November 20th

Stef was still in the tank of blue that wasn’t usually a fixture of Jones’ office. He watched her for a moment, glad that she was safe, happy, that she’d have a life.

Ryan lifted his head, and saw Jones watching him from his desk. He walked to his tech agent, and placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘Jones, I need to ask another favour of you.’

‘Anything, sir,’ Jones said.

Ryan sighed. There was nothing he could do to avoid his fate now. Nothing he could argue. The Agency had given him enough second chances, and so many chances to prove he was the model agent.

And Taylor opening Carol’s oubliette inside an Agency had signed his death warrant.

‘I need you to look after her.’ He tried to smile. ‘You’re already a parent, you know what a child needs. I’d appreciate it. I think she needs someone. And I can’t-’

‘Sir,’ Jones said, breaking into his resigned speech. ‘Why are you talking like you’re going somewhere?’

Ryan laughed mirthlessly. ‘Because I just opened Carol’s oubliette in the agency; there’s no way that-‘

‘Sir, there’s no need to worry about that.’ Jones was smiling.

Ryan stared at his tech. ‘Jones, what did you do?’

Jones gave him a smile. ‘It’s amazing what data can escape the agency’s notice during a routine scan.’

Ryan stepped forward, and embraced the tech agent, then briefly rested his forehead against Jones’. ‘Thank you, my friend.’

Jones smiled. ‘You’re welcome, sir.’

There was a tapping sound, and he turned to see Stef – still in the tank of blue – waving at him. She kicked her feet and surface. ‘I’m not ready to get out just yet,’ she said. ‘I know I’ll turn pruny.’ Her words were light, but it was obvious – and understandable – that she’d been crying. ‘But it feels safe in there.’

Ryan walked up the step ladder next to the tank so that he could be eye-level with his little girl. ‘For a lot of agents,’ he said, smoothing out her blue-mussed hair. ‘It’s as close as we can get to something akin to returning to the womb. In blue, we are surrounded by that which creates us, and sustains us. It’s refreshing, it’s natural and it’s safe.’

Stef leaned forward, and pressed her wet head against his vest. ‘What happens from here?’ she said. ‘What- What’d you do to him?’

‘For the moment,’ Ryan said, still double-guessing his decision. ‘Nothing. You can hate me for the decision, but- I have always felt that I owed him. I was- Carol killed him, and I have felt that guilt for almost as long as you’ve been alive. I value you- I love you, Stef, but I feel as though- This somehow balances things. I will give him no more second chances. He won’t try something like this again. If he does, I’ll escort him to his execution.’

Stef looked at him, blue-grey eyes seeming to stare into him for a long moment. ‘Are you happy with that decision? Is that- Is that how you want to play it? Call it even, and- And hope for the best?’

He nodded, holding his breath, waiting for her anger, for her reproach and-

‘I accept that,’ she said. ‘I mean- He- I’m going to be scared of him. For a long time. For forever. But- But I trust you. Your decisions.’ She pressed herself against the tank, and gave him an awkward hug. ‘But I am totally sleeping in here tonight.’

He kissed the top of head. ‘Get some rest, sweetheart, tomorrow is going to be wonderful.’

She smiled at him, then slipped back into the blue.

Ryan stepped down off the step ladder, and found Jones pointing at a corner of the lab. ‘You need your rest as well, sir,’ he said, his point aimed at a couch that wasn’t usually in the lab. ‘I understanding needing to be close to your child, so please, sleep here tonight. I’ve got work I can do elsewhere.’

Ryan gripped Jones’ shoulder, mumbled a thanks, and walked towards the couch, requiring away his jacket and vest as he did so.

He was tired – far more tired than he should have been, and sleep sounded like such a good idea.

He laid down on the couch, rolled his head to check on Stef once more, then closed his eyes, and initiated a sleep cycle.