Misplaced Guilt

By Slider Sarah

In their one of their favourite suites at the Chandler hotel, at least on most worlds, Mike and Connor sat slouched in the armchairs in front of the television. Connor held the remote idly in one hand, flicking channels, yet not pausing long enough at most to see if there was indeed anything interesting. He was just passing the time.

Behind them, Laurie was running around like a madwoman, trying to find all her things. Nearly three weeks here and theyíd begun to feel like it was sort of a second home. "Hey, have either of you guys seen my sunglasses?"

"Theyíre on the floor by the cabinet in the bedroom," Connor offered, still not removing his eyes from the somewhat hypnotic channel-surfing.

Laurie marched into the bedroom and came ou brandishing them. "If you knew they were on the floor, I suppose it was too much trouble to pick them up? Theyíre all bent out of shape now!" There was no immediate answer. "Well??"

This time Connor unglued his eyes and actually paid attention. "SorryÖ I meant toÖ and then I forgot. Chuck Ďem here." Laurie obliged and Connor began to try and reshape them. After a few minutes of intense staring from Laurie, he threw them back. "Try them now."

"Hmph. Thanks, I suppose," she replied, before resuming her mad rush around the suite. Finally Laurie seemed to have everything and she joined them in the lounge area.

Mike jumped up with unprecendented energy. "Come on Connor, get your ass in gear."

"What? Arenít we waiting for Stephen to come back?

"Werenít you listening? Weíre meeting him near the statue in the park about half an hour before we leave."

Connor shook his head. "Er no, apparently not."

"Is he okay?" Laurie asked, slighty concerned. "He keeps going off on his own and when we do see him, he just looks kindaÖ I dunnoÖ depressed."

Both of the guys stared at her for a moment, then looked at each other. "Didnít you tell her?" Mike demanded of Connor.

"What do you mean, ĎDidnít I tell her?í" Connor retorted with a hint of anger underlying his tone. "You said you would do it as I couldnít be trusted to remember!"

Now Mike was looking indignant. "No," he said very slowly, and quite loudly, "I said I wasnít sure I could trust you to remember to tell, but I was going to anyway!"

"No, you saidÖ"

At this point Laurie violently interrupted. "Will one of you just tell me!" she thundered, making the two guys just stop dead and stare at her open mouthed.

They looked at each other again. "Oh, you go ahead," Connor offered with fake generosity.

"Er, okay." Mike began to talk, but did not look directly at Laurie, as if he was a little embarrassed. "Heís always like this around this time of year. Itís coming up to his wife and kidsí birthdays and it gets him down. Very down."

It was Laurieís turn to stare in disbelief. "Is that all? Why was that so hard to tell me?"

Connor shrugged. "I dunno. It just was. But it hasnít been helping that your double on the last world kept coming on to him."

Laurie said nothing to that, but Mike took the opportunity to hurry everyone along anyway. "Why do we have to go now anyway? The Slide isnít for three hours yet!" the lone female complained. "Couldnít I have had more of a lie-in?"

"Youíve had a lie-in every day this week, since youíve been working afternoons!" Laurie raised a hand to object, but Mike cut her off. "Okay, except for Wednesday. But you know we canít slide here because the cleaner could come at any time. Itís just on of those things."

The three of them gathered their bags and began to head off for a final bit of site-seeing and perhaps one more look at the curiosity that was pink replica of the Titanic. As she closed the door behind her, Laurie mumbled, "Well, youíd need another lie-in as well if youíd been working as a waitress in a dingy restaurant instead of a car park attendant."

* * *

The gateway from another dimension spat the four Sliders visciously out of it and onto the soft earth in the middle of a beautiful garden.

"Looks a little deserted, donít you think?" Connor shook the dirt from his clothes and looked around. "Oh, maybe not."

A little boy, about five years old, peered at them from behind a perfectly pruned tree and then ran away calling for his mother. The mother appeared a few seconds later and snarled, "What sort of an example is that to set! If adults canít behave how am I supposed to teach my child to? You should be ashamed of yourselves!" at them before stalking away, child in hand. "Come along Tommy, letís find somewhere quieter."

Three of the interdimensional travellers double up with mirth once the woman had left, but Stephen didnít even seem to notice that sheíd even been there. Laurie shot a worried glance at him, but Mike just shook his head at her. Even then, Stephen seemed oblivious to everything that was going on around him.

"Well, at least we know thereís life here, civilised or otherwise!" said Connor brightly. "It must be some kind of gardens."

Mike agreed with him. "Yeah, and if thatís the type of clientele they get here, we might want to try and find our way out of here."

The four of them cleaned themselves using the fountain in the centre and then followed the signs depicting Ďexit.í For once the signs actually made sense and despite Laurieís efforts, they avoided the maze that was one of the main attractions of the gardens. Soon they found a more normal state of affairs, as leaving the trees behindthem they discovered a city, albeit one without such tall buildings as some theyíd seen.

The gardens actually emerged onto what appeared to be quite a busy street. Just outside the gate, a man with a makeshift jewellry stall was selling his wares. "Oh, please can we look! Please!" she begged, but without waiting for an answer sheíd already made her way towards it, grabbing Connor by the arm and dragging him with her, thus compelling the others to follow.

"Come people, buy your mandatory bands here! All colours, cheap prices! Come buy them now, donít be caught out! Lost or broken, donít miss this opportunity to buy a replacement, or even just a spare! You wonít get proces lower anywhere else!"

Raised eyebrows were shared between the four, this time even including Stephen, who had started paying attention after the word, Ďmandatory.í Laurie glanced at Mike for confirmation that she should go ahead. "Uh... Iíll take a blue one."

"Yeah, same here, blue." added Mike. "How about you Connor, didnít you say you lost yours?"

For a second Connor ws fazed. "Oh, er, yeah it did. Iíll take aÖ" his eyes wandered around the colours on the stall, "a red."

The stall holder smiled at him. "Got someone special, young man?" he asked as he held out a red band.

Connor almost snatched the band from the man. "Never you mind!"

"Okay, okay!" he protested. "I was just curious!" He turned towards Stephen. "How about you? You need one too?"

Nodding somberly, Stephen said simply, "Black please."

"Canít you think of something more interesting than black?" Connor made a half-hearted attempt to tease his friend, expecting at least a tiny reaction from him.

But the stall holder butted in before Stephen even had the chance. "Hey, if he wants black, he can have black! Leave the man in peace!"

Leaving Mike to pay the man for all four, Connor left before the stallholder had another go at him. The other caught up with him pretty quickly. "What was with with that man?"

Laurie shrugged as well as she could whilst wearing a very heaving backpack. "He did seem a little odd. So what now?"

"Find somewhere to stay," replied Mike. "Weíre here for nearly five days and considering we stayed at the Chandler last time, and itís not long enough to work, I think we should find somewhere a bit cheaper."

"Maybe see if thereís a Motel 12?" offered Connor. "Theyíre always pretty cheap, and not too bad either."

Shifting his own backpack around, Mike asked, "Do you know where it is?"

"Of course."

"Then letís go!"

* * *

After several wrong turns and quite a lot of confusion, Connor had finally found the Motel 12. It wasnít one the Sliders had used before, even before the addition of Laurie to the team. Every time someone asked Connor how he knew about the place, he very carefully evaded the question. It seemed he didnít plan on divulging that information.

The suite theyíd managed to get was considerable smaller than the ones they were used to, but it was also considerably cheaper, and it still had everything they needed. Including a television, which after the four of them had decided on sleeping arrangements was where they had gathered.

"ErÖ if you donít need me, I think Iím gonna go out for a while." It was the first time Stephen had volunteered any information for a while.

Connor stood up as if to follow him. "Want some company? Iím getting a bit bored of the TV to be honest."

