Ryan blinked, then scrawled his signature again, for the fifty-seventh time. After the first few dozen, all of the forms began to look the same, and he was barely registering what they were saying anymore. Reports, requisitions, information control, it was all everyday and it had all been done before. There was no logical cause to request an audit, it was simply Emma abusing her power.
At least he wasn’t alone, Taylor sat across from him, nearly stabbing each page, Jones beside him, nodding along to some internally-played music, and Clarke at the head of the table, one hand initialing all of his paperwork, the other hand madly sending text messages.
[He’s doing it again.] Jones said.
Jones kept his gaze focused on his paperwork. [Taylor, watch his audit pile.]
He glanced up at Taylor, and saw that for every piece of paper he slashed his signature onto, ten sheets disappeared from the tall stack beside him.
Jones kept his face neutral, but sent across the image of a smiley. [I’m jealous,] the tech confessed, [I’d send some to my kids to do, but I have the feeling Merlin would start a paper airplane competition.]
[At least she’s getting it done,] he replied. [Remember what it was like before Magnolia started picking up after him?]
[I worry about her, and I swear I will never understand them.]
He fought a shrug – there was no need to start another argument if Taylor caught them talking about him again. [Their relationship is quite simple, Taylor thought “require: punching bag” and Magnolia appeared.]
Jones turned to look at him, but could do little more than smirk before turning back to his paperwork, however he sent across a laughing emoticon and the word ROFLIMH.
[In my head.]
He smiled, signed his name again, then felt himself being pulled from his chair. A strong hand grabbed a handful of his shirt and slammed his up against the wall. He reeled for half a second from the impact, then focused on his attacker: Emma.
‘Jesus Christ, Emma,’ Clarke said from his chair, his paperwork – but not his phone – abandoned. ‘Being a woman I can understand, tits look good on you, but do you have to be such a bitch?’
She ignored the liaison agent, instead, all of her anger was focused on him. ‘You lied to me Ryan.’
He steeled his expression. [Not here, Emma.] ‘No I didn’t.’
‘You don’t get secrets anymore.’
‘Wherever I want.’
‘Care to clue the rest of us in?’ Clarke said as he stood, finally abandoning his phone. ‘We’re all mature beings here.’
‘It’s personal,’ he snapped.
‘The hell it is,’ Emma said.
With that, he grabbed her and shifted them both to the roof.
He didn’t bother denying it. There was a reason the emotional choice wasn’t the logical one – the logical one never had the fallout that the emotional one did. ‘I’m an agent, Emma, we don’t kill the innocent, and that’s exactly what you’d asked me to do.’
‘Not like you haven’t done it before.’
He threw his hands up in frustration. ‘Fine, so what happens now? Do you want me to lock her up with the freaks in the basement? Are you going to force me to banish her? Or…are you going to kill her?’
Emma just stared at him.
‘You didn’t!’ he seethed.
‘I’m an agent,’ she said, ‘we protect the innocent, and that’s exactly what I did.’ She paused for a moment. ‘But it didn’t work. You made an immortal, Ryan.’
‘It was unintentional.’
‘Nonetheless, and that made her all the more dangerous.’
‘What did you do?’
‘Nothing,’ she snapped. ‘What’s the one way-’ she asked as she made a finger gun, ‘-to make sure-’ she lifted the hand ‘-to make sure an immortal doesn’t come back?’ she finished as she pointed the finger-gun at her head.
He shifted away before second thoughts had a chance to form.
‘Stef?’ he called as he ran through the apartment. ‘Stef?’ He spun in a slow circle, scanning the apartment. No life sign. No body. ‘She’s not here,’ he growled at Emma as he felt her presence behind him. ‘What did you do to-?’
‘I keep telling you, I didn’t do anything, I left it up to her.’
He crossed the lounge room and walked to the bathroom door – but the sight of red stopped him from walking in. He raised a hand to his mouth. ‘By Chaos…’
There was blood all over the sink, and a large splatter on the wall – a bullet was embedded into the tile in the centre, there was as smear where the body had slid down the wall, and a small pool of blood stained the floor.
‘Bled a lot for someone so pale,’ Emma commented. ‘You almost wouldn’t think she had it in her.’
He grabbed her hair and slammed her face into the tiled wall. He pulled her back, and a few fell to the floor, then he slammed her into the wall again before releasing her.
He ran his hand against the wall – it was unlikely to be anyone else’s blood, but he needed to be sure. No matter the answer, he had to be sure. Rubbing the blood between his fingers, he ran over his possibilities – a DNA match would take too long, and require too many questions to be asked. There was at least one true psychic in the city, and numerous empaths – they’d be able to tell him for sure, but he didn’t want to know the details, it would be like losing her again.
Only one other possibility presented itself, but it was normally useless – a chemical composition scan.
He took a deep breath and initiated the scan. All of the normal components came up within tolerance – that at least meant that the blood came from a human. Hesitating for a moment, he allowed the other components to scroll up through his vision – and the one that he’d hoped to be low was well above what it should have been.
The blood’s caffeine level could have only belonged to his recruit.
‘Damnit Stef.’ He turned from the bloody stain to look at the woman who was systematically ruining his life.
Emma shrugged. ‘She was about three steps from it when I found her, all I needed to was give her a little push. It really was selfish of you, Ryan, bringing her back like that. You weren’t doing anyone any favours, least of all her.’
‘You’re a monster,’ he whispered.
‘No, Ryan, you are. You knew it couldn’t last. What exactly were you planning on doing with her? Agency rules wouldn’t have let her continue, but that would have been the least of your worries.’
