Magnolia felt so good around him.
Taylor brought up his HUD for a moment, checked the time, then dismissed it again, allowing himself to view Magnolia without interference.
Five more minutes until they were officially on shift. Duty was endless, rosters were an illusion.
An illusion that gave him time with his naked wife lying on top of him.
Quiet moments.
Moments with thought.
Magnolia moved, perfect muscles finding places against him.
There was duty.
There was his naked wife.
She laid a long, slow kiss on his lips. ‘Sir?’
He gave a grunt.
‘I know you want me to organise it, but it is tradition for every person in a marriage to have some say in the affirmation ceremony.’
He let out a breath, and propped himself up on his elbows, Magnolia’s body continuing to conform to his as though she had been made for him.
She was perfect for him. She was his.
‘What decisions?’
She kissed him just under his chin, her hair brushing against him. She moved to straddle his lap, so that she could stare him in the face.
‘Colour scheme,’ she said, as he twisted his fingers in her hair. ‘We need to each pick two colours. Mine are,’ she raised an eyebrow, ‘rather obvious to anyone with eyes, yours, sir-’
‘Blue,’ he said.
‘That I already knew.’
‘I know.’
‘I was thinking…red, for your other colour, sir? It might remind people of the phoenixes, but mixed with black and white, it shouldn’t be an issue.’
‘Fine.’
‘Now to their assignment.’
He looked at her, asking for more information.
‘It’s a Fairyland thing. Colours for genders, makes clothing easier to choose. I was thinking black for girls, blue for boys, white for the thirds, and red for everyone else.’
He gave a grunt.
‘You do look good in red, sir.’
‘Other decisions?’
She gave a shrug. ‘I’ll take care of the guest lists, Grigori demands to the catering, everything else can-’ She cut herself off, and put a hand to her ear. ‘What is it, Mer? Oh f- Yeah, keep me updated.’ Her hand came away from her ear. ‘Louis has been injured sir, he’s in surgery now.’
‘Send-’
‘Already on it,’ she said, rolling off him, her dress appearing as she walked across the room, issuing commands as easy as breathing.
He stood and required his uniform. There was the urge to dismiss the bed. Two decades of the requirement being linked with getting out of bed made it an automatic response.
A constant bed was still unusual.
A bedroom was still unusual.
The room had been Magnolia’s. It was still Magnolia’s. It was theirs. The room retained its old position among the recruit dorms, but it had taken little effort to order the techs to install a door in the back that led to their gym.
Warping space was Agency policy. It was duty to make it work for them.
‘Status?’
She gave him a quick nod as they walked into the gym. ‘Yeah, they’re handling it.’
They fell into their usual routine: stretches, exercises, spars – everything that prepared them for the day ahead, for the life ahead.
It also gave them time to push her powers – the limits on what she could, and could not do were still flexible. Still exploitable. Still trainable. She had become a recruit unable to fade, now she could carry someone – her ability to defy gravity needed similar work.
He held his hands out, palm up, at chest height, and she vaulted onto them, aligning her body in a handstand. He pushed his face forward, and kissed her back, then lifted his hands, pushing her higher until his hands were raised above his head.
She could float for a few moments, this was useful, but it was something that could only be used as a back-up plan. Finer manipulation and longer usages were important.
She moved her hands against his, her weight shifting slightly as her fingers found firm holds against his.
‘Walk, sir.’
Ten paces forward, ten paces back, repeat five times.
The test was to maintain balance, to not rely on floating to keep herself stable.
Figure eight, repeat five times.
He tilted his head so he could look up at her. ‘Go up.’
‘Yes, sir.’
Her hands began to move on his as she took herself up onto her fingertips – this was a newer part of the test, to see how little contact she needed, without resorting to a full float. This position was still weak, still needed much more training. Still needed perfecting.
Her voice strained a little. ‘Sir.’
‘You’re fine, Magnolia.’
‘Yes, sir.’
This position was stationery – balance was key, utility would come later.
‘Sir.’
He nodded. ‘Come down.’
Her hands moved against his again, bringing her back down into palm-on-palm contact, and the safer, more stable position.
She slipped.
She went over his head and there was a crunch and a thud as she landed on the floor.
His HUD immediately filled with warnings and alarms.
Alarms and warnings that couldn’t-
He turned in time to see her- She was shifted away.
Words stared back at him. Words he refused to acknowledge. Words that-
His breathing became ineffcient.
Lies.
Misdirections.
Scholars were hacking his HUD.
Lies.
He dismissed the warnings.
He was shifted.
Infirmary.
Parker-1. Parker-2.
Magnolia.
There were still alarms.
Parker-1 drew a sheet up over her.
Direct action needed to be taken.
He lunged at Parker-2, gripped the medical agent. ‘DO SOMETHING.’
Lies.
Lies in his HUD.
Lies.
Lies in the infirmary.
Sheets were for corpses.
He shook the agent, and felt bones break under his grip.
‘Taylor.’
Ryan.
The doctor shifted out of his grip, and stumbled forward.
He gripped the metal cabinet, his fingers digging into the surface.
‘Taylor.’
Ryan. Closer. Threat.
Hand. Shoulder.
He grabbed the hand. Pulled. Threw Ryan into the wall. Threat minmised.
Ryan in his HUD. [She’s gone, Taylor.]
He moved back a step. Tore the sheet from Magnolia.
Practical joke.
Prank.
Trick.
Lie.
Glitch.
Withdrawal.
Anything.
Anything.
He touched her face.
It was a lie.
It was a glitch.
She wasn’t dead.
Couldn’t be dead.
Wasn’t dead.
He checked for vital signs. Ignored the angle of her head. Ignored everything. Looked for life. Found none.
His senses were traitors.
He held her.
He cried.