The Grey Edge: Chapter Fifty

Taylor opened his eyes when he heard the footsteps. He pushed himself up from the bottom of the rejuvenation tank, through the thick, soupy blue and to the surface to look at the intruder.
Ryan threw him a towel.
He wiped the blue from his face, then dropped it on the floor, letting it soak up the blue pooling at his feet.
‘I felt it was best,’ Ryan said as he sat on a freshly-required chair, ‘that this be done sooner rather than later.’
Execution. They had decided on execution after all. All of that just for-
Ryan gave him a disparaging look, and he uncurled his fists, and let his hands dangle and his sides. He could still kick the other agent from this distance, still get a second’s head start, still get-
‘What?’ he forced himself to ask.
‘Talk about your future.’
Future. He had a future. He let some of the tension slip from his body, but still ran the background calculations on the fastest way out of the tech department. It would involve going through a few walls. Only a few. Walls were no match.
‘And Magnolia’s future,’ Ryan continued.
‘You didn’t declare us traitors,’ he said as he required a fresh uniform.
‘It did come down to a vote.’ Ryan stood. ‘And it doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed.’
‘You’ve been replaced, with how long you were gone, we had no choice but to generate a new combat agent.’
He stared. His duty was gone. His reason was-
It didn’t hurt as much as he had envisioned. He had always kept the most direct routes to the recycling chamber on hand for this moment. He was hollow, he was empty, he wasn’t ended, it wasn’t something that he couldn’t move past. Probably.
‘So what am I?’
‘On mandatory leave for the moment, the both of you. As to after that…to a certain degree, it’s up to you.’
‘Meaning what?’
‘This is your second chance. This is your fresh start. Don’t be here if you don’t want to be here. I…I don’t want you here unless you’re going to be part of this team…part of my team.’
‘I want to stay.’
Ryan stared at him. ‘Do you really?’
‘I forgive you.’
Ryan’s face turned stony. ‘For what?’
‘Carol. Wasn’t your fault. Wasn’t hers.’
Ryan stared at him for a moment, then held out his hand.
He stared at the hand for five seconds, the shook it, just once, then released it.
‘Pick a specialisation,’ Ryan said, ‘and we’ll redefine your role here. We generated a new office for Gregory, all of your things are where you left them.’
‘What happened to my recruits?’
‘Hewitt went up to the techs, two chose to leave of their own accord, the rest are still here.’
He gave a stiff nod, then shifted away. The familiar walls of his office surrounded him as the world became clear again, and he felt more of the tension leave his body.
Clothes still littered the floor, the untidy bed lay testament to half a night together, stains still visible on the sheets. The knife had fallen from the door frame lay abandoned on the floor.
He crouched, and took pleasure in the stiffness of his legs, the unfamiliar movement, the fact that he was able to move again, lifted the knife from the carpet and placed it in a freshly-required sheath. He slid the sheath into his pocket, and required his office back into order, then left the room.
The halls were the same. Nothing had changed. Familiar doors and numbers stared back at him. Familiarity. His frames of reference. His…home.
Magnolia’s door. Room forty-three. He scanned it – she was inside, awake. Her blue-edged fuzzy outline looked up at the door.
‘Come in, sir.’
Tactical retreat was an option. An available option. An easy option.
He opened the door.
She sat cross-legged on her bed, her workbook spread across her knees, dozens of reports scattered around her, and piled up on the floor beside her.
Her look of trepidation, he was sure, mirrored his own.
Words he didn’t want to say. Words he didn’t want to hear. Consequences he didn’t want.
He had to strike first, to take the advantage of the window her lack of words had provided.
‘No, Magnolia.’
She tilted her head a little. ‘Sir?’
He put a hand on the edge of her bed, called up a memory, made a couple of requirements, and watched the various piles of paper disappear.
‘Sir, I’m not-’
‘I made you-’
Her shoulders slumped. Defeated.
‘I could have let you die, Magnolia. Could have let your mother take you. Could have left at any point before we tried to escape. I didn’t.’
‘Abandoning your post. Dereliction of duty. Willing entering an unfriendly court. Placing the expendable life of a recruit above that of an agent.’ Her face twisted. ‘I made you weak!’
‘An army of one is weak, Magnolia.’ He took in a breath and sat at the end of her bed. ‘So it’s your choice. If you’re going to examine your guilt, then consider mine. Everything that happened to you is because Mordred and your mother were able to use me as leverage.’
‘It’s not the first time I’ve been used like a cheap whore, and I doubt it will be the last.’
He let the question hang on his face.
‘I’m all right sir, I’ve got my coping mechanisms for situations like this, and I will most assuredly cut his dick off at the earliest opportunity.’
