September 28th

Ryan noted that the door to his office was unlocked – Jane was already there, and quite willing to make herself at home. He stopped, refreshed his uniform, and walked in, his face as professional and content as he could make it without filtering out all of his emotion.

‘Jane,’ he said, noticing the stack of files on the coffee table in front of his couch before he had the courage to look to the older agent. ‘I’d invite you in, but-’

‘You’re the one who left me waiting,’ she said, ‘what was so important that it had you out of your Agency for several hours without logging anything with your tech?’

‘I don’t usually advise Jones of all my movements,’ he said, ‘he is busy enough without-’

‘Do you know why I’m here?’

‘Jones was kind enough to give me the short form.’

Jane stood and appraised him. ‘I cannot believe how badly that howler messed you up, Ryan, but that’s really the least of your problems.’

He required a chair and sat opposite her. ‘Shall we go through the pantomime of you telling me why you’re here?’

‘If I’d gotten a recruit killed,’ she snapped, ‘I wouldn’t be so blase, Agent.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Not unless I’d planned it. And even then-’

‘How dare you-?!’ he said, standing to look down at her. ‘I wouldn’t-’

‘Sit your arse down, Ryan. Now. I’m your investigating officer, I would suggest not losing your temper with me, that kind of thing doesn’t tend to go well.’

He sat, nearly slamming his rear into the seat. ‘Then do not accuse me of murdering my recruit, again.’

Jane opened a file, and with a wave of her hand, the contents blurred and spread themselves across the table. A report. A medical transcript and injury detail. Photos.

Photos of a little girl with little blue eyes. Blue eyes that had taken on a touch of grey from seeing limbo.

‘I’m going to need you to explain this, Ryan.’

‘Explain what, ma’am? It’s all there in print. That’s Stef. Much younger and-’

‘This isn’t usual, Ryan, not- There are a couple of possibilities that come to mind, but I cannot imagine that they apply to you. If they do, then- You’re a better man than that, Ryan, even I know that.’

Ryan felt a sick feeling against his heart as words formed to match her unspoken fears. Grooming. Abuse. Being…improper.

‘But you have to understand,’ Jane said, ‘that it has to be brought up, even if to be dismissed.’

‘It was-’ he said without further prompting. ‘She was a child. She suffered a flesh wound due to poor timing on my part. She was brought here and my medical agents performed quick treatment on her. I returned her home and…honestly forgot about her, Jane. Carol had just- And Taylor was still being rebuilt. A toddler seemed so very unimportant in comparison to all that.’ He sat back in his chair. ‘And we are to be forgotten, so any thought would be wasted.’

Jane nodded. ‘So this was just coincidence? Was she aware-’

‘She didn’t forget me,’ he said, then released a long breath. ‘She remembered what had transpired.’

This quietened Jane. ‘That would have a profound effect on any agent,’ she said. ‘Can I make the leap that that is the cause of her counter-intuitive departmental placement?’

Ryan nodded.

‘So far,’ Jane said, ‘this just sounds like a bit of roundabout Cherry Syndrome. Your feelings towards the young lady?’

‘Paternal,’ he said without a chance to consider how much he could tell Jane. ‘There’s little more i enjoy than being able to teach a willing recruit, to show someone how- She wanted to see magic, Jane, she was excited for it.’

‘Ryan, I’m not here to question those choices. You took her into a Field Op she was in no way prepared for, and got her killed.’ She tidied up the contents of the file. ‘Recruit O’Connor said you weren’t even interested in pursuing the usual lines of query for KIA recruits.’

At least this question he’d been prepared for. ‘What he wasn’t aware of was that I had already made my own inquiries. I knew they had no information.’

‘So why not tell your recruit that?’

‘You know Recruit O’Connor’s history, I take it?’

‘Yes, Ryan, of course I do.’

