The Grey Edge: Chapter Fourteen

Once they were out of fairyland, Taylor shifted back to the infirmary. A dishevelled Agent Parker sat in front of the door to the private room, looked up at him and sighed.
‘I really, really, really hate you, you know?’
His smaller twin returned, and pressed an ice-pack to his cheek.
‘Your recruit is insane, and it’s not even funny anymore,’ Parker said. ‘She can barely move, and she’s fighting me tooth and claw to get out of that bed and get back to work. You really shouldn’t be allowed around people.’ His twin kissed his cheek, and the doctor relaxed a little. ‘You know you did that to her, right?’
‘I made her strong,’ he said, hitting a key code authorisation panel as he tried to shift into his recruit’s private room.
The taller Parker laughed. ‘No, Taylor, no. You aren’t getting in there. That girl was thiiiiis far from being…I don’t even know, a stroke is likely, but a full-on vegetative state isn’t out of the question, forcing her to use magic stresses her body out, I mean, we can fix the stab wounds, and the broken bones, and the…Christ, whatever else you do to her, we can’t fix her if she breaks her body with her own magic, you know that right? She’s as fucked-up as you are, Taylor, and if you break her, you don’t get a new toy.’
‘I can-’
‘No,’ Parker said as he stood. ‘If you kill her, you don’t get a chance to do this all over again. She goes in the ground, and you start pounding on another recruit for whatever gratification you get without a dick, then I’m reporting you, we’re reporting you, and they’ll be taken away, or you’ll get crunched, and we get a newborn to play with. Personally, I wouldn’t mind the second option.’
‘I need to see my recruit.’
‘You pull that girl out of bed now, and I’m drugging you and locking you in the morgue freezer,’ Parker said, grey eyes staring, having no trouble holding his gaze. ‘Or, are you going to make me induce a coma? You can’t do anything with her if she’s comatose!’
He tried shifting into the private room again. Parker scowled, stepped forward and slapped him across the face.
‘Hey, arsehole, are you even listening to me?’
‘Not like I have a choice,’ he said, grabbing the doctor’s hand as Parker lifted his hand to slap him again. ‘Now let me in to see my recruit.’
‘You can’t-’
‘I’m ordering her to rest,’ he growled.
Parker shifted back a foot, out of his grip. ‘Yeah, right.’ Parker’s twin touched his face, and the Doctor shook his head. ‘Do you know?’
‘About what?’ he demanded.
‘There’s an…’
‘Someone saw it fit to distribute porn of your recruit,’ the shorter twin said. ‘And it seems real enough, from what we know, Jonesy’s have a few of his less-squeamish kids look into it. Even if it isn’t, the damage is done, because it looks like her. She can’t deal with this, and healing right now, so all the more reason to keep her locked away for another couple of days.’
‘I said,’ he reiterated, ‘I was going to order her to rest. Now, let me in.’
Parker grinned at his twin. ‘Isn’t that what you said an hour ago?’
‘Let me in!’
‘You had better not be bullshitting me,’ Parker said. ‘Gods help you if you are, Taylor.’ He turned, and opened the door to the room.
He stepped into the room, and heard Parker slam the door behind him.
Magnolia sat on the floor, leaning up against one of the legs of the bed, half-asleep and face contorted in pain. The ridiculous gown was gone, replaced by a pair of short, soft shorts, and a singlet-top. All of the cords still ran into her neck, and into her arm – the Parkers, to their credit, had made them unable to be removed by recruits.
In the few hours he’d been gone, she’d managed to recover a little colour in her face, but she still looked…weak. Still looked as though she needed the suggested bed rest. Still looked-
She raised a hand, brandishing a…small piece of a broken plate, it seemed, and turned her head towards him, the movement jerky and uneven.
‘Let me out,’ she slurred, no force behind the words.
‘You raise a weapon to me,’ he said, ‘and you’d better be prepared to use it.’
She raised her head a little, and slowly opened her eyes. ‘Sir?’ She dropped the broken piece of china, and attempted to get to her feet, her legs sliding out from under her, arms shaking at the effort of attempting to pull her body up. She let herself slide back to the floor, and snapped a shaking salute. ‘Sir, how can I assist you, sir?’
He crossed the room, bent, lifted her with very little effort, and put her back into the bed – forgoing the instinct to drop her, lest it enrage the doctor even more – some annoyances were best dealt with by avoidance. It was a valid technique.
