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NASUADA

Fluorescent lights reflected off the recently-waxed floors like some kind of halo, practically blinding with their intensity. Nasuada sat in the hospital waiting room quietly, hands folded in her lap but fiddling restlessly. Her father sat next to her in another of the horribly uncomfortable chairs, shifting from sitting up straight to slouching down and then back on his feet to pace around the small space. Neither of them said a word, but the tension was so thick, it could be cut with a knife.

It seemed to Nasuada that a thousand years had passed since she'd gone to the principal's office and seen her dad waiting for her there, jacket draped over his arm and a frantic look in his eyes. They'd left immediately to go to the hospital, but he hadn't told her much beyond that her mother had gotten hurt and was currently in emergency surgery. Her mind was racing through all the possibilities of what might have happened... but nothing had prepared her for the truth.

Three gunshot wounds to the torso, the police officer had explained. She'd been leaving her office at the county judicial building, walking down the steps to the parking lot when an unknown assailant had come out of nowhere and fired off an entire clip. It was a miracle he'd managed to miss seven times, they said. But that was a small consolation to Nasuada and her father. The shots that hadn't missed had done a tremendous amount of damage. A surgeon's assistant had come to talk to them briefly when they'd first arrived, informing them that she was in critical condition, and required surgery to stop the internal bleeding the bullets had caused.

Nasuada felt like she was existing in a fog. Just that morning, she'd kissed her mother goodbye before leaving for school, like she always did. Nothing was out of the norm; everything was fine. Until it wasn't, and she felt like she was in a free fall. Would today be the happiest or the saddest day of her life? She couldn't know, and that drove her insane.

Morning turned to afternoon, and afternoon into evening, before someone came to talk to them again. This time, it was the head surgeon himself. He was an older man, with graying hair and tired eyes. His shoulders slumped slightly, and Nasuada thought he looked like he could use a nap. She glanced at the clock... 6:27. Her mother had been in surgery for almost eight hours; no wonder the man looked tired.

"Mr. Adams?" he asked, extending a hand to accompany his somber expression. Ajihad stood shakily and took the surgeon's hand, but it didn't seem he had it in him to speak. Nasuada stood as well, wringing her hands nervously and feeling her pulse quicken alarmingly. "I'm Dr. Grier, the head surgeon at the hospital. Your wife is in the ICU right now. We repaired the damage as best we could, and now all we can do is wait. These next few days will be critical from an observation standpoint; she'll have round the clock care—"

"Is she going to make it?" Ajihad suddenly interrupted, his voice wavering uncharacteristically. Nasuada thought she'd never seen her father like this before, and did little to encourage her.

Dr. Grier hesitated slightly before saying, "It's too early to tell. The bullets did heavy damage to her major organs; there may still be some internal bleeding we aren't aware of. Like I said, she'll have round the clock care. If anything changes, we'll know right away. I'm sorry I don't have anything more than that."

"When can we see her?" Nasuada interjected, feeling like her heart might jump out of her throat.

The surgeon looked at her sadly. "The anesthesia will wear off in the next hour, but we have no way of knowing when—or if—she'll regain consciousness. You'll be allowed in within the next hour, I can promise you that."

Ajihad nodded, the surgeon shot her another sympathetic look, and then he walked away, leaving the two of them there in stunned silence. A few moments passed before Nasuada lowered herself back into the seat. Ajihad looked down at her, eyes unreadable.

"How're you doing, baby?" he asked softly, putting a large hand on her shoulder. "Are you hungry? Do you want to go home?"

"No," she said quickly. "I'm not going anywhere."

Her father knelt down in front of her slowly, grasping at her hands. "I wish I had some words of wisdom," he began slowly, "but I'm feeling a little numb right now. How you holding up?"

Nasuada inspected her father's face, noticing where the tracks of dried tears still clung to his cheeks. His dark eyes were ringed with red, and she could see his bottom lip trembling slightly. "I don't... I don't really know, Dad. This morning... she was fine, and now..."

"I know, baby." Ajihad wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her in tightly as she started to shake. "But we have to be strong now, for her. Your mom's a fighter, you know that. She's gonna pull through this."

"Do they know who it was?" she mumbled into his shoulder, trying to hold her tears at bay.

Ajihad shook his head slightly. "Not yet, but they will. They're not gonna let the man who shot the District Attorney get away with it, I promise."

She sniffled slightly and then pulled away from her father, smoothing down her hair and attempting to keep her hands busy so they didn't shake as badly. "Why would they do this?" she asked quietly. "Is this because of that case?"

Nasuada saw her father visibly stiffen, and his eyes grew cold and hard. It was no secret to her that her mom and dad had argued incessantly about this over the past few weeks. Her mother was the District Attorney for Alagaësia County, so she had a heavy influence on how certain trials were handled, and how severe the charges were for certain defendants. When this case had come across her desk, Nadara Adams had been absolutely livid. Ajihad had cautioned her against getting overly involved, but her conviction hadn't allowed her to heed his words.

