Jones watched Stef spasm and convulse in the tank, screaming while barely conscious, bubbles forming in the blue, popping, floating to the edges of the tank.
Reabsorption was different for every agent. Some found it rapturous, orgasmic, some found it torturous, some found it worse than a glitch. There was no reason for the different experiences, no math on why it was wondrous for some and the hell of being born for others. A scant few claimed the found the same pre-consciousness nirvana in the tank, but the majority believed those lucky few to be liars.
She cracked her head against the wall of the tank, went still, and floated towards to the top of the tank, her limbs limp and heavy.
He cycled through the monitor views in his HUD rather than turning his head to look at his computers. Seventy-three per cent, right on schedule.
He felt sadness creep into the corner of his mind, and pushed all of the monitoring data from his mind, slid off his chair and went under his desk.
Merlin lay in his box, the tiny, dirty blanket wrapped around him, birthing a tiny galaxy between his hands.
‘It hurts,’ the boy whispered.
Power streamed from his hands, causing the – he hoped – illusion of the galaxy to spin and grow brighter.
‘You haven’t told me what you need.’
‘I’m trying to figure it out,’ Merlin said, his voice raw with pain. ‘I won’t tell me this time, but-‘
Sparks shot from his hand, errant streams of power that scorched the floor.
‘I can’t help you unless I know what you need, Merlin.’
‘It’s all building,’ he said, the galaxy spinning faster and faster, cycling through every colour in existence. ‘And if- We know what the phoenixes will do, we don’t know what I’ll do.’
He kissed the boy on the head. ‘Stay here.’
The illusion of the galaxy became a star, tiny and hot like a furnace.
‘Yes, it’s real,’ Merlin said, picking the thought from his mind. ‘Gravity is hard to do, so it’s good, eats up some of the power.’
‘Stay here,’ he said again.
He pushed himself out from under the desk.
This time, it was easy. The first time hadn’t been easy, had left him guilty for days, despite the reasoning, despite the logic. The second time, he’d asked permission, and she hadn’t given it. The third time he’d had no choice, and there was solace in the decision being out of his hands, just like this time.
He shifted Stef from the tank and onto a waiting slab.
He required away her shirt, and wiped away the excess blue with a towel.
‘Make her sleep,’ he said.
‘She’s already asleep,’ Merlin said, coming out from under the table, still wrapped in his blanket, the small star floating beside him.
He opened the box of tools on the slab, selected a small laser and cut into her skin, the blue laser making a clean cut through her newly absorbed blue, no flood flowed, no pain. He opened her chest and stared at the small hunk that had been a heart. Small, but still plenty. It was possible all she needed was a single grain, and it wasn’t as though he had a choice.
He ran two fingers across the mirror, careful to keep his mind blank, free from wishes, free from wants and desires.
The solid mirror turned to a pudding consistency, and allowed him to take two goopy strings of potential wishes.
He pooled the mirror in his palm, and handed to it Merlin, who had stopped trying to stay tethered to the ground. He floated with his small green sun, sweat staining his clothes.
Merlin picked the mirror from his hand and swallowed it. ‘Still tastes like cookies,’ he said, a tall glass of water winking into existence. He drank the water, and the sun grew in size. ‘More.’
He pulled more mirror from the hacker’s heart and fed it to the boy.
He took a moment, and placed two strings of mirror into his pocket, each wrapping in on itself to form three small tear-drop shapes as they always did, then fed the boy more of the hacker’s mirror.
Merlin swallowed, then collapsed to the floor, his head hitting the tiles with a crack.
The sun bloated out again, now five times its original size, and he had to stumble back to avoid its heat. He took refuge behind the tank as the illusion began to shake and shudder. The tiny sun went nova, energy blasting all across the lab. The tank exploded, showering him with glass and blue.
He killed the alarms as they hit his HUD. Alarms and assistance were the last thing they needed.
He tossed his glasses aside, his eyes adjusting in a split second as he stood and shook wet safety glass pieces from his lab coat.
The room was filled with the gases of a nebula, blues and purples and strings of green laying over every inch of the lab.
