Ryan’s body hit the blue like a corpse.
Despite himself, despite the numerous windows – both in his HUD and on the screens around him – telling him that the Director was still alive, Jones held his breath.
The recovery tank was large – seven feet on each side and seven feet tall. Large enough for every standard agent to lay horizontal and spread their arms, taking in the peace and fulfilment that always came when fully submerged in blue.
Blood spiralled away from Ryan’s body, riding the eddies towards the surface, before disappearing as the cleaning systems filtered it out.
Unique amongst the agents in Queen Street, he was the only one to have only known Ryan as Director. The others still tended to think “Reynolds” when the title “Director” was brought up. And while Reynolds, by all accounts, had been a good man, Jones didn’t feel cheated for not knowing the original man in charge.
Ryan wasn’t perfect, but in many ways, that was probably for the best.
He saw Ryan move his hand, fingers flexing as the Director slowly brought his hand to his mouth. Deliberate action. Always a good sign. Jones released a breath he’d been holding since Taylor left the room, BDU jacket still covered in Ryan’s blood.
He sighed – there were sadly apparent reasons why the rumours continued to circulate that Taylor subsisted on raw meat. Or recruits too slow to escape his grasp.
In the tank, Ryan spasmed with silent coughs, causing bubbles of and more spirals of blood in the blue.
The damage was extensive, but his job would come after automatic systems had stabilised Ryan. It took time – and given the extent of the corrupted blue that his screens were reporting, it would take a while until he would feel safe bringing the Director out for more direct action.
He placed his hand on the closest glass wall of the recovery tank. [Just rest, sir.]
Ryan rolled slightly in the thick liquid, met his gaze, then closed his eyes and sank towards the bottom of the tank, heading into the rest that was somewhere between sleep and a coma.
There wouldn’t be dreams, there were never be dreams, but there would be peace.
He let his hand rest against the cold glass for another moment, then set up a ping to alert him when the Director was ready for direct assistance. After one more moment, he moved from the backroom that contained the recovery tank and the associated equipment, to the larger lab that was for all purposes, his office.
He had a moment of quiet before being set upon by a wraith, the creature’s long floppy white arms spinning and twirling, obscuring its real shape before it tripped and fell to the floor.
Jones smiled, bent, and scooped up his son and his oversized lab coat. ‘You need to tie your shoelaces, darling,’ he said and required the laces into perfect double-knotted bows.
Merlin crawled into his lap as Jones settled at his main computer, the boy’s messy hair bumping against his chin as he began to go through the Director’s scans. There was a set way recovery had to run – analyses programs and stability protocols, a barrage of tests and tweaks that Ryan would need to make a full recovery.
He tried to order his thoughts – Merlin’s mind-reading was something that they had yet to find an off-switch for, and disorganisation could stress out his son.
Merlin picked up surface thoughts and emotions as quickly as someone could pick out broadly-sketched emotions on a face. He wasn’t prying, he just couldn’t help it.
But the fact that his son was in full happy-arms-flapping mode meant that he was having a good day. Albeit a day that had been tempered with a few tense moments while the rescue operation had been in progress. Their people were home, so Merlin was free to go back to the carefree joy that was an all-too-rare experience.
People who didn’t know Merlin saw a weird, but happy child. The recruits in his department saw deeper, as they spent more time around Merlin, seeing that he could often be melancholy. Only he – and, he had to admit to his chagrin, Magnolia – saw the utter depths of despair that the boy could spiral into.
Merlin’s biological progenitors – people unfit to ever wear any title approaching that of “parent” had created the child through a mix of magics – old and new; and along with experimentation and augmentation during the pregnancy, and in the moments just after his birth.
He still didn’t know the extent of exactly what his son was, or what he could do. The mind-reading was dangerous enough, as it was a rare gift amongst the fae – something that was slowly going extinct. The Agency tended to dissociate from anyone who had such power – for fear of security leaks, or it being used against them.
Other abilities, such as Merlin’s tendency to walk through walls, were gifts to keep quiet at all costs.
