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“…and then he just fell over!” The pokegirl began giggling. “I swear it! Just collapsed, all on his own!”
“Barra, no healthy, perfect, innocent member of society such as that young man would just collapse on his own.” The other OfficerJenny at the table smiled, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You must have used undue and excessive force!”
“Alright, can it, Nili.” Barra scowled. “That wasn’t nice.”
Nili’s smile vanished. “Sorry. I know you’re still going to have to wait through that investigation, even though all of the evidence shows you were well within your rights.”
“Idiotic is what it is.” Barra growled. “Kid had a flame popper in his belt, but when I tase the prick I get investigated. If it had been Master Harold that had done it, he would have been given a clap on the back, not a sanction and suspension.”
“You’re wasting your breath. You know it. I know it.” Nili’s eyes flicked to the door. “Hush.”
The two straightened slightly as the footsteps Nili had heard grew louder before the door opened, two men walking in already deep in conversation.
“And I’m telling you, Harold, as long as we continue to restrict elemental rounds we’ll see situations like that more and more.” The first man faltered when he saw the two pokegirls already in the break room but pressed forwards. “Speak of the devil. Barra. Good work. If you get canned for this I’ll go ahead and quit. That wannabe Teamer was a clear threat.”
Barra smiled slightly. “Thank you, Sir.”
“Anytime.” He turned and winked at Nili. “Hey cutie. How you doin’ today?”
Nili blew air out her nose and lounged back in her chair slightly. “Good afternoon, Master. Ali already bored you enough that you’d come and bother me on my break?”
“Ali’s putting rounds through her new set. She got some… custom work done. From L.”
Nili blinked. “Latch is here? Like, in the basement here?”
“Is there something I need to know about, Master Joshua?” Nili’s voice was low enough that Barra could barely hear her, and Joshua’s response was completely inaudible.
“We’re on alert.” Joshua’s lips barely moved as he continued walking towards the cupboards and withdrew a package that he began opening. “The ‘wannabe’ was the real deal.”
Nili blinked her understanding before outwardly shrugging and turning back to Barra. “He never tells me anything.” She frowned at the look on Barra’s face. “What?”
“I’m your friend, right, Nili?” Barra’s eyes were fixed on the rolled up cuff of Nili’s left sleeve. “Friends don’t keep secrets from each other.”
“You know I don’t hide silly things from you, Barra.” Nili tried to give a winning smile that wilted under Barra’s continued gaze.
“Then who’s Latch?”
“She does custom gunsmithing.” Nili replied easily. “She’s the one who tweaked my sidearm so it fits just right.”
“Then she’s like you.” This time it wasn’t a question. Nili glanced down at where Barra was staring and carefully adjusted her sleeve so the bottom of her tattoo was hidden again. “When will you share this secret, Nili?”
“Drop it, Barra.” Nili’s eyes looked tired as she stared at her friend. “You’ve got more pressing matters to worry about.”
“Yea, like how few apologies you’ll be getting after the investigation finishes.” Harold collapsed in the chair next to Barra and reached out to pull her closer. “You discharged a weapon under a no fire order, damnit.”
Nilli watched the two begin talking, only glancing aside slightly when Joshua took his own seat next to her, lunch in hand. “And?”
“Nothing to say here.” Joshua replied around a mouthful of food. “Except that you should be ready. Now.”
Nili quickly stood and trotted over to the refrigerator, grabbing a piece of fruit and cramming it in her mouth. “Ah-ee? Keena?”
“Shina’s sleeping off last night. She’s in no shape to be on standby.” Joshua absentmindedly tapped his radio. “And Ali is useless until she has her new piece scoped in.”
Nili chewed and swallowed, clearing her throat before speaking. “Understood.”
“Detective Gates, we have a positive match on the packaging facility.” Joshua’s radio came to life and he immediately pulled it up to his mouth.
“Gates acknowledges. Route details through Nili and show us on route.” He nodded at the other two. “Stay out of trouble Barra. Alright?”
Barra shifted in her chair, her eyes drawn back to where Nili’s tattoo had begun creeping its way free of her shirt again. “Come back alive and I’ll consider it.”
Joshua and Nili glanced at each other and Joshua sighed before turning to squarely face Barra. “Barra. If you won’t let it go, submit a level 4 information request on Nili. She’s less classified than I am, and I’m sure you can find someone with L4 that would help you. Doc comes to mind.”