There was a difficult pause. "Not really. Sorry."

Sitting back down again, Connor let him leave. Once Stephen had left the room, he said, "I think you may be right to be worried, Laurie. I swear heís getting worse."

"Nah, itís just been a while since he got this bad. A year in fact," Mike replied. "Itíll pass eventually."

"Yeah, well letís hope we donít need him while heís in this mood." Connor got up again, walked around the room a few times, then sat back down for the second time.

Mike turned away from the television screen. "Are you sure youíre okay?"

"YesÖ noÖ Iím just bored," conceeded Connor eventually. "And I donít think we should have let him go off alone. We still donít know why these are mandatory." He indicated the red band around his right wrist. "Are you sure theyíre nothing about them anywhere?"

He got a newspaper thrown at him by Laurie. "Check it yourself. I already went through it twice. And you know yourself there was nothing on the TV that we found."

Connor threw back at her. "I think Iíll take your word for it. Fancy coming out for a look around with me?" His eyes were pleading; evidently he was very bored.

She screwed up her face in indecision. "Would you mind if I said no? After landing in all that dirt all I want to do right now is have a nice, long, hot bath." At the thought of the bath she relaxed visibly and Connor knew he couldnít make her forgo that one luxury. Sheíd never forgive him.

"Itís okay, donít worry about it. How about you Mike? Fancy a stroll? After all, you guys had all the fun a couple of Slides backÖ I need some excitement to, yíknow!"

Laurie snorted at the mention of the world where her double was Americaís dictator. That wasnít the kind of fun they enjoyed, and in fact, most of the time it had been either deathly dull or deathly annoying.

"Nah, donít think so, mate," Mike drawled without really paying him proper attention. "I think Iíll just stick around here for a while, see if I can find anything on the TV about the bands. You go, itíll be fine."

It didnít seem like there was any arguing with anyone. Connor really began to lament the fact that he hadnít just gone with Stephen anyway. Sure, he might not be great company in this mood, but bad company was better than no company. But he wasnít going to hang around in the suite all day.

He watched as Laurie turned the taps on and began to gather everything she needed for her bath. Considering she only had one rucksack to take from world to world, she certainly managed to get a lot of luxuries in there. Eventually she closed the door and the sound of running water stopped. Seeing that Mike really was going to mooch around the suite watching television for a while, Connor gathered a few things and went off. Perhaps heíd find something at least marginally interesting out there.

* * *

Out and about this world didnít seem very different from his own. Connor could see different coloured bands on every single person, and no one seemed to be that bothered about his. But that didnít help him to find out what their meaning actually was. It wasnít something you could just go up and ask about. Evidently everyone already knew what they were for.

Basically, the place seemed like a general industrialised world, with most of the same amenities that could have been found on his own world before the invasion. Yet while this was normally at least marginally comforting, the aspect of the bands was still weighing heavily on Connorís mind.

A jewellerís revealed more designer bands, rather than the basic ones that he and the others had purchased, but still no signs to tell him what they were for. Perhaps they were some kind of tracer? There was nothing to suggest otherwise, but nothing to support it either, and that might mean they were wearing conterfeit ones, if only for visual reasons.

"Where HAVE YOU BEEN! You havenít called me in DAYS!"

Connor whirled round to find himself faced by a very loud brunette, who also seemed to be abour five months pregnant. "IÖ erÖ do I know you?"

She slapped him harshly across the cheek. "You know damn well who I am, and donít think you can weasel out of a public scene this time! You are going to help me bring up YOUR child, and I donít care what other Ďproblemsí you have in your life right now! Youíre not getting away with it."

Rubbing his cheek, Connor tried to cut off her diatribe but without much success. "Look, youíve got it all wrong."

"Oh have I indeed? I suppose youíll be telling me youíve been at work the past few days? Well, that wonít cut in anymore!"

"ButÖ"

"I suppose youíll be too busy to see me now because you have to work? No, donít answer, itís always the same crap. But this time, Iím going to walk you to work and make sure you go! And thereís no getting out of it anymore! Youíll go to work and youíll STAY there! I know all about you kicking off early to spend time with your little fancy women!"

By now, there was quite a crowd forming around the pair of them, staring at the domestic that appeared to be going on in front of them. Some of the spectators even started cheering as the pregnant brunette delivered her penetrating verbal blows.

Suddenly she grabbed Connor by the arm and started to pull him along the pavment. "Oh no, no getting out of it this time, mister. and youíd BETTER hope that you have been at work!"

As Connor wasnít expecting such force, he nearly went flying, but managed to steady himself just in time. Her grip on his arm was ridiculously strong and he didnít want to hurt a woman, let along a pregnant one. There didnít seem to be any other option than to follow her. Perhaps when he go to Ďworkí sheíd leave him alone. It was obvious she though he was his double, which begged the question, what had his double got himself into?

* * *

Back in the gardens where they had entered into this world, Stephen sat on a bench next to a stream. Alone. The sound of the water running over the stones and pebbles was relaxing, but not reassuring. Nothing was reassuring. The presence of the others served simply to exacerbate the things he was feeling.

Guilt, regret, the feeling that if only he had been there it wouldnít have happened, these feelings dominated every part of him and wouldnít go away. If heíd only arrived a few minutes earlier, he could have done something. Anything. They would still be here. Alive.

Silent tears dripped down his cheeks. The boys would have been nearly nine now. It would be their birthday on Saturday, and Dianaís three days later. Only two worlds ago heíd seen her again. Sheíd been even more beautiful that ever, but heíd been forced to wipe that wonderful smile off her face just so he could Slide again. So he could avenge their deaths. Without her help he would never even had a chance. But she could never understand the pain that stabbed at his heart when he saw her, Hell, even every time he thought about her and the boys! Most of the time he could keep his mind on other things. But not now. Not after seeing her again, not when it would have been their birthdays. It just wasnít possible.

Stephen was running through the back gate at the end of their garden. They were being invaded. Heíd run so far and seen so many burnt out and demolished building, he was surprised to see his own still standing. There were so many bodies around he couldnít even bare to look. None he recognised, but he knew it would happen sooner or later. These alien things were just shooting randomly.

Now he was running through the house. He was running on complete adrenaline, which his brain told him was bad for him, but his heart was telling him he had to find them. Inside the house he started to yell their names. "Diana! Sam! Adam!

He could hear no answer. He ran upstairs, still calling. Nothing. No sign even that theyíd left, or run. Back downstairs, the sounds of gunfire were becoming louder. He could hear every shot as if it was next to him, percing his eardrum.

And then there she was. In the front doorway, Diana lay bleeding from several wounds that looked like nothing heíd ever seen before. He stood staring, in complete disbelief at her dying body.

"Stephen?" she croaked and instantly he was by her side. "They tried to take themÖ donít let them. Please donít let them. I tried to stop them, but" she gave a little laugh, "look where it got me."

He couldnít say anything. All he could do was cry, holding her close to him. His perfect woman now lay bleeding in his arms.

"Stephen please. Promise me youíll tryÖ I canít move anymore. Just try."

As her life force began to ebb away in the blood that was now staining his clothes, his managed to force out the words, "I promise,í to her before her eyes closed. "I love you, Diana," he cried, as he wept into her hair.

Her last words flowed out of her mouth with the blood. "I love you all."

Stephen could do nothing for a moment except hold his beloved wife. He was screaming one of those piercing sounds that pulled at the heart strings of anyone who could hear. But he could not forget the promise heíd made to her in her dying moment. He laid her gently back on the steps and covered her with her favourite coat. Later, he promised himself, heís come back and give her a proper funeral. He didnít care whether or not they were in the middle of a war; she was a good person, she deserved no less.

