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The Grey Edge: Chapter Twenty-Two


Taylor looked away from her for a moment, his hand still on her chest, making sure that she was breathing on time. He tapped a finger, felt her breathe, and ran the macro again. The Parkers were busy in their back room, the one full of scholar-like equipment. Science, medicine and magic, all working to make her normal again. To fix her.
Fix her.
Fix her.
He tapped a finger again, and she drew in another breath. The macro ran, and he relaxed for a moment.
She kicked the blanket away, exposing her half-mutated legs. Exposing Magpie’s vindictive attack. He’d tried to kill the warden, and failed. He’d failed. There’d been too much failure. Too much-
Too much of everything in the last twenty-four hours.
To rewind it- No, wishes were for frail mortal minds. Frail minds of any kind. What had happened, had happened.
Wishes couldn’t change anything. Wishes could change everything.
No. It was a weakness.
He tapped her chest again, and reminded himself to be gentle. The bones were far more hollow than they should have been.
If the Parkers had been another minute. Another thirty seconds. Another-
‘Breathe,’ he said, filling the uncomfortable silence.
She wasn’t even looking at him anymore, content to lay there with her eyes closed, half-hidden beneath feathers. Feathers that were still slowly growing – so much slower than when they had sprouted, but it was a slow, constant reminder that the blue wasn’t good enough.
If they added more. Dangerous. It was already dangerous. They were combat, danger was expected.
But a heart attack in such a frail form. A form that had been forced on her.
‘You could try talking to her,’ the shorter of the Parker said, laying a bloody hand on his shoulder. ‘She needs to calm down a bit, so do something to relax her. I don’t care if it’s reciting the phone book, but don’t just sit there like a useless lump. If you like-like the girl, act like it, dammit.’
He turned to look at the doctor. ‘She knows I’m here.’
The Parker stared at him. ‘Talk to her, Taylor.’ He stood uncomfortably for a moment. ‘Besides, if this doesn’t work, or if we’re found out, it might be the last time you get to talk to her, so make it worth while hey?’
‘You-’
[We have every chance of failing, or being unable to make a damn bit of difference. We’re going to try for this transplant in about an hour, if that doesn’t work, I don’t know what we’re going to do.] ‘So, doctor’s orders, talk to her.’
[She’s stronger than-]
The short Parker took a step away. [Strength has got nothing to do with it.]
[She could die?]
[Yeah. She could.]
He looked away from the doctor, and back down at her. Die? She couldn’t- Not in an infirmary. Not without a fight. Not weak. Not- Not like this. It was unworthy. An unworthy death. She was better than it. Better than-
She couldn’t die.
She wasn’t allowed to die. Not until he said so. And he didn’t say so. He would never-
He ran the macro again and again and again, the necessary oxygen flooding the extremities that her tiny lungs couldn’t push their payload to.
She wasn’t going to die. It just wasn’t going to happen. It was stupid to ponder the possibility. It was a waste of time. An inefficiency.
Everything would-
No.
He gripped the underside of his chair and slid closer to her head, further from the prying eyes and ears of the doctors, from anyone. Her mouth stayed open – helped by its partway transformation towards a beak, stiffened lips protruded from her face, far from the shape and texture that he’d kissed less than an hour before.
‘Magnolia.’
She tapped a single finger on the sheet. She could still hear him. She could still respond.
‘I want you to let me in. It’s going to hurt, but if you resist, it’ll hurt more. Do you trust me?’
She lifted her hand a little, and brushed a finger against his arm. One finger. Yes.
He pressed a hand lightly against her forehead, and began to second-guess himself, it was- He hadn’t even- He shouted down his thoughts, and made the connection with her mind.
Connecting with a mortal mind was always chaos. Bad chaos. Pathways opened and shut, connections were made, then were severed without warning. It was always tenuous, and it was always painful.
For her part, she wasn’t screaming as most did – training had done its part this time, she was taking the pain without complaint. And she was letting him in – there was no resistance, no attempts to block his entry.
He set the macro to run automatically, and closed his eyes, blocking off the view of her contorted, mutated face, and her now-bloody nose. He made the jump across the connection, and closed his eyes. He waited a disorientating moment as his consciousness reconciled being out of his body, and he opened his eyes, finding himself – as always – in a crouch.
There was a wall of doors to his left, and a large, darkened room to his right. He ignored the doors – most of them were locked – and entered the room. White spotlights appeared beneath his feet as he walked across the black floor, the lights slowly moving and spreading, illuminating the centre of the room.