Barra blinked. “It’s been two months. You’re just going to tell me out of the blue like this?”
“Yes, because we might not be here for much longer.” Joshua gave her a sad smile. “I’ve enjoyed working with you. Honestly.” He turned. “Nili, let’s go.”
“Sir.” Nili followed him out the door, her already precise attitude seeming to sharpen as she did.
Barra stared at the empty doorway and let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. “Master?”
“I don’t know, either.” Harold gently stroked the OfficerJenny’s short hair. “You’ve always been curious. Go, find Mia, see if she’ll do a file search for you. We’re partners, so we’re both suspended for a little while.”
Barra nuzzled Harold’s chest and smiled. “Thank you, Master.”
“Sure.” Harold grinned when she got up. “But you’re going to share whatever you learn, alright? I really want to know what Josh gets up to when he’s not here.”
“Absolutely.” Barra smoothed her clothes and frowned as she headed towards the door. “Master, did you tell Nili you and Detective Joshua were on your way here?”
Harold frowned. “I didn’t. I didn’t see Joshua make any coms either. Why?”
Barra stared down the hallway, where the two figures had already long since disappeared. “She knew. Maybe she heard you, but she knew someone was coming.”
“She’s a Jenny, same as you.” Harold stared at the back of her head. “Barra, I think I understand why you’re so interested now. It’s always bothered me, ever since they showed up as a transfer to the division. I think you need to go call in every favor you have with Mia. Now.”
“This is Agent Banks on secure channel three-beta-fiver.” Joshua rattled off, his earpiece picking up his command and shifting accordingly. “Agents Joshua and Nili en route to site.”
“Hey, J. Glad you could finally join us.” Joshua blinked when a muffled explosion came over the line and the voice sighed. “Shit, I guess that situation is resolving itself.”
“Do I hear Nick? Is that you, man?” Joshua grinned slightly, his smile reassuring Nili even as the magical dampening kept her from hearing any words. “I’m so happy to hear you back on dispatch.”
“Yea, I’m back. Second fucking V-Girl I’ve had to subdue in less than a year. Thank god I’m immune.”
“Heard she still beat you up pretty bad.” Joshua teased.
“She was a fucking Viri, J. Unpredictable at best. Yea, she got through my guard.” The voice sighed again. “Hey, I don’t need to keep OpSec on a finished scenario, right?” He paused and continued when Joshua didn’t stop him. “Cool. Manny and his crew just blew up a bank.”
Joshua snorted and began laughing as he put two and two together. “That the explosion I just heard?”
“Yea, looks like they took out a good chunk of Team Sideviper. Can’t tell you who, as usual, but it was clean. He doesn’t even have to claim any hostage fatalities this time.” Nick leaned back in his darkened control room and pushed three of the feeds aside as low priority. “Bell, continue monitoring the situation and notify command Manny is performing cleanup.”
The screens flickered and a female voice replied. “Yes, Master Nicholas. I have sent relevant information to Agent Nili as per protocol.”
“Bell’s sent the situation to your girl, J.” Nick glanced down and maximized a thermal view of a warehouse. “Local police have been diverted. We’ve got a big fish this time, so be careful.”
“Roger.” Joshua glanced over and shared a nod with Nili, the OfficerJenny’s eyes darting as she absorbed the information being fed to her by Bell. “Who’s our backup? All I’ve got on hand is Nili, the rest of my harem are indisposed one way or another.”
“Nobody is in the immediate area. It’s on you to delay or proceed, but we have calls out to three pairs and a full QRF in the area. Two have come back negative, but the QRF is scrambling. You’ll have a full duo within the hour.”
“Way too long.” Joshua growled. “Can I burn myself?”
“Standby.” Nick turned and accepted the handset that levitated into his hand. “This is agent Nicholas, designation Epsilon-seven-seven, requesting priority deliberation on undercover status.” He waited a second. “Agent Gamma-three-two requesting burn status. Responding to current Situation E-Fact.” He waited a few moments. “Understood.” He turned back to the screen. “Josh. You are not cleared to burn cover. You are cleared to use any means necessary to secure the VIP.” He paused before continuing. “HC-6 was very insistent on that.”
“Well then how the fuck-“ Joshua started before a chime played over his headset.
“Hey Jo-boy. Heard you needed some help.” Joshua had to cover his face as wind blasted them both, Nili instantly leveraging her firearm at the figure that had appeared before lowering it slightly. “I’ve never gotten a priority call to assist a Gamma before. How’d you get so popular?”
