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Sevardin Harker. Merday, Aries 20th, 2348 AA. 5:57 AM. Westridge (Remington Memorial).

I am not wild about this metal.

Sev did not properly wake from his surgeries—the first of several—until the following morning.

The first things he discovered were two rigid metal rods running the length of his right leg, with the roots of the hardware disappearing into the bulk of his quadricep, and the base of his ankle. After the initial shock had faded, Sev found himself morbidly fascinated by the mechanics of his situation. I have to assume this isn’t permanent. Because goddamn. This is like something out of one of Juel’s Japanese horror movies.

When he tried to doze off again—because what the hell else was there to do—his right leg twitched involuntarily, which led to pain, which led to a more involved spasm, which led to capital-P Pain. It was agony like nothing he’d ever experienced, and he screamed accordingly. A nurse arrived within seconds.

“Hey, Mr. Harker. Take a couple deep breaths for me, and I’ll get you some meds. Is the pain in your legs, or somewhere else?”

“Right leg,” Sev said, wincing. “I twitched as I was falling asleep and… I think I bent my leg against the bars.”

The nurse nodded as she plugged something into his IV line.

“I’ll get you a muscle relaxer, which should help a bit. Do you have any questions? We spoke earlier but you were still coming out of anesthesia.”

The nurse seemed vaguely familiar, but Sev had no memory of anything after going under. 

“Uh, tell me about the bars,” Sev said, trying to sound amicable.

“So the surgeon was able to repair your left fibula immediately. It was a cleaner break and a simpler procedure. The good news is, everything went very smoothly.

“But your right leg is a little more complicated. Your tissues are too inflamed for reconstructive surgery just yet. We had to install the bars to keep you from bending your leg and disturbing the bones.”

Sev nodded.

“Gotcha. I know this is probably putting the cart before the horse, but… How long does it take to recover from something like this? Will I be able to walk again?”

“You will definitely be able to walk again. As for how long it will take,” the nurse shook her head apologetically. “I honestly can’t even guess. Part of it depends on how the other surgery goes. Part of it depends on how well your body heals. And part of it will depend on you. You’ll need to do a lot of physical therapy.”

Sev nodded and tried to feel reassured. He remembered that the surgeon said it was possible they would have to amputate his right leg. The fact that he had hardware instead of a stump was encouraging. See? You’re already coming out ahead, Harker! But the thought was thin and unconvincing in his head.

“I’m going to get you some water and juice. Do you want anything to eat?”

Sev shook his head. He hadn’t eaten in over fourteen hours, but his appetite was shot. Probably the pain drugs or something.

“I’m good for now, thank you.”

—9:03 AM—

Sev drifted in and out. The nurses had to check his vitals and give him meds periodically, and each time he started to doze, his leg would twitch again, muscle relaxer be damned. He was grateful to have a room to himself. He wasn’t feeling particularly conversational, and his cries of pain would make him a poor roommate.

At eight, he ate breakfast; the sort of industrial pancakes hospitals are renowned for, some stringy bacon, and an oversweet fruit cup. To pass the time, he watched Symvision relay the unfolding story of the attempted terror attack downtown. The talking heads had yet to mention the Rollers’ involvement, but they had heard that the Hahamongna Reservation Rangers had intervened by shutting down the power grid.

There was a knock at the door, and a nurse ducked in.

“How are you feeling, Mr. Harker? Those meds doing their job?” the nurse asked.

Sev gave her a thumbs up. He wasn’t in much pain at the moment—provided he didn’t think too hard about it—but he collectively felt like shit.

“Are you feeling up to visitors?” she asked. “Your partner is here to visit.”

Sev was touched. Damn, brother. I appreciate the concern, but you need to spend some time with Elamni. He thanked the nurse and asked her to send him in.

After a short wait and a double knock on the door, Ashford entered the room.

Ah. My other partner. Fuck.

Ashford looked tired. His right shoulder was bandaged, and his arm was in a sling to keep it immobile. But at least he can get dressed.

Sev didn’t know how to feel. He trusted Juel. And Juel told him Ashford had killed a defenseless man in cold blood. It didn’t exactly click up until that moment, though. The two realities hadn’t overlapped. And now I’ve got to face it without any time to prepare myself for it.

“How ya feelin’, kid?” Ashford asked.

“I’ve definitely been better,” Sev said, forcing a chuckle.

Ashford put on an equally strained smirk and walked over to the window, which overlooked the northern expanse of the Westridge terrace.

“Yeah. I think that’s all of us,” Ashford agreed. “You talk to anyone yet?”

Like Juel? Sev hesitated. If I say no, I wonder how that would change this conversation. He decided to deflect to buy himself some time.

