AN: I don't know if people are interested/care about this type of thing. But my (short) song playlist used while writing this story is on my tumblr account 'fool9'. (post/33588400851/more-serenity-godsmack-blow-me-one-last)

Chapter 7

Val hated parties. There were always too many people, too much booze, and far, far too many thing that could go wrong thanks to that combination. Even as she sat there, a few silhouettes strayed too close to the bonfire and nearly fell in. She rolled her eyes as they laughed it off.

"'Ey! Smile." Cam came out of nowhere and wrapped an arm around her waist. His cup of something foul smelling splashed her shirt and Val gave him weary look that was completely ignored.

"Come on. Dance with me!"

"No. I'd rather not."

He made the 'very Cam' pouting face and turned away from her to chase after someone younger and more fuckable. Val just watched in bemusement, and considered going on an unofficial patrol of some sort. The thought was immediately discarded though. Never go out alone. That was the rule.

With a huge sigh, Val leaned back against the wall of the building and continued watching the crowd. She'd made a bet with herself how long it would take for a riot to break out. The current best guess was an hour and a half.

Harper was disappointed she had been banned from whatever celebration Old Dev had planned. That was a lot of business she would be missing out on, but her face was swollen and sore, and not being surrounded by drunken idiots wasn't the hugest of losses. What was the cause of a considerable amount of rage was that Johnson had given her the punishment of having the entire basement floor cleaned by the morning. Using only a bucket and rag.

And that, Harper thought, was fucking impossible.

After finishing with the prep room, she threw the rag down in disgust and sat back to ease the ache from being hunched over for so long. She felt like…one of those characters from the stories her father used to tell before he sold her. Cinder something was it? Needless to say, she hated it.

Giving the bucket a long glare, Harper then rose to her feet with a sharp crack in her knees. It's not as if anyone would be able to tell the difference between clean, cracked concrete and dirty, cracked concrete.

She spread a bit of water here and there, and wiped the moisture around with her foot before calling it a night. Close enough. Now, she could return to the case.

Despite the fact that she was almost entirely alone in the barracks, Harper made sure to pull the curtain closed tight around her little space before pulling the case and a small pad of paper out. She'd gotten to 0132 before passing out the night before, and was eager to get started again.

Not that life could ever be so simple. Just as she had developed a rhythm and gotten to 0144, the door at the top of the stairs slammed open and someone yelled down to her, "Harper. You're gonna want to get your ass up here."

Curling her lip in distaste, Harper reluctantly shoved her things away and went to see what all the fuss was about.

"What do you want Clay?"

The (very) large bouncer filled up the entire doorway as he grinned down at her. "Come up to the balcony. It'll make you damn glad you got stuck with clean up."

Curiosity piqued, Harper quirked an eyebrow at him before heading up to the second floor. Gladly opening the balcony doors for a burst of fresh air, Harper peered further into the darkness toward a burst of distant orange close enough to the river it was reflected in the water

It seemed normal at first, but when she actually began to pay attention, the screams could reach her ears even from this far away. Harper gave Clay a look of surprise and he nodded, as if knowing the party had gotten out of control was the most entertaining thing in the world to him.

It was hard to say exactly where and what had gone wrong, but Val had to put it out of mind as she desperately tried to enforce any kind of order over the mob. All she knew was there'd been a loud popping sound before the building next to the clearing had exploded.

Val tried pushing through the swarm to get closer to the site, elbowing and punching everyone that got in her way. Eventually, she gritted her teeth and pulled out her pistol, sending a warning shot out. That got the crowd parted and she soon had a clear path to the building.

Thankfully, Will and a few more guards were already there and Val jogged over the rubble to stand with them.

"What the fuck just happened?"

"That's what I want to know," Will snapped as he ran a hand through his sparse hair. "You two, see how many are dead. Val, get these people under control."

"Got it." Turning her back on the still floating dust, Val grabbed a few other guards to help her and stared at the chaos only a moment before steadily firing the rest of her clip into the night sky.

Thankfully, that seemed to seize the attention of a large group near her, and that was a good place to start. Taking a deep breath, Val prepared to use the voice she so rarely used. The one Cam called 'like a demon'.

Eventually the commotion seemed to die down for the most part, and Harper briefly wondered if her guardswoman had any part to play in that. Probably. She shifted towards Clay. "You think there's going to be anymore excitement or should I get back to work?"

