There was a hand on his chest, and he screamed. He spat more blood onto the agent, and wished that-
The voice cut through the fear for a second before he tried to crawl away again. Petersen liked to trick him. To make him hear familiar voices, to-
Strong hands held him and for a moment, he hoped this time they’d just-
‘Curt, look at me, please.’
If he could have, he would have cried.
‘He’s dead, Curt.’
Ryan. It was- Ryan. It was really-
He tried to open his eyes again, and saw-
Please be real.
‘Tell her I love her,’ he said, his tongue thick in his bloody mouth, his throat raw, his lungs-
He coughed up blood again, splattering Ryan’s suit. He waited for the agent to hit him, to drive him under his foot again, to hold his mouth open and-
Please be real.
Ryan lifted him like he weighed nothing, and he laid limp in the agent’s arms, still disbelieving, still afraid, still- They shifted, and the sight of the Parkers spoke volumes that he should believe what he was seeing.
He expected a bed to be put beneath him, and for the doctors to try and-
‘You know what I’m going to ask,’ Ryan said, his voice rumbling against his side. ‘So don’t-‘
Four hands touched his body, and he tried not to scream, not to panic.
‘We don’t argue with you, director,’ one of the Parkers said.
‘We know when your mind is made up,’ finished the other.
‘Sir,’ he whispered, letting bloody drool drip from the corner of his mouth. ‘Tell her I love her.’
Ryan smoothed the sweaty hair away from his forehead, and he tensed at the gentle touch, expecting the agent to hit him, to grab him, to squeeze the air from his lungs.
‘You’re-‘ Ryan started, ‘the doctors are going to help you.’
‘One, two, three,’ the twins counted in unison.
He was slid into coolness, not water-
The fluid rose up as the tank did, covering his body. He fought to keep his face above the surface, but felt the doctors push him under.
They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him. They were trying to kill him.
His lungs screamed for air.
Ryan’s voice through the blue.
Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me! Don’t let them kill me!
A hand against his face. ‘Curt, breathe.’
He looked through the blue, and saw Ryan’s face. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He trusted Ryan. He opened his mouth, his last scraps of air making bubbles in the blue, silently begged for mercy, then took in a deep breath of the blue.
He coughed, and took in another lungful. He expected death, he expected to see Death. He expected pain. He expected everything to black out as Petersen laughed, the worst last sound to hear.
A third breath, and he felt the fear started to slip away. A fourth, and he felt Ryan holding his hands.
He stared through the blue, watching the blood spiral away from his mouth and his various injuries, patterns in the blue for brief moments before the liquid magic cleared them away.
‘Wh-what?’ he managed, still stumbling over his tongue. The words died in the blue, like trying to talk underwater.
‘Don’t try and talk,’ one of the Parkers said.
‘You’re going to be fine, Curt,’ Ryan said. ‘Close your eyes.’
* * *
Ryan sank his hand into the blue again. ‘I promise,’ he said as he rested a hand against the boy’s cheek. ‘Everything will be ok.’ [Put him under,] he said to both Parkers.
Curt, his eyes still full of fear, went limp under his hand.
He pulled his hand from the blue, and required a new uniform. ‘I appreciate-‘ he started to say.
‘You’re the boss,’ Parker-2 said. ‘And when you make a decision, people stay the fuck out of your way, or they get crushed.’
‘As he said,’ Parker-1 said. ‘And this is well within your limits of authority.’
‘I don’t like doing this,’ he said, ‘it’s-‘
‘Messy and complicated,’ Parker-1 said.
‘We’re the best, sir,’ Parker-2 said, ‘he couldn’t be in better hands.’
‘I want it all reversed as soon as you’re done healing him,’ he said as the doctors went to their scans. ‘I won’t have him stay as an augment.’
‘Understood sir,’ they said in unison.
He drove his hands into his coat pockets. ‘How bad is it?’
‘Bad,’ Parker-1 said.
‘But we’ve seen worse,’ his twin said, ‘physically, he’ll be fine.’
