3rd of Achtus, 2718
VIENDA COURTHOUSE | MIDDAY
Rhys looked in helplessness at his Captain as Arthur sat next to him, feeling Charity entwine her hand with his. The tall blond's face was set as if out of stone, blue eyes refusing to drift over the older galdor's shoulder to glare at Damen; instead, they held the Investigative Division's Captain's darker blue hues with a furious determination. It was all the Sergeant could do to keep his mouth shut, jaw clenched, field a bastion barely containing his mixed emotions.
He heard the hardly hushed laughter from over the broader shoulder of Arthur, gaze drifting over the snaps of his captain, downward to stare at his hands and the pianist's in his lap, saying nothing.
"I know him—"
"Then you should be the one leveling these charges, Haines. I'm—" The young Valentin hissed in a whisper, attention snapping back to the older man's face with accusation, "—I don't understand why I'm doing this alone."
"—my daughter. I can't just go traipsing through the ranks of the Seventen, cleaning everything. It would ruin me. It would ruin us. She's all I have."
And the young Valentin had nothing? Was nothing?
Did he ever matter?
Rhys bit his lip at the caution, reading between his superior officer's lines. He trusted Arthur more than anyone else in the entire organization—if there was anyone who shared his uniform, Captain Haines understood him. While he could have taken it all personally, while he could have heard the other man saying he wanted the Sergeant to become a scapegoat so that he wouldn't have to be, he understood the admission that Damen was just the tip of the iceburg. What the blond had poked at was not simply one beetle, but a whole hive of bees.
And Arthur was helpless without more evidence and support.
This meant, of course, that this trial would be useless.
"I just want this to mean something." Rhys' face twisted into a frustrated sneer, heart sinking into the writhing darkness in the cavity of his narrow chest.
Everyone eventually fell quiet. The testimony of a lone passive against the weight of the Co-Captain's so-called accomplishments was nothing. The tall blond had done his job, investigating his own, but it had honestly been too personal. He'd overstepped his oaths, he'd let his emotions blind him, and yet he'd sought to desperately protect what he loved. The accusations of purposeful grooming, the twisting of the truth of his relationship with Charity, cut deeply. His reputation among his peers, a decent handful of which were here sitting in this courtroom, would be more than just simply tarnished.
The Low Judge returned to his seat and Rhys let his attention shift to the jury, determined not to give Damen the satisfaction of a glance. The first indictment brought a sigh to his lips, held breath escaping through his teeth even as his lungs burned in protest. While his fingers tightened around the delicate pianist's hand for an encouraging squeeze, he kept his eyes on the jury, smirking as the entire court murmured their opinions.
Four fucking concords.
Is that all Charity was worth to the Courts of Anaxas?
Rhys tried not to scoff at the thought, allowing for just a moment the warmth of hope to tingle up his spine as the attended continued his sentence. She was a Valentin at last—all his, forever.
The thrill was short-lived.
Snuffed out like a candle, his next breath stolen by the next series of phrases. Captain D'Arthe's Seventen position wasn't even touched. He was immovable despite the pronouncement that he had, indeed, revealed himself a wretched sort of creature. Did the Kingdom of Anaxas truly believe such ruthless cruelties were the best representations of justice?
What the clocking hell—
The not-galdor shifted uncomfortably in his seat, Damen's freedom and continued service in the same uniform meant that they—
The Special Enforcement Sergeant blinked, releasing Charity's hand to curl fingers into the green-dyed fabric of his well-pressed uniform trousers, crisp and bright. The colors most likely perfected in his own father's dye vats. The inescapable consequences of his hunger for truth sank sharp teeth into his heart, unmoving for a long moment as Judge Ogden's words rattled between his ears with a discordant rhythm that rang out above the roar of his pulse.
"Captain Haines, I didn't—" He stared at Arthur, heart a burning coal against the back of his throat, betrayal searing through every vein.
Choking on the rest of a series of syllables that never made it out of his mouth, Rhys stood. Ignoring the din of conversation, ignoring the laughter at his expense, ignoring the fire that smoldered within, shaking hands reached up and began to mechanically remove the four snaps he'd risked his life over the past eight years to earn. The youngest Sergeant on record. A decorated achievement. The out-of-the-box thinker. The valued officer. Instead of looking at his captain as he did so, however, blue eyes finally fell upon Co-Captain Damen D'Arthe, face an emotionless mask of nothingness.
He didn't look back to Arthur. He didn't look at Charity. He didn't look back to Baelish even as conversation went on around him, weighing the four round pieces of metal in his palm, curling his fingers around the small decorations for a moment while he memorized every age line and every pock mark on Damen's smug face.
Tearing his stare away reluctantly, he flicked his attention to his Captain, the older man holding out his hand for Rhys' snaps and whispering his apologies. The tall blond's jaw clenched and he blinked again, slowly, eye lids fluttering heavily, before he rolled his wrist and opened his fingers, purposefully dropping his snaps onto the floor at the galdor's feet instead of into Arthur's expectant palm, the little metal pieces tinkling uselessly against faded, waxed wood.
"This is chroveshit." He said without bothering to whisper, loud enough that anyone standing nearby heard clearly every word, "I can't wear this uniform anyway if this is the kind of legal system I'm expected to uphold, if this is the kind of law I put my godsbedamned life on the line for every clocking day."
He shrugged off his jacket, hands trembling with a barely contained anger as he tossed the green-dyed fabric onto the chair between himself and Arthur, growling his words. For a moment, his hands strayed to his belt with the obvious implication that had he truly felt the need to fully express his disapproval, he'd be removing the trousers of his uniform in full public view as well, just to make a statement. He refrained, however, for the reputation of the woman he genuinely loved, of the woman he'd always loved instead of groomed for his own selfish purposes,
"When all of this comes back to bite our Kingdom in the erse, I won't be dying for this kind of clocking obvious corruption. See you in the new year, Captains. Don't let Benea blind you by lighting this dark path you're all on too brightly. Not until I'm there to arrest you, anyway."
Rhys sneered, turning to snatch with forced gentleness for Charity, his hands curling needfully around her arm as if she was the only anchor to his self-control that he had left. His hurt and anger were, of course, obvious to her, and it was with great difficulty that he dropped the volume of his voice to a whisper, leaning to press lips close to her ear,
"Let's go. Wrong or not, Alioe forgive me if I'm still here when they let the press in."
Never in his life had he felt so helpless and so angry at the same time, and it took everything—everything!—in his limited stores of discipline to lead them both from the courtroom through the crowd, eager to crawl away home and hide from the world, from a Kingdom that had forgotten how to uphold real justice.