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01 - A Last Breath
Ryan let his gaze linger on the living Stef and her own injured agent for a minute longer before he started on the inevitable walk.
He ached, blood dripped down his face and his uniform was out of sorts – but every worry that presented itself quietly disappeared under the weight of one undeniable fact.
He had failed her.
He’d made a promise. To protect her. To teach her. To guide her in a world she knew nothing about.
To be her father.
It had been his chance as well – to get to be a father to someone who didn’t seem to abhor his presence, who didn’t reject him for the simple crime of not being human.
To get to be the father he had never been for Alexander.
And for the briefest of moments, it had been a bright spot in a life that had been grey for so long.
He weaved his way through the shelves, back to where the mezzanine platform had fallen.
To where he’d left her body.
He wiped at tears and flinched as he saw her blood on his fingers.
His fault. His mistake. His choice.
It had been against duty to bring her, against even rational thought...and he had brought her anyway. It had been a chance. He had thought it had been a chance. A chance for her to show that she was trying. A chance to include her.
A choice that had stripped her of her life.
He slowly pulled the rest of the rubble from her body, making every effort not to look at what was left of her face. He took his jacket off and laid it across her body, hiding the mess that was her head from the world. It was the least he could do, it was the only thing he could do. When the blackout dropped, he could shift her back, when it dropped, he could make plans to put her in the ground, where she’d be forgotten about by everyone but him.
He sat on the hard floor and held her hand, just as he’d done in the infirmary, just as he would have done every time she would have needed it.
Desire rose in his chest – the need to make things right, to correct his mistake.
To have another chance.
She was gone.
She was gone and Death hadn’t presented herself – there was no little girl to carry home from Limbo this time.
There was, however, the little girl he had already carried home from Limbo.
The half-formed thought that had been bubbling in his mind since he’d seen the blood, since his hand had gone straight through the other Stef, finally presented itself. Her soul was gone, and there was nothing he could do for her quietly cooling body.
There was something he could do...even if it wasn’t for the her he had just failed. Another chance to protect her, another chance to put things right.
Wishes were dangerous, but wishes could put right wrong that nothing else could.
Arguments of duty and protocol rose, but he pushed them all aside. It was an easy decision.
It was almost an easy decision.
What the Agency didn’t know, couldn’t hurt it.
He lifted the hacker girl’s hand and gently kissed it. ‘I’m sorry Stef. I’ll put this right.’
He stood and straightened his chest, felt for his gun in his holster, then turned to the stairs. They were surprisingly intact considering the rest of the building. Nonetheless, he made the climb safely.
He walked out onto the roof and took a grateful breath of fresh, clear air.
It was all that was required to shake a sob loose.
Losing people was easy – he had lost so many he should have been adept at it by now. Friends, lovers, family, Reynolds.
It should have been easy to lose a recruit. It would have been easy to lose a regular recruit. Recruits came with distance, with professional relationships first, then a personal relationship later, if at all.
They were, in all practical senses, strangers. One two-decades-old memory didn’t change that. Logically it meant nothing, other than a chance meeting.
They were, in all practical senses, family.
He pulled his gun, and shot the mirror without another thought.
He raised his arm to shield himself from the explosion, and felt the weakness in his body as the released magic swelled through his system and overwhelmed him.
He let his arm drop to his side and looked at the ground – there was a smattering of pieces that would surely be big enough for his purposes. He felt duty pulling on him, but managed to push it aside – there were some benefits of age.
And some things were simply more important than duty.
He bent his knees and scooped up a large triangular shard.
He did his best to clear his mind, and keep away thoughts that could be construed as wishes.
The wind died away. All sound disappeared.
The temperature plummeted and he dropped to his knees, hugging his arms around himself to retain some small semblance of warmth in his body.
His countdown timer started, and he sprawled onto his back, gasping for air.
He could feel himself dying. Puffs of cold breath curled in the air in front of him – his last remnants of oxygen.
‘I am,’ he gasped, swallowing nothingness like a fish on dry land.