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It was, Seivarden told herself later, the kind of stupid accident that could have happened to anyone. Not a terminal fuckup. Just wrong-place-at-wrong-time, that was all. The omens had been unlucky that day. She should've been more careful.

She was out on Mercy of Kalr's hull with a crew working on minor repairs. There was no specific reason why the senior lieutenant should be doing plate sealing, but it was part of the way Fleet Captain Breq wanted the Provisional Republic's fleet to be run, and Seivarden had been doing her best to model the proper kind of behavior for what everyone was now calling New Fleet. She was still not entirely sure that Breq wasn't courting a mutiny in the making, or at least a dangerous breakdown of discipline. But Breq hadn't been wrong so far -- even the impossible became somehow plausible when Breq was done with it. Such as a Fleet that was a good deal less hierarchical and more ... well ... democratic was not quite the right word for what Breq seemed to be trying to do (thank Amaat) but there was a good deal more cross-training between different positions. Senior members of all the decades were learning command skills, and officers put in time with their decades on everything from scrubbing filters to repairing damaged hull plates.

It made sense, as they no longer had the luxury of easily bringing in replacements for necessary positions on the handful of ships they possessed. The Republic didn't even have a government as such yet, let alone a system for recruiting and training soldiers. So everyone needed to be able to do everything, and therefore Seivarden was wielding a vacuum sealing rig when a sharp spike of alarm galvanized her nervous system and one of her Amaats shouted "Look out!"

... the alarm was Ship trying to warn her, she realized in the next split second, but she had no idea what she was supposed to look out for, and there was a shock and the world spun and her head collided hard with the faceplate of her helmet.

 

***

 

She woke in Medical, flat on her back and dizzy, the world sliding sideways.

"Calm down." A hand came down on her arm. Medic. She squinted; the lights, even dim, were too bright. She could tell by the soft-around-the-edges feeling that she was pumped full of meds. She'd come to hate that feeling.

"What happened?" she asked, her voice a rasp.

"Debris," Medic explained succinctly. She didn't have to say more. The system was currently plagued with it, between the station accident with the shuttle and the destruction of Anaander's ships. As usual in a heavily trafficked area, Station was tracking all known debris particles and rerouting traffic out of their way where they couldn't be vaporized, but things slipped through. Especially small things. Whatever hit her couldn't have been big, or it would have done a lot more than knock her against the hull.

She raised a hand to her head, and felt the slick stiffness of a corrective before Medic grabbed her hand and ungently pulled her fingers away. "Don't touch it. You have a concussion. Let it work."

"Everyone else okay?"

"Everyone is fine except for you," said a voice that wasn't Medic's. Breq had been so still and quiet that Seivarden hadn't even noticed her, sitting on a bench against the wall. Thanks for warning me, she thought at Ship, and got a sense back of ... amusement, almost?

Great. They were ganging up on her now.

And, she realized as her scattered wits coalesced, it was interesting that she hadn't heard Breq either; there had been no humming at all.

She closed her eyes against the cottony feeling of the meds, fighting back the dizziness and nausea that the drugs seemed to be keeping at bay but not erasing entirely. The red glare of the lights through her eyelids went suddenly darker, and she opened them cautiously to a room that was almost night-dim. Oh. Ship had registered her discomfort and dimmed the lights. Or Breq had told it to, maybe.

"May I have a drink?" she asked. She didn't want to risk sitting up quite yet.

"A little water or tea won't hurt," Medic said from a distance. "Though I'd be careful giving her too much by mouth, unless you want to end up wearing it."

"It's all right," Breq said, from a bit closer. "I was used to it, at one time."

Seivarden had actually been talking to Medic, not Breq, but she recognized the firm, not precisely gentle hand that slipped under her shoulders and raised her to sip from a bowl of hot tea, easing her dry throat.

"I think I prefer it when the roles are reversed," she remarked as Breq eased her back down. The room was still spinning, sliding away whenever she started to close her eyes. She couldn't tell how much of it was the head injury and how much was the meds. Aatr's tits, she hated being drugged.

Breq made a soft huffing sound that might actually be a laugh, or as close as she ever came.

"Can I go back to my quarters?" Seivarden asked in a small voice. She didn't want to sound pathetic, especially in front of Breq, but was afraid it came out that way.

"Do you feel like getting up and walking around the hallways right now?" was Medic's tart response.

"Not really," Seivarden admitted meekly.