There was a trail of blood leading away from the house. That had to be where the boys were taken. Maybe there was still time. His legs and lungs already hurt with effort, but he couldníy give up now. Heíd promised.

He ran and ran for what seemed like forever, even though it was only a few minutes. He could see the convoy, but not his sons. They had to be in there somewhere, but it was still at such a distance he could only really make out outline. If the street had not been endlessly long and straight he wouldnít even be able to see them.

Suddenly there was a scuffle amoung the group. Some kind of rebellion? The group paused, but Stephen just ran faster. He began to make out shapes. Two of them, two of those in the thick of the upsurge looked like his some. "No, donít! he cried, but it was too late. Adam had already been hit with the same weapon that had killed his mother. The five year old boy lay motionless on the floor.

Having watched his brother be murdered, Sam went mad. Stephen could see him scratching and biting anyone who came near him. But that couldnít hope to save him. "Sam wait! Daddyís coming! No!" Sam turned, knowing his fatherís voice and instinctively obeying.

But one of the invaders heard Stephen and sent a shot firing in his direction. It hit him square in the stomach and he was thrown sideways into the bins, incapacitated.

"Daddy!" Sam tried to break free and run towards him, Stephen could see, but the invaders werenít prepared to let him do that.

The last thing Stephen saw before he passed out, was a dying Sam crawling towards him and laying his head on Stephenís wound. The last thing that Stephen had truly loved was dead. He never wanted to wake up.

But he did. A short time later Jonathan, the man who was to become leader of the Resistance on their world had found him and bandaged him up. Stephen had made sure he was well enough to give his family a proper funeral, but once that was over, he had tried to kill himself. But again Jonathan was there to stop him. He told him that the best thing to do would be to avenge their deaths, not take his own. Stephen found out later that Jonathan had lost his family in similar circumstances.

But Stephen had had no vengeance yet. Not really. And their deaths still lay heavily on his conscience.

His eyes wandered across the path and settled on a pair of boys playing with the water of the stream. Nearby their parents watched. Perhaps this was what his family wouuld have been like. Perhaps somewhere out there that was what his family was like, though that didnít help to deaden his personal pain. He had still watched them all die, yet he had somehow survived.

Eventually, he stood up and left. He just couldnít watch anymore. It was just too damn hard.

* * *

Connor was dragged through the streets amid more stares. Thankfully, though, the pregnant brunette, whoís name Connor still didnít know, had stopped shrieking at him, which at least gave him the chance to recover his sense of feeling.

He was fairly sure that this didnít have anything to do with his lack of knowledge about the bands, but still he couldnít rule it out. What did his double actually do anyway?

As he began to move into streets he recognised from a long time ago in his mind, Connorís dread grew. He had a horrible feeling that he knew exactly what his doube did for a living, and that was going to make things very difficult indeed.

The brunette stopped outside a big building, confirming Connorís fears. "Right. You will be here the moment your shift finishes and I will make sure you go home!Youíll find itís not as easy to brush me off as you think!"

Connor smiled weakly, hoping it didnít show that he didnít mean it in the slightest.

She wasted no time in forcing him through the double electric doors of the emergency department of the hospital. There, Connor was confronted with sights he hadnít looked at properly in years. Yeah, heíd been in hospitals since, but always as a patient or with a patient. He remembered this place. It was different, but not so so different he couldnít recognise it on sight. The hard plastic chairs that held those waiting for treatment, the vending machines that never gave you what you asked for, and the rush of people moving from one place to another in an effort to treat people in good time.

In many ways he hadnít missed it at all. But last time heíd been here properly he had been a med-student, one who wasnít even sure what field he wanted to go into. All of his rotations had taken place within these walls. His double had also followed a similar path, it seemed.

"Here." She shoved him hard in the back. "Go on, get started."

But she didnít leave. Tentatively, Connor took a few steps towards the reception desk, hoping that somewhere along the way he could come up with something. She certainly wasnít going to leave him alone until he did.

It turned out he didnít have to. "Dr. Matthews! How good of you to grace us with your presenceÖ and on time for once I see!" came a booming voice from the left of him.

Turning swiftly, Connor found himself faced by a very tall man in a white coat, carrying a clipboard. And from the sound of it, this was the attending. Quickly, he glaced at the badge pinned to the manís chest. Dr. Anthony Brooks. Not someone Connor knew from his time here on his world. "UhÖ yeah, I had company." He gestured towards the pregnant brunette.

Dr. Brooks nodded knowingly. "Nice to see you again, Gabrielle. But donít worry now, Iíll take care of him for now."

Gabrielle stood there with her arms crossed in defiance for a few moments, before giving up and leaving. It didnít seem she trusted Dr. Brooks any more than she did Connor.

As soon as the electric door closed behind her, Connor let out an audible sigh of relief.

A hand clapped him on the shoulder. "We werenít expecting you in today, Connor, I thought youíd taken a few days to cope with the stressÖ yíknow, before the hearing and all."

"Well, I didnít really get a choice."

Again, Dr. Brooks seemed to understand. "Is she still hasseling you?"

"ErÖ yeah, you could say that."

He shook his head disapprovingly. "Well, it is mostly your own fault," he said, almost condescendingly. "Iíve warned you time and time again about your littleÖ away games."

That seemed to explain things a little. Or at least explain why she was so angry. If his double didnít seem able to commit to her, especially while she was pregnant, that was going to get her back up. But it was nothing Connor couldnít have worked out himself, given the time. It was the mention of a hearing that intrigued Connor. And his presence was not going to help matters in that department. "If Iím not supposed to be on, well, I guess I can head back again."

"Oh no, I donít think so. Gabrielle hates me enough as it is; Iím not going to go out of my way to piss her off. Beside, we could do with you today anyway. One of our interns is off with some bug. Food poisoning apparently, but between you and me, I think he just had a rather heavy night partying. But you can give us a hand anyway. Itíll keep her off your back."

Connor was thrown. "ErÖ right. Just basic stuff?"

Another hand clapped him on the shoulder and there was a loud guffaw. "Look at you, always tying to find the easy route. Yeah, just the basic stuff, unless we really need you for something. Wouldnít want to throw you back in at the deep end, not after what happened last time!"

"Thanks," Connor replied, fervently hoping that they wouldnít need him for anything that he wouldnít have to do anything too difficult. He may have been a precocious med-student, with knowledge rivalling that of many interns, but there was no way he could pull off being a resident of the level he was supposed to be at. No way. The only training heíd had since the invasion was field training, so perhaps some of that may help, but still. Perhaps heíd just get stuck with stitches anyway. Hopefully. "Iíll just go get my stuff."

Heading off to the staff room, Connor took several more deep breaths. How was this happening? Was it really happening? He pinched himself just to make sure, but all that resulted in was several red marks appearing on his arm. Could he do this? He took another deep breath and leant on the back of the chair. He had to do this. There was no way he could leave now. There were too many people watching him, and then heíd be for it.

Luckily, all the lockers had names on them, so he had no trouble picking out his own. It even turned out that the code was the same one he used everywhereÖ 4-9-2-1.

Reluctantly Connor put on his doubleís white coat and made his way back out to the floor. "Here goes nothing," he muttered to himself as he stepped out.

Dr. Brooks was waiting for him when he got out there. "Ah, Dr. Matthews. Hereís one for you. Nice and simple one for you to start with. Dog bite to the hand."

Taking the chart from his superior, Connor shuffled towards the curtain area. "Great," he said sarcastically. "Just want I always wanted." As he did so, everything came flooding back to him, including how much he generally hated going to work.

* * *

As Stephen walked around the city street, it began to rain. Not heavily, but enough to annoy. And he didnít even have a coat, let alone an umbrella, although Stephen never carried an umbrella anyway. He looked up into the sky. It didnít seem like this was just going to be a quick shower. Typical. It symbolised his mood really, but that didnít mean he wanted to get wet.

