had begun to feel as though I were too much adrift. I didn’t need a job for money’s sake, I needed one to be someone, to have others know what I was good at, what I could accomplish. There is little joy in being expert at anything without others knowing about it. I needed new things to challenge myself with. I looked through want ads, hoping for ideas, and nothing pleased me there. Then I remembered Dad’s words about finding a job with a uniform…

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The worst day of my life changed everything. I had gone to work as always. I had done paperwork, fielded questions from C.O.’s, done some petty make-work things Bryce had set up just for me, and so on. I had lunch break on my own, ate nothing as I prefer to eat only at home, and used the time to finish up some scheduling for the month. I did a patrol. I could have gone home right after my shift, but instead decided to visit Jianna. We had not parted on the best of terms the last time I saw her, and I wanted to make sure she understood that I wasn’t angry with her, merely displeased. I even had some more treats for her: peppermints in a roll. She had said once that she liked peppermint when she wasn’t feeling well, and I thought the mint candies might stimulate her appetite a bit.

I went along the hallway towards Jianna’s cell as always, but there was something wrong that evening, something ‘off’. I don’t know what it was exactly, and I suppose it was the sounds that one expects to hear in the area - they weren’t as usual. It was too quiet. There wasn’t the muttering, talking, yelling voices of the women near or far. There was a stillness to the area, something not right. I hurried my pace. As I got closer to Jianna’s cell, things seemed more and more off. I kept moving more and more quickly, only to make it to the stairwell before Jianna’s cell to look up and see –

It was an inmate. Hanging. From the neck. It could not be Jianna. It would not be Jianna. It was Jianna. I know I got her down, hope for a rescue fading fast, but I don’t remember how I got her down at all. All I remember is the cold, horrid knowledge of the truth sinking into me, from my mind right to my abdomen. I know I held Jianna in my arms, her cold body unresponsive, limp, heavy in a way that only a dead body is. I know I screamed in horror. There was no hope of controlling my emotions. I know I yelled the word “no”, over and over, wanting to make the situation change through will alone. It did not.

I was on my knees, holding Jianna. Jianna was dead. I was going to die. I wanted to go with her, whatever that meant. I know at some point I crawled over to the wall and wretched. I know that I pulled Jianna back into my arms and held her. I pushed the hair out of her face, I even tried to plead with her to come back, as irrational as that was. There was nothing left. There would be nothing left of me. My eyes and nose ran, and I coughed because I couldn’t breathe. I felt physical pain merely from emotion. My hands and arms went numb. I shivered, and still I held my Jianna. Still I crooned to her, trying to get some reaction from her, even though I knew it to be impossible.

Then I heard a voice I had not heard in over a decade.

“Joan, look up,” the familiar voice said.

I looked up and saw my Dad standing in front of me. He wasn’t as I had last seen him. He was younger, strong, as he had been when he was healthy and in control. He was wearing his dark coat and looking down at me. I don’t know why I felt that this was perfectly normal, but I did. I was not afraid. I was far too wrung out emotionally to have any reaction to seeing Dad there. His eyes looked stern, but there was a compassion to them that I had only seen once before. I wiped my arm across my face, like a small child and said, so softly, “Daddy?”

“Yes, Joan, I’m here,” he said, bending down to my level. “You are suffering now, aren’t you?”

I nodded and felt my lower lip stick out a bit.

“What did you do that brought this about?” Dad said, and took my jaw in his hand so that I’d have to look right at him.

“I – I gave in to emotion? I let myself be weak. I…” my voice faded out as Dad’s eyes grew even more stern.

“What did I always tell you?” Dad asked.

“’Emotions lead to mistakes,’” I whispered.

Dad nodded and let go of my jaw. “Yes. Now you are suffering because you let yourself have feelings for this girl. You allowed your emotions to make you weak. You are now feeling things that could have been avoided.”

I started crying again, the pain inside of me threatening to break me to physical pieces even as Dad spoke his words of wisdom. “I know. I can’t not feel right now. I just can’t… I want to go with her. I want to…”

Dad nodded, I knew, though I wasn’t looking up at him, but down at Jianna’s too pale face. He spoke without chiding me, “You want to go with her, don’t you?”

Again I nodded.

“I know. I felt that way when I knew your Mother was dead. But it is a vain and selfish thought. Jianna is dead. Why?” Dad asked, forcing me to confront the worst of the situation head on.

“Because that man took her baby. Because she missed her baby so much. Because I…” I let my words drift. The fact was that I had not protected her. I had promised to, and I had failed her. I was going to look after her and Shayne, and I failed her. I had failed her. I had failed her. I had failed her I had failed her I had failed her I had failed I had -

“No, not just you,” Dad’s words cut into my thoughts. “Her baby would still be here if not for the actions of one person. Who decided to take the child? Who had men holding her down as her baby was taken from her? Who caused her the pain that led to this?” Dad said, making sense of it, a bit, for the first time.

I looked up at him, to see him being strong, looking at me with fierce determination. Dad was advising me, helping me, getting me to understand why I had to keep going.

“The social worker. He took the child. He made the call,” I stated, my voice going flat, a bit of anger seeping into it.

“Good, Joan, good. Now what has to be done?” Dad asked, helping me shape my world back into something that could be lived in.

“I have to make sure that those responsible will suffer as much as Jianna did. I will have to find that social worker. I will have to take away what he loves. I will take his life apart the way he took Jianna’s life apart,” I stated.

Dad stood up, tall, and folded his hands behind his back. “Yes, Joan. You will play the long game. You will do what it takes to destroy this man. Find him. Find out how to hurt him. Learn who his friends are, his loved ones, those he cares for. Take them away. Make him suffer. Jianna didn’t deserve to be treated as she was. The least you can do for her is make sure the one who made her suffer, in turn, suffers.”

“I will, Dad,” I said, gently putting Jianna on the cold stone floor, grabbing my radio to call in the code black. I could barely handle the thing, but I still managed to say something that alerted the nighttime staff of an emergency.

I looked back at Dad, and he was smiling, nodding his head. “You know what to do, Joan. Do not fail. Do not let anything get in your way. Remove any and all obstacles in your way. If you do not accomplish this, you will have failed Jianna, yourself, and me. I do not want you to fail me again. This is what you must do. Take years if you need to, but do it right. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Dad,” I said, repeating the words I knew he wanted to hear, “I will do as you say. I won’t let you – or Jianna – down again.”

I looked down at Jianna, then back to see that Dad was no longer there. I gathered he had left because he had said his piece. But now I knew what would keep me going. I knew that others had to suffer. I would learn how to make them suffer to the utmost. I would never, ever, let myself be distracted by emotions again. I would make sure that the pathetic individuals who taunted Jianna, the stupid women who were incarcerated, would suffer. I would find that social worker and take everything from him. He would suffer more than anyone.

My life had a new purpose. I no longer could protect and help Jianna, but I could make sure that anyone who had ever hurt her would suffer, and that the social worker would suffer more so than any. This was my promise to Jianna – the one I would make sure that I kept.