Ryan made a wish.
He could feel the magic flowing in the mirror, static and overwhelming, so vibrant compared to the unmoving body of his recruit. He let go of the mirror and waited for something to happen, looking around for signs of other people – of fae to avoid, Solstice to fight and other Agency staff to-
He forced his thoughts away from the Agency. Making a wish was a violation of his duty, an act counter to his directives, and it hadn’t even been for some noble act that could be argued for, like saving the world, or destroying the bulk of an enemy’s forces. He’d made a wish to save a recruit, and recruits were expendable – every bit of policy and procedure let that shine through – recruits could be replaced.
Stef’s body stayed limp in his arms.
He shook her a little, hoping to wake her.
The blackout warning in his HUD turned a less angry shade of red as his connection to the system – temporarily disrupted by the outpouring of magic from the exploding mirror – began to restore itself.
He looked down at her – the sharp shard of mirror had sunk into her chest, but the wound was still open, though no more blood poured from it. She was still dead. She was still dead, and they’d be visible in moments.
‘Wake up,’ he said in a whisper. ‘Stef, wake up.’
She gave no response.
She was going to live, it wasn’t a question, he hadn’t failed her.
She’d been easier to carry as a child. He adjusted her in his arms and paced the rooftop, sending prayers into the avoid for her to wake up.
He rubbed her back, careful to avoid the point of mirror that had slammed through her back, but unable to avoid feeling the blood that had soaked into her vest. He paced, holding her, waiting for her to breathe, waiting for the wish to work. Absurdly, he was reminded of pacing the halls with Alexander, when his son had refused to burp or sleep or eat.
Alexander had never been close to the point of death. Injured and sick as much as any other child, but his son had never on the edge of the void. Never slipped away from the possibility of rescue.
He adjusted Stef in his arms, her head lolling against his shoulder, and kept two fingers pressed against her neck, feeling for a pulse, feeling for any signs of life. At the same time, he looked around, and saw no sign of Death, and no sign that her soul had slipped from her body.
She was going to live. She had to live. He’d promised to look after her.
He lowered her back to the roof, and looked at the piece of mirror. It sat, an ugly, sharp shape, blood dripping from the ragged points. It had been instantaneous, but he imagined it would have hurt. He’d made a wish. Wishes on mirror were supposed to work. She’d been dead barely seconds before he’d gotten to her, so it should have been reparable.
‘Wake up,’ he said again. He slipped off his jacket and wrapped it around her – the warmth would be comforting when she woke up.
Dead blue eyes stared at him.
He looked around, aware for the first time since he’d seen her body of where they were, of what was going on around them. The fighting was almost distant now – though a dozen pieces of mirror lay scattered on the roof around him, no fae were coming close in an effort to get them. It was possible they were still feeling the effects of the mirror’s explosion – the magic was still saturating the area.
His HUD showed efforts to get his system connection back.
He knelt beside her, and carefully pressed two fingers into her chest to touch the exposed piece of mirror. He closed his eyes and made the wish again. A wish for life, for breath, to see her alive again, to have a chance to get to know the strange little girl that had remembered him. A chance to have someone to call family. He withdrew his hand from her chest, and clutched at her hand like he’d done in the infirmary, giving her a small connection to the living world, a sign that someone wanted her back.
This time, the shard of mirror melted under his touch and sank into her chest like mercury. He held his breath, and waited for a sign of life, but her body remained motionless.
The little girl had needed no more than a simple bribe to come back – a doll and a hug to hold back the hungry darkness, to keep her from slipping away and becoming a ghost. The recruit in front of him was far more complicated. Coming back after passing to Limbo took an incredible act of will, and a desire to live that was just as strong. There was also the obstacle of arguing past Death herself – Ryan was sure that she never stopped any attempts, but he knew she tried to discourage them. Becoming a ghost was almost always a fate far worse than dying.
He closed his eyes and called for the Lady, though was unsurprised when she didn’t appear.
The angry red box in his HUD warning him that he was in a blackout zone slowly faded, replaced with a weak system connection.
A new kind of fear sparked. As soon as the system connection was strong enough, it would seek to reconnect with everyone it had lost in the blackout, and it would find her dead, and automatic protocols would take over.
The thought of running flitted through his mind. Run deeper into the blackout zone beneath them, give her more time to wake, pretend it had never happened, that he hadn’t contravened his duty and wished on a piece of mirror.
She still wasn’t breathing.
He needed help.
He knew two things: Stef was going to live, and he needed help. Whatever the medical complications of replacing her heart, he was ill-equipped to deal with them, and any other problems would need the mind of a tech. They hadn’t let him down when he’d needed help with Carol.
The situations were completely different. Using mirror was contravening duty. Recruits were expendable. Logic threw a dozen arguments at him, reasons to run, reasons to gather up more pieces of mirror before the system connection came back.
Ryan stood, the weight of a dead world on his shoulders, and sent another prayer into the void. He could almost feel the system again, and he readied a shift command to the infirmary in his HUD. The system connection came back into place with no ceremony, and he watched Stef’s body disappear, protocols whisking her back to the morgue. With one more deep breath of night air, he processed the shift command and followed.