The most poignant memory Captain Fareeha Amari has of her mother dates all the way back to when she was a teenager.
She was maybe 18 years old at the time - she can’t seem to recall her age then very accurately.
Her mother had been cleaning and loading up her sniper rifle, slowly and methodically, just idly sitting by in her office. It’s one of those months - one where she hadn’t been deployed overseas somewhere, fighting another man’s war. But even when she wasn’t deployed, her rifle was never found far from her side. And as much as she hated shooting to kill, she hated injustice even more.
Ana Amari always did err on the side of martyrism.
(Fat lot of good she did - Cairo is no better for it and it’s underbelly of corruption and crime continues to fester today, a stinking, rotting plague eating her city from the inside out.)
At that time, her relationship with her mother was tenuous at best, but it hadn’t stopped her from crossing over the threshold and picking up one of her spare bullets to look at it. It hadn’t been completely metal and it held a swirling solution of golden swells and purple undercurrents - and it was really quite pretty, from what she remembers.
“Nanotechnology,” Ana Amari had said shortly, dry voice breaking the terse silence. “That’s what’s causing the swirls.”
“Isn’t nanotechnology meant to heal?” She snarked back acerbically. “I don’t think the doctor who created this would be very pleased with what you’re doing with it.” She had rolled it around in her palm, up and down, up and down, watching as it sent the golden waves into a frenzy.
“Sometimes,” Ana had said, looking very much like she was furious with something. “It is easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission.”
Fareeha knows now that Ana Amari was furious at herself.
She had looked down at where the bullet was sitting in the palm of her hand, heavy and solid. She remembers thinking about how beautiful it was in it’s ethereal appearance, but she also remembers how chilled she had been by the knowledge that it had been designed for war. It was so beautiful and golden - the bullet had started off holding life within its thin shell - and was subsequently mechanized to kill.
She feels much the same way these days.
Her mother’s words ring in her ears as she strolls into a beat up church nearly fourteen years later.
She is definitely not Catholic, but some of the soldiers who served under her were, and she rather likes the idea of confession. (It’s sad, how much you learn about a man on his deathbed.) The church is small and tucked away in a forgotten area of Cairo, worn down by years of neglect - it’s immensely jarring, to see a place of blind worship so rundown by negligence. As she enters, she gestures towards the reconciliation room, and the priest nods at her. She walks over slowly, purposefully, and the small church echoes back the clicking of her shoes, and the faint whirring and hissing of her prosthetics. She sits on a stool and interlaces her hands, foregoing the sign of the cross, idly rubbing the unfeeling surface of her prosthetic with her hand.
Greeting the priest, she starts the customary introduction, faltering near the end. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been… forever since my last confession.”
“You are not Catholic, are you?” The priest asks from behind the screen.
She doesn’t answer, just fidgets on the stool, feeling suffocated by the small confessional.
The priest sighs gingerly. “Please continue.” She doesn’t quite expect that - but considering the fact that Roman Catholicism is a dying religion in Egypt, a minority at best, perhaps this priest really has nothing better to do.
“Where do I begin?” She asks wryly, a wretched half smile touching her lips. “I have killed countless men. I have fought blindly - for the protection of others, or so I am told. It’s hard telling who the bad guy is, sometimes. And I didn't once worry about the consequences of my actions - I never prayed for the family of the man I killed. It’s hard to worry about much other than survival when you’re at war.”
“Let me begin by thanking you for your service,” the priest begins. “But perhaps, the first and best step to finding absolution would be to start to forgive yourself. You must have saved countless lives.”
She hums noncommittally. “Try telling that to the family of the man I killed. But the war is over now - at least, it is for me.” She laughs humorlessly, kicking out with her prosthetic legs and squeezing tight with artificial fingers. “But I still feel angry,” she admits, dropping her hands to her side and slamming a solid fist into her metallic thigh. The priest says nothing over the screech and clang of metal and she continues. “It’s not every second, not every minute, not even every day, but sometimes, just randomly, my blood feels like boiling over - as if there is mercury flowing through my veins, poisoning me from the inside out, and I just… work myself into such a frenzy. I see the world and it’s tinted red.”
“This is natural. Seek guidance from the Lord, and He will lend you His strength.”
“I have enough strength on my own,” she bites back suddenly, standing to leave. “You were right. I’m not Catholic, and I didn’t come here for a true confessional,” she says impulsively. “I just thought that someone should know beforehand. But please don’t waste your time forgiving me for my wrongs, Father. I think that they have only just begun.”
“That’s not how this works. Perhaps we should speak some more before you do anything hasty?” The priest says in a rush. She can see movement behind the screen as he stands.
