Curt opened his eyes and stared into the blue. It had never been his favourite colour, preferring reds and browns and cooler oranges. It had been another part of the Agency that had made it seem so alien, so distancing – the cold blues and greys and blacks. It had seemed so dead, so robotic – which fit into the Solstice philosophy perfectly, more propaganda nonsense to prove how “other” their enemy was. He didn’t mind the colours now, now that he knew that they were simple, functional, and not even the standard of the Agency – different areas had different feature colours. They were a part of his everyday life.
Blue had never been beautiful before. Never been so all-encompassing, so meaningful, so…wonderful.
He let his hands drift through the blue, breathing the liquid like it was nothing, the colour filling his vision, soaking into every cell.
It was ecstasy, it was-
A voice in his head. Ryan’s voice in his head.
A shadow crossed above the tank, and he sat up, his ass hitting the bottom of the shallow tank as he broke the surface. He swallowed the blue in his mouth, and accepted the towel from Ryan’s hands to wipe his face clean.
‘How do you feel, Curt?’
He tried to push away the satisfied feeling of being in the tank, and remember what had happened before. Before- Before had been- Petersen. He slowly put his hands to his throat, feeling for bruises, feeling for pain, but felt nothing. All of the cuts were gone, his bones seemed to be in one peace.
The feeling like his might just explode was gone, as were the ghosting sensations of Petersen’s fingers in his skull. Going into a mind hurt, it always hurt, for the agent and the victim, but Petersen always managed to- He shuddered, and clenched handfuls of liquid, trying to draw strength from the blue. Petersen hadn’t had him long enough to hurt him like last time, but it had been more than enough to make him relive-
He was suddenly aware of his own nakedness.
‘Sir, I need clothes.’
A uniform slid over his body, and he choked back a sob. A uniform. His uniform. Proof of who he was. Proof that he was safe – that he was supposed to be safe, that he was- Supposed to be safe. Supposed to be protected. The uniform hadn’t kept him safe, hadn’t kept Petersen from hurting him, it had only made it worse. Ten times worse. A hundred times worse. The Agent had made him strip, made him apologise for being arrogant enough to wear it, made him beg for forgiveness.
‘You didn’t come for me! You didn’t come for me! You didn’t come for me! You didn’t come for me! You didn’t come for me! You didn’t come for me! ‘
Ryan held him as he screamed and beat against his chest, tears falling into the tank to mix with the blue.
Ryan’s voice in his head again.
[I kept trying your phone. I kept looking for you, but a lot of recruits are missing. I thought you were safe.]
‘He would have killed me!’
Petersen would have killed him, burnt his body and there would have been nothing but ash. Ash and old memories. No one would have even noticed he was gone.
He pushed Ryan away and tried to climb out of the tank, his legs failing. He slid ungracefully onto the floor and screamed as Ryan tried to help him up.
‘Get away from me, you proxy shit!’ he worked his legs, desperate to stand, desperate to-
Again, the agent held him, and he fought as though his life depended on it. Which it did. The Agency didn’t need him anymore, Ryan didn’t need him anymore, they’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. They’d left him to die. If they’d cared, they’d-
He felt blood on his fingers as he scratched at Ryan’s face.
All he could hear was screaming.
[He can’t hurt you again.]
An image of Petersen, frozen and terrified, slid into his mind. He ceased to see anything but the image, which slowly turned into video. He looked at his hands, but they weren’t his hands, they were- It wasn’t video, it wasn’t his memory, it was Ryan’s memory. He looked at Petersen, and watched the agent die. Explode, crumble to ash, and utterly cease to exist.
[He will never hurt anyone again.]
The memory replayed again and again.
[You’re safe,] Ryan said. [I promise you, you’re safe.]
He stopped struggling against the agent, and the frozen image of ash disappeared. He looked up at Ryan’s bloody face, and went limp against the agent.
He opened his eyes, and found himself in a strange bed. Panic seized him for a moment, then the smell of Agency air filtered into his nose. Wherever he was, he was safe. Soft pyjamas clung to his sweaty skin, and he automatically reached for Stef. His hand touched down on an empty patch of bed, and he started to cry again. He needed her. He needed her. He needed her and she wasn’t there. He slowly reached for one of the pillows and clutched it to his chest – it was a poor substitute, too soft and too unresponsive. He held it anyway, and gathered the courage to pull himself out of bed.
The fairy’s touch still echoed over his body. Old wounds, old memories made too fresh again. Made real again.
He required a uniform, and stumbled out of the room.
He could feel her hands touching him, teasing him, teeth scraping over his body-
A woman’s voice, she’d-
He turned, and saw Magnolia wielding a clipboard.
‘What?’ he said, his voice hoarse.
‘Orders are to sign-‘ she lowered the clipboard a little, and looked at him. She looked him over, then let the clipboard disappear from her hands. ‘With me.’
‘I can’t, I’ve got to-‘
‘Come with me.’
He fell into step behind her, his feet heavy, incased in concrete, incased in lead, stopping him from moving, stopping him from running. She went into an empty common room, and she locked the door behind him. ‘Sit.’
He sat on the couch, and stared at the floor.