He felt sadness again, and he heard crying.
He stepped across the ramshackle lab, over the unconscious hacker’s blue-sodden body and found Merlin on his back, holding a hand to his chest.
He crouched and lifted him, then shifted them both to the boy’s tiny bedroom.
‘Where are you hurt?’ he asked as he set the boy down on the rarely-used bed, and scanned him for injuries. Despite the sound, his head was fine – he’d probably already healed it himself.
Merlin held out a finger, and showed him a tiny cut, with a single drop of blood beading on it. ‘I hurt my finger.’
He nodded, then fetched the box of dinosaur band aids from the bookcase behind him and dressed the small wound.
Several quick requirements had them both in dry clothes.
‘How do you feel now?’
Merlin cupped his hands and the image of a tree appeared there. ‘This. I told me what I needed. It’s this.’
He stared at the illusion of the tree as tiny breezes shook its boughs and leaves floated down onto the boy’s palms.
‘What do you need?’
Merlin began to cry. ‘…a nymph,’ he managed through tears. ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t want to need that, but-‘
‘Shh, shh,’ he cooed as he held one of the most powerful beings on the planet. ‘We’ll get you what you need Merlin, we always do.’
‘But I don’t want to need it.’
‘I’m sure there are a few nymphs on the blacklist.’
‘There weren’t when I needed a brownie!’
He required an oversized handkerchief and wiped off the boy’s face. ‘None of this is your fault.’
‘I could just burn up-‘
‘No,’ he said firmly, ‘Merlin, no.’
‘No more arguments, all right?’
Merlin hung his head.
‘Listen to my mind, I’ll tell you when to wake Stef up, then I’ll go find a nymph.’
Merlin crushed the illusion of the tree and blew away dirt and tiny leaves to reveal a crystal. ‘Just- Just make them eat that. Just like last time.’
He pocketed the glowing green gem. ‘Try and rest alright? Use the basement if you have to, but remember to confuse security when you do.’
‘I don’t want to have to!’
‘None of this is your fault, Merlin,’ he said again. ‘You can’t help it.’
‘That doesn’t make it any better. It doesn’t stop you from being sad. It doesn’t-‘
‘I’ll be sadder if you die,’ he said gently.
‘But I’m just-‘
‘You’re one very important person,’ he said, ‘sometimes, less important people have to die for the very important people.’
‘I don’t like it.’
‘And that’s why you’re worth it, Merlin, if you were arrogant, it would be harder for me to do what we need to do.’
He shifted back to the lab, tidied it with a few requirements, and pulled his hybrid phone from the desk drawer – the Genie phone had been altered to allow it to contact human networks as well – useful for when you needed to contact both halves of the world.
He tapped into his contacts list and called a wizard.
‘Crossfade’s Emporium of-‘
‘Why did you call me at the store?’
‘Are you busy?’ he asked as he dragged his hand through the slowly dissipating nebula clouds.
‘For you, angel, never. Call my secure line.’
He hung up and called the second number in his contacts list.
‘Business or pleasure?’ Crossfade asked as he answered.
‘Magic,’ he said, ‘Merlin.’
‘What do you need?’
He opened his mind. ‘Read me.’
‘Don’t make me read you from so far away,’ the psychic said. ‘I can, but if you need me, you don’t want me with a migraine.’
‘I need an escort.’
‘Oh.’ There was silence for a moment. ‘When? Where?’
‘Same as last time.’
‘Then remember to come incognito, Andrea. When?’
‘I’ll meet you at that place in the Marches. The one with the flowers. As soon as you can, I’ve just got one thing to finish up here, then I’ll meet you.’
He hung up the phone, turned to his screens, and keyed in the remaining commands to make the hacker on the slab an agent again.
He keyed in a few commands as her operating system ran diagnostic tests. Her mouth opened and cycled through the alphabet a few times, testing her vocal ranges. Her fingers flexed and moved, assuring all the connections were in place.
She opened her eyes, then waved a greeting. ‘Should I be this tired?’
