33 – Rough Diamonds

Stef opened her eyes.

Dawn light streamed through the infirmary blinds. She slipped out of the bed, pulling the blanket back up over Curt, who moved in his sleep, but didn’t wake.

First night with a boy who wanted her, survived. No different to being there for cuddles-only purposes, but so different at the same time. So different to not have to pretend it was real. So different to be wanted for her. So different to be wanted.

She grabbed one of the smaller baskets of muffins, hung it on her left arm and, walked out of the private room and out of the empty infirmary.

It wasn’t home. It was an Agency, but it wasn’t home. She walked down a curving corridor, past rooms upon rooms filled with flowers and gifts. All too much, way too much. It had been practically an accident. Something she’d had to do. She was an agent, she’d done her duty, and that was all. Agents weren’t there to be noticed, weren’t there to be thanked, they were just there to do their duty and slip away unnoticed.

She came to a junction, and looked to her right, and saw four other hallways, each a smaller concentric circle, and then a glass wall.

She walked towards the glass wall, leaned against it and stared down at the remains of the prison that had held her and the phoenix for days.

‘Stef.’

She turned and saw Ryan. He walked up, and hugged her tightly. ‘I thought you would have slept through today.’

‘You wouldn’t have let me.’

‘Are you all right?’

She shook her head. ‘Nope. Not even a little bit.’ He required a couch and they sat. ‘Nine days, really?’

‘As fast as the Agency is, we couldn’t have done this in an hour.’

‘What- What is this anyway?’

‘This is our newest outpost. Who is going to staff it and how the jurisdictions are going to be rearranged no one knows, but it’s ours, and it’s still the only piece of system territory within the city limits.’

She leaned across and poked him. ‘Require coffee.’

A small table appeared in front of them, covered with coffee and a spread of breakfast foods.

She gulped down a coffee, then nommed slowly on a plate of eggs benedict. ‘These taste just like you made IRL.’

‘Well, it’s my recipe either way,’ he said.

She leaned forward and snagged a couple of buttered pancakes, settled herself against the arm of the couch, balanced the plate on her lap, and nodded to him. ‘Okies, catch me up on everything I missed.’

He nursed a tall glass of iced tea. ‘Where do you want me to start?’

‘How many casualties?’

‘Every Solstice in the area, for starters.’

‘How many real people?’

‘Ninety agents and double that in recruits. Brian and Lisa, from our department, a half dozen from combat, I don’t’ think you would have known any of the rest though, I can get you the lists if you want.’

‘Later, maybe. What else?’

‘Contingency 32 got voted down, so if the blue phoenix is killed then we’re still looking at an extinction level event for the human race. Other than the blackout though, we’ve got no signs from that phoenix. We’ve got decent reasons to believe that Blue Earth have it, but we have no idea where they’re holding it, other than it’s still somewhere in our city limits.’

‘But that still means at least us and the fae survive, which is better than everyone dying.’

‘Yes, it is.’

‘What else?’

‘Carmichael’s been finding recruits for us, to bolster our numbers and assist in the search for the blue phoenix, so our Agency is full of fae.’

‘Ooooh.’

He smiled. ‘And there’s been a development while you were asleep.’

‘Oh?’

‘I tried something,’ Ryan said. ‘I took the egg back to our Agency.’

‘Did it enjoy the ride?’

‘It burnt through the blackout zone, our Agency’s fully operational again.’

‘Cool.’

‘If you’re willing to take a drive, we could get a lot of the city back up and running.’

‘…only if you awesome clothes onto me again, I’m not driving around in scrubs, that would just be embarrassing.’

He snapped his fingers, and her uniform replaced the pale blue scrubs. ‘This way.’

She followed him to a lift, down to the bottom level of the newborn Agency, and through a magic door to his office. The egg sat on a trolley, in a padded box, content and still whole.

‘Shall we?’ he asked.

She gave him a nod and followed him through his office and down the parking garage. His green Bentley appeared and he secured the phoenix in the back seat.

‘Should we bring Curt?’

