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The Only Rose Without a Thorn

By Quillblade

The two children raced around the huge room, leaping up onto chairs, bouncing off the sofa, rolling under the grand table. The great house echoed with their laughter and screams of delight, until eventually they became too exhausted to run any more, and the chaser caught up with the runner. Panting heavily, the blonde-haired child plucked the piece of cutlery from her red-haired friend's hand, and held it aloft in triumph. "You are under arrest, Nylessa Drakely, for the theft of this silver spoon."

They managed to keep their serious expressions for a few seconds more, and then collapsed to the carpet in a giggling heap. "Oh, my.." Lessa gasped, after she had managed to get her breath back. "I never knew playing cops and robbers was so much fun! When you slid on your back under the table and almost grabbed me.. how'd you do that?"

"I saw it on the holo-v last night, only they used a car and the space was kinda tighter." Chloe Widgeon reached up and tugged her messed up braids back into something resembling order. One of the ribbons fell off, so she took off the other and shoved them both in a pocket. "Let's play again!"

Nylessa put a hand up to her heart. "Oh, no, I couldn't run any more... maybe after lunch, when my parents get home." Her mother and father had gone to the airport to pick up her half-sister who was coming out to stay for the weekend.

"Okay," Chloe smiled.

As she was the first to stand, Lessa held out her hand and helped her older friend up, and then looked down at herself in despair. "Mother's going to be furious if she finds me with carpet hairs all over this dress."

"Here, I'll help you," Chloe offered, and started brushing her down.

The two children had been friends since they first met each other at school, when Chloe was eight and Nylessa was four. Even with the age difference between them, five years later they were still best friends, and it would never have occurred to either of them that it mightn't last forever. They were friends now, and they always would be. Nothing could change that.

And then Milven, the Drakely's butler, came into the room. The two girls stopped and looked at him; Chloe noted the redness around his eyes, as if he'd been crying just recently, and his normally uncreased suit hung crooked, as though it had been put on in a hurry. "What's the matter, Milven?" Nylessa asked.

The old man knelt sat down in a nearby chair and beckoned her over. The red-haired girl climbed up onto his lap, while Chloe sat on the floor where she'd been standing. "There's been an accident, Nysa," Milven said softly. "Your parents and sister were in a car crash on the way home..." Here he paused. Nylessa's eyes were wide and scared. "They were taken to hospital, but.. I'm sorry, Lessa, they didn't make it."

For what seemed forever, there was complete silence. And then with a wail the little girl flung herself off his lap and ran out of the room. Chloe heard her crying all the way up the stairs, until her bedroom door slammed shut, blocking it from her hearing. She bit her wobbling lip, hard, in an effort to keep from crying herself, and looked over at Milven. He hadn't moved. "Wh.. what's going to happen to her?"

He blinked slowly, and then looked toward the door. "I don't know," he said sincerely. "I don't know." Sighing, he rose to his feet. "I'll ring your mother now and see if she can't pick you up early."

"But I wanna stay with Lessa!"

"She needs to be alone for a while, Chloe," the butler said gently. "Come with me, child."

Taking his hand she followed him out into the hallway, and as she passed the stairwell she craned her neck to look up - Nylessa's door was shut tight. But she refused to leave just like that; pulling away from Milven she ran up the stairs and knocked on her friend's door. "Lessa, Lessa, can I come in?"

The sobbing broke off for a moment. "No! Just go away!"

Chloe stepped back, stung. "All... all right," she said finally. The sobbing resumed, and she stood there awkwardly, until she noticed the butler heading toward her. "Lessa, will I see you tomorrow? It's hockey practice tomorrow..."

She got no reply, and at that point Milven took her hand again with a small frown, shook his head slowly and led her back downstairs. Chloe tried to wait for a reply, but none came.

The next day Nylessa was sent to live with an aunt of hers, somewhere near the far-off city of Keltor. She gave no good-byes, and Chloe never saw her best friend again.

*****

Eleven years passed.

