November 12th

Taylor stood in front of one of his weapon caches, staring at the display of sharp, bladed instruments, calculating the ability of each to be thrown, or rather, to be thrown and to successfully hit a soft target.

There was a soft intake of air behind him. Magnolia.

He hadn’t detected the fade before she’s appeared. She was getting better. Always improving. Always giving them a bigger advantage.

He lifted a small hatchet and placed it on the trolley beside him, that made six weapons, good enough for now.

‘Sir.’

He turned. Words weren’t needed yet. He pushed the trolley to the centre of the room, and she followed without adding unneeded words.

She knew what was going on. Blind training had been on her schedule, he was simply following it.

He grabbed her by the arm and moved her into position, right underneath the spot where his punching bag usually hung. The centre of the room was the best place for training like this.

A blindfold appeared in his hands and he tied it tight around her head. Not tight enough to cut off circulation – likely not tight enough to cut off circulation, and experimentally waved a hand in front of her face. He lowered his face to hers, watching all of the little muscle twitches as she adjusted to the cloth. ‘Can you see, Magnolia?’

She turned her face upward, looking at the brightest light source in his gym for a long moment. ‘No sir.’

He spun her several times – a useless gesture, as her bird ancestry made it nearly impossible for her to become disorientated by something so simple, but it was a part of the test, and it was always best for things to happen within parameters.

Outside parameters was where things got complicated. Outside parameters was where things went wrong. He stared at his recruit for a moment, then looked away.

Outside parameters was where other people belonged.

There was a ping in his HUD as an agent shifted in – and he ignored the intruder for the time being. Training was important. Training was far more important.

He pulled the trolley back a few metres, purposely letting it rattle so she had a point of reference of where the first attack would logically come from.

He reached for the first weapon, but a larger hand grabbed him by the wrist.

Taylor looked up, and gave the man the smile he expected.

[May I?] Grigori as he grabbed the knife.

[Of course.]

He shifted himself back to the small set of bleachers, rested his back against the row above him and watched as the other man lifted the knife, easily spun it, testing its weight, then gripped it by the blade.

[You’re going to throw it from there?] he asked.

[This is me,] Grigori replied, [I like to start simple.]

Grigori looked back, grinned, then turned back and threw the knife at Magnolia. The girl dodged the knife, but just barely, the blade skimming past her ear, nearly taking out a lock of her white hair.

[She’s getting better at this.]

[Yes, she is.]

The hatchet was thrown and again, missed his recruit by inches. Her reaction time had been better though, so he made a note of it.

Grigori took a few running steps, then leaped above Magnolia, smacked the chain the punching bag usually hung from, then shifted back to the trolley and threw both of the small knives.

He watched on in interest, then nodded as he watched his recruit drop flat to the floor. After both of the knives passed harmlessly over her head, she was on her feet, and even more alert than before. Grigori shifted behind Magnolia, nothing in his hands.

[There’s still two more-] he began to argue.

[Ah but,] Grigori asked as he looked across with a grin, [how many were you going to actually throw at her?]

He looked away for a moment. [Eight.]

This made the other agent’s grin wider. [I knew it. Think of it this way, four is as much of a test as eight. Besides, I haven’t seen her in months.]

Magnolia adjusted her footing, and threw Grigori as he put a hand on her shoulder, stamping her foot onto his throat as he touched the ground. She pulled off her blindfold. ‘Good to see you.’

Grigori gestured at his throat, and Magnolia removed her boot. Grigori shifted to a standing position, then quickly kissed her cheek, his hand resting on the small of her back. ‘Good to see you.’

Taylor didn’t bother to look away – he knew they’d been lovers on at least one occasion, whether or not that was a continuing arrangement was their business, so long as it didn’t interfere with duty.

It was also well known, and well accepted that Grigori made advances to everyone of consenting age, collecting lovers like wildflowers.

Grigori took a step back and spread his arms wide. ‘I’m taking the both of you to dinner tonight, but for the moment, I need him alone, with your permission, Aide.’

‘No problem, Agent.’ Magnolia looked to him. ‘If I’m dismissed, sir?’

He nodded, and Magnolia quickly excused herself from the room.

Grigori shifted next to him, and tossed aside his heavy jacket joining him on the bleachers.

‘It’s been months,’ he said, starting the expected conversation.

‘Well,’ Grigori said with a smirk, ‘not like you ever come and visit.’

‘I’m busy here,’ he said.

‘As busy as I am?’ Grigori asked, raising his eyebrows.

He paused for a minute. ‘No.’

Grigori slapped him on the shoulder. ‘Then come visit sometime. For the time being, I’ll need a room?’

He lifted his head. ‘Why?’

‘You know why.’ Grigori squeezed his shoulder. ‘I’m here for you, my friend.’ Grigori opened a hip flask, took a generous drink, then offered it across.

He took it automatically – it was what was expected, but hesitated before drinking. Grigori held his hand for a moment. ‘You look like you need it, Taylor. You haven’t been sleeping, have you?’

His hand moved automatically as Grigori held his hand, his knuckles pressing back against the other agent’s palm in a way that just…fit. Just felt natural. Edges of memory burned in his mind, but failed to give him any insight.

He took a drink, and handed the flask back.

Grigori allowed him a few minutes of silence, before taking away his hand, and placing it on his shoulder instead. ‘Taylor.’

Words. Grigori expected words. Grigori was all about words. He could talk through the end of the world.

‘They’re making another Whitman.’

‘You know what you’re up against this time. Besides, you get to do the limit testing, don’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Want some help with that?’

‘Wouldn’t say no.’

Grigori slapped him on the shoulder, his smile wide. ‘Then say yes!’

‘Yes.’

‘Another drink?’

‘Yes.’