Hardy feels the crunch of bone before he hears it, and goes down on one knee hard, grunting in pain. He puts his hand to his left shin, and it's slick with mud and blood. He keeps the rugby ball tucked under his arm and rolls onto his back, staring at the grey, pissing sky. He's shivering from shock as his team swarms around him.
"Offa him, you bleedin' idiots!" the coach yells, pushing the team back and letting the paramedics get set up. The player who tackled him stands by helplessly, and Hardy just lifts a thumb, an I'm okay, quit standing around like a git.
They have to put pins in his shin, but he manages to walk just fine, and run even better than just fine. He has to work harder to prove that there's nothing wrong with him.
He still has to present a card that says he has metal inside his body whenever he goes to airports, which triggers an automatic pat-down at most of them. He takes it with a grimacing smile, but will show the scars to whomever asks.
Westminster is as boring as one could imagine. Hardy is not sure what course to follow (he had done so well in is A-levels, he could have chosen anything), and chooses some maths, some physics, three languages. He feels like saying, "More weight," when he speaks to his advisor, but he really doesn't think his advisor would get the allusion.
He takes some literature courses next, a linguistics course. By the end of his first year, he is able to jump ahead to higher levels, and decides to study in America. Yale barely blinks into accepting him.
Hardy is bored there too; he takes more physics, an upper level psychology course.
He can drink anyone under the table, sleeps with way too many girls (and guys, because he is not picky), and still manages to make it to his eight am class. However, he vows never to do it again—it was an art history class, and the professor didn't know his arse from his elbow, in Hardy's opinion.
He finishes at twenty, and returns to England, going to the RAF Careers Office in London. He is recruited, although during psychological evaluation, it is noted that he tends to become bored easily and has a questionable temper.
Hardy collects a series of nicknames throughout his career, starting in the RAF. Because of his tribal tattoos, he ends up getting the nickname of Friday. After their sniper trials, when Hardy receives his first promotion, he gets the nickname One Shot.
When he becomes Corporal, they call him Agent Orange, but he doesn't quite know why.
After he joins the SAS, he gets the name Frankenstein from all his scars and his fucked up pinkie. That pinkie nearly got him passed over for SAS trials, but he fought hard and won well.
And once he joins Company 14, the Intelligence Regiment, he receives his most favoured nickname of all, Bronson, like Charles Bronson. "Don't he look like a violent criminal?"
"Don't you fucking start," Hardy had said. "I'm a kitten, I am."
His closest friends end up calling him Kitten, but only when nobody can hear them. They get kicked, hard, for their troubles.
The glass shatters, tinkling like a thousand small bells. Hardy can't feel the glass cutting into his knuckles, but he feels it slice through the skin and tendons of his pinkie, feels the rush of pain and how it explodes in his brain.
He doesn't even remember why he punched out the window. Just to see if he could, he supposes, but what happens is some twenty-odd stitches and the realisation that he'll never really be able to bend his hand the way he wants, or feel the last two fingers of his right hand.
It's extraordinarily painful to do the fitness tests later, when he joins the RAF, but he lets them bend his hand back, lets them straighten out the pinkie as much as possible, and stares at a wall, the only indication that anything is wrong the jumping pulse in his neck.
"Do you understand all the obligations accorded to a Group Captain?"
"Do you understand that you are responsible for not only the training, but ultimate deployment of your regiment?"
"Do you understand that you are responsible for the safety, well-being and lives of your regiment?"
"In your estimation, are you capable of the duties accorded to a Group Captain?"
"Congratulations, Wing Commander Hardy. You have now received the rank of Group Captain. Thank you for your astounding and loyal service to the Royal Air Force."