‘O’Connor.’

Clarke’s voice, so he didn’t bother to turn around.

Curt sipped at his drink, and looked down at the dance floor, at Stef dancing with Ryan, some level of happiness breaking through the hardened morose shell.

‘O’Connor.’

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Clarke lean against the railing beside him. ‘Noeil.’

‘Huh?’ he asked without turning his head.

‘Noeil,’ Clarke said again. ‘The woman I loved, that was her name.’

He pulled his phone from his hand and stared at it.

‘Damn it recruit, listen to me.’

‘I’m not on duty, you’re not in my chain of command, and I’m pretty sure I could throw you over the edge with no repercussions, so do me a favour and fuck off.’

‘If you love Mimosa, you’ll listen to me.’

This made him turn. He left his drink on the rail and slipped his phone back into his pocket before curling his hands slightly, preparation for making fists. He took a moment, digging deep and finding the voice he’d used to intimidate fae. ‘That sounds like a threat.’

Clarke waved a hand. ‘Down, boy. It’s a warning, not a threat, and not in the way you think. Noeil, I loved her, I was going to marry her, but I didn’t know her as well as I could have. I didn’t know her patron, and I didn’t understand her Court. You can’t fool me into thinking it’s just sex with you and Mimosa – so much as I’d like that to be true.’ Clarke finished off his drink, and put it on a passing tray. ‘So much as you being just a fucktoy would make my life so much easier, it’s not the truth. If you love her, then you need to know her.’

‘I do.’

Clarke pointed across the floor at Hook. ‘And how much do you know of the Lost? How much do you know about him? I’ve never going to get a chance to know Noeil as much as I could, but you’ve got a font of knowledge right there, and you’re not taking advantage of it.’

He kept his face blank. ‘I don’t need to go behind her back and ask people about her. If you think that’s-‘

‘Then at least get a little inside knowledge about the Lost,’ he said. ‘They mean a lot to her, so they should mean a lot to you.’

He shrugged.

‘Just think about it, O’Connor.’

* * *

‘I was going to tell you before,’ Stef said, ‘but I’ve got a surprise for you.’

Ryan lifted his arm and let her twirl. ‘And what would that be?’

‘You’ll see.’

He twirled her again, and this time the world spun a little bit more than normal. ‘Okies, enough dancing for now.’

He nodded, and they made their way through the crowd to the closest empty couch. ‘Are you happy with everything, young lady?’

She shrugged. ‘I still don’t think I deserve it, but- But if ignore that bit, then yeah. I’m at a fairy gala at Nonsuch, it’s never somewhere I expected to be.’ She beckoned a passing waiter and pulled a glass of water from the tray. ‘I do keep expecting the hatchling to get hungry and to have to run home to feed it.’

‘It’s been regular enough with its feedings,’ he said, ‘it shouldn’t be due for two days.’

She licked the condensation on the glass. ‘Hey, dad?’

He smiled. ‘Yes?’

‘We are gonna find the blue one, right? I mean, I was glad of the reprieve, but now it’s sorta getting ridiculous, and it’s starting to feel like we’ll never find it.’

‘We’ll find it.’

‘You’ve been saying that the whole time.’

‘Stef, trust me, we’ll find it.’

‘Are you lying to make me feel better?’

He gave her another smile. ‘I certainly hope not.’

‘I’m ok with that answer.’

‘It’s getting late, how much longer do you want to stay?’

‘Do I have a curfew?’

‘Only your blue timer.’

‘…are you going to give me a lecture or something about spending the night at Curt’s?’

‘Have I so far?’

She began to tap out prime numbers onto her knee. ‘No.’

‘Then how is tonight any different?’

She shrugged deeply, keeping her head pinched beneath her shoulders. ‘I dunno, it feels different. At the Agency…the Agency’s just home, whatever room I’m in. This is going to a boy’s place, so I feel like I should feel different, or I feel different even though I shouldn’t, or something. I’ve nervous and it’s all for stupid reasons.’