‘What else. What about u-us?’
‘Is there an us, sir?’
‘Dammit, yes, Magnolia.’
She gave him a smile. She drew level with him, and kissed him, strong arms wrapping around his neck as she straddled his legs and pushed her chest against his.
He returned the contact, wrapping his arms around her waist as the kisses continued. She was alive. She hadn’t gone to Death. They were safe – within the safest walls in the world, far from the remains of her mother’s court, from those who would hurt her, and…until paperwork was pushed, far from duty.
It was real. No phantoms pushed at the edge of his vision, no horrific images interrupted them.
He let his finger trace the sides of her face, her temples, her brow, and tried to push away the nagging memory of her still, lifeless face.
She pulled her mouth away from his, her expression, her vitals, the fact that she was grasping at his belt all accurate signs that she was aroused.
‘You’re injured,’ he said as she threw his belt to the floor.
‘The doctors said that as long as we weren’t…over-enthusiastic, that I should be fine’ She gave a small, derisive snort. ‘Once tired and once injured, sorry sir, I will give you the fucking you deserve at some point in the immediate future.’
‘And my lack of-’
‘Teaching,’ she said as she pulled off his shirt, ‘is half the fun.’ She bit his earlobe. ‘And I haven’t had any complaints so far.’
Images from his nightmares came into his mind. Memories of sex only experienced within a glitch. It had felt real, he had thought it real, and his dream-version of Magnolia had enjoyed it…It more than met the command from medical to be gentle.
‘Do you trust me, Magnolia?’
She stopped her efforts to disrobe him. ‘You know the answer to that, sir.’
‘I need to hear it.’
She pressed her forehead against his. ‘I trust you, sir.’
He lifted her and swung her down onto the bed, her head landing on the pillows – accuracy was important, even in non-combat situations. She gave him a curious look as he turned and knelt between her slightly parted legs, but moved to spread them more, to give him more room.
Her clothes disappeared – her requirement, not his – and an authorisation box appeared in his HUD, showing an attempt on her part to manipulate him, to finish disrobing him. He authorised the command, and routed the knife back to the armoury, lest it end up in Lost and Found.
She lifted a foot and hooked the back of her ankle over his shoulder, pulling him down, pulling him closer. He turned his head and kissed the ankle, then made his way slowly up her leg, pausing briefly when he found the back of her knee to be a vulnerable, squirm-inducing spot.
A requirement lengthened the bed, and it pushed up against the door and wall behind him, but it allowed him to lie between her legs until he was only supported by his elbows.
He looked up at her once more, her eyes lustful, half-closed and content. She gave him a small noise of approval, then let her head drop back onto the pillows.
He exhaled a warm breath, and felt her shiver. He ran a hand over her, fingers sinking into the white curls of her pubic hair, feeling the heat already radiating from her.
He slipped the hand beneath her arse and lifted her, bringing her closer, letting her legs open just a little wider.
She moaned his name as he exhaled another long, warm breath against her, and he felt himself smile.
He opened his mouth, extended his tongue, and made contact.
The effect was instantaneous, electric. Her body snapped taut for a moment before the tension left, relaxing, yielding to him, to his inexpert technique. As with all of the new experiences, he knew his technique was rudimentary, unskilled, basic. It was, if nothing else, a place to start. Basic skilled demanded practice, intensive hours, advancement of techniques, and the opportunity for master classes.
All of that would come in time. They had time.
She panted as he took long, slow explorations of the outer areas and made short, fast attacks on the centre region, all of it seemed to please her, inexpert technique or not.
He heard the sheet tear, and her hands slap back down on the bed, looking for new places to grab, to hold her steady.
She gave a short scream and then convulsed against his tongue.
She put a hand to his head, and he slowed the movements of his mouth as she rode out her orgasm. The hand fell away, and her body went limp.
He rose, and wiped the residue from his face with the back of his hand. He moved up the bed to join her on the pillows, the bed widening with a thought to accommodate him more easily.
‘I think,’ Magnolia said in a quiet, far-away voice, ‘that my soul just came.’ She gave a short exhale, and moaned, something that sounded far too much like a mix of pleasure and pain.
She turned to him, and gave an attempt at shaking her head. ‘I’m fine, sir,’ she said, ‘that was just…good. I haven’t let many guys go down on me and that was…good.’ She wrapped her arms around him. ‘I’ll be fine in a minute. I just need to…oh that was good.’
She put her head against his chest, and was asleep in under two minutes.
He closed his eyes, and felt himself tending towards unconsciousness without initiating a sleep cycle. He stated his love for her once more, then let his tired body sleep.