Stef stared silently at the agent, trying to pick the moment when having a gun pointed at her had become…almost normal. She felt frozen – it was like the stag again, but this time, if she moved, the results weren’t going to be as non-consequential as the wish-granter disappearing. The door closed without him moving an inch. Stupid M-word. He took a step closer, the gun still aimed at her head.
He hadn’t fired yet though, this was a good thing. He kept the gun level, scanned his eyes across the room, then looked back at her. ‘What are you?’ he demanded.
She managed a squeak – forget Ryan, forget any other man in a suit, Taylor was the narc that every hacker should have been terrified of.
Lie!
I want out of here. I want out of here. I wish I was gone, I wish I was gone, I wish I was in…fuck, I don’t care, Canada. I wish I was in Canada.
What are you-?
It’s touch activated, right, inside squishy slimy bits of me are touching it. I wish I was in Canada!
If it worked like that, you would have transformed yourself into a giant cookie by now, and I don’t think he’s going to stand there while you cut yourself open.
‘What are you?!’ he demanded again, and she fought for control of her bladder.
Oh come on, lie!
His gun was at her head before she could even begin to construct a lie, then one of his huge hands wrapped around her tiny throat and lifted her high off the ground. ‘I’m not going to ask a third time,’ he growled, then threw her across the room.
She slammed into the wall, and everything spun.
‘Drop the glamour,’ he demanded.
‘The what?’ she asked, and he fired. For a moment, she thought he’d fired a warning shot, but when her shoulder began to burn, she realised he hadn’t. She shook her stiff head and looked down to her shoulder – the same shoulder she’d shot for the blood to fake her own suicide.
Concentrate. Glamour. Fairy glamour, you’re dealing with magic here, remember? Glamours project false appearances, generally to keep up the masquerade, or by those wanting to escape detection.
‘I’m not wearing a glamour,’ she said, instinctively placing a hand over her shoulder so that he couldn’t see it heal up.
‘It’s the only explanation I’ll accept.’
It was the mansion all over again – the scary narc in the dark, though she doubted that her words would mean very much this time. She twitched as the bullet was forced out of her shoulder, the still-cooling lead burning her hand. She took her hand away from her shoulder and let the bullet drop to the ground.
He took in the sight of her newly-healed shoulder for a moment, then lunged. One of his huge hands wrapped around her throat again, the other jammed the gun up against her head – another unfortunately familiar feeling. ‘Drop the glamour,’ he demanded again as he dropped a knee onto her chest, forcing all of the air from her lungs.
I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here! This isn’t happening! This isn’t happening! God, I’m sorry, just make it all go away, I just want it to go away!
Hysterics aren’t going to help.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, none of it was supposed to be like this!
She stared at him, waiting for the inevitable scan, the thing that would betray her as the danger she apparently was. If Emma, a woman who had no reason to hate her, wanted her dead enough to threaten a real agent, then Taylor – who seemed to have hated her from the get-go for whatever reason, was going to want her gone just as badly. Doublethink. Doubledead. Double-plus ungood.
‘Who are you?’ he asked, giving her just enough of a shake to remind her that she wasn’t in control – a reminder she had no need of.
She stared at him, wondering how he expected her to answer with his hand blocking almost all of her air. He relented his grip just enough for her to squeak words out. ‘I’m who I look like,’ she said. He hand closed again, tighter this time, and she had to fight for even the tiniest amount of breath.
‘You can’t be.’
Here it comes.
When his expression changed, she knew he’d scanned her. She heard her neck snap, then-
* * * * *
Taylor stepped back from the body, unsure of what to make of what had just happened – aside from the fact that Edward surely now had the final nail to drive into Ryan’s coffin.
The threat – the corpse with the mirror gestating inside of it, began to glow – the safe blue glow of a soul. The soul began to lift up out of the body, then spasmed. He stared down at it, as the eyeless, shapeless blue form seemed to look down at the parts still attached to the corpse. It struggled to pull away from the body, presumably so that it could fade away, but to no avail.
The corpse itself shook, so he scanned it – its collapsed lungs were beginning to inflate again, its blood running red again, instead of the oxygen-starved shade of blue that he preferred.
The soul stopped struggling and sank back into the body, there was a beat, then the threat’s eyes flew open, and she began to gasp air back into her empty lungs. Without hesitating, he pulled the trigger of the gun that was still in his hand. The girl fell dead instantly, and he stood waiting for a moment before the soul again tried to rip itself from the body.
A thought summoned his recruit, and he pointed to the corpse. ‘When it wakes up,’ he ordered. ‘Kill it.’
‘Sir?’ Magnolia asked.
‘No repercussions,’ he clarified, ‘use whatever manner you wish.’
* * * * *
Merlin’s path to Jones’ lab was lit with familiar arrows, and rooms that no longer bothered to pulse unless he asked them nicely. He found the soft spot in the door and walked through. ‘Jonesy, Jonesy-‘ he said, out of breath. ‘Squishy!’
Jones, arm deep in Agent-fixing-goop, turned to look at him. ‘I know Merlin, please don’t tell the others.’
‘No Jonesy,’ he implored as he ran over to the agent, tugging on one of the dry and clean sections of his agent’s lab coat. ‘Squishy!’
Jones shook his arms, then reloaded his skin and uniform so that he was no longer covered in Agent-fixing-goop. ‘What about Squishy, Merlin?’
