Stef opened her eyes and saw a cup of coffee. She accepted the glorious, life-giving liquid, downed half the cup, then sat up.
‘I thought it was time you woke up,’ Ryan said as he sat on the couch beside her. ‘It’s nearly eleven o’clock, and there’s a few things we should discuss before Curt starts his first shift as Aide.’
‘Okies,’ she mumbled. She raised a hand and poked him in the arm. ‘Require: breakfast.’ He took the coffee, and handed her a tray with a plate containing a large stack of pancakes, and a bottle of chocolate syrup. ‘That doesn’t look like cereal,’ she said, upending the bottle over the stack.
‘There’s nothing wrong with a treat once in a while.’
‘James only ever used to let me have pancakes to shut me up, not because he thought I deserved them,’ she said, covering a finger in sauce, and gently sucking on the chocolate, letting the sugar help wake her – it was still strange to be immediately awake, to have no lasting remnants of sleep, or strings of dreams, pulling her back to unconsciousness. ‘I didn’t have bad dreams,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’
‘Are you sure that you’re all right with Curt knowing about your heart?’
‘I think he’s won my trust, and you know how much I don’t like humans.’
‘I just wanted to make sure, the more people that know, the riskier it is.’
‘He isn’t the one who stabbed me,’ she said, cutting a lopsided triangle of pancake. ‘Did you punch Grigori?’
‘A couple of times,’ he said. ‘Did you really blackmail him?’
She grinned. ‘Hey, look at this way, you won’t have to give me pocket money for a while.’
‘Quite a while. Two bags, should last you a long time, I’d hope. I would suggest getting a fairy bank account and placing a portion there.’
‘And get a fairy Visa card? Is that better or worse than a Bat-credit-card?’
He stared at her. ‘A what?’
‘Never mind.’
‘The fairies have a lot more infrastructure than a lot of the other fae – standardised currency for one, they of course, mostly accept the same kinds of things that all fae barter with, but the move onto a currency is a significant step forward.’
‘The important thing is: can I buy baked goods?’
‘Actually yes, if you want, I’d like to take you to meet a couple of friends of mine on Sunday, and they do own a bakery.’
‘Cool.’ She chewed on another bite of pancakes. ‘What else?’
‘You can’t keep the guns.’
She slumped. ‘Why?’
‘While you were sleeping, I tried them out. I had Jones run me up a simulation with one hundred and fifty targets. I closed my eyes, fired one hundred and fifty bullets, and hit every target, dead centre.’
‘Sure that wasn’t just in-built agenty awesomeness?’
‘That, ah, isn’t active when my eyes are closed.’
‘C’mon,’ she whined, ‘I need all the help I can get. What’s wrong with keeping my magic guns?’
‘What if someone else gets their hands on them?’
‘Yeah I suppose,’ she said. ‘Fine. Do you have to destroy them?’
‘No, they’ll just go into storage.’
‘But I kicked ass…’
‘You will have to learn to do that without cheating.’
She pulled on her jacket and dug the mirror out of the pocket. ‘This should probably go into storage as well,’ she said. ‘Since it’s another bit of mirror magic, well, magic mirror.’
‘This is how you spoke to me?’
‘Yes.’
‘How does it work?’
‘You touch it, and you see what you want to see.’
‘And you can see anything? Anywhere?’
‘I don’t know, I was only using it for simple stuff.’
‘May I?’
She handed it across, and he touched it. After a moment, he shook, and looked up at her. ‘And how do you break the connection?’
‘Just touch it again. It’s mirror, I’m pretty sure it knows what you’re thinking.’ She stared at him, and at how shaken he appeared. ‘Did you…sneak a peek at your son?’
‘No,’ he said, taking a deep breath, ‘Carol.’
She went silent for a moment. ‘But I thought-’
‘Carol died, this you know. I brought her back, this I told you. I lost her again…I didn’t tell you why. She was made into an agent, but…something went wrong. She did a lot of damage, and it was up to me to deal with her.’ His voice was flat, dead, robotic to the point of slash-serious, but he wasn’t relying on a macro to keep the brave face. ‘I couldn’t kill her,’ he said, brushing imaginary dirt from his pants leg. ‘I couldn’t. You can’t put a gun in a man’s hand, point him at the woman he loves, and expect him to pull the trigger.’
‘…what happened?’ she asked, after a moment of silence.
‘I did something worse. I banished her.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘There are places, oubliettes, prisons, where one can banish another. They are trapped there forever, unless their captor decides to release them. That’s where she is. That’s where she’s been for twenty years.’
‘It’s better than killing her, right?’
‘Some would say it’s worse. You have to understand that this has to stay a secret. She’s dead according to all records, and it has to stay that way.’
She looked down at herself for a moment. ‘Wish her better? I owe you my life, please, take as much mirror as you need, get her back.’
‘No.’
‘Just…no? Just like that? Surely I don’t need all of this.’
‘We don’t know how much you do need, I don’t know how much it would take to…fix Carol. I don’t know if I could. If it was something that went wrong when she came back from death, then it might even be beyond the mirror’s power to correct, just the same as you cannot wish someone back to life.’
‘Except for me.’
‘Except for you.’
‘Please,’ she said, ‘I owe you so much.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I had a chance to do so. I’m sure that in some worlds, I did make that decision. In this world, I am happy with the decision I made. I accept the loss, and at least as she is, she is safe. I’m too afraid of the consequences of failing.’ He looked down a the mirror. ‘To be able to see her though…Stef, may I have this?’
‘Of course,’ she said.
He touched the mirror again, and held it up, showing her a blonde woman asleep in a large bed.
‘She’s really pretty,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘she is.’ He leaned down and kissed her on the head. ‘Thank you, you have no idea what it means to be able to see her.’ He touched the mirror again, then stood, and placed it in one of his desk drawers. ‘Now you’d best go see Jones.’
‘Is it going to be easy to get my parts re-agented?’
‘Yes, it’s a simple enough procedure,’ he said. ‘Then you’ll have to run some diagnostics, but you’ll be fine for this evening.’
‘What’s this evening?’
‘Grigori wants to get this, er, “incident” as he’s calling it, behind him. He wants you and Curt to go claim your payment tonight so that he can focus on Dmitri.’
‘Is he still in a coma, or whatever was wrong with him?’
‘At the moment, yes. It’s going to be a very slow process, but they should be able to get him to wake up.’
‘Won’t they recycle him, or something? Or will they get him back up to full, active, duty-ready speed?’
‘It will depend. It’s possible they will downgrade him to staff, rather than active duty, that’s sometimes allowed, his condition isn’t his fault, and he’d be a valuable resource, even if it isn’t in the field.’
‘Like a tutor or something?’
‘Perhaps.’
‘Ryan?’
‘Yes?’
‘Are you suuure I can’t keep the guns?’
‘Stef.’
‘Fine.’
‘Stef?’
‘Yeah?’
‘Be a good girl, finish your pancakes.’