The Grey Edge: Chapter Sixteen

Magnolia stared up at Taylor. ‘Dead?’
‘Don’t make me repeat myself, Magnolia.’
She took in a deep breath, trying to balance her calm, her resolve, her want to- She stared at him, swallowed and marshaled her thoughts. ‘How, sir? Why? How do you even know?’
He stared down at her for a moment, and for a moment she let herself fantasise that it wasn’t the disinterested look of an agent, of a commander looking at his lieutenant, that it wasn’t- He lifted himself from her, moving back to sit on the end of the bed. She lay on her back for a moment more, then sat up, requiring herself into clothes.
‘Because I killed him, Magnolia.’
Her heart skipped a beat. ‘Sir?’
‘Truth for truth,’ he said. ‘Agreed?’
‘Any secrets I have are yours to know, sir,’ she said, ‘you know that. I don’t keep anything from you.’
His expression became unreadable for a moment. ‘I don’t have to tell you that this is sensitive information.’
‘What crime was-’
‘There isn’t a file to read on this, Magnolia.’
‘He deserved to die,’ he said, ‘so I killed him, it’s as simple as that.’
‘But if you didn’t have jurisdiction-’
‘Sensitive information,’ he said again.
She stared at the bed for a moment. ‘So you’ve seen the video then?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘But Jones said-’
‘I saw it a week ago. It took Grigori that long to track down who made it. We didn’t know it was going to be mass-distributed. We were too late.’
‘Thank you for even trying, sir,’ she said. ‘But it was my mistake, they’re my consequences to deal with.’
‘It was from before,’ he said. ‘Before you had duty, before you had purpose, it means nothing, and there won’t be any consequences.’
‘Respectfully sir, you can’t predict how the rest of the department, or the rest of the Agency will react.’
‘I know how I’ll react.’
The alarm on her bedside table rang, and she reached across to turn it off. ‘Training,’ she said, ‘I’m not sure how much help I’ll be tonight.’
‘Do you want to assist?’
‘Of course.’
‘Then get up and assist.’
She stood, dull pain still in her legs, her strength still gone. A thought had her in a new set of clothes as she took a step towards the door.
‘What the hell do you think you’re wearing?’ Taylor said, standing between her and the door.
‘It’s a uniform sir, you should recognise it,’ she said, staring at his chest, unwilling to look him in the eye.
‘Take it off.’
‘Sir, I-’
‘You walk out there like that, and I’ll make you strip.’
‘It’s my uniform sir, I can-’
‘It isn’t you.’
‘It’s going to be hard enough for them to take me seriously after having seen that video, without dressing the way I normally do.’
He pressed a hand to her chest, took a step forward, and pushed her against the wall – though more gently than normal, as if taking her injuries into account, as if-
‘You aren’t that weak,’ he said, ‘you aren’t going to give into them.’
‘I just want to be as effective as I can.’
‘Consider it an order, Magnolia.’
‘Yes sir,’ she said, replacing her uniform with a dress and long boots.
‘Better,’ he said as he stepped back. ‘Fall in.’
She let herself smile, and fell into step behind him as he pulled open the door her dorm room and walked down the hall towards the gym. Without a word, he moved to the left, and she moved to the right, knocking on the doors as they went, alerting anyone running late. Routine. Just routine. It felt nice.
Most of the department was already there, lounging on the bleachers, helping each other warm up or simply standing and waiting.
They were all staring at her.
She let her expression drop into one of neutrality, and stood behind Taylor as he began to bark orders, getting the recruits into line, lamenting their slowness, the usual. The routine. A few of the recruits focused on him, but most kept looking at her. Staring at her.
Dawson raised a hand.
‘What?’ Taylor snapped.
‘Sir, there’s something that has to be said. Everyone’s thinking it, but no one is saying anything.’
‘That being?’
‘The video, everyone’s seen it, even the fag watched it,’ Dawson said, jutting his head backward. ‘Is it normal to recruit porn stars for Agency work, or is that w-’
‘Do you really think that finishing that question is a good idea, recruit?’
‘Fine, sir,’ Dawson said, ‘then let me ask this,’ he said, turning his gaze to her, ‘when are we filming the sequel?’
This got laughter from the assembled recruits.
‘You’re dismissed.’
Dawson smiled. ‘Fine, I didn’t feel-’
‘From the Agency,’ Taylor said.
She kept her gaze forward, unemotional, impassive.
‘You can’t dismiss me for making a comment about your 2IC sucking cock on camera, when it’s the truth!’
‘All of you,’ Taylor said, ‘five minutes to get your gear, and get out.’
There was a chorus of “what” and “why” and “no fair”, with more than a few dirty looks flashed in her direction, until Taylor drew his gun – this silenced them, and they turned and ran for the door, obviously desperate to get their stuff before their rooms were collapsed.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘they can’t just leave, they’ve- they’ve got to sign certain things on their dismissal paperwork, and provide us with certain details.’
Taylor turned to her. ‘I want them out, now.’
She swallowed. ‘Have them meet in the conference room on level one, they can sign what they need to and leave immediately.’
‘Fine, meet me in my office,’ he said. He took a step forward and grabbed the one remaining recruit. ‘Four minutes thirty,’ he said, shoving Hewitt to the ground, before walking out the door of the gym.
She stared down at Hewitt as he slowly pulled himself back up. ‘You wanted something?’
Hewitt flashed an embarrassed smiled, then nodded. ‘I can’t lose this job, ma’am.’
‘You just did, Hewitt.’
‘I’m screwed if I lose this job, me and my partner both. I need this job, please.’
‘Why should I care?’
