The spare chair was already waiting for her.
Stef slid into the leather chair – the first piece of furniture she’d ever sat on in the Agency. The first constant of her new life.
Ryan dismissed it when he didn’t need it, when he didn’t expect visitors, or when he didn’t want people to stay.
It was alway there for her. It was a simple gesture, one he probably didn’t even think about. One that meant more than he could ever possibly understand.
It was far more than it represented – it wasn’t just a place to sit, it was a sign she was welcome to sit. That she was welcome. That she was wanted. It meant that she was something more than a problematic pet.
‘Hey,’ she said, ‘reporting as asked.’
Ryan gave her the same look he’d been giving her since she’d shifted back from Russia. A weird cross between anger and concern – though the anger probably wasn’t aimed at her. He was angry at Curt, at Grigori, at the Solstice; maybe even himself for allowing her to go halfway around the world on external training.
‘Obviously,’ Ryan said, ‘your external training didn’t go as-’ He laid his hand on the desk. ‘Stef, if you want time off, I can-’
She reached across the desk and put her hand on his – a nice reversal of how he always comforted her. His hands were so big compared to hers, but the touch seemed to take some of the anger and grief away.
‘I’ll be okay,’ she said. If she said it enough times, she’d be able to believe it. ‘I’ll be okay. And if I ask for time off, I’ll look like a less good agent, won’t I?’
He sighed. ‘You have to do your external training somewhere. You’ve been given dispensation to bring it down to four days, but you still need to do four days at an Agency that isn’t here.’
‘Did you have somewhere in mind? I mean, you gave me the file of possible locations, but if you’ve picked one…’
‘I have an acquaintance, who runs an Agency out of Hyde-’
‘Not liking this idea…’
‘I’m not going to let you deport me!’
A smile tugged at the edge of his mouth, a ghost of the look he usually gave her when she was being…the strange, smelly hacker he barely understood. He folded his hands in the classic narc style, and leaned forward. ‘Miss Mimosa,’ he said, in full agent!mode, ‘you’re an Australian citizen, as much as an agent can be, I can’t deport you.’
‘Dual-citizenship,’ she corrected him. ‘And what if my Aussie one expires upon death, but my UK one didn’t? What if-?’
He held up a cookie, and she immediately closed her mouth.
‘What if,’ he said, sliding effortlessly from agent!mode to dad!mode, ‘I bribe you with this, and you let me finish what I was going to say?’
She took the cookie. ‘Fine,’ she mumbled, and settled down in her chair, trying to look sensible.
‘For one,’ Ryan said, ‘you don’t even know what his Agency does yet.’
‘Does?’ she echoed. ‘What do you mean does? Don’t all Agencies kinda do the same thing? Fight bad guys, look good in suits, that kind of thing?’
Ryan gave her one of his mysterious smiles that meant he was going to tell her something cool. ‘Not all of them.’
She gripped the edge of her chair and dragged it forward so that she could rest her elbows on the edge of his desk. ‘Tell, tell, tell!’
‘The Hyde Agency is tasked primarily there to monitor Madchester.’
‘That’s where…You were thinking of sending me there, weren’t you?’
‘It was one of my ideas, yes. Madchester, at its heart, is a benevolent court, it’s a sanctuary with very little interest in war or stirring the pot. Queen Madhe may hold sway over a lot of fae and have a lot of power herself, but she will never turn away one of her own in need.’
‘Most of Williams’ recruits have the same kind of field rating as our tech recruits. Being a Madchester spotter isn’t very demanding, it’s mostly observation and analysis, sometimes a little interaction if one side needs something from the other, but those occasions are very rare.’
She felt some of the stress drop away – this sounded more like something she could handle. Something that wouldn’t turn into Russia 2: Siberian Boogaloo. A monitoring Agency that looked after crazy fae was a lot more her speed.
‘People are pretty much guaranteed sanctuary. It’s somewhere where those who need to be, can just be, without comment or query, where one is allowed to converse with the walls, or sleep with a sword to protect them from things that others can’t see.’
She nodded. ‘Okay, when do we head off?’
‘We?’ Ryan echoed.
‘Well,’ she shuffled awkwardly in her chair, ‘Curt came with me to Russia…’
The angry looked came back in full force. ‘No. This time you’re going by yourself.’