Quickly, he darted into a little café just off the street. It looked expensive, but Stephen was pretty sure he could stretch to a simple cup of coffee.

It was strange. Walking towards the counter, he noticed several sympathetic nods in his direction. Too many for them to just be noticing his expression. Were these people psychic or something? No, they couldnít be, otherwise someone would have said something about Sliding. Even the girl behind the counter seemed eager to help him, and with everyone else she seemed to be completely braindead.

Stephen took the one of the last few tables, as the café was now beginning to fill up, probably for the same reasons they Stephen himself had ducked inside. A glance outside showed him that it was indeed raining even harder and there were noticable less people out in it. Heíd certainly picked the right time to come inside.

"Do you mind if I join you?"

He looked up to see a very bedragged woman standing in front of him, coffee in hand, shaking a little with the cole. "Well, IÖerÖ"

"Itís okay," she added and held up her arm. "Iím in a similar boat to you." On her very pale arm dangled a black band.

Stephen didnít really know what to say to that. "Well, I guess so."

She had in fact waited until he had answered. "Thank you so much. Iím Marie by the way." Although she was trying to be friendly, Stephen could sense a note of sadness. Slight, but it was still there.

"Stephen." He offered his hand briefly, but quickly withdrew it, his eyes returning to his coffee.

However Marie seemed to want to talk. "Look, Iím sorry if Iím intruding, but you look like you could do with a chat." Stephen looked up, but didnít say anything. "Iíll start if you like. God knows I need to talk about this enough." She took a very deep breath. "I lost my little sister recently, inÖ erÖ not very nice circumstances. Actually it was horrific." She stopped again.

"You donít have to do this," offered Stephen. "Itís hard, believe me, I know."

"Who did you lose?"

Shaking his head, the scientist said quietly, "I donít really want to talk about it."

"I know itís not considered good etiquette to try to push someone in times like this, but you really look like you need to talk about it. To paraphrase you, believe me, I know." Marie stood firm. "Itís obviously bothering you that much and I can tell youíre bereavedÖ badly if I may venture a guess," she added as an after thought.

Now Stephen was confused. "How do you know Iím bereaved."

"Duh! The band. Now, would you like to tell me about it?"

He shrugged. "I donít suppose youíll leave me alone if I donít?"

"Not a chance," she smiled at him.

There really was no choice. She was as pushy as Laurie was sometimes, when she was being annoying. If he wanted to drink hise expensive coffee, Stephen decided he really was going to have to spill, however painful it might be. And anyway, who knows? She might be right and maybe it would help. Hell, it could get much worse. "IÖ erÖ lost my wife and both my children," he said, not looking her in the eye. "TheyÖ they were murderd." Well, that was completely true, but he should certainly not mention Kromaggs killed them.

Immediately she reached out and grabbed his hand, carefully avoiding the coffee which proceeded to spill a little over the edge. "Iím so sorryÖI donít kow what to say really. It must be even worse to loose children."

"AndÖ and I watched them die," he continued. "TheÖ manÖ who did it shot me in the shoulder and left me for dead, but I couldnít help them. I watched them die in front of me."

Marie bit her lip in an attempt to resist the urge to just go round the table and hug her new friend. "Iím sorry, if you donít want to talk about it, just stop, honest. I wonít push any further." In truth she was already feeling guilty for forcing him.

"No, itís okay. Youíre probably right. I should talk about it. I never have properly, and it beenÖ well, itís been a few years now. Normally I can cope, but it would be their birthday on Saturday, and Dianaís on Tuesday. It just makes me think of the kind of presents I would have bought them. The sports they would have done, just things I lostÖ they lost." Now heíd started he no longer wanted to stop. "They were four when it happened," sensibly, he didnít take heed of her horrified gasp. "I used to take them to swimming lessons. Diana used to take them to school, she was a teacher and it fir with her schedule, and I always used to say to myself that when they got older I could spend more time with them, show them some of my work, take them places and things. I never ever thought I wouldnít get the chance. They were just such happy children. They didnít deserve that."

She squeezed his hand gently. "I know what you mean. My sister was eighteen. I asked her to get some milk from the shop so I could make mash, and she never came back. Some maniac killed her. She had so much to offer. She was gonna be a nurseÖ she could have saved lives, but that bastard took it away from her. From all of us."

The hand was dropped and the pair of them just sat in silence for a moment, taking comfort in the fact that someone understood what they were going through. Finally Stephen ventured a question of his own. "Did they catch him?"

"Huh?"

"Did they catch the maniac? Did he get what he deserved?"

She straightened herself up. "Oh, yeah. He was a serial killer, but my sister was his last victim. Heís now on death row."

"Think youself lucky."

"Yours was never caught?"

Stephen shook his head. "No. But when I find him heíll wish he had been." He pounded his fist into his hand.

Suddenly Marie stood up. "Iím sorry, I have to get to the bank now itís stopped raining, but here." She thrust a flyer in front of him. "Iím going to this group tonight, one for the bereaved. Iíve never been before, but Iíve heard it really can help. Do you think you might like to come along?"

Running his eyes across the print, Stephen decided quickly it couldnít hurt. "Why not. I donít have any other plans."

"Great," Marie replied. "I donít really want to go on my own. Meet you outside at 7?"

He nodded. "I should be able to find the place." Marie made a move to leave, but Stephen caught her arm. "Just one more thing quickly. You said the band showed you I was bereaved?"

"Well, yeah."

"Could you just humour me and tell me the other colours?"

Shrugging, she said, "I suppose. Black is bereaved. Blue means youíre single and looking for a bit of fun, amber that youíre single but only really looking for a relationship. Red means youíre in a committed relationship. White means youíre just not looking for anything at all. There are others as well, and variations, but those are the most common. Do you want me to go through the rest?" She seemed completely confused.

"No, thatís fine, thanks."

Once she was gone, Stephen pondered her words a little. If the bands related to your relationship status, then he really had to warn the others. Connor was okay, he had a red band, but Laurie and Mike both had blue and that could get them into trouble.

He swigged the remainder of the coffee down quickly, then made his own way out of the café. It had stoopped raining, but that might not last long. Hopefully Mike and Laurie would still be at the hotel.

As he ran, trying to make sure he didnít get any wetter, Stephen suddenly realised that it had helped. There was still that burning pain in his heart, and he welled up every time he thought of their faces, but something had definitely helped him this afternoon. Marie had made him feel better, it was as simple as that. No one else had ever managed that since the invasion.

* * *

Connor leaned back against the wall of the store cupboard and let out a vey deep breath, purposely hitting his head on the wall. Could he really do this much longer? Heíd been pulled up twice already for shoddy work, something the other residents had put down to Ďstress about the caseí even though Connor still didnít know what the case was. Probably some form of malpractice, but the more that went wrong, the more trouble his double would get into.

He banged his head a few more times before deciding that he should get back to work. Now, where were the spare cotton pads? They had to be here somewhere, with the rest of the dressing equipment, but no one had thought to label anything. As usual. And it seemed to have suffered one of its random reorganisations, since Connor was sure it had been totally different earlier.

"I hope you havenít been ignoring me, now that wouldnít be right," said a sultry voice from behind him, and he felt a pinch on his behind.

Turning around, again, Connor found himself faced with a blonde nurse, most likely a colleague. "IÖ would I do that?"

She draped her arms around his neck and pulled him close to her. "Well, I heard Gabrielle earlier. I thought she might have broken you." The nurse placed a light kiss upon Connorís lips. "Then I remembered that this was you weíre talking about. Youíre not a true red-banderÖ but thatís whats so attractive."

