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Synopsis When Veronica Sawyer is dismissed from the hospital, an unexpected co-worker comes to pick her up and the two share an enlightening conversation about why they do what they do.
Date February 21, 2011

Coler-Goldwater Hospital

"…and the good news is that you're going to heal up clean."

It's quite possibly the best news that Veronica Sawyer has heard in a long, long time. Laid up in a hospital bed isn't the best place to be for someone with as active a life as Sawyer, worse yet laid up in a hospital because of her participation in something that couldn't even be remotely classified as sanctioned Institute activity. That her knife injury will eventually heal is a cold comfort, though, when set against the knowledge that Rodger Goodman is dead.

"It's going to take a few months for you to heal up fully," the doctor standing at the side of her bed cheerfully explains, tapping the end of his pen on his clip-board. "You'll also need to be careful not to over-exert yourself in the meanwhile. We'll keep that arm in a sling, so as to not stress the injured muscles, and we've scheduled you for some physical therapy to help speed the recovery process."

The pain hasn't really faded yet, both from the injury and from the memory. Rodger Goodman was the one person inside of the Institute that Veronica thought she could trust, one of the few people who understood what she was trying to do, and allowed it. "I've got the perscription for your pain medication, and we'll have that ready for you when you're discharged. Now we'd like you to stay a couple more days, but if you're sure that you'll be in an environment where you won't put too much stress on the injury, you're free to leave when you'd like. Just speak to the nurse at the front desk to pick up your perscriptions."

Offering a warm smile, the doctor slides his pen into a pocket in the front of his jacket, tucks his clip board under one arm, and offers a raised brow at Veronica.

Even while bandaged up across the neck, sore, and emotionally drained, Veronica Sawyer has had worse days.

Just not by much.

Not to over-exert herself. The words earn a weary and pained smile from Veronica. Unlike many, she has no fear of doctors. She practically grew up in a hospital, spending as much time with her father as possible and listening with big eyes and open ears for as much information on the amazing machinery of the human body that she could glean, one day hoping to be as successful of a surgeon and scientist as her father, as prolific of a life saver.

"There's never a guarantee in this city that there won't be stress, but I promise you, I have no greater plans than to sit at home curled up on the couch watching movies for the next several days, Doc," Vee says, dimples appearing in her cheeks, though her eyes are shadowed with pain and lack of restful sleep. Drugs have kept her resting, but they can't touch the exhaustion that comes with what Veronica has set out to do, and what she's now afraid is lost. "I'd like to get out of here, and out of your hair, though. I promise not to get into too much trouble."

Nodding slowly, the doctor looks Veronica up and down once, then affords her a meager smile again. "Alright, well— I'll let you get dressed. Hope you have a speedy recovery, agent Sawyer." Turning away from the wounded agent, reinforcing to Veronica that she is just that — an agent — it brings to mind the potential shit-storm that has yet to come of her injuries. No officials from the Institute have arrives yet, no disciplinary warnings, not even so much as a concerned phone call.

As the doctor steps out of the room, Veronica can see coverage of rescue efforts from inside what was once the dome on the muted television. A dramatic scene of a police officer carrying an injured child out of a building, national guardsmen in the background pushing gang members up against a wall with their hands above their heads.

As the door closes behind the doctor, the muted television changes to show an aerial view of the Suresh Center. The entire building's front facade gutted by an explosion, windows demolished, burned-out hulks of vehicles scattered in the front rotunda. A photograph of Doctor Mohinder Suresh displays in the corner of the screen and the ticker across the bottom reads Suresh Center Closed.

Her brows knit, Veronica reaches for the remote to turn up the sound before turning in her bed to perch on the edge, bare feet to the cold tile floor. She flinches at the images of innocents lost, the people staying there because they had nowhere else to go when the dome cut them off from the rest of the world, the people who worked for the Suresh Center with no idea they were sharing its walls with Institute agents and scientists.

She can't help but wonder of those that she knows inside of the Institute — how upset would she be to find they were killed? That she feels numb — even to the fact that she might be lucky to have been outside of the dome, that she might have died if she were inside of it — is more worrying than anything she feels for those lost.