"Then stay there. I'd rather not have you crack your head open again by falling down. Even if some people --" and at this point Seivarden, even with her eyes closed, had no doubt Medic was glaring at Breq "-- are terrible role models in that area."

"I didn't fall down," Breq said.

"You cracked my prosthesis. I'd say falling was involved at some point."

Again that little huff -- an expression of laughter or distaste, or perhaps a little of both. "Speaking of, I think I'm due for a refitting. With the stump growing out, the one you have me on right now is pinching."

"Knowing you, I'm sure that means you're in excruciating pain all the time," Medic grumbled. "Yes, come here, let me take a scan. I'll have something printed for you shortly."

Seivarden drifted. Her mind kept going back, again and again, to that moment on the hull of the ship, when she hadn't known which way to jump. A sidestep in the right direction could have saved her a bad headache and a trip to Medical, but she'd frozen -- like always --

"That's my fault," Ship said into her head, making her jerk in surprise; her nausea spiked. "I wasn't sure how to warn you properly. I can't give you information the same way I can the fleet captain."

Was the ship feeling ... guilty? Seivarden castigated herself an instant later: of course AIs could feel guilt. She'd known Breq much too long to have illusions about that. "Rock on your left would have done nicely," she murmured. "But don't beat yourself up about it."

"I'm not," Ship said. "And it wasn't that simple. Any instruction I could have given you might have led to wrong action, making things worse. The debris was coming in from a high trajectory and moving fast. If I'd had you dodge the wrong way, it might have holed your suit. Giving you a visual overlay might have just confused you if you weren't expecting it."

"Drills?" Seivarden suggested, trying to scrape her fuzzy thoughts together. "It's something we probably should be drilling for anyway. We're a lot more likely to get hit with flying rocks than shot at, but our training focuses on the last one more than the first."

"Shall I discuss it with Fleet Captain?"

It surprised her, a little, that Mercy of Kalr was asking her opinion. Offering her the option of bringing it up with Breq herself, she imagined. Right now she was too halfwitted to even think about having a proper, useful conversation about shipboard procedure. "Yes, do that, please."

"Did you say something?" Breq's voice; Breq's presence, leaning over her. Seivarden's breath caught in spite of herself.

"She was talking to me," Mercy of Kalr said to both of them.

Breq gave a soft, acknowledging hum, that moved into a tune. And there was also a sense that ... they were talking, somewhere just out of reach. Seivarden wasn't sure quite what she was sensing. It was like the flash of fish under water, deep below the surface. Maybe Mercy of Kalr had chosen, out of courtesy, to let her know she was being discussed, without allowing her to be privy to that conversation.

Then there was movement: Breq, sitting on the edge of the bed, the stiff mattress dipping under her. Seivarden cracked open her eyes and watched Breq undo her prosthesis and lean it carelessly against the side of the bed. Her missing leg had grown back almost all the way to the knee.

"I know," Breq said, seeing her looking. "Growing joints is apparently a joy, I hear. Something to look forward to."

She swung her leg and stump up onto the bed. There was an instant's hesitation and Seivarden could almost see her nerving herself up for it, and she realized, as Breq rolled over against her, that it was the first time Breq had made the first move. Always, it was Seivarden coming to her, Seivarden being the one to reach out and take hold.

She closed her eyes quickly because she could feel tears prickling behind her lashes and she hated the way drugs and meds and stress and ... well, okay, everything these days made her weepy. Beside her, she felt Breq moving around, shifting position, getting physical feedback from Ship on Seivarden and adjusting her position accordingly so as not to aggravate any bruises.

They settled into each other. It was becoming familiar, now -- the feel of each others' bodies, the way they fit together. Seivarden could feel herself relaxing, easing herself against Breq. Skin to skin, the disorientation was less; she found her breathing slowing down, matching to the tempo of Breq's slow humming.

She thought she recognized the song, somehow. She couldn't put a name to it, but it was faintly nostalgic. Something Breq had learned a long time ago. Something from the old days of the Empire, from back in Seivarden's time or maybe even earlier.

Something Breq had chosen to put Seivarden at ease.

Seivarden managed, as usual, to tamp down on the part of herself that just wanted to fling her arms around Breq and nuzzle into her neck and never let go. Instead she relaxed, accepted the arm tentatively crossing her chest as a gift that had to be taken on its own terms, and let herself slip away, into the haze of the meds and the oblivion waiting beneath.