“Thanks be to God,” she says with finality. She takes assured strides out of the room and over the church’s threshold, her back to the stunned priest as she walks farther and farther away.
She walks the ten miles home because her legs don’t ever feel tired, and she kind of misses the feeling of fatigue. She stops around three counts of assault and two counts of petty theft on her way back and she almost feels sickened by the crime - but there’s a little nagging part of her that enjoys the sudden pump of adrenaline when she steps in. She’s excited.
It wears off by the time she’s home.
A lot of things just seem dull now - her minimalistic, almost spartan style of living, the monotonous simplicity of life as a civilian. It almost makes her miss the hectic mess of war - in a really fucked up way. She still has nightmares every night, but at least they were justified when she was serving. But now she’s down 3 limbs and still stuck with a mind that was fucked over by fighting some rich man’s war.
She looks at the stack of letters addressed to her, turning attention away from the bold HSI emblazoned on them.
She instead turns to glance at the deactivated mask and eye piece she had sported back in the army, and laments over a thin layer of dust coating her Raptora Mark VI. The metals glints in the dying sunlight, flushed a morbid shade of carmine. Her fingers hover over it and god, does she want to don the suit again, her fingertips itch even as she brushes their unfeeling surfaces over the mask and scores three thin lines in the dust.
The Raptora Mark VI was just an experimental design when they gave it to her - the army must’ve decommissioned and deactivated them by now, not that the thought makes her want to try it any less.
Picking the mechanized mask up and blowing dust off of it, she brings it up to her face, fitting it over her nose and mouth and clicking it shut around the back of her neck. The filters puff and hiss lightly as she breathes through them and her vision goes red as she fixes the eyepiece onto the right side of her mask.
It doesn’t blink on though, probably due to a lack of a viable power source.
The rest of her suit is probably lying around her apartment somewhere.
The Raptora means something to her - maybe it’s honor or duty or instinct - either way, it’s a mental and emotional commitment she could not and would not back away from.
She flips the eyepiece up and away from her face, returning her vision back to normal, and goes to her room.
She’s on a steep cliff with her fingers slipping off the precipice - and when she finds the neck piece of her suit and wires everything up, her stomach hollows out. She knows she's insane for even bothering to think about vigilantism, but she can’t help the wolf grin that swallows up her features with all of it’s sharp, victorious edges. She flips her eyepiece back down and it blinks and whirs into action.
“Raptora systems online,” chimes a mechanical voice through her earpiece. “Systems at 30 percent. Suit disconnected. Filtration systems at max. Visor active.”
“Thanks ATHENA,” she murmurs.
She can’t actually find the majority of her suit, so she just wears her old catsuit and a carbon fiber piece that covers her chest and back. It won’t stop a bullet, but it’s light and unassuming, which is more important to her now anyway. She throws on a hoodie over everything, and the hood barely obscures the points of her earpiece.
Here is the thing: she is a soldier and she has seen enough death and caused enough deaths that she would be happy - ecstatic, even - to never take another life again. But consider this: she is a soldier, and she knows when it’s better that someone stays down.
So she brings her gun.
She hopes she won’t have to use it.
She’s aware that she probably will.
She actually doesn’t do much. It’s not surprising, given that she doesn’t really have a reliable way of knowing when things will happen. But in seedier streets and shady areas, there’s always bound to be something going on. Being a vigilante - and she sneers at this word - is more looking for things than it is doing things, she realises quickly.
She keeps her head down and her hood up. It’s surprising how much she blends in. Her eyepiece and mask don’t see much action as she just uses her 5’11” frame to warn off shady characters from following innocents back to their car.
It continues in this fashion for a week. She’ll mark out someone with a gun holstered or a knife in their hands and she’ll bump into them and disarm them, and bodily shove them back. She doesn’t care if her shoulder guard cuts into them.
Two weeks after her first patrol, when she repeats her routine and shoves into an armed man following a young couple back to their car, and suddenly two more men appear, she realises that she’s in deeper than she expected.
“Back off,” Fareeha mutters, shoving into the man and reaching for his knife. Stopping short when he’s prepared for this and accordingly jerks the knife away from her reach, she looks around and sees two others with knives.
“I don’t think so, man,” the first man says, leering at her. “See, me and my friends are sick of you playing hero and sticking your nose into our business. So maybe you should back off.” He brandishes his knife and his friends creep a little closer. “But we’re laidback guys, you know, so if you don’t mess with us, we won’t mess with you… much.”
He grins and winds up his slash far too much for far too long, giving her ample time to dodge out of the way and send a quick elbow to his temple.
