oncoming_storms 58.2: Single Word - Retirement
Sometimes when John woke up, he found that he'd been dreaming. Tiny fingers curled around one of his, connected to a tiny body with his eyes. A hand on his back, not to push or grab but just to hold and touch.
He didn't know a single agent who didn't get them now and then, nor a single one who would talk about those dreams. The superstitious and the trainees whispered about alternative timelines, undercover ops that took too long to break out of until the agent broke and went soft. Veterans forced upon the topic chuckled, shook their heads at such nonsense, and didn't quite look each other in the eye.
The statistics regarding Time Agent life expectancy were telling as to their fates, their families. Most didn't survive to push forty, plenty didn't even last through training, and those who managed both tended to be more Agent than Human. Strong, hard, brilliant creatures who could and often did go out with a blinding flash of destructive radiance, they spared not a thought for leaving the Agency, for settling or running. Too much freedom was offered in the paranoia, the underhanded, trust-noone world of the Agency.
Those who ran typically did so late enough to be truly fucked up but early enough to actually care, usually about themselves. They either spooked at the Agency's plans for them or they became a flash in the pan, flaring so brilliantly mad so quickly that they avoided containment. The ones they caught, brought back or retrained or locked up or executed, weren't worth mentioning. An unstated statistic, the pariahs of a dangerous society that kept rewriting its own rules, they hadn't had the stomach to survive or the skill to stay gone. A waste of half-decent air. If they remained gone, there wasn't an Agent that would turn them in without sizable reward, and any worth their pay would share a drink with an old comrade too wounded to continue their private war.
There was a story or two of people who actually retired, went through the mythological paperwork and received a pension. It was hard to imagine, and generally scoffed by the seasoned Agents. The Agency didn't let go. There were no families out there full of trundling Agent toddlers, at least not legitimate ones raised by said Agent parent. No one could say for sure they didn't have some sort of offspring somewhere, occasionally dropped at a home by themselves truly, but 'retirement' was a euphemism for 'voluntary death.' Both were so out of character, so idiotic for an Agent that they didn't bear thinking of.
Every Agent worth his salt dreamed. Most tried to forget them, the death, the pain, the horrors, the hope, the joy, the impossibilities unwanted. In this John was no different, not when dreaming of little hands or dying screams. Not when dreaming of pain unbearable. Not when dreaming of faces calling themselves Jack that claimed to be all better now, whose eyes told him to follow their example. And when the booze and the drugs and the sex didn't coat the images in a thick enough haze, he threw on his coat and went hunting.