He moved away from the main area of the unfamiliar infirmary, and went into the small office. Sydney’s director had argued against letting them take over his facilities, but a little shouting and brandishing of emergency paperwork had given them the run of the building. The agents, at least, were cooperating, the director had chosen to lock himself in his office and refuse help.
His HUD was full of messages, of communication requests, of demands for confirmation of what he’d done. He sorted them by rank, and answered the automatic queries from Central first. He confirmed that he had executed Petersen, that he was aware of all possible consequences, and accepted the task to submit a full report within twenty-four hours – though he added a message that the report would be completed if the emergency situation allowed him time.
He minimised everything in his current view and brought up the streaming feeds provided by the Lost and other fae. The desert was aglow, sand turning to class, his little girl at its centre, an angry phoenix clutched to her chest. If it had been something historical, or someone other than his daughter, it would have been a beautiful image. The newly-formed glass pulsed and rolled like waves, red as flame at the centre, rolling to cooler shades, and then to nothing but cool, clear glass at the edges, like sea foam on a beach. It was beautiful, and he was sure the image had already been disseminated across the fae news outlets. The beating, burning heart of a dead waste.
It felt different to last time, different to the red hatchling threatening to destroy the world. The fire, despite the glass sea it was creating, wasn’t as destructive as when it had burned for a week, when it was scared, hurt and trying to take the world out with it. It had been safe, it had been secure, and it had been fed. There was no reason for it to attack again, no injury that would cause this.
One of the camera feeds focused on the roiling glass, and he saw tiny pieces of gold. Tears.
The Lost had been the one to find her – she was on the edge of their territory, so it made sense, and some of them had said they had been blue flame. The video feeds had failed to show them any blue, but the tears made him reconsider – it was more than possible that it was its sibling in trouble, and that this was some sort of all-too-destructive attempt to help. He sent another small prayer into the void, and pushed all but one of the feeds from his HUD.
The blue phoenix meant-
He looked to the video of Stef, then past his HUD to his Aide in the tank.
He’d already failed two children, it only made sense that he’d fail a third. He required a phone, and dialled Alexander’s number. Four rings later, it went to voicemail. He placed the receiver down, and looked through to Curt, then to the screen on the desk, listing his injuries as the Parkers found them or healed them, depending on the severity.
He tried Alexander’s number again.
A lot of the injuries on the screen didn’t surprise him – cuts and scrapes and bruises, all of which the blue burnt through with little trouble. A couple of broken ribs weren’t any cause for alarm.
He tried Alexander’s number again.
Petersen had burnt the boy’s tear ducts, melting flesh and sealing them closed. He stared at the screen again, leaning heavily on his elbows – there was violence, there was brutality and there was sadism. Taylor, the most violent , frankly unreasonable, person he knew, was at least direct with his violence, taking the easiest path to pain or to death nine times out of ten. What Petersen had done…was so far against duty that the agent’s blue should have been screaming. There was no path of rational though that would lead a thinking agent to this. Nothing Petersen had done had been rational. Curt hadn’t told him much, it was much less than what the other agent had done, he knew, but even if it had made sense in the moment, as revenge, the protracted nature of what he did-
He tried Alexander’s number again.
A new screen flashed up, and finally they had an explanation for why the young man had been coughing up so much blood. A scan of his lungs showed the damage – Bloody Holly, Dragon’s Breath, the Low Path – a liquid, a chemical, that burnt away the lungs – eventually fatal if not treated, it could take days to kill a victim.
He started at the voice, barely remembering that he had the phone in his hand.
‘Hello?’ the voice said again. ‘Who the fuck is this?’ Alexander’s voice. Angry. Rightly so, it was after midnight. ‘Hello?!’
He looked at his HUD, at the feed showing Stef. He looked at the young man in the tank of blue. He looked at his family. His grip tightened on the phone, modulating his voice a little. ‘Wrong number,’ he said, and hung up without another thought.