‘Let him sleep,’ Ryan said. ‘He hasn’t slept well over the past week.’

‘When did he tell you?’

‘I told him.’

‘Huh?’

The car doors popped open, and she climbed in, less afraid of damaging the car this time, but still wary of the classy interior. ‘I just gave him a little push to make him realise something he already felt.’ He started the car. ‘I apologise if-‘

‘No,’ she said, ‘don’t apologise. But- But aren’t you supposed to keep the boys away? Isn’t that in the dad code?’

‘I trust you to make your own decisions.’

‘Why would you do something like that? Half of my decisions put me in mortal danger!’

‘And the other half don’t,’ he said as they drove out of the garage. ‘You are far more capable than you give yourself credit for.’

‘Sure, in a few highly specialised areas, most of which aren’t applicable to real life for any great gain.’

‘Do I have to point out you saved the world?’

She brought her knees up to her chest. ‘Please don’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I can’t even begin to comprehend it. I just can’t. As big as my head it, it’s not big enough to hold an idea that large. Everything can’t be here because of me, that’s just stupid.’ She looked out the window of the car. ‘Buildings and cars and people and trees and- Ooh, doughnuts.’

‘Later, you just had breakfast.’.

‘What I did was so- I just did it. I didn’t want you to be dead. I didn’t want everything you’d ever done to be all for nothing. Who’s gonna rescue little lost hackers if you’re not around? I didn’t save the world. I saved you. I saved Curt. I saved Jonesy and the techs and Buttercup and Magic Mike and Patty and just the stuff I care about. That’s what I did it for.’

‘It doesn’t matter why you did it, you still did it. The only reason anyone is alive right now is because of you.’

‘But I don’t want this to be the thing that defines me.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because! Because it’s not me. It’s nothing like I’ve ever done. It’s got nothing to do with who I am or-‘ She buried her face in her knees. ‘I’m not good enough to have saved the world.’

The car stopped.

‘I never want you to say that again.’

She bit her tongue, the pain helping her clamp down on her emotions. ‘Ok.’ Fine. Whatever. I’ll play the part, I’ll-

‘Look at me, Stef.’

Traitorous tears flowed. ‘I can’t.’

‘Look at me.’

‘No.’

‘Look at me.’

She pulled her face away from her knees and looked to him. ‘What?! What the fuck can you say that will make this ok?’

She released her seatbelt, pushed on the car door and ran into a wall made of agent.

‘Stef-‘

‘Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!’ She pushed past him and ran across the park, her legs screaming from the effort, sweat already streaming down her face. No agenty bonus, just the stupid human frailties born of exercising a brain and not a weak body. She jumped into an empty sandpit and drew a line with her sneaker. ‘Don’t’ cross it!’ She dragged her foot around, making a rough circle in the sand. ‘Land of Steforia, population one.’

She sat in the circle, burying her hands in the cold sand.

He sat across from her, outside of the circle.

‘You’re gonna get your suit dirty.’

‘I rather enjoy playing in the sand,’ he said, ‘though I rarely get the opportunity. We had a sandpit for Alexander, and we went to the beach as often as we could.’ He lifted a handful of sand and let it drain through his fingers. ‘I like the texture. Grains, taken by themselves are rough, but together, they’re smooth and soft. Feels like a metaphor for something, but I don’t know what, and it’s one of those wonderful contradictions. And there’s so much history in every handful.’ He drained another pile. ‘How much of the world have these grains seen? Where did they start? Where will they end up? Some of the fae that are more in tune with nature have tried to divine things about the soil and the sand, and some of them can see a little of its history, but even then, it’s only a glimpse.’

‘You’re still getting your suit dirty.’

‘So are you.’

‘Yeah, but I’m supposed to be the dirty one.’

‘You’re supposed to be whatever you want.’