He shrugged, eyes still focused on the lights. "Don' know. Uh…I'll call you up if anything else blows up."

"You're such a charmer," Harper said sarcastically as she patted his shoulder.

Back in the barracks, she nearly ran to her bed, jumping on it in irritation. Hopefully, no one else would bother her until the party goers started to slink back in.

In a trance around 0220, Harper didn't notice the shouting from upstairs until her name was being called. What was it now? With a growl, she shoved herself off the cot and stomped up the stairs.

When she opened the door, the common room was a complete mess. It now stank even more of alcohol with a mix of several different kinds of acrid smoke. Harper was frozen for a moment before Miri raced over to her.

She clung to Harper, her face covered in soot and streaked with tears. She sobbed, "Rob…"

Harper felt her gut tighten unexpectedly. She actually liked and could stand Miri and Rob. "What happened?"

"There was an explosion and—we weren't near it—we weren't. But then people started—they started running. I was only a little ways away! But—but. Rob—he was—I don't know—knocked down. Trampled."

With a small nod, Harper followed after Miri, holding her clammy hand tightly. There he was, on a table next to another injured person Harper didn't recognize. The skin peeking out from beneath his torn clothing was mottled and inflamed, but thankfully his face only had a few bruises and scrapes. Mercifully, he was unconscious.

Miri flopped down in a chair next to him, not daring to touch and Harper continued to simply stand there—staring. The front door swung open again, and another burst of people came rushing in, knocking her out of shock.

Harper sat beside Miri, and put a hand on her knee. They huddled together as people hurried around them, just waiting for the medic to get to them. It was…uncomfortable for Harper. She didn't like being around people in this type of situation, as her first instinct was to find some dark corner and wait for it to be over.

Well, that wasn't an option this time.

After what seemed like forever, the Moon's 'just across the street doctor', Emily, reached their little table and began to examine Robert.

"Hmmn…two broken ribs…right forearm too." She opened his eyes and held a flashlight to them. "No concussion it seems. Very lucky." She glanced over at the waiting Miri. "He's going to be fine, but there are a couple more serious cases before I can get to him alright."

"Well how long is it going to take?" Miri demanded, and Harper felt her tense.

"Give me an hour." Then Emily turned away sharply, leaving Miri trembling in rage. She muttered, "I hate that bitch. Always have. She hates us. Hates that she has to look after us."

"I think I'm starting to hate her too," Harper said as she watched the doctor head over to another part of the room. Then she began to bite on her bottom lip in thought. "You know what… Let's get him another doctor. I'll see if I can get the guards' own to come."

Miri laughed bitterly. "Feel free to try. He's probably busy."

"And he might not be." Harper stood. It was a half-lie of course. She really just wanted to get away, but there was no harm in asking Dr. Swanson anyways.

Harper pushed through the people, and gasped when she stepped outside. The smell inside had been stifling. For a moment, she paused to stare at the blaze still visible over the rooftops. Frowning in that general direction, Harper turned on her heel and headed to the guard post.

"I…hate…everything. Especially parties," Val managed to wheeze out from between clenched teeth.

"Yah do 'ave the worst luck." Cam chuckled and shifted her arm so he could offer more support. "We'll be there soon."

"Good."

It had been possibly the stupidest injury Val had ever had (past the age of ten). She'd been doing her job, getting people to not run over each other and leave the area in something that resembled organization, when she had rolled her ankle on a bottle some jackass had left lying around on the top of a hill. And the fact that her foot was starting to swell just made her mad. She'd rather have another blow to the face. That way she wouldn't be out of commission for god knows how long.

The embarrassing fall hadn't made it any better.

"Fuck Val. It's just a sprain. Not the end of the world."

"Shut up Cam."

"Ohhh-kay."

The guard post came into focus and Val started to hop more quickly, the faster she got a splint and crutches, the faster she could be at home sleeping it off. On the way to the door they bumped into a woman wearing ragged, baggy clothing.

Val didn't even feel bad when she didn't say please after telling her to move.

The woman turned her face into the light and said, "Val?"

"Harper."

Cam just seemed confused, before exclaiming. "'Oly shit you look different with none of that makeup."

