Steel walked slowly down the corridor, his mind as empty as his heart. What had started as a slight inconvenience was now a burden that stooped his shoulders and gnawed at his gut. He'd just come back from his most recent assignment with Garnet. It had gone badly as had the others. Unlike the others, she had no instinctive sense of the job. She'd very nearly gotten them both permanently trapped in a less-than-attractive piece of statuary. A last second act of desperation freed them, but Steel was finished with her.
Upon their return, he'd gone directly back to the Assignment Room and gave a somber and definite ultimatum. He went out alone or another Element, but he would not go back out with Garnet. He ruled her incapable and incompetent. To his enormous relief and considerable surprise, they agreed with him.
Her career with them was over. Another would be brought forward, but Steel had little time or patience for it. He didn't want to train a new agent. He wanted Sapphire back.
He stopped before her door and mentally reached out to her, but only a now sadly familiar silence answered him. Steel placed a hand on the door and tried again, but nothing.
It had been four months since Steel had seen his former partner. Every time he tried before this, h'ed been immediately called back to the Assignment Room and sent out. The Assignments had been petty and bothersome, well, except for the last one. That one turned out to be a bit more complicated than it seemed.
The door moved beneath his hand and Steel jumped, startled. Without wasting a second, he stepped through it, not willing to give Them a chance to catch him before.
"Sapphire?" His voice nearly trembled saying her name. He clamped down on his emotions and looked around the room.
"Steel!" Sapphire came out of a secondary room and Steel's mouth dropped.
"Sapphire, what's happened to you?" Her slender silhouette was no more. It was swollen almost to indescribable proportions.
To his amazement, Sapphire laughed. "Surely you've seen a pregnant woman before, Steel."
"Pregnant?" The word sounded foreign to him. "How? I don't mean how. I'm aware of the mechanics, but you and I are incapable. Who?"
"Only you, Steel." Sapphire rested a hand on her swollen stomach. "Do you remember when They decided to discipline us by making us human?"
"Painfully so upon occasion."
"It wasn't a punishment." She leveraged herself down on to a chair. "You and I apparently have a great role to play in the future of this Agency. Without us realizing it, of course."
"Why do you say that?" Steel pulled up a chair and sat, studying her.
"You and I, we were both… advanced. You were re-forged by Pele as was I when we next joined."
"It was part of Their plan, Steel. We are the next wave of defense against the impending war."
"What war? I know of no war."
"The one They fear from the Transuranics."
"We defeated the Tranuranics."
"Barely and at a tremendous cost. Diamond may never fully recover. They live in fear of the next attempt and They decided a new approach needed to be attempted." She paused and ran a hand over her stomach, her eyes closed.
"Are you in pain?" Steel placed a hand on her shoulder.
"The child… moves. It is an odd sensation." She took his hand and repositioned it on her, smiling as his eyes widened and he yanked his hand away.
"Can you communicate with it? Is that why we are no longer mentally connected?" He was confused.
"No, They felt it safer if I temporarily surrendered my abilities as I was human when it was conceived."
"Why do They think this child will be any different than any other?"
"I don't know. I suspect it is a desperate hope on Their part. They are hoping that the child will inherit the best of our advanced specialties."
"And your hope?"
"I will be thankful if it is healthy and thankful to be able to assume my spot at your side as your partner again once it arrives."
"They will not insist upon your presence here with the upbringing?"
"They say no, but…"
"Then I shall stay as well."
" Sapphire, I am tired of going out on assignments with ill-prepared or incapable partners. I would rather bide my time here and wait for you to return."
"I am told it will not be long. A few more weeks at best." She leaned forward and rubbed her back. "This is not an easy assignment, Steel. I am even beginning to miss Silver."
"I'm told the worthwhile ones are not." He moved behind her and began to massage her back. "And for that, I am thankful. Still confused, perplexed, and slightly annoyed for being played a pawn, but I am with you and that is, for the moment, enough for me."
"No, not with me. With us, Steel. We are no longer alone."
Steel continued to carefully massage the tight muscles. "It will take a bit of getting used to."
"I'm told we have the rest of our lives." She leaned against him and Steel smiled, easily supporting her.
"If nothing else, I can't wait to see Silver's face."
"And Jet's." She rubbed her stomach again. "And his."
"It's a male?"
"I don't know, but I think so. I hope so."
Steel wrapped his arms around her, not as easy as task as usual. Her scent filled his nose and he closed his eyes in contentment. Although his head and heart were full of doubt and uncertainly, they were no longer empty. For that, he was very thankful indeed.