‘No. Never. I’ve never been what I want. I’ve only ever been what other people want – or as close to it as I can – or whatever circumstances thrust on me, never what I want. I didn’t want to be a ballerina, I had to be a ballerina. I didn’t want to be a pretty little girl in dresses, I was a pretty little girl in dresses. I didn’t want to be a scarred freak, I’m a scarred freak. I didn’t want to be a crazy person. I didn’t want to be a tiny little drunk. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to have such much expected of me. I didn’t want people to rely on me. I was just starting to figure out that I was safe enough to figure out who I was, who I really was, then this happens. Now I have to be the saviour of the world and live up to that. It’s gonna be all about the image again and I’m going to have to stoop and bow and genuflect and say all the right things in all the right places. Just like when mother loved Stephanie during ballet. I’m gonna be swallowed up by this fake expression of someone I’m not.’

‘Stef-‘

‘That crown thing I got. That’s major brownie points with the fairies. Wait. Turn of phrase. Is that racist. I don’t care. I wasn’t talking about those brownies. Are there brownies? I haven’t seen one. It’s major points anyway. What am I going to be expected to ask for?’

This seemed to confuse him. ‘What?’

She looked up, looked at his face for a moment, then looked down to the hand and worked on deepening the borders of Steforia. Deep enough for a moat. Moats were excellent borders. ‘This is a major win for the Agency,’ she said, ‘so basically we’d have to be working for an organisation of incompetents if no one whispered in my ear and told me what to ask for. I dunno how much I can ask for, but what if we could get citizenship for every Agency employee, or convince them to expand the Marches, or make liaising with their police easier? It’s ok. The Agency earned this. But if I say the wrong thing-‘

‘The Agency didn’t earn it, you did.’

‘And I’m an Agency resource,’ she said, ‘I am an extension of our uniform.’

‘You are’ he said, ‘so am I, so is every other agent and every other recruit, but not to the point where it swallows individual achievement. You earned this, and they don’t have the right to-‘

‘Of course they do, and I don’t even mind.’ She shrugged. ‘What would I even wish for anyway? I told you, wishes are stupid little frippy things. I mean, look at what’s in my chest, and I haven’t made one wish for myself. I don’t even know what I would wish for. I don’t mind giving up the prize, but I just hate the idea of being the perfect little puppet. But then again, that’s easier. It’s easier to have your role defined than to figure it out for yourself. I mean, for someone like me anyway.’ She shrugged. ‘You’ve probably got no idea what I’m even talking about.’

‘You know who you are.’

‘Fsck off, I do not.’

‘You are the child I rescued. You are the neglected child of an otherwise happy couple. You are one of the Lost, one of the Found. You are a ballerina. You are the owner of a well-loved pony. You are never at a loss for a good conversation, or a vocal second opinion. You are a hacker. You are a geek. You are my recruit. You are my daughter. You are Curt’s love. You are a bridge into the tech department. You are the girl who just saved the world.’

‘That’s just-‘

‘Let me finish.’

‘That’s just a jumble of-‘

‘You are who everyone is, Stef. You are the roles you fulfil for others, you are the qualities you invest in, and you are every single reaction to every moment of your life. There is no one point at which you truly know who you are because every change in your life changes who you are, changes how you perceive something, or how you feel about something. Everyone’s life is just a jumble of experience and love and turmoil. Everyone, Stef, not just you. Knowing yourself is just knowing enough to understand that.’

She pushed on the pile of stand in front of her and filled in the moat.

‘Can I assume that means the borders of Steforia have opened?’

‘Tourists bearing hugs are welcome.’

He knelt, wrapped his arms around her and picked her up and held her in a safe, warm, angel hug for what seemed like forever.

‘Let’s take a walk,’ he said. He grabbed her vest and the world blurred a little as he shifted her up onto his shoulders.

She leaned forward, resting her chin on the top of his head. ‘I know what you’re trying to do,’ she said, ‘but that doesn’t change the fact that, jumble or not, a big part of who I am is someone who has spent the majority of their life feeling- No, not feeling. Scratch that. Knowing. Knowing they were worthless. It’s hard for me to reconcile that- He killed me.’ Tears dripped into his hair. ‘He killed me.’

‘That doesn’t make you worthless.’