‘Live, Emma, the word is live. And it depends on which Agency rule,’ he muttered.
‘Sanctuary?’ she asked as the wounds slowly disappeared from her face. ‘With who?
‘It doesn’t matter now.’ He looked down, and felt disgusted when he realised he was standing in the pool of blood. A pool of blood, just a pool of blood. ‘Why isn’t there a body? Why isn’t there a body?’
‘There is a body,’ she said as she pulled herself from the wall and spat blood, pressing her tie to her split lip. She pointed to the floor. ‘It’s right there. Ashes to ashes and all that.’
He knelt and stared at the small, shiny fragments. He touched one and felt the mirror’s power running through it – they weren’t shards from the broken bathroom mirror, they were shards from her heart.
It didn’t make sense – there should have been a body, there should have been- He turned and walked from the bathroom, leaving bloody footprints on the carpet as he crossed the apartment. The kitchen was untouched, the lounge room was the same – there were the crumpled blankets, and the empty coffee cup, but everything else was the same as he’d left.
The real test was the bedroom.
She hadn’t begged when he’d threatened her. She hadn’t cried when she’d been stabbed. She hadn’t run she’d seen the phoenix.
She’d cried when her doll had been broken.
If there was any reason that there wasn’t a body – any reason that meant that she was still alive, or running, then she would have taken the one accessible thing she seemed to have a real emotional connection with: Alexandria.
He prayed – even though he knew the gods weren’t listening – as he stepped into the bedroom.
The doll was missing.
He kept the smile from his face as he walked into the bedroom, Emma following him. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ she asked.
He took another step forward, and his hidden smile faded when he saw the doll’s red curls down beside the bed – it hadn’t been taken, it had simply fallen. ‘Nothing,’ he replied. ‘Just fooling myself.’
‘So how’s this going to work?’ she asked him. ‘Are you going to come quietly?’
‘Haven’t you done enough?’
‘I’m not proud,’ she said. ‘But it’s duty first. It’s always duty first. We can’t survive unless we do our duty. The world spins out of control if we do not do our duty.’
‘What happens though, when we exceed our duty?’
‘I don’t want to know,’ she said after a long moment. ‘I don’t want to see an agent who thinks that they’re a god.’
‘Call the Enforcers, Emma, if that’s what you’re going to do. I’m not going to run.’
‘You used to be one of the good ones, better than me even,’ she said as he rounded the bed to pick up the doll. ‘Now this. What happened to you?’
‘Some of us can stay strong,’ he said as he stared at the porcelain face. ‘Bolstered by our colleagues, our personal beliefs, and our achievements. Some of us…fall to mortal frailties.’
‘If the death of your last girlfriend still affects you, why did you even try this Frankenstein move?’
He stared at the doll. ‘Because I needed her.’
‘Whatever need you had could have been fulfilled without circumventing Agency rules.’
‘Maybe when I’m as old as you I’ll be able to dismiss individuals as easily as you do.’
She slapped him. ‘Don’t pretend you know a bloody thing about me.’
‘Then stop making assumptions about me.’
‘Are you going to resign?’
‘Never.’ She lifted a hand and pulled a heavy metal ring from the air, she pulled the ring open and clamped it through his arm. He winced as ring chewed through the bone before disappearing. ‘A tag,’ he commented. ‘How quaint.’
‘You’ve got forty-eight hours to resign. Go quietly, and pray you get another chance soon.’ She took the doll from his hands and threw it onto the bed. ‘I’m going home so I can breathe for a bit, you’re lucky you’re getting this long.’
‘It’s longer than Stef got,’ he said after she disappeared.
He shifted to the tech department, and lingered outside Jones’ door for a moment before knocking. The lock clicked and the door slowly opened. Merlin, standing unsteadily on a chair, pumped a tiny, triumphant fist as he stepped inside. ‘I did it!’
The boy stared at him for a moment, then jumped off the chair and ran over to Jones. He hugged the tech agent’s arm tight. ‘Jonesy, I dun want to be around the sad, send me to the games room.’
The boy disappeared, and Jones turned to look at him. ‘More Emma problems, sir?’
‘I lied about Stef.’
He heard the door lock click. Jones lifted a slight hand and turned his monitor off before turning to look at him. ‘How so, sir?’
He sat on the chair Merlin had been standing on. ‘She didn’t die on the roof.’ He shook his head. ‘I mean, she did, but- There was a piece of mirror in her, and I made a wish. This whole time, I’ve been hiding the body.’
‘She is now.’ He raised hand to his head. ‘She woke up this morning. Only this morning. I couldn’t even protect her for a day.’
‘But if she was animated by the mirror, then-’
‘Suicides don’t get a second chance.’
‘I’m so sorry.’
‘There’s no body. There’s no evidence she left her apartment, but there’s no body. There are shards from her heart, but…’ he trailed off and slumped in the chair. ‘She wants me to resign.’
‘Would you prefer that, sir, or the Enforcers?’
‘I’m not sure what I did is defensible.’
‘There’s always an argument to be made. Is that what you need me to do?’
‘No.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t need you to do anything. I just needed for someone other than Emma to know.’
‘Would you like me to keep a trace on her email accounts, just in case?’
‘If she found a way to-’ He remembered all of the blood and took a moment to blank his mind. ‘I doubt she’d be careless enough to access her email.’
‘All the same?’
‘If you wish.’
He shifted to his office, placed a pen on his desk, and waited for the ghost of his recruit to start rolling it around.