Twenty eight

An Experience Worth Having

Odette frowned as she struggled to open her eyes. She was lying in a bed that wasn't hers and in a room that was positively too pink to belong to anybody she considered a friend. She felt as if she'd cried too much, her eyes stung, her throat ached. A murmured moan escaped when she moved to sit up and her back ribs spiked in pain.

"Don't get up," Lorraine said, rushing to her side. Odette looked at her and immediately relaxed in her seat.

"Why am I in Susan's room?" Odette asked after accepting a cup of water and painkiller from Lorraine.

"You needed to sleep and Dr Raith put you in here," Lorraine explained, "the mansion's turned into a makeshift hospital and police station. All that's missing is firemen."

"Damn, they're hot."

"Glad to see the humour is still there," Lorraine said, giving her a kiss on the forehead. "We were worried about you."

"I want to go home," she said glumly.

"You will, honey," Lorraine comforted her, stroking her hair. "We need to make sure you're ok first!"

"I'm fine!" she said feebly, squinting her eyes against the pink. Lorraine smiled and nodded.

"I'll go get Dr Raith," she said before leaving the room. Odette sighed and got up slowly, her feet dangling off the side of the bed for a moment while she tried to keep her head from spinning.

"You're in a rush to leave!" Jude said, his deep voice breaking the silence in the room. She looked up at him, seeing him nestled in the corner. He had his knees raised and arms resting on them tiredly. A sad, pained sigh emitted from between his lips.

"You don't have to creep around anymore," she said, waving a hand half-heartedly. "We've won! We're free!"

"Gee, you couldn't sound happier if you tried!" Jude muttered sarcastically, moving up slowly to sit by her. "What's wrong, Red? Everything we've been planning for has happened, and ahead of time!"

"It's a ruined experience," she said, with sadness to her hoarse voice.

"Because you woke up in a pink room?"

She traced the cut above his eyebrow, and he watched her eyes turn into wide saucers. He winced when her finger grazed the cut, and she pulled it back worriedly.

When did Michael get to you? All I saw was Mr Miller talking to you," she said, leaning into him when he lifted an arm to embrace her. Her arms snaked around his waist and felt the bandage through the thin fabric of his shirt.

"He decided talking wasn't enough," Jude said, not wanting to give her any details. She'd lifted up his shirt and looked distraught enough just seeing the damage there.

"You should be in bed."

"God, you sound like my mum!" Jude mumbled, not putting up a fight when she forced him to lean back against propped up pillows. He held her hand and stopped her fussing, pulling her closer until she sat on the bed beside him. He grinned, "I might have to get beaten up more often."

"Don't joke," she pleaded in whispers, shaking her head and then regretting it when she got dizzy again.

"I'm sorry I wasn't able to get to you with...Henry and Michael," he said, interpreting her frown in a different way.

"It's not your fault, Jay," she said, taking his hand in hers. "Besides, nothing really happened. It was just like those fights I used to have in school but with much bigger, and stronger, boys."

"Look who's joking now," he whispered, hearing her voice crack and feeling his heart break at the same time. "Tell me what you're thinking about?"

"I feel guilty about everything I did these past few months!" she admitted, voicing her fears. She picked her head up again and looked at him as if he had the answers in his golden brown eyes, "I kept trying to keep a brave face the whole time but it was a lie, an act. I've seen too much to be the same person I was! Maybe we did a good thing, but I didn't come out of it as a good person."

"Red-"

"There is nothing that you can say that will change my mind about this," she said, holding a hand up and tapping her heart. "It's a feeling I've got and it's not just going to go away with comforting words."

"You're an idealistic kind of philosopher, Red," Jude said softly, despairing at seeing her so disappointed with herself, "think of it as a test of sorts. Think of it religiously?"

