"So," Kolkin said. "You going?"
Dyrk Magz closed the metal door of his cleaned-out locker and turned to face his partner, wearing one of those smiles that made him look about sixteen years old. "Yeah," he said, and hitched the strap of his duffel bag up onto his shoulder. "Shipping out tomorrow morning."
With the noise of Sci-Cop Central moving around them, muffled voices and comlinks chirping and the indistinct, distant shouting of a buzzlode junkie somewhere a few walls over, Vin Kolkin settled his weight back on his heels and took a long look at his partner. Magz had a clean-cut, fresh-faced look about him like he hadn't been out of training long enough for all the shiny to rub off, but he and Kolkin had been partners for years now; he might have lost the control over magnetism most Braalians took for granted, but he had nerves of steel and the mind of a veteran, and a promising career in Braal's Science Police ahead of him.
One that he was about to walk away from.
"Uh oh," Dyrk said, voice light with humor. "I think I know that look. You're about to ask me if I'm sure I want to do this, aren't you?"
Kolkin acknowledged the hit with an exaggerated wince. And, since the subject had been raised... "Well, what the hell," he returned. "Are you?"
Dyrk laughed. "Grife, Kolkin," he said. "The paperwork's all been filed. I got my tickets, cleaned out my locker..." He hefted the bag demonstratively. "Don't you think it's kind of late to be asking me if I'm sure?"
"Not if you're not," Kolkin reasoned with a shrug.
"I am sure, since you asked." Magz paused to eye Kolkin, some wariness beginning to dim his amusement. "Are you going to try to talk me out of going now?"
Kolkin couldn't restrain a snort. "Since when can I talk you out of anything, Magz? You got the thickest head of any man I know. I'm just tryin' to look out for you, that's all. You're a good cop. It'd be a shame to see you waste all your skills on chasin' after stardust, y'know?"
"Is that what you think I'm doing?" Dyrk wondered. He was smiling again, faintly.
"Look," Kolkin sighed. "All I'm sayin' is, how long have you been waiting for the Legion to call?"
That faint little smile vanished from Dyrk's face, and he glanced away from Kolkin, looking off between the rows of lockers for a moment. "Since that business with Cosmic Boy and the footstep ship, a few years back," he admitted.
Kolkin scowled at him, and not just to cover over the trace of grudging admiration that the memory of how Rokk Krinn had played the Science Police - and how Magz had covered for him, well enough to fool even his partner - always raised. He had a great deal of respect for the Legion of Super-Heroes and the things that they'd accomplished, but working with Magz nearly every day of the past several years had left Kolkin with the uncomfortable impression that, without any of its members ever meaning any harm, the Legion had somehow chewed Dyrk up and spat him out again.
Knowing that he was prodding at a nerve but unable to just let it be, Kolkin said, "Don'tcha think if they needed you, they'd be callin'?"
"Legion World is a space station the size of a small planet," Magz pointed out, in the mild, pleasant tone he used on people who were irritating him. "I'm pretty sure they can use more support staff."
"Doin' what, answering the coms? The Legion's receptionist?"
That hit the nerve; Dyrk's expression didn't get harder, exactly, but something in it sealed over into opacity. "Kolkin," he warned.
"Sorry." Kolkin raised his big hands in apology. "I got nothin' against the Legion, Magz, you know that. But you'd be wasted on a desk job. You're doin' good work here."
Somewhere on the other side of the room, a locker banged shut, drowning out the soft sound of the breath that Magz exhaled. "I know that," he said. "I'm a good cop. Maybe if I stuck around here I could be a great cop. And I'd spend every day for the rest of my life still waiting for the Legion to call." He smiled again, with a distinct note of regret to it, and lifted his shoulders in a little shrug. "It wouldn't be enough."
"And playin' errand boy for the Legion," Kolkin had to ask, "you think that's gonna be enough?"
"I'm trying to believe it will be," Dyrk answered quietly.
The vague, regretful smile on Dyrk's face got a little brighter, if not much less rueful. "It'd be easier," he said, "if I'd never been a Legionnaire. I could have just joined the Science Police to start with and put my heart in it, and I'd have done all right. There's just something about being a part of something like the Legion... it gets under your skin. Into your blood. I don't even know why, really," he admitted. "But I'd rather man a desk for the Legion than stay here and keep waiting for their call... because you're right about one thing, Kolkin. They're not going to be calling."
There was nothing that Kolkin could think to say to that. "Sorry, man."
"I'm not." The reply came cheerfully, untroubled.
It was a losing argument, Kolkin realized, but for Dyrk's sake he felt obligated to see it all the way through. "So what happens if it turns out you're wrong and this is all a big mistake?"
The Braalian spread his hands palm-up in a "who knows?" sort of a gesture. "Then I'll be sorry," he said. "Maybe. I don't know. But to tell you the truth, Kolkin, spending a lifetime wondering what would have happened if I'd had the guts to go back would drive me sprocking crazy."
"Heh." Kolkin scratched at the back of his neck, shook his head, and let it go. "Can't talk you out of anything, like I said. I guess I just hate seein' a man eatin' his heart out over a woman who don't appreciate him."
Dyrk put a hand flat against his own chest over his heart, feigning a wince. "Ouch," he laughed. "A bit close to home there." The grin he flashed was quick and easy and without any shadow of uncertainty. "I know you're just trying to look out for me, and I appreciate it... but I have to go back."
Kolkin waved a hand at him with a dismissive "pff" of exhaled breath. "Yeah, yeah," he said. "I finally get a partner mostly trained right and what's he do but go off and make me break a new one in all over again. Ungrateful squaj."
"I bet the next guy fights you for who gets to be bad cop, too."
"Not a chance," Kolkin scoffed. "I'm too good at bad cop."
Dyrk laughed, and then he hitched his bag's carry-strap a little more securely onto his shoulder. "Look," he said, "it's time for me to get out of here. But thanks, Kolkin." He offered out a hand. "It's been good working with you."
"Same." The Legion flight ring was a hard metal pressure against Kolkin's hand when he gripped Dyrk's. He chose not to comment on it. "I better hear from you, if hangin' out with your Legionnaire pals don't make you too good to talk to cops."
"I'll keep in touch," Dyrk promised.
"Hope it works out for you."
"Yeah." Dyrk ducked his head briefly, and for just a moment, the good cheer and the certainty seemed to slip a little. "Yeah, me, too."
He left without looking back.