When he’d been young, and an only child, Curt had wanted to be a firefighter. It was a normal-enough career goal for a kid – fire engines were awesome, red was a good colour, and fire was exciting.
When he’d been a little older, and looking after his sister, learning her needs better than either of their parents, he’d thought about being a teacher.
When his life had fallen apart, he hadn’t thought about being much.
When he’d been a Solstice, he’d just wanted to be a member of the group, without any thought as to real movement through the ranks.
And now, when he grew up, he wanted to be Magnolia Hammond.
There as a bloody thumbprint on the top form in his lap – hers – and his eyes kept straying from the paperwork, towards the clash of the titans.
Magnolia and Taylor sparring was a daily occurrence – if not the hourly one that rumour claimed it to be. Agent and recruit testing each other – and even under controlled conditions, they still managed to get in wounds that lasted until medical attention – Magnolia’s fae side able to leave lasting scars on an agent, where damage from a human would immediately fade.
And his relationship with both of them individually, and as a team – because they were a team, even before they had been a couple – had been nothing but strange.
Taylor was the boogeyman of their agency, the tall, mostly-silent Terminator who often roamed the halls with blood on this clothes and gore on his hands. He was the least “human” of their agents, so close to the killing-machine ideal that the Solstice that Curt had always done his best to avoid him.
Magnolia…was an enigma wrapped in bladed weapons and a short dress. Constantly underestimated by people who only knew her by sight – those who judged her to be nothing more than a weirdo in a lolita dress and combat boots. Those who didn’t see that she could a) likely murder them with a look and b) essentially ran the Combat department, with Taylor as a murderous figurehead.
She was beautiful. She was dangerous. She had redesigned a dozen Agency forms.
And as an Aide, there was no better role model. She knew procedure inside and out, she knew what Agency by-laws could be used to her advantage. Knew intricacies of history that left her winning arguments against agents.
He – on the other hand – had been thrown the occasional pile of paperwork when Ryan had been truly desperate, and now that his Aide status had become official, was still learning the position from the ground up.
And Magnolia – who, against all odds, respected him – and moreover, seemed to almost class him as a friend – was tutoring him in her few free moments a day – teaching him shortcuts, and passing along guides she had designed, so that he didn’t have to immediately wade into the literal millions of pages of Agency information.
But sometimes, those moments would come between a spar and a mission, so he had to be on hand – and privy to the sparring matches. Part of him felt privileged – very few people had been inside Taylor’s private gym – and even fewer of those were Field recruits.
It still bothered him to see how powerful Taylor was – knowing it was one thing, seeing it was another. Knowing those fists had been used on Stef, during the “kick the tyres” section of her transition from human to agent. Knowing that speed had been used in actual murder attempt when Taylor had reached the end of his rope.
But there was a truce – even if Stef still tended to shy back when Taylor was around – a situation where he was always happy to play human shield. It was comforting to her, and for all she had done for him, he would do anything and everything for her, forevermore.
He looked up as Magnolia called his name. ‘Yes?’
‘Ad hoc lesson. Arse here, now.’
‘Yes ma’am,’ he said automatically as he dropped his paperwork and made his way down to her.
He knew what was coming. Mags was pushing him towards his advanced first aid certification – something that was a bit more complex than the civilian requirement to know when and how to perform CPR. Advanced First Aid in the Agency meant treating both humans and agents – as yet, though, Taylor had not consented to being a prop in one of Mags’ lessons, so he still had little knowledge of how best to treat wounds on agents, other than the standby of “throw blue on it”.
By the time he got to the bottom level of the bleachers, Mags was naked to the waist, displaying all the wounds that needed to be dealt wtih. She was good-looking – something that was only enhanced by the confidence that exuded from her like unbreakable armour.
She’d deigned to take him as a lover for a short while – something he’d barely felt worthy of – but he liked their new status quo far better – and his heart well and truly belonged to his smelly hacker girl.
‘Assess,’ she said, ‘and treat. And while you’re at it, tell me what’s on your agenda for the day.’