"I have," Odette told him, "Every day, during the lunches I was forced into with Faulkner, Susan and Diana. I sat there, half-listening to them, insulting Lizzie and Ackles or whoever passed by them. I'd wonder what the purpose of this experience was for my life. What was the lesson that needed to be learnt?"

"What did you come up with?"Jude asked interestedly, pulling her closer.

"I thought of my grandfather a lot," Odette said, the crease between her brows deepening as she considered it for a moment. "There is a theology he always taught us about, that hardship and strife is a blessing from God. It is a gift of forgiveness or salvation, or simply the gift of life!"

"Why don't you believe that, then?" Jude asked, nuzzling her with the tip of his nose and kissing her softly, satisfied when she melted into him.

"Because it can't be what this is," she said, letting out a sorrowful breath. "How can I see this as a triumph when I lost the part of myself I valued the most? My dignity and honesty?

Jude opened his mouth to comfort her, but there was a quiet knock on the door. He sealed his lips again, turning when it opened slightly. Carson stuck his head in, waiting for a sign from Odette to come in. She smiled and waved him in.

"You gave us a scare there," he said, sighing and looking to his feet for a moment. He tried to control the emotion that he knew was written all over his face.

"Gave you one?" she teased, waiting for him to look up at her and give her that cheeky grin of his. It was somewhat muted when he finally looked up, but it was there nonetheless.

"And a few others...yeah," Carson said, moving closer and leaning against the post of Susan's bed and looking at them both, "stop fishing compliments."

"Must I?"

"Yeah, my dad wants to come in," he said seriously.

"Oh!" Odette said, straightening up and turning serious. She hadn't met David Thomas yet and, by all accounts, he was a hard man to please. She wanted to make a good impression and old instincts kicked in. She felt just like she did whenever she spoke to Toto, and she hated that feeling.

Another knock on the door and David walked in. Carson stuffed his hands in his pockets, Jude exchanged a look of camaraderie with David, nodding politely. Odette forgot how to look someone in the eye.

She felt the intimidation by his stature and in the way he carried himself, but hid it. She no longer wondered why Ruben was so nervous around him. He brought it out in the person before him naturally, even when there was a rare smile on his face.

"Odette Achilles," he said in a deep voice that suited his build. His eyes looked at her, dissecting her piece by piece, seeing her lift her gaze bit by bit. "You're not how I imagined."

"Good or bad?" Odette asked with a smile, that old spark of hers coming out of its own accord. Mr Thomas's eyes lifted a millimetre.

"Just different," he said.

"How so?"

Carson frowned, expecting his father to burst at the insolence of being questioned. He knew he usually let one question go, but this was the second and the only expression on his face was a smile.

"You're not as nervous as most," David explained, something he rarely did. He'd forgotten what it was like to actually engage in conversation without dictating it.

"Learned to lose them a long time ago." She shook her head and smiled at him remorsefully.

"Sometimes they can be useful," he said. Odette looked at him and nodded in agreement. She could see where Carson got his coolness and his ability to keep a straight face from.

"You have no idea what I wouldn't do for them back," she said quietly, seeing Carson's puckered brow out of the corner of her eye.

"Personality traits are never gone forever," he told her, voice turning soft. Carson's jaw dropped at how the normally impenetrable man became an agony aunt.

"But I believe people can change if they try hard enough," Odette said, believing that she'd tried so hard to make her lie believable by the Wokings that it had become the truth. It was who she was now.

David nodded in agreement, sneaking a look at Carson and knowing it to be the case. He had blamed himself for how Carson turned out, knowing if he hadn't grown up with the Wokings, he would be a normal boy like the rest. Still, he supposed there was some good in having a son that had lived right and wrong both. He'd know how to make the correct choice in the future. There was satisfaction in knowing Carson could protect himself, was smart enough to know what he wanted and work towards it without resorting to violence. It comforted David that Carson was and would never be barbaric like the Wokings.

"It is easy to change habits, or routine, but not character," David said,

"I'm going to take your word on it," Odette said. Letting go of her fears under the hope that time will heal the effect of this experience.