With a wince she pushes off of her bed gingerly to move to the closet her clothes are kept in. The gown will have to serve as her top, since she had to be cut out of the other, saturated with blood and sticking to her body as it was. She begins to get dressed, slowly; one arm in a sling makes it an arduous and tedious task.

«Estimates are so far unclear on what the total casualties of those who were trapped in the dome. Rescue workers have been inundated with offers for help from local citizens, but authorities are asking all non-essential personnel to stay out of the immediate vicinity until order has been re-established.»

A navy blue zip-up fleece embroidered with the hospital logo hangs generously in the hospital room's closet beside the remainder of Veronica's clothing. While it may not be her own clothing, it will at least suffice until she's able to find something of her own back home.

«Residents of Roosevelt Island were finally allowed to return to their homes today, many of which found their residences in considerable states of disrepair. One resident we spoke to had this to say: "We came in… our— our door was kicked open. They'd taken everything. They'd gone into our daughter's room, gone through her things. What— what kind of people would do that? What did they think they were going to find in there?"»

The sudden sound of knuckles knocking on the door to Veronica's room comes just before the door knob turns and the door creaks open. "Knock, knock," a familiar and unexpected voice calls into the room, and agent Sawyer doesn't need to see Desmond Harper on the other side of the door to know it's him. "You decent?"

The sling is removed so she can pull her arm through the sleeve of the fleece, air whistling through her teeth as that motion pulls at the muscles of her shoulder so close to the knife wound. It's only when one is grievously injured that one realizes how interconnected all body parts are — a painful lesson.

The sling is replaced on top of the sweatshirt, her arm slipped back in. Pants then boots follow, all slowly, making Veronica second-guess her decision to leave. Another day or two might be smarter, but then Veronica always was stubborn.

A glance in the mirror shows a face too pale and too weary for her liking; her free hand brushes over her dark hair, a little lank and in need of washing. She has looked better.

It's then that she hears the knock on the door, the familiar voice that makes her stomach sink. Her eyes close and Veronica turns away from the mirror, backing up to the bed and sitting down again. Light-headed.

"Yeah," she says huskily, brows furrowing as she stares at the closed door.

«With the dome gone, many are left to speculate over what caused the event. The Department of Evolved Affairs has yet to issue an official statement regarding the situation, and sources close to this news agency inside the Department of Homeland Security indicate that it is uncertain whether the identity of the individual or individuals responsible have been discovered.»

Pushing the door open, the darkly dressed figure of Desmond Harper is one that Veronica hasn't seen in a long time. Ever since Harper was injured in an attack by Messiah, he's been fading from the collective memory of the Institute's operatives, a painful scar ont he past of everyone who was associated with the Company. He seems less like the monster that most see him as though, in this setting. He isn't dressed for business either, in a black sweater in dark jeans, workboots scuffing the tile floor underfoot.

"I was up here visiting my son, thought I'd come down and see how you were doing. Caught the doctor outside your room, he told me you were checkin' out." Brows furrowing together, Harper manages something of a weary smile. "You, ah… need a ride home?"

"Your… son?" Veronica murmurs, uncertainly. Did she know that? She picks up the remote to turn off the television and then turns her dark eyes to his face. "It's good to see you back," she offers, wincing as she stands again, pushing off with her free arm and stepping closer to him.

Her brows furrow as if the question is a difficult one. She isn't really sure where she even left her car, if she drove it on Friday, or if she took subways or cabs. It's a blur, a hazy and nightmarish memory she'd rather forget. Whatever the answer, it does mean she doesn't have a ride. Her free hand reaches to her pant pockets, to ensure she has keys at all, to get into her apartment once she gets there.

"I guess I could use one," she says uncertainly.

"Good, I figure you and I need to talk on the way at any rate." It's as gentle as Harper can manage, but also the God's honest truth. "After what we had to clean up on Friday, it's— it raises some ugly questions that we just don't have all the answers to yet. But whatever it is that happened, I want you to know that I'm sorry you had to go through that. We had no reason to suspect that Goodman would go after you, he didn't show any signs of… resentment for what happened back when you were both in the Company."