"Right." He tried to push her away a little, but in spite of himself, he was quite intrigued. He didnít even protest too much when she kissed him properly."

Pausing, she stepped away. "Are you alright? Youíre never this cautious!"

Connor had to think quickly. "Brooks is keeping a close eye on me. And Gabrielleís in one of those moods, she might turn up at any moment."

This seemed to satisfy the woman, and she relaxed. "Well, Iíll catch you later then." She winked at him and ran her hand down his cheek before grabbing a package and strutting out of the cupboard.

Mentally, Connor made a note to treat any woman as one of his doubleís potential conquests unless there was evidence to the contrary. His double was far worse than he had ever been! But then again, would he have turned out like this if it wasnít for drastic events?

One more smash of his head on the wall later, and he spotted the pads he was looking for. Someone had hidden them behind something else. Probably someone who didnít have to find them.

He sighed and made his way back to work. Only a few more hours to go. All his breaks were already used up though, which meant he had to work those hours solid. Under a watchful eye. Fingers crossed he could just make it through without making anymore glaringly obvious mistakes. If he played his cards right, he wouldnít have to come back tomorrow. Well, if he could escape the seeming hoardes of women. Then it wouldnít matter anymore that he didnít know what he was supposed to.

* * *

The door to the suite was locked when Stephen got there. Damn. That really didnít bode well for them actually being Ďhome.í But it was worth a try anyway. The key clicked in the lock and Stephen pushed the heavy door open.

"Hello? Mike? Laurie? Anyone home?"

There was no one sat in front of the television, or in fact anywhere in the lounge area. Checking the bathroom revealed nothing but a wet floor and a few renegade bubbles in the tub. It was pretty obvious that Stephen was the only one here.

Where theyíd gone Stephen didnít know, but that wasnít the issue. He did a quick sweep for a note, but there was nothing. Heí stopped by the bar downstairs on the way up, just in case, but they werenít in there either. Well, he thought to himself, I did leave a while ago. They could be anywhere.

But Stephen didnít really want to hang around here waiting for them. In fact he didnít want to hang around here anyway. And if he was out and about, then theoretically heíd have more chance of finding them. He had to warn them about the bands, or they could get into trouble.

Eventually, he located a scrap of paper and a pen, and scribbled down a note, which he left by the telephone.

That done, Stephen decided to head back to the park. Although it wanít a park on their world, it held a special significance in his eyes. Along one bank of the stream, he and Jonathan had buried their loved ones. A few others had as well, in the days that immediately followed the invasion. All there was on Earth 117 to signify their deaths, though, were carefully placed stones with initials carefully carved into them. Grass had grown over them, but flowers were always left.

This park wasnít of their graves, Stephen knew that, but it was comforting to just sit by the parallel of where they lay. Perhaps any flowers he left on the exact spots would last more than five minutes, but even to Stephen, it was the thought that counted. And that was where he wanted to be, if he could be home.

* * *

"Uuurrrrgggghhhh." Laurie waltzed though the door and flopped onto the sofa, her bags sitting wherever they landed after a short flight. "Thank God thatís over with!" She didnít move for a while, not even to press the button on the remote control, which happened to be next to her.

She sat like that for ten minutes, just resting and attempting to regain some of her relaxed feeling she had acquired from the bath.

"You home, Laurie?"

"Yeah, just by the sofa!" she replied, still not moving.

It was Mike. "Have you been SHOPPING???" he asked, incredulous.

Laurie shrugged. "Yeah, I have. Whatís the problem?"

"We canít afford for you to go shopping. You kow weíre on a limited budget here." Mike started pacing the room, as he was apt to do when he got annoyed. "You know how it is."

This time, Laurie moved. "Yeah, I know, Iím not a child, she returned angrly. "But clothes wear out and I need some new ones! And they were all barginsÖ look!" She started rooting around among the plastic bags and pulled out a pair of black trousers. "These were only ten dollars! And I bought a few tops as wellÖ they were all about $5. Fantastic shop, if you ask me. Hard work though."

"Hmmm," Mike didnít seem convinced but he did stop glaring at her.

Neither of them noticed that while Laurie had been moving bags around, looking for her new purchases, a piece of paper had slipped off the telephone table and fallen onto the floor.

"I wonder if itís too early for me to start getting ready," Laurie mused. "I wasnít planning on going out until nine or so." She started sifting through the bags again.

"Youíre going out tonight?"

"Thought I might as well. Is there any reason why I shouldnít?" she retorted, beginning to get a little riled again.

"No, no reason. Just though I might join you, if you donít mind of course."

"Whatever, I guess."

"You going anywhere in particular?"

Laurie reached into her rucksack and pulled out a leaflet. "Thought I might check out this place, Varsity. It looks pretty good. And cheap too. They let older people in as well, apparently."

"Oh do they, indeed," he said menacingly. "Iím so glad."

But she seemed completely oblivious. "Yeah, so they might let you in." She looked him up and down. "Youíll definitely have to change though."

* * *

Stephen stood outside the meeting place, shifting his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other. Marie wasnít late, not yet, but he really didnít want to go in there on his own. If she didnít turn up, he wouldnít go in at all.

However, that wasnít going to be a problem, for she turned up, before the appointed time, a little out of breath, but not significantly.

"Sorry," she apologised quickly. "My mother was on the phone and when she gets going she really doesnít stop talking."

"Itís okay," Stephen replied, "Youíre not late."

Marie glanced at her watch. "Really? Now that is impressive. I only left five minutes ago." She paused. "Do you wanna go in? Weíre a little early for the meeting, but they have coffee and biscuits."

Smiling at the thought of coffee, for the day was still wet and cold, Stephen agreed and the pair of them headed inside. What struck Stephen straight away was the darkness of it all. The lights were on, but they seemed kind of muted, as if someone had decided that the bereaved didnít want it to be light or that misery sounded best in the dark.

There was also quite a few people already there, all wearing a black bands, although one person had a black and red striped one. Stephen knew that some of them, probably even most, wouldníy have ,lost loved ones through violence, but as he met their eyes, it sort of warmed him. Or maybe that was just the coffee.

About quarter of an hour later, the meeting itself began, much like any other help group. Everyone sat in a circle on the rather horrible plastic chairs, and those who wished to talk did so, asking the chair first or waiting their turn.

Stephen himself did not talk. Listening was enough. It wasnít the descriptions of how each friend or relative had died that was helping, it was the open discussion of feelings after the event. After the brief funerals, he and Jonathan had never talked about it. Not had anyone since then. It was this kind of unwritten rule in the Resistace: You donít talk about your loss. Everyone had lost, it was true, but the way things were there, there was no time for emotion. Emotion could compromise the entire thing, and it was tentative at best anyway. But Stephen had wanted to share and not been able to.

Towards the end, Marie herself stood up and explained how for so long she had considerd it her fault, since she had sent her sister to the shop in the first place. "And then I realised that I couldnít knowAnd even if Iíd been there, I probably couldnít have stopped the bastard."

She was looking pointedly at Stephen now, although she spoke to the whole group. "Guilt stops us from truly loving the memory of them, to strive for the better. We didnít kill them: the ones who should be feeling guilt are the killers."

There was a small applause from the group, even though most of them did quite relate. Stephen complied, but kpet his head down.

* * *

Gabrielle was waiting for him outside the Emergency Department, Connor realised. Not that heíd doubted her, she was obviously slightly deranged anyway. And didnít seem to have a job. "Weíre going straight back to your place," she announced as he exited the building.

Throughout the shift, Connor had started coming up with a story for just that eventuality. "Yeah, I seem to have lost my keys, so I guess Iíll have to just check into a hotel for the night. I lost them at work, so theyíll probably turn up tomorrow in lost property." If he was going to a hotel, it was going to be the motel 12. He needed to at least make contact with the guy, if not use them to hide.