He nodded, and watched the diagnostic cycle in his HUD. ‘You’ll need a full night’s sleep, and as much of the next few days off as possible. Light duties, or help my kids out, I think you’ve earned a bit of a break, don’t you?’
She made a non-committal noise. Her eyes looked past him. ‘Fla-‘ She looked confused. ‘Fla- Fla- What is that?’
He spun on his char to stare at the laser in the corner. ‘The Flamidimiser?’
She gave a nod. ‘That.’
‘What about it?’
She stared at him, glassy-eyed, out of it. ‘You cut my fingers off with it.’
She tried to sit up. ‘You cut- Laser! It’s a laser! When did you do that? And then-‘
She shrieked and rolled off the slab, hitting the floor with a wet slap of flesh.
He looked at the screens in front of him, and saw it – new data from months ago that was integrating with her code. New memories of old events, that-
He opened his mind and called for Merlin.
‘What do you remember?’
She pushed herself to her feet. ‘He tried to kill me! He tried to kill me!’
Her head snapped up, and her arms went limp, her body swaying like a tree in a strong breeze.
‘Oh gods, what am I- What am I remembering?’ She wrapped her arms around her chest and hugged herself. ‘Please-‘ She looked to him, tears in her eyes. ‘What- My- Stress tests? I can- Why didn’t I-? He tried- And Reynolds-‘
‘You shouldn’t be remembering any of that.’
‘Agent Squishy doesn’t remember it,’ Merlin said. ‘We took the memories from the agent.’
He turned and watched the boy pull himself through the wall.
‘What are you talking about?’ she asked, her voice hoarse.
Merlin hugged her, and she calmed like his arms were made of tranquilisers. ‘Your heart kept the memories.’
‘I don’t want to remember this. Please. I don’t- I- I’m- I wasn’t supposed to remember this. Make the memories go away again! Please!’
‘Close your eyes,’ Merlin said.
She closed her eyes, and Merlin blew a long breath against her forehead.
Her legs gave out, and she went to the floor again. Merlin cradled her, blowing long breaths against her head, through her head, through her mind to extract the memories as fragile bubbles.
He watched as the memories floated past him, all the Agency-approved traumas they’d put her through, all of the sick pleasure Taylor and his cohorts had taken in repeatedly disembowelling her, crushing her, killing her in a thousand different ways. She cried and clung to Merlin as bad memory after bad memory came pouring out of her mind.
He reached out a finger and popped the closest bubble, experiencing the memory for a brief second before it faded.
When the last memories floated past his eyes – the memory of Ryan taking her memories, and the brand new memory of remembering it all, Merlin looked up and nodded. ‘All gone.’
‘Thank you,’ he said.
He shifted the agentified hacker back up onto the slab. ‘I’ll be done here in a few minutes,’ he said, ‘then I’ll go get you dinner.’ Dinner. A simple code word. A safe code word. A way of minimising the impact of what he was about to do.
Merlin disappeared, and he dealt with the hacker as quickly as he could.
He laid his lab coat over his chair, and brought up his glamour options, and selected the Andrea profile.
His body slipped and shifted, morphing him from tech agent to a face unaffiliated with the Agency.
She pulled her hair back into a loose bun and packed a small – fairy currency, a small bill fold of other fae currencies and standardised, tradeable IOUs from low-ranking members of various Courts, her Genie phone and three prepared vials, each containing a small tear-drop of mirror.
‘I’ll be back as soon as I can,’ she said, opening her mind and projecting the words towards Merlin’s room.
She shifted to the Marches, the filthy warehouse appearing after the lagging shift. None of the warehouse agents were around as she walked from the blue-painted shifting circle to the door. Typical. They did well enough to avoid recycling, but barely.
She stepped out into the Marches evening and flagged a cab as it passed – an acceptable deviation to the plan. She gave the hob driver the address, and checked for messages on her phone as they drove the short distance to the flower shop/gift shop/cafe they’d somehow chosen as their usual meeting spot.
She paid the driver and stepped out to greet the waiting wizard. Crossfade bowed to her, then nodded to his car at the end of the block.
