‘If you care to recall,’ Stef said. ‘I came here to get away from-’
‘There’s no one else that could help you. You don’t know any fae, and three-quarters of them aren’t to be trusted in any case, who else do you have?’
‘I came here so I could think. I’ve only been al-’
‘I’m not trying to cause you more grief, Spyder, I’m just trying to prevent my own. Whether by your will or not, you’re dangerous.’
‘I don’t even know if anything else is in there,’ she said quietly. ‘I could be safe.’
‘And what if you’re not?’
‘I can’t go back to them. The whole idea is to cease being a danger. If I go back, I’m a danger to Ryan.’
‘Angels, by virtue of what they are, can look after themselves.’
‘He wasn’t supposed to bring me back.’
‘I told you not to fall in love with an angel.’
The comment went over her head, and instead she decided to vocalise something she’d been keeping inside for too long. ‘For the love of god put some damn pants on!’ She hesitantly stood, massaging her shoulder with one hand – there was no pain, just the feeling that there should be pain. ‘You aren’t going to send me out like this, so you can at least put some goddamn pants on so that I can spend my time actually thinking instead of devoting cerebral RAM to editing what I see.’
‘What is it about nudity that bothers you so?’
‘Do you really want me to leave?’
‘Jonowoi is dying, and for whatever time he has left, I want it uninterrupted by ghosts of the past.’
She let her expression go impassive – there was no use using or manufacturing emotions when his mind was clearly made up. ‘Then,’ she said as she began to form a crude plan, ‘I demand at least a thousand dollars in cash. I’d prefer five. Non-sequential bills. I want a computer, a change of clothes and a phone registered in your name.’
‘I’ll give you the cash, and the clothes, but the rest of it is useless. You aren’t running from Solstice, you’re running from yourself.’
‘And the Agency.’
‘I fear that they’re the only ones who can help you.’
‘But I don’t want to die again.’
‘If you’re afraid, you’re dead anyway.’
‘You ran away when the Solstice came here.’
He turned from here. ‘If you want new clothes, come, otherwise I might turn you away as you are.’
She silently followed him to his bedroom, passing the fading and bloody body of the green tiger. ‘How did you-’
He lifted a sword from beside the body. ‘Fencing is the sport of gentlemen. Cutting throats is the mark of a street thief. Thank the gods I’m both.’
‘I want to-’
‘No, Spyder, you don’t get to hear that story. It’s not who I am anymore, so it’s not important.’
Ten minutes later, she was dressed in clothes that weren’t drenched in her own blood, and had enough money to get her through at least a week. A short cab ride had her back in the CBD. ‘Up Queen Street,’ she said to the driver as she stared through paranoid eyes at every person on the footpath.
The Agency loomed at her as they moved up the street, and every fear she’d had of it multiplied itself by ten, turned large and red and flashed in her eyes. ‘Somewhere here, love?’
‘No,’ she managed to choke. ‘Keep driving, just take me around the block.’
‘Round the block which way?’
Her mind blanked. ‘Just…god, I dunno, Starbucks.’
The driver grunted and drove past the Agency, and a few minutes later she was deposited outside of the coffee temple that so many people prayed to. She threw the fare at the driver and waited impatiently as he counted back the change.
She stepped inside and attempted to order a plain coffee. The barista took pity on her and translated everything to her, in an effort to teach her the strange language spoken within the temple.
‘I’m afraid of change,’ was all she managed to say as the barista turned away to get her coffee.
She turned away from the counter and bumped into a young woman. The impact popped the lid off the coffee and spilled over both of them.
‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ she mumbled as she turned and grabbed a handful of napkins and began to wipe at the stain on the other girl’s blouse. She wasn’t particularly worried about her own shirt, she was sure that Dorian had written it off the moment she’d touched it. ‘Are you burnt?’ The young woman wasn’t reacting. ‘Look, I’m sorry ok? I’ll get you a new shirt, I mean, you’ve got to walk like a whole twenty metres before you hit a clothes shop.’
The girl retreated a few steps and placed her coffee on the closest empty table. ‘Stef?’
‘Sorry, wrong chick.’ She dug in her pocket for her wallet. ‘How much do you need to get a new shirt?’
She dropped her coffee. Run. Run. Run. She looked up at the girl. ‘Do I know you? Am I supposed to know you? How the hell-?’
The girl gave her a wavering smile. ‘Please, I’m not going to- You’ve got nothing to fear from me.’
She wanted to scream. She wanted to run. ‘How do you know who I am?’ She crinkled her nose. ‘Are you with Emma?’
The girl shook her head. ‘No, I’m really not. We should sit. We’re already drawing attention.’
She walked over to the table and nervously sat, half-expecting the chair to grab onto her and drag her to a deep level of hell. ‘Again: how do you know who I am?’ A new coffee appeared in front of her.
‘Let’s just say,’ the girl said, ‘I know a fair bit about Agency matters.’
She stared at the coffee. ‘You can require.’
She sipped at the coffee. ‘Not anymore. So…that makes you an Agent?’
The girl gave her a smile. ‘It makes me Andrea.’
‘Can we get past the pleasantries so I can either quell or act on the urge to run?’
‘You’re…How are you here? You’re…he thinks you’re dead, Stef.’