Nili grit her teeth. “Latch.”
“Hey girl.” The human-form Sphinx leered at them. “So what reason have I been pulled away from my work?”
“Nick, why the fuck is Beta-12 standing in front of me?” Joshua tried to keep his question even but his darting eyes betrayed his emotion to the two pokegirls next to him. “Does Six really think this is that important?”
“He called- What?” Nick gaped at the screen in front of him. “I knew she was in the area on some contracts but I didn’t think that-“
“She was doing work for me!” Joshua hissed. “Fuck!”
“If HC-6 ordered Agent Latch to your command, he must really be worried about this situation.” Nick whispered. “Maybe this shouldn’t be handled by a Gam-“
“All due respect, Master Nicholas.” Nick jerked back in his chair and stared at the hologram in front of him. “I have blocked that last remark from your transmission.”
“Bell, what the hell are you doing!?” Nick turned back and mashed his talk button. “DAMNIT!”
“Master Nicholas, please calm down.” Bell gazed at the swearing man. “I have been cleared to inform you that this situation and all responding personnel are Delta-level or above.”
Nick froze and turned slightly to fix her directly in his gaze. “They’re what?”
“Agent Joshua and all under his command are Gamma-class, pending promotion to Delta-class.” She frowned. “I am unable to inform you of the reasons behind these decisions, just that all responding agents are to be treated as Delta-level or higher as appropriate.”
Nicholas stared at her before his eyes narrowed slightly. “Query: Classification Level of related Incidents.”
“Incidents classified Epsilon. Sealed by orders of Alpha-1, Alpha-7, Alpha-9, and HC-2.”
“Fuck.” Nicholas nodded. “If Two’s involved, I’ll stay out of it.”
“That would be wise, Master Nicholas.” Bell cocked her head. “I have returned communication access.”
“Sorry, J, got cut off there.” Nick subconsciously rubbed his cheek. “You know where you need to go. Good hunting.”
“Ali appeared while you were dark. I’ve got a full force now.” Joshua was crouching while Latch and Ali bickered nearby. “I need to take a deep breath and process, but we’ll be scrambling shortly.”
“Stay safe.” Something in Nick’s tone caused Joshua to start but he didn’t pursue it.
“Ali, stop bitching and thank Latch.” Joshua shook his head. “NOW.”
“I’LL FUCKING THANK HER WHEN I DON’T GET TELEPORTED MID SHOT!” The Mini-Top was so close to the Sphinx that she had her ears pointed straight backwards in order to avoid actually touching the smirking pokegirl. “WELL!”
“You know that’s what I love about you.” Latch purred. “Come now, thank me for my work.”
Ali’s eye twitched but she stepped back and lay her hand on the receiver of her SMG. “Thank you for being better at gunsmithing than I ever will be.” She mumbled.
“And never you forget it.” Latch laughed. “Bringing that old thing?”
“I didn’t have TIME to sight in my BRAND NEW RIFLE!” Ali screamed back, triggering another bout of laughter from Latch as she watched the Mini-Top whip her other gun from where it rested against her back. “STOP FUCKING LAUGHING!”
“Nili, what’ve we got?” Joshua muttered. “It’s just us.”
“Seven confirmed, along with large heat signatures that are likely packing machinery. Bloom could be covering up to four other hostiles, but only if they are hiding under the machines and haven’t moved since surveillance began.” Nili’s eyes were half closed while she watched the same feeds Nick had on her implants. “I’ve seen at least a dozen other possible signatures, with four being tagged by Bell as high risk. And of course, pokeballs are all bets off.”
“Do we have a tag on our VIP?”
Nili shook her head slightly. “We have a likely candidate but no direct observation, so nothing confirmed. I’ll mark it as we go in.”
“Three-point-five kilometers South by South-East. Warehouse district.”
“Excellent.” Joshua straightened and looked at Latch. “Ma’am, our target is over three kilometers away. We need transport.”
Latch’s grin flickered for a moment. “You’re kidding me.”
“I respect you too much to lie, Ma’am.”
“Stop the sweet talking and get the fuck on.” Latch growled as she shifted. “Now I’ll need to get a new fucking pair of pants AGAIN.”
Joshua ignored the tattered cloth that burst from her swelling lower body and slid onto her back. “Nili! Ali! Post up!”
