Marcy didn’t actually expect Willow to answer the phone after the movie. After all, Marcy knew her paranoia sometimes went over the top, so she could really blame Willow for probably looking at the caller ID, rolling her eyes, and continuing on with her night.
When Willow didn’t respond to Marcy’s text message in the morning, Marcy didn’t think too much about that either. After all, Willow didn’t work in the summer, and Marcy thought it was very unlikely that Willow would be waking up early when she didn’t have to.
But as the night grew closer, and Willow still didn’t respond, Marcy started to get worried. As she climbed into bed, she decided that if she woke up and Willow still hadn’t replied, she would just go straight to Willow’s house regardless of the hour. It wasn’t like Willow to go all day without answering a text.
However, Marcy didn’t even think about checking her phone when she woke up because she did not wake up to her alarm or at any kind of sane time. She woke up to the intercom buzzing repeatedly and rapidly at 3:07 in the morning.
Annoyed Marcy didn’t think to put on her dressing gown but just stumbled towards the noise She picked up the handset attached to the intercom and tried to sound more awake. “Hello?”
“Marce, it’s me. Buzz me up, Please. It’s important.” Willow’s voice had an edge to it that Marcy had never heard before.
“Willow? It’s 3 am.”
“I know. But please, buzz me up.” Marcy sighed and reached out to press the button that would unlock the door downstairs. “Thank you. I’m bringing up a friend, so don’t freak out.” The line went dead and Willow was gone. Maybe Marcy was over-paranoid, maybe it was the after effects of worrying about Willow all day. Maybe it was just the fact that it was three in the morning, but Marcy was very sure that something was very wrong.
Marcy stayed by the front door until she heard Willow’s sharp single knock, and let her in quickly. Willow was barely in the apartment before she started doling out instructions. “You need to pack, Marcy. Try to pack lightly, but also assume that you won’t be coming back here for a while, maybe a month or so, if not longer, so bring the essentials, but we are on limited time here.” Willow blew past Marcy, heading to the bedroom, leaving Marcy standing alone with a rather attractive, almost six foot, fit, blonde man who had followed Willow into the apartment. He gave Marcy a smile that gave her the feeling that he’d seen Willow like this before, and he wanted to apologize without actually saying anything. Marcy, suddenly very aware that she was only in a tank top and boy shorts, followed Willow into her own bedroom, where Willow had already started pulling clothes out of the dresser and stacking them on the bed. “Where do you keep your suitcases?” Willow demanded as Marcy wrapped herself in her dressing gown.
There were so many questions bouncing around inside Marcy’s head, she wasn’t sure which to ask first. The first ended up being the vague “Willow, what in the world is going on here?” which was quickly followed by “Who is that man standing in my front room?” and “Why are you packing my things?” When Willow didn’t answer, Marcy sighed and reached underneath her bed to pull out her duffel bag. “You know, I was just kidding about the whole being kidnapped thing, right?” she added weakly.
“Uh, Wil?” The blonde guy had come to the doorway, and Marcy tried not to blush. “This girl is your best friend this cycle, right?”
“Uh-yup,” Willow responded her head in Marcy’s closet.
“Well, do you think that maybe we should try to explain what’s going on before we do kind of kidnap her?” Willow pulled her head out of the closet and raised an eyebrow. “I mean, we can’t tell her everything, but enough to keep her from freaking out. Just saying.”
Marcy watched the two of them back and forth for a moment. While they seemed to have a silent conversation. She had always thought that she had been Willow’s longest and closest friend, but now, watching the two of them together, she could see that wasn’t true. Willow’d know this guy, whoever he was, much longer. So why had Marcy never heard a single thing about him?
Willow finally said “Highly unusual.”
“Everything about this is highly unusual, Sixie, why start being normal now?” The blonde man smiled.
“Well, okay.” Willow looked around at the mess that was half her fault. “Marcy, can we talk to you in the living room for a minute?” Willow led the way, and the man kindly stepped to the side so that Marcy could follow next. She sank down on the couch, but Willow and the man remained standing. Marcy had a flashback to when her parents sat her down to tell her they were getting a divorce Marcy had a feeling that whatever Willow had to say was also going to change her life.
“Can we start the explanation with who the hell is he?” Marcy asked. She didn’t know what was going on, but there was a man in her apartment, and that was something tangible that she could focus on.