As loyal as he was, as well as he followed his Duty, he still knew the Agency would rip Merlin from his arms to dig deeper and understand every strange quirk of the child.
And that was something he’d never allow.
It was an inevitability, he was sure of it, but every moment that he could delay it was a moment he treasured.
And all of that was the crux of the issue with Magnolia.
Magnolia had been in the team that had saved Merlin from his parents. Though, to this day, he was still unsure how much luck they’d had with the rescue had been carelessness on the part of Merlin’s progenitors; and how much had been them allowing the Agency to take him.
Magnolia had been the first face Merlin had seen that had belonged to someone who didn’t want to hurt him. And that had grown into a fierce kind of hero-worship. They treated each other as siblings – Merlin bringing out that gentle side of Mags that only seemed to be present around Techs.
But Magnolia’s loyalty was to Taylor. And he had no doubt that if Taylor knew that they had a “threat” like Merlin under their roof, that agents from Central would appear and revoke Merlin’s ward status. They’d take his son, and lock him away forever.
Merlin twisted and blew a cool breath into his face. ‘Bad thoughts away, mama.’
Mama. The title still made his heart crack a little each time it was used.
Children had never seemed to be on the board for him – despite them being a common-enough occurrence for agents – something backed up by his own Agency and its associated Outposts. Ryan had fathered a child while married. Applebaum had a collection of children, stating that when you neared two hundred, it was impossible not to. Darren had seven children. And countless others in their network had also procured children in one way or another.
He was young, with a demanding job, so children had been put on a To-Do list and forgotten about, until an orphaned child had crawled into his lap and wept for a day, feeling safe for the first time in his life.
People could believe in love at first sight – in knowing with a single glance that you wanted to pursue a romantic relationship with the object of your affection.
What people found harder to fathom was the same could be true of paternal love – that sometimes you looked at an abandoned child and knew, deep in your code, deep in your soul, that they were yours. You found yourself wanting to plan what to get for their birthday, how to decorate their room, and what silly shapes you would cut their sandwiches into.
He’d become a parent overnight – even if the paperwork had taken considerably longer.
And now, he was “mama” – a title he wore with pride, no matter what gender he was presenting as. It was a title borne of love, and luckily outside of the very few things that triggered his dysphoria.
Merlin pointed towards the live feed of the recovery tank. ‘He’s thinking about stories.’
Two clicks switched the feed to his central monitor and maximised it.
‘What kind of stories, little one?’
‘The kind you tell me.’
Jones looked from his son, to his Director, and smiled.
In a perfect world, in an ideal Agency, Ryan should have played a paternal role for him – that was how it went. Older agents became parents to younger ones. Reynolds had been a father to both Ryan and Taylor, and according to stories from people who’d been there, Ryan and Taylor had been as close as brothers once.
And now they barely exchanged ten words a week.
Reynolds’ absence had been the beginning of the breakdown of the family structure in their Agency. Reynolds was gone. Samuels – his predecessor – had either been murdered or fallen in such a way that left no tracks. Taylor had died, and what had been resurrected was nothing like the man they’d lost.
The expected, built-in, family structure had never been there for him. Instead, he had built a family with his recruits – albeit one mostly at arm’s length, but there were few things that he wouldn’t do for his recruits.
For Merlin though – well, there was nothing a parent wouldn’t do for a child.
And now it seemed that he wasn’t the only one who might have accidentally found a stray that needed to become family.
He dove into a menu on his HUD, and looked up the status for Ryan’s new recruit – the small icon beside her name indicated the surgery was still ongoing. Ongoing was better than nothing – but as good as the Parkers were, sometimes they lost patients. With Ryan unconscious, there was no way to get permission to augment if her injuries warranted such drastic action.
There were more subtle ways to ensure a happy ending.
Jones rested his head against Merlin’s. ‘If the Parkers need some luck,’ he said, couching his words carefully, ‘send some their way. We want to make sure he can finish telling the story.’