‘But-‘

‘Any Solstice brave enough to stand their ground against an agent would call you a monster, and a hundred worse names, would you believe them?’

‘No, Duh.’

‘Then why believe any other single person’s opinion about you?’

‘But by that logic, I can’t believe anything you say about me, either.’

‘No, I’m exempt.’

‘Why?’

He squeezed her hands. ‘Because I’m your father, and I’m always right.’

‘You keeping saying that.’

‘That’s because it’s true.’

‘You- You really aren’t gonna get rid of me, are you?’

‘What do you think?’

‘I dunno.’

He lifted her from his shoulders and placed her gently on the ground. ‘What do you think?’

‘I think you’re going to push me into that pond if I don’t give you the right answer.’

He smiled. ‘That’s an excellent suggestion.’

She wrapped her arms around him and cried.

He let her cry for a few moments, then knelt in front of her. ‘I am not going to get rid of you, all right?’

‘Okies.’

He handed her a cookie, and a small net – the kind of moving fish from one tank to another. ‘Is the cookie going to fly away?’

He knelt beside the dirty pond and patted the grass beside him. ‘No.’ He required himself a net, and pointed to the water. ‘What do you see?’

‘I don’t have my HUD.’

‘You don’t need a HUD for this. What do you see?’

She shrugged, only seeing the obvious stuff. ‘Water. Weeds. Scum. Those little larvae things. Stuff?’

‘Look at the water.’

‘It’s water.’

‘Do you see the diamonds?’

She stared at the sunlight sparkling off the surface. ‘That’s not diamonds.’

He dipped his net into the water, and skimmed it across the surface, ‘Hold out your hand.’ She did. He upended the net, and hard, wet lumps fell onto her open palm. Diamonds, shiny and dazzling, despite their murky colours rested there. He repeated the process again, and a third time, her cupped hands filling with diamonds the colour of the pond water.

‘Tessa’s diamonds. Fool’s jewels. Sparks,’ he said, pulling a few from her pile and tossing them back into the pond. ‘I knew you were having trouble with what you’d done, so I wanted to show you this. Some little bit of fantastic, utterly nonsensical magic that serves no purpose other than to put a little wonder into the world.’

She pulled out her shirt bottom and piled the diamonds there, then lifted a small one from the top. ‘I don’t understand. How…how do people not know about this?’

‘How many people look at the water and see diamonds?’

‘Someone would have done it by accident!’

‘It only works in certain locations at certain times, and you’ve got the have a special kind of net – it’s able to be required though, as you can see. They’re a type of microscopic creature, each diamond is a whole colony of them.’ He lifted one from her pile and blew on it, and it turned back into water and ran through his fingers. ‘Do you want to take some home?’

‘Can’t I take all of these?’

‘It’s just like going to the beach, if you take all the shells, there’ll be no one left for the other children. Pick out a few, and throw the rest back.’ He held out a little plastic bag, and she began to judge the diamonds in her lap, throwing most of them back. After a few moments, the bag had half a dozen diamonds – five small ones and a lumpy one that was like was like four stuck together – and the rest had been thrown back into the pond for future visitors to find.

He stood and offered a hand down to her. ‘We’ve got work to do, I want to clear at least a few of the major roads and make paths to the outposts, that way, we’ll have a functioning local network again. And Curt’s waiting at the car.’

She smiled, then blushed.

He took her hand and they headed back across the park. ‘Are you happy?’

‘That I has a boyfriend?’

‘Yes.’

‘Still in shock, really. But yeah, happy. I think I can be happy.’

30 thoughts on “33 – Rough Diamonds

  1. hmm. i think im going to be sending this post to a lot of people that will never read the whole story, but could really use reading THIS .

    • …it didn’t come across as being preachy or whatever, but I also think that it’s something not a lot of people think about that way. A lot of people want the space to figure out who they are…when it doesn’t work that way. >_>

  2. I love your character relationships! Everybody’s broken, but they aren’t letting each other fall…

    (Sorry if that’s not the most coherent. Coming off of a migraine.)