The rain thundered down from the hulking black clouds over Keltor City, shutting off the moonlight to let only a few miserably guttering street lamps set the slick wet street glittering as though covered in diamonds. Only the insane would be out in weather like this; insane, or those who had a job to do. Standing in the downpour with no umbrella, the rain pounding on her peaked cap like the ratter of drumbeats, Chloe decided she was both. Water dripped down behind her night-vision shades as she stood there, waterproof cellphone-talkie in one hand and a revolver in her other, and she blinked it from her eyes. A hissing sound came from her phone and she jerked it up to her ear. "...dammit, I lost her... Widgeon, she's coming your way..."

"Heard. I'll meet her."

She smiled faintly, switched her talkie off, and tucked it safe into her jacket. Quickly, she backed into an intersecting street, and waited at the corner with her back against the wall. The soft sound of footsteps arrived just a few minutes later, and a shadow came out of the rain, running fast and flinging a look over her shoulder. Chloe darted from the street, stopped in front of the shadow and lashed out with a boot. The unactivated saber hilt flew out of the girl's hand, landing in the gutter some feet away.

The girl cursed something too garbled to make out, and the policewoman jumped back as a knife flashed out and nearly caught her across the stomach; retaliating, Chloe flicked up the little spotlight on her revolver and shone it into the thief's eyes. Dropping back, the girl skidded slightly on the slick street, backflipped to catch her balance again and then dove for her saber. But Chloe had expected this, and as the thief's hand grabbed the hilt the policewoman's boot came down hard on it. When the girl went to use her knife again, Chloe dropped her weight to the other foot and kicked her on the chin with such force the thief was flipped onto her back, and sat up spitting blood.

But her triumph was short-lived; the girl spun around, pushed up onto her hands and hit Chloe soundly in the stomach with both feet. The cop joined her quarry in the puddles. For a time they sat and glared at each other, too winded to move, until Chloe caught her breath sufficiently to say: "You are under arrest, Nylessa Drakely, for the theft of this silver spoon."

The other's glare became a stare. "What...?"

"Sergeant Widgeon of the Keltor City Force," Chloe said softly, not entirely because she hadn't the breath to snap it out as usual. "And you, Drakely, are under arrest. You..."

"Chloe?" Nylessa's eyes couldn't get any wider. "Oh my... I can't believe it! Chloe, you've grown up, you're a policewoman, you.. you.. Why are you pointing that thing at me?"

Her revolver was in her hand, the safety catch off. "I'll repeat it one more time. Nylessa Drakely, you are under arrest for the theft of the Beaumont Emerald. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used as evidence in a court of law. You have the right to a lawyer, and you have the right to make a phone call. This phone call will, of course, be traced - so by all means, Drakely, phone home."

"You're arresting me?! I thought we were friends!"

"Once, maybe," Chloe said coolly, tightening her grip on the gun. "But not any more. I will hold you here until my partner comes, I won't shoot to kill if you try to escape, but don't think I won't shoot at all."

"You've changed," said Nylessa sadly. "You're hard now."

"If I want to survive, I have to be."

"What happened to the Chloe I knew?"

"I put her behind me, a long way behind me." Without taking her eyes off the thief, Chloe took out her phone and called her partner. "Cardinal? I've got her. Bruised? Not much. No, me neither. Get over here." She clicked the phone off and tucked it away again. Nylessa was regarding her with a kind of melancholy amusement; a smile through the tears look. "Now, I said you had the right to remain silent, so please start exercising that right."

The girl sighed. "I'm not going to take this sitting down, you know," she said, apparently oblivious to the bad pun, "as much as I wish I could stay with you and catch up on old times."

"There are no old times to catch up on." Come on, Cardinal.. hurry up, will you? she thought.

"I loved you like a sister, Chloe."

The policewoman was glad she had her nightshades on, hiding anything in her eyes. They were getting suspiciously moist at the corners. "As did I. That makes no difference now, Drakely, you have crossed the law - numerous times. There is only black and white to me, there are no shades of gray. A right side and a wrong side. I am on the right side, the side of the police. You are on the wrong side, part of a guild of thieves. Our old friendship doesn't matter any more."

