1pm, Thursday, Brisbane
3am, Thursday, Hyde
Curt opened his eyes, unsure for a moment if he was truly awake, or if it was just another layer to the nightmare.
Even with his Parker-approved pill, the sleep had been fitful, broken, and with nightmares even worse than normal.
The usual nightmares were just a mishmash of horrific imagery – things that had happened and hadn’t happened, things that might have happened but had been buried beneath the rest of the trauma, coming back as lost thoughts.
They were, in their own way, proof that even though he’d escaped from the small, dark room; Petersen still got his pound of flesh every day.

Curt leaned over the side of the bed and vomited again – the third time in six hours.
He was grateful though, for what rest he’d been able to get.
He would get up, perhaps see if he could stomach something close to a whole meal, then sleep again. Dream again. Want to die again.
There was a weird schop noise as the floor cleaned itself – something that, for a few weeks had been an awesome gain; a sign the Agency had accepted that he had moved beyond the Solstice piece of shit that had been recruited.
It was, in its way, a sign of trust and respect, a sign that they were – procedurally at least – ready to treat him like any other recruit.
Trust he had smashed, and respect he had destroyed.
There was, however, no purpose in having dried puke on his shirt. He swung his legs off the side of the bed and headed into the shower.
He stripped off his boxers, but kept his t-shirt on, unwilling to look at the tattoo. It was there, he knew it was there, but seeing it would be one step too far.
The shirt felt horrible as it stuck to his skin under the hot shower. It was a discomfort he deserved.
He stepped out, closed his eyes, required his body dry and required a casual outfit. He opened his eyes, pulled his towel off the rack and slung it around his shoulders before drying his hair, fluffing it up like his mother had done, before his parent’s marriage had started to deteriorate.
He dismissed the towel, moved back to the main room and sat down at the desk, booting the computer with a quick requirement.
It would have been easy enough to keep it running all day, every day – and most recruits did, but it was hard to ignore one of his parents’ few unanimous rules: turn it off if you aren’t using it.
There were a few standard emails – notifications of various server outages that didn’t bother him in the least; three forwarded invitations from Raz to join in various tech activities; and three emails from Stef.
[Sorry. 🙁 ]
[Which report do I file?]
[ATT: Headshots]
He didn’t want to read the one marked “Sorry” – whatever she had done, he carved such a debt that she didn’t need to apologise for months, even years. She had free rein to treat him like shit, and it was taking her far too long to realise that.
The one with the subject line of “Headshots” was too intriguing to ignore. He double-clicked on it, and it popped open.
[If I take a screenshot inside my head, is it a headshot?
I’m still practicing, sorry if the menu is in the way.
-Stef.]
He clicked through the attachments – three photos, two with the HUD menu still overlaid, taking up half the image.
The first one was a fire nymph spinning fire in a large circle around itself – but the view was from above and far away, as though she’d been sitting on a hill above the performance.
The next was of a black man and a girl with light brown skin around Stef’s age, both in suits; presumably an agent and a recruit, though Stef was helping drive home that agents unfortunately didn’t have one look. It was a safe bet the man was an agent though – he ticked all the right boxes: tall, handsome, and wearing a suit at what seemed to be a casual event.
The third was another high-up shot, this one showing a far-off shot of the rest of the festival.
One thing hadn’t escaped him: all the photos had been taken at night, and unless he’d slept for a lot longer than he had thought, she wasn’t anywhere local.
The Agency personnel she was with were also a clue – neither of them wore the blue that was the feature colour for the Oceanic Agencies. They had purple accents, which meant somewhere in Europe.
Stef was halfway around the world, as far away as she could get from him.
Which probably explained the “Sorry” email, not that he deserved an apology.
He didn’t need to read it to know what it said.
She was sorry she hadn’t killed him. Sorry she had said she would give him a second chance. Sorry he hadn’t killed himself.
Sorry about what a waste of time he was.
He clicked on it anyway.