As he howls in pain and drops to the floor, disoriented, the other two advance towards her. Most bystanders flee the scene and she hears panicked calls being made in the distance.
They swing towards her, disjointed and awkward, and she’s easily able to maneuver their knives away from her and disarm them. Weaponless, angry, and humiliated, they come at her with renewed vigor, swinging a fist at her midriff and pulling at her hood. One of them punches towards her face, a mean right hook that catches her off guard while she’s still winded, and it slams right into her mask. The man swears loudly and her head snaps to the right.
Her cheekbone throbs from the impact and she can taste the metallic tang of blood across the flat of her tongue.
The other man comes in with a vicious kick and she sprawls across the floor, swearing under her breath as she attempts to pick herself up. They're absolutely relentless with their blows, so she grits her teeth and takes them as they come.
She doesn’t know how long she spends on the floor, waiting for the punches to subside, but at some point, they stop.
“What the fuck,” one of them swears, eyeing her mask and getup.
This is all the hesitation she needs: she’s angry now - her body aches and she can taste blood and she’s quite literally seeing red.
She snarls at them and the sound hisses out of her mask, distorted and inhuman.
She rushes at the one nearest to her.
He reacts instantly and slashes out with his knife.
There's a loud rasp and rip as her hoodie splits. She ignores it in favor of gripping his collar, feeling the rough fabric bunch up under her good hand. She can just barely hear the humming of her arm over distant sirens as she winds it back and hits him across the face.
His friend is shouting, pulling, punching at her, trying to get her to stop.
She doesn’t - not until the man’s limp and she’s got multiple slashes across her back and in her suit from the man behind her.
She drops the man she’d been holding and pulls out her pistol, aiming it right in between the second man’s eyes.
He drops his knife instantly.
She fires one silenced shot at his feet and bolts as soon as she hears the sirens in the distance get louder.
Her legs hold a steady pace, never faltering as she runs, heart pounding.
That’s enough excitement for one night. She’ll be black and blue in the morning, assuming she doesn’t bleed out from her other various wounds, but she’s never quite felt more alive.
She ducks into an alleyway two miles away, breathing hard and grinning through the pain, and she thinks to herself that maybe the proud Amari’s are all doomed with the blood of martyrs.
Fareeha is actually not sure how she makes it through the night, given how much blood she’s lost. She ditches her mask, eyepiece, and the remaining scraps of her suit, wrapping it up in her hoodie and tucking them into an alley somewhere and stumbles her way to the closest hospital.
Her wounds aren’t actually all too deep - the men were more bark than bite, obviously too reluctant or afraid to land any fatal blows. Either way, she applies pressure to her wounds as best as she can, and fumbles her way to the front desk.
“I’ve been mugged,” she rasps.
She’s carted into the emergency room immediately.
Here’s the good news about prosthetics: they don’t show if you’ve been fighting or not. With her body bruised different shades of purple, blue, and black on top of different cuts, and her knuckles free of any bruising, no one questions whether or not she’d really been jumped.
After they finish stitching her up, she’s asked if she wants to file a report with the police and whether or not she’s willing to answer some questions about the incident. She shakes her head, pays her bills, and leaves. The hospital is off limits now; it’s far too risky and it leaves a paper trail a mile long.
She knows basic first aid from her years as a soldier.
She’ll be fine.
Fareeha loops back around to the alley she was in earlier, picking up the pieces of her suit that she had dropped there earlier, and starts the long trek back home. It’s too early for anyone to be out and about on the streets, so she takes her time and doesn’t expend any effort masking the pain each step causes her.
When she gets back home, she washes the blood out of her hoodie in her bathroom sink, and watches as the water turns a ruddy color that greatly resembles rust before she drains it, nose crinkled. She trashes the hoodie after that.
She turns the television on and lets it drone on in the background while she cooks a quick breakfast.
She falls asleep on her couch halfway through the weather report.
She wakes up a couple hours later to a breaking news report, feeling well rested for the first time since she’s been back from the frontlines. She tunes into the report with a frown when she hears the word vigilante.
“- the old gods are back,” the man on the screen says frantically, as the interviewer tries to calm him down. “What other explanations are there? I know what I saw. I saw the ears, the red eye, I even saw a snout . He was unstoppable. I watched those guys beat him for minutes on end, and he just got up like it didn’t even matter. I watched him get cut up and continue getting those guys like he wasn’t even phased. That shit’s not human,” he rambles.
The screen cuts back to the anchors, and a grainy picture of her profile shows up, mask protruding proudly, red eyepiece glowing, spiked earpieces standing up like ears. A small headline runs beneath it in red, reading, “Servant of Anubis?”
