Ryan shifted to his office and walked to his desk – despite all the work he had done throughout the day, even more paperwork had appeared in his “IN” tray. Something other than paperwork had also appeared in his office – there was a person in his chair – which was turned to face his window wall – but he ignored them, there were more pressing issues to tend to than uninvited guests.
He flipped through several of the reports, it was always easy to tell their origin – the ones from the tech department were tidy, and had all of their contents carefully paper clipped to the folders, whereas the ones that had crossed Taylor’s desk were most often dirty and bloody – these he always had to redo, lest they get returned with a request for an explainable.
It was a small blessing though, that the reports were at least legible and in some logical order since Magnolia had taken over the duty – he wasn’t sure if it was something Taylor had ordered her to do, as he had done before he’d recruited the girl, or if it was something that the halfbreed had taken it upon herself to do. He didn’t care – either way, he got the reports in a condition where he could deal with them, and he didn’t have to argue with his combat agent as much. And every argument avoided with Taylor was a small battle won.
Taylor’s reports – whether done by Magnolia or not, almost always managed to be littered with bloody imagery, transcripts of scared-
His hands froze for a moment – unable to believe that it had slipped his mind. He rifled through the reports, and found the one regarding Taylor’s questioning of Stef. It hadn’t been an interrogation, and she’d gotten away without a bruise, but still…
‘Bastard,’ he muttered, reminding himself to reeducate Taylor on Agency policy.
‘Are you talking to me?’ asked a gently accented voice.
He sorted the files into a basic order, and placed them all back into his “IN” tray – invited or not, he had the distinct feeling that his “guest” was not going to let him get any work done anytime soon. He turned on his heel and walked away from the desk, and required a couch. He sat, grateful of the comfort, rested his head back, and stared up at his ceiling. ‘Are you going to tell me,’ he said, ‘what you’re doing here, Emma?’
His chair swiveled and his London counterpart gave him a smile. ‘Well, aren’t you all sunbeams and rainbows? Aren’t you going to offer me a drink?’
He lazily waved a hand and a glass of iced water appeared on the desk in front of her. He heard her snort derisively as he tried to will away his growing psychosomatic headache.
‘This is your idea of a drink?’ she asked. ‘No wonder you’re so pent up. You need to relax. Maybe if you relaxed, you wouldn’t bollocks things up all the time.’
His headache grew. ‘And which one of my mistakes are you talking about this time?’
‘Got an hour?’
‘I really don’t, Emma.’
‘It’s called backup, Ryan. You never ask for it.’
‘Solstice didn’t get the mirror.’
‘Not all of it, but we don’t know how much they did get thanks to some untrained recruit who shouldn’t have been in the field. I couldn’t believe it when I read the report, so I read the others you’d filed. What possessed you to give a gun to a mentally unstable recruit? Good gods man, you’re lucky that’s all that happened.’
He sat up a little and drummed his fingers on the arm of the blue couch. ‘Are you aware that recruit lost her life?’
‘Then you really shouldn’t have meddled with the test scores and taken her into the field. You should have left her with Jones, he’s really quite a capable young tech…he manages to avoid all the crippling viruses Chance sends his way hidden in cute emails.’
‘Your tech shouldn’t be wasting resources on frivolous endevours.’
‘Your tech designs video games on the clock, mine looks at MILF porn. Now we can have the “my tech can beat up your tech” argument, or…” He looked up as he heard a glass being pounded on his desk – she upturned the empty shot glass and glared at him, “or we can discuss your retirement.’
He stood and brushed some imaginary lint from his jacket. ‘If that’s where this is headed, then I think we’re done here.’
‘We lost the goddess here, and since then, you’ve been drowning in the weird. The fae flock here like it’s Amsterdam. You have things in your river that the Thames doesn’t! Or even the bloody Hudson! And it’s no accident that there’s a higher rate of mirrorfalls here than anywhere else on this world. And…the Agency in charge of all of this is being run by a noob a hundred years my junior.’
‘What do you want, Emma?’
‘I want your job, Ryan.’
‘Take it.’
She laughed at him and took another shot of whiskey.
‘Take it,’ he offered, spreading his arms wide. ‘Straddle the responsibilities of field agent and director, partake in the joy that is…that is…Taylor. Revel in a city that has so many grey-listed fae that we can’t keep track of, and that attracts things beyond our control.’ He smiled. ‘So, if you really want my job, you are welcome to it.’
‘You can’t just hand it over to me.’
He scowled. ‘And you can’t just take it. Get out of my office.’ He straightened his shirt cuffs. ‘I’ve had a very long two days.’
‘This isn’t over,’ she said as she rounded his desk.
‘You’d never take my job,’ he said as he sat in his chair, disliking how warm it was – she must have been sitting there a long time waiting for him. ‘You’d never leave your precious city.’
‘I’ve been on assignment before.’
‘And Ireland was so much better for it, wasn’t it? I don’t think genocide is the answer here.’
‘Duty first, Ryan, that’s something I always remember, unlike some agents.’
He looked away from her, and dropped himself into communication mode – the world around him became just that little bit more grey, just a little bit out of focus – both things allowing him to concentrate just that little bit more on the conversation to come.
Clarke was listed under his primary contacts. [Clarke,] he said as the connection was made. He waited a moment for the other agent to respond, Clarke’s smug face taking up a good half of his HUD.
