Jessica Devlin whimpered softly and shifted her weight in a futile attempt to ease her current discomfort. She immediately regretted this course of action as sharp pains shot up through her spine and into her neck. She moaned and wondered if the pain medication would ever kick in.
'At least I'm back in my own bed,' she mused.
Things had begun to go wrong almost as soon as she sat down at her desk the previous Monday. The younger members of the HPCU were in the process of going through old case files and relocating them to the basement storage facilities while the two senior members supervised and occasionally gave tips.
"Remember, lift from the knees, Danny!" Stark called out helpfully from the comfort of his office.
Danny, who had been right behind Jessica at the time, gave a disgruntled snort and hefted the large box he was holding even higher before continuing on his way, not noticing the stack of files in his path. As would be expected, seconds later he tripped over them and fell forward. Luckily for him, both he and the box landed on something soft. Unfortunately for Jessica, that soft landing happened to be her. The edge of the box slammed into her right shoulder, eliciting a strangled yelp from her. Time seemed to slow down as the full weight of Danny and his burden settled forcefully on top of Jessica's back, which in turn caused her upper body to settle forcefully against the top of her desk. There was a sickening crunch and the room went still.
The silence was finally broken by a muffled "Kk…kk…" sounds coming from the stricken woman, her fingers twitching slightly.
Within seconds she was surrounded by her coworkers. A visibly shaken Danny slid gracelessly and, fortunately for him, unnoticed, onto the floor.
Jessica ignored the small crowd of worried faces around her and tried to push her upper body off the desk with one arm.
"'M fine," she muttered unconvincingly. "I-" she was cut off unexpectedly when her hand slipped in the small pool of blood on her desk and she found herself right back where she started.
The world did not instantly go black. It would have been better if it had. Instead, everything around her blurred and began spinning around nauseously. She was vaguely aware of someone shouting, but she couldn't make sense of anything that was being said.
'Well, it's not my problem,' she thought hazily as she slipped into blessed unconsciousness.
Some time later she opened her eyes and dimly realized that she was in an ambulance.
"What-" she began, but stopped when someone placed a comforting hand on her forehead.
"It's all right, Jess. We'll be at the hospital soon and they'll pump you full of morphine," said the owner of the hand, whom she vaguely recognized as Sebastian Stark.
Since Jessica currently felt as though she'd been run over by a semi which had then backed up and run over her again just to be sure, morphine sounded pretty nice. She closed her eyes again and let the paramedics work their magic without protest. Not once did she think to question why Sebastian of all people had been allowed to ride with her to the hospital, though this was mainly because the intense pain throughout her upper body was taking up most of her attention.
When the remainder of the HPCU arrived at the hospital later that afternoon, they found Sebastian lounging in a chair in the waiting room.
"How is she?" Raina asked worriedly.
"Dislocated shoulder, ripped muscle, cracked ribs, broken nose, bruised jaw and two massive shiners," Sebastian recited automatically. "I can tell she's feeling better, though, because she's made two nurses cry already."
"That's our Jess," Madeleine said approvingly.
"When can we go see her?" asked Raina.
Sebastian shrugged. "The doctor just went in to talk to her, so it's probably best to wait for a while after he comes out before anyone else goes in."
"Huh?" Danny cocked his head to the side in confusion.
"It's just that I doubt they're going to let her go home any time this week, and I can't see her being too happy about that. She will be looking for a target at which to unleash her rage, and that's not going to be me this time," he replied.
As if on cue, a beefy male nurse hurried past, choking back sobs and trying to discreetly wipe tears from his face. Shortly thereafter he was followed by a tall, elderly and currently very shell-shocked doctor mumbling Nietzsche quotes under his breath.
"Three," Sebastian muttered absentmindedly.
His coworkers stared at the small procession in mute horror.
Madeleine was the first to speak up. "Maybe we should go in one at a time to start with. Danny, why don't you go in first, since you're the one who fell on her?" she suggested helpfully.
Danny opened his mouth to protest, but Sebastian cut him off. "We can't send Danny in; we just got him. I haven't even had the chance to break him in properly. Raina, you go. She likes you best."
"But Madeleine's the one who's always trying to get into her pants," Raina said hurriedly.
"So is Sebastian!" Madeline replied.
Before the argument could get any more heated, the solution to their problem walked into the waiting room. Mayor Delgado and D.A. Cutler strolled up, and the members of the HPCU exchanged small yet sinister smiles.
"Jess is in room 709," Sebastian said before either of the new arrivals had a chance to speak.
"And she's taking visitors," Raina added.
Delgado stared at them suspiciously. "So why aren't you in there with her, then?"
"Because we're trying to decide where we want to go to eat later and we didn't want to do it in front of her since she's stuck with hospital food," Madeleine lied quickly.
"I'm sure she'd love to see you two," Raina added sweetly.
Both men scoffed. "Pfft, right. But I haven't really spoken with her since the election and I suppose this is probably the safest time get it over with," Delgado said, chuckling.
Cutler looked slightly confused by this, but joined in with the mayor's laughter regardless.
Sebastian smiled—or at any rate bared his teeth—and watched as Cutler and Delgado headed down the hall to Jessica's room.