“So there you have it, viewers. A new masked man running around town, and it -”
She turns the television off, sneering as she tosses the remote across the couch. Her stitches pull tight and her body aches in protest, but she gets up on her feet quickly, upset with this turn of events. Cairo will be on the lookout for her now, and there is no silver lining to this notoriety.
She takes a week to recover. Her stitches fall out, bruises fade, and the city starts to forget.
She gets questioning looks at the shelter she volunteers at, but many of the people who pass through there are veterans themselves, and they understand. She’s one of the luckier ones. Her mother had left behind a sizeable amount for her to inherit, and she made enough from the army to provide for her simple lifestyle. Not everyone is as lucky as she is, though, so she spends a week to connect with them and reconsider this whole vigilante business.
It doesn’t work.
She itches for it, like an addict waiting for their next hit.
She finally understands why Ana Amari kept on going back, kept leaving to go to war, and ultimately why she left her daughter to bury an empty coffin. She really does.
She takes a week off of being a vigilante, and misses it every single day of the week. The good news is that no one knows the streets or the going ons of the streets more than homeless veterans do, and old soldiers are a chatty bunch if you get them in the right mood.
They tell her whispers of a gang operating out of Cairo, bribing police officers, judges, and officials, terrorizing anyone they come across. It’s ugly, they say, a hydra with so many heads you don’t know where to start. And when you cut one off, two more sprout.
The veterans call the gang Talon.
No one knows what they want - only what they do.
“They’re recruiting veterans off the street,” a former lieutenant tells her. “No one hates the law more than a disenfranchised war vet.”
“I think Asim went with them,” murmurs another soldier. “I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“Sounds dangerous,” she replies absently. “Sorry, but I gotta run, guys, I have some things I have to attend to.”
“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Amari?” Galal asks. “Got a hot date you’re leaving us for?”
She chuckles warmly. “Sure, you can say that.”
The table breaks into hearty laughter.
She’s out the door with a mock salute and a grin that doesn’t last five steps past the exit.
She waits until it’s sufficiently dark outside before she puts her mask and carbon fiber top on and sets out. She brings along a pair of gloves this time - only the paranoid survive.
When she arrives at the street Asim was supposedly last seen at, it’s near empty. There’s no one in sight - even ATHENA cannot find anyone out on the streets. Granted, given that the neighborhood is frequented by Talon members, staying off the streets at night is probably the smartest move.
The streetlights flicker, dim and sickly yellow. Three of them are out and the surrounding area is almost pitch black.
She waits and prowls around the area, sticking to the shadows as she waits for something, anything, to happen.
The sun claws its way up, and the birds start chirping in a fragmented melody, so she gives in and leaves.
She’s back the next night.
It becomes routine for the next couple of days. Stake the street out at night, return in the morning. Rinse, wash, repeat.
She finally gets lucky the fourth day - ATHENA alerts her to prolonged activity in an alleyway nearly a block down from where she’s currently perched on a fire escape ladder. She drops down and stands back up, movements silky smooth with automaton perfection, and starts over at a light jog, careful to mask her footsteps and breathing.
She can hear rummaging and the shift of things being moved and rearranged as she moves closer; she slows her pace.
Light swearing can be heard, curses muttered under someone’s breath as they continue to move things around in the alleyway. She runs down the alleyway parallel to where the man in question is, and swings around the back so she can sneak up behind him. Peeking from behind the brick wall, she sees him crouched next to another man, moving things this way and that way.
She shifts closer, slowly and carefully, and tasks ATHENA with a thermal scan around her.
It catches her off guard when there’s only one living heat signature. The other man is dead.
She creeps even closer, sticking to the wall and ducking behind a stack of boxes.
Her arm clinks against the wall.
The man spins around and she hears the click of a safety being disengaged.
She holds her breath.
He edges closer to where she’s hiding, and she can see his gun now from where she stands.
Desperate and cornered, she moves a box with her foot and pushes her hinged knuckles in a way she know will make them squeak.
She hears a sharp inhale and then a quick sigh before the safety on his gun gets flipped on again. “Fuckin’ rats,” she hears him swear. “Too fuckin’ early for this shit.”
She slowly releases the breath she had been holding and moves her arm away from the wall.
She takes another step closer to get a good angle on the man.
Her stomach drops.
She recognizes the gleaming dog tags around the dead man’s neck - Asim never took those damn things off.
Clenching her jaw in tightly suppressed anger, she stalks over to the man; he doesn’t notice her presence until it’s too late. She gives him a sharp and unnecessary blow across the face, and bats his gun away in the next second. Unholstering her own gun quickly, she continues and presses the muzzle of her silencer against his forehead.
