34 – The Shape of Stories

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Each of the Major Courts had their own aesthetic – though its degree of prevalence varied from court to court.

At least in their forward-facing areas, the Liars had a cool, minimalist look even more simple than that of most agencies.

The Mad had their contrary looks in all aspects of their world – from the mismatched fabrics worn by their queen; to the clashing art in their waiting rooms.

The Lost… weren’t at all what he had expected.

Ryan tried to settle into the square-shaped chair. He knew he had limited exposure to the human world – but the Lost’s waiting room reminded him of a slightly tired doctor’s office.

There was heart here – touches of the personal behind the desk – drawings from children, old birthday cards buried under more mundane papers on corkboards.

It was a space that the people who frequented it had grown used to – and he wished he didn’t almost feel alienated by its comfort.

There were posters on the public side of the desk – some were informative, others were for various businesses – and it took a while to figure out what the companies had in common.

And it took a moment to figure out that there were two groups – the first were simply the companies that donated to the Lost. The second group – smaller in number but held in more reverence – were the companies that had owners, board members or other employees of note – that had been charges of the Lost. Children, abused and neglected, that had risen high.

A shadow appeared on the other side of a sliding frosted door – a truly magnificent silhouette, but an unexpected one.

The door slid open, and a pirate stepped through. A captain, to be more accurate.

Clad in crushed green velvet, Hook crossed into the waiting room and offered his hand. ‘I’m sorry for making you wait, Agent.’

‘It’s not a problem,’ Ryan said as he rose and shook the man’s hand. ‘Thank you for taking the time to see me.’

‘Before we go any further,’ Hook said. ‘Is she here?’

Ryan shook his head. ‘No. No, I- She won’t be joining us.’

A little sadness joined Hook’s expression before he swept his arm toward the sliding door. ‘I’ve reserved us a room to speak.’ Hook then thanked the receptionist before guiding him down a hall that very much matched the aesthetic of the waiting room – functional, if a little tired.

‘I have to say I was surprised,’ Hook said as they settled into the small meeting room. ‘It’s rare that we get any follow up after we cease seeing our charges. The ability to be forgotten so easily is a blessing and a curse in that regard. I know your people have a similar thought process on fading into the background when it comes to the greater world, even if you don’t take it as far as my Court does.’

Thankfully, he’d never had much to do with the Lost – but this was something he was peripherally aware of – that in order to best serve their wards, the Lost artificially aged the memories of their play sessions. That children could experience playing with a fairy tale, then grow up believing it was nothing more than their imagination.

‘It’s occasionally been discussed as an option,’ he said, ‘but it’s far above my rank. I think anonymity serves us best for the most part, with deliberate deletion when it’s called for.’

‘True,’ Hook agreed. ‘Now, please, how can I help?’

‘Your former charge is one of my recruits.’ He paused. It was an accurate sentence, but one that felt so cold – and this situation called for as much honesty as he could manage. ‘More. More than just one of my recruits. I love her like she’s my own, sir. I don’t know much, but what I know of her family life is that it wasn’t a very happy one – an assertion very much backed up by the fact that I’m speaking with you.’

‘A lack of love is what it can be mostly boiled down to. She was an ornament that didn’t fit and was very much put away in the moments when she wasn’t wanted. It’s a story as old as parents and their children, unfortunately. Often, it’s not enough to put a case on our radar, as our resources are far too limited for what we need to do. But…do you want to know how I met her, Agent?’

Ryan nodded.

‘One of our people was having lunch, minding his own business, when he saw a little girl sitting by herself. Four or five, far too young to be without a closely watching guardian…but as he kept eating his lunch, he saw that none of the adults in the area were giving her more than a first glance. Someone, some inattentive bastard, had forgotten he was minding his child and left her alone in one of the busiest parks in London.’

‘How could-?’

‘Anything is easy when you don’t love your child, Agent.’ Hook took off his ostentatious hat and laid it aside. ‘So our man called for backup, I was available, and went running. We do this a lot – one-off encounters where we’re forestalling something worse happening. A child alone? It would take seconds for that situation to turn into something horrible beyond words. She was reading a book, so that made the form I took easy. I’ve done this – as the young say – gig before, so I knew the vernacular to use and the references to make. And I simply guarded her until her family finally found her. In those few hours, though… I’d already decided to add her to my list of wards. She’s an easy child to love, even if her parents didn’t see it that way.’

‘She truly is.’

Hook stared at the back of his hook for a moment. ‘What aren’t you telling me? Why are you here?’

‘I would ask you to accept some things I’m going to say without asking for more detail.’

‘Yes, yes, I know what the Agency is like.’

‘She was injured. Right now- To be hopeful, we’re calling the state comatose. She’s presenting aspects, but we don’t know when – if – she’s going to wake up. I have to hope she will, so I am trying – when she comes back, wakes up, whatever terminology you would wish to use, I want to be the best father I can be. I want to know what I can.’

Hook stood, walked to a small sideboard, poured two glasses of wine, slowly drained one, refiled the glass, and returned to the table.

‘That’s a lot to take in, young man.’ Ryan tilted his head at the epithet, but Hook simply flashed a brittle smile. ‘Oh, I’m much older than you, agent; it’s so easy to see.’

Hook slid one of the wine glasses towards him. ‘My job is one that calls for a lot of grief. You never become numb to it. I’ve sat by so many bedsides, just waiting to have hope again. It’s been so very long since I’ve said a prayer into the darkness, so I recite stories and hope because at least sometimes stories have a happy ending.’

Silence took the room for a long few moments.

‘Magic isn’t magic once you’re on this side of the curtain,’ Hook said. ‘Magic is as plain as anything else. It’s air, it’s water, it’s breath, it’s blood. It’s as ordinary as electricity and doesn’t usually shape the world. Otherwise, we’d be nothing more than words on a page, nothing more than the mask I’m wearing,’ he said, indicating his pirate costume.

‘There are exceptions sometimes,’ Hook continued. ‘And it is generally when the higher orders of magic are involved. The cruelty of Time makes for tragic tales. Death gives every story an ending. And mirror magic has rewritten the future for the fairies on such a scale it sounds like nothing short of a myth each time one of the histories are recited.’

‘I’m not sure if it’s some remnant of Chaos left weaving in and out, some sense of how what a good story sounds like very occasionally touching the world, but-’

‘I-’ Ryan. ‘I never-’

‘Have you ever had unicorn wine, young man?’

‘Yes.’

‘So you know that temporary ability to see the traces of magic, the trails and shimmers and sparkles that fade along with the hangover? Some of us don’t need vanishingly rare wine to see, and there are touches of mirror magic on you. That, and there are very few things that can make a person split into their aspects. My charge, your recruit, something shiny has stolen her away, hasn’t it?’

Reluctantly, he nodded.

‘So right now, I want to place my hope in the shape of stories. I don’t doubt that you could tell me today’s date, but could you tell me what happens in a couple of weeks?’

Ryan paused for a moment, immediately running through local and fae holidays, before stopping and reconsidering the direct, logical, detached train of thought. This wouldn’t be something so…distant.

‘Her birthday,’ he said.

‘When someone reforms through their aspects, I’ve always known it to be a transformative experience. A…rebirth. I would think that Chaos’ sense of the shape of things would mark this as a good date to expect something.’

‘Do you have any suggestions for presents?’ he asked.

The pirate’s eyes sparkled. ‘I may have a few ideas.’

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See you next time, Recruit.

33 - Domestic Bliss
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