And Magnolia.
She was nearly naked – a black slip was all that covered her body. A black slip, and hundreds of feathers. She was kneeling, her face pressed to the ground, her hands bracing her from falling even further.
‘Magnolia.’
Speaking. In this place, it was so wrong. So odd. More like communication mode – speech within a mind, but- Thoughts. Thoughts for others and other times.
‘Magnolia.’
Her kneeling form shuddered, and she looked up. A face far more magpie than human stared back at him, red eyes staring uncomprehending, a beak open and squawking. He crouched in front of her, grabbed the beak, and pulled it. Nothing was real. Nothing was what was it seemed. It was all…thought and metaphor. Things for thinking men.
Things were to be simple. There was something impeding his Magnolia. Removing the impediment.
The magpie form covering her sloughed off like rotting flesh, and he let it fall somewhere behind him, to be eaten by the lights, or absorbed by the floor, or simply to disappear, when thoughts no longer came to it.
She looked up at him, her face unmarred by her mother’s sadism. ‘Sir?’
‘They suggested I…talk to you. I’m not-’
She pushed herself up, then leaned against him. ‘You have no expectations to meet, sir, only what you want to do.’
He listened to her words, then did what he wanted to do.
After a moment, he pulled his lips from hers.
She crawled up onto his lap, resting herself against his chest, her breaths coming out in little hot puffs against his neck. All fragile detail. All false detail. All psychosomatic. All expected. All wanted.
‘Where are we, sir?’
‘Your mind,’ he said.
‘…and are you a figment, sir?’
He slid a hand across her leg. ‘Do you think I am?’
She let her legs splay a little wider across his. ‘No sir, I don’t think you’re imaginary.’
‘I didn’t want to talk in front of them, not when…I’ve got nothing to say. We both- You’re stronger than this. Your mother be damned, you’ve ignored her before this. You aren’t allowed to die, and that’s an order, Magnolia.’
‘The doctors often predict my death, sir, it’s their job. Death isn’t something I intend to do. I have paperwork to do. I have reports to do.’
His hand found its way between her legs, and to her convenient lack of underwear. ‘You,’ he said, as one finger traced the area, ‘have a reprieve from paperwork. They wanted you calmer,’ he said, slipping the scouting finger inside, ‘and there is a connection between sex and relaxation.’
‘So this is-’ her breath caught for a moment as he moved his finger, ‘medically mandated?’
‘Extrapolation from a suggestion,’ he said, nearly withdrawing the finger, feeling her body move to follow him, to keep the connection.
‘As you say, sir,’ she said, the slip simply melting from her body. ‘But you have me at a disadvantage,’ she said, brushing her hand over his clothed body.
Letting his finger sink back in seemed to stop all thoughts of being at a disadvantage. Disadvantage. He was at the disadvantage. She wasn’t the broken one. The one with sections of self missing. The one who- Her tongue swirled around his throat, and he let himself breathe hard, letting himself make contact with her. Warm contact. Soft contact. Wanted contact.
She wasn’t going to die. It was as simple as that.
She wanted him. It was as simple as that.
He-
No.
She loved him. For however much that was worth. For so much that it was worth. For everything that it was worth.
Two had worked better than one the previous time, so he let another finger join the first. It was an easy rhythm to maintain. It was pleasing to her. It was good.
Here, in her mind, she was breathing easily. Faster and deeper than normal, but still easily. If a tenth of that translated to the waking world, it was worth it. If a hundredth of it translated. If it only brought her comfort in her mind.
‘You are still wearing clothes,’ she said as she bit his ear. Two days ago, it would have been an affront, an attack, a worthless way of trying to injure him. Now, it was something different, and it was good.
The ground began to shift, the spotlights melting into sheets through dream-logic, the wall of locked doors disappearing, and a bed that was little more than an over sized pillow appearing beneath them. His clothes, by virtue of her mindscape, had also disappeared. She was no longer at her perceived disadvantage. Skin touched skin, and he felt himself react to her.
A wealth of suggestions were presented. Obvious things to do. Suggestions that Grigori had made. Things to do, things not to do. Things that she might like, things that he couldn’t do, things that were-
His hands. She liked his hands. Only one was being used. Two was better than one.