The man swears through the whole process. “Fuck, shit, I’m just following orders. Please man, I haven’t done anything to harm you, I’m loyal, I promise.”
It sounds like a whole bunch of gibberish to her, so she disengages her safety.
“I’m just doing what I was told to do, man. No witnesses, yeah? That’s what we live by. I’m no rat, I’m no rat, I would never betray Talon, please, man, fuck.”
She lowers her gun, mind going a mile a minute.
“Mission report,” she says lowly, voice gruff and mechanical through the filters of her mask.
“What?” He stutters, paling.
“Report,” she says, this time lifting up her gun.
“Yeah, fuck, alright, man, put that shit down,” he yelps. “I’m staging his death, making it look like an accident ‘cause he was peeping on some op a coupla’ streets down. You know, where Mahir works, yeah? Mahir? I don’t know man, I just do grunt work. Fuck, why’d they send you anyway? I don’t know shit.”
She flips her eyepiece up.
“No witnesses,” she growls.
His eyes go wide.
“Police are saying two dead in what they’re calling a drug deal gone wrong in a line of recent -”
Fareeha switches the radio off and continues cleaning her mask.
She spends two weeks hunting down “Mahir” and finds that he’s essentially a ghost. She doubts Mahir is his real name - not that it particularly matters, but it’s difficult finding someone who flies so low under the radar.
She finds him eventually, actually. She had to resort to tracking his movements through “accidental” deaths, and ends up finding an empty warehouse around two miles away from where she had tracked down the Talon grunt.
She sets out for the warehouse around eight in the evening, even though it’s still light out thanks to Egypt’s long summer days. She’s just casing the point, nothing too extensive, so it shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, if she were to do this later at night, it would appear even more suspicious.
She’s too cocky, in the end.
Fareeha gets spotted by a guard, and she sees him reach for his gun.
And like that, she’s running.
She ditches her generic hoodie somewhere along the way so she looks different if he happens to catch up.
She makes a sharp turn into an alley and starts scrambling her way up fire escape ladders and she makes the assumption that he’ll stop chasing when the streets get more populated, but she’s dead wrong. It becomes immediately apparent that something’s wrong when she hears a scream.
Dropping down from the ladder in a panic, she ignores the creaking protest of her metallic joints as they absorb the impact and winds her way closer to where the panic is located. People are ducked down behind corners and cars, phones out, too preoccupied in their fear to spare her any attention.
She sees the man, one hand still on his gun and the other at the collar of a gangly teen, shaking him roughly.
She can’t hear what they’re saying, but she sees the teen shake his head no in terror, and she realizes in horror that the man has mistaken the youth for her, in his tall, thin appearance and his penchant for generic black hoodies.
Glaring around him and clearly realizing that he doesn’t have long before the police arrive, he starts dragging the boy away.
She’s already running towards them before she even registers that she’s moving.
She knocks into the man. Slams an elbow into his arm and hears it snap - grotesque and loud in the terse silence.
He lets the boy go instinctively. This is as far as she’s gotten in her plan.
She’s got no gun, no protective suit - just her mask and a thin eyepiece obscuring her right eye.
She pushes the boy away, and hears the explosion before anything else registers, like fireworks going off right next to her ear. He’s not aiming for anything, too preoccupied with the pain in his arm, but he’s so close and she’s an easy target.
An in and out through the shoulder, some part of her mind says.
It doesn’t hurt too much at first, but it’s probably just because she knows another more fatal shot is being lined up as she processes this fact.
Winding up a large punch with her good arm - the prosthetic one, of course - she goes in, and gives him a hard enough hit to stun him, and uses the last seconds of her shock induced bliss to land a kick on his broken joint.
She picks up his gun, ears still ringing.
And she runs. God, does she run, even though all she wants to do is lie down and close her eyes.
She keeps running.
She ignores the phones being pointed in her direction. Just keeps running.
She registers someone yelling at her but she keeps going.
Keeps going until she can’t anymore.
“I’m a doctor,” she hears through a fog of pain. “I just want to help.”
She wheezes. “No hospital,” she croaks out past the bile rising in her throat. You never get used to being shot, she notes idly.
Shock has robbed her of her coordination.
This is the end.
She sees a flash of white gold before she closes her eyes and accepts this fact.
It’s dim when Fareeha wakes up, and the first thing she notices is that she’s not in her bed. She’s lying on a small cot, hooked up to a machine - and she panics.
She jolts up, and boy, that is a bad decision because her left arm kills. Her right hand flies up to her face and clangs against her mask, metal on metal, and yeah, she’s really confused now.
“You’re up,” comes a chipper voice.