"You do that," he said with a throaty chuckle, looking at her carefully, "And remember to think of me when you wake up that morning and find that you're back to how you once were. The girl you thought was long gone will be eager to save another lost cause."

"Write me a list, I'll get through them eventually," she said light-heartedly.

"You're not like your brother, Odette."

Odette puckered her brow and tried to understand what he meant by it.

"He's a much better person than I am, Mr Thomas."

David shrugged and raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. He just glanced at Carson seriously before he turned to face Jude. Seeing his bruised skin, he admired his behaviour that day and the personality that enabled it to shine under stressful conditions.

"Let's get some food in you," Carson said, offering his arm to Odette. She understood that the other two needed privacy and linked his arm. She wanted to be out of that pink room as quickly as possible.

"Stay resting Jude," David said, stopping him from getting up with a hand on his shoulder. "Internal bleeding isn't a joke."

"I know," Jude said, blinking slowly, wondering what David Carson wanted from him.

"I've been watching you for a while now," David began, not one to fuss about, "I need a person that can fight for what he wants, fights for the best for himself and for others. I considered you but you were always so obliging to Toto's demands. Only recently, I realised otherwise and only today I appreciated how much."

"I just...I didn't fight Mr Thomas," Jude said, showing shame for the first time at getting beaten. "I would save your admiration for someone more deserving."

"I've been told you've always wanted to study economics?" David said, not addressing Jude's insinuation at Carson.

Jude narrowed his eyes. He hadn't told anyone. Not even Odette.

"I'm going to make you the offer of your life Jude," David said, smiling at the reaction in the young man. He liked seeing the guardedness. It was exactly what he wanted to see. "I'm going to sponsor you through higher education and give you everything you've always wanted."

"I'll move back to London for University?" Jude asked sceptically. "What's the catch?"

"There's always a catch, right?" David said, raising his eyebrows. "You'll be contracted to work for me for a minimum of five years. I can't guarantee it'll be London but take it from me, the world is a big and valuable place. There is a lot more to live and see, especially while you're young."

"That's it?"

"That is it."

"Only one problem. I haven't been entered for my art exam. I can safely assume Mr Burke didn't enter me for Maths either," Jude sighed. "Doesn't look like I'm going to get to uni anytime soon."

"Oh, that's not a problem!" David smiled. Not a problem in the least.

Jude's eyes flashed and a smile crept up his face. His future dreams solidified before him into something he could grab. Holding his hand out, he met David's and they shook.

*-*-*

As soon as Carson and Odette had stepped out of the room, they were met by a rush of people in the corridors. Unfamiliar faces holding boxes of evidence, holding clipboards and interviewing people. Lorraine was right, it was like a police station. There were so many uniformed officers dotted around the place. It seemed like the whole village was there too.

Brushing past people, Carson led her down the corridor and towards the kitchen. He didn't stop, nor let her stop for anybody that saw her and wanted to talk.

'There'd be time for that later', he thought, and knew that she could do without all the conversations. She hated gossip after all.

"Where's Diana?" Odette whispered, sly half-smile playing on her lips.

"Around," he said, shaking his head.

"I'd have thought she'd jump on you the moment you were allowed to be together in the open!"

"She did," Carson chuckled, nudging Odette with the elbow she linked.

"A chuckle in public, Carson?"

"You're going to see a lot weirder things than that, Crutches!" he said, pointing to where a crowd of St Matthias sixth formers that were gathered around Eliot.

"Where's Mr Ash?" she asked worriedly.

"With his family. There's been an impromptu reunion in the ballroom," Carson told her, seeing Odette smile in relief. "You knew he had a son."

It wasn't a question, so she didn't answer. Walking into the kitchen, she sighed at the coolness of it. Spotting Mr Bede sitting on the table, she rushed there, stopping awkwardly in front of him.