Madeleine waited until the two men were out of earshot before saying, "Well, better them than us."
"Now all we have to do is sit back and wait," Raina said, leaning against the wall.
"We're all going to Hell for this, you know," Danny said casually.
"I'm going to Hell for many, many reasons," Sebastian said, "but this definitely isn't one of them."
It wasn't long before their victims reappeared. Cutler's face was twitching slightly and Delgado was fervently making the sign of the Cross. The mayor continued on towards the elevator without once looking at anyone else. Cutler, however, stopped and turned to Sebastian. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Then he shook his head and whimpered quietly before following Delgado.
Sebastian waited until the two men were out of earshot, then said, "Christ, Jess is going to be bragging about this for months."
"So, do you think she's got it all out of her system now?" Danny asked.
"Ha! No, but that probably took the edge off. It's probably safe now," Sebastian replied. "Relatively speaking, anyway."
"It's probably best if we all go in at once. That way, her rage can spread evenly over all of us instead of raining down on just one person," Madeleine suggested.
"You all make her sound like some kind of vicious, bloodthirsty animal," Raina said, shaking her head in disapproval.
The other three stared at her incredulously.
"Have you not been paying attention for the past ten minutes?" Madeleine asked snidely.
"Raina, she's much scarier than any wild animal," Sebastian said. "Even the most bloodthirsty beast can only destroy your body. It can't destroy your soul along with it."
"That was my point, actually," Raina replied. "It's really not a fair comparison."
"Oh, well, in that case, I agree," Madeleine said.
"We can apologize to the rabid beasts of the world after we let Jessica know that we still love her even though her face currently looks like someone played soccer with it," said Sebastian, getting up.
He headed off down the hall, motioning for the others to follow him. When he got to Jessica's room, he knocked twice, then walked in without waiting for an answer. His subordinates trailed in behind him and found Jessica patiently telling a young candy-striper in detail the various reasons why no one would ever love her. It wasn't long before the girl ran out of the room in tears and Jessica acknowledged her latest guests.
"And the day just gets better and better," she said sarcastically.
"I see you've already changed into your hospital gown. You should have told me; I would have been happy to help you with that," Sebastian said, smiling innocently as he sat down beside her bed.
"Bite me," she replied automatically.
"We really ought to wait until the children leave, darling," he said cheerfully. "So what'd the doctor say?"
She glared at him, but chose to let his remark slide for the time being.
"I'm stuck here for a week, so I'm going to need all of you to take care of some stuff for me," she said.
"We'll be happy to help," Madeleine replied eagerly.
"Glad to hear it. First off, Danny," she said, attempting to incline her head towards him and giving up with a grimace of pain.
"Yeah?" he replied nervously.
"I'm going to need you to stay out of my sight for the next month, starting now."
"Sounds fair," he said, edging towards the door.
"The ban may end up being extended at some point, but if that happens I'll have someone let you know, so don't worry," she said coolly.
"Right, got it!" he called back to her as he made a break for it, knowing full well that he'd dodged a bullet.
When he'd gone, she acknowledged her female coworkers. "Raina and Madeleine, I'm going to need you two to empty out my pantry and refrigerator of anything that could go bad during the week. Feel free to take it home with you. I'll also need you to check my mail every day and bring the important stuff here."
"Got it," Raina said, nodding.
"Hey, wait a minute," Sebastian protested. "Why them and not me?"
Jessica rolled her eyes. "For one thing, I don't trust you not to empty out my entire kitchen of anything edible, and for another, I don't trust you not to go through my underwear drawer."
Sebastian nodded in acceptance. Even he couldn't argue the sense of this.
"Fair enough, but if you don't want people going through your unmentionables, why are you sending Madeleine?" he asked, ignoring the glower that the young woman sent his way. Being glared at by multiple women was nothing new to him.
Jessica thought about this for a moment, then said, "Good point. Raina, why don't you ask Isaac to help you out?"
Raina smirked. "No problem."
"Great. My keys are in my purse. I want to make this very clear, though: no one is to touch my car. I just had Georgette washed."
"Understood," Raina replied, heading for the door.
"And if you have sex in my house, be sure to clean up afterwards!" Jessica called after her.
None of them clearly heard Raina's reply, but each of them had a pretty good idea as to what it might have been.
Jessica laughed softly before turning her attention back to the matters at hand. "Now, Madeleine, what I want you to do instead is take over antagonizing Cutler for me until I get back. Nothing major, just do what I do."
"Make bitchy remarks about his height, subtly imply that he's never satisfied a woman, lace all comments to him with contempt and salt his coffee at every chance," Madeleine recited cheerfully.
"Add in a few bald jokes and you're golden," Jessica replied proudly.
"I'm on it," Madeleine said, cracking her knuckles. "I want you to know that I take this very seriously."
"I'm counting on it," said Jessica.
Madeline gave her the thumbs up signal and went off to do her bidding.
Sebastian was beginning to look peeved at this point. "Again, I'm forced to ask, why not me?"
"Because you do that anyway," Jessica replied.
"Point," he said, looking somewhat mollified.
Jessica smirked and went on, "Besides, I have something much better in mind for you."
Sebastian grinned and leaned in closely. "I'm all ears."