Fareeha looks around for the source of the voice. Someone is standing by the doorway, and she blinks once, twice, three times, to focus her eyes.
The woman crosses over the threshold slowly. Fareeha looks for the closest thing that could be used as a weapon. The woman stops immediately.
“You’re not in the hospital,” she says softly. “My name is Angela Ziegler, and you’re resting in one of the rooms in the free clinic I’m running here. You were shot yesterday. You’ve lost a bit of blood.”
Fareeha stays silent.
“I took your mask off earlier to check for any wounds it might’ve been hiding. But it seems to have its own filtration system and you have no head wounds, so I put it back on,” Angela says gently. “You’re in a lot of pain because you’re not on any pain medication. I figured you probably wouldn’t appreciate it.”
“Good call,” she says gruffly, voice crackling through her mask.
Angela crosses closer. Fareeha shifts up warily, and tamps down the groan of pain that shoots through her.
Angela stops again. “I just want to help,” she says, hands up.
“Because I won’t let heroes die on my watch,” she says, a subtle steely current running underneath the dulcet tones of her voice. She tilts her chin up in an unconscious show of defiance, as if challenging Fareeha.
“I’m not a hero, lady,” she grunts. She’s in no shape to protect herself though - and she is utterly and completely at this stranger’s mercy.
“Angela,” she corrects firmly, closing the last few steps easily and checking on the stitching in her left arm. “And you are. You saved that boy yesterday.”
“I was the reason he was in danger,” she sighs.
“But you saved him in the end. You took a bullet for him, quite literally.”
“Yes,” she says bemusedly, unsure why this stranger - Angela - is so dead set on defending her.
Angela doesn’t reply, and Fareeha takes this chance to take a closer look at her. Her platinum blonde hair is up in a messy ponytail, and she’s sweeping her fringe out of her eyes even as she continues to focus on Fareeha’s arm. There are deep bags underneath her brilliant blue eyes, but nothing in her demeanor belies any sign of exhaustion. Or malice, for that fact.
No, the only thing that bleeds through her manner is an eager kind of compassion.
Still, Angela’s seen her face now and she could easily identify her or turn her in, and it’s not a risk that Fareeha is willing to take. But it will go against everything she prides herself on if she harms or threatens the doctor - some protector she will be, threatening and hurting the very people she’s sworn to help.
“So you’re the vigilante on the news, then,” Angela says, finishing her check-up, snapping her gloves off, and walking over to a trashcan.
“Yes,” Fareeha replies shortly.
“I’m not going to turn you in, you know.”
“Did I say you were going to?”
“No, but if I were a vigilante sitting in the care of a doctor who’s seen my face, I’d be worrying about it,” Angela says, amusement bleeding through her tone. “If I turned in everyone I was supposed to, I’d lose over half of the people who come in this clinic. I try not to concern myself with crime; I’m a doctor. I help those in need.”
“Cute sentiments,” Fareeha says drily. “Forgive me if I don’t take them at face value. A lot of people can talk the talk - not a lot can walk the walk.”
Angela considers this for a long time, observing her with pale blue eyes. “Is that why you’re doing this then?”
“Proving you can walk the walk by putting a mask and running around the city, hunting for criminals?”
Fareeha looks at her sharply, a frown creasing her brows.
Angela shrugs, unconcerned. “It’s a simple question.”
“I’m doing this for Cairo, not so I can prove something to law enforcement. I really couldn’t give less of a shit about what they think about me. Crime has so much grown in the last three years and I took an oath when I joined the- I swore I’d protect the innocent. This is the only way I can uphold it,” she cuts in quickly. Angela already knows too much about her as is.
Angela hums and gives her a quick once over, smiling delicately and promptly changing the subject. “I tuned up your prosthetics a little bit, although I don’t have any plates here for replacement. Yours are a little dinged up. You’ll have to ask to get those made from your primary physician.”
“You know how to work prosthetics?"
Angela arches a dainty brow. “I paved the way for modern day prosthetics - currently, I hold the patent for the direct neural interfacing used in most prosthetics.”
“A true renaissance woman.”
Angela laughs, and her eyes wink into crescents while her hand shoots up to cover her mouth. It’s a strange thing to hear something so warm echoing in the draughty examination room.
A smile plays at the corners of Fareeha’s mouth, unbidden and obscured by her mask. She tamps it down quickly.
“You have quite the quick wit,” Angela notes appreciatively.
“Thank you,” Fareeha replies, a little confused.
“Anyway,” Angela continues cheerily. “You’re all done here. Go home and get some rest. How should I contact you?”
“I- What? You shouldn’t be contacting me. Thank you for your help today, Doctor, but it’s neither safe nor particularly legal to continue helping me."