He slid his other hand up over her hip, and onto her bare ass. Grigori could talk at length about asses, ironic, given the relative shortness of them when compared to – for example – legs, but the Russian seemed to be under the impression they were one of the best assets of a woman. It was nice. It had nice shape. It was pleasant to touch, as much as her breasts were, but it wasn’t captivating, not like her legs were.
She let out a moan – just as when he’d massaged her back – as he continued to caress her exposed cheeks, her body joining the rhythm of the fingers inside her, her breath streaking across his face as she snatched kisses wherever her mouth fell.
He slipped a finger between her cheeks, and she stopped moving for a moment. She wrapped her arms around his neck, grinned, and began to move again – albeit slower this time. Entry for his finger was slower, but she seemed to enjoy it – even as she met his pace again, he could hear the difference in her voice, in her moans, and in her breathing with the addition.
He felt her convulse against his two fingers, and heard the sharp exhalation of breath next to his ear, and felt her slowly stop moving, though she let one hand slide from his neck to touch his arm, a voiceless asking to keep his hand in place.
There was no complaint to be had, and he was happy to give whatever vestiges of pleasure she could get from the presence of his hand.
The rhythm in his other hand was slower, but seemed to be having no less of an effect on her. She slowly pushed on his hand, releasing the two fingers from her grip, and leaned back, hands resting on his shoulders, giving over control to him.
Being in control – this was familiar. The situation wasn’t, the action wasn’t, but the feeling was. The situation was….arousing, and the action was…a learning experience.
She wasn’t going to die.
She wasn’t going to die.
They would fix her.
He would burn the world before he let her die.
He dipped his face forward and kissed the closest breast. Another new sensation. Another pleasurable sensation.
Another thing he would not give up.
There were words. Words she’d said to him. Words he hadn’t-
‘There’s something I-’ She looked at him, and took his mouth moving for an invitation to kiss him. He reciprocated, then pressed his forehead against hers, preventing further kissing, further delay of the words. ‘I want to say,’ he said.
‘You have,’ she said as she tensed and relaxed the muscles in her legs, ‘my attention, sir.’
‘I respect you,’ he said, ‘the other-’
‘Nothing you aren’t ready to give, sir,’ she said quickly.
‘I don’t understand the concept enough, I don’t have a frame of reference for it. If it feels like duty, I think I am feeling it, but-’
‘Sir, do not-’
She wasn’t going to die.
She wasn’t going to die.
‘If you can give me the time, I’ll say “I love you”. For-’
She raised herself, and pulled herself away from his hand. ‘I just want you sir. Whatever, and whenever, you’re willing to give to me, I will take. It’s enough that you didn’t reject me.’ A sly smile played out on her face. ‘And that you seem to enjoy fucking me.’ She wrapped a hand around him. ‘And I want you. In me. Now. If that’s all right with you.’
He attempted a smile. ‘Yes ma’am.’ He pushed on her shoulders, pushing her down onto the bed – that thanks to the dream logic her mind scape had turned into something resembling his own bed – and felt her guide him as she spread her legs beneath him.
A new position, new sensations.
She. Wasn’t. Going. To. Die.
He lowered himself to his elbows and pushed deeper into her.
She. Wasn’t. Going. To. Die.
It was mortal. It was frail. It was weakness.
It made him as flawed as everyone around him.
If it-
She wrapped her hands around his neck again, drawing him in for another kiss.
It wasn’t frailty. It wasn’t weakness.
She wasn’t weak. He wasn’t weak.
It was merely logic. Merely using a resource at hand.
Logic. They would have to agree with the outcome.
She said the words again, and he felt compelled the parrot them, to say the thing he wasn’t ready for. There hadn’t been time. He hadn’t had time.
And if she died, there wouldn’t be time.
There would only be-
Alone.
He’d be alone again.
He didn’t want that.
He wanted her.
He wanted her.
And she was going to live.
He kissed her again, and felt himself come as he slid the kiss down onto her neck.
[Taylor?]
An intrusion. The outside.
He put a hand to her face. ‘I’m going to break the connection now, it’s going to hurt again.’
She kissed him. ‘I understand, sir.’
He closed his eyes, and rushed back across the connection, making the break as clean as possible. He blinked, and looked around the infirmary.
‘Unusual,’ the taller Parker said, ‘but did the job, whatever you did. We’re going to try surgery now, the better half is looking after her oxygen, so clear out for a while? Or watch from behind the glass.’
He took stock of himself for a moment, required new pants, then stood. ‘I have something to look into, I’ll leave her in your hands.’