"Oh no you donít, Iím not falling for that one again. I know exactly where you meet your oh-so-secret lovers, Connor. I have a spare key. Two in fact, and youíre not spending the night with one of your floosies again." She dangled the keys in front of his face. "And Iím staying with you. Maybe then youíll realise that this is your baby too."

Connor made a face when her back was turned. Shit. She wasnít just slightly deranged, she was insane! What had his double seen in her? Well, he didnít really need an answer to that question; she was stunningly beautiful, just with a few screws loose. "Whatever you say," he said, resigned to the fact that again he had no choice. Telephone. His double had to have one of them in the flat.

She dragged him not particularly far to what Connor assumed was his apartment. It was in one of the slightly more expensive apartment blocks, yet still being fairly moderate, although Connor had never been able to afford something like this when he was a med student.

Inside, however, was a tip. A true bachelor pad. Clothes cluttered up all kinds of furniture, and he assumed it was a coffee table under all those beer bottles. He could completely understand why his double seemed to prefer hotels for the secret trysts, although Connor couldnít help but smile at the place. This was exactly how his own apartment would look, if he had one. The small cornered off area of one of the dorms at Resistance HQ didnít count.

"Iím cooking us Thai tonight," she said, opening the contents of a few shopping bags in the kitchen. "You can tidy this place up."

Surveying his surroundings, Connor was pretty sure it would still be a hole by the time dinner was ready, but compliance was easier than protesting.

Picking up a pile of what seemed to be dirty clothes, he made his way to the bedroom, which looked in a marginally better state than the rest of the apartment.

In the bedroom, however, he did find a phone. And even more miraculously, a telephone book, even if it was being used to discreetly prop up a table with a broken leg. Carefully extracting it so that nothing fell off and crashed to the floor, Connor dialled the number for the Motel 12.

Eventually he got through to the room. "Hello?"

"Laurie? Is that you?" Dumb question, he knew. If it wasnít Laurie, then he almost certainly had the wrong room.

"Connor?"

"Look, I have a real problem. Several problems in fact."

"Where have you been?"

There was no time to explain everything, Connor knew that. "Letís just say Iíve been taken for my double. Heís a full-fledged doctor and Iím being made to work as they think heís me." That should be enough explanation on that part.

"Canít you just do a runner?"

"I would! But he seems to have some psycho pregnant girlfriend who wonít leave me alone!"

"Again, canít you just do a runner?"

He shook his head, even though Laurie couldnít see him. "Iíve tried. Itís really not that easy. I think sheís actually insane! And angry because my double keeps doint the dirty on her!"

"Well, you did want things to be more interesting this time round. Maybe you should be careful what you wish for."

This wasnít getting him very far. "Laurie! Itís not funny! I really need your help! Maybe if youÖ"

Connor realised that Laurie was no longer on the other end. Turning around, he noticed that Gabrielle had her finger on the disconnect button. Fuck.

In one swift movement she had pulled the handset out of his hand, and the plug out of the wall. "I thought you might try to contact your little bit on the side," she drawled. "I knew I couldnít trust you."

"Oh, Laurie isnít my girlfriend," Connor protested automatically.

Gabrielle practically launched herself at his face, but stopped short of actually contacting with it. "Donít lie to me! I know you have a girlfriend called Laurie! The other one you got pregnant! Sheís a whore and doesnít deserve you!"

This time Connor kept his mouth shut. And it seemed to work. Believing him now submissive she left, taking the phone with her. But Connor was still pretty sure he wasnít trusted as he swore he could hear the sounds of the phone being smashed with something heavy coming from the kitchen.

He sat on the bed and held his head in his hands. How had he got here? Working a job he couldnít deal with and under the control of a madwoman. If only heíd run at the outset. Now he was far too scared of Gabrielle. He had a feeling that if he even went near the door sheíd throw the toaster at him, and he wasnít prepared to hurt her in return, even if she did have rather too many screws loose.

When the opportunity came, heíd take it with open arms. Which meant he had to pay a great deal of attention for once, not something Connor was overly good at. For the meantime it was damage limitation.

Idly he wandered back to the lounge, where he could at least keep an eye on her. He collected a pile of paperwork that was scattered all over the living area and opened a drawer to put them in. It was empty. So were all the other drawers.

On the pretext of taking more things back out to the bedroom, Connor scouted the rest of the place properly. To his horror, all the drawers in here were empty too, with the exception of one. And all that contained was a variety of different coloured bands. Along with a note describing the bands that should be worn for each of his women. Surely these couldnít be all current? There were seven names on the list, including, as Gabrielle had pointed out, that of Laurie. She was also a red band. Of course, who said it was his Laurieís double anyway. There were other women called Laurie afterall.

Next to each name was also a note why that band had to be worn. Finally, Connor worked out what it all meant. They were relationship indicators! Red was unavailableÖ imagine what would have happened if Gabrielle had found him wearing another colour. Well, he probably would have been able to run then, which would have been preferable. But now he needed to be careful.

Opening the wardrobe, Connor found there was nothing in there either. His double was gone! Apparently without the intention of coming back either. If he couldnít cope with this life, how was Connor supposed to? Even if it was only for five daysÖ four now. That was four days to get away.

"Youíre working tomorrow afternoon again," she called, slightly more brightly. "And dinner wonít be long now."

Connor simply busied himself with tidying, eagerly anticipating work tomorrow already, despite his intense hate for it. There were more opportunities to escape there.

* * *

Laurie shivered in the cold. She was queuing to get in the bar, but she was near the front now. Mike was just behind her, but they didnít talk much. He was in a mood with her over the shopping and what she was wearing. According to him, she looked like a tart, even though she was wearing trousers, albeit her new low-slung hipsters. And for not handing Connor over to him, despite the fact it had turned out there wasnít been time anyway. At least they knew he was alive now.

She felt a little guilty for leaving him there, but there wasnít a lot she could do. It didnít sound like heíd be phoning again tonight, and the number wasnít listed so they couldnít find out where he was.

The queue moved forward a little futher. Laurie was only two people from the front now, and they seemed more intent on eating each others faces. The baseline was reverberating through Laurieís body already and her excitement grew.

"In you go then, miss." The bouncer held back the barrier and let several people go through, among them Laurie and Mike, although he only actually spoke to the young Slider.

Bouncing through the door, Laurie was greeted by an array of flashing lights. Never had she actualy been to a place like this before. On her home world sheíd been to young, and a good proportion of the times she could have gone on parallel worlds, the legal drinking age was 21. Here, however, it was only 18. There had been Party World and a few other times where sheíd been able to drink, but never in a place like this. And she was planning on enjoying every minute of it.

Drinks were first on the agenda. Scanning behind the bar, Laurie selected a fruity alcopop, the best way to stat off an evening like this. Or so sheíd heard. "Cheers!" she yelled to the bartender in appreciation, but it was too loud for him to hear, although he did smile at her.

Mike had managed to get a chair by the bar and sat there on his own, not looking as though he was enjoying himself at all. Watching Laurie down her drink, he glowered at her. Did she know how she was making herself look?

The pair didnít talk to each other for a some time. Mike had tried, several times, but he kept being usurped by much younger men, eager to buy her drinks in exchange for a smile and maybe a dance.

The dancerfloor was the place where Laurie had spent most of her time, boogieing with whoever was there, predominantly the same young men as were buying her drinks. Mike wasnít going to go out there himself, but he did manage to catch her on the way back from a toilet trip.

"What DO you think youíre doing?" he yelled into her ear, having caught her arm.

She pulled herself out of his grip. "What does it look like? Iím having fun."

"You look like a hussy."

"So? What does it matter to you anyway?"