[I wouldn’t do you without a drink first,] Clarke said with a grin, [but what can I do for you?]
He gave a mental sigh. [Trouble with London. Emma’s here. She’s-]
[One of the “peers” I warned you about,] Clarke said, his hands drifting into the image to give air quotes, then to straighten his perfect hair. [She’s always CC’d in everything you do, Ryan. I need a minute to finish up here, now- No, no, baby, I’m not ignoring you, I thought you were asleep.]
[“Liaising” with the public, Clarke?] he asked, allowing a note of jealously to slip into his voice. [There’s actual work to be done.]
‘Ryan!’ Emma snapped.
[This is my actual work. Whatever. Just don’t bait the bitch before I get there,] Clarke said, [I don’t want to see Taylor take over.]
He blinked a few times and the world sped back up, colour and definition flooding back into everything.
‘Who were you talking to?’
‘Someone to help mediate this.’
‘My Clark already gave his blessing.’
‘And I suppose your Clark could beat up my Clarke. I’m not going to take this to the playground level.’
‘I’m not here to bust your balls, just to do what’s right. Though, if you could keep your balls out of it, your recruit mortality rate might not be as high.’
‘You dare-?’
‘Now settle down kids, I don’t want to have to call the Enforcers on you,’ Clarke said with his usual ease as he shifted in between them. ‘We’re all reasonable beings here, well Emma has the disadvantage of being a woman, but at least two of us are reasonable.’
‘I can smell sex on you Clarke, couldn’t you have showered at least?’
‘It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.’
‘And what valuable information did you-?’
‘Emma has expressed interest,’ he said – wishing to interrupt the conversation before Clarke got into a rant about the many and varied sexual positions he used “in the line of duty”. He especially had no wish to hear the explanation of the position involving the hula-hoop again. ‘In replacing me.’
Clarke laughed and casually shifted them all to the conference room, where he took up the seat at the head of the table. ‘You talk to Redfern about this, Emma? Not sure he’d want to lose you, I mean, your city isn’t exactly a shining example of stability. The Solstice there are some of the most dangerous in the world, in that they’re actually considered a threat.’
‘Ryan cannot do the job.’
‘Yet the city stands, amazing. You aren’t getting his job.’
‘That isn’t a decision you can make.’
‘Then you take it higher.’
‘The mirrorfall was-’
‘Handled poorly,’ Clarke said. ‘Yes, it was. It was overconfidence, but we survived. So long as the world is still here, and the city is at least three-quarters intact, it’s a victory.’
‘I’m not happy with his performance,’ she growled. ‘There needs to be a more senior agent in his position.’
‘There are more senior agents than you. Also ones that didn’t commit genocide. I for one, miss the fucking leprechauns!’
‘You, Clarke, weren’t active when they were eradicated.’
‘It’s the principal of the matter. Ryan may have royally screwed this planet’s chances for survival in the long term, but he’s good at his job. This is a crap job, but he’s competent and that’s all we can ask for. I’ll recycle myself before I see you in his office. I’ll let you stay and observe for a while, but that’s all. Talk to the fucking Enforcers if you want anything more, now, I have something actually important to get back to.’
Clarke flipped him a mock salute, luxuriated back in his chair, closed his eyes for a moment, then disappeared.
‘Ask to use a room on Jones’ floor,’ he said before Emma could open her mouth. ‘I don’t want to see you more than I have to.’
He stood, pushed his chair in and shifted away. Taylor’s office door stared at him as the world regained focus. He knocked on the door – fighting the urge to just barge in as Taylor so often did.
‘Who is it?’ a pained female voice asked.
‘Ryan.’
There was a click as the door unlocked. Magnolia stumbled back as he walked in.
‘He’s training,’ she said curtly, gesturing towards the door to lead to Taylor’s private gym. ‘I’m not taking a message.’ She pushed herself along the wall, then slumped into the corner, and into a drying patch of blood. He looked to her skirt and the dark stain on it. ‘I’ll consider it a personal violation if you scan me,’ she said and picked up a discarded book. ‘There’s one 9mm round in my thigh, if you must know.’
‘And the resultant blood loss caused a memory lapse so you no longer know where the infirmary is?’
‘My pain tolerance isn’t high enough,’ she snapped as she flipped to a page of “The Art of War”. ‘I can receive whatever basic care I require when I finish this chapter. It was fifty pages total. I’m better for it.’
‘Recruit, you-’
‘No respected intended, I don’t answer to you. Now leave me to train. You may let your recruits do as they please. On this floor, sir, we actually push to achieve something.’
‘You wanted something?’ Taylor asked, darkening to doorway to the gym. The bulky agent scratched at an open wound on his face and unraveled the scraps of cloth wrapped around his knuckles. Scraps of cloth that appeared to have come from his recruit’s clothes.
‘Emma’s here,’ he said. ‘Thought you should know.’
‘What’s Edward doing here?’
‘Emma. And she’s observing. Not my idea.’
‘Sir?’ Magnolia asked of Taylor.
Taylor plucked a file from thin air and threw it at her. ‘Familiarise yourself,’ he ordered. ‘We’re being invaded.’
‘More like a takeover,’ he muttered. He watched Taylor’s gaze catch onto a blank patch of wall – behind which was he knew was hidden a cache of fae weapons. ‘Could you try?’ he asked, ‘to stay out of her way?’
‘No promises,’ Taylor growled.