The Night Before the Gala
Ryan felt the cold breeze behind him as Death appeared in his office. He turned and bowed to her.
She removed her hood and gave him a tired smile. ‘You’ve been trying to get my attention, Ryan, but there’s no body at your feet, this may be a first.’
‘I know what you want, angel, I am wondering why you thought it was a good idea.’
He moved around his desk and held the gala ticket in both of his hands. ‘You are as responsible for her life as I am, my Lady, I thought you should be invited to celebrate it.’
She lifted the ticket and his office fell into pieces. He took a steady breath as the world shimmered at the edges and became whole again. A hundred metres of air separated his feet from the ground, but he stood solidly on the sky, held aloft as safely as during a phoenix moon.
The Fairy palace, lit with thousands of lights, was open below them, dozens of small figures setting up for the gala, sparks of magic, of electricity flying from all four corners.
‘Not many,’ Death said as she stood beside him, hood down, ‘would invite me. And fewer would get my rejection in person.’
‘Ryan, right now, you have a billionth of my attention, do you know how rare that is?’
‘Far more than I deserve.’
‘A celebration of life is not where I belong. You’d be better to invite my sister.’
‘I don’t have Stef because of your sister, I have Stef because of you.’
‘I did not interfere,’ she said.
‘No, my Lady, you didn’t, but you allowed me to, and because of that permission-‘
‘Do you think that no other solution would have presented itself if she had not been involved?’
‘My Lady, you know I am not that arrogant, you know what happened in those other worlds, I do not. All I know is that in this world, she is the one who saved it, and since no one else will, I will thank you for the role you played.’
‘I should have denied you,’ she said, ‘I should have kept her. Every permission I give, every time I bend my own rules is a step closer I come to becoming the version of myself that will interfere, who will kill the wicked and allow the good to prosper, who will prevent mirrorfalls and stop the red phoenixes from flying. It is not utopia, it is dystopia, it is a life where people fear a being they cannot flee. I want to interfere, I do not want to be feared. I- I cannot strike a balance. It is, as I have told you, why I limit myself so much.’
‘I am sorry,’ he said.
She touched the side of his face. ‘Part of you is,’ she said, ‘part of you truly is. The larger part does not regret asking to save that little girl.’
‘I’m flawed, my Lady,’ he said. ‘And so insignificant compared to you, but within the confines of that insignificant life, Stef is the best thing to have ever happened to me.’
‘I’ve never known the joy of being a parent as you have.’
‘My Lady, I didn’t mean to-‘
‘I can understand it,’ she said, ‘but it must be entirely other thing to experience it. It’s too late to reconcile with my own child,’ she said. ‘This time, at least.’
They quietly slipped down from the sky, through the domed roof of the grand ballroom and touché down onto the polished floor. None of the workers looked up from their tasks.
‘They won’t see us,’ she said, ‘I pulled you apart from them, just as I am. They will never know we were here.’
He gave her a smile. ‘That’s the same ideal that the Agency strives for, my Lady.’
‘Yet you can’t help but make a mark,’ she said, ‘you want to be remembered, it’s no great evil.’
‘As you say, my Lady.’
‘Ask,’ she said.
He looked away, taking in the splendour of the in-progress decorations. ‘Just because I have questions,’ he said, ‘does not mean I need them answered. It’s not my place to ask, and it’s not my place to know.’
‘Ask,’ she said again, ‘I will only give you the answers I can, and it will remove the weight from your mind.’
‘I just need to know if she’ll survive,’ he said. ‘Or if I’ll lose her.’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘There are so many tiny factors in each day, in each action. Of what I know, of what my sister has told me, it’s unlikely that the red will consume her heart before this is over, one way or another. In some worlds, your people interfere, take her heart away and you lose her that way. In some worlds, you fail, and you run here, and live out your days as people, not as agents, in some, the world wins, but she loses. I don’t’ know what is your likely outcome, all I can suggest, angel, is for you to do as you always do.’
‘And that is what, my Lady?’
‘Your best, Ryan, do your best.’