“My folks are coming to visit. Plane tickets are already paid for. Bags are probably being packed as we speak,” Sev said.

“That’s good. You should have somebody to help you… err, adjust. Always good to have family around.”

Sev decided to come clean just to end the awkward silence, and Ashford’s attempt at a reassuring smile:

“I talked to Juel before I went under the knife. Surprised you managed to beat the detectives to my statement. I’m sure they can’t wait to hear about how I got nabbed.”

“Yeah, I actually asked them to let me go first,” Ashford said.

It wasn’t an overt threat, which actually made it more chilling. Ashford had a reputation, but he also had a lot of friends on the Force. People who would do him favors as professional courtesies, without thinking twice or asking for something in return. People up and down the chain of command. He wants me wondering, If I can intercept statement protocol with some creative esprit de corps, what can’t I do?”

“I take it Juel mentioned what happened with Demirci?” Ashford asked.

“Yeah. He did,” Sev said stiffly. The words fell heavy and after a second of silence, Sev asked: “Why’d you shoot him?”

“I made a bad call,” Ashford said. Sev wasn’t sure if he was trying to sound genuinely contrite, or just irritable. “Plain and simple. Juel had been beating the shit out of him. He had his Locke drawn and pointed at the guy’s face. I didn’t know if Demirci was gonna get in Juel’s head, or pull some other trick out of his ass, and frankly I didn’t want to risk him escaping. So… I took him off the board.”

“Just like that,” Sev said.

Ashford gave him a dark look. Sev wasn’t exactly afraid, but he was acutely aware of the fact that he was bare-wristed, immobile, and drugged to high hell, while Ashford was mobile, licensed, and seemingly lucid. Even if he had an injured arm.

“I know you and Juel have a code. You hold yourselves to a higher standard than most of us, and I respect that. Hell, I will be the first to admit that the Force needs more cops like you two, and fewer guys like me. But that is exactly why you need to convince him to let this go.”

Sev lowered his head and opened his mouth for an uncomfortable reply, but Ashford spoke first:

“Just hear me out. You let Juel say his piece, so let me say mine before you make a decision. You two can do a lot of good for a lot of people. You have extremely bright careers ahead of you. But there are rules. I didn’t write them. But if he breaks them? Nobody in Arroyo will ride with him again. Don’t let him throw everything away over my mistake, Sev. At the very least, don’t let him drag you down with him.”

“I can’t do that, Ash,” Sev said, at last. Ashford sighed, closed his eyes, and opened his mouth to reply but Sev cut him off: “If I was in Juel’s position, I couldn’t look the other way either.”

There was a long pause, Ashford leaning against the wall, arms folded, nodding almost imperceptibly as he worked something out in his head.

“So what’s your plan?” he asked, finally.

“What do you mean?”

“Assuming you recover—I don’t know shit about medicine, and that looks pretty bad—but assuming you recover, are you going back to the force?”

“Damn straight,” Sev said.

Sev found it oddly reassuring to realize that he had never been tempted to switch careers. Never even seriously considered it. He had ample time to dwell on his fears in the ambulance and while waiting for surgery. The strange thing was, there were moments where he found himself wondering if he would ever be able to walk properly again, but he never once doubted that he would be back on the Force before long.

“Do you want to pilot a desk for the rest of your career?” Ashford asked.

“Not if I can walk.”

“Then don’t let him do this,” Ashford insisted. “It’s stupid, Sevardin. In a moment of passion, I killed a terrorist. A man who tried to blow up half the city. His life is over, and I can’t take that back. But is it really worth ruining my life, Juel’s life, and your life by association?”

“Own up to it then,” Sev said, perhaps too quickly.

Ashford shot him a sharp look, and then he laughed. And that kind of pisses me off.

“Kid, I am a pragmatist. That’s kind of my entire point. Sure, I’ve got a bad reputation, but I will fight this and fight it hard. If it even goes to trial, I will most likely get slapped with a suspension. Worst case—”

“The worst case is a dishonorable discharge, and you know that,” Sev interrupted. Ashford scoffed, but Sev kept talking. “It has a snowball’s chance in hell of sticking, but it would strip you of your pension. And that’s a chance you literally cannot afford to take. So don’t act like you’re doing me a favor here. You know Juel trusts me, and you want me to abuse that trust to try and cover your own ass.”

Ashford stared hard at Sev, and his lip curled into a snicker:

“Honestly, I thought you would be more level-headed about this. See, I always figured you were the middle road between me and Juel. Better person than me. Smarter cop than him. Because I gotta say; I don’t buy the whole Boy Scout routine coming from you. Seems like an act. Something you’re trying to convince yourself of. A day will come when you need to cut a corner, and when it does—”

“When it does, I’ll own up to it,” Sev said. “Hell, you can call me up and say ‘I told you so.’ But right now? I’ve got a venture waiting to take my statement.”

