A Haunting Spring

By Sherry

Part 1

Spring - a beautiful time of year. Warm temperatures, blooming flowers, trees budding, birds singing ... all signs of nature renewing herself. Deciding to take advantage of the warmer weather after a long day in her office, Sherry pulled on her sneakers and headed outside. She made the familiar trek toward the woods. She smiled as she noticed others taking advantage of the warmer weather as well. Some folks were planting flowers. Some were sitting outside chatting. A few couples were strolling hand-in-hand simply enjoying each other's company and, from the looks of it, falling in love all over again.

She was happy for her friends. And she was in an exceptionally good mood herself for a change. It had been a long, stressful winter but hopefully, with the advent of spring, things would look up. Right now, though, she simply wanted to clear her mind and enjoy the beautiful day. She watched the squirrels chase each other around trees and smiled at their antics. Her mind wandered to everything and nothing. It was good to have a few moments to herself. She dearly loved her friends, but at times they could be a handful.

Thinking of her friends, she smiled. She was glad to see Aries and Marco growing closer, as well as DeLeah and Antonio. They seemed very happy. She thought about Genie and Kyle. They didn't make the commotion that others did, but they had been together for quite a while, as had Nabiki and Roy, Bren and Xavier, DragonLady and Damien, and Mcddor and Birkoff.


Sinjin and Curlly were getting married soon; Avi and Jack were doing great. Sherry shook her head as she thought of North and her stable of men. She still wasn't sure how the woman managed to handle them all. Nahla and Jace were on solid ground again and definitely headed in the right direction. Rita and Roarke were close, but Rita still refused to choose between Michael and Roarke, which, of course, led to thoughts that were better left for another time. Not wanting to ruin her mood or the day, she quickly dropped all thoughts of Rita, Roarke, Michael and that whole mess.

Why was spring so often associated with love anyway? It caused her a wistful moment or two before she dropped that line of thinking. It led to too much she didn't want to deal with at the moment. Turning around, she headed back to her quarters. She had a few files to review and a report to do before she was finished for the day. One of the files was for a recruit who had recently been promoted to full-fledged operative. Since her promotion, Koulsen had screwed up on two missions, the last one leading to the death of a fellow operative who had died saving her. Koulsen felt guilty over the operative's death, a feeling Sherry was only too familiar with for she had been there herself.

Pushing thoughts of the past back where they belonged, Sherry returned to the job at hand, perusing the file to see if anything was missed during Koulsen's training that could explain the miscues. Koulsen was in danger of abeyance. There was nothing in her file, however, to suggest that there should be a problem. The operative's numbers were, in fact, quite good as a recruit. Tomorrow she would get the mission profiles and tapes and review them. Perhaps Koulsen had been sent on two missions that were simply doomed from the start. Whatever the story, it was her job to figure it out and report her findings to Operations.

After turning off the computer and locking up her files, Sherry went to bed. She had been sleeping for an hour or so when the dream began. It was springtime. Everything was coming to life. She was happy and in love. She was walking through her woods with Michael and all felt right with the world. Then suddenly the dream changed. She found herself walking alone through the woods, enjoying the flowers, listening to the birds. She sat down on a rock to gaze at the scenery when someone appeared from out of nowhere. She looked up to see who was coming toward her and smiled. It was Sophie. She hadn't seen Sophie in such a long time. As her friend drew closer, Sherry could tell she was upset. "What's wrong, Sophie?" she asked.

"As if you didn't know," was Sophie's curt reply.

Sherry was surprised by her tone and it showed on her face. Sophie laughed sarcastically. "Don't try that innocent act with me, Sherry," she said. "Just look at you. Sitting out here breathing the fresh air, enjoying yourself as if you don't have a care in the world."

"Sophie, please, tell me what's wrong," Sherry asked again.

"What's wrong? How can you of all people ask me that? In case you've forgotten, I'm dead! I can't enjoy spring. I can't smell the flowers or hear the birds. I can't feel the warm sun on my skin. And it's your fault. I'm dead because of you!" Sophie screamed.

Sherry jolted awake from the nightmare. Sophie? Why was she dreaming of her? Sophie had been a member of CLHQ. She died saving Sherry's life when an operative went nuts and took control of one of Operation's tests. The operative had kidnapped Sherry to make Michael and Section pay for his recruitment. Eventually he grabbed Sophie too. Sherry had managed to free Sophie from her restraints so that she could escape. However, before Sophie managed to get out of the room, a toxic gas was released. Sophie wouldn't leave Sherry behind because she had suffered a head wound and was semi-conscious. She managed to get Sherry out the door before the gas had overtaken her. Unfortunately, Sophie wasn't as lucky.

