Curt winced as the clipboard came down on his head.
‘Who the fuck taught you first aid?’ Parker-2 asked, apparently aghast at the job he’d done of cleaning and bandaging the wound.
‘You did, dickhead,’ he retorted and smirked at the doctor. ‘Shouldn’t I be smacking you?’
‘Don’t flirt, O’Connor, besides, spanking costs extra.’ Parker-2 grabbed a wheeled stool and sat. ‘You did a decent job,’ he said as he cleaned the wound. ‘Could be improved though. You’ve done the basic course, but you never came back for the advanced stuff. It would look really good on your aide application if you’ve already got that squared away.’
‘Doc, I don’t-’
Parker-2 shook a “shut up” gesture in his direction. ‘Don’t bullshit me, boy. We know you applied, you’ve done it once, you’ll do it again. Ryan would be an idiot not to accept.’ Parker-2 smothered the cut in antibacterial gel. ‘You’re a prince amongst pricks after all, who else is he going to pick?’
‘Stef, maybe,’ he said without thinking.
Parker-2 gave him a strange look. ‘I think that’s unlikely.’
‘Not every aide is Mags, not everyone is chosen for being hyper-competent. Sometimes it’s just- Well, it wouldn’t be nepotism, they’re not related, but I’ve been here more than a year, and this is the first time I’ve seen him actually like a recruit.’ He winced as Two scraped off the excess cream, then applied a dressing. ‘And if I can make her brain calm down just a bit, and be the power behind the throne, she might make an okay aide in about six months.’
‘You’ve done a lot of work, Recruit,’ Parker-2 said, with a surprising amount of sincerity in his voice. ‘I think you need to give yourself more credit in how much you’re valued around here.’
‘I’m eight-thousand times smarter than you, Recruit, so stop fucking arguing with me. And either pull up your pants or pull out your dick, and if it’s the latter, it best be enough for me and my other half, so I’d choose option A, wouldn’t you?’
He hopped off the bed and required a new pair of pants. ‘That’s what I love about coming here, the five-star service.’
Parker-2 grinned. ‘Get the fuck out of my infirmary, I’ve got other unlucky SOBs to treat.’
He ticked off a sarcastic salute and headed through the door that lead to the primary Tech floor.
There were a lot of techs out and about – though the mood was far from the joviality that the floor usually exuded – small groups stood talking, going over reports, or moving towards the common areas.
The major operations were as draining on the operators as they were on the recruits in the field. But…there were far too many active recruits who didn’t appreciate that. Too many who simply saw a recruit operating from within the safety of the Agency, without understanding that the operators bore as much responsibility for keeping a combat or field recruit safe as any other member of their team.
Bad agencies had a high burnout rate – tech agents who worked their recruits like dogs, making them take shift after shift with no regard for their mental health.
Brisbane, which often seemed to be in the running for “dead fucking last” on people’s lists of good Agencies, at least had Jones. Even as much as he disliked agents, it was impossible not to see that Jones was one of the good ones, so far as that was possible.
Even if there was probably more to the skinny, nerdy agent than most people seemed to think.
No one seemed that innocent without a thousand skeletons in their closet.
Except maybe Stef.
As fucked up as whatever was going on in her head, and the stop-start way she’d go about sentences, she seemed to wear her heart on her sleeve.
He’d left her alone in the local court for twenty minutes while he slipped off to a Rose Room rendezvous only to come back to find her giddy over an advertising banner for a fae candy company. Even then, her attention had been split while she seemed to try and catalogue every fairy that walked past as if she couldn’t take in the world fast enough.
It wasn’t anything like the experiences he’d had with the other recruits Ryan had had him chaperone.
Some were just as taken with the wonder of the world but clammed up around him. That reaction was only right, only to be expected – he was Solstice – ex-Solstice – though the distinction didn’t seem to register with most people. They ditched him as soon as they could, which did make things somewhat easier. It was always easier to keep up the bright cheerfulness of “Recruit Curt” with someone he only had to interact with for limited periods.
All it had taken was some basic human kindness. Kindness, and some skills he’d honed with a non-neurotypical sister – for Stef to see him as okay enough to not run screaming from. And that was worrying in its own way – speaking to a life without a lot of gentleness.
And it was one of the few times he’d been grateful for the cover story that the Agency allowed him. The lie that sidestepped his actual, violent history with the Solstice for one that cast him in the role of Red Shirt Nobody.
He slipped into the command centre – unlike the sombre, “thank fuck it’s over” mood of the hall, this room was still all business. No-one on duty could relax until the last recruit was home.
Jones stood in the opposite corner of the room, near a table that had been set as part-snack, part-buffet-dinner, consoling a recruit sitting in a chair. Jones gave him a nod, a smile settling easily onto her face – and once again, he had to admit that Jones was really cute when she was a girl.
Some recruits liked the almost-anime-pretty-boy long blond hair Jones had when male. Still, there was just something…quietly pretty about Jones’ brunette form, hair up, or with a messy bun poked full of misplaced pens.
He returned the smile, then walked across to Raz’s desk – keeping himself back, just in case Raz was still operating for someone, but when he saw nothing but paperwork, he walked up to the desk.
Raz turned him, a huge frozen drink in his hand, took a sip, smiled, then a chair popped into existence. ‘Have a seat, Agent C, how can I help?’
He smiled, and this time, it was genuine. ‘I just wanted to thank you for getting me home.’
‘Of course,’ Raz said. ‘And at least we could shift you once you were out of the blackout.’
Curt fought his first instinct to say “huh?”, and thought about the bright shockwave. ‘The shatter messed with things?’
‘You know how it can be dodgy to try and shift fae sometimes? That times ten. Signal disruption across the board for people closer to the epicentre. We’ve got people back who technically aren’t showing up, so we’re doing a manual recount.’
‘The Director? Mimosa?’
‘Agent Ryan was in the area of highest disruption, but he’s back. No recruits that were in that band are registering properly yet, but there’s no MIA report, so indicators are positive.’
He nodded. ‘Thanks.’
‘Some of us are going to the pub to unwind,’ Raz said. ‘You’re always welcome to join us.’
And he knew the offer was genuine, even if it might not go as well as Raz thought. There were just as many techs as field recruits who saw him as the piece of shit that he was. He’d lucked out with Raz as an operator – but that had only been after going through several other operators – at least one of which had been so deliberately slack in their guidance and information that he’d nearly died.
Part of what had attracted Raz to the role was, well, attraction – the recruit had a crush on him, which the tech had categorised sadly as “you’re not the first straight boy I’ve had a crush on, and you won’t be the last”.
Incompatibility aside, they still had a good…friendship probably wasn’t the right word. Colleague-ship, co-worker-balance, professional working relationship. It worked. He had a good, solid operator who didn’t try to get him killed, so there was no need to complicate that with trying to be friends. Trying to expect more out of his life as a recruit than he already had.
Expecting more was dangerous. Wanting more was dangerous.
Everything already seemed to hang by a thread, so it would be stupid to disrupt the balance.
‘Maybe next time,’ he said, and they both knew it was a lie.
Raz smiled. ‘Then get some rest.’
He nodded. ‘I will, goodnight recruit.’