"Would it be inappropriate if I gave you a hug, Mr Bede?"

"You are an exception, Trouble," he said, holding his arms out and enveloping her in them. "Well done, Little Revolutionist. You've practically passed your history A-levels!"

"If only!" she said, showing how much he had done for her all those months.

"He gives great hugs, doesn't he?" Rose said, peeking out from behind him.

Odette chuckled and pulled back to get a better look. Smiling at the little girl, she nodded and let out a freeing sigh.

"I've heard a lot about you," she said to her, crouching a little and tugging her blue dress. "Your daddy loves you so much. All he ever thinks about is you!"

Rose blushed, swaying from side to side. Looking up at her dad, she held her arms up and he lifted her to him.

"I love him too," she said, kissing his cheek and making his existence worth it. "And because he loves you, I do too!"

"Thank you," Odette said, receiving a kiss too. Seeing innocent brown eyes stare at her, she did not doubt the future of Hucknell. "She's perfect, Mr Bede."

He smiled, beside himself with joy and at a loss for words. Nodding, he could not take his eyes off his Rose.

*-*-*

"So who will live here then?" Sam asked, eyes trailing up the ancient walls of the mansion.

"I don't know," Alice said, contemplating it seriously. "Mr Evans? Bridget and Susan aren't going to jail so them too I guess."

"It should be a museum!" Sam said, getting the idea at that exact moment. "They could set it up as one during their community service!"

"Oh, I was hoping to see them picking up rubbish in the streets. Or scrubbing graffiti off walls, something degrading!"

"There is not trash or graffiti in Hucknell," Sam said, scrunching up his nose. "Totally Twilight Zone, man!"

"For them, I'd paint the whole village red," Alice admitted, narrowing her eyes as she pictured it. "Just to see some grime in those perfect little nails."

"You're sexy when you're bitchy!" Sam chuckled.

Alice raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips. She saw his cheeks redden in a blush and a hand gingerly sweep over his stubble.

"Yeah, I'm honest. I have a big mouth, and what?"

"And nothing." She turned away and hid her smile. Closing her eyes and biting down on her bottom lip, she tried to hold back the excitement.

"I can see you, Alice," Sam said, moving around to face her. He grinned when she flung her eyes open and saw a close of him.

"God, life was so much simpler without you!"

"But kind of boring, right?" He wiggled his eyebrows up and down and grinned toothily.

She sighed and rolled her eyes. Hearing a hubbub, she looked up at the bustling crowd standing ahead of them. Catching a glimpse of Odette and Carson, she pushed her way through the crowd.

"Odette!" She jumped on her for a hug and held on tightly.

"Are you okay?" Odette asked, stumbling back into Carson.

"Perfect!" Alice said beaming, looking at Odette carefully. "A day to start a diary, don't you think?"

"It'd be one long entry," Odette said, happy that Alice's smile had returned for real, believing her when she said she was perfect.

"Of course, Sam was with you! Your day must've been longer than most!" Alice giggled.

"Oi!" he said, hearing her comment. Alice laughed, holding her hands up in surrender. Sam looked up at Odette and pulled Alice away, taking her place in the hug.

"I think 'thank you' seems unworthy for you," he whispered, hugging her tightly. Just glad that she was ok after she'd passed out in his arms. "I'm glad Odette Achilles came to Hucknell, and I'm glad she brought me back."

"This looks cosy."

Odette stiffened at the sound of Toto and turned to the voice, peeking from behind Sam's shoulder.

"Where's your police escort, Toto?" Carson said dryly, waiting for the hour he'd never see him again, smirking as his gaze dropped to Toto's hands, "Oh, handcuffs! Suits you."

"I didn't think you'd show your face here after all you've done to us!" Toto said, raising a sinister eyebrow at Odette and ignoring Carson.

"It's good you thought of me in any case," she replied with a tired soul. She sighed when he glared at her and shook her head impatiently, "are you going to threaten me now? Because it really won't mean much to me right now."

