The Auction

07 – The First Spell

Within ten minutes, Sacha’s living room had been transformed. Couches had been dragged out of the way to allow a small stage to be required – one complete with a digital screen background and spotlights.

Snacks and charcuterie had appeared. Hewitt had helped Sacha roll several garment racks full of colourful clothes to one side of the room. On the opposite side of the stage, Magnolia had set up several pairs of mannequins.

The fae man had introduced himself – Caipe – and explained that he was Hewitt’s fiancé.

‘To save you the faux pas,’ Caipe had said, ‘I’m a quokka, so please don’t always assume I’m happy. I have the opposite of resting bitch face.’

Mags finally finished fussing with the mannequins – half of which now had a feather pattern to the fabric, probably to indicate they were to represent her – and moved to stand on the stage. Some automatic bit of programming spun the spotlight to face her.

‘Please, everyone, take a fucking seat.’

Mags gave a basic overview of the situation, but without the usual sharpness that seemed to tinge her words at all other times. And the people in the room were…relaxed. This wasn’t how he was used to people reacting to her. Some of the chill seemed to extend to him as well, as no one was giving him the secret, furtive looks that tended to follow him when he was in a room with multiple recruits.

‘I know how to dress myself. This boy needs help,’ she finished, aiming a finger at him.

‘Go go, queer powers activate,’ Hewitt said and raised a glass of champagne.

Sacha threw a silk robe toward him. ‘Bathroom’s down the hall. Please strip down as far as you’re comfortable.’

Curt caught the flying puddle of cloth, pulled it to his chest, and headed down the right-hand fork of the entry junction, heart thumping like a military drum.

He kicked off his shoes. Shoes and socks. Easy.

The room spun a little.

He laid his Agency phone on the stone washbasin and brought up Parker-2’s contact info. His finger hovered over the message and call buttons for a moment before finally pressing “call”.

‘Is this worth interrupting my beer, O’Connor?’

‘I need a favour. You said I could call in a favour.’

‘You’ve intrigued me. Should I come to you?’

Curt looked at his reflection for a moment and wished he could be anyone else, living any other life. ‘Yeah, Doc, quietly, if you don’t mind.’

The call ended, and a moment later, the air to his right fuzzed just slightly, then Parker-2 appeared. ‘So what can I do for you?’ he asked and laid a half-drunk bottle of beer on the sink.

‘Shortest possible version? A bunch of my peers are about to see me shirtless, and I need-’

‘You’re finally going to let me get rid of those hideous things?’ Two asked, genuine delight in his voice.

Curt shook his head, a slight movement all he could muster. ‘I need them gone temporarily. None of them know- They only know my cover story. I just need them gone for tonight. Is that something you can do?’

‘I can give you a Cinderella spell,’ Two said, his voice gentle. ‘But it doesn’t have to wear off at midnight. Stop making me be sincere, shithead. You know everything I could say. I don’t think you are who those tattoos say you are. I think you’re better than that. I think you think you’re better than that.’

‘Doc, please.’

Two pressed a hand against Curt’s chest, and Curt winced as his skin felt like static for a moment. ‘Back to a pumpkin at midnight. Please, keep it in mind at least.’

Curt picked up the doctor’s beer and handed it to him. ‘Midnight’s good enough.’

‘Shithead,’ Parker-2 said again, but there was love in his voice, and he shifted away.

He looked at himself in the mirror again, stripped down to his boxers, and tried not to feel heartache at seeing unmarred skin on his chest. Tried not to wish it was gone forever. Tried to push everything down, everything away, so that Recruit Curt could get through the gauntlet of…socialising with his peers.

He wrapped the black gown around his body, ran a hand through his hair, and then returned to the impromptu fashion studio.

There were a couple of calls of “woo” as he stepped onto the stage, including one from Mags, who lounged on one of the couches, her legs in Sacha’s lap.

‘The problem is, where to begin?’ Sacha said, looking between Curt and the racks of clothes that had been wheeled in. ‘You’re far too pale to make most of my better pieces look good.’

‘There’s some stuff that can work,’ Caipe said from behind one of the garment racks. ‘Judging the tone is going to be hard, though.’ Caipe pulled a purple shirt off the rack. ‘I’m going to see my parents next week. Can I borrow this?’

‘Always, darling,’ Sacha said. ‘Keep it. My parents hated it.’