‘Someone with his history has no reason to believe an agent. I thought it better for him to make his own queries.’ He affected a sad look. ‘It also let him live in hope for a little while longer.’ He raised his head a little. ‘There is always the chance that they would tell him something that they wouldn’t have told an agent, so I saw no downside in my actions.’

‘Ryan, you still haven’t said why you took her into the mirrorfall op.’

He took away all of his emotion filters and looked at Jane, letting himself feel all the pain and confusion that had been beating against him since hearing the mirror explode. ‘Because I thought I could protect her. Because I’m arrogant. I was wrong, ma’am, and my recruit paid the price for it.’

This seemed to satisfy her, and she gave him a single, slow nod. ‘That admission will go a long way in your defence, Ryan, assuming you mean it.’

‘If I could take it back. If I could- If I had another chance, I wouldn’t take her. You have no idea how much-’

‘What of the mirror?’ Jane asked. ‘You had pieces at your feet, you would have wished away some yourself. Why not…why not make it as though it never happened?’

‘Because I always do my damndest to do my duty,’ he said. ‘I’m an agent, and…I couldn’t make a mistake to fix a mistake.’

‘Ryan…most agents wouldn’t blame you. Most agents would look the other way. I would, you know that. If you did something, now would be the time to tell me.’

Ryan hesitated.

Jane stared at him, and five seconds later, he knew it was too late to deny anything.

Hesitation, something Reynolds had once called his greatest strength, was also a liability that continued to make bad decisions on his behalf.

‘Ryan?’

He took drink of water, his fingers pressing into the cool glass, delaying him for another few precious seconds before he had to answer.

‘Kay wouldn’t even be here without you,’ Jane said quietly. ‘I would never fault you for trying something for yourself, but you need to tell me, now please don’t be stupid and try to deny it.’

Ryan squeezed the glass in his hand, feeling it almost ready to shatter in his hand. ‘I tried something,’ he finally said, and calmly set the glass down. ‘I tried something and it didn’t work.’

Jane laid her hand on his for a moment. ‘Thank you for telling me,’ she said. ‘What did you try?’

‘She shot it. She was in the way.’ He clenched his hands into fists. ‘And I wasn’t quick enough. She died. I tried to- I tried to wish her back. It didn’t work.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Jane said, sounding genuinely sorry.

Ryan let a few tears slip out, then wiped them away.

‘Where’s the body?’ Jane asked. ‘If that’s what happened, where’s the body?’

‘I have some friends in Faerie that have some beautiful land, I had her buried there.’

‘I won’t bring up that breaks a few laws about proper disposal,’ Jane said with a small smile. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that from the start?’

Ryan looked to the agent for a long moment. ‘Because, until right now, I thought you despised me for what I had done for Kayla. You never-’

It was a church, of all places.

Ryan paused before he stepped over the threshold – it was the first he’d ever been in, despite Reynolds telling him again and again how important it was to recognise the symbology that was not-infrequently applied to them.

It was pointless, really. At one time, blue constructs had appeared as angels, that time was past. It was a meaningless appellation used by fae – slang, a colloquialism, truly meaningless.

He still gave the moment the quiet respect Reynolds said it deserved, and stepped into the church.

Several of the pews had been knocked over, others were covered in the blood and fluids of the dead leeches.

Jane stood at the front of the church, her gun in her shaking hand as her lover sat on the dias, her eyes glowing an electric blue.

‘Agent?’

Jane snapped her gun up, aimed at him, her hand no longer shaking, then finally turned to look at him. ‘I expected Reynolds,’ she said, no humour in her voice.

‘He-’ Ryan hesitated. ‘Director Reynolds stated that he was not going to interfere. He values your friendship over your breach of Duty.’

Jane took three long strides toward him. ‘And you, newborn? Going to call the Enforcers? Going to call in the best of us?’ She grimaced and looked away. ‘Absolutely nothing they can do will be worse than what I am about to do to myself.’