“Don’t be daft,” Angela says, cheery demeanor dropping in an instant, and suddenly stern. “You won’t go to a hospital and I know you won’t stop. We have to have some form of communication in case something happens.”
Fareeha stays silent, just slowly shifts out of bed.
In movements far too quick and efficient for a mere doctor, Angela swings closer and bodily blocks her from the exit, arms crossed tightly across her chest. And although Fareeha has easily four inches on Angela, her commanding presence and cool surety are undeniably more intimidating than size could ever be. “This isn’t like a tv show,” she explains exasperatedly. “You won’t be able to drop in whenever, and I can’t drop everything to help you. However, I can and will be able to help if I know when you’re up to something... so give me your contact information.”
Angela doesn’t budge.
Fareeha steps in closer, dwarfing the doctor, hoping intimidation will change her mind.
Angela is unimpressed.
Fareeha crosses her arms, groaning inwardly at the pain lancing up her left arm.
Angela taps her foot impatiently.
Sighing in defeat, Fareeha gestures for a pen and paper.
Angela smiles, grabs a paper towel and pen off the side table, and hands them to her.
She writes down her number, sighing when the pen snags on the towel multiple times. She hands it over to Angela, who promptly tucks it away in her pocket as if it’ll disappear if she doesn’t snatch it up immediately.
“If I had known it was this easy to get girls’ numbers, then I’d have come out so much earlier,” Angela muses slyly.
Fareeha raises her eyebrows at the comment but doesn’t deem it with a response. “Emergencies only. I won’t bother you otherwise.” She slips on her sneakers and turns to leave, only managing to take a couple steps before Angela calls out.
“Wait,” Angela interjects suddenly, still standing in the examination room. “What should I call you?”
She stays silent for a long moment, mulling the question over. “Just call me Pharah.”
“Pharah,” Angela repeats, smoothing the word over her tongue contemplatively, giving her a smile as she turns to leave again.
Fareeha turns out of the room and down the hallway, but something makes her turn back around.
Angela is sitting on the edge of the cot that she had just been lying down on, looking down at the paper towel she’d written her number on, suddenly looking so tired and small. She touches a dainty hand to her forehead, sighing and tucking the paper towel away again.
Fareeha leaves; the moment feels too private for her to intrude on. She tasks ATHENA with guiding her home, but ends up taking a taxi and thinking about blonde doctors that care far too much for their own good.
From: Unknown Number - 1:13pm
you should get a nanite patch from the pharmacy, it’ll help the healing process!
> Save this number?
From: Angela Ziegler - 2:22pm
no strenuous activities until your stitches fall out
From: Angela Ziegler - 2:24pm
doctor’s orders :)
To: Angela Ziegler - 2:25pm
Fareeha does actually end up getting a nanite patch from the nearest convenience shop, and it kind of soothes her arm. It doesn’t make too much of a difference to her - she’s always had an abnormally high pain tolerance. She heeds Angela’s warning regardless, not engaging in any stressful activities for a week. There’s an itch in her veins, a hitch in her pulse, just waiting for some action, but she ignores it, quashes it down with research.
Which is its own kind of stressful, really. She’s got little to no resources, and nothing but gossip to go off of.
She goes back to the stack of letters she’s been ignoring for too long, and tears one of them open. It’s addressed to her from Helix Security International - and as much as she has a distaste for private contractors, she needs more than she currently has available to her.
Picking up her phone, she dials the number at the bottom of the letter, hoping her arm is in good enough shape to pass the physical portion.
Three days later, they let her know that she’s got the position.
“Your decorated military career confirms what an asset you will be to HSI, Captain Amari. We look forward to working with you,” her interviewer says to her.
“Thank you,” she replies, left arm panging painfully.
From: Angela Ziegler - 4:39pm
I hope you’re not doing too much with your arm
HSI gives a suit that fends everything from rain to bullets off, in their own words.
“Hopefully it’ll only see rain and not bullets,” she says.
Her handler laughs. “Yeah, hopefully.”
She taps it, satisfied with how solid it is underneath her knuckles.
To: Angela Ziegler - 5:50pm
Is my eyepiece at your clinic?
From: Angela Ziegler - 5:59pm
if you’re inquiring about it for the reasons i think you are, then no
To: Angela Ziegler - 6:00pm
I need it back.
From: Angela Ziegler - 6:01pm
is your arm healed? are your stitches out?
To: Angela Ziegler - 6:05pm
From: Angela Ziegler - 6:06pm
if i find out you’re lying, i’m sedating you. drop by the clinic in half an hour
To: Angela Ziegler - 6:06pm
I’m not lying.