    • …while the blue phoenix usually poses no threat (its presence hasn’t killed anyone yet, other than as a result of the blackout zone), while a baby red phoenix could accidentally burns someone/a lot of someones even if not dying.

      The TL;DR version is that when the blue phoenix dies, it destroys everything that isn’t magic, because its a release of all that potential inside it, and anything non-magical is seen as incompatible as something destroyed/consumed by that energy release.

  3. Maybe this seems strange, but I would be interested in dating a young woman like Stef in real life! Someone who doesn’t think I’m not interested in here just because I’m not trying to convince her to sleep with me! – I’m one of those rare (but actually non-mythical) guys who believes in the though shalt not fornicate rule – but is human enough that it is a lot easier to actually follow it when neither party is expecting a lot of ‘fast action’. Besides, Stef is also sort of my type (I like smarts – the crazy, well, we would have to work on dealing with that together.)

    • Maybe this seems strange, but I would be interested in dating a young woman like Stef in real life!
      …not the first one who has said this. >_> As unwantable as she is, there’s a few people who’ve commented over the years who’ve said similar things.

      As unwantable in canon as she thinks she is, I think this would scare/amuse her. :)

      Plus, we have the advantage of knowing her thoughts, in-universe people don’t have that advantage. :P

      • Hell, I HAVE dated a woman kinda like stef before. (and lusted secretly after a woman who was very much like stef, but whom I was so thoroughly in the friend zone with that, well, yeah. ugh. )

    • I’m one of those rare (but actually non-mythical) guys who believes in the thou shalt not fornicate rule – but is human enough that it is a lot easier to actually follow it when neither party is expecting a lot of ‘fast action’.

      I’m the girl version of this. And that’s why I don’t date. ^_^

      …Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of Curt. >_>

      • I’m tempted to ask if this means we should get to know each other, but of course odds are we don’t even live within five hundred miles of each other… but Platonic pen pals is good to:)

    • I shall preface this by saying first that I do not mean to disrespect anyone or their beliefs, I am merely trying to keep my mind open to new ideas.

      That said, I have to ask, where did you get that rule? The way you wrote it sounds like it’s trying to copy the Ten Commandments, but it’s not included with them. I know many religions frown on pre-marital sex, and I understand some of the reasons for that are good, while others are, in my opinion, outdated.

      So again, what is your source for that rule? Why do you follow it? How do you get the willpower to keep it?

      (Carradee, I’d love to hear your answers to the questions too.)

      Again, I don’t want to seem as if I’m judging or disrespecting you or your beliefs, I’m just genuinely curious. If this makes you uncomfortable, feel free to say so and I’ll drop it.

      • I can’t speak for the others but I can tell you that, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is usually interpreted as covering all forms of extramarital sex, not just having an affair. This means that the Ten Commandments does include a rule again sex before marriage.

        In addition to this, as far as I am concerned, having sex is as intimate as you can get with another person, physically at least. I believe that this level of physical intimacy should be accompanied by an equal level of emotional intimacy. As a result I only want to share this level of intimacy with one person, The person you choose to spend the rest of your life with.

      • Wraith,
        By no means do I feel like you are being offensive or disrespectful – after all, I guess I sort of brought the subject up.
        This being said, please be aware that in attempting to answer your questions, I am not trying to be offensive when I use words like “wrong” or “sinful” – it just is a lot easier to use these terms (which are found in the Bible and other religious teaching sources) than to try to circumelecute my way to the same point – in other words, I admit to being lazy by using these words, since it would take a long time to find less potentially offensive terms to make the same points and still be clear.
        Opening up one’s mind to new possibilities is good, providing you evelaute them responsibly – think it through; So good for you for you for being interested in other people’s viewpoints.