He stared at her, then made a move for her arm again. "Come on, weíre leaving."

But Laurie wasnít budging, no matter how hard he tugged. "No, Iím staying."

Behind her, one of the young men came up and put his arm around her. "This old man giving you any trouble, sweetheart?"

"Itís okay. Heís justÖ my uncle. Heís going to leave me alone now."

She turned and left, leaving Mike just standing there. Part of it was the drink, Laurie knew that. But even so, he had no right to dictate to her. She wasnít a child, damnit!

Mike mooched back to the bar. His seat had been taken by someone else, he wasnít going to get that back anytime soon. Ordering another beer by the bar, Mike found a small spot to lean on and survey the place.

After a little while, a woman approached him. "Hi," she said directly. "Do you want to buy me a drink?"

"Iím sorry, Iím not really interested in chatting someone up right now."

She sidled closer to him. "I suppose I can always buy my own drink if youíre skint."

He shook his head. "Itís not that, Iím just not interested. Itís nothing to do with you, Iím just not in that place right now."

"Excuse me??"

Mike tried to move away a little, but found his way blocked. "Honestly, itís not you."

"Well obviously it is!"

Now he was really confused. "How do you work that one out?"

She grabbed his arm, the one with the band and waved it in front of his face. "This says youíre interested! Youíre bound by what band you wear, remember?"

A couple of other people at the bar had turned around to join in. "Whatís up, Myleene, he giving you hassle?"

"Heís wearing the wrong band," Myleene hissed cattily. "Will you sort him out?"

The man at the bar punched Mike hard in the face. Clutching his cheek, where the fist had impacted, Mike looked up at him from the floor.

"Get youself outta here and get the right fucking band! Just be lucky it was us that found out not the authorities. If you bugger off now, we wonít tell."

Mike didnít need telling twice. He glanced at Laurie. She wasnít going to appreciate him telling her anything. But then, it could get her into trouble. Taking care to make sure those at the bar werenít watching, he hopped across to Laurie on the dance floor. "Laurie! These blue bands mean youíre up forÖ well, I donít know what really. But it means youíre Ďinterestedí. If we go now, they wonít make a scene."

"Well, Iím having fun and I can look after myself. Who says Iím not interested anyway? Canít you leave me alone."

Heíd tried. What else? could he do? She wasnít going to go back to the hotel now. He just had to hope she could look after herself. "Phone me when you leave." It wasnít a request, it was a command, and he was pretty sure she knew that, even if she was more concerned with dancing to ĎItís Raining Men.í

* * *

The silence was deafening as Mike sat alone in the lounge area. The television was on, but muted, the only sounds that of the traffic passing by outside the window, and occassional movement from the corridor.

Heíd been sitting like this for an hour, slowly fuming and gradually coming to a boil. Mike had been alone all day. Connor was still missing from yesterday. Laurie had never returned from the night out, probably voluntarily. And Stephen, well, heíd been asleep when Mike had got in, and up and out with the birds.

This just wasnít on. Or at least it shouldnít be. No one had any clue where anyone else was, and that was dangerous. It had got teams into serious trouble before and therefore was not acceptable, excepting very unusual circumstances. This slide did not count as one of those times. There was no need for it at all.

It became more serious when someone might be in trouble, and for all Mike knew, any one of them could be. Connor and Laurie seemed to be especially at risk. What with the madwoman and drunken men and all. They could not go on being irresponsible. Then there was the bands problem. Mike still had only managed to warn Laurie about them, and he wasnít even sure she would remember in the morning.

Finally, Mike could hear the rattling of someone struggling with the key in the lock to the suite. That would probably be Laurie then. It was about time she came Ďhome.í Automatically he lept to his feet, reading to challenge and ream her out.

"And where the Hell have you been?" he bellowed, almost as soon and the handle turned. "Oh, itís you." Mike sat down again, disgruntled.

Stephen ignored the outburst and headed into his room for a moment. When he returned, he said very quietly, "Iím not stopping long. Iím going to talk to a few people."

Mike raised his eyebrows. "Anything I should know about?"

Faltering a little, Stephen replied, "NoÖ itís justÖ personal matters."

It wasnít difficult to work out what that meant. Mike just decided to let it alone.

"Any word from Connor yet?" asked Stephen idly as he went through a mental checklist of things he needed. "He canít still be away?"

For some unknown reson, this began to annoy Mike. "Well he is. Weíve had one phone call, and he seees to have found himself a woman who even he can realise is insane."

Stephen responded rather to flippantly for Mikeís liking. "Little more than the usual then? He hasnít done that for a while!"

"No, not the fucking usual, Stephen, he canít get away from her!"

Stepping back and the unexpected loudness of it, Stephen paused to think. "Okay, do we know where he is?"

"No," said Mike shortly.

"What about the phone number?"

"Ex-directory."

"Any other clues?"

"Heís a doctor."

"Do we know where?"

Mike shrugged. "He just said heís a doctor."

Stephen sighed. "Then what are we to do? Go round every hospital and clinic, not forgetting any private practices, in the entire city and ask if theyíve ever heard of Connor Matthews? Do you how many there are? And then what happens if heís not AT work? They wonít give out personal information to strangers!"

This didnít seem to phase Mike in the slightest. "You can always try."

"I suppose I can check out a few after Iíve done my own things," conceeded Stephen reluctantly. "But Iím sure he can handle himself. He usually manages. What will you be doing?"

Only a growl escaped Mikeís lips. "Waiting for Laurie."

Deciding that maybe it was best to leave it there, Stephen made a move for the door. Thanks to the little chat, he was already running a little late. "See you later!"

"I need to tell you about the bands."

Confused, Stephen turned back and stared at Mike. "But I was the one who told you about the bands. I already know."

"No you did not! I found out for myself the hard way! I donít know what black means, but blue seems to indicate youíre interested in some fun. They determine the relationship status."

"But I know that already!" Stephen protested. "I left a note by the phone! And for the record, black means bereaved."

Now it was Mikeís turn to be confused. "What note?"

"The one I left for you guys to see! I thought it might be useful."

The anger that had been simmering earlier began to rise to the surface again. "Well it sure as Hell would have been actually left a note!"

Stephen barged his way past Mike. "Let me have a look." Sure enough, it wasnít on the table, but it didnít take long to spot it on the floor, upside-down. "Here. Itís got the whole list on there."

"Hmph."

"I have to go now," ventured Stephen bravely. "Iíll catch up with you later."

When he had gone, Mike started to pace the room. The next person to walk in was really going to get an earful.

* * *

"Ow! Stop sticking that thing in me!"

Sighing, Connor carried on, ignoring the kidís whiney cries. "Iím nearly done now. Itíll just be a secondÖ. there!" He finished up quickly and announced to the parents, "He should be fine now. Iíll send a nurse in in a moment to explain about further care."

They nodded in thanks, but Connor wasnít really interested. As soon as he was outside the consulation room he leaned back and banged his head on the door several times. Could this really go on any longer? That had been a close one. And even then, he was sure Dr. Brooks had only given him that patient because heíd pretty much screwed up at least two incidents today, and that didnít bode well for him.

The first he had simply missed something that should have been evident, even to him. The lowliest med student should have spotted it. Connor had just got out of the habit of looking. His attention had wondered and bangÖ. mistake number one.

The second one. Well, he wasnít even going to think about that one. It was a complete disaster and if Connor had been a woman he would probably have cried. Worse still, his colleagues hadnít even bothered to chide him for it, let alone punish him! It couldnít be long now. If he didnít get away soon, heíd end up killing someone. Heíd been too damn lucky so far.

