Taylor opened his eyes.
There was an arse floating above him.
It was a nice arse. Still, it had no reason to be floating five feet off the ground.
She turned over to look at him, her head resting on folded arms that rested on nothing but air.
‘You’re floating,’ he said.
‘Not on purpose, sir.’
He sat up, wrapped an arm around her, and pulled her from the air. She slipped a leg between his, anchoring herself to the bed, to him.
‘Is this the mirror?’ she asked. ‘Did you-’
‘No,’ he said, ‘I think it’s…After we went through the sky, what do you remember?’
She shook her head slightly, her hair bouncing like it would underwater. ‘Nothing, sir.’
‘You were dying. You were almost- Death was there. She wanted to take you. I didn’t let her.’
‘Life told me how to give you a chance. Your mother’s heart. I think it’s logical to assume you may have inherited some of her power.’
‘…she’s dead then?’
‘Yes, Magnolia, she is.’
‘Thank you sir.’
He gave her a nod. ‘Floating isn’t useful,’ he said after a moment.
‘It could be fun,’ she said. A look of concentration crossed over her face, and suddenly he wasn’t touching the bed any more. He looked down – he was only a foot off the bed, still, an impressive feat for a new skill.
‘You can do this on purpose, but not come down?’
She gave a shrug of slim shoulders. ‘New magic still doesn’t come naturally or logically to me.’
‘You need practice.’
She shook her head. ‘There’s something I need to first. Something that’s overdue.’
‘We’re not combat any more,’ he said, ‘paperwork belongs to our replacements now.’
This seemed to surprise her. ‘So what are we now?’
He gave a shrug. ‘On mandatory leave until we decide. Considering armoury master if nothing else.’
She gave a nod.
‘What do you need to do, Magnolia?’
She pushed lightly against him, and he landed back on the bed. She sat astride him for a moment, then slipped off the bed, her feet almost touching the floor as clothes appeared over her body. ‘I need to go speak with the other Aide Hammond, sir. I’d appreciate a shift since I can’t cut through the Library.’
He gave her a nod. ‘When you get back, however, we’ll work on extracting usefulness from floating, and see if you inherited any other powers.’
She leaned against him, and laid a soft kiss on his lips.
He targeted her in his HUD, and shifted her to Caboolture’s front desk.
Magnolia blinked as the shift completed…something wasn’t right. The front desk was being manned by a small child. She required a notebook, made a small note of it, then stepped forward and stared down at the child.
‘Are you from the circus?’
She growled, and reached across the desk and hit the service bell.
‘You can’t do that.’
‘Then go get one of your parents.’
She turned and saw Darren, resplendent in a suit covered in milky baby vomit. ‘I’m here to see Don.’
‘He’s your father, you can call him-’
‘Is he here or not?’
‘Of course he is, Maggie. This way.’
‘Don’t call me that.’
‘Coming or not?’
She followed him up the stairs, surprised at the lived-in sounds of the Outpost Agency. It sounded more like a daycare than a place of first line defence. It was noisy. It was inefficient. An agency could be a home, sure, but that wasn’t a blank cheque to leave children and nappies and plates everywhere. It made her skin crawl.
With half an hour, she could turn it into a real Agency. It had never been this bad before. Never.
‘Don,’ Darren called as they crossed the open-plan office space of the main floor.
He’d gone grey – that was the first thing that she noticed. Other than that, not much had changed since she’d seen him.
He started to walk toward her, arms raising as if to hug her, but Darren put a hand against his chest, and her father’s arms immediately dropped back down to his sides.
‘Can we use the conference room?’ she asked, ‘or is it a playground now?’
‘Only on Saturdays,’ Darren said with a grin.
‘Of course we can,’ Don said as he walked towards it, the lights coming on as they approached.
She stepped in behind him, closed the door and the blinds, and took the seat at the foot of the table, while Don stood awkwardly, leaning against the wall. ‘What did you want to talk about, Magnolia?’
‘A few things,’ she said. ‘No, just one, really, your failure.’
‘I won’t be-’
‘Oh, you’re going to listen to everything I want to say, and before you argue with me, remember that I outrank you, and Ryan needs me a lot more than Darren needs you so I can easily make your life very difficult.’
‘You don’t outrank me, Maggie.’
‘Maybe not on paper, Don, but everywhere where it counts. I work for a central agency, you work for an outpost, so my influence outweighs yours, and comparing Taylor with Darren, no contest of value there.’
‘Careful what you say, Don, he’s my commanding officer, and the man I’m sleeping with, so I won’t take kindly to any insults you may have.’
Don sat down very quickly at the table. ‘You’re-’
‘Yes. But no more questions, you’re here to listen to me, only fair, don’t you think?’
Don pinched the bridge of his nose, and she smiled.