The prematurely grey man called himself a wizard. It was on his store front, it was on his business cards and it was all over the advertisements for his stage show.
Wizard wasn’t accurate – though there hadn’t been an agreement on what wizard had meant for centuries, other than when referring to Gandalf or Dumbledore – but the man wore it as a badge of pride.
He was one of the rare true psychics, and rarer still, a human mutation, rather than someone with fae ancestry. It made him dangerous, it made him valuable, and it made him a great resource to the Agency.
They kept him on retainer, exclusively, with a list of conditions as long as her arm – but the primary one was that he kept his powers as secret from everyone else – which was barely a problem, as Crossfade’s biggest use of power was hiding in plain sight as a stage magician, therefore destroying all of his credibility with anyone who would think twice about his all-too-accurate guesses.
They drove in silence towards the market, the wizard picking at her mind, gleaning what details she would let him have. There was no need to talk. It was the same as last time, a purchase and a murder.
They parked, and Crossfade locked the doors.
The slave market was held in an utterly unimposing building – it was well-tended, its paint and fixtures always in the best of repair and even updated to keep up with the latest trends.
They joined the small line and were inspected by three lithe demons as they paid the nominal admission fee, and allowed the tallest to take a small drop of their blood.
Satisfied with their inspections, the demons handed them each a mask, and allowed them into the pavilion.
They donned the brightly-coloured masks – which other than making it hard to immediately identify them on security cameras, were infused with a subtle magic to fog memory just a touch, just to give buyers the edge of anonymity.
‘I wish you would let me come here alone.’
‘There’s no reason-‘
‘I need your services, Crossfade, no your arguments.’
‘I can’t help being afraid that you’ll-‘
A image went into her mind – of herself in a cage being sold for sex, for food, for her wings.
She pushed the images away tried to close off her mind a little – not enough to keep him out, but enough to dissuade the from sharing every image that went through his mind.
‘Despite the nature of the market,’ she said, ‘buyers are safe. If they weren’t, there’d be no clientele, it’s a lose-lose situation. I was coming here before I had your assistance, Crossfade, and in all that time I’ve only had four people try to negotiate for my indentured servitude, at rates that were worth considering, no less.’
‘And what about for your wings, angel?’
‘No offers worth considering,’ she said. ‘And fewer times than you might imagine. I’d imagine in a forum that regularly sold agents, I’d be propositioned more often. No agent has ever been sold here, it’s one of the few reasons I can stomach this place.’ She touched a hand to her mask. ‘Now find me a nymph.’
‘You’re not exactly spoiled for choice,’ Crossfade said as they came to a T-junction between the market stalls. ‘I see some green lights, let’s try down there.’
Green lights for those fae attuned to nature in one way or another – nymphs and hobs and the like, and given the nature of the meat market, there would be full-blood and halfbreeds and less, whatever the slavers could get their hands on.
They were buyers, they were safe.
A demon walked past, and she couldn’t supress her shudder.
They were buyers, they were safe.
Feelings of reassurance touched her mind, and she was grateful for the wizard’s presence.
The first four stalls with green lights held nothing of value – one only had a live hob, the other specialised in pieces, rather than a living whole.
They found a half dozen nymphs, all of them already sold and awaiting pick-up by their new owners. One stall owner though, was kind enough to give them a list of his associates who had nymphs for sale – he saw no harm in sending them to a competitor when he was out of stock.
‘There,’ Crossfade said as they stepped up to the next stall. ‘At the back.’
She peered through the mess of dirty bodies, and saw a young man with green hair and skin patched with bark – what she could see of it, anyway, his upper body was restrained with a straitjacket.
Crossfade began to barter with the owner, then turned and grinned. ‘Pay the man, darling.’
She let the question of price hang on her mind, and Crossfade ran a single finger across the back of her hand.
She reached into her purse and pulled out a vial containing one of the tear-drop shaped pieces of mirror. She tried to look conflicted for a moment, as if it was too high of a price, then handed over the vial.
