Ryan was careful to ignore the looks of some of his recruits as the pirate followed him back to his office. The stares weren’t impolite, just…incredulous. The sight was strange, to be sure, but in the Agency, strange sights were to be expected.
Hook, for his part, said nothing to exacerbate the situation – he made no flourishes with his sword towards the recruits, nor any piratical comments.
Ryan chided himself lightly – it was sometimes a fight to remain aware that the Lost, despite their costumes, took their duty as seriously as any agents that you could care to name.
He closed the office door behind Hook, and offered the man a seat. Hook nodded, and sat on the couch – taking the position that Stef usually took.
‘What is your plan, Director?’
‘I just want to check a few details on Agent Reilly before we make a move. Your files were comprehensive-’ Ryan faltered. ‘Sir, how you would wish me to address you?’
‘This is a conversation I just had with your daughter, Agent. Until she wishes otherwise, this guise is who I shall remain. You can call me Hook, should you so wish, I don’t insist that you call me by a ceremonial rank.’
‘Hook it is then,’ Ryan said. He required paper copies of the files that were running through his HUD. ‘He works under Director Robinson, I’ve spoken to the man maybe twice in the last ten years. We don’t have a lot of crossover in our cases.’
‘We have no active file on him,’ Hook said. ‘He has no children, so we haven’t had to keep one.’
Ryan sat in his usual seat on the couch, and flipped open the first file. ‘Robinson seems to be a competent agent and director. There aren’t any disciplinary actions here that are out of the usual.’
‘And our agent of the hour?’ Hook asked, his voice dark.
‘He’s fifty-seven, that’s young for an agent.’ He considered the agents in his jurisdiction. ‘I have a number of agents younger than him in his network. One has a small sports team worth of children, and I’ve never had reason to doubt his parenting skills. And Jones, he’s a parent to a young ward.’
‘Age can be a strange thing with agents,’ Hook said. The pirate turned his blue eyes to Ryan. ‘I’m older than you may ever reach, I’m certainly older than your breed of angel. I’ve seen newborn agents more insightful than philosophers of old, and I’ve seen men over a hundred with the sense of a gnat.’
‘It depends on your upbringing, on your influences, on your code, and your soul, should you believe we have those.’ Ryan looked down at his hands, remembering Reynolds’ insistence that agents did have souls, even if it wasn’t how many defined the word. ‘It has been my experience that it tends to be the older agents who are accused of abuses.’ He curled his hands into fists. ‘The older one gets, the more they believe they can get away with, or that they deserve to get away with.’
‘Are there any notes of discipline in his file?’
Ryan shook his head. ‘Nothing of note. He’s an exemplary agent. All of his report scores are above average. On paper, he would seem beyond reproach.’
‘And we all know how useless appearances on paper can be, Agent.’
Ryan made a noise of agreement. ‘At the point, I would like to bring one of our representatives into this case, just to keep everything above board.’
Hook nodded. ‘I trust you, Director.’
Ryan let his eyes unfocus on the world around him as he opened several HUD menus. He rarely had cause to deal with the Agency’s representatives of the Lost – the one time he had needed their services – and had first met Stef’s pirate – he had gone humble, as a father, not as an agent.
The closest representative was quite close – not that distance made a real difference, as it was a difference measured in hundredths of a second when shifting was involved – the recruit, who was listed as Recruit Able (Terry), lived in a small apartment complex that was attached to the Park.
Ryan focused on Hook. ‘Will I be able to shift you without incident?’
‘My dear agent, we can only try.’
Ryan extended his hand to Hook, who took it. Ryan carefully targeted the man, ensuring that the shift knew to try and take him along for the transport, and carefully boosted all signal containment options – shifting fae, except those who had been treated with a certain amount of blue, was almost always a troublesome proposition. Blue magic and red magic just didn’t care to work well together – with red usually taking precedence – it was the same reason that fae could cause fatal damage to agents.
Ryan felt the usual sway of the shift, but then it cancelled, an error showing he was unable to transport the “object” he had targeted.
He gave Hook a small smile. ‘Shall we take your road instead?’
Ryan was old – and in his years, he had travelled in almost every way it was possible to travel. As an agent, he didn’t go a day without shifting, he’d been talking along the fae fade paths, he’d travelled in and out of Limbo, and walked through the quietness of Death’s realm.
As such, there was nothing surprising about the Captain’s method of travel – which was one of the variations of the fade path, with the landscape skipping beneath his feet, like an impatient Tech searching through a video.
The Park always seemed as though it should be a place that brought up good memories, and if he had been a different man, perhaps it would have been. The Park had been one of Reynolds’ initiatives – the man had adored all things green – and he had helped to pick out all of the initial plants.
