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[We Would've Made] Cowardly Kings

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It’s Pritchard who finds him, the first time it happens. As it turns out, as the only person other than Sarif and Adam himself to ever enter Jensen’s apartment, it’s Frank who finds him every time it happens in the first six months of his recovery. It scares them both at first, though of course neither would ever admit it out loud.

Not two days after Jensen is released from the hospital, Francis practically breaks the door down in his haste to get a hand on Adam’s frozen form. It’s what shocks him back; Pritchard’s cool fingers on his pulse, accompanied by frantic repetitions of his name in a voice not usually filled with such concern.

“Pritchard,” Adam rasps, throat inexplicably dry considering he’d been drinking coffee for breakfast in lieu of actual food. “What-?”

He cuts himself off, eyes drawn to the window as fingers twitch around the empty space where his mug should be. The light outside has changed, slanting more towards early afternoon than the morning brilliance it should be. He stares in confusion.

“Adam!” The snap of Frank’s voice pulls Jensen’s gaze back into the dim room.

“Pritchard,” he repeats on a rough swallow; his throat clicks. “What time is it?”

The hacker’s mouth twists into a scowl. It looks forced, though Adam would be hard-pressed to explain how he can tell. Frank’s voice is as waspish as ever. “One. You were supposed to be at your physical therapy appointment three hours ago. You didn’t answer your phone and either your infolink is glitching or you managed to completely ignore that too. What the hell were you doing in here, just staring into space?”

The rant is delivered like any other cybersecurity-related dressing-down and yet Adam can hear something wary, expectant almost, in his co-worker’s voice. Ignoring it, he looks down at his hands, the one still clutching at empty air where his coffee cup had been. He’d been headed for the couch to watch the news while he finished waking up, taken a sip as he stepped down into the living room, and something about his coffee had tasted off. He’d paused to take another drink, trying to figure out what was different, and then… nothing. Just Pritchard’s cold hands on his neck and hours having passed without him knowing. Losing time isn’t one of the signs of aug rejection, as far as Adam knows. Just going crazy then? Somehow, the thought calms him down a bit.

“Nothing,” he repeats out loud, voice level despite the worry he feels.

Frank doesn’t look impressed, crossing his arms and leaning back on his heels. “Bullshit. If you can’t remember, just say so. It might be a problem with your biochip and the sooner it gets sorted, the sooner the rest of us can go back to doing actual work instead of babysitting you.”

“I mean I wasn’t doing anything. Nothing out of the ordinary at least.”

“Well what ordinary things does the great Jensen get up to in the mornings, then? Save busloads of puppies and orphans before breakfast?”

“Hardly, Francis,” Adam shoots back with an acid-green glare.

Frank still isn’t used to the new colour, and it startles him speechless for a moment. Jensen keeps talking, eyes dropping to his hands again. “Where’s my coffee?”

“I put it over there,” Pritchard waves distractedly at the low table in front of Jensen’s couch. “You looked like it had spat in your cereal, so I figured I’d move it for its own safety.”

No reaction; Adam keeps staring at his empty fingers. He looks at them like he doesn’t know whose they are, and Frank feels a twinge of sympathy. The cybersecurity expert takes a half-step forward and it seems to startle Jensen into speaking again. “It tasted weird this morning.”

“Is that all?” Frank tries to sound as caustic as usual, but there’s something about the cadence of Adam’s voice that sets off alarms in his head.

“I wanted to know why,” Jensen retorts, though there’s an edge of tension creeping into his voice as he glances towards the windows again. “I hadn’t realised I’d been standing here so long.”

Pritchard’s heart rate picks up, and Adam’s head snaps around to stare. “What?”

There’s an explosive sigh from the older man, though he looks more resigned than annoyed now. “When did you wake up?”

“Seven, as usual,” Jensen replies, though he knows the answer isn’t what Pritchard’s asking for.

Sure enough, there’s a sneer twisting Frank’s lips as he folds his arms again. “Idiot. When did you start showing the gift? How long have you been trying to do this without a proper Guide?”

Adam is quiet for a long time, long enough that his co-worker isn’t sure he’ll ever get an answer. At last, Jensen shifts, patting down his pockets until he comes up with a battered pack of cigarettes and a crappy disposable lighter. He doesn’t look at Pritchard as he taps one out and lights it up. “I wouldn’t know.”


“It was a game, when I was younger,” Adam interrupts bluntly. “Pretending at being some great hunter like my grandmother used to tell me stories about. The other kids weren’t so enthused with how easily I could find them in hide-and-seek, or how I always knew they were lying. The extra senses faded as I grew, though. By the time I was a teen, I passed it off as childhood imagination and my parents claimed ignorance any time it was brought up.”

Pritchard’s eyebrows are raised incredulously, though his hands are gripping his arms in what looks suspiciously like nervous tension. Adam shrugs and turns away, dropping the half-smoked cigarette in an ashtray on the table on the landing, no longer interested in finishing it. “I guess I’ll just have to learn to turn them off again. Can’t risk losing more time if I’m to be any use to the company.”

Adam doesn’t mean to sound so bitter, but the weaponization of his body still stings. Sure, this body is ‘better,’ but he no longer feels at home in his own skin. He only gets a step towards the kitchen before the hacker behind him snaps.

“You must be stupider than I thought if you think you can just shut this down now,” Frank snarls. “I don’t know how you survived as a child, but full suppression causes serious harm.”

Adam scoffs, tilting his head just enough to peer at Pritchard from the corner of his eye. “How would you know, Francis?”

“Because I’ve seen it!” Pritchard shouts, eyes bright and expression so unfamiliar to Jensen that he has to turn and study it further.