"You better watch your mouth," he warned. Odette rolled her eyes towards Alice.

"So predictable," she said, looking back at him and shrugging. "I don't mean disrespect, Dr Woking, but I really think that it's much more dignified for you to just leave now and deal with the consequences of your actions."

"Oh? And what of your actions?" he leered, almost hissing when Carson stepped in front of her.

"I haven't done anything illegal," she said, putting a calming hand on Carson's shoulder and assuring him she was able to handle it. "I have only been the victim of ill intent and malicious people. Not just me, Dr Woking, least of all me. I just fought back."

"You're going to stop this, Odette, and tell the police it was a mistake," he ordered, about to relay the demands she was to follow, oblivious to just how much trouble he was in and to the police surrounding his home.

"Why would I want to do that?"

"It's not a choice!" he boomed, causing the corridor to fall to silence and all eyes fell to him.

"Last time I checked, I made my own choices," Odette said to him firmly, loud enough for all to hear, "As do you, and like it or not, you will be tried and judged."

"I'm not guilty of anything," Toto said, ignorant to just what he'd done wrong.

"No? You want me to list all you're guilty of?" Sam said, unable to hold back anymore. He'd grown up prevented from leading a normal life, and it was all because of the man before him, guilty as sin but still unwilling to admit it, "Theft of government footage, unlawful recording and monitoring, tampering with police evidence, government property, blackmail, perjury, murder, whether patients under your care or your own daughter."

His voice cracked towards the end and he was grateful when Alice shuffled closer and put a reassuring hand on his back as the Detective bundled over with two constables in tow.

A spark. A notion and a feeling of hope renewed, Odette realised the purpose of this experience. She'd made the mistake of looking for the result of her grandfather's theology in herself. She realised that to find decency you had to see it in the people around you. In the way you choose to live life when the decision lies in your hands. All those tired feelings, that low depression bringing her down, making the world that little bit darker, had lifted. Carson's eyes were a brighter blue and Alice's cheeks were a deeper red. Sam's hair was a blonde closer to the golden of his mother's.

Revelations and heart-warming contentment, she no longer felt weak and worthless. Odette's eyes scanned through the rows of people watching them. She pursed her lips and held back her smile. The was more pleasure in seeing everybody standing together, unconcerned by the limits of friendship groups. Zeke joking with Diana and Lizzie was something to see, no sign of the growl or grimace he usually had in public. Lorraine and Helen stood side by side with Julia House, Faulkner and Mary. Matthew and James were getting the much deserved respect by their peers. Dr Teague stood proudly beside Lindsay and Athene. Odette's eyes hazed at the numbers and only noted one thing. The double personalities everybody once had were gone, and genuine smiles were exchanged.

"Put him in the van with the rest of his family," the detective ordered the constable and jogged Odette out of her thoughts, only a split second of time but it felt like minutes. A moment in which she was renewed and started afresh.

"Goodbye, Dr Woking," Odette said, needing to bid it for her own piece of mind, before it was too late. "It was an experience knowing you. One that I'm sure will never let me forget just how much the good things in life are worth fighting for. One that will be my reminder of just how cruel people can be when they let their minds fool them into thinking they are more than human. Into thinking they are better than others. It will be the spike of pain in my leg that will make everything seem easy in comparison. It will be the memory of how no wrong should be left ignored."

Toto grunted at her and glared, craning his neck around as he passed her, wordlessly promising retribution. Odette didn't care to worry about it. No matter what happened to him and his family, they would never be able to get the better of her or anyone else in the village.

"And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids!" Zeke joked from his place in the crowd. He smiled, feeling the sweetness of retribution, when Toto stiffened at the chorus of giggles coming from the people around.

Yes, this was his fall from grace and their means of finding it.

The end.


A/N - Thanks to my Beta Artume. My Blessing!