Ryan looked to Kayla, and the serene, distant look on her face. ‘What happened to her? Reynolds said she was sick-’

‘Wishes go wrong,’ Jane said quietly. ‘The leeches think she’s their god, and I’m not entirely sure they’re wrong. She’s- She’s well, but she isn’t my Kayla anymore. She was gathering them for war-’ Jane said as she swept her arm wide to indicate the dead leeches. ‘I saved her life, and now I have to take it.’ Jane let her arm drop. ‘I had two pieces, I thought it would be enough. The first piece saved her. The second piece stopped her.’

Ryan held up the small shard of mirror he’d saved. ‘In the stories there are always three wishes.’

Jane dropped her gun. ‘Newborn?’

Ryan turned his hand so that the shard rested in his open palm. ‘Reynolds keeps encouraging me to be more than a newborn.’ He took a step toward Jane, closing the distance between them. ‘Please, take it.’

Jane reached for the piece of mirror, her delicate fingers brushing against his palm. She turned from him, and knelt before Kayla. Jane held the mirror in her fist, closed her eyes, and bowed her head.

Ryan watched, unwilling to break in on the wish, and watched as the blue light faded from Kayla’s eyes.

‘I couldn’t even think about you,’ Jane cut in. ‘Everything Kayla had just been through. You saved her life, but that wasn’t all there was to it. Everything she had been through, it took all of my energy, all of my time, to stop her from going mad.’ Jane leaned back. ‘And by the time I looked up, two years had gone by. I should have reached out, I should have thanked you more than I did, but you just…I’m sorry, I am, but I could barely explain what was going on to my closest friends, let alone tell a newborn that what he’d done was a debt I could never repay.’

Ryan sat on the nearest upright pew and rocked slightly at the overload in his mind. A sure sign that he was experiencing some kind of abberation from norm that his software wasn’t expecting. That he was broken.

The sick feeling of going against Duty. Of knowing something that could get him brought before an Enforcer ruling. The pride of knowing that he had finally perhaps done something that would impress Reynolds – that it would be something about Ryan that would impress him, not something in him that was still Rhys.

The warmth of knowing he’d done something…right. Something that couldn’t be justified by Duty, but that didn’t have to be. That it served a greater good. A greater sense of right and wrong.

And the ache of knowing it would be impossible to express any of this to someone else.

He had gone against what he had been programmed to do – something Reynolds insisted was long overdue.

He felt…for lack of a better word, human.

And that was more terrifying than the phoenix.

‘This is,’ Ryan said at last, ‘a conversation we should have had a long time ago.’

‘And that’s stating the obvious, newborn,’ she said with a smile. ‘No. I never hated you, Ryan. I’m sorry you thought I did.’

Ryan poured himself another water. ‘You still have to do your investigation. Beyod just Stef. Something like that…it’s only an excuse isn’t it? They always want to check for systemic issues.’

‘No one expected you to be Director for this long,’ Jane said, ‘I’d be beyond shocked if there weren’t.’

Ryan sighed. ‘I’m sure no one says that to Grigori.’

‘Do you really want to swap places with him?’ she asked, a smile quirking on her lips. ‘People might not question him, but at least they don’t call you a sex addict behind your back. How many kids does he have now?’

‘He just sent out the birth annoucement for his one-hundred-and-eighty-first grandchild. I sent booties.’

Jane smiled. ‘Still jealous of him? That’ s a lot of responsibility.’

Family was a responsibility he’d gladly shoulder, even if it was a family that merely consisted of himself and a strangely-smelling, strange little girl. Family was work, but it was worth it.

An image of Alexander flashed in his mind, and his mood dropped further.

‘Ryan?’

He looked up. ‘Sorry.’

‘I’ll be starting the top-down audit tomorrow. Are there any nasty surprises you want to alert me to?’

‘You’re aware of Agent Taylor’s existence?’

‘Yes.’

Ryan tried to smile. ‘Then that’s all I can think of.’

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