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It had only been three weeks since they left Culuruma, but it felt like a distant memory now. Adjusting to a normal routine, going to the hospital and cheering up sick patients was hard in the beginning. The Director of Caduceus initially seemed concerned about having her at work, but Dr. Vaughn and Dr. Blaylock pleaded on her behalf, saying she was integral to the team. Their convincing worked, and she was welcomed with open arms. Literally. Leslie Newman would not keep her hands off her.

Life was not going to be the same after leaving Culuruma, but she was having more difficulty coping than she was expecting. She knew she was supposed to be there for the patients, especially the younger ones. They were struggling with the harsh reality of having a disease, and her presence greatly helped lift their spirits. But she had her own personal struggles too, so who was going to be there to lift her spirits up? Being in a war-torn land, where bullets fly at you like gnats, people lie in the streets suffering from injuries and illness of all kinds...how could life ever be the same after enduring something like that? 

It was hard to relax when she should have been relaxing. There was no longer the need to be on alert. No need for her senses to be heightened. Yet she couldn’t help being restless all the time. She just couldn’t adjust to having peace and quiet in her life, not when she expected that parked car in the vicinity to blow up any time, even though her senses told her better.

Some of the other staff members started to take notice of her apparent distress. They made comments too, to themselves and out of earshot, but she could perfectly hear them all the same. “She’s pacing a lot more. I’ve never seen her do that before.” “Her eyes look kind of dead too. I wonder what’s on her mind.” “Maybe she needs more exercise. She’s probably got a lot of nervous energy.”

She knew that it was she they were talking about, but she couldn’t respond to their comments. Not that they would understand if she could. They didn’t go through what she did in Culuruma. They had no idea what it was like to be shot at, to infiltrate an abandoned mine that terrorists used for their schemes. 

After one month had passed being in Maryland, the fight/flight feeling had started to dissipate, only for depression to take its place. She wasn’t the same as she was when she left Culuruma, but she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Her mind was plagued with questions, wondering what all of it was for, all that time spent in that country, risking her life, training herself to not feel fear as she walked over possibly mine-infested lands, only to wind up like this, sitting and staring at the wall and asking herself these things. Was her training worth it?

“Pepita!” 

Pepita perked her ears up, breaking out of her stupor, and quickly trotted to the kitchen to meet her owner’s call. She felt Elena lovingly scratch behind her ears, and she licked her hand in response. Elena laughed as she set Pepita’s food dish in front of her. She went to go change out of her scrubs, leaving the Doberman to her dinner.

Pepita was not the same dog as she was when she left Culuruma, just as Elena wasn’t the same person. In the deep recesses of Pepita’s canine mind, she knew that she had to protect her human from the evil that came at night. She couldn’t comprehend how it worked, but it seemed to affect Elena, to the point where she would wake up screaming or unable to breathe, and licking her face was the only thing that could bring her back to reality. It went both ways; Pepita needed Elena just as much, to show her love and care and allow her to just be a dog, an experience she would have never gotten in Culuruma. The concept of play never crossed her mind, until Elena brought that bright yellow tennis ball to the park. Now the word “ball” had taken on a whole new meaning of excitement for the Doberman.

A few seconds later Elena returned to the kitchen, stunned to find the food dish already empty and spotless. “Pepita, you’re done already?! Wow, alright...let me get my shoes, and we’ll go for a walk.”

This is what it was all for. For them to eventually be brought together out of a hellish situation...it was definitely worth it.

“And yes, we’ll bring your ball!”

Pepita wagged her tail. This is my human and I love her.