It was a mistake that shouldn't have happened. A wandering of the mind, a less than perfect execution of the gun kata he had been practicing since he was a child. A negligence with terrible consequences.
Bodies lay on the ground, dead, or bleeding to death, as Cleric Partridge walked around the room, taking in the shattered window panes, the holes in the walls that his or their bullets had made. It didn't matter, just another building in the Suburbs now ready for complete demolition. He scanned the room for hidden panels, subconsciously picking up the direction of a dead man's broken gaze at the far corner, behind the door that hung crookedly in its doorframe, creaking softly in the gentle breeze that slipped into the room, over and around the shards of glass that still stuck in the window frames.
'There," he said, pointing to the spot where he knew they would find treasures. Heaps of them, probably his biggest find ever, and he briskly walked over there, the demolition workers following his lead, his partner in the hallway temporarily forgotten.
His zeal was what did him in; fixed on the men breaking down the wall with their sledge hammers and drills he didn't see the knife slicing upwards until it was too late. A stabbing searing pain danced through his left leg and he sank to the floor, moaning, unlocking his gun in reflex. The last thing he saw before he slipped into unconsciousness was the bloody face of his attacker, or what was left of it, inches away from his own.
Clerics are valuable people. It takes effort to find them when they're young, it takes years to train them, hone their senses until they are able to spot a potential sense offender long before any damage to society is done, and so they brought him to the Libria's First State Hospital. He woke up in a crisp clean hospital bed in the private Tetragrammaton wing, his leg only giving him the slightest of uncomfortableness. His head was swimming though, and occasionally the room seemed to turn in on itself, causing a strange lurching feeling in his stomach.
Bustling nurses milled around his bed, arranging drips and peering at green glowing monitor screens that bleeped at a reassuringly regular tempo, and no one really realized he was awake, until he coughed once. Politely. Even a Cleric knows when it pays to be civil.
They turned at once, their faces showing perfunctory smiles as they checked his pulse and reached behind him to shake up his cushions.
"The operation went as planned, Cleric Partridge, there was no lasting damage to the leg," the head nurse said, scribbling something undoubtedly illegible on his stat.
"However, there was an unfortunate complication: the anaesthetic you were given caused a rare allergic reaction in combination with the Prozium. We checked with Father's Voice and were given permission to hold off your regular Prozium doses, until any chance of an allergic reaction has disappeared. You must be a valuable member of the Clergy if they are willing to take the risk of taking you off Prozium." Something that could not have been admiration disappeared from her eyes without a trace.
"We will monitor your vital signs closely, of course, but we expect you to inform us immediately if you start to experience any withdrawal effects, so we can take appropriate action."
He didn't smile at her, but something inside him lurched as she reached behind him again to give his cushions a final shake. Wavy red hair touched his cheek, a clean smell of soap and a mild desinfectant filled his nostrils. Her namecard danced before his eyes, stern black letters on pristine white plastic. He'd missed at least three doses if the clock on the other side of the wall was any indication of the time that had elapsed since he had been taken away from that derelict house.
"Are you able to receive a visitor, Cleric Partridge? Your partner expressly stated that he had to speak to you as soon as you were awake." Another nurse had entered the room, a black shadow looming behind her in the doorway.
He nodded silently, indicating that yes, he was able to receive his partner and that, yes, they should bring him in so they could discuss what had gone wrong during the raid, causing him to end up in this hospital bed.
His partner strode in, and one by one the nurses just seeped out of the room, leaving the two of them together. Preston remained standing at a distance, taking in the surroundings the white hospital linen, Partridge's face.
"Partridge. An unfortunate accident. I trust you are treated well and will recover shortly with no lasting side effects," Preston said, his words not really a question.
"I will be. Eventually. Thank you for asking, though. Won't you sit down, Preston? There's a chair over there by the window."
"No, there's no need. My visit will be only a short one, since the doctors have informed me that you need to rest as much as possible to counter any negative side effects of the operation and the allergic reaction. I do need to have a statement of you, though, regarding the events in the Suburbs."
"Suit yourself, but a knife wound to the leg isn't a communicable disease. You may as well sit down as long as you are here, make yourself comfortable."
Their gazes locked, until in the end Preston lowered his eyes (such long black lashes, odd that Partridge had never noticed them) and pulled up the chair close to the bed.
"Tell me what happened, Partridge."
Partridge swallowed, trying to recall the events objectively and accurately, the way they were taught back in the Monastery.
"I forgot the prime rule, John. Leave none alive, unless they are in secure custody."
Partridge looked down and saw how Preston's hand rested on the side of his bed, his long fingers almost touching his own, and he felt an almost irrestistable urge to cover those fingers with his own. To feel the warmth of his partner's hands. To feel Preston's skin against his own. To feel the way the black cuffs of his sleeves lay against his wrists.
To forget …
To forget his attacker's eyes filled with fear and resignation, and an emotion that could only be described as triumph as he shot him from up close, warm blood trickling down over them both..
"I am very tired, John. The operation and the allergic reaction... Like you said, I … I need to rest. Come back tomorrow; I'll feel better and give you all the details you need for the report. Father will understand if you send it in a day late. And could you send in the head nurse and ask her if she can bring my Prozium injector? I think her name is Mary. "