He closed his eyes and projected the noises he’d heard when hiding behind the couch. Jones looked back at the possible-future-paladin, shook the agent-fixing-goop from his hands and hurriedly finished what he was doing.
After a few moments, Jones turned, then disappeared.
* * * * *
Jones shifted to Ryan’s office – there was blood all over the dark blue couch, tiny shards of mirror on the floor, and a weeping girl being held aloft by an agent. Tears streaked her pale face, and blood covered what was left of her shirt that hadn’t been destroyed by bullets.
The office was a mess, more the scene of a slaughter than a place to do paperwork. Bullet holes riddled the walls, the desk had been upturned, there were several roughly Stef-shaped holes in the wall and even an…He raised a hand to his mouth as he zoomed in on the object lying near the window to make sure it was what he thought it was. He swallowed as he realised he was looking at an arm, an arm that was no longer attached to a body.
A single thought banished Magnolia from the room.
He stepped into Taylor’s field of vision, trying to ignore Stef’s whispered begging, and the pathetic – though two-armed, as it had apparently regenerated – attempts she was making to try and get Taylor to release his hand.
‘How many times?’ he asked, deleting the emotion from his face.
‘You knew about this?’ the tone was caustic.
‘I just found out,’ he said, stretching the truth only a little. ‘How many times?’
‘This’ll make eight,’ he said as he shook the girl like a rag doll.
‘Stop it.’
‘You know what’s inside her.’
‘I said stop it.’
‘This is not the realm of scholars.’ There was one last laboured gasp, and he dropped the girl. ‘Threats deserve no mercy.’
He squared his shoulders and stared at Taylor. ‘You’re interfering with my data.’
‘Your what?’ Taylor demanded.
A folder with one piece of paper appeared in his hand. He opened it and required a pen for the taller agent. ‘If you sign this, we’ll have the Enforcers to deal with this.’ Without even perusing the document, Taylor tore the pen from his hand and scrawled his inefficient signature. The file disappeared, calling the Enforcers.
‘How long?’ the combat agent asked.
‘They won’t be long. But until then,’ he said quickly as the corpse began to stir, ‘don’t interfere with my data again. It’s only going to be in this state for a while longer, I need all that I can get.’
‘So what-?’
The corpse at his feet gasped, then latched onto his leg. He kicked her off quickly, earning a grunt of approval from Taylor. He knelt and stared at the girl. ‘We’re remanding you to the Parkers’ custody.’ This information was met with a whimper and a nod. He required her into the grey version of the training uniform, touched the tip of one finger to her shuddering shoulder and shifted them to the infirmary.
He shifted her up onto the one of the empty beds, much to the collective surprise of Parkers. ‘Jonesy,’ the taller of the twins said. ‘You remembered my birthday! That is something for me to experiment on, right?’
‘No,’ he answered, ‘the Enforcers are coming for it soon. Just keep it sedated until then. And try to keep Emma away from it.’
The shorter of the Parkers began to string up an IV. ‘She’s got a…in her chest, what exactly is going to keep her unconscious?’
‘It’s still mostly human,’ he replied, ‘just use enough to keep down an elephant.’ He avoided looking at the girl’s face, catching only the briefest glimpses of the confusion and betrayal in her eyes as he looked from one doctor to the other. ‘I trust I can leave you to it.’
‘You’ve got your own patient to look after,’ the taller Parker said, a large needle of green fluid appearing in his hand, ‘we can look after this one.’
‘Do I ask what that is?’
The taller Parker attempted to look hurt, then shrugged it off. ‘It’s a muscle relaxant,’ he said casually. ‘So even if we can’t keep her unconscious, we can keep her still.’
‘Do I even get a say in this?’ the girl asked, wiping blood from the corner of her mouth. ‘I’m not going to hurt anyone, or try to run. Please, I won’t, I-‘
‘You,’ he said firmly to cut her off, ‘put the commander of this Agency in mortal danger, that’s how much of a threat you are. The Enforcers will be here soon to deal with you. You cannot stay in the state that you are, you cannot remain here as is, and they’ll deal with you.’ He looked to the taller Parker, then back to her. ‘You should be thanking me, Taylor would have likely torn your heart out, and I don’t think you can spontaneously generate a new body for yourself, can you?’
‘I don’t…’ she trailed off as the smaller Parker inserted the IV into her arm. ‘What about-?’
‘All Ryan’s protection would have done is ruined his life. You had your chance to get away, to seek sanctuary with a Court, but you threw that chance away. There’s no other path now you, ah, brought this on yourself.’
‘Don’t use his words,’ she slurred as the drug took effect.
He looked to the doctors. ‘It’ll all be over soon, don’t worry.’
‘I’m sorry,’ the taller Parker said, ‘remind me of when exactly I surgically attached a pair to you?’
‘Taylor’s the one who needs that surgery, not me,’ he said. ‘And my role is not one that often requires me to make difficult decisions, but I’m still an agent. And unlike the others, I’m not clouded by love or anger, I’m the one with a clear perspective of what exactly needs to happen here.’
With that, he faded from the infirmary and back to his lab. Ryan, naked but for a sheet, lay unconscious, the snake’s venom taking far more of a toll on him than either of them had predicted. The poison in his veins had corrupted his potential, so it was necessary to essentially build him back up from scratch.
He looked to the monitors – each of them told him that his commander was in a far better condition then when he’d entered the lab, and that the process would be finished soon. But…finished before or after the Enforcers arrived was an entirely different question.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said to the unconscious man, ‘but I had to do this. I had no choice.’