The demon disappeared it into his pocket, walked away, and returned, dragging the captured nymph by a short leather leash.
‘Do you remember where the Thorn Rooms are?’
She gave him a slight nod as they weaved through the other buyers and their purchases.
Thorn Rooms. The horrible, dark parody of Rose Rooms. Very likely the horrible, dark origin of the Rose Rooms.
Even in the straightjacket, the nymph struggled as Crossfade led him towards the room.
She walked ahead of the wizard and their purchase, and swiped on with an untraceable bank card. It was expensive, when compared to a Rose Room, but the price was well worth it.
The math was simple. Twenty-for-twenty was a standard rate for a Rose Room, rooms at a higher rates were either comparable to hotel rooms, came with a meal, or offered other exclusive features. Rooms of a lower rate were hit-or-miss at best, ten-for-twenty rooms generally had nothing but a standard bed, and no name brand items, if any. Rates lower than that, like the infamous two-for-twenty were little better than toilet-stall sized rooms providing more privacy than a dark alley. They were dirty, they were smelly, and they were unpleasant.
Thorn Rooms, on the other hand, generally went for two hundred-for-twenty. Thorn Rooms with rates like that were guaranteed to be clean, to have evidence of previous users eliminated. Cheaper Thorn Rooms always smelt of blood, and there’d often be bits of gore in the corners missed by the cleaners in-between uses.
The meat market ran the gamut of rooms, from the cheap – for those who just needed a quick minute to prove their dominance over a new slave, brand them, or for those inclined – swallow their purchase whole, to the reasonably priced, where the poor nymph would die.
Crossfade closed the door, and let the nymph fall to the floor.
With the brownie, she’d tried to talk to it. Tried to justify it to herself, tried to offer some condolences, made an offer to compensate the family.
There was nothing you could to console the dying.
People thought that they could make the situation better, that they could somehow alleviate how bad they were feeling by comforting the dying. When it came down to it, there was nothing at all to say to a person about to go to Death that made it better.
She’d only killed a few so far, and he valued their weight on her soul.
It would get easier. It would get so much easier.
A few would turn into more than a few, which would turn into many, which would turn into a statistic.
Statistics were nice, safe numbers that could stay as numbers, and not as guilt to be added.
There was no point in feeling guilty, it wasn’t as though there was a choice. There was no choice, ergo, she shouldn’t feel any guilt.
She pulled the glowing green crystal from her pocket and held it up to the nymph. The fae stared, mesmerised by the glow, forgetting to struggle against its bonds.
She nodded to Crossfade, who removed the gag from the nymph’s mouth.
‘Just swallow this,’ she said, ‘swallow this and-‘
The nymph made no argument, didn’t cry, didn’t beg. All the resistance was gone from the fae’s body. The nymph stared at the crystal, looking high off its presence, yielding, not willing to argue. The young man opened his mouth, and accepted the crystal.
Crossfade let go of the leash and stepped back.
The glow suffused the nymph, and everything that he was disappeared. His features went slack, then diminished, for a moment, he looked like a green-tinted version of one of the Lost’s Blanks. After a moment, all of his features sucked into his face, leaving nothing but smooth skin and an open hole where his mouth had been.
Small white vines crawled from the nymph’s mouth, and slowly covered his body in a living lattice. His stained clothes were consumed by the creeping vines, which grew thicker and thicker, cycling through all the shades of green, before growing tough, becoming branches. The rest of the fae’s body was consumed as the roots twisted him into the trunk of a small tree, roots spreading out across the room to hold it steady.
Leaves sprouted from the few branches, and an apple formed in front of him, suffused with the same green glow.
The bigger the apple grew, the more withered the tree became – as if it were – and it likely was – pouring every bit of life and magic and energy into the production of this single, perfect fruit.
The tree tilted sideways and she grabbed for the fruit as the tree shattered into a pile of dry park and dust.
‘Want me to carry it?’ Crossfade asked.
She blew some dust from the apple and polished it with her sleeve. ‘If you promise to be careful.’