Clearing his throat, Harper steps over to the door to Veronica's room, then opens it out into the hall. "You had us all worried when we received the call that you'd been attacked, there was panic at the offices once we'd realized it was Goodman who did it. Local law-enforcement called the Institute in when they discovered his corpse and the condition it was in, the case has been handed over to us so… we'll be able to sanitize it."

Harper keeps one arm on the door, holding it open for Veronica. "Exactly… what did happen there?"

Three days alone in a hospital room should have given her sufficient time to think up a rational explanation for what took place; but the three days were spent in pain and or a morphine fog, and then there's the problem of coming up with anything that doesn't sound ridiculous. Her brows furrow and she shakes her head, looking down as he holds the door for her.

"Thank you," she says quietly — both for the chivalry and for the expression of sympathy. "I … I don't know," she whispers, the words honest. She doesn't know why Goodman attacked her, except that he thought she was Cardinal. That he wouldn't have attacked her, she feels certain; but that he attacked Cardinal is still a betrayal that cuts through her as easily as the blade had. Tears fill her eyes as she tries to avoid Harper's gaze; she needs to be stronger, more stoic, but she's too exhausted to keep up the facade.

"What happened to him — after Tajakistan? I hadn't seen him since then," she murmrus.

"I was hoping you could tell me," Harper admits with a reluctant sigh, tucking his hands into the pockets of his jeans, walking past a few orderlies and closed hospital room doors. "I heard he was taken in for administrative action, but when I pressed for more information I got stonewalled. Not even Doctor Broome would tell me anything. Things…" Harper shakes his head slowly, brows furrowing. "Things have been different the last few months, administration has changed the way they handle things. I mean— the Institute's never been above board— but we had a certain level of internal transparency. Ever since I've been out of comission, I haven't been told anything."

Looking askance to Veronica, Harper seems troubled by that notion. "Frankly, I'm confused why they put Goodman in charge to begin with. He was never supposed to become an Institute agent. From all of the intel I had about when Howard LeMay tracked his corpse down, they wanted to retrieve Goodman's information of Company protocols and classified information for the purge…" Those troubled eyes lower down to the tiled floor, and Harper's brows furrow together.

"After the purge, once…" Harper hesitates, censoring himself. "Once changes started getting implemented in the hierarchy, they suddenly wanted to put Goodman in a position of authority. Broome cut me out from the decision making process, and if I hadn't been injured they probably would have put him as an agent under me. Now… this?" Harper looks over to Veronica, slowly shaking his head.

"I've devoted myself to the Institute, to the cause it represents, but I feel like I don't even know the agency anymore. I feel like I woke up froms ome sort of weird dream, and nothing's the way I remember it."

"Tell me about it," Veronica says in a low voice, shaking her head and finally looking up at him, appraising his face. "I was surprised to see him, in your place, when you were injured. Of all people." Not that she didn't know he was alive already. Not that he hadn't warned her against going to work at the Company the last day the Company stood.

She begins the short walk toward the nurse's station, but pauses within sight of it, staying out of hearing range of the nurses working there. She looks up at him as she leans against the wall to catch her breath. "Can I ask what the Institute stands for, to you? What cause it represents, that you believe in? Because I'll admit I'm not sure I really know, myself," Veronica says with a frown. "I told you once that I just wanted to be on the winning side, that I was willing to come join you rather than go down with a sinking ship. You…"

Her eyes drop, and she smirks a little, before looking back up. "I hate to say, I thought the same of you. But now you make me feel bad for underestimating you."

"It's okay, all the ladies do," Harper masks his concern with a joke and a cheerfully rougish smile, letting his shoulders rise and fall in an exaggerated shrug. But he can't defer from the topic at hand with humor entirely, and Veronica's question is a valid one, one he's asked himself before. "I cut my teeth in jobs like this working for the CIA. Uncle Sam put me in situations where I had to make hard decisions, where I had to make calls that most people probably wouldn't have, for the greater good. I know it's a cliched term, but…" A sigh slips out between Harper's thoughts. "I honestly believe that the Institute performs a necessary service, protecting the people of this country from Evolved threats. Hell, sometimes from themselves."