‘Is there something in particular you’re nervous about? Something you need to talk about?’ He paused for a moment. ‘Or is there a talk- You can talk to me about anything, Stef.’

He’s asking if you want the sex talk.

She shook her head. ‘It’s not- No, it’s not that stuff. It’s not- We haven’t- Not yet, not properly anyway. Cause I’m stupid and broken and- We did something this morning, and I’m-‘

Ryan wrapped an arm around her and she leaned against his side, her dirty sneakers up on the expensive couch. ‘You don’t have to tell me anything that you don’t want to.’

She nodded. ‘I know. But- But you’re you and I can tell you anything. it’s just me. I don’t know what the words are and I don’t know how I’m feeling about it. And I think I’m growing up and I think that’s scary. I know that’s scary. I’m not ready to be a grown up, even though parts of me might be, I’m still-‘ She sighed. ‘Sorry.’

‘You’ve got no reason to be sorry, Stef, I’m glad I’m here to help.’

She pulled away from him and crossed her legs. ‘I- I don’t think about sex. I never have. Other than that it’s ooky and gross. I’ve never thought about, I’ve never wanted it, and I’ve got than a few issues when thinking about it. Si-since he kissed me, it’s all I can think about. About how it’s going to happen and that I’m scared and-‘ She held up her hands. ‘And don’t go into protective dad mode, he’s not- He’s not making me do anything I don’t want to. He’s treating me like I’m all glass, not just my heart.’

He nodded. ‘I know. And I trust you not to be with someone who would take advantage of you.’

‘That’s stupid.’

‘Pardon?’

She squeezed her eyes closed. ‘Do you honestly think I have enough self-respect not to let people take advantage of me?’

‘Stef-‘

‘But he won’t, so that’s good. And I’m ok with what we did this morning. It was- It was nice. It was nothing like what I ever expected to do. But I’m ok with it, I am. Is this TMI for you?’

He shook his head. ‘I’m not just your father when things are good.’

‘I- I mean, big parts of me can’t believe that I did it, that I did anything like that. But- But I did, and I’m scared of- I’m scared of growing up, but it’s not that. I- I just- I’ve never really ever changed. I’ve always just been the same. You brought me into this world, and now everything is changing, and I’m just trying to catch up. And I’ve just never- So I’m resisting the changes, even if I’m ok with little changes. Little new things. This morning didn’t feel like a little new thing, it felt like a big new thing, and-‘

‘You don’t have to do any growing up that you’re not ready for.’

‘I- It’s not that I want sex. I’m scared and it’s supposed to hurt, right? And I’m- And what if I can’t?’

‘If you’re not ready-‘

‘I’ve never wanted to- But every day we don’t find the phoenix is another day that the hatchling gets to nom on me, and that’s another day where I might just cease to be. It’s not that I want to, but I don’t think I want to have never done it. For- For science if nothing else. Ok. Maybe not science. But I expect to hate it, but I think I not-want-want to, if you know what I mean. And tonight seems like the kind of night it should, right? Cause it’s special. And it’s supposed to be special, right?’

‘If you’re not ready-‘

‘I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, but- But I don’t know if I am, or if I won’t know till I’ve done it. And why is it so stupid hard? Things were simpler when I was a hermit!’

‘My first time wasn’t special,’ he said after a moment. ‘Reynolds organised for a couple of girls. It didn’t mean anything, not really. It’s special, or not, because of who you’re with and how you feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s tonight, your birthday, or during the next Spring Festival. The circumstances, the outside celebrations, won’t make a difference, because you’re not making love amidst the celebration, when it comes down to it, it’s always just people in a room, showing how they feel for each other. Does that…does that help any?’

She shrugged. ‘I still think I can convince myself that tonight’s the night. Th-thanks for being cool about this, and not requiring me a chastity belt or whatever. I mean, even if I’m not doing anything, it means a lot that you’re ok with, yanno if I wanted to do something.’

He hugged her. ‘i trust you to make your own decisions, even if you don’t trust yourself.’