She felt life pulsing within the fruit, whether it was an echo of the nymph, or if it was already an extension of Merlin, she wasn’t sure, and she wasn’t sure she needed to know.
The wizard carefully placed the oversized apple into his carry bag, and crooked an arm. ‘I think it’s time to leave.’
She stared down at the pile of dust. ‘I never thought I could do this. Never thought I could kill so easily. I am well aware my kind is not made for fighting, but most techs score their first kill within a few years of being generated. I’ve devised ways to kill, I’ve created weapons that have killed, I’ve helped create new agents that have impressive trails of corpses behind them, but- I went two decades before I killed, that’s rare, even for a tech. I have killed for duty, I have no issue with that. My problem is that I have less of an issue with this. From an objective point of view, it’s very simple. It needed to be done. One death now or many deaths later.’
‘You did the right thing. I trust you, angel, you always do the right thing.’
The wizard put his arms around her and held her for a moment, then for a long moment. She pulled away, and looked to the Thorn Room’s door. ‘We need to-’
The wizard reached for her again, and she didn’t fight as the wizard pulled her close. She let him embrace her for a moment, enjoying the contact as he gently pushed her head against his shoulder. She closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of books, burnt hair and cheap oils masquerading as love potions.
‘What do you want, Crossfade?’ she finally asked.
‘You know what I want.’
Crossfade pushed her against the wall. ‘Can’t you?’ She heard herself moan as the wizard kissed her neck. ‘I’ve waited this long, angel, I can wait longer if you want me to.’
‘I can’t love you. I don’t have time to love.’
‘I’d never ask you to take the long to love me,’ he said. ‘I’m not asking for love, angel, I’ll take what you can give me.’
Choice one was to deny the wizard again, to reject a man who’d made his intentions, his desires clear the first time they’d met.
Timers ran in her HUD, each, and she weighed them against the warm feelings spreading through her body.
Some of it was Crossfade’s lust…a lot of it was Crossfade’s lust, but not all of it. Enough to make it well worth considering.
Jones never got laid.
Jones was the good agent. The friend to all. The quiet, harmless geek that did his job and always helped out where he could. Deep down, and when truly honest, it was who she was. Analysis and plans. Knowing the outcome.
Only Jones could do the things that needed to be done.
Jones wasn’t the extent of who she was.
‘I can give you tonight.’ She kissed the wizard, and shivered as the psychic reached ran a hand over her chest, and let it rest between her legs.
‘Not here,’ she whispered. ‘All right, but not here.’
‘If you insist,’ Crossfade said as he withdrew his hand.
With a theatrical move straight his stage show, red sparkles flew from his hand and surrounded them. The wind in the alley picked up and encircled them in a mini cyclone.
She felt Crossfade’s lust leaking into his mind, coming up against the solid barriers that kept her steady, kept her neutral on her own wants, kept her able to be twelve moves ahead of those that thought they were twelve moves ahead.
Crossfade kissed her, and she felt a soft mattress under his back.
‘You’ll have to teach me that trick,’ she whispered as Crossfade straddled her.
‘A magician never shares his tricks,’ the wizard said as he put his hands to her chest, and pulled her clothes away, the jacket and the shirt becoming insubstantial, passing right through her body.
Crossfade’s lust pounded in her mind, and she gave in.
The world would not collapse in five minutes. None of her plans would be delayed if she was five minutes late. None-
Her pants were taken in the same manner, and her panties taken slowly down by hand. Slowly. Teasingly. Drawing out the calm before the storm. She grasped the sheets as the wizard put his mouth to her.
She let her mind open, and through the overwhelming lust, felt the wizard pushing in feelings of loyalty, of desire, of the hundred times they’d come close to this, but had been denied.
Her breathing slowed, her eyes rolling back into her head with pleasure as ghostly, telekinetic hands ran up and down her legs. She came with very little effort, her mind reeling more than her body. She saw explosions, and let her sense of release wash through the connection back to the wizard.
‘Job well done?’ Crossfade asked, licking his lips as he rested against the pillows beside him. ‘Did you just think “job well done”? I’m not one of your recruits, you know.’