“It ruins you, Jensen,” Frank continues, voice quieter but tone still hard. “You start shutting off everything. Strong emotions first, like rage and desire, then humor and fear, then contentment and annoyance. Finally, you can’t feel a damn thing and you just fade away, an empty shell where there used to be a human. Your body might still be there, but there’s nothing inside to move it. No will, no purpose, no life.”

“Sounds kind of nice, actually,” Adam replies when it seems like Pritchard has finished his rant, just to see what happens.

He doesn’t expect the wild-eyed look on Frank’s face to crumble into betrayed devastation for the half-second it takes him to regain control. Expression carefully blank, Pritchard stares at Jensen for only a moment or two longer before mechanically reaching for his bag and making to move past him, towards the apartment door.

“If that’s what you want, I’ll have no part in it. Sarif will assign someone else as your point of contact, both for missions and for any security-related issues you may have. I hope I never see you again. I’m sure you’ll enjoy that, at least while you can still enjoy anything.”

Adam steps into his path quickly, augmented arm shooting out to slap against the wall and bar Pritchard’s way. He’s a little too hard, if the new dent in the plaster is anything to go by, but Adam is focussed on the dead look in Francis’ eyes and the way it makes something uncomfortably like concern curl up his throat.

“What happened,” he rasps, not exactly questioning.

Frank meets his eyes silently for nearly a full minute before looking away. He seems to shrink into himself even more and Adam finds he wants to comfort the shorter man but he’s not sure how or how well it would be received. Frank clutches at the strap of his bag, pale and resigned. “I told you. I’ve seen it before. I don’t ever want to see it again.”

Adam doesn’t reply, staring hard at his coworker standing defeated in his entryway. He lowers his arm from its blockade but, before Pritchard can do more than take a breath, Jensen sets both hands hesitantly on his shoulders. Frank tenses but doesn’t pull away, and Adam finally manages to speak. The words come reluctantly, as though they have to be dragged out of him. “How do I control them, then?”

Pritchard exhales long and slow, relaxing ever so slightly and visibly gathering himself. “We’ll have to find you a Guide first,” he mutters, annoyance settling over him like a cloak. “Someone discreet who passes all the company background checks.”

He gives Jensen a dismissive glance, though he doesn’t pull away from the loose hold. “Ideally they’d be someone you like, but we may have to settle for someone you’ll at least listen to. Even that might be too much to ask,” Frank adds under his breath, though Adam can hear him just as easily as ever.

“Oh, is that all,” he returns, self-aware skepticism shallowly buried under sarcasm.

Pritchard huffs and turns to regard the apartment critically, Adam’s hands finally slipping from his shoulders. Francis’ lip curls a little as he takes in the still-packed boxes and the tilting stacks of papers, books and boxes of ammo scattered between and around them. “Especially since, ideally, they’d stay with you. Probably not here though.”

“Why not here?” Adam asks defensively, ignoring the first statement entirely for the moment.

Frank scoffs, still focussed on the spacious but messy living room. “Are you kidding? You’re zoning out on your coffee. There’s too much here that will set off your senses. You need somewhere cleaner, to start.”

“This place is defensible. I know the layout and I can trust the building’s security,” Jensen argues back. “Not the least because you’re the one who set up the SmartHome. How well do you think I’ll be able to concentrate on learning control in a place where I’m constantly on edge?”

Pritchard is silent for a long while, considering, before sighing heavily. “There’s still the issue of you needing them close by. How well do you think you’ll do with a stranger in your space? It’d be better if you moved to somewhere with more room. Like a second bedroom.”

“Does it have to be a stranger?” Jensen grimaces at the thought. “Why not you?”

Francis startles, swinging back around to stare at Adam incredulously. Irritation settles over him soon enough, but Adam can tell it’s hollow, covering the shock his question induced. He rushes to explain before Pritchard can reject the idea outright.

“We already know you can pull me out of a - what did you call it? A zone?” Jensen shakes his head, scrubbing a hand through his hair distractedly. “Doesn’t matter. Point is, you know what needs to be done, you’ve already passed any security check we could possibly think of, and…” he hesitates, looking a little embarrassed, before pushing on. “I trust you. Probably more than anyone else, with this.”

Frank’s jaw drops just the slightest bit as he stares back at Adam, stunned. All of his defenses have been stripped away at the blatant admission and it leaves him without words that normally come so easily. Jensen’s lips pull down into a scowl as the silence drags on. “Is it really so hard to believe?”

“No,” Francis coughs, still a little wide-eyed but recovering swiftly. “I just never thought you’d admit it.”

“Look, there’s enough space here, we can rearrange. Move my computer out here, get a second bed and another desk. Probably some more bookcases. I’ve been meaning to unpack anyway,” he trails off, looking around the apartment appraisingly before shrugging with forced casualness. “It’s not like I use the garage space anyway, so you’re welcome to park your bike there instead of on the street.”

“Hold on!” Pritchard snaps, flashpaper temper sparking at the presumption. “I never said--!”

Adam only raises his eyebrows and Frank cuts himself off with a scowl. Their staring contest is broken a moment later when Jensen turns to eye the dent he’d made in the entryway wall. “We don’t have to tell Sarif either, this way.”

Francis stares at him wide-eyed in surprise again, though his brow furrows in confusion only seconds later. Adam sees the expression from the corner of his eye and huffs a sigh, running his hand through his messy hair again. “I already have little enough that’s just… mine, anymore. Is it any wonder I’d want to keep a secret or two back for myself?”

“I… suppose not,” Pritchard concedes quietly, giving the apartment a much more critical glance. “We’ll have to change a lot around here though. You’re going to be oversensitive to plenty of things you never thought twice about before and,” he turns that same judgmental eye on Adam himself, “your allergy to shirts is one of the first things we’re going to work on.”