"Thanks for that," Harper replied sarcastically. "Look, I just came here because they brought a bunch of injured people to the Blue Moon and we only have one…medic. I came to see if Dr. Swanson would, well…"

Val nodded. "Yeah. He's probably up after the noise." With a frown she added. "And there shouldn't be any other serious injuries tonight. Yeah, he'll probably go."

As they made their way down the hall, Harper asked, "So what the hell happened?"

"There was—" Val bit down on her lip to avoid groaning in pain when her foot brushed the floor. "An explosion."

"I think I got that. What I meant is, 'what happened to you'?"

Val sighed as Cam began to laugh. She figured she may as well just let him answer.

"You should 'ave been there. She was ordering people around in this scary ass voice she never uses, an' then she slipped on a bottle and went halfway down the bank. Never seen Val make a sound like that."

Harper made one of those giggles people make when they are starting to come down off the adrenaline. "I really wish I had been there now."

Finally they reached the doctor's office and Val sat down on the table in relief. Of course he wasn't in, and so she set Harper and Cam to searching. Just lying there, breathing and staring at the crumbling white ceiling, Val finally got time to think. Who had done it? Who planted the bomb?

Now that she was alone, Val did let out a long groan and pressed her arm over her eyes. It could be any number of groups really. Sometimes bandits snuck in. Sometimes it was just a lone psycho. Sometimes it was some jagoff from another city. And sometimes it was…a cult.

Well…based on what Aura had said it might be that last one. Val couldn't even remember what they called themselves, but they had this thing with fire… Definitely them. Now she just needed to tell someone in comman—

Swanson's voice interrupted, "Val, Cam told me you had a fall."

"…Uh yeah. Cam. I need you to find one of seniors and tell them it was probably that cult we thought we'd wiped out. Got it?"

"Yeah." He gave a sharp nod and was gone in the next instant.

Val noticed Harper staring and raised her eyebrows.

"You've got a cult?"

Val snorted. "Every place's got them. Don't act so surprised."

Harper shrugged and was about to leave when Dr. Swanson stopped her. He had already slipped Val's boot off and was rummaging around in a drawer. "I'll be needing you to help her back home."

Opening her mouth as if to protest, Harper then glanced at Val's foot. "That's fine."

Swanson got to work, and the painful throbbing rippled all the way through Val's body. Still not the worst, that award went to the scar on her chest. And Val knew how to handle pain. She'd experienced more than her fair share.

Once he finished, the doctor handed her a small flask and Val drained it in one gulp.

"You're going to need to stay off that for at least two weeks. I'll try and have someone fix you up a pair of crutches."

"Alright."

"Val." Swanson looked her right in the eyes. "You have to."

"…Alright. I promise." Val mentally shortened that to a week and a half.

"Good." The doctor seemed pleased with the answer, and went back to his cupboard to get out a bag. "Get some rest."

"Thanks."

Val swung her good leg over and waited for Harper to offer assistance. The whore blinked a few times before leaning over and letting Val sling an arm around her shoulders. She smelled strongly of bad soap and Val had to admit that was an improvement over how she herself smelled.

"I'll see you at the Blue Moon once you're done Harper."

"Thank you doctor," Harper said before setting a ridiculously slow pace that Val snorted at.

Once they were out the door she said, "You can walk faster than that."

Harper shrugged and they hobbled through the streets to Springside Apartments. Getting into the lobby, Val pushed away to lean against a wall and catch her breath. Harper took the time to observe the area, nodding in approval at the fern in the elevator shaft.

"So which floor are you?"

"Fourth."

Harper spun around with a look that screamed, 'you're joking right'.

Val shook her head and braced herself for the arduous trip. She was surprised when Harper bent down in front of her.

"I am not wasting my time by letting you slowly jump up three flights of stairs. Get on."

"Are you sure you can…"

"Please. You're half a head shorter than I am. I think I'm strong enough to carry one, short woman."

Uneasily, Val settled onto Harper's back. But by the time the whore had made it to the fourth floor, rasping in exhaustion, Val found it to be more funny than anything else. Not that she would be telling that to Harper who was doubled over panting.

Val hopped over to her room and said, "Thanks."

Still gasping, Harper replied, "Now we're even. And I know where you live. Be careful."

"I'll keep that in mind next time I try and punish you for stealing something."