Tears ran down Sherry's cheeks as she relived that terrible day. She still felt guilty about Sophie's death. But that's the kind of operative and friend Sophie had been; she didn't think twice about helping someone in danger. And it had cost her her life. That one event had led to Sherry's stubborn inflexibility about operatives following her orders. She wouldn't let it happen again. If she died, so be it; but she would never again let anyone die saving her.

Looking at the clock, she saw that it was only 2:30 a.m. She was too keyed up to sleep, but knew she needed rest. Grabbing a book from her night stand, she read for about an hour. When her eyes began to get heavy, she closed the book and turned off the light. She eventually fell asleep, but it wasn't long before the dreaming started again. This time Travis was with her. They were walking through the woods together. It was a peaceful and calm dream for a while. But suddenly he grabbed her arm and swung her around to face him. She gasped at what she saw. He had been beaten and tortured. There were section operatives with guns aimed, standing guard on either side of him. "You did this to me!" he was shouting at her.

She could feel the anger radiating off of him. She took a step backward. "No, Doc. I .." She stepped back again so that he dropped her arm.

"Don't you walk away from me!" he yelled. "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here. I would be at home living my life. Instead, because I helped you, I'm here. My old life is gone. Everyone thinks I'm dead. I've been beaten, abused and threatened within an inch of my life. And it's your fault! I gave up my life for you and you won't even give me a chance."

Sophie appeared beside him. "That's two lives that have been ruined for you. How many lives are you worth?" she demanded.

Sherry woke up to find herself calling out "No." She sighed with relief when she realized it was yet another dream - actually, nightmare was a better word. She hoped that she hadn't yelled too loudly; the last thing she wanted now was for Michael or Travis to show up. Even worse would be both of them showing up.

Knowing that sleep was no longer an option, she got up and moved out onto the balcony. It was chilly, so she grabbed an afghan from the sofa and wrapped it around herself. She sat outside and stared into the darkness. It was so peaceful and serene, you could almost believe it was just another home anywhere else in the world. But, as her dreams had just proven, it was anything but.