Even in this day and age, white supremacy and the KKK ran rampant in their little town. Nasuada wasn't naïve enough to think that racism was dead, but she'd never imagined something as horrible as this would happen. A known Klan member had been arrested in relation to the murder of an elderly shop owner, an African American man that Nasuada knew well. Mr. Barclay had gone to their church, and the community had been shaken. Nadara had used her influence to push for a harsher sentence, and now it seemed that hadn't gone unnoticed.

"I don't want you to start jumping to conclusions," Ajihad said softly, squeezing her hand a little tighter than was necessary.

"But Dad," she implored quietly, "we might be in danger too. If this is because of that case, and they are retaliating against Mom..."

Her dad seemed to think for a minute, worrying at his lip. "Until the police conduct their investigation, we can't assume anything, okay? It's too dangerous. We have to try and go on as we did before."

"Nothing's ever going to be the same, Dad," she said somberly, feeling her brow pull together. "Not after this... I'm scared."

Ajihad sighed heavily and pulled her in for another tight embrace. "I know, baby... me too."

 


 

She was curled up in a chair in the ICU a few hours later, dozing off, when her phone buzzed in her pocket. Nasuada startled awake and dug it out of her pants, glancing at the screen and trying to stifle a groan.

The text message from Trianna read, "Missed u at practice today. U good?" Nasuada had to hold back her snort; Trianna certainly was passive aggressive about things.

She hesitated slightly before typing back a response. "Mom's in the hospital. Won't be back for a couple days. You okay to handle sectionals this week?" With the ghost of a triumphant smile, she hit send and then lowered her phone into her lap. She looked around the room and saw her dad snoozing in a chair on the opposite side of the room, pulled right up next to her mom where she lay in the hospital bed. Tubes and wires of all sorts were running every which way, and the steady beep of the heart monitor was lulling her back to sleep.

Another few minutes passed before her phone buzzed again. Slowly, Nasuada picked it up, noticing that it was a little after eleven o'clock. Again, it was from Trianna. "Most def. Sorry to hear about ur mom. Hope she's ok." It was probably the nicest thing Trianna had ever said to her, so she decided to let it lie.

She was a little more awake now, so Nas opened up her Facebook app and began scrolling through her timeline absentmindedly. It was just something to keep her mind occupied, but when she saw that name pop up in her notifications, Nasuada was suddenly wide awake.

'Murtagh Morris liked your photo'

Nasuada sat up a little straighter, tapping on the notification which pulled up a black and white action shot of her mid-toss. She'd posted that a couple weeks ago, right after band camp. Until now, she hadn't even realized Murtagh had accepted her friend request. A small smile crept its way onto her face, but it disappeared quickly. How could she possibly be thinking about that at a time like this? It wasn't right to feel happy when her whole world had shattered... was it?

A high-pitched 'ding!' sounded off, and a push notification dropped down at the top of her screen.

'Murtagh Morris sent you a message'

Against her will, her heart beat a little bit faster. Well... that's certainly unexpected, she thought to herself. After their initial meeting, she wasn't even sure he would accept the request. But there was something about him; something that made her want to know who he really was, beneath the rough exterior and all the rumors.

She switched over to her Messenger app and tapped on the new conversation. All he'd typed was "hey" and nothing more, but she wasn't really surprised. He didn't seem to her like the overly talkative type. She drew in a deep breath before typing back a response.

"Hi Murtagh. How's it going?" Was it disingenuous to seem unaffected? She didn't really want to spill the beans about what was going on, but then again... The story was probably all over the news by now.

"I heard about your Mom."

Well, that answered that question. "Way to dodge the question," she sighed quietly. "oh" was all she typed back. The little gray bubble with the waving ellipses popped up and stayed there for a while. She imagined he was seeing the same thing on his end, and wondered if this would be the end to any further conversation.

But then his message came through, and she felt her heart drop. "I don't wanna make any empty statements about how everything is gonna be fine. Truth is... I don't really know. But I'm here to talk, if you want..."

A tear snaked its way down her face, cold and salty. She wiped it away hastily and drew in a shaky breath. "Thanks, Murtagh. That means a lot." Nasuada hit send and then exited out of the app; there was nothing more for her to say right now. Maybe she'd take him up on his offer later. But right now, her focus had to stay on her mom, and being strong for her dad.

She watched him, bent over at the waist and half-resting on the edge of the hospital bed. He looked so fragile like that, weakly holding her mom's limp hand. One of them had to be strong right now, and it was going to be her. Whatever came next, she would be the pillar for her dad to lean on. Everything else would wait.