He grabbed the cords running into her body, and pulled the excess away, so that they didn’t become entangled around her body, and choke her in her sleep.
‘For the meantime,’ he said, ‘this is your cell. Consider it your duty to accept the orders of your captors.’
‘I said get some damn rest, Magnolia,’ he said, pressing a hand to her chest to keep her down on the bed. A physical hint to follow the order. A…
‘Yes sir,’ she said.
He could feel he heart beating, the cotton of her top, the curve of-
He stared at his recruit. He’d given her the order to stay put, that’s all that was necessary.
An echo of the fairy’s chest flashed in his mind, the phantom sensation crawling across his hand.
He could feel a small part of her breast, and it made him fe-
He jerked his hand away, reached into his jacket, and dropped the bag Grigori had given him onto the bed. ‘From Grigori,’ he said by way of explanation.
She looked at him for a moment, she opened the bag with shaking hands. She pulled out a handful of hair, and stared at it for a moment. ‘A wig, sir?’
‘He didn’t explain.’
She shook the bag, and a small card of instructions fell out. She lifted them with a slight hand, read them, placed the card back down, and tried to sit up.
Without thinking, he reached out and helped her.
She took the wig in both hands, and tried to slip it onto her head, but failed, as her hands shook.
He snatched the wig away. ‘What’s wrong with your hands?’
‘Nothing sir.’
He stared at the instruction card. ‘I asked you a question, recruit.’ He pushed her head forward. ‘Now answer it.’
‘Minor nerve damage,’ she said, ‘nothing they can’t fix. Result of channeling an unfamiliarly large amount of magic. I’ll be up to working in a couple of hours.’
‘I said to follow their orders,’ he said as he slipped the short wig into place.
‘I know sir,’ she said, ‘but I can at least work on the schedules, or organise performance reviews, or-’ She tensed as the wig dug down into her scalp, rooting the hair. ‘Or something,’ she finished weakly.
He tugged on the hair, assuring that it had been rooted properly. ‘They’ll notice if you disappear to get the schedules.’
‘They already did sir,’ she said as she laid back on the pillows. ‘As soon as I woke up, I tried to get back to our floor. They retrieved me and put red-magic inhibitors in the walls. I couldn’t escape if I wanted to. Sorry sir.’
‘It’s fine, Magnolia.’
‘Yes sir.’
[Ready for shifting?]
[Sure you don’t want to stay there with her?]
The room blurred, and Grigori appeared.
‘She like the new hair? It’ll grow quickly enough, and I tried to colour-match as best as I could, not bad for a rush order, having friends in medium-high places works rather well sometimes.’
He looked around the room. A hotel room by the looks of things. That, or his friend had made his recruit dorm rooms a lot larger than standard. An open beer sat on the kitchen counter, which Grigori lifted and finished off.
‘Talk,’ he said.
‘Tell me you trust me,’ Grigori said.
Grigori grabbed his jacket, pulled him out of the kitchen, through the open area that consisted of little more than a television and a lounge, and into the next room, a bedroom.
‘Tell me you trust me,’ Grigori said as he shut the door.
‘I’m sick of repeating myself.’
‘Take your clothes off.’
Grigori stared at him. ‘Take. Off. Your Clothes.’
‘That won’t-’
Grigori stepped forward, and did the thing to his ear again, throwing out his centre of balance, throwing out-
‘Take. Off. Your. Clothes.’ Grigori ordered again, blowing hot breath across his neck.
‘I can’t.’
Grigori grabbed a handful of his shirt. ‘I can do it for you.’
He put a hand on the Russian’s chest. ‘I-’
Grigori kissed him again. ‘Trust me.’ The Russian put a hand to his chest, and required his shirt and jacket away. He felt the Grigori’s hand move lower, and his pants and underwear also disappeared to the ether. He was shoved, and he let himself fall to the bed.
‘What are you doing?’
‘I’ll make it obvious,’ Grigori said.
He felt himself shifted back a little, so that his head rested on the pillows. The absurdly soft pillows.
Grigori, equally as naked, climbed on top of him. The taller agent’s knees sliding over his sides, the weight making him sink further into the mattress. The absurdly soft mattress. Grigori smiled down at him. ‘I thought you would have shifted away by now.’
‘I want to,’ he said, unconvinced of his own words.