“Right,” Willow turned to face the man and then back to Marcy. “This is Agent Four, but you can call him Joey. He’s been my partner and one of my closest friends for as long as I can remember now. Joey, this is Marcy Jenkins, but you can call her Marcy. She’s been my best friend for the duration of this cycle.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Joey nodded politely.
“The pleasure is all mine, I’m sure,” Marcy responded automatically, but then said, “That’s the second time someone has mentioned a cycle. I’m assuming we’re not talking menstruation here.”
“Uh, no.” Willow laughed a little bit, “It’s um—“
Willow looked back at Joey, who shrugged and said, “Complicated.”
Willow sighed. “You aren’t going to believe most of this –if I can convince you to believe any of it at all. Joey and I will try to explain as much of it as we can, but it’s still going to sound crazy. But try to believe?” Marcy nodded carefully, so Willow took a deep breath and began to explain. “Joey and I, along with nine other people, make up a group called the Ixi Agency. We were chosen to collect and protect the fantastical objects in the world. We were selected a millennium ago for different abilities and were brought together to form a team. By who? We’ve long since forgotten if we ever knew at all. We age in cycles, starting at fifteen, aging normally until we are thirty-four years old. On what would be the morning of our thirty-fifth birthday, we wake up fifteen years old again. I was supposed to be on a break this cycle, twenty years off for a couple hundred years hard work, but I have the world’s worst luck.” Willow glanced back at Joey, and they shared a smile.
“So, you’re telling me you are some kind of magical being?” Marcy asked slowly.
“No, not magical. Magic has all kinds of connotations that we don’t like. We use the word fantastical to describe both ourselves and the items we work with. Things straight from, or that created, the fantasies of human kind.” Willow corrected gently.
“So-you were chosen for abilities.” Joey and Willow both nodded “Then what was it you were chosen for?”
Willow half turned to face Joey, an almost pleading look to her face, which freaked Marcy out even more, Willow had never been one to keep secrets, or so Marcy thought. Almost any question Marcy could think to ask, Willow would have an honest answer. She never hesitated, and she never turned to someone else to answer her questions for her.
“Willow and I are what we call ‘After the fact’ Agents,” Joey spoke, but Marcy kept her eyes on Willow, “We are the agents that get called in when the shit has already hit the fan. We are very good at saving people.”
Willow nodded at Joey’s answer and turned back to face Marcy with a smile. Only to have the smile melt off her face at Marcy’s expression. “What?”
Marcy ran her tongue over her front teeth as she thought for a second. “Willow, do you remember Hulk night?”
Now Willow looked confused. “You mean that night we got smashed out of our minds? Remember doing it? Yes. Remember every detail of the night? No. Why do you ask?”
“Answer the questions, will you?” Marcy replied.
Willow looked at Joey skeptically, but he just gave her another half shrug, so Willow turned back to Marcy and said, “Well, okay. Fire away then.”
“What were our drinks, who was our sober sitter, and what did we make her get for us at three thirty in the morning?” Marcy Challenged.
“I was drinking Vodka cranberries and you were drinking screwdrivers. Our sober sitter was the beautiful Kathryn Anne, and we made her go get us blocks of cheese.”
Marcy sighed and sank back on the couch, only to have Joey’s explanation start to sink in. “Wait a minute. If you guys are the people who get called in when the shit has already hit the fan, then why are you here? What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you.” Willow quickly reassured her, sitting on the couch and placing a hand on Marcy’s knee. “We’re here to protect you. Everyone has a little bit of something inside them that lets them control these fantastical items if they come across them. However, each item has a level as well, the stronger that level, the easier the item can resist use by a user. Some humans develop higher levels of abilities to overpower the resistance in these objects. The Ixi Agency has the ability to search for these people and organize them into levels from the average people who have the lowest strength to the Top Tier Users, who have the strongest power. Four days ago, one of the most powerful items in the Ixi Agency’s collection was stolen. We believe that those who stole it are going to realize that they need a Top Tier User to make it work, so we are collecting all of the top tier users, and bring them into protective custody until we can get it all sorted out.”
“So–“Marcy trailed off. She was still trying to process everything that was just said.
“You are a top tier user, yes.” Joey provided for her. “You’re kind of a big deal.”
“And—“ Willow said, giving Marcy’s knee a little squeeze, “—I’m sorry. But you’re in a lot of danger.”