And then there had been the GSW that had come in. That had goneÖ interestingly. Not badley, unlike most of the day. But surely the other doctors and nurses knew something was up after that. Having spent the day getting things wrong and generally seeming slapdash about everything he did, Connor had suddenly and inexplicable (to them) pulled off a pretty good save when no one had thought the boy would live.

Connor couldnít just stand there and let the kid die! But now everyone was looking at him very weirdly. It was rather disconcerting.

A clap of a hand on his shoulder brought Connor out of his self pity. "Hey nice save earlier, mate." It was one of the sugeons from upstairs. "Not sure even I coulda pulled that one off! And here we were thinking the malpractice suit was getting to you. At least, worse than usual."

Smiling fakely and hoping it did show, Connor bleakly accepted the compliments. It had been a good save, even considering the stuff heíd learnt in his own war zone. However, one fantastic save couldnít make up for the mess he was making here. Well, maybe it might a little. But what about his doubleís actions? The malpractice suit sounded bad, and had resulted in the paralysis of a young woman. Everyone expected him to be fired over the whole thing, they were just waiting for it to go through.

To put it quite simply, Connorís alter ego was inspired. While they had seemed surprised at his intervention in the GSW case, but not amazed. However, he was also incredibly lazy, as nor did they seem to be surprised at having to correct his mistakes and run around after him, even if they did so with a heavy heart. It was no wonder heíd run away what with this and Gabrielle and probably some other stuff too.

"Excuse me? Iím looking for a Dr. Connor Matthews. Do you know him?"

Now that was a voice he knew. And knew very well at that. "Stephen!" he yelled across the reception room, pushing his way through the people.

The receptionist pointed and then turned back to her paperwork. Why go looking if heíd already turned up.

"Connor! Where have you been? Weíve been worried about you!" Okay, so Stephen wasnít sure about Laurie, and he himself had not been particularly concerned this time, but it sounded good.

Connor grabbed at him and shoved him through the door of the staff room. Thankfully it was empty. "I need your help Stephen. I have to get out of here."

"Now?"

"Yes now! If I stay much longer, Gabrielle will come back and watch me like a hawk. Or Brooks, whoís almost as bad!" Connor recited hurriedly. "Now, now, now!"

As if to tempt fate, one of the nurses entered at that point. Smiling almost flirtatiously at Connor and politely at Stephen and proceeded to gather her things. "See you tomorrow, sexy," she called back to him.

He stayed silent the whole time they had company, but as soon as the door closed behind the nurse, he couldnít help exploding. "See? See what I have to put up with? On top of everything else! Iím way out of my depth here, Stephen, and if you donít help me out of here I will seriously drown."

"I dunno, she seemed quite nice to me," mused Stephen. "It canít all be bad." But he knew Connor was absolutely serious. "You have a plan?"

"ErÖ sorta."

Five minutes later, Connor had everything with him he needed. Not that that was actually very much. Slowly, he walked away from the staffroom, pacing his steps carefully so as not to get as far as the reception. In front of him, he could see Brooks lift his head to keep him in view. Standing just behind the reception, pretending to be looking at paperwork.

Taking a deep breath, Connor edged closer. If it went as planned he wouldnít have to speak to him, even for a moment. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Stephen make a move.The scientist would start putting in a complaint to Dr. Brooks, diverting his attention. Stephen had already paid a tramp to make a kind of SOS for a fictional person outside.

When the time came, Connor did what he had to do. He ran.

* * *

"I donít care what you thought you were doing last night, youíre not going out again!" bellowed Mike across the room, making the vase on the table shake with the vibrations.

Laurie stood perfectly, still, hands on her hips, and looking a little worse for wear after the previous eveningís excursions. After staying out all night she had not returned to the hotel until early evening, fearing Mikeís response. And from the look of it, she had been right. She spluttered out in disbelief, "Youíre grounding me? You canít do that!"

"I can and I will. I will not have you behaving like that!"

Her hands came off her hims and started gesturing madly. "Behaving like what? Like Iím having FUN?"

"No, well, actually, yes." Mike started pacing around angrily. "Weíre not here to have fun!"

"You donít think I know that?" she shrieked back at him. "Itís not like thereís much we can do here! The only half-interesting thing is these stupid bands!" Glancing at his arm, Laurie could see that the blue band was still there.

Mike made a quick move to cover it up with his sleeve. "Thatís not the point and you know it!"

"Well what is the point? Go on! Enlighten me!"

He sighed. "Itís not exactly the first time youíve behaved appallingly, is it."

Laurie was taken aback by that. "Excuse me? I got drunk that ONCE and youíre holding it against me? And what about Connor? He was just as drunk as I was that night! Does he get grounded too?"

"He didnít make himself look like a cheap hooker last night."

"How do you know? Itís not like weíve seen him since yesterday anyway! AND I DID NOT LOOK LIKE A HOOKER!"

Shrugging non-committedly, Mike raised his voice another notch. "You need some limits, you silly little girl. Canít you see what youíre doing to yourself?"

"Iím not doing anything to myself! You have no authority over me! Iím a grown woman and I can do what I want!" she protested visciously.

"Youíre not grown, you might as well still be still 15! Right now youíre acting like a spoiled child!" Not that Mike actually had any experience of spoiled children. "And in case youíve forgotton, Iím your team leader and I DO have authority!"

"You canít dictate what I can and canít do. Not without good reason," Laurie offered defiantly. Her arms went back to being crossed, believing she had won this battle.

"Who says so?" Now Mikeís arms were crossed, with a smile of satisfaction adorning his face.

To that, Laurie had no answer. But she didnít really need one, for at that exact moment the door flew open and Connor made his triumphant return, dragging poor Stephen, who obviously would rather be somewhere else entirely, in his wake."Iím home! Wonderful home!" he announced brightly, before stopping dead at the site of the verbal duel that seemed to be on pause in front of him. "Whatís going on here then?"

Both combatants turned slowly and purposely towards the newcomer to address him. Spurred on by that one last jab, Laurie was first out of the blocks. "Mike is trying to ground me."

"What?" Connor surprised even himself with the shock in his voice. "Why?"

"Because I stayed out last night and actually enjoyed myself!" Laurie might have been addressing Connor, but she spat the words at Mike, so ferociously that even he took an inadvertant step backwards.

Having been on the receiving end of some of Mikeís diatribes about taking things seriously, Connor instantly sided with Laurie. "Oh come on Mike, you never grounded me or Andy and we used to do it all the time.

"Thank you," replied Laurie pleasantly. Mike just shuffled uncomfortably.

"But you canít go out of this room."

"WHAT!?!?!" This time it was Mikeís turn to look smug as Laurie fumed once again.

Quickly, Connor backtracked a little. "Oh you wouldnít be grounded. Itís more for your own safety really. Look, Iím not sure on this, but that madwoman that practically kidnapped me might be after you as well, and it might be dangerous for you to be out and about."

Laurieís eyes narrowed. "Why would she be upset with me?"

"ErÖ can I explain that later? Itís a little complicated." Connor squirmed with embarassment. Now hw knew how Laurie felt when her double had gone after Stephen.

"Hmph." She wasnít happy with it, but Laurie accepted it for now. "So what are you saying? I have to stay in the hotel for the next four day?"

Connor shook his head. "No, not the hotel, this room."

"Are you completely nuts? Iíl lgo insane!"

He shrugged. "Well, if you do, then so will I. It wonít be safe for me eitherÖ I have absolutely no intention of being stuck with Gabrielle or at the hospital again. Itís very scary."

"Youíre serious, arenít you?"

Connor nodded slowly.

"Great," she said as she flopped down in front of the television. "Bring on Sunday is all I can say. Connor agreed. Stephen and Mike said nothing. It made no difference to them whatsoever. But both made resolutions to spend as little time as possible with two bored prisoners who would most likely make their lives hell until the next world.


Alternate Earth 117
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