‘It’s about time.’
Stef stared at the Russian. ‘Really? That’s the first thing you say? I’ve got the keys, remember?’
‘Your petty threats don’t mean anything.’
‘Dude,’ she said, ‘aren’t you supposed to be like the…happy version of Taylor?’
Grigori pointed at the comatose agent. ‘He needs medical attention.’
‘Yeah, I can guess so,’ she said, ‘but he’s not in any worse of a condition than he was when we go here. Which is what we need to talk about.’ She turned to Curt, handed him the keys and his gun. ‘Let him out, but if he makes a wrong move-’
‘You’re ordering a recruit to draw down on me?’ he demanded as he stepped out of the cell. ‘You should go ask Queen Madhe for sanctuary, you-’
‘You attacked me,’ she said as Curt came back to stand beside her. ‘You listened to me tell you exactly why I’m against making wishes, and you still went after me. I do have rights, you know, it might be surprising, but I do. I might not have any human rights, and I don’t have all the rights of an agent, or even a recruit, but there are certain entitlements I have, and one is not to be attacked by a fellow agent for their own gain.’
‘It was for the greater good.’
‘It was for yourself, you selfish bastard. Be man enough to admit that.’
Grigori took a step forward and Curt raised his gun.
‘Recruit, you’re on thin ice already.’
‘I accept responsibility for my actions,’ Curt said, the gun steady in his hand. ‘I might not have the handbook memorised,’ he said, ‘but I’m pretty sure I’m doing my duty to protect my superior officer, whereas your actions are…contrary to your duty.’
‘He is my duty!’ Grigori insisted. ‘He’s my friend. How can you not understand that?’
‘You’ve seen your countdown timer before, I assume?’
‘Most agents have.’
‘I saw mine today,’ she said, curling her toes in her shoes to keep herself steady. ‘I almost died. I had seven seconds left. I nearly died today, because of what you did.’
‘I’m sorry.’
‘Now that I can believe.’ She looked away for a moment. ‘But I’m going to let you get away with it so easily. We just went through a whole lot of crap because of you, and we deserve compensation. I’d say “demand”, but deserve is the truth. You were offering me bribes before you fucking stabbed me, so I want the loot.’
Grigori stared at her for a few minutes, as if trying to understand what she was saying. ‘All right. Fair is fair. What did you want?’
‘Hell, I can’t even remember everything. There was money, right?’
‘Fairy gold, yes.’
‘Doesn’t that disappear by morning?’
He shook his head. ‘No. Not that kind. This kind, standard currency for fairyland.’
‘How much?’
‘A…bag,’ he said. ‘It’s quite a lot.’
She jerked a thumb at Curt. ‘Give him one, give me two.’
Both of them stared at her. ‘I said, it’s quite a lot. I wasn’t exaggerating. And why does he-?’
‘He’s the only reason we’re alive right now,’ she said. ‘Ok, fine, you’d still be alive, but you’d probably be in pieces.’
Grigori looked away. ‘Fine, three bags total, are you satisfied?’
‘Not by a long shot,’ she said. ‘Remember, you got us into this, and we’re going to cover your ass by not letting out the truth to everyone. Make up some other lie, you know magic better than I do, some sort of teleportation magic, anything other than you using my mirror. Your reputation is safe, you come home with your friend, you get to be a hero, instead of getting punished.’
‘Why would you protect my reputation?
‘You didn’t think I was an abomination. Can I assume that was grounded in some sort of reality, other than the simple wish to exploit what I am?’
‘Yes.’
‘That’s why. I mean, I think I might be able to like you, once I get over this a bit. The only other agent I’ve met that doesn’t work for my Agency is Emma, and she was trying to convince me to kill myself, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. I’m getting paid for it, but I still think I’m being very generous.’
‘I have a warehouse,’ he said. ‘We go home, we got to the infirmary, and I’ll let you go shopping, take whatever you think you deserve. Now may we please go home?’
‘One thing. Ryan’s going to hear the truth.’
‘You cannot control what he does with that information. Your promises could all be worthless.’
‘We’re making effort, you should appreciate it.’
‘Fine,’ Grigori said.
She put her hand to her heart, and wished them away.
The infirmary came into view, and then promptly disappeared as a hand covered her eyes.
‘What the-?’
‘Newbie, don’t ask unless you want to see a very explicit answer to the question “what’s up doc?”.’
Puppiespuppiespuppies!
