The Sparrow and the Snare
Not that it mattered to Special Enforcement Sergeant Rhys Valentin. He’d learned who to trust and it wasn’t at all the people he’d spent his life upholding the law for so much as the people he’d walked among to uphold it. Then again, truth be told, perhaps he’d always known that little tidbit of truth and only recently chosen to man up and swallow it, bones and all. The morning of Intas 2nd arrived and he showed up to work in a freshly pressed uniform, the bruises having long since faded and the broken bones Captain Damen D'Arthe had assisted in inflicting having knit back together. But scars remained, both visible ones like the line carved through his blond left eyebrow and the pink wrinkle in the curve of his lower lip and invisible ones like the night terrors and the voices that woke him in the dark and the aches and pains that haunted his nerves from magically-accelerated healing, like the rift of trust that had been opened and scabbed over again between himself and his wife.
He said nothing, he told no one, dismissing the brief questions with a smirk and a wave of his hand. A barfight. A home accident. An icy trip down the stairs. Not a vicious, life-threatening beating to shut him up and keep him out of Damen’s fucking business. The tall not-galdor didn't even tell Captain Haines that he'd been attacked and beaten, that Charity had been violated just days after the joke of a trial and his suspension from duty from the Seventen.
Instead, he spent the week sorting through the papers that had piled up on his desk over the past two months of his absence, closing old cases, prioritizing any that were even remotely still open. As far as anyone could tell, Rhys simply blended back into business as usual as though nothing had ever happened, as though nothing would ever happen again, but this time, oh this time, he was a quieter, more focused man than he’d been his entire career. He could hardly bring himself to joke with Constable Pots or to smile at Constable Hours. He avoided Constable Delacore's office, seething in silence.
Days passed and if anyone noticed something was different about the Sergeant, no one bothered to speak up. He had a lot to adjust back to, after all. New year. New wife. New shame to live down. New whispers behind his back.
Meanwhile, unassuming and careful, the young Valentin gathered information in his spare moments. Late nights. Early mornings. Lunch hours. He took time when he could, time he wasn’t fixing up the house or brushing up on his magical theory or loitering around a particular forge. Time well spent had its rewards, however: Benjamin's address. His entire criminal record. Every snippet of hearsay jotted down on an official sheet of paper. Diaxio's visa. Her family connections. Her addresses. He squirreled these things away piece by piece with rather shocking efficiency, having risen to his rank in less than eight years by no mere coincidence.
By the 8th of Intas, he'd planned long enough.
The weekend had finally arrived and he'd had two long months of painful recovery to delicately plot out every moment of his first move. Restless, the below freezing chill in the air made the still-tender bones of his left arm ache and the winds stole the bitter breath from his still-sluggish lungs, but no one questioned the tall Seventen when he packed up his desk and closed his office door in the middle of the afternoon as if he had somewhere else to be, as if he had a case to solve (he didn’t; no one had dared to hand him anything remotely important since his inglorious return and he wasn’t even angry about it). No one said a word because it was normal, because he'd been gone just long enough to enjoy the ignorance.
Nodding to Potiphar and waggling fingers at Captain Haine’s door, he tugged on his coat and stepped out into painfully cold Intas sunlight, heavy leather bag thrown over his shoulder and all the air of a man with a purpose. Still boldly in his green-dyed uniform, the tarnished Sergeant made his way through Uptown, hesitating only for a nauseated moment in a particular crossroads near the theatre district, ears ringing, heart racing, dizzy with a surge of anger it would take the rest of his walk to preen carefully from his glamour.
Spitting bile on the cobblestones as he passed the familiar alleyway, Rhys didn't head toward home in the Painted Ladies and he didn't head toward the forge he knew so well. Instead, he cut toward the Arova, winding his way to the Soot District, to some shitty old collection of rusted-out warehouses he'd paid a pretty concord to rent for a week. It was as good a place as any to meet: spacious, quiet, unnoticed, and best of all, hardly patrolled. When it was clear he arrived first, he took the time to change out of his uniform and into plain clothes, folding the lovely greens and tucking them away into his satchel after emptying its contents.
The rest of his time waiting was spent in almost meditative silence, the not-galdor setting up his first prodigium since probably his years in Brunnhold. A thick chalk circle, sprinkled with quartz dust, four points delineated by very personal items for the Seventen Sergeant: his snaps, carefully knotted piano strings of Charity's, a chunk of cobblestone from that godsbedamned alley, and a pebble from the yard of his new home. Drawn slowly and with great care, Rhys was quite aware of what he was and what he was not, but the mona had yet to refuse his requests or shy away from him pushing himself further than any wick he knew into studious galdori magical formalities. Whatever the mona thought of him, he was grateful for the perceived lack of animosity, and he looked forward to conquering his enemies—conquering erseholes who abused their power and turned a spell against its own normal intentions to bend and break his arm—through the power he wielded with far more respect than he’d been given.
Set up complete, the tall blond was left to wait for his accompaniment for this meticulously premeditated excursion. He knew better than to go hunting alone, and even if surprising Benjamin in his own home would be more like breaking and entering than hunting, the jittery nervousness that fluttered about beneath the honed and sharpened edge of anger he’d tempered over the past season reminded him that something could still go wrong if he wasn’t careful, if he lost sight of his purpose, or if he let the real fires of his helpless frustration consume him completely. He didn’t want to make mistakes. He was a good officer, and he wasn’t ready to walk away from his accomplishments, his career, and a kingdom he still longed to serve.
He just had to serve this justice first. He had to … because who else would?
It would be dark soon. Thank the Good Lady.