Lifting up a hand to rub at the back of his neck, Harper keeps his voice quiet, looking down to the floor. "The world's not a black and white place. But the Institute has probably done more black things than white. What happened on Staten Island… it was a goddamned mistake. It was a horrible, disgusting mistake. Things like that makes me question my commitment, but then I see things like what happened on the 8th. I see things like this dome. It makes me realize that the country needs us…"

Harper's lips sag into a frown, brows furrowed. "Those were the events that got past us, Sawyer. But can you imagine if you hadn't caught Halebi? If he'd been allowed to go free? One day we'd have a smoking hole in the ground that was someone's home. And there's more things out there, more dangerous situations we're going to have to face. To me, the Institute means protecting people at any cost…"

Harper looks away from Veronica, towards something obscured by a pair of nurses. "I have something to protect, and that's… it's important." A smile creeps up across Harper's lips, followed by a nod to the nurse's station. "Go get your meds, I gotta' say goodbye to someone."

Veronica's face furrows as she listens, making her look, as always, more like a petulant teenager than a highly trained governmental agent. His words resonate with all of the reasons she's done the jobs she has, and most of the reasons she continues to. Liquid brown eyes flick left to right and back across his face.

The last of his speech has her dropping her eyes and nodding. "We have something in common, then," she says softly. "Everything I've ever done in this job — or the one that came before — was to protect people from the dangers they can't protect themselves from." Even if it means the company she keeps.

The glance away, the mention of something he needs to protect, gets a curious tip of her head but she nods and moves toward the nurse's station — feeling very alone, even given the unexpected visitor.

In Veronica's peripheral vision as she retrieves her medication, Harper offers a greeting to the medical staff crowding around someone in a wheelchair. He's all smiles, but she can tell by the way tension crinkles at the corners of his eyes that it's a show, that he's anxious, or nervous, or something other than what he's showing. When Harper drops to take a knee in front of the person in the wheelchair, Veronica is exposed to an unexpected side of the ruthless agent that gunned down Company members in cold blood.

In the wheelchair sits a young boy, no older than ten, not a single wisp of hair on his head or eyebrows to speak of. Dark circles ring his eyes, and a breathing tube rests in his nose. He's dangerously skinny in the way cancer patients are, and when Harper takes his hand, gently squeezing those small fingers, Veronica understands why he was smiling. He was smiling for his son, so that he didn't have to see the worry on his father's face.

The content of whatever they have to say is lost on Veronica, too far awya and too busy checking out and receiving her perscriptions to really hear what is being said. By the time the scrips have been handed over to the agent, Harper is rising up to stand, looking back over his shoulder to Veronica with a measured smile.

Thanking the nurse in her husky voice, Veronica watches under hooded brow. Her lips press together as she nods once more to the nurse, indicating she understands the directions and that she will remember the follow-up appointments, taking the paper baggy of drugs in her free hand as she finally steps back from the counter to move gingerly toward Harper. Her eyes drop to the little boy, and she offers a soft smile.

When her mask begins to slip, she tips her head so her hair shields her face, catching her breath for a moment before looking up again. She doesn't move closer, letting him have his space, or to invite her in, to keep his family to himself, or to introduce her.

The Institute may be more black than white, but suddenly for Veronica, Desmond Harper just got grayer.

"I gotta' go, Champ," Harper states to the boy, tipping his head down into a reluctant nod before looking up and over to Veronica, then back down to his son. The boy smiles, but much as when they were having their conversation, the child didn't seem to do any of the talking. Lifting up one hand, he motions fingers through the air, sign language, then offers a gap-toothed smile to Veronica.

Harper seems anxious to have shown that moment of vulnerability, to have exposed that he has family, but with how long Veronica has been with the Institute he's starting to feel like he can trust her, which is exactly where she wanted him to be. A non-verbal response comes from Harper, a quick motion of his hands signing back to his son, then a dip inwards to kiss the top of his head, eliciting a look of embarrassment from the boy before Harper nods to one of the orderlies.

As his son is wheeled away, Harper looks back to Veronica with a tension in his expression. "That's what the Institute means to me," Harper explains, even if he didn't quite have to drive that point home any more. Looking away from the back of his son's wheelchair, Harper turns towards the light spilling in through the sliding hospital doors.

"C'mon," he urges with a flick of one hand over his shoulder.

"Your chariot awaits."

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