Ashford’s wyrd flashed and for a quarter second, Sev felt the caustic hate in it. If Ashford were to channel that emotion into his wyrd, it would fuel a killing spell without question. In the end he smirked and spread his fingers in mock surrender, stepping towards the door.

“Have it your way, Sev. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

— 7:52 PM  —

“So not only did he not deny it, he told you to persuade me to keep quiet?” Juel asked.

Sev nodded.

“Add that to your report. I’ll testify to it if it comes to that, but honestly, it’s still just hearsay. And everybody knows we are thick as thieves.”

Juel had spent the day giving the same statements to approximately seventy people and his brain was mush. He had brought Sev several books, a phone charger, and a laptop incanter. He himself was starting to type up a formal incident report regarding Ashford’s misconduct.

“Did he, like, threaten you in anyway?”

“Not in so many words. But he intercepted me before the detectives could take my statement. Pretty sure he wanted to know what I was going to tell them so he could plan accordingly.”

“What did you tell them?” Juel asked.

“Stuck to the facts. What I saw. What I heard—that last gunshot after all the others—and that you told me Demirci died on the scene. I deliberately neglected to mention our conversation from last night, because I wasn’t sure how you were going to play this, and I didn’t want to force your hand.”

But as soon as Sev said the words, he realized he left it out because part of him was afraid. Once you accuse a man of murder, there’s no walking back from that. Juel picked up on it immediately.

“You think I should have kept quiet?” he asked, hesitant.

Sev took a deep breath, sighed, and paused a second before speaking:

“The thing I hate most about Ashford Adams is that he is never entirely wrong, even though he is almost always on the devil’s side of things. Like, he’s right that this will hurt our careers. It will haunt you forever. Me too. And he will probably skip off into the goddamned sunset, because Drake does not want this fiasco to get any wilder.”

Juel nodded in agreement, his expression despondent.

“But you’d hate yourself if you didn’t speak up. In the short term? You might convince yourself it was for the best, but I think your conscience would… poison you, eventually. So, I would say, speak your piece. File your report with Drake. Sooner the better. But if she tells you the matter is closed… believe her. Because at the end of the day, it’s her way or the highway.”

—Jovday, Aries 21st, 2348 AA. 10:06 AM—

Sev would have sensed Juel coming, even if the nurse didn’t give him a heads up. His wyrd was a storm of anger, crackling and hissing as it rapidly cycled ether. Oh boy. He nearly took the door off its hinges as he entered the room, and slammed it shut behind him. Sev gestured for him to calm down, and tried to remind him that they were still in a goddamned hospital, but Juel spoke over him:

“Ashford announced his retirement. Must have submitted it to Drake as soon as he finished speaking to you.”

Sev furrowed his brow, confused at first, then he clenched his eyes shut. Clever. Make yourself a non-issue to avoid facing the consequences. Guess it’s also possible that Drake was the one to suggest it.

“Drake said that she would review my report and determine whether a trial is necessary, but she also suggested I drop it in the same breath,” Juel continued, seething. He walked as he talked, not gesturing so much as thrashing at the air.

“I mean. She’s not wrong,” Sev said, sighing.

Juel whirled on Sev, wyrd and eyes blazing.

“What the fuck are you—” Juel started.

 Sevardin gestured calm and explained:

“Come on. You know I want to see Ashford face justice, but Drake is still giving you good advice. Unless you decide to leave the Force, what can you do to press the issue? You know the AKF doesn’t want to touch this with a ten-foot pole, and Ashford just gave them the ideal excuse to drop the matter.”

Juel gritted his teeth, paced the room, and said nothing. Sev briefly tried to think of a solution, but ultimately settled on a silver lining:

“At least you cost the bastard his thirty-five-year pension. Cut short by what, two years?”

“Yeah. Drake warned me about that too. Ashford isn’t the type to let things go graciously. She said she would do her best to protect me, but his friends are hungry for payback and word’s already spreading that I’m a snitch.”

Sev snickered and shook his head. All because I let myself get caught. I got cocky. Thought I could out maneuver them, even though they were a step ahead of me.

“So. I don’t suppose she has any word on our reassignment?”

Juel snickered.

“That’s the best part. I’m supposed to do a press tour. The Force wants to parade me around like some kind of hero. She said I have a date with Hey LA! next Merday.”

“The morning show?” Sev asked, unable to suppress his glee.

“It’s not funny,” Juel cautioned.