He wanted to argue. He always wanted to argue. Multi-tasking was an important ability, but he always felt like it shouldn’t be necessary during medical treatment.
Curt sighed, and set about cleaning a shallow cut on her arm. ‘I’m getting push back on some of the prospective schedules. They’re being dicks for the sake of being dicks.’ He snorted, then patched the wound. ‘No one wants a Solstice taking the spot that rightfully belongs to a real person.’
Mags’ hand, knuckles bloody and palm slick with sweat, came to rest on his face. ‘O’Connor,’ she said, ‘imagine that this is me slapping the shit out of you. Twitch as I grab you by the throat and shake you until you stop talking shit.’ Her hand dropped away. ‘You’re their Aide, very rarely is there ever a consensus on who should take up that position.’ She leaned back, and required a water bottle. ‘Your girlfriend is probably an exception there, Screen tells me there’s no real dissent there.’
‘I’m not having this conversation with you again.’ She said, her tone hard but not harsh. ‘Are you purposely fucking with anyone? Breaking partner assignments?’
‘No,’ he conceded.
‘Then fuck them,’ she said. ‘If they want to argue, have them submit a grievance, and go through the proper process for that. You’ll get to deal with the paperwork, and Ryan will rubber-stamp whatever you put in front of him.’
‘Because that’s not a conflict of interest,’ he said as he required a cloth and cleaned his hands before moving to inspect a flowering bruise.
Her chest started to shake. He looked up, and saw that she was laughing. She pushed him a little, so that she could plant her elbows on her knees, a surprisingly light and joyful giggle bubbling out.
After a moment, she calmed herself. ‘Good one, O’Connor. Good one.’ She looked down at herself, shrugged, and a clean, ruffled T-shirt appeared, covering her. ‘Come on, you’ve got me for an hour. Let’s try and-’
She stood, then planted her left boot onto the bottom row of the bleachers to wipe away some blood – whether it was hers or Taylor’s seemed to be of no concern. ‘If you’re waiting,’ she said calmly, ‘to do that thing where I realise you weren’t joking, keep on waiting, Recruit.’
‘O’Connor,’ she said, her hand coming down on his shoulder. ‘If you can’t laugh at how ridiculously corrupt the Agency is, then you’re going to turn to stone from the stress.’ She smiled, then kissed his cheek. ‘Go get your shit.’
He nodded, and scrambled back up the bleachers to get his paperwork. ‘Neither of us should have the career path that we’re currently on. We earned our spots, but I was forced into recruitment, and you- Given your former occupation, I can’t imagine you were totally consenting.’
A small room. His blood on the floor. A form on the floor. A pen. A signature that would mean life or death.
He was a recruit, because Petersen had needed to have him officially on the books. He was a recruit because that meant he could be kept around a chew toy for longer.
He didn’t want to think about it. He was safe. He was- He drew the paperwork to his chest, and followed Magnolia as she left the gym. He was safe. He had to be safe. This was the closest place he’d had to a home in so long.
They walked out of Taylor’s office, towards the meeting room where Mags held their tutoring sessions.
He had friends. He had-
Petersen crossed the hall at the T-junction in front of them. The agent turned towards him, and smiled, his eyes red, his-
Curt felt his heart stop, and forced himself to blink. To keep walking. Petersen wasn’t there. Just a nightmare. Just a leftover from whatever shit had been in his dreams the previous night.
He adjusted the bundle in his arms, and drove his right hand into his pocket. In there was a small, rubber flash drive in the shape of a cookie – something Stef had given him on a day when he’d been scheduled to be in meetings for nine hours straight.
It – though he hadn’t checked – apparently held a selection of games, Star Trek episodes, and a document of reasonable excuses for needing to leave the room/meeting/country.
He’d never needed the excuses – but the gift had been so much more than Stef had probably ever thought it was. It had become a token, a lady’s favour from his hacker. It was- A lifeline when he needed to be centred.
He squeezed the flash drive, and felt the world right itself.
When he looked at the T-junction this time, there was nothing but an impatient magpie girl, spots of blood in her white hair. ‘Coming ma’am,’ he called without prompting, and jogged to catch up with her.