The false smile dropped away as she stared at the girl. ‘Come on, who are you? You’d have to be in the Agency to…’ she trailed off as a crazy idea crossed her mind. ‘I know who you are.’
‘No, you don’t.’
‘I think I do, I could be wrong, but I think I do.’
‘Whatever you’re thinking, Recruit, is wrong.’
‘You are the building, aren’t you?’ All expression fell from Andrea’s face. ‘Not the bricks and mortar, not the stuff the building needs, but what the building is, is you, isn’t it? You’re the M in the M-word building. You’re the refrigerator light bulb!’
Andrea’s lips twitched, and she began to shake, she dissolved into giggles for a few moments, then wiped away a tear. ‘That…was a very amusing idea.’
‘That you would assign an anthropomorphic personification to the Agency’s automated functions is…interesting to say the least.’
‘So I’m wrong then?’
‘Yes, I’m sorry, but yes.’ Andrea stared at her for a long moment, seemingly unsure of what to say.
She took another swig of coffee, then stood. ‘I think we’re done here.’
‘No, don’t go, please.’’
‘I shouldn’t have come here. I can’t-’ The girl’s arm shot out and grabbed her as she stood. ‘Let me go,’ she demanded.
The girl stood and the world blurred, the Starbucks dropped away and her apartment appeared. Andrea closed her eyes, and began to melt away, replaced a moment later by a worried Jones. ‘Everyone has their secrets, Stef,’ he said.
She just stared at him.
‘Everyone has their secrets,’ he repeated, ‘now will you talk to me?’
‘That’s something I beg your silence on.’
‘I didn’t know Agents had mighty morphing powers. Be a bird, be a bird!’
‘We can’t do that. Please, can you-?’
‘No, I can’t, can you please just forget that you saw me? I shouldn’t have been out, but I- I shou-’
He held out his hand and a cookie appeared in it. ‘You can trust me.’
She took a step forward, snatched the cookie, then retreated a few steps. ‘Ok.’ Not like you’ve got a choice anyway.
He moved toward the couch, a laptop appearing in his hand. ‘It’s…cleaner than I expected,’ he said as he took a look around.
‘Ryan cleaned up while I was dead. And moved my stuff around.’ She pouted. ‘It was kind of weird.’
‘When we’re bored, we organise, it’s an inbuilt behavior.’
‘That’s…kind of scary. I think my brain would stop working if I had to deal with that. Now this place is all clean…except for…’ she trailed off, thinking of the broken glass in the bathroom, and the blood she’d left on the floor. ‘Excuse me.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘There’s like four rooms in this place, where do you think I’m going?’
‘So you’ve retained your normal biological functions?’
She shuffled uncomfortably. ‘Do you really need to know that?’
He indicated to the laptop in his hands and he nodded.
‘Do you want my help or not?’
‘Of course I don’t!’
‘Be that as it may, there is going to be a time when the doctors strap you down and examine you, or…perform an autopsy. The more I know is the less they will have to dig out of your spine.’ This earned him a fearful look. ‘Stef, what do you think would have happened had it been Taylor that found you? Or if you’d been spotted by another recruit? I’m going to have to wipe so much security camera footage just so you don’t appear in a random sweep.’
‘So rat me out if it’s easier. Ryan would to give me the same lecture. Probably. Either that, or “Emma told me she’d convinced you to off yourself, I was going to use this place for secret agent booty calls, now you’ve messed that up” and frown at me. He’s good at frowns. Is it built in as well?’
Jones simply stared at her. ‘He thinks you’re dead, Stef.’
‘And it has to stay that way.’
‘He thinks you…He thinks you killed yourself, and there’s nothing worse than that.’
‘He can’t know I’m here.’
‘She said he-’ She looked away. ‘That they’d throw him in the recycle bin? Something like that? No, I’m not his problem anymore, and I want it to stay that way.’
‘He has a right to know.’
‘No he doesn’t. If he thinks I’m dead, he can deal. I’m no longer his problem. I never wanted to be his problem. I either over think or don’t think before I act, I picked wrong and it cost me. My mistakes shouldn’t cost others.’
He patted the couch beside him and she crossed back across the room. ‘I think you’re underestimating yourself.’
She yawned and stared at him. ‘I’m not trying to use your kind as vending machines, but Require: coffee. Please.’
‘You just had-’
‘I’m exhausted. I feel like I’m going back to sleep, and I can’t do that. I- Nevermind, later. Require: godsdamn coffee.’
He handed over a cup, and she sipped at it. ‘You can scan me or whatever, but then I’m out of here. I just need an out, and please don’t tell him, just-’
She closed her eyes for a moment, after only a moment, she opened them again, and yawned, but somehow felt less tired. She gripped the coffee cup but it was gone. ‘I thought I asked for coffee?’
‘My apologies,’ Jones said, and handed over a cup. ‘What were you saying?’
‘Don’t tell him. Please. I don’t want to be his problem anymore. I don’t want to be-’
‘I can’t promise that, Stef. It’s not fair.’
‘It’s not about fair,’ she said as she put the cup down. ‘It’s about what’s best.’
‘I still can’t promise it.’
‘Then I’m out of here.’
She stood, turned to head for the door, and ran into Ryan’s waiting arms.