‘My mother. Finally. The bitch got what was coming to her.’
‘Darren relayed some of what Clarke told him, but I know he left things out.’
‘The details aren’t important. What is important is for you to realise that you have to shoulder some of the blame for this.’
‘You never wanted me to learn how to use my magic, so I’m still playing catch-up. Judging by the amount of power that every other half-sibling of mine seems to possess, we would have had a much better chance of fighting back, I might have even been strong enough to not let her get to me in the first place. It’s all academic now, but I just wanted you to know that I’m safe, and it’s no thanks to anything you ever did.’
‘I tried, Maggie, gods know I tried.’
‘If I’d been a normal child, then trying would have been enough.’
‘Do you want an apology?’
She shook her head. ‘No. What good would an apology do at this point?’
‘Then what do you want from me?’
‘One last favour, and then to never see you again. Agents Parker told me that Darren was stomping around Queen Street while I was gone, huffing and puffing and blowing the walls down. Do you have any idea how professionally embarrassing that is? What that does to my reputation, to how people look at me?’
‘Your dress sense-’
‘Don’t you dare impugn the way I look. I don’t wear the suit, my loyalty isn’t wrapped up with a tie. I’ve nearly died countless times during my time there, this time was no different, it’s just that this time you knew about it. You, neither of you, had no business interfering.’
‘You’re my daughter, I still worry about you.’
‘Just for a little while longer.’
‘I’ll be having papers drawn up, and I want you to sign them. I’m here to let you know that they’re coming, and to…politely request that you sign them without bitching.’
‘What kind of papers?’
‘For you to legally disown me, in the eyes of human law and under King’s law.’
‘You couldn’t think that I would-’
‘Coercion is a powerful tool,’ she said, ‘and I don’t want control of my life to be in the hands of anyone else.’
‘Not even your,’ he stared at the table for a moment, ‘lover?’
‘He trusts me with his,’ she said, ‘it’s different, Don.’
‘It’s not what I want. I always thought we could-’
‘I don’t see reconciliation as very likely, do you, Don? The thing that drove us apart will keep us apart, we’re just too different. I’m not Maggie any more, dad, and that’s how you always see me. You don’t want to know me now, it’ll ruin whatever memories you do have of me.’
‘Read every one of my mission reports. Look at the photos. Look at the bodies I’ve left behind. Look at the hospitalisation lists. Get the department reports and statistics. Learn who I am, then really, really reconsider if you still have a single shred of interest in ever speaking with me again. Until then, sign the papers when they show up.’
He gave her a nod.
She pressed the transmit button on her headset. ‘Magnolia to Taylor.’
The world blurred and the gym came into view. For once, all of the wood panels were gone, revealing the true extent of the weapons they possessed – and this was even without taking the ones in the vault and in storage.
‘The Gideon Street market is open,’ Taylor said as he polished a knife and returned it to its wall bracket. ‘Gnomes start discounting around this time of year.’
‘Do you want me to request some petty cash?’
‘No need,’ he said as he pointed to a small roll of bills on the rolling cart. ‘It’s a “get well” gesture from Grigori. He suggested a date, but…’
‘I’d prefer a new eightset than overpriced wine, sir.’
He moved along the wall to inspect the small leather strap that held eight tiny, sharp throwing knives. ‘You didn’t tell me the tips were blunt.’
‘I was hardly using it,’ she said, ‘but I’d like to practice with a new one, just so I’ve got the skill.’
He gave an affirmative grunt.
He slipped the money into his pocket, then the world blurred.
They walked through the framing store, past the sleepy-looking half-fairy owner, to the back room, then sideways over the threshold of the fairy stair.
She made a quick note to alert the fairy relations team about the stairs – the lighting was poor, good for an attack, good for an assailant to hide in, waiting to take a cheap shot at any Agency staff who took the stairs at the wrong time. They reached the bottom without incident.
The market bustled ahead of them – the area around the staircase was clear of course, other than a small child selling purple apples on purple sticks from a small table, and a few milling fae, either waiting to leave, or waiting for others to arrive. A six-inch fairy in a suit screamed into a phone, complaining about stock prices and the lateness of his taxi.
Something bumped against her side. She looked, and saw Taylor’s arm, crooked at an awkward angle, his eyes focused on a couple a dozen metres ahead of them. She smiled, threaded her arm around his and looked up. ‘Relax it a little, sir,’ she brushed her body against his arm, and she felt it relax and fall into a more natural position.
He leaned in and kissed her, then an odd look cross his face, and he stared past her. She turned to follow his gaze, and saw what he was looking at: a display of war axes and armour.
‘We’ll start there, shall we, sir?’
He gave a nod. He looked away from the weapons, kissed her again, and smiled. ‘We do need more axes.’
Taylor opened his eyes.