“No, it’s hysterical. Deny it all you want man, but you are the hero of this story. You saved my life. You saved the city.”

“And ended my career for nothing,” Juel said.

“Doesn’t seem that way to me,” Sev scoffed. “If the AC is giving you the spotlight, the force can’t conveniently transfer or fire you. Because you have a platform now, man.”

Juel snickered.

“You think this is what Drake meant by protecting me?”

“I think it means she believes in you. The change that you and your father wanted to make in the Force.”

Juel shook his head.

“I’m not comfortable in the driver’s seat, man. When I met you, I thought you were a bully—”

“I was a bully,” Sev interjected.

“You were an asshole,” Juel agreed. “But my point is… you not only won me over, you… Look, I stopped looking at you like you were a rival a long time ago. Since we’ve joined the Force, I’ve found myself looking up to you. Like, my father inspired me to get this far, but moment to moment? I trust you to make the calls. Not Ashford.”

Sev felt the sort of warmth he only felt talking to Juel. The vulnerable praise that only a best friend could deliver. It embarrassed him. You love a guy your whole life, but damn, Juel. You don’t just let that out all at once. Sev sniffed slightly.

“I’ve been able to make those calls because I knew you had my back,” Sev said, warmly. “But looking back, I think that was a disservice to you. To both of us. I’ve always wanted to be a main character in a heroic story, and I was happy to have you as my…” Sev said, fumbling for the right word and finally settling on Athur’s second-in-command: “Lancereaux.”

“Good word choice. I’d break something else if you said ‘sidekick.’”

Sev chuckled nervously, unsure of his footing. Juel burst into a smile and gestured dismissal.

“I’m fucking with you. But I also… get what you mean. I’ve been more comfortable as a wingman than a leader. You should be giving these fucking interviews. Like, what the hell am I supposed to say? And how can I say it pretending what happened with Ashford didn’t happen?”

“Play it like a fae,” Sev said.

“The fuck’s that mean? I don’t see how abducting a kid will help.”

Sev cracked up, and Juel laughed too. He’s joking again. Good sign.

“Don’t tell an outright lie, but steer the conversation away from controversial truths. Look, I dunno if you’ve ever watched a morning show before, but the interviews are super short, and super superficial.”

“I can handle Hey LA!, but what about An Hour with Carlin? Stedd Martin won’t ask me about my father pushing Demirci out the window, but Jorde Carlin sure as shit will.”

“And that’s a fair question. Think it over. What will do your mission—not necessarily you, or the Force—but what will do the most to forward your goal? You want to make the Force better than what it is. I’d be more concerned with what you will be able to say, rather than what you want to say. Look up chapter policy ahead of time, because Carlin will try to catch you off guard with something.”

Juel deflated.

“The fuck are you trying to do? Give me help or a heart attack?”

“I believe in multitasking,” Sev exhaled as he reclined onto his pillow, hands folded behind his head.

“Well, you’ve got to get your kicks where you can, I guess,” Juel said, nodding at Sev’s legs.

“Go straight to hell,” Sev said.

They both laughed until the shaking fucked up Sev’s legs and made him cry out. Juel quickly played mother hen, asking him if he was okay, or needed the nurse, and all that other shit. The conversation shifted to his health momentarily, but whatever was said remained a muddy splotch in his memory.

He had already explained his health situation too many times in the last few days—His father and his mother, his aunts and uncles. He had yet to hear from Delle, but he could feel her call swimming beneath his boat, great and terrible, like leviathan. It was hard to tell if she would let him pass unmolested. And that’s how I know we should stay apart for good this time. If I wanted to be with her, I would have thought of her and called her before now.

After a lull, Juel broke the silence:

“I don’t feel like a hero, man,” Juel said. “And you seem like the type of guy who was born knowing.”

“Then tell them you owe all the credit to your handsome and extremely single partner, Sevardin Harker, tragically injured in the line of duty,” Sev said, putting his hand on his heart.

“I’m serious, man,” Juel said.

Sev took a deep breath. Look, man. I don’t know if you are just fishing for compliments, or trying to get me to explain something I can’t even perceive, but what the hell. I’ll give both a go.

“I think we are coming at heroics two different ways. I’ve always wanted it, so I pantomime it. I fake it as I try to fucking make it, day in, day out. You have always tried to be somebody else, but as it turned out, in a fucking pinch, who you are,” Sev sat up to jab Juel in the chest with his finger. “is who we all needed. And if being what people need in a pinch isn’t heroism? Shit. I guess I really am playing at something I know nothing about.”

Juel flushed slightly. He nodded and smiled. And after that, he didn’t mention the talk shows or Ashford again.

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