She replayed the dreams over again in her mind, along with the events that had triggered them. Sophie's death and Travis' recruitment were both things for which she felt tremendous guilt. What was prompting their intrusion into her dreams? The Koulsen situation. It had brought back Sophie's death, brought back those feelings of guilt. Finally, realizing it was too chilly to sit outside any longer, she went back inside, booted up her computer and got to work. If she wasn't going to get any sleep, she might as well get some work done.

~~~~~

Two weeks later Sherry was in her office when North walked in and sat down. Sherry looked up, nodded and then returned to the file on her desk. North quietly waited for Sherry to finish what she was working on. Finally, Sherry put down the file and gave North her attention.

"What can I do for you?" Sherry asked, her tone polite yet distant.

North studied her for a moment. "I want to know what's bothering you." Sherry looked away, schooled her features into the blank mask that she wore so much of the time now, and then looked back. "Who said anything was bothering me?"

North sighed. "Well, let's start with everyone and work our way down from there."

"I'm fine. You can tell 'everyone' I said so," Sherry snapped.

North took her tone as yet another sign that something was wrong. Everyone around CLHQ and Section had noticed her behavior, and it was only getting worse. She snapped at people frequently. If she didn't snap at them, she was cold and distant. A few of the girls had tried to talk to Michael about it, but he didn't know what was going on. She was shutting him out as well. Travis had come to North to find out if she had any idea what was wrong. If Travis thought she was in trouble, North knew it was serious.

"You know you can talk to me, Sherry. I only want to help. Is it Michael?" North posed the question uppermost in her mind.

Sherry rolled her eyes, threw down her pen and got up, pacing like a caged animal. "Do you think everything in my life revolves around Michael? Is that what everyone thinks? That I couldn't possibly think about anything but Michael? I didn't realize that I was such a poor excuse for a human being."

North was shocked by her outburst. "No, that's not what we think. I was just wondering if you two had a fight or were having problems."

Sherry's tone turned cold. "Why would we be having problems? Oh, you mean because he's in love with someone else? Because Travis wants a relationship with me? Or because Michael thinks I should count myself lucky to be sharing him with Rita? Not to mention that Roarke wants me to help him win Rita and Rita wants me to share Michael forever. Why would any of that be a problem? But, to answer your question, no, that's not bothering me."

"Okay. You don't want to talk about Michael or Travis," North stated, feeling her own anger well up. "I'm only trying to help. If you don't want my help, you'd better find somebody whose help you will accept because Operations and Madeline won't let you go on like this much longer."

Sherry's voice went colder still. "Let me go on like what? I'm doing my job. Have I screwed up one mission?"

North shook her head. "No. But you've been cold and hostile to everyone. We've been covering for you, but you need to get a handle on whatever it is before you are canceled."

Sherry stared at her for a few moments, then shrugged, "Perhaps that would be best for everyone." She walked out of her office and left North sitting there stunned.

*************

Part 2

North went back to her office and immediately called Aries, Rita and Michael to her office. Once they arrived, she explained what had just taken place.

"She wants to be canceled? Where did she go?" Rita asked.

"I donít know," North replied. "She just walked out and left me sitting there. Do any of you know what could be causing this?"

Shaking their heads, they looked to one another for an answer before Michael spoke. "I know she hasnít been sleeping. Iím not sure exactly how long itís been going on. I heard her moving around during the night a couple of weeks ago. When I asked her about it, she told me it was nothing. Said she had a night of insomnia but that she was fine. Since then, I hear her almost every night. Iíve seen her lights on at all hours. I donít think sheís gotten much sleep at all in the last two weeks, maybe longer. But she wonít talk to me. When Iíve asked her, she either tells me itís nothing, or changes the subject. Sheís even told me to mind my own business."

"No wonder she looks like she does," Aries said. "Michael, did anything happen to her that the rest of us should know? Did Operations or Madeline do something to her? Are they testing her, experimenting on her?"

Michael shook his head. "Iíve searched the files, including the deep cover classified material. Thereís nothing. Whatever it is, Operations and Madeline arenít to blame."

"We need to get her to medlab for a complete evaluation," Rita suggested. "Maybe she was given something or injected on a mission and doesnít realize it."

North nodded. "Thatís a good idea, but I donít think sheíll cooperate. I doubt weíd get her there without force. Do we want to do that?" They discussed the possibility for a few minutes before Michael made the decision for all of them.

"No. We arenít going to force her. If we do, we could trigger a relapse to the brainwashing. I wonít risk that. Neither will any of you," he ordered. The others simply nodded in agreement.

"Maybe thatís it," Aries suggested. "The programming is coming back. Maybe sheís fighting it with all sheís got."

North nodded. "Itís possible. We need to get word out to everyone to keep an eye on her, but to keep it low key. We have to figure this out before Madeline takes matters into her own hands." The others agreed.

North turned to Michael and Rita. "Thereís one more thing I need to ask. Could this have anything to do with your personal situation? Have the two of you made a decision we should know about?" They all knew that sooner or later that situation would come to a head. Perhaps the time had come.

Rita sighed. "No we havenít. If it is about us, she hasnít talked to me. In fact, sheís been keeping her distance as much as possible. If she didnít have an office here, I donít think weíd see her except for missions."

North waited for Michaelís response. He sighed. "If it were about our relationship, she would tell me. If it bothered her this much, she would end it. It has to be something else."

~~~~~~

Sherry needed to get out of CLHQ for a while. She knew they were all talking about her, watching her, wondering what was wrong and trying to figure out how to help her. She felt claustrophobic, as if she was living in a fish bowl. She was being nasty to everyone, but she couldnít seem to help it. Between the fact that she was getting virtually no sleep, the dreams that plagued her when she did sleep, the guilt that was eating away at her, and the stress of the past year, she was feeling overwhelmed. She figured the best thing to do was to distance herself from everyone. That way no one else would get hurt because of her. And if she wasnít close to anyone, she wouldnít be used to get to someone else.

She headed to a local country western bar. Going to bars wasnít her thing, but she craved anonymity right now. Because she didnít drink and didnít frequent bars, no one would think to look for her in a place like this. She found an empty table in the corner. After sitting there for a while, she placed a drink order so she wouldnít stand out. After her drink was delivered, she reflected on the last year or two of her life.

She had been kidnapped twice, almost a third time when Red Cell had penetrated CLHQ. CLHQ had burned to the ground. She had contracted a virus in Hawaii that had almost killed her. She was told Michael had died on a mission and she had spent weeks grieving for him. Then one night he simply showed up alive and well. Sophie had died. Travis had been recruited. She had been brainwashed by Corda. She had subsequently been stalked by Corda. She had been drugged and shot numerous times. And that wasnít even touching on her personal life. Michael, Rita, Roarke, Travis .... It made her head spin. How did anyone survive this life? The guilt, the anger, the frustration, the pain, the fear ... it was too much to live with.

Before she knew it she had downed her drink and ordered another. She was on her third when someone walked up to her table and sat down.

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