‘I hate you.’
‘No, you don’t.’
‘I hate you.’
Curt stared at the coffee tray in his hand, looked at the crumpled mess of blankets that hid Stef, picked a corner of the bed that likely didn’t contain any bits of sleepy hacker, and sat.
‘Graaaaa,’ she protested from somewhere to his left.
‘I got coffee from the pie cart, but if you’re not interested, then I’ll just be extra caffeinated.’
Slowly, a hand emerged from the blankets at the foot of the bed and made grabby motions.
‘Nope,’ he said, ‘you gotta be a full person to get coffee. No disembodied hands.’
The hand stopped making grabby motions. ‘Do you think agents can detach their limbs? Like, surely there’s got to be situations where it would be useful.’
‘Newbie, not over breakfast, for god’s sake.’
Slowly, a dishevelled hacker rolled out from under the blankets. For the first couple of mornings, he’d been wary of invading her space like this, even if it was to wake her up, and he’d been a gentleman and kept his distance and his eyes averted, sure that she wouldn’t want someone seeing her in her pyjamas.
He’d doubted that walking trash gremlin Stef Mimosa slept in sexy lingerie. Still, most girls didn’t like to be seen in any kind of nightwear unless specifically invited.
Over those first couple of days, it had become clear that she seemed to crawl into bed wearing whatever she’d been wearing during the day, seemingly without a thought spared for comfort or convention.
And simply bringing coffee was enough to buy him entry into her ungraceful, often monosyllabic waking process.
So, in a uniform, minus tie, crumpled by eight hours of sleep, she popped the plastic lid from the coffee cup and poured sugar into it. ‘Pie cart?’
‘There’s a group of rotating fae businesses that do a morning run so recruits can buy delicacies you can’t require.’
She put the lid back onto the coffee, had an experimental sip, made an approving noise, then a tray appeared in front of them – one serve of eggs Benedict for each of them.
This new routine was only a few days old, and already there was becoming a his & hers split of responsibilities – he’d bring drinks, often something fae, or fae-adjacent, to introduce her to more of the world of magic; and she’d require something fancy from her life growing up as a little rich girl, so that he could expand his palate beyond simple egg and bacon muffins or cereal.
‘This is pretty tame,’ he said, ‘I’ve had eggs Benny before.’
‘Eggs Royale, technically.’ She stabbed into her egg with her fork. ‘I figured you’d appreciate this though, it’s that devil in the details, more than meets the eye thing. Most people could smash out some version of this. Still, it’s an entirely other experience when you worry about the providence of every element. Where the salmon was caught; what the chickens were fed, what kind of flour goes in, all that.’ She licked Hollandaise off her finger. ‘Aren’t people getting pissed that you’re getting to skip out on training?’
He broke the yolk over the sourdough toast. ‘You’ve got to first assume someone gives enough of a shit to wonder where I am. And if anyone did ask, all Mags has to say is “not here”, then you filter down to the people who have the balls to enquire further when she’s obviously not inviting conversation. I think the consensus is either that I’m injured, or Mags is letting me sleep late in exchange for certain favours.’
‘You bringing her coffee too?’
He took a short drink of his own coffee. There were certain ways he had to handle Newbie with care – and high on that list seemed to be an intense discomfort with anything sex-related. Treading carefully was the only way forward.
‘If I say “sleep” is the operative word in that sentence and ask you to extrapolate from there, can we move to the next point?’
He looked at her face and almost saw the moment she went from processing to understanding.
‘Ooooh,’ she said teasingly. ‘Is she your girlfriend?’ She paused. ‘I feel like I’ve asked that before, but I can’t remember the answer. Mags and Curt sitting in a tree…’ she sang before biting into a piece of toast.
‘What are you, twelve?’
‘Only if it gets me nuggets off the kiddie menu.’
‘We’re friends, sometimes there are operative-word benefits. That’s all.’
And she’d never settle for someone like him. He was a good friend, someone who had her back when she needed it, but a white picket fence wasn’t in their future.
And that was okay. He still needed to work a lot on himself before he could think about anything other than friends-with-sexy-benefits.
‘So today,’ he continued. ‘More of the same of what we’ve been doing. Combat’s going to be submitting their first draft of their training proposal. Anything overnight about your docent yet?’
‘Jane’s setting up a meeting in a few days. Said I should brush up on the major Courts, which is something Ryan already flagged he wanted to talk about, so I can do that bit of stuff with him later.’
‘That probably means that your docent is-’ he paused. ‘Well, there are a few possibilities. First, they could be from an Agency whose primary function is to liaise with one of the majors. Otherwise, they could just have strong family ties with a court.’ He took a minute to eat a big section of his breakfast. ‘Agent Jones?’
He swirled a square of toast through the rich sauce. ‘Agent Jones.’
‘I’m gonna fix you, Padawan.’ She lifted the blanket, dug around for a moment, and then pulled out a large tablet. ‘So the big question-’ Pause. Tap. ‘She’s dealing with today is what version of the OS to start me on. Up to date OS is four-point-two-