[Ryan said they’re insisting I finish the external training. I’m stuck in the UK for four days. Keep me updated about stuff, k?]
He stared at the email, and felt tears again. It was an email. A short, stupid email from a short, stupid agent, who was insisting on acting like everything was normal.
It was so much more than he deserved.
Curt wiped at his eyes, and started to realise that things were never going to be normal again. Nothing was going to clear the burning need he had to scream, to cry, to beg one of the agents to murder him. He deserved to die, and living on borrowed time was cutting into him as deeply as Petersen’s knives had done, even if this time, all of the wounds were straight to his soul.
There was a gun a metre to his right. His still-active System connection would allow him to require almost any manner of gruesome death that he could imagine for himself.
And somehow, it would be too quick to simply eat a bullet. It also didn’t seem like it was his right to take his own life. With every bruise he’d put on Stef, he’d forfeited the right to take the quick way out.
And if he was living on borrowed time, he had the chance to make things…tidier. To leave at least some things a little better than they had been. It was borrowed time he didn’t deserve, but at the same time, all of the ideas that occurred to him were things that would make things better for others – none of them would benefit him. It seemed like a prisoner donating their last meal, but with how little he could offer the world, it was better than nothing.
He moved from the bed, and sat at the computer in the corner of his room. It was a good computer, and came with all the usual Agency benefits – like killing pop-up ads on free porn sites, and being hooked into the central fast-pass accounting system, where any subscription-based services would pre-fill with an Agency-registered credit card, and then the world of paid porn, video games, and social-media-gaming-power-ups were available at the click of a button.
The Agency had given him a lot. More than he deserved.
He opened the intranet travel page, and logged a basic travel plan – it wasn’t strictly required, but given all the circumstances that were weighing down on him, leaving the building without some kind of notification seemed like a Bad Idea. It would be easy for Ryan to believe he could be running away, taking the coward’s way out, and disappearing into Faerie for good.
He was careful to note the possibility of entering Faerie – even though he had no intention of doing so. Carmichael, the only person he could reasonably call a friend, lived in the capital, and that entailed a serious commitment of time to achieve – even the express from the Marches took around two hours to reach the capital’s central bus depot. A call would suffice – not that he was sure what he’d say on the call, but he felt he needed to say something. Anything.
Their bond was a strange one – he’d saved the fairy’s life, and Carmichael had…pulled him back from some sort of edge. Had made him feel human again, when it had seemed like he’d finally lost touch with every single feeling he’d ever had. Petersen had needed him humiliated. Hadn’t been satisfied with simply brutalising him. The agent had needed something…more. Some final indignity that couldn’t be achieved by repeatedly jamming a knife into his back; or stripping his skin with acid.
Petersen had needed him to fuck a fae, to prove that he was over his Solstice prejudices.
The woman had been beautiful upon first glance, blue skin that had seemed to shimmer under the lights of the shitty hotel’s bedroom. It had only taken one smile, one glance of the woman’s mouth was full of far sharper teeth to realise that she was one of the wild fae, one of the ones who still snacked upon humans when given the chance.
There had been teeth, and claws, and despite the threats hanging over his head, he’d been unable to produce an erection.
The fae and the agent had bound him to the bed, and fed him stimulants until he was hard, until his heart was racing so hard that even the scratches on his arm from the woman’s thin claws were bleeding like a mortal wound.
And she’d fucked him while he cried.
And it had seemed like every emotion had disappeared. Had fallen down some bottomless well that would never give them back.
Carmichael had seen something in him, something familiar, and had salved his soul as much as he had the infected wounds.
They’d saved each other, and in a better life, he would have been working for Carmichael, not wishing he was dead.
Curt slipped his left hand onto his right elbow, and let his fingers rest on the scars there. The scars from the wild fae had never gone away – it would probably take seconds for the Parkers to heal them, but he’d never asked. It wouldn’t matter. The memories would remain, even if the proof disappeared.