Nylessa shook her head slowly. "It matters. It matters a lot."

"Not to me."

Normally Chloe didn't believe in lying unless she had to; she didn't have to now, yet she sensed she was lying. It wasn't a very nice feeling, not knowing if you meant what you said. She was gripping the revolver so tight now that her knuckles had gone pale. "Not to me, not any more. So be quiet." The pain in her stomach was gone, and her breath was back; she took this opportunity to get to her feet.

She held out her hand. "Give me the emerald."

A shrug. "All right." Nylessa dug into her pouch and withdrew the large, irregularly cut green gemstone. Chloe gave it a quick study, and then slipped it into her pocket.

"Thank you."

"Not a problem."

Chloe looked hard at her. "Get up, Drakely."

The girl stood up.

"Turn around."

She turned around.

Allowing herself a tiny smile, Chloe briefly considered asking her to do a jig, just to see how far this false tractability would go. But instead she bent down and retrieved the thief's saber, flipping it in her hand. "What do you see?"

"A street, one I've passed through quite a bit. Lots of shops on either side, most of which have no security. They'd be easy pickings if I was after that sort of stuff, but I'm not interested in clocks or stuffed toys, or holiday brochures or television sets. Although a new radio might be nice."

Chloe played about with the saber as Nylessa spoke, activating the blade of solidified electricity and gently dragging the tip along the ground; it left a thin white line behind, pale even when the slick of the street washed over it a nanosecond after it was drawn there. "That's the difference, Drakely. You see what is there to steal. I see what is there to protect. I see a street full of places which are the livelihoods of people in this city. People who have jobs at these shops, people who own the shops. Criminals such as you take away part of this livelihood whenever you steal something. You leave the lives of these people broken. They become scared, scared it might happen again. Have you ever had something taken from you that you needed?"

"Yes."

That simple answer stopped her cold. "You-- what?"

"I have. I've lost my parents, my sister..." She turned around. "And my childhood best friend."

For a long while they stood there and stared at each other; just stood and stared, water trickling down their backs, pooling at the centre of Chloe's cap. Stood there, chilly water sliding past their feet and raindrops splashing from the sky onto the street around them. Except for the low drumming of those raindrops, there was no sound. Neither said a word. Then Nylessa raised a hand to wipe rain from her eyes - or was it not the rain at all? - and the spell was broken.

Chloe blinked very slowly. Then she raised the revolver, which had slipped to her side, and fired. The shot ripped through the sky above them, a deafening noise that made the rain sound as quiet as the pattering of vermin feet.

"Get out of here, Drakely," Chloe said harshly. "Out, go, run away. This is the chance I'm giving you, and it's the only one. You can either take it and come across the tracks, or go back to your thieves guild, I don't care - but if you go back, I swear, you'll have no more chances. The next time I catch you I won't let you go."

Her onetime friend smiled bitterly, as she took the saber and backed toward the intersection. "Oh, don't worry, Sergeant. You won't ever catch me again."

And Nylessa quickly became just a shadow, running down the road. Chloe, under the white light of the streetlamp, watched her go into the darkness, until she disappeared.

"Dramatic," a wry voice commented from the other side of the street.

She turned slowly and regarded her partner with annoyance.

"Don't worry, Widgeon. I won't tell tales to certain superiors. That would get us both in trouble I'd rather not be in."

"How long were you there?"

"Long enough." The older man pushed himself off the wall, stuck his hands into his coat as he sauntered over. "I can't say I think you did the lawful thing," Rouen Cardinal admitted as he reached her. "But I think you did the right thing. Like a best friend would." He smiled, just a little bit - just a slight twitch at the corners of his mouth. "As they say, the only rose without a thorn is friendship."

Chloe clicked the safety on, and jammed her revolver into its holster. "That friendship is over, Cardinal. We have the emerald back... Unfortunately, the thief slipped through our fingers. So let's just go."

 

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