Curt knocked on the door to Ryan’s office. He was sure that it was a formality, not an actual requirement. As close to omniscience that agents touted themselves as being, it would be madness that they needed to hear flesh against wood to know that someone was at their door.
He knocked anyway, it was the polite thing to do.

A lot of Agents, he had noticed, tended to simply unlock their door from afar, and make the recruit come to them. A simple, subtle show of power. A way to show that they were better than you.
Ryan was no different, at least in this regard.
The door unlocked, and his supposition was confirmed as he saw Ryan behind his desk.
He closed the door behind him, and attempted to stand straighter than a board. ‘Sir, do you have a moment?’
Ryan arched an eyebrow. It was a disturbingly common agent mannerism – he doubted that a lot of agents even recognised that their physical mannerisms were so similar – generally, the older agents tended to be able to differentiate themselves. Ryan wasn’t one of these – so many of the ways he acted and reacted were so…newborn, for an agent of his age.
‘What can I do for you, Recruit?’ Ryan asked, his voice a flat Agency neutral.
‘Sir, we haven’t really spoken since- Well, since I punched you in the face, sir.’
Ryan’s lips twitched into a small smile.
An astounding reaction to the memory of being assaulted by someone inferior.
‘Sit, Curt,’ Ryan said, indicating to the spare chair in front of his desk. ‘In light of things, we should probably clear the air.’
‘Forgive me, sir,’ Curt said, his eyes searching for a trap as he sat, ‘I thought you’d still be pissed at me.’
Ryan folded his hands and stared. ‘I was callous, and I incited your reaction. I would thank you not to make a habit of it, but now that things have transpired as they have, holding a grudge would seem petty.’
‘So things went all right with Agent Jane,’ he looked at the floor for a moment, ‘even if you initiate an investigation, they don’t really keep you informed.’
‘It went as well as one could suppose. It was ruled as a little bit of Cherry Syndrome, and for my age, it’s a minor crime.’
Curt felt his anger bubbling again, and Ryan seemed to notice.
‘Minor,’ Ryan clarified, ‘according to transgressions against the Agency. I regret what happened more than you could know.’
‘So why-‘ he swallowed. ‘Why didn’t you- Why did you act like you didn’t give a shit? All I needed to know what that you cared that you got her killed.’
‘Playing aloof,’ Ryan said quietly, ‘seemed to be the safer game at the time. I was grieving myself and the last thing I wanted to do was give a turncoat blackmail material.’
Curt’s heart sank at the lack of trust. ‘You think I’d really do that, sir?’
‘I’m beginning to understand that you wouldn’t. I’m willing to forget, if you are.’
‘Why- Why didn’t you even want to contact the Solstice?’
‘Because I knew she was dead,’ Ryan said, looking away, ‘but it wasn’t something I felt I could explain to a Recruit, let along to yourself.’
He was sticking his head out, he knew it, but he couldn’t help himself. ‘Sir?’
‘Yes, Curt?’
‘Did it have something to do with the way she was killed?’
‘Yes, Curt.’
Curt slumped forward in his chair, his hands clasped together between his knees. ‘Sir, whatever else I am, I’m not an idiot. Stef shot the mirror, didn’t she? I thought it might have just been shitty timing, if Solstice or fae or both came across you two after the mirror was broken, but-’
Ryan stared at him for an uncomfortable moment, then nodded. ‘She was…cut by one of the shards. It was a blackout, there wasn’t time to get her back to the Agency.’
‘But that wouldn’t necessitate a KIA, sir.’
Ryan stared. ‘It did, Curt, because there was time for one action.’
Curt stared, his voice thin and disbelieving. ‘You made a wish sir?’
‘It surprises me that you didn’t work that part out, too.’
‘I figured with all of the regulation against-’ he cleared his throat to cover his surprise. ‘I mean, I thought it would have to have been someone special to get an Agent to make a wish.’
‘When you get to be my age, Curt, we’re a little more likely to be- Do you know what Cherry Syndrome is?’
‘I know it’s not what the Solstice think it is,’ he said, looking away.
Cherry Syndrome. The notion that Agents, on the whole, preferred virgin human girls. That they got off on destroying something pure, on making that girl less human for the act.
‘A less-than-technical explanation is simply that…we can ascribe a heavier degree of emotion to a situation than truly exists. It’s not being emotionally comprised; it’s a compromise that makes us act emotionally.’
‘Except you really cared about Stef, it wasn’t a glitch or a…whatever. And if it was, you need to have them more often, sir. You were acting- Happy,’ he said, trailing off. ‘Sorry, sir, I’m not trying to be insulting, but-’
‘The Agency likes to ascribe technical faults,’ he said, ‘emotions, in their way, are still regarded as irrational things. We are far beyond the point where they will ever consider stripping us of emotions again, but as a whole, we tend to act within a strict set of parameters, as to not have every part of our being called into question.’
Curt nodded. ‘I’m sorry I brought Jane down on your head, sir.’
‘If you intend on making it up, Recruit, you can review my schedule look-aheads and make suggestions for the next three training seminars. The ones I tend to pick are never very popular.’
Curt made a concerted effort to keep his eyes from bugging out of his skull. The schedules were grunt work – something he’d done on occasion before this. Ryan’s schedules were always a point of contention with recruits – he didn’t know his team well enough to place recruits with their preferred partners. People tended to look at the new timetables with dread, knowing they’d have to team up with either a less-than-preferable recruit, or arrange to switch out their shifts to something that fit their workstyle better.
And the coverage was only ever had two levels of contingency, most of which was sent straight to hell once people started swapping their schedules around.
The seminars were a treat though – Ryan tended to pick what the recruits thought were “dry” subjects – as Recent Agency History only appealed to a few, and the communications plans for proper Central contacts always sent people to sleep.
Short, informative lectures on dry stuff were fine, but they needed to be peppered with more exciting things.
Recruits on probation weren’t allowed to attend the Academy, so the infrequent lectures were the only access he’d ever have to some of the information.
And it was Aide work, even if the title didn’t come with it.
He nodded to Ryan, and hoped that he wasn’t grinning like an idiot. ‘I’ll have the preliminaries for you by close of business tomorrow.’
‘Midnight?’ Ryan asked.
Curt froze, halfway to standing – the Agency didn’t close like a regular business, or even like a regular government department, but most people – even agents – understood “close of business” to mean five or six in the evening. It was a joke that Agency COB was midnight – and Ryan had felt comfortable enough to make a joke with him.
It was a good sign.
He allowed himself a small, measured smile towards the Agent – he needed to acknowledge the moment, but not make a meal of it. ‘Five, sir, I’ll have it done by five.’
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