Sacha pushed Magnolia’s legs off his. ‘Permission to…fuck about?’ he asked, stepping onto the stage.

‘Ya-yeah, sure,’ Curt said and dropped the robe to the ground to make things easier.

‘You said it was a triad of invites? If that’s the case, they’re really expecting one guest and two members of his entourage. Security, accountant, keeper of catalogues and treasures, retainers like that. My parents tend to take security and someone they want to impress.’

Sacha was tall, gorgeous, and usually looked like he had come from a fashion shoot, but Curt had never read “fae” on him. Nor had he ever seen Sacha ever do any magic, except what the tech did with his makeup.

It was usually silver or gold, eyeshadow, eyeliner, shimmer, all of which looked absolutely stunning on Sacha’s deep brown skin. And when paired with the recruit’s usually femme-leaning clothes, he tended to stand out as the best-dressed recruit that Brisbane was ever likely to have.

‘Your parents are fae?’

Sacha narrowed his eyes and wiggled his hand back and forth. ‘There’s stuff generations back, but more that we’ve always had good relations with Faerie.’ He stepped off the stage, walked behind it, and returned with a framed magazine cover – showing a couple that had to be his parents – standing over the model of a fancy boat. ‘They’re the heads of Prachtvoll Sailing, watercraft for the one per cent and beyond. Lots of old money families have at least some awareness of Faerie. People are too ambitious to leave an entire plane unexplored.’

Curt looked from the frame to Sacha and back. ‘If they’re rich-’

‘I’m hideously wealthy, yes,’ Sacha said, then offered a shirt brought up to the stage by Caipe. ‘I could sit on my arse and eat grapes all day, but I wanted to do something different. Took a gap year. Took a…few gap years. Travelled. I decided I wanted to try the Agency, wanted the Gold Coast. Jonesy gave me a better offer, and I can still surf whenever I want.’

‘It’s still genuinely weird to come across a recruit that doesn’t have a sad backstory,’ Mags said, now sharing a couch with Hewitt, a half-demolished cheese platter sitting between them. ‘Yet the longest-serving recruit we have is some gorgeous idiot who just walked in and said, “hire me”.’

‘I’ll take gorgeous. I object to idiot.’

‘I’m not going to start the “most recruits need therapy” conversation again,’ Caipe said as he stepped onto the stage, three pairs of pants slung over his arm. ‘But most recruits need therapy.’

‘Love,’ Hewitt said, ‘let people come to it in their own time.’ Caipe made a “hrmph” noise and returned to the garment hangers.

‘No,’ Sacha said, pointing at the shirt. ‘Wrong vibe. Put it in the discard pile.’

Curt dutifully obeyed and accepted the first pair of pants to try.

‘We should avoid making you look too rich. We don’t have the budget for these people’s expectations, but we can make you reasonable. It’s not a crime to share canapes with proxy bidders. Hm. No. Try the next pair.’

‘Can someone explain to my dumb ass why going in uniform isn’t a good idea?’ Hewitt said. ‘They’ll know you’re Agency.’

‘Oh,’ Sacha said. ‘You haven’t met Carmichel, have you? I mean, it’s more than that, but…’

‘We go in uniform,’ Mags said, ‘we’ll get dismissed as arm candy. Security guarantees a payout if we get merc’d. It doesn’t guarantee our safety. The more under the radar, the better.’

Caipe snapped his fingers, left the garment racks, poured himself a glass of champagne, and then sat on one of the empty couches. ‘I’m thinking,’ he said as he scrolled through his phone, ‘about this production we did.’ He lifted his head to look at Curt. ‘My degree’s in theatre and costume design. That’s why I get to be a member of the fashion Avengers.’ More scrolling. ‘We had to do- Shae wrote those five pseudo-historical plays, you know, Madhe’s son, we had to-’ More scrolling. ‘I can’t think and talk at the same time. Fuck. We had to do all of them but put our own spin on each. Like how The Lion King is Hamlet, kind of thing. So we took a prince character, made him a- Here!’ He waved his phone around, then bounced over to one of the mannequins, and a coat appeared.

The phrase “Harvard Business Pirate” immediately jumped into his head as he looked at it. The fabric was suiting, but white, rather than black or grey; the lines were definitely fae in that way where even normal clothes like T-shirts and jackets looked just a little off from what you’d expect; the buttons and closures looked like pirate cosplay jackets.