‘I’m not your friend, and your not going to braid my hair-‘
‘The fuck do you want, Mags?’
‘Who do you need killed?’
He managed to look at her. ‘Huh?’
‘You’re a good middle man,’ she said, ‘but let’s compare records, Taylor and I are better closers, and sometimes you just need a closer.’
‘I’ve got no-‘
She brushed her fingers over the knife in her boot. ‘Consider it a freebie, give us a name, we’ll give you a corpse.’
‘It’s not necessary.’
‘Yeah,’ Magnolia said flatly, ‘it is. There are some people who deserve to die, and people who evoke that expression are somewhere near the top of the list.’
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
The magpie’s expression was impenetrable. ‘I’m not asking you to.’
‘It was over a year ago, but he- The memories- Agents can really fuck you over, can’t they?’
‘It’s something they excel at.’ She paused. ‘Have you ever talked about it?’
‘After it happened, to someone I’d just met, but-‘ He closed his mouth and looked away.
No. He had to shut up and not say anything. Saying it made it real. Saying it meant it happened. That it happened and it effected him. Keep it locked away. He had to keep it locked away. If he didn’t-
‘But when you told whoever, you didn’t call it rape.’
He bit his lip and tasted blood. His jaw quivered and tears threatened to fall, threatened to take away any sense of control he had. He had control. He was in control. It wasn’t going to beat him. It wasn’t going to beat him. It had happened and he’d dealt with it, there was no reason for it to effect him now. It was gone and memories refreshed or not it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter and he was over it and he was over it and it was done and it was done-
‘It gets easier to call it what it was, trust me.’
‘But I agreed to it!’ he screamed, going to his feet, hot tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘I don’t have the right to bitch and cry and feel sick because I agreed to it!’ His hands shook and his stomach roiled. He went to his knees and puked bile and blue all over the soft carpet. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and stumbled to the common room’s small sink, turned it on, and drank from cupped hands until he couldn’t taste his weakness anymore.
It meant nothing. It was a reaction to the blue. Had to be a reaction to the blue. He was human, he wasn’t supposed to have that much blue. Overdose. Overload. Overload. Stef’s word. Stef. He needed her, he needed her, he needed her and she was gone, and he was selfish and-
He retched into the sink and leaned on his elbows, hoping Magnolia would fly away and leave him to his misery.
It hadn’t been rape, he’d agreed to it. It hadn’t been rape, he’d agreed to it. It hadn’t been rape, he’d agreed to it. It hadn’t been rape, he’d agreed to it. It hadn’t been rape, he’d agreed to it. It hadn’t been rape, he’d agreed to it. It hadn’t been rape, he’d agreed to it. Nothing mattered, because-
‘Start by touching your hands,’ Magnolia said as she handed him a glass of vaguely purple water. ‘They’re the easiest thing to reclaim. You touch your hands, you work with your hands and you’re in control, you can always touch them so you know that you’re choosing your actions.’
He closed his eyes and drank whatever was in the glass. ‘I chose that too,’ he said, ‘so your theory-‘
‘Choice,’ she said, rolling the word a little, ‘doesn’t mean as much as you’d think. It’s a choice to go hungry, or to sleep somewhere cold. It’s a choice to get on someone’s bad side or take the beating instead. There’s always a choice, and sometimes it’s the lesser evil. You choose to be afraid and to go away in your head while it happens so you can live until the morning or escape a charge. It doesn’t mean it’s not coercion. It doesn’t mean it’s not a violation. It doesn’t mean it’s not rape.’
Tears dripped from his chin. ‘I could have said no.’
‘And you think it would have made a difference?’
‘He- I had to prove myself. I had to prove myself to get free. I got free then things got better. It’s-‘
‘Don’t you dare call it a price,’ she said, ‘it was a crime, end of story. Was it an agent, cause-‘
‘Wild fairy. Agent hired her.’
Magnolia took a step forward, and began to unlace her corset.
‘Mags, what are you-?’
She let the side of her black corset hang free, and she lifted her right breast, revealing three thin scars, a twin to the one on his arm. ‘Did yours leave a mark too?’ He nodded as she covered herself. ‘The scars stay,’ she said, ‘the shame goes away.’
‘Whatever she did, you’ll work through it.’ She laid a hand over his for a brief second. ‘One tiny bit of control at a time.’ She crossed back to the couch, and perched on the end. ‘I’ll phrase this as Taylor does: is your immediate battle-readiness impaired?’
‘Depends on what I need to do.’
Magnolia gave a shrug, the clipboard reappearing. ‘It’s like usual, Ryan needs you. Your girlfriend is trying a burn a hole to the centre of the earth.’
‘I’m not going to repeat myself O’Connor, it won’t make sense until you see the video. Now, are you ready enough?’
He gave a shrug.
‘Hands,’ she said.
He slowly curled his hands into fists, and shook his head. ‘Hey, Mags, where the hell are we?’
He gave a nod, then required his headset. ‘Sir?’
The voice was still in his head. Strange. Something that needed to be addressed. ‘Shift me up, I’m ready to assist.’
Magnolia gave him a slight smile as the world blurred.