It had been a place of a lot of conversations – discussions of family, philosophy, love and life. If he’d been the perfect son, they would be perfect memories, as imperfect as he was in his father’s eyes, they were imperfect memories.
Reynolds had been everything to him – father, brother, friend – and Reynolds had tried to play all the roles for both his new agent, and the dead Dusker who had provided the template for said new agent.
His Director had – in those early years – always asked leading questions, trying to prise Rhys’ opinion from Ryan’s mind, trying to judge if anything of the Dusker’s soul had made it into his new being.
In the moments where he could properly articulate it, it had always felt to Ryan as though he was the replacement for a deceased sibling – someone to fill the space, and who could hopefully take up the mantle without a break in transmission.
He wasn’t Rhys, no matter how much Reynolds may have wished that he was.
Being a father again, double-guessing every action he took with Stef, had brought forth more thoughts of Reynolds than had been in his mind in years. Reynolds had been less than a perfect father, and those skills would only be further diluted in Ryan’s hands.
His own experiences with Alexander had proved that. One child had already left him behind.
And it would hurt all the more when it happened again.
Ryan broke from his reverie, his leather shoe scratching across the concrete path as he came to a stop. ‘Yes?’ he asked, his face a perfect picture of professionality.
‘I’m no mind reader,’ Hook said. ‘And I pity those who have such unfettered access to others’ minds. But it doesn’t take exceptional skill to see that something is weighing on your mind.’
‘For all the children you have cared for,’ Ryan said. ‘All the children you have loved. How is that you move on? Surely that-’
James waved his hand. ‘I’m not a parent. I love all those that comes into my care, but I know it’s not forever. I see myself as more of a foster parent. Someone who comes, and cares when it’s necessary. And then, it’s easy to move on, because I know I have – in most cases, I hope – left them for the better.’ The pirate appraised him quietly. ‘Surely you aren’t seeing yourself as-’
Ryan faltered. ‘I-’
‘She has never been happier, Agent. And take that as the word of someone who knew her for most of her childhood.’ Hook smiled. ‘Keep in mind, dear agent, that she didn’t need you. She’d been alone for far longer than any person deserves to be without love, but she chose you. She accepted you as family when the word had never been more than a word in the dictionary. I cannot see the future, Ryan, but I do not see you being left behind.’
Ryan let out a breath. ‘I thank you for your faith, Captain.’
Hook smiled, walked ahead, and looked up at the sign that pointed out the destinations of all the forks of the path. ‘Winding Waystop is the name of the residences, I’m assuming?’
Ryan nodded, and lengthened his stride to catch up. ‘My Director, all of this was his doing. He wasn’t the first agent to institute something like this – and there were fae-run parks even earlier than that, but he took pride in this place as his first large Agency project.’ He smiled. ‘This place was made for love.’
Ryan smiled. The story was almost like a fairy tale – and that had been the way Reynolds had always told it to him. ‘Reynolds came to his emotions early,’ Ryan said, keeping his words measured – he’d always had feeling of envy when Reynolds had described how easily emotions had been integrated into his life. For whatever reason, emotions had always been hard for him – especially when he had to examine each of them – whenever he’d shown any emotion, it had always been ascribed to Rhys. Rhys’ anger, Rhys’ drive. The Dusker’s ghost had always overlaid his life.
‘Reynolds always said that love was the one thing that hadn’t been easy for him, until Xavier. He’d never been in love. And Xavier, he was gay…could not bring himself to put up a front for his family, even in a time when that was expected. He was ousted, and because of how fast news spread, he wasn’t able to find many friends that would take him in. He took small jobs, trying to get enough money to get away, so that he could have a fresh start. He was accosted outside a pub, and Director Reynolds stepped in, fought off the attackers, retrieved his money, and took him back to the Agency to bandage his wounds.’
Hook smiled. ‘I would imagine many agent relationships start because you are able to step in as heroes.’
Ryan shrugged. ‘Less than you may expect.’ He smiled. ‘My combat agent and his aide…that relationship started with an arrest.’
‘Your director and his young man?’
‘Reynolds gave him food, and offered him somewhere to sleep for the night. The morning came, and Xavier asked about doing odd jobs. Reynolds offered him work – even back in those days, there was a lot of work that a human could do. This continued, with Xavier living in the Agency. Weeks into his arrangement, Xavier’s brother found him, pushed his way into the Agency, and outed him to Reynolds, before storming out, insulting his brother all the way.’
‘I can’t imagine that bothered an agent.’
