Ryan checked Stef’s vitals. No change. There was never any change.
He hadn’t expected it to take so long. It…shouldn’t be taking so long. He flicked a penlight into her eye, watched as the pupil stayed unchanging, sighed, and sat again.
There was no frame of reference for something like this, but it still seemed like something should have happened.
The aspects were at least appearing at a fairly consistent rate – it was impatience, he knew he was trying to rush the process, but it was worse than waiting for a child to be born. With an unborn child, it was the excitement to meet a new life; with Stef…it was a wait for a life to restart, a need for her not to miss life as it passed her by.
Pain, hot and sharp and all-consuming hit him like a truck.
He screamed, and threw his arms around his middle, feeling as though he needed to hold his innards in.
He was dying.
He was going to die.
Ryan silently begged for forgiveness, and waited for things to end.
Life, and the pain, continued.
Ryan let out a deep breath and looked to his HUD for a damage assessment – a damage assessment that stated that he was fine.
He chanced a look down at his hands, knowing he’d see blood – whatever this pain was, it was surely killing him. He’d stayed too long in the oubliette, or it had processed a passing fancy to know the pain of being run through by mirror, or-
There was blood. It was yellow.
He pressed his hands to the bed, and pushed himself forward, the pain intensifying as he stumbled off the edge, and regained his footing on the sleek floor.
The pain disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
The blood was gone, though it had never truly been there. He turned, knowing in part what he would see – another aspect, more of her pain.
This aspect was different – it was part of a car’s backseat floating just above the bed, with a small lap wrapped in a ballerina outfit, yellow blood dripping from her legs.
He couldn’t see her face, and he was glad of it – he’d failed her badly enough without seeing the pain of being in the twisted wreck of a car.
The accident was in her medical file – and was the source of all the scars that the Parkers had commented on at least three times in the short time she had been a recruit, scars and damage that she still carried; scars and damage that he couldn’t even imagine.
Lasting damage was something that was hard to comprehend – hard for most agents to comprehend, as there were few things that could damage an agent in such a way as for the wound or affliction to be long-term, or lifelong.
Limbs could be replaced in a matter of minutes; skin regrew as you watched; damaged blue was replaced with functioning blue – outside of a blackout zone, it was hard to leave a lasting mark.
Combat agents tended to keep at least a few scars, for prideful reasons if nothing else – an affectation more than a sign of damage; just as a tech agent’s glasses were a little bit of social engineering rather than a reflection of less than perfect vision.
Agents weren’t meant to touch the world in a way that left an impression; in return, the world couldn’t hurt them in the same ways.
The same flowed for recruits though – except for recruits on probation, there were usually ways to treat damage that was over and above what was usually seen in the infirmary – there was no need to leave a recruit missing a leg when replacing it could ensure loyal service for years to come.
He had gone through her medical file along with all of her other information – while he acknowledged that there was little that civilian physicians could have done for the internal damage, there was nothing preventing skin grafts that could have saved a young girl and a young woman from being reminded of a trauma each time she got changed, or even simply neglected to wear something with long sleeves.
It was a cruelty that he would not have allowed for his child, even without the resources of the Agency.
The aspect shifted a little, blood that must have been pooled on her lap slipped down her legs.
He had a momentary impression of metal sunk deeply into flesh, but then it was gone, though the aspect’s hand remained, as scratched and bloody as the rest of her was.
There was a cold breeze, and Death stepped into view.
Ryan bowed to her, and she acknowledged him with a nod.
He had the thought before he could stop himself.
To his surprise, however, Death just smiled. ‘Your thought processes are fascinating angel,’ Death said. ‘You can’t control them, yet you chastise yourself for thoughts, even ones you don’t voice.’
‘Whether or not I voice them, my lady, is immaterial around you.’
She nodded to this.
‘Nevertheless, you did not call me here.’
Ryan turned and looked to the yellow aspect. ‘Did she?’
‘In a way,’ Death said, a small smile on her face. ‘I was here when this happened. I, in a way, have called myself here.’
‘She was going to die?’
‘She flatlined, but no. I knew this wasn’t one of her deaths. I know-’ She paused for a moment. ‘You do not understand how I work, I understand this. In terms you can understand, I know chances of the future, whereas what my sister knows is a lot closer to certain. If you want to know the future, you speak with her. All I can see is when people will possibly die. When one of those events arise, I know then whether or not it is the death that claims them.’
‘Unless,’ Ryan said, ‘someone decides to interfere.’
‘People like you, Ryan, do upset the natural order a little.’
Ryan looked back to Stef’s body. ‘I don’t regret it, my lady, I truly don’t.’
‘I know you don’t.’
‘Why did you come for her, then, if you knew it wasn’t her time?’
‘Because she was hurt and scared, and she needed someone to hold her hand.’
Yellow light flared in Death’s eyes for a moment, and when Ryan looked back to the aspect, the full scene was laid out before him – in more detail than he’d ever seen it, stretching far beyond those objects that Stef had been in contact with.
He saw the crumpled wreck of the chair, a twisted piece of metal that no one should have walked away from. A woman’s body – Stef’s mother – had gone halfway through the windshield, her body covered with a blanket to protect innocent eyes and the vultures of the media.
And in the backseat of the car was Stef, the rest of her ballerina outfit visible now, her backpack on the seat beside her, covered in splattered blood.
And sitting with her, half-hidden by the body of the car, was a reflection of Death, holding her like a mother- ‘My lady, I’m sorry,’ Ryan said, trying to stamp down on the thought, ‘I know the association-’
Death put a hand on his shoulder. ‘It was meant as a positive, Ryan, I cannot decry you for a positive association.’
Rescue workers began to work to get Stef free of the car, and the aspect faded from view.
Ryan took a long, slow breath. ‘Is she coming back, my lady? I feel as though being patient is being passive, and that by inaction I might be-’
‘For the moment, Ryan, you can do nothing. Keep her safe, and trust her to find her way back.’
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