Latch grunted as the two jumped on and pumped her wings, jumping into the air before swerving down below the skyline at Nili’s warning.
“They’ve got two sentries.” She called to the Sphinx. “Keep us below the buildings.”
“Yea, whatever.” Latch swerved around a surprised Pidgy and ducked down an alleyway after a minute. “Give me a vector, police girl.”
“Third block on the left.” Latch braked and winged to the ground at Nili’s instruction. “What’s the plan, Master?”
“Do we have any idea on force composition?” Joshua shook his head slightly at Nili’s negative. “Right. Paint us our VIP. Unless otherwise ordered, all other targets are expendable.” He looked up. “Latch, how big of an explosion can you do?”
The Sphinx blinked. “I can cast up to a tier seven spell.”
“Remove the entire wall as we begin, then make sure every last piece of elemental ammo goes up.”
Latch’s eyes brightened and her fist was engulfed in flame. “Oh, I forgot how much I loved your plans, Gamma.”
Joshua glanced at her and for a moment seemed to be ready to retort before shaking his head and turning away. “Just make sure you do it right.”
The man was talking with two uniformed Tamers when it happened, his gaze looking out over the main floor when the far wall began to glow. He didn’t even have time to wonder why before it violently exploded, fragments of brick and mortar spraying the room with shrapnel. Two figures leapt through the smoking hole, running straight for the stairs as the half-packed boxes of elemental ammunition began going off, enormous balls of energy tearing through metal and the bodies of anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby.
His bodyguards reacted quickly, managing to trigger three pokeball releases before one fell, blood spraying from two holes in the side of his head. The other ducked, barely avoiding the next salvo and raising his own weapon to bear.
Joshua cursed, spraying the materializing forms with high caliber rounds and pressing himself behind a nearby pillar. “ALI, ENGAGE!”
Alicia took a moment for one final glare at Latch before stepping through the hole. “10-4.” She raised her SMG, spraying a dazed group of humans before crouching, focusing her energy in her legs and leaping high into the air. She focused on where the materializing pokegirls had begun firing techniques in an unorganized mess, pumping energy through her feet as she fell.
The combination Bounce and Mega Kick technique allowed her to cleave straight through the group, her path snapping supports and causing the entire walkway to begin listing. Joshua used the distraction to lean out, double tapping an Amachamp through the head before grabbing onto his pillar for stability.
“VIP escaping.” Nili reported, her implant highlighting the fleeing man. “Visual confirmed. He’s our man.”
“Latch, we’ve got one hell of a party up here.” Joshua pumped half a magazine into a tottering pokegirl and shook his head when she didn’t fall. “How you doing down there?”
The Sphinx was a blur, bodies and pieces of them littering the factory floor in her wake. “Busy.” She grunted. “Where’s your angel?”
“Kiara is on another assignment.” Joshua felt his feet begin to slip when the walkway shifted again, sending one of the wounded pokegirls straight into Ali’s waiting arms. “I was told I can’t burn her cover.”
“That’s some bullshit.” Latch snarled, looking over at where Ali fought. “I’ll get the VIP. BUN BUN! CATCH!”
Ali felt her rage snap and she whirled, eyes red. “THE FUCK YOU CALL ME?”
Latch was gone, an object hurtling through the air. Ali yelped and bobbled it for a second, looking at the oversized rifle in confusion. “What?”
“Don’t break it.” Latch muttered, blitzing through a tangled knot of defenders and bearing down on their target.
Ali racked the slide, her eyes widening when she saw the caliber that exited. “Oh. OH.” She grinned, turning to where a trio of pokegirls were charging her way. “OH FUCK YES!”
The first hit removed the lead pokegirl’s chest. Ali felt her arms burn from the kick but she held on, bringing the 20mm back down and focusing on the next target. “Fragmenting rounds, too?” She whispered to herself, carefully pulling the trigger and watching the next pokegirl vanish in glee. “Where have you been hiding this?”
“She won’t be able to fire that for more than a few shots.” Latch called to Joshua, dodging an attack and crashing through a wall to pounce on her quarry. “It’s a cannon, not a gun.”
“We’re running as soon as you secure the target.” Joshua replied, ducking behind his cover when an errant technique shot towards the ceiling.