‘I know, but you won’t.’
Grigori slid off him, lying beside him on the bed. ‘I said I would make it obvious,’ he said again.
‘I don’t-’
‘Too much of your life is “don’t”, is “won’t” and is “can’t”. You need to stop that. You need to stop being…dead. You need to start living.’
‘Can’t? Won’t?’
‘I’m not you.’
‘Would being me really be so terrible? I mean, you don’t have to father a hundred children, you don’t have to have five women in your bed at once, this…this is just how I choose to enjoy life. To celebrate living. You can do something else, I mean, think of how much better your life would be if you had Magnolia in your bed every night. It’s never appealed to me, but I hear there’s advantages to monogamy.’
‘You presume-’
‘I know,’ Grigori said. ‘But you are never going to start living until you realise a few things. I thought you would…relearn at least some things on your own, but I was wrong, so I apologise, I didn’t want to force you when you weren’t ready, but I’m your friend, and I can’t watch you go on like this any longer.’
‘I don’t need-’
‘No, you cover your needs, you don’t cover your wants. You don’t even think you have any wants.’ Grigori put a hand on his chest. ‘Tell me what you want, it won’t leave this room.’
‘I don’t want anything.’
‘How is that even possible?’
‘It’s just how I am.’
Grigori sighed, then smiled. ‘Do you have any idea how difficult you are?’ Grigori kissed him again. ‘If you trust me, you won’t shift away.’ He went to answer, but Grigori put a hand to his mouth. ‘Shh.’ Grigori slid a hand down his chest, and to the smooth, empty patch of skin between his legs. ‘Just make one small requirement for me.’
His breath hitched again. ‘I can’t.’
‘I said you can’t keep using that word,’ Grigori said, his fingers massaging the smooth area. ‘Require.’
There was breath against his ear. ‘Require.’
He made the requirement, and it wasn’t a smooth, open area that Grigori was massaging anymore.
‘All you have to do is tell me to stop,’ Grigori said, ‘that you want me to stop, or that you need me to stop, and I will.’
Of course he wanted him-
Grigori smiled, then moved away, sliding down the bed, his hand still-
‘What are you doing?’
‘To paraphrase something you said to me,’ Grigori said, ‘I’m going to bow, and use my expertise.’
This wasn’t duty.
He looked down the length of the bed, at a sight he hadn’t seen since his first week of rebirth, and at Grigori as the Russian bent over him. Words and pictures flashed at him, explanations and names, diagrams. All it making perfect sense. All of it making no sense at all.
He could shift away. He could say stop. He did neither.
This wasn’t duty.
Grigori removed his hand, and he barely had time to protest as it was replaced with…with…
This was far from duty. This was-
There as warmth, there was wetness, there was pressure, there was…there was…there was pleasure.
He put his head back on the pillows, and stared at the ceiling as the unfamiliar sensation of pleasure threatened to overwhelm his mind. It was strange, it was having trouble reconciling itself in amongst the-
He heard himself moan, and he stopped thinking about duty.
Pressure began to build, leaving him with an ever-changing sensation to deal with, but he didn’t move, trusting Grigori to know what to do. The pressure built, built, and then released. He barked an expletive, felt more unfamiliar sensations, then nothing as Grigori pulled away, joining him on the pillows again.
Grigori grabbed him by the arm, and pulled him onto his side, pressing his forehead against his, their chests following suit. ‘Are you ok?’
He stared at the Russian. ‘Yes,’ he said after a moment.
‘Are you more than ok?’
‘I don’t understand the question.’
‘If you were anyone else,’ Grigori said, ‘I’d be insulted.’
‘Because you need to know that it’s all right to feel good. That it’s good to feel good. Taylor, we are capable of emotion. Of wants of need that have nothing to do with duty, and we were designed that way. The best of us, fuck those guys, they need to be put down, they aren’t what we should be aspiring to, they should be held up as examples of what not to be.’
‘Why now?’
‘I realise that your life would be different, better, probably, had as soon as they reconstituted you, I’d taken you into the back and gone four rounds with you, but I couldn’t. That’s my weakness, and I apologise. I just…I just hated you too much. You were this…monstrous abomination of a joke wearing my friend’s skin. Fuck you? It took all of my self-control not to put you out of your misery.’
‘You should have,’ he said.
‘No, no,’ Grigori said. ‘I shouldn’t have. I was just having trouble dealing with it.’
