It never failed to impress Stef how much of a difference half an hour could make. Five minutes in a tank of blue to get the major damage dealt with, so that Jonesy only had to do the finicky bits.
Five more minutes in the tank, because there was something so totally, inescapably peaceful about floating in blue – aside from the inherent coolness of being submerged in liquid and being able to breathe.
Ten minutes to get a clean bill of health from Jones.
Five minutes to quietly collect herself, and to find her boyfriend and give him a hug – with a promise of why the hug was absolutely necessary later, when he wasn’t so busy.
And five minutes to slowly walk to her dad’s office.
Words had power. You would have to be an idiot to think that words didn’t have power. And synonyms could be so weird. One version of a word could lead to bad, whilst another could be good.
Bad: father. Good: dad.
“Father’s office” brought up the image and memories of a gorgeous, wood-panelled room, a desk covered in textbooks, and high-backed chairs – one of which always had a newspaper in it. Her father’s office had been a place of- A place she hadn’t been allowed to go. A place she would sneak into when the only other people home were the staff. It was worth the thunderous yelling to get a look at some of the books in there – encyclopedias and books on space, or books on medicine and the world. Knowledge, unlike the books in her room – which were far more on the fairy tale end of the scale.
It had been a place to avoid – a room that, when occupied by her father, she would go to the other end of the house to use the south staircase, rather than sneak past.
“Dad’s office” on the other hand – Ryan’s office – was her favourite room in their Agency. A place where they could talk about the important and the trivial. Where she could cry. Where- Where she had first felt like she had a home.
And no matter how many times he said she was welcome, part of her needed to knock. Sometimes, she could overcome the need to know if she was truly welcome. The rest of the time, she knocked, and waited to be rejected.
And almost immediately, the door opened, and she was enveloped in a force-five dad!hug.
When he finally released her, she followed him into his office, and they took up their usual positions on his couch – Ryan, sitting sensibly like an adult; she…not so much like an adult.
‘I’ll never get used to people I love being hurt,’ Ryan said. ‘A lot of agents my age grow accustomed to it, are able to-’ He shook his head. ‘Not me. I’m glad you’re safe.’
‘They-’ her voice cracked, ‘they cut it a bit close. But I’m okay. Blue does a body good.’
‘You-’ he reached out and squeezed her hand. ‘From the chatter. You hid yourself rather well. Blackout zone. They couldn’t scan for you.’
‘Hiding was the best option,’ she said. ‘I made sure I didn’t drip. Didn’t want any Solstice shitheads to follow. But-’ She shook her head. ‘I’m okay. I’m really okay. But- But- Dad, can I ask you something?’
‘The ice cream shop. You know.’ He nodded. ‘It was bad. You told me it was bad.’ Part of her felt stupid for asking. For digging. It almost seemed- She shook her hands, almost as a defence. ‘I’m crazy. I know I’m crazy. But-’
He wasn’t judging her. He never judged her.
‘When you were there. When we were there. Did you see anything? Like- Hallucinate?’
‘Not that time,’ he said easily. ‘But- On another occasion, when I was dying. Trying to save myself. I saw things that I know weren’t truly there.’ He gave a strange smile. ‘In a way, it was almost a comfort. Images from my mind, from my memory, trying to make my last moments easier.’ He looked to her. ‘What did you see?’
There were tears shining in his eyes. ‘I hope I was of help.’
She gave a weak, wobbling nod. ‘I’m glad that I got to see the real you again, though.’
‘As am I, sweetheart.’ He hesitated for a moment. ‘I know that Taylor saw Reynolds once, when he was close to death. Perhaps there is some quirk in our code that gives us visions of a parent, the comfort of someone who is always there to make it better.’
There was- ‘You didn’t see him?’
‘I didn’t,’ Ryan said sadly. ‘My relationship with him was always more complex than Taylor’s.’ He exhaled a short breath through his nose. ‘I feel that the next time I am such a position, that it may you I see, Stef. And if that is so, I will be happy.’ He stood, stepped closer, than leaned down and kissed her head. ‘I will always be grateful that you came into my life.’ He ruffled her hair. ‘Shall we take a walk? It’s a lovely day out, and- And it is a good day to be alive.’
She stood, went up onto tiptoes and kissed his cheek. ‘I’d love to, dad.’