‘You let me keep him as partner,’ she said, ‘you’re not allowed to be mad at-’
‘I’m allowed to be angry for more than a night,’ Ryan said. ‘And worried. And protective. And overprotective.’ He smiled, and some of the tension broke from his face. ‘I’m getting used to being a father again. This was…not a situation I had to imagine dealing with.’
‘I trust him, for what it’s worth, I trust him.’
‘Your opinion is worth a lot,’ Ryan said, ‘and I…understand, I do. But-’
‘You’re freaking out more than I am,’ she said quietly, ‘and I think this is one of those things where I’m supposed to be a hysterical mess.’
More of a hysterical mess anyway. A hysterical mess that she couldn’t hold in whilst around people. Bunking down for an hour with her head in Magnolia’s lap had been surprisingly good for her. It had been a comfort she hadn’t expected, but talking to someone who- Whose feelings she didn’t have to consider had made it all the easier.
Ryan nodded. ‘Still. A few days to do this external training by yourself might be a good thing,’ he said. ‘It’s still mandatory, and I trust the agent in charge. He is…actually someone I connected with over being an agent with an adopted child.’
‘What, there’s an Agency reddit for agents who take on problematic pets?’
Ryan’s face went a little blank for a moment. ‘Essentially, yes,’ he said slowly. ‘We have our own forums and such on the intranet.’
‘So you went on the internet and complained about me?’
‘I simply wanted to connect with other agents who have an appreciation of the situation. I did the same thing when Alexander was a child, there are…It’s frightening to be a first-time parent as an agent, unless you’ve been heavily socialised around humans, and small children in particular.’
‘Is there a sticky for what to do if your kid is tortured?’ she asked, expecting a look of minor frustration, but it was a confirmation.
‘What we do is dangerous, Stef, so…yes, other people have had to deal with this situation. Many of the items and discussions weren’t applicable though, as I know exactly who hurt you, and I have the authority to kill him, if I should so choose.’
‘But I’m not going to allow emotion to make a choice like this. I act…rashly out of love, or guilt; but I do make every attempt not to act rashly out of anger. Reynolds did try to make me better than my former. If I was a Dusker, if I were Rhys, things would be different.’
‘Rhys is a dick, dad, you aren’t. Rhys wouldn’t have put up with me, so this situation would not exist.’
He gave her a grateful smile. ‘Go to Hyde, have fun with the fae. From what Williams tells me, you should get along well with Milla. Relax as much as you can, and we’ll see where things are at the end of the week. Do you need any time to pack?’
She stood and patted down her vest and pants pockets. ‘I know I left my ability to require around here somewhere…’
He held his hands above his desk and Frankie appeared there. ‘You’re not taking anything?’ he asked, a genuine smile back on his face.
‘Oh. Right. Sorry.’ She required a bag, slipped Frankie inside, and zipped it up. ‘I didn’t bother taking him to Russia because I was under the impression I’d be doing a lot more punching than typing.’
He nodded, and handed her a business card. ‘Here’s where you need to go.’
‘You’re not going to shift me? I’m not getting picked up?’
‘Look at the card.’
She did, and at the number string there. It blurred for a moment, then a schematic of the Hyde Agency appeared in her HUD, with the lobby highlighted, and a dialogue box asking her if she wanted to shift to the given location.
‘Right…’ she said, her cheeks growing hot, ‘I’m still getting used to all the little interactions. And I’ve only done like…three of these,’ she said, waving it in the air. ‘Are you gonna come visit?’
His narcy look returned, and he folded his hands. ‘Stef, the point of external training is-’
‘I know, I know, I know,’ she said, turning away. ‘But you know how much of a fuck-up I-’
‘Williams has agreed to give you your third night off, we can have dinner and catch up.’
She turned back and grinned. ‘Thank you.’
He stood, rounded the desk, and put her hands on her shoulders. ‘Ready to go?’
‘I’ve got those…first day of school butterflies again,’ she said. ‘I mean, I don’t feel scared this time, but…’
He bent a little, and adjusted her tie, bringing her uniform into line. ‘You’ll be fine.’
She gave him a quick hug, then stepped back. ‘One to beam out,’ she said, and processed the shift link.
The spare chair was already waiting for her.