‘Xavier tried to leave, to spare Reynolds the shame of being associated with him.’ Ryan smiled. ‘Reynolds told me that he took Xavier’s hand, and told him not to leave. That he wasn’t sure what love felt like, but that he was sure he was starting to understand it.’ He looked out across the park. ‘Needless to say, he stayed. When he revealed his talent with horticulture, they built the original Park together, and Xavier became its first caretaker, and he retained the position until his death.’ Ryan let his hand drift down to touch a flower as he past it. ‘We’ve always had those who wish to call the Agency home, but whose abilities is counter to working with us in an active capacity. The Park is home for all those who wish it to be.’ He looked to Hook. ‘And home to some who would otherwise run in a Central-run residential facility, like this Lost liaison.’
They continued to the end of the path in companionable silence. When they reached the security door of the Waystop, Ryan pulled his billfold from an inner pocket and swiped his ID across the reader.
As an agent, interacting with Agency technology, he could have performed a wireless authentication, but there was something about the action of the physical action that he felt calming – it was the same reason that he processed his paperwork in a far more manual manner than a lot of his peers.
The tactile and the practical somehow felt real. Tied him to the world, when he so often felt apart from it.
The residences used the same space-saving technology that agencies did – the apparent dimension of a hall, for example, didn’t always line up with the rooms behind them – it was how the recruit dorm hallways could have doors spaced every two metres, when the rooms behind could be the size of a two-bedroom apartment, or a small house.
‘Room seventeen,’ he commented.
When they reached the liaison’s room, Ryan knocked. It took a moment, then a young individual, in a simplified Agency uniform, opened the door and smiled. ‘Hi!’ they said brightly, with an almost childlike intensity, the fox ears on their head twitching, disturbing the strands of their multi colored hair. ‘How- Um- Can I help?’ The recruit shuffled their feet.
The recruit blinked. ‘Um- Are you lookingforTerry?’ they asked, the words coming out at a speed that reminded him of the lightning nymph that Jones had working for him.
‘I was, yes,’ Ryan said gently.
The recruit’s posture changed – they straightened, and their hands settled down to their sides. ‘Good morning, Agent,’ they said. They gave a professional nod. ‘How can I be of service, Agent?’
‘Agent Ryan,’ he said, to introduce himself, ‘we have a case involving the Lost that we’d like to discuss.’
‘Sure,’ the liaison said, ‘come on through to my office.’ They turned and led them through to a spacious office, glass walls on three sides, allowing sunlight to pour in, bringing in the vibrancy of the Park into the room.
In the centre of the room was an odd, white, Z-shaped desk, with piles of tidy paperwork at all the points, with a slim laptop on the far side.
Two guest chairs appeared as the liaison took their seat. ‘You can call me Terry, Agent,’ the liaison said. ‘You’ll be informed if that changes.’ They smiled. ‘There’s usually a flag on my file to inform Agency personnel of my situation, I’m not sure if you read that.’
Ryan gave an apologetic smile. ‘This was rather a rush situation, I haven’t had time to read up on you.’
‘I’m a multi,’ the recruit said simply. ‘You won’t always be speaking with Terry. It’s kinda like having a car full of people, you generally get someone driving, I usually get someone passenger watching, and some more asleep in back…or doing something noisy and and making it hard to keep your eyes on the road… and sometimes the passenger grabs the wheel… and every time you see a VW bug you gotta all switch seats, and hope someone with a map and someone who can drive get in front.’
Ryan nodded. ‘I once had a recruit who was a collective person,’ he said. ‘After a few years, they took their field experience and went to teach at the Academy.’
‘Professor Calamity?’ Terry asked, and Ryan nodded. ‘He doesn’t teach anymore. He does sit in the back of Fairyland sociopolitical lectures sometimes, and pass out candy.’ Terry’s fox ears twitched. ‘You said this was a rush case, Agent, how can I help?’
Between the two of them, they went over the situation, whilst Terry took notes, and interrupted them on occasion to ask for specifics or look up citations from the regulations.
‘And what is your ideal outcome, gentlemen?’ the liaison asked, ‘though I imagine I can see where you’re going with this.’
‘The child has been removed,’ Hook said. ‘This is fine according to our rules, but I need it-’
Terry held up a hand, and shuffled the papers in front of them, and signed one that they had been working on over the last five minutes. ‘Agency countersigned, in my position as local liaison, under the recognizances of you as a Director, Agent Ryan.’
The pirate reached forward, the metal of his hook clinking against the table. ‘I don’t want the child to go back to that man, ever.’
Terry leaned back. ‘That’s harder to organise from one brief meeting.’ They touched the piece of paper that meant that Austin was safe for now. ‘This covers the immediate future. I would go speak with the Director now, to ensure that he is punished under our laws.’ The liaison smiled. ‘Thank you for doing this, gentlemen.’
Hook drew the paperwork to his chest. ‘No, thank you, young one. This means the world. It is the world for Austin, and this is the chance to give him the world back.