Magnolia slammed her hands down on Ryan’s desk, so hard she heard the monitor shake. ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’
Ryan stared at her, a rabbit in the headlights. ‘Recruit-’
‘Aide,’ Magnolia snapped. ‘And answer the question, who the fuck do you think you are?!’
Ryan started to stand, but she pounded her fist into the desk. ‘Sit,’ she said, forcing her voice calm. ‘You’re right where I want you.’
Ryan stood anyway, and the headache buzz in her head got worse. ‘Magnolia, I give you a lot of leeway, but this is unacceptable. You can’t-’
‘I can. I did. What on earth did you tell that woman?!’
‘Given the number of dicks in this building, who else would I be talking about?’
‘She insinuated abuse! You get a Directorial blankie to wrap yourself up in. No one gives a fuck what you do so long as we’re standing at the end of the day. An accusation like that could get him recycled!’
‘It’s truth, Magnolia, not-’
‘And what the hell do you think you know about truth?’ she asked, leaning against his desk. ‘You don’t know anything about this Agency, let alone anything about us. You spoke out of turn, and now we’re in the shit for it. You might be able to sit in the dark and do nothing – fuck, were you masturbating in here? But I do not have time to deal with an investigation like this. I actually have a damn job to do.’
‘In between visits to the infirmary with broken limbs, blood loss-’
‘Training,’ Magnolia said, finally feeling calm enough to put her knife away. ‘It’s training. I would not be as good as I am without his help.’
‘If that’s help, Magnolia-’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘You could have stopped it. Five years ago. You could have stopped it when I actually wanted to leave.’
Ryan seemed to falter at this. A weakness. An opening.
‘I was here for a week before you knew anything, Director,’ she said smoothly. ‘God only knows what he could have done to me in that time. Beating seven kinds of shit out of me was bad enough, but it could have been a lot worse. When you found, you didn’t even give me the option to leave. How I am is because of you. You can stew in guilt if you want, but I’m grateful.’
The agent sat, and stared at his hands. ‘I gave you a choice,’ Ryan said at last.
‘No, Ryan, you gave me the illusion of choice. You’re…you’re naive enough that maybe you thought you were giving me a real choice, but you weren’t. Remain as his recruit, or go to a Central jail cell for a year.’
‘Your criminal record-’
‘What, you mean stealing from Warehouse agents who let you get away if you blow them? I’m not sure that’s a crime.’ She shrugged. ‘No one, and I mean no one wants to end up in a Central. The Agency is fucked up enough when they’re out in the sun and have some – however small – oversight. In Central, no one can hear you scream, and from what I hear, you scream a lot. The people who make it through their sentences are the ones who come to arrangements with the guards, the less fortunate…augmentation was perfected in a cell, wasn’t it?’
Ryan went pale, either making him a far better actor than he seemed to be, or as innocent as she’d always assumed. ‘I don’t know anything about that,’ he said.
‘I believe that you don’t,’ she said, trying to sound gentle. ‘That doesn’t mean that I’m wrong though. All the Agency do is fuck people, in one way or another.’
‘You didn’t…You could have raised that concern,’ he said, ‘I would have listened.’
‘I know that now, I didn’t back then.’
‘You knew me,’ Ryan tried to argue.
‘No. I knew about Director Ryan, boogeyman of this whole network who didn’t mind threatening the lives of other agents in front of little girls. That’s how we met, remember? I know better now. You’re a good man, you’re just a bad agent.’
Ryan didn’t try to argue the point.
‘I fucked Clarke to try and get out of here, Ryan. He fucked me up the arse on the conference table and told me he’d think about it, guess he didn’t think hard enough. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be anywhere but here.’
‘You’ve had time since-’
‘Things changed,’ she said quietly. ‘And it didn’t take them long to start to change. We found a level, and I’ve been working on him ever since. You know that, you need that,’ she stared at him, ‘and that’s why you’ve never even asked me how I am, or if I needed someone to step in, because you couldn’t take the chance that I’d leave and take any chance of a functioning Combat Division with me. If he was abusing me, which you apparently believe, you’ve been complicit for all this time.’
‘And there’s nothing I can do to make up for that.’
‘You could listen, and not make stupid assumptions.’
‘For me to listen, Magnolia, you’d need to talk. This is the longest conversation we’ve ever had.’
‘That says something about you, Director, not about me.’ She sighed. ‘Most of the time, I just need you to stay out of my way. He’s not abusing me, he’s training me, and one day you’re going to be grateful that I can kill agents.’
‘That statement isn’t comforting, Magnolia.’
‘It’s not a threat,’ she said. ‘You’re safe because I have no reason to come after you.’
‘That’s not all that comforting, either.’
‘Accept it for what it is. Accept me for who I am, and accept Taylor for who he is. That’s all you have to do.’
Ryan was silent for a moment. ‘It’s hard, because he used to be- Do you- Do you know why he is the way he is?’
‘I pieced together some, he told me some, and Grigori told me some. He died, it’s your fault, and you didn’t do him the courtesy of letting him stay dead.’
‘That would be the broad strokes of it, yes.’
‘Trying to have him killed is not a way to make up for it.’
‘Don’t even try to understand, Magnolia.’
‘I don’t have to, so long as you let that man die, and deal with the one downstairs.’
‘Nothing in this Agency is as how it should be.’
‘Yes, Director, that’s something I’ll agree with.’
‘You’re dismissed, Recruit.’
She raised her eyebrows, but stood and left without insulting him again.
Magnolia tensed her leg as she walked towards the elevator, and felt her knife there. A comfort. A constant.
She pressed the call button for the lift, then raised a hand to her headset. ‘Magnolia to Taylor.’
There was a grunt in her ear, and she felt herself start to relax.
‘Sir, I’m available for a spar if you want.’
The world blurred as she took a step into the elevator.
There was a moment of disorientation, then the world came back. He threw the first punch a second later, and the world felt right again.
[table id=15 /]