“Then get moving.” Latch growled, her eyes glowing when she put the struggling man to sleep. “Leaving in 3, 2, -“
“ALI, GET OUT!” Joshua screamed, banging his shin in his haste to slide back down the stairs. Nili was right behind him, the OfficerJenny priming two grenades and heaving them in the direction of the largest clumps of hostiles. Ali grimaced, feeling her arms almost give out when she finished off the final attacker, pushing past the pain to shoulder the piece and begin dashing back towards the missing wall.
“Get out now.” Latch called, hovering over the building. “Ten. Nine.”
Ali hurdled through the hole, crashing to the ground and rolling to safety. Latch made sure all three were out before focusing, arcane symbols lighting up around her head. She twisted the magic, the symbols each glowing brighter and brighter until she released the spell, a dull thump emanating from within the building before the entire block shook.
Joshua shielded his eyes when the singularity detonated, the initial gravitational field bringing the factory building down before the explosion of debris shredded anything still inside. He felt a pang of pity for the humans still alive before shaking his head and watching the collapse.
“It’s been months since I had an excuse to use that.” Joshua glanced over to see Latch smiling serenely, watching the destruction she had caused. “Funnily enough, when you create a building-destroying spell, higher-ups start scrambling to restrict it.”
Joshua had eyes only for their target. “Is that who I think it is?”
“Oh, yes.” Latch purred, hoisting the bruised man to his feet. “Alicia, I want my piece back.”
Alicia moaned, her arms hanging uselessly behind her. “It hurts so much.”
Latch shook her head, reaching down and easily lifting the cannon. “I only ever use it in my battle form. You did well to fire it three times.”
“It was wonderful.” Ali whispered blissfully. “Ow.”
Latch chuckled, looking back at Joshua. “Her rifle’s done. Give her some time to sight it in after she heals up, and she’ll be ready to go. I need to hand deliver this bad boy to a processing facility.”
Joshua nodded, snapping the Sphinx a salute. “Thank you for the backup, Ma’am.”
Latch smiled. “I hope to work with you again soon, Joshua.”
Joshua nodded, reaching out to take her hand. “I’m going to be posted around here for a while, but we’ll find an excuse.”
Latch returned the nod. “I’ll ask Marcie to pull some strings.”
Joshua shook his head. “Don’t call her by name, even if she is your Mistress.”
Latch rolled her eyes. “I’ll petition Alpha-7 to pull some strings. There. Better?”
Joshua chuckled. “Thanks.”
“See you around, rocket man.” Latch raised her cannon in a salute before vanishing.
“Rocket man.” Joshua smiled slightly. “Now there’s a nickname I haven’t heard in a few years.”
“Police are on their way to the ‘gas explosion’.” Nili shot Joshua a glance. “We shouldn’t be here when they arrive.”
“I’m least injured, so you’re both going in your pokeballs.” Joshua dug through his vest and withdrew the two orbs. “We’ll debrief after I get you both healed.”
Alicia was in no condition to protest, but Nili stopped him when he held up her pokeball. “Master, you’re hit.”
Joshua glanced down at the slowly spreading wet spot. “Just a stray bullet. I’ll live.”
She shook her head. “Do not try to put me in that thing. If you died while I was helpless I would never forgive myself.”
Joshua sighed but put her ball away. “Alright, officer. Mind helping me to a medic?”
Mia tapped at her computer, shooing away Barra when she drifted too close. “Would you stop that?” The Night Nurse grouched. “Some of this stuff you’re not ever supposed to see.”
“Sorry.” Barra muttered, drifting back and waiting impatiently. “So, does she have any files?”
Mia frowned. “Yes, but no. I have records of an Officerjenny named Nili serving in dozens of police forces across the league, but they can’t all be the same pokegirl.”
“Different masters.” Mia input a few more commands. “Always a different name.”
“What about the master?”
Mia tapped at the screen. “Let’s see, this one is…” She trailed off. “Odd.”
“He doesn’t exist.” Mia tapped at a few more records. “None of them do.”
Barra began to pace. “This is just causing more questions.”
“Wait, I’ve got something.” Mia maximized a screen. “It’s an old record, but it follows the pattern. Almost six years ago, an Officerjenny named Nili was registered in the harem of one Joshua Banks. It’s the first record of an Officerjenny with that name.”
“Joshua…” Barra nodded. “That’s him, that’s her master.”
“Who, the one here?” Mia shook her head. “Her master’s name is Jeremy, not Joshua.”