‘I didn’t ask to be brought back,’ he said. ‘It isn’t my fault.’
‘It took me a long time,’ Grigori said, ‘to figure out what is old you, what’s the new you, and to talk to the both of you at the same time.’
‘You didn’t answer my question,’ he said.
‘Well,’ Grigori said, ‘for the first time, I can see that you’ve got a chance at something. That if you don’t pull your head out of your ass, you’re going to miss out on it, and it’ll make you miserable, whether or not you know it. And it’ll make her worse than miserable.’
He stared at Grigori. ‘What?’
‘Magnolia’s in love with you, Taylor.’
‘Stop it.’
‘Why?’ Grigori demanded. ‘Because you want people not to react to you? You can’t stop how other people feel.’
‘She isn’t-’
Grigori shifted on top of him again. ‘She is in love with you. Do you think she would take your abuse if you didn’t? Do you think she would push herself so hard as your Aide if she didn’t? Do you think she would have nearly killed herself today if she didn’t? She loves you! She loves you, Taylor, and you can’t see it.’
‘Did you find this out before or after you fucked her?’ he asked, going silent, as he realised what he’d just said.
‘Jealously!’ Grigori whooped victoriously. ‘Now we’re getting somewhere!’
‘I’m not jealous,’ he argued.
Duty. There was duty. Inappropriate thoughts about-
‘Oh,’ Grigori said, interrupting his train of thought, ‘so you won’t mind me recounting every thing I did with her. How I know what every inch of her body tastes like-’
He twitched.
‘How I touched her everywhere, sucked on her, made her scream, made her beg.’
He twitched again.
‘Because, as you keep saying, you don’t care about her, so why wouldn’t she come to a substitute? Fuck me, because she can’t fuck you? Except, it doesn’t take very long to realise that I’m-’
He felt his hands curl into fists.
‘Stop it.’
‘Don’t you want to know what makes her feel good? Just so you can avoid doing it while you’re beating the shit out of her, so she doesn’t get mixed messages?!’
‘Stop it!’
‘I thought you didn’t care, I can share the memories you like, would you like the whole thing, or just the highlights? You can see what-’
‘She’s-’ he began, clamping his mouth shut. Duty was duty. There was nothing but duty. There was-
‘A devil in the sack? I know. Gods, she has stamina, I guess I should be thanking you for that, I mean, I lost track of how long I was pounding in her-’
‘She’s mine,’ he whispered.
‘Sorry,’ Grigori said, ‘I don’t think I heard you.’
‘Never mind.’
‘She’s yours?’
‘Leave it alone, Grigori.’
Grigori leaned forward. ‘I didn’t sleep with her, Taylor.’
He stared up his friend. ‘What?’ he demanded.
‘That’s how much she loves you, she couldn’t go through with it.’ Grigori slid off him, lying back beside him. ‘Does that change anything?’
He stared at the ceiling. ‘No.’
‘Are you sure?’
Grigori kissed him. ‘It’s just something to think about,’ he said.
‘I have my duty.’
‘And Duty is nothing more than the name of a porno until it means something to you. You can do your duty, sure, you should do your duty, and it can define your life. However, you’ve got to have a reason for doing it, you’ve got to have a reason to get up every day to train, and fight, and win. The fact that you’re programmed for it means exactly nothing out of a theoretical environment. I do my duty for my family, for my friends, for those I love, and I do it happily. The day I die, I’ll die content with knowing I did my best for them. Doing it for the pure love of the system that birthed us? Fuck that, that’s just rhetoric, and makes us no better than machines.’
‘I’m not like you.’
‘You keep saying that,’ Grigori said, ‘why not try to be a little like me? Emotions don’t make you weak, they don’t make you contravene your duty, love, life, living, aren’t mutually exclusive with being a good agent, my friend.’
‘I wouldn’t know how,’ he said, ‘I don’t feel.’
‘Don’t start that again,’ Grigori said. ‘I know damn well that you do.’
‘I don’t know what I feel,’ he faltered, ‘I don’t know.’
‘Getting a blow job, what did that feel like?’
‘Good,’ he said after a moment.
‘Did it feel like weakness?’
‘I wasn’t thinking about duty. I wasn’t-’
‘Answer the question.’
‘Good,’ Grigori said, ‘I want you to keep a hold of that thought, roll onto your stomach, and trust me.’