        To answer your first question, I guess I am paraphrasing, for a concise way relevant to my own life of expressing an underlying from the ten commandments – when you look at the command Thou shalt commit adultery in the larger context (wether of the whole Bible, the Old Testament, or even just the first 5 books it becomes pretty clear that no form of extramarital sex is aproved. If you want passages, I can look them up in order to provide book/chapter references for you – but even just going off the top of my head, I can note that in Matthew (CH 19, just looked it up) Jesus is pretty clear in response to questioning that there are two acceptable choices, marriage and celibacy, neither of which is easy, and that there are only some people who are even granted the ability to choose celibacy – point that Paul reiterates somewhere when he says that he wishes everyone could live a celibate life like him, but that it is far better to mary than to live sinfully.

        To answer your third question (out of order here, sorry, I know but this is the way my thought is flowing) as to how do I get the willpower to keep it is that it is mainly a trick of trying to arrange things so that I need as little willpower as possible in order to keep it. I am far from being a saint, and willpower is not my strongpoint by any means. I have a good friend who does seem to be able to keep this rule through just spirituallity and willpower but I don’t think I could do that, which is why, as I mention in my post, that I need to date women who are not expecting a heavy physical relationship (especially not in the begining of our time together). In other words, I don’t believe I have the self control to start out with heavy necking durring the first couple of dates and not be involved sexually six months later- I need someone who is at least somewhat reticent sexually. Not actually impossible to find, since there are young women with the same moral values I have, more difficlut is that many of them still anticipate that any guy who is interested in them will be trying to get them into bed (even when they have no plan to do sleep with someone they are not married to) and so sometimes mistake someone not pressuring them sexually as meaning the guy’s not interested. Hence my original post. The character Stef is a rather extreme example, she is so reticent that Curt’s chaste kisses are probably about all she’s ready for without getting freaked out. I would not mind that as the base point for a dating relationship, since it would mean that there would be time for the emotional, mental and spiritual sides of the relationship would have had time to progress to the point that we knew we wanted to get married and spend the rest of our lives together before we reached the point physically that we were going insane from not makeing love. I have to admit that I don’t believe I could hold out that long if I started out a relationship by necking on the first date. I doubt that I am the only one this applies to.

        Why do I follow this (to answer your second question). Well, I figure I should give you the true answer here even at the risk of sounding kind of crazy – I have had experiences that have convinced me about God and my religion. I have had 5 experiences in my life that were completely overwhelming and of a mystical nature. I do not, repeat, do not think that makes me a holy person – instead, I think that they happened for three reasons. First, a lot of people in my family have prayed for me all my life (literally, spent thousands and thousands of hours praying for me and both Jesus and various Old Testement passages highlight the importance of actually praying and asking God to do things), 2), I am actually by nature someone of weak faith / belief, and 3) I would not have retained a belief in God and His goodness (much less a love for Him) if it was not for having recieved these experiences. What is more, three of them were specifially associated with church, and two of those with doctrine, which helps me to figure that, at least, when in doubt I should probably accept church teachings. These are clearer cut for me than they are for some Christians as I am Roman Catholic, so there actually is a set of “official” teachings, one of which is that fornication as well as adultry is sinful. I would point out, however, that in addition to these spiritual / religious reasons, there are practicle ones as well – it is hard to be celibate, for sure; but the silver lining is that I avoi8d a lot of the anguish that that comes from relationships going wrong after you have been sleeping with someone – both the shorter term guilt, sadness, hurt and such and the longer term situations like Curt is in in the story where he has a child that he doesn’t get to see. I realize that there is no garentee of avoiding this if you wait till marriage – things always go wrong in life, and there are always hurts that you experience in a relationship; but you sure do improve your odds, decreasing both the frequency and severity when you wait until you are married before sleeping with someone.

        • Thank you for taking the time to respond, and for not being offended by my blunt questions.

          I had a long reply going here, but I realized it could easily be construed as an attack on you and your religion, which was not my intention. As I do not wish to inadvertently offend any readers (present or future) I have decided not to post that reply. If anyone is curious enough, feel free to pm me, and I will share my response that way.

          Again, thank you for indulging me in my curiosity.

    • Since Stormy hasn’t gotten around to it yet, I’ll try my hand at this “welcome package” thing:

      *Hands over a welcome package containing a potato peeler, a *headdesk* pillow, and an emergency cookie packet*

      How’s that? :P

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