‘One of my classmates found the design in an old pattern box, then refined it a bit, and changed the fabric. It’s clearly custom, so no one is going to come for you for not wearing this season’s Mit or Yo.’

‘Ryan doesn’t even know who Yo is,’ Mags said, three cubes of cheese held precariously between thumb and forefinger. ‘So there go my fucking dreams.’ Each cube was popped into her mouth like she was loading bullets into a magazine.

Caipe walked onto the stage and pointed to the pair of pants Sacha was still holding. ‘With those pants. And some sort of plain top. Designer if we can.’

Sacha handed the pants to Curt and then inspected the garment racks. ‘The evergreen range from Sibi, one of the shirts from that should do.’

Within a couple of minutes, he was wearing the full outfit, to the approval of his team of fashion godparents.

‘Okay, okay, out of it,’ Sacha said when the comments had died down. ‘The shirt is fine, but I’ll get the pants tailored. The Director might not stretch for Yo, but he can find the money to reimburse me for some pants.’ Sacha winked at Curt. ‘And you can own something fashionable.’

‘Thanks,’ Curt said, then quickly stripped out of the clothes, handing each piece to Caipe.

When he was down to his boxers again, he required himself into casual clothes. He switched places with Magnolia, who stepped onto the stage, her first outfit appearing on her body as the spotlight swung to her.

He picked at some of the cheese left on the board and tried to relax, trying to imagine what this would feel like if he was just another recruit, not someone dragging an airport’s worth of baggage.

So, he stayed silent and played pretend.

Magnolia spun from one dress to the next, from something structured to a ball gown with a V-neck so deep it exposed her belly button.

With both outfits decided, he went to the bathroom to retrieve his phones and snapped photos with his Genie phone to send to Carmichel.

‘Yoink!’ Caipe shouted, hand hovering near his phone. ‘Permission to yoink?’

Curt quickly locked the phone and handed it over. ‘Sure?’

‘This was the colour I wanted,’ Caipe said, brandishing the phone at Hewitt. ‘But after the first production run, they decided to gate it to hit with the next big software release. Did you get this day one, or scalp it?’

‘Technically,’ Hewitt said as he refreshed his and Sacha’s glasses of champagne, ‘you can do both.’

‘Okay, did you one, the other, or both it?’

And the tiny bubble where he could be Joe Recruit burst, and he was back to compartmentalising what he could tell people and still be safe.

‘Neither…none?’ he said. ‘Carmichel gets them in bulk for business purposes. He gave me one to repay a favour.’ It sounded casual, sounded plausible. Shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a casual gift.

‘Luuucky,’ Caipe said with a pout that looked entirely out of place and handed the phone back.

His phone buzzed, a text from Carmichel showing a thumbs-up. ‘Outfits approved,’ he said. ‘Thank you for your help. I’ll get out of your way.’

‘Those pants will be ready by tomorrow night,’ Sacha said. ‘I’ll send you a message on Vox.’


He nodded his goodbyes and headed for the door, a strong hand catching him by the arm as he passed the plinth.

‘No one is kicking you out,’ Mags said.

‘I know I’m intruding,’ he said, keeping his voice down.

‘You do this to yourself, you know. The martyr thing. It’s not sexy. I know who you are. I know what you are. Have done since before you stepped foot in my Agency. I’d still trust you to have my back. I volunteered for this, O’Connor, because I’m happy to be in danger if I know you’re backing me up.’

‘I know I’m useful, Mags. I just don’t-’

‘Shut up when I’m talking to you. These people,’ she said, with a motion back toward the living room, ‘are my friends. My family. I wouldn’t let you around them like this if I didn’t think you could get past this…fucking video game protagonist aura you have. You could have friends. Even with the shit you’ve done. Just-’ She sighed, and he felt the disappointment rolling off her. She leaned in and gave him a peck on the cheek. ‘Not tonight, but maybe, next time… don’t run at the first chance? Offer to buy a round. Tag along to the pub. You’re a recruit. You’re going to die young, don’t be fucking miserable the entire time you’ve got left.’ With that, she spun and walked back toward her friends.

He pressed a hand to his cheek, feeling the fading warmth of her lips, and headed back to his quarters, needing to make it home before the spell broke, and he became a pumpkin again.


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