‘Because I didn’t get any pleasure out of watching the video, I don’t think my orientation is any secret, I only watched it to see if I could recognise who made it. I’ve watched a lot of fairy porn, and my partner was in one video, before we met, so I know some of the trademarks. I didn’t recognise the director, or the company, so, sorry on that front.’
‘My ability to require goes into covering our living expenses, so to speak,’ he said. ‘Caipe lives here with me, you know that, you did the paperwork for me, to get us a double room. He works too, all his pay goes into saving for his castration treatments. I was only going to stay a recruit for, at most another year or so.’
‘What do you expect me to do? I can’t countermand Taylor.’
‘Let me transfer, just up to tech, you know, let me use my degree. I’ve got the test scores to go up, you guys grabbed me because the department was low on recruits, but I can be of just as much use up there as I was here. And if I’m tech, you won’t even see me, it will be like I was dismissed.’
‘Get your stuff.’
‘Ma’am, please…’
She sighed. ‘I’ll ask. But if he says no, you’d better have all your stuff together, or it’s disappearing.’
‘Thank you, I really mean it, thank you.’
‘Move, Hewitt.’
‘Yes ma’am,’ he said as he ran for the door.
She focused and faded her way through the department to Taylor’s office. She didn’t bother to knock upon reaching the door – it was open a quarter of an inch – an invitation for her to come in. She closed the door, and saw an unusual sight: paperwork piled high on Taylor’s desk – twenty-seven simultaneous dismissals amounted to a lot of paperwork.
It also amounted to insanity.
‘You can’t do this, sir.’
He looked up at her. ‘I can do whatever I want.’
‘You can’t dismiss the entire department, sir, you really can’t.’
‘Recruit, don’t presume to tell me what to do.’
She stepped forward and placed her hands on his desk, steadying herself. ‘As your Aide, it’s my job to advise you on the best course of action. This is not the-’
‘I didn’t ask for your opinion, Magnolia.’
‘You excise the tumor, you don’t kill the patient. You scrap a faulty gun, you don’t get rid of the armory. You deal with the troublesome element, you don’t dismiss the rest of the department. Sir, if you dismiss me, the disruptions go away. I’m the source of-’
‘I reject your advise.’
She lifted her leg, jerked the knife from her boot and laid it on the desk. ‘Then I quit, sir.’
Require: MACRO End-Paperwork
She placed completed paperwork on the desk beside her knife. ‘It’s all there sir. All finished bar your signature.’
He rose from his chair. ‘You expect me to sign this?’
She kept her gaze steady. ‘Yes sir, I do.’
He stared at the paperwork, tore it in half, and dropped it into a freshly-required bin. ‘No.’
‘You can’t say no, sir.’
‘You’re my recruit, I can say whatever I want.’
‘I can’t be here,’ she said, ‘You need two dozen recruits more than your need-’
‘Duty rosters for the next-’
‘You aren’t leaving.’
‘You don’t have a choice, sir, quitting is a choice.’
‘Not one you have.’
She turned and walked toward the door. ‘Then I’ll go to the director, sir.’
Her knife flew past her head and embedded itself in the door. ‘You wouldn’t do that.’
She turned. ‘The greater gain to you is to keep your current group of recruits, and to simply get a new Aide. I can consult if you wish, but it will be too disruptive if I stay.’
‘Not if they leave.’
She put a hand to the door handle, but he grabbed her, spun her towards him, and pinned her against the door.
‘I need you.’
The bottom of her world fell away. ‘What?’
‘You can’t leave. I need you.’
Need. Need. He’d said “need”. He’d been looking at her when he’d said it. He-
She shook her head slightly. ‘You can get another Aide.’
‘I wasn’t aware you had a functional clone.’
‘Sir, you-’
‘Dammit Magnolia, don’t make me repeat myself.’
‘Truth for truth, Magnolia. There are precisely two people I trust – you, and Grigori. He told me something, I want you to tell me if it’s true.’
‘I don’t think Grigori would have any reason for lying to you.’
‘Then tell me if it’s true or not.’
‘I don’t know what you’re-’
There was a hand on her leg. ‘Guess.’
Her breath caught, and she fought the urge to fade away, to slip out of the Agency forever, to- She swallowed. ‘He promised not to say anything.’
‘So it’s true?’
‘Yes sir. Sorry sir.’
‘Say it.’
She looked up at him, fighting the urge to shake. ‘I love you, sir.’ There wasn’t a bullet, or a snapped neck, there was no knife sliding across her throat, or spilling her guts. No death of any kind. ‘I’m sorry sir,’ she said, ‘I know it’s weakness.’
‘Grigori,’ he said, his hand still on her leg. ‘Is always trying to tell me that I’m the weak one. Maybe it’s true.’
‘You still want me to stay?’
‘Yes, Magnolia, I want you.’
She was dead. It was the only sensible explanation. The explosion had killed her, killed him, killed Ben and the Matriarch, and she was in heaven. There was no chance that this was reality, no chance that he was really pinning her against a wall, telling her he wanted her, that he needed her. No chance.
If she was dead, then there was no harm in pushing the illusion of heaven, or the dream before death a little further, to get something more before all became blackness. She pushed against the wall, pressing herself against him, slid a hand around his neck, and kissed him.
Somewhere, fireworks exploded. Somewhere, triumphant classical music played. Somewhere, angels sang; here, the angel kissed back. The hand pressed against her chest dropped, wrapped around her lower half and lifted her, making the continuing kiss easier.
She wrapped her legs around him, pulling him close, feeling as much as she could before it ended. Before there was nothing more. Or, before he came to his senses and killed her.
The hand on her leg slid up and down, taking in every inch, and slid up skirt to feel her thigh before he pulled it away and pressed it against the wall, bracing him as he broke the kiss. ‘To repeat myself: You’re mine. I need you. Don’t leave.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Please.’