Someone was knocking.
Ryan looked up, finally cognisant that someone was trying to get his attention. He put his pen down, and tried to look past the high stacks of paperwork. ‘Come in,’ he called, unlocking the door with a requirement.
Jones walked in, a few folders in her hand. Ryan held back a sigh – hopefully whatever paperwork Jones needed done, it was something quick.
There was a certain amount of work he could pass to Curt, but there were a lot of things the young man couldn’t do without higher levels of access – Aide levels of access, and that was something he wasn’t prepared to consider.
Jones had stopped, a few feet into Ryan’s office, a dumbfounded expression on her face.
‘Agent?’ Ryan said. ‘Andrea, what’s wrong?’
Jones shook her head. ‘I wasn’t aware you had company, sorry.’
Ryan stared at the agent, confused by her words. ‘I don’t understand.’ He stood, and looked as Andrea pointed. He followed the point of her finger, and saw Stef standing in the corner, a translucent blue aspect, holding a sandwich.
He snapped his head up, and the door closed in an instant.
Jones walked forward, and placed her folders on the corner of his desk, gave Ryan a nervous look, then slowly walked towards Stef.
‘She’s an aspect, isn’t she?’ she asked, stopping with a few feet of space between her and Stef. ‘I’ve only ever seen one before.’
Ryan nodded. ‘I’d never seen one,’ he said, embarrassed, ‘Death had to explain it to me.’
‘I love collecting knowledge about less-common pieces of magic, little lost things that seem so beautiful they should be a myth.’ Jones turned to look at him, a lock of hair falling loose from her bun. ‘Your life flashing before your eyes…but not as an ending, as a new beginning. A recreation of self using your own memories. It’s so…raw,’ Jones said, ‘it’s never just the good memories or the bad memories, it’s the strongest moments with no filter.’
‘So many of them,’ Ryan said, ‘are sad. So many seem like things you would never want to remember, let alone naming them the most vivid memories of a life.’
Jones moved back, as the blue aspect wandered aimlessly, munching on the sandwich. ‘Have you thought about what your aspects would be, sir?’ Jones asked. ‘I’m sure that my own wouldn’t all be shiningly brilliant moments.’
Ryan thought for a moment. His birth. The first mirrorfall. Making love with the woman who would become his wife. The birth of his son. Carol’s madness. Glitching and dying from withdrawal, his wings bound.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I’m sure they wouldn’t all be happy. But…but she’s only had one that was happy.’
Jones indicated vaguely to Stef. ‘What’s with the sandwich? I’m holding back on making kitchen jokes, but…it’s a sandwich, I admit my life is not particularly exciting, but this doesn’t seem like it could be a strong memory.’
Ryan nodded. It wasn’t something that seemed to make sense. Dying. The accident. Dancing with a prince. Those were moments to remember.
Walking around in dirty clothes, eating a poorly-made sandwich was not something he would have assumed to be a strong moment.
She looked like the Stef that was lying in the oubliette. It had to be a recent memory – from the last few years. He shrugged. ‘I’ll ask her, if I ever get to speak to her again.’
‘What are you planning on doing, sir?’ Andrea asked. ‘When you see her again?’
He would make sure he knew she was loved. He’d promise to protect her again. He would show her magic and wonder.
He’d say sorry, he’d apologise for letting her down.
All of the plans were so…immediate, and essentially added up to scooping up a child after a bad day of school and promising them the world, if only they would smile.
Even with Death’s warnings, even with his own thoughts at the back of his mind, there had been very little consideration as to the “after”. After she woke up. After she was all right to move again. After all the crying and the emotions.
He still wanted her to come back to the Agency, even with how stupid that desire was.
He’d made the wrong wish – he should have wished to have gone back five minutes, and prevented her death in the first place.
‘I don’t know,’ he said, and let out a long sigh. ‘Gods, Jones, I don’t know.’
‘Her face will be on the active surveillance watch for six months – standard time allotment for a KIA,’ she said. ‘We could possibly get it down to four months, if we do an audit and purge, but that’s still weeks. System territory isn’t’ going to cut it unless you can convince her to stay inside, under threat of death. What are your Faerie resources like?’
‘Minimal,’ Ryan said. ‘I’ve got citizenship in Fairyland, thanks to the exchange pilot program from a few decades ago.’
‘Before my time,’ Jones said gently.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘sorry. Full citizenship, minus the restrictions that come along with being an agent. I don’t own any property, nor to I particularly have the resources to obtain anything in the short-term. I have a small amount of money aside, I’m not saying it would be enough, but it would be a start. I’d have to adopt her officially, in order for-‘ He closed his mouth, realising that he’d spoken faster than he’d thought. ‘You must think I’m mad, Jones.’
The aspect finally disappeared.
Ryan looked away from Jones, stood, and walked to his window. ‘Go ahead,’ he said, ‘I know how…rushed this looks. You must think I’m a fool.’
‘Me?’ Jones asked, arching an eyebrow. ‘You think I’m going to judge you for a fast attachment? If you weren’t my direct superior, I’d tell you to stop being a self-absorbed prick – you aren’t the first agent to adopt a wayward child. You aren’t even the first in this room.’ Jones took two steps towards him. ‘I knew I wanted to be Merlin’s parent before he’d spent forty-eight hours in these walls. It wasn’t an idea I shared, not even with him, but it was the attitude I adopted. Don’t you remember when Clarke was trying to get Merlin thrown out of here and given to some Frankenstein at Central to play with? Fuck no, he is my son. Sometimes, with some children, you just know.’ Jones hung her head. ‘Sir, I love you and I respect you, but you need to take your blinders off sometimes and realise there’s a whole world going on around you.’
Ryan stared at his tech agent for a long moment, angry and ashamed at the same time. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said at last, the shame winning out over the automatic response to snap back at Jones. ‘I’m sorry, Agent, I should have asked for your advice.’ He looked away. ‘What little free time I’ve had, I’ve been using to browse the parenting forums on the intranet. I should have looked a lot closer to home. I am used to-‘
‘Yes,’ Jones said, ‘you should have. But, I’m here now, do you want to talk?’
Ryan nodded. ‘If I still have your friendship.’
Jones sat on the couch, and made herself comfortable. ‘Of course you do, sir. Let’s talk.’
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