It’s obvious that Angela knows she’s lying.
She gets her eyepiece back anyway.
Angela watches her leave her clinic sadly.
Fareeha swallows thickly with her back turned.
“I cleared my schedule after 10pm,” Angela calls after Fareeha’s retreating figure.
Fareeha stops walking and turns her head to regard her in the corner of her eye. The late afternoon light is harsh on Angela’s face, and bathes her in a violent golden light - it sears a bright spot into the back of her eyelids, and her throat constricts a little. She nods and clenches her jaw and continues walking.
Angela leans against the doorframe of her little clinic and watches her go.
Fareeha comes back in hours later, hair up, mask and eyepiece on, practically holding up a slumped man.
"Please help him," she says, mask unable to filter out the tinge of desperation in her voice.
Jolting up from where she was sitting by the front desk, Angela hurries over to help her with the man, guiding them into her examination room. "Who's he? Are you hurt?"
"He's hurt. He's been stabbed."
"I can see that," Angela snaps back. "I asked if you were hurt."
"No. Help him."
Sighing through her nose but relenting, Angela turns to wash her hands. "Cut his shirt off," she says briskly. She snaps on a pair of gloves, brow furrowed.
Fareeha obliges immediately, snipping the shirt away, apologizing under her breath when the man breathes out a groan.
"God," she breathes. "He's losing so much blood. Why didn't you bring him to the hospital?" She's already cleaning around the wound, movements quick and precise.
"Can you help him?"
"I have limited options here," she says vaguely.
"Can you help him," Fareeha repeats, agitated.
"I'm trying my best," Angela replies calmly, hands still working. "You hovering over me is not helping. It would be better if you br-"
"I didn't want to bring him to a hospital," she bursts out abruptly. "I brought him to you."
Angela looks at her sharply for a brief moment, then focuses back on the man in front of her.
"I don't trust them to give him their best care," Fareeha continues, anxious.
"But you trusted that I would?"
She hesitates for less than half a second. "Slide that tray over to me," Angela continues, unfazed, wholly concentrated on saving Galal.
Fareeha moves the tray closer and then backs off.
Angela works intently, occasionally rattling off demands. It's a tense silence.
Fareeha, at a lack of things to do, prowls around the room, cagy and tense, all raw power as she alternates between looking over Angela's shoulder and not being able to stomach looking at Galal as he lies on the bed, barely conscious. She's tucked away in the opposite corner when Angela sighs and takes her gloves off.
"We're done here," she says.
"Is he going to make it?"
"I'll have to keep an eye on him overnight to make sure nothing goes wrong. I'll check you over now, so you can go home."
"There's nothing for you to do here. Where are you hurt?"
Angela gives her a scathing look. "Soldiers," she scoffs. "Always hiding your injuries." With a sharp and measured prod, Angela jabs out at her left arm, humming in disapproval when Fareeha voices her displeasure. "That's what I thought. Take that jacket off."
She takes her jacket off obediently. Since when did she mention that she had been a soldier?
Angela cleans her wounds and fusses over her for a little longer - and it's nice.
It's been a while since someone's expressed more than just the basic concern for her wellbeing and it's a little foreign, but nice. Fareeha's hidden herself away for so long - only ever swapping war stories with other damaged soldiers - that she's forgotten how much she truly does crave human contact. Not to mention feeling Angela's gentle but assured hands run along the lengths of her arms and body, in a very distinct contrast to the nasty blows she's taken as of recent events, is so comforting. She hums appreciatively.
Angela picks up on this - because of course she does, what hasn't she picked up on? - and her touches linger a little longer. "You're all good," she says tenderly. "You should go home and rest. I'll keep an eye on him for tonight, but he has to go to the hospital tomorrow."
"I'm not going anywhere," she says hoarsely, mask hissing harshly.
Angela all but rolls her eyes. "You won't do any good for him by exhausting yourself."
"I'm not staying for him. I know he'd be in good hands."
Angela's brows knit together in confusion, but her confrontational front drops and she relents. "And how do you know that?"
"Call it a gut feeling."
Angela scoffs in disbelief.
"Fine. Call it Google. You're quite the humanitarian, Dr. Angela Ziegler. Illustrious stints in Doctors without Borders, several bounds in research towards affordable and efficient medicine, not to mention all the donations you make ou-"
"I get it," she cuts across evenly. "But it seems a bit unfair that you know so much about me and I know nothing about you."
Angela opens her mouth, almost apologetic for her outburst.
She's cut off by the locks disengaging on Fareeha's mask as she slowly removes it and sets it aside. Angela's already seen her face anyway. "We have all night," she sighs. "No need to rush."