“What?” Barra frowned. “No, he calls himself Joshua. We all call him Joshua.”
Mia looked at her and navigated out of the files. “Look.”
Barra leaned over her shoulder. “Station personnel: Jeremy… no last name? He’s Joshua… Gates.”
Mia cocked her head. “Hey, that’s the same as the other made up Tamers. No last names.”
“It’s the same master.” Barra nodded decisively. “Joshua Banks. Where does the first record show Nili?”
Mia pulled it back up. “It… doesn’t.”
Barra shook her head slightly. “I don’t understand. Her master’s like a ghost, not existing anywhere you can access, and she’s the same, bouncing around randomly between postings. It makes no sense.”
“Hey!” Mia slapped at her computer, staring at the blank screen in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”
“The damn thing just died!” Mia cursed and began jabbing at buttons. “Fucking hell, it just powered off. It better not be dying on me.”
Barra shook her head. “That’s not a coincidence.”
Mia looked over at her. “Huh?”
“They must be special forces.” Barra stared at the dark screen. “You were looking into them, and your computer bricked? You triggered a VideoGirl. Drop it, Mia. I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
Mia sighed and slammed the computer lid shut. “No shit. Now I need to go ask requisitions for a new computer.”
Barra watched her go, staring at the dead computer in silence. Finally she turned away, more questions rolling through her head, and a few tentative answers too. Hopefully her friend would be coming back and she could ask them in person. But something told her that chance might have already gone by. She silently said a prayer for Nili, wherever she may go, that she would always survive, and come back safe.
The two slipped down an alleyway, listening to the responding police stream around them. “Ok.” He gasped. “Patch me up.”
Joshua hissed as Nili slowly peeled back his shirt, beginning to dab at the bloody hole in his torso. “It missed the body armor.” She murmured, rubbing liquid around the edges of the wound and waiting for the local anesthetic to take effect. “Which is good, and bad.”
“It means it missed anything vital.” Joshua felt sweat beading on his face, the sickening pain slowly fading to a dull throb. “But it hurts.”
Nili laughed quietly. “That’s right.” She slowly ran her fingers around the inside of the wound, watching for a reaction. When Joshua didn’t flinch she eased her fingers in, slowly and carefully removing the bullet from where it had come to rest. “Must have been a deflection. The wound is jagged and the slug is deformed.”
“Just my luck.” Joshua fixed his gaze well over her head, doing his best to ignore the pressure he could feel inside his stomach. “Getting it out?”
“It’s out.” Nili flicked the lump of metal away and carefully bandaged the hole with a large patch, wrapping Joshua’s torso a few times to ensure it stayed in place. “You’re not going to bleed out now.”
Joshua grunted, feeling at the bandage. “Thanks.”
“We should head back to the station.” Nili paused when Joshua shook his head. “Master?”
“We’re pulling out.” Joshua levered himself to his feet. “Word just came through. The information they ripped from that Team boss is bigger than you or me. It’s not just a weapons ring this time, it’s an all out offensive on this league. Which means we pull out, and the military gets brought in.”
Nili sighed. “Understood.” She gave him a rueful smile. “Do you miss it?”
Joshua snorted. “Miss what.”
“The old days.” Nili stepped in, tracing her fingertips over his jawline. “When I was a naïve idealist and you were a fresh-faced rookie. When we had every weekend off because we were too inexperienced for real work. When we could just be with each other.”
Joshua leaned down and accepted her kiss, breaking contact after a few seconds to feather his lips along her cheek. “Do I?” He whispered, running his hand up her shoulder. “You were not my first, Nili. Nor were you my second, or even my third. You were last. So why do you think I spent so much time with you?”
Nili giggled, for an instant allowing her vulnerable side through. “Because I was a symbol.” She gently kissed his lips again before pulling away. “I chose you when you were promoted. And swore myself to your side, to uphold and protect the law, to protect the weak, to punish those who take advantage of others.”
“And now where are we?”
Nili smiled. “Beaten. Tired. Doing our best in a world that I now understand will never be free of terror.”
“So do I miss it.” Joshua chuckled. “No, Nili, I don’t. I’m not that young man anymore. And you’re not that romantic anymore, either. Nor is Shina the happy go lucky girl I first found, or Kiara the struggling shadow to her sister’s growth. And I wouldn’t trade anything for what we have now.”
Nili nodded, patting his shoulder affectionately. “Me neither, Master. Me neither.”