Her cheeks flushed. ‘Sorry, I’m not used to-’
‘Just let your mind sing to me.’
She closed her mouth and let her feelings do the talking.
Crossfade slowly undressed himself, then pulled her close. ‘I guess you could recruit me,’ the wizard said, their legs intertwining. ‘But I don’t think I’m ready to give up the stage, and performing to the same group of recruits every night would be boring. Requiring could spice things up, though. It would be unbeatable sleight of hand.’
‘It would be cheating.’
The wizard sucked on her neck for a moment. ‘I don’t mind cheating, if it gets the job done.’
‘How did you get us here? I didn’t think teleportation was in your range of talents.’
‘I don’t ask your secrets,’ Crossfade said. ‘But really, it was just a bit of over the counter magic,’ he said. ‘Single-use, and expensive, but you’re right, so much better than the Thorn Room.’
She let her hands idly explore the wizard’s body. ‘Your turn?’ she asked as wrapped a hand around him.
‘Oh, angel-’ Crossfade said. ‘Oh, please-’
She wrapped her legs around him, and pulled him close.
* * *
‘I won’t push further than you’ll let me,’ Crossfade said.
‘Merlin,’ Crossfade said, ‘no more than you’re willing to tell me, but why does he need them? Unicorn blood, there’s more than a thousand different uses for that, and that’s true for a lot of things he needs, but the brownie, and now the nymph, I’m just- If I understood more, I can help you more.’
‘He doesn’t know why he needs them, I don’t know why either, all I know is the outcome.’
‘What was the outcome?’
She reached for the glass of wine, finished it, then topped up their glasses. ‘I-’ She let the need hang heavy on her mind. The need to know she could trust the wizard, trust him where she couldn’t trust anyone else. She could do it on her own, but help made things easier, made it easier to spread herself thinner, to have more eyes in more places.
Crossfade kissed her, feelings and images flooding into her mind. Loyalty. Dedication. Devotion. She pushed back on the wizard’s mind with the idea of duty, letting the concept hang between them. She felt the wizard latch on to the idea, the strength of the emotion spiking physical sensation in her chest. Duty. Yes.
Crossfade knelt on the bed, pushing his forehead down onto the sheets.
Everything the concept was. Everything it meant to an agent. Everything it meant to the both of them.
The wizard looked up at her, and nodded. A pledge of duty. Swearing devotion. A promise to respect, to genuflect and to obey.
‘I accept,’ she said to the wizard.
She’d only had a few pledges of duty, and none in such a sexy fashion. None from a person she actually felt she could begin to trust.
She felt lust pricking at the edges of the wizard’s mind again.
Their minds fell into sync again and their bodies followed.
Despite the fact that it was the fourth time in just over ninety minutes, it was as raw, as passionate and as fierce as the first time. The yearning to be joined, the need to prove his love, the want to please. The wizard wore his emotions on his sleeve, and it was more than a little endearing. Readers always left you naked and vulnerable, exposed however they wanted to see you.
She’d become accustomed to being under the scrutiny of readers, of relying on tricks to keep them out of the areas of his mind he needed to keep secret, of the plans that no one could know.
It was a refreshing experience for a reader to show their emotions so openly in return.
Crossfade pulled her to his chest, their hearts beating against each other as they fucked.
‘Dinner?’ Crossfade asked when they’d finished.
The wizard ran a finger down her spine, his mouth following to kiss each of her vertebrae. ‘Are you sure?’
‘I’ve been away long enough as it is.’
‘You’d know if he was in trouble.’
She stood, and began to pick up her clothes. ‘Come back with me,’ she said. ‘Come back and I’ll have dinner with you. We can call it an official visit and you’ll get paid.’
‘Who am I to argue with your logic, Agent Jones?’
She smiled, and threw his pants back to him. ‘Come on, wizard.’
‘Whatever you say, angel.’
Jones watched Stef spasm and convulse in the tank, screaming while barely conscious, bubbles forming in the blue, popping, floating to the edges of the tank.