The hand was removed, and the infirmary, and the two fully-clothed doctors stared back at her. The taller of the Parkers immediately went to Grigori, and helped him to the nearest bed, while his twins shifted Dmitri up onto another and began to examine him.
Ryan appeared in front of her, lifted her, and hugged her tightly. She clung to him, enjoying the real feeling of safety, instead of just the proxy of using his jacket.
‘Are you hurt?’ he asked. ‘Either of you?’
‘Not anymore,’ Curt answered.
‘All right,’ Ryan said. ‘My office then,’ he said, and she felt the familiar blur of a real shift.
She peeked over his shoulder and saw his office, not that it had changed much in the day since she’d seen it, and all of his windows were intact, with no visible residue from her call. He put her down on the couch, then crouched in front of her, kissed her on the head, and handed her a coffee.
‘I’ll need to speak with you separately,’ he said. ‘If-’
‘There’s no point,’ she said. She sipped the coffee and squeed. ‘You put the right amount of sugar in!’ She took a gulp, then looked up at her angel. ‘No point in debriefing us separately, he knows everything.’
[What does he know Stef?]
‘Everything,’ she said. ‘And it’s ok.’
‘All right,’ Ryan said, looking over at Curt. ‘Please have a seat.’
He turned from them, grabbed the chair from behind his desk, and sat in front of them. He sighed. ‘I want answers to a lot of specific questions, but…please, start from the beginning, whatever that is.’
‘The death of Chaos,’ she said with a smirk, ‘if I’ve been listening to you.’
‘Stef.’
She sighed. ‘Grigori wanted to make a wish.’
‘That’s why he wanted you for external training?’
She nodded. ‘Next, whether or not it will appease Taylor, can I please have the boring job? Hell, I’ve been gone a day, can I still go do the safe job?’
He nodded. ‘We’ll discuss that once we’ve got this sorted out. What did-’
‘Wait,’ she said. ‘Sorry. Brain’s a little…scrambled. Didn’t you say something us going to WAR when I was talking to you before?’
He managed a smile. ‘We managed to deal with that. A few bribes, and Clarke will be gone for a month, exploring some of the intricacies of the Court of Liars.’
‘Good. I don’t like the idea of war.’
‘Did you let him have a wish?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘it’s my damn heart. I told him no. He…didn’t like that answer, so he took it for himself. Stabbed me, used the little bit of wish on the tip.’
‘What did he want precisely?’
‘Proof of Dmitri’s death for his dead agent wall,’ she said before sipping more of the coffee. ‘So he took us along for the ride.’
Ryan looked to Curt. ‘He did all of this in front of you?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m crap at telling stories.’
‘I can if you like,’ Curt said, ‘you just fill in what I don’t know.’
‘Okies.’
She snuggled back against the corner of the couch, coffee resting on her knee, and listened to Curt recount, in detail, everything that had happened. Ryan interrupted with a few questions, and showed off a few very interesting expressions and twitches, especially as Curt was recounting the torture, without skipping out on any of the detail. Curt even explained about the bulb that had been in his arm, and when he was finished, simply fell silent.
‘Stef?’
‘What he said,’ she said, ‘I don’t think I’ve got anything to add.’
‘Curt?’
‘Yes sir?’
‘Do you mind staying with her for a few minutes? I need to go speak with Grigori.’
‘Of course not, sir.’
‘Ryan?’
He stood and put a hand to her face. ‘I’ll be back in a few minutes, I promise.’
‘Ryan?’
‘Yes?’
‘If you’re going to talk with your fists, can you hit him really hard, at least a couple of times?’
‘Stef.’
‘Fine…’
‘Just a couple,’ he said, then shifted away.
She looked over at Curt. ‘Well, you aren’t dead.’
‘Yet.’
‘I think you’re safe. And you’ve got a bit of spending money.’
‘Newbie?’
‘What?’ she asked. ‘Did he trick me? Is a bag of fairy gold, like, enough for a block of chocolate or something?’
‘A bag of fairy gold, using the standard measurement, is…roughly a hundred thousand dollars.’
She stared at him. ‘Wat.’
‘It’s approximate of course, but you just gave me a hundred grand. If you’re having second thoughts, you can have my bag too.’
‘You saved my life,’ she said, ‘so yeah, you can keep it.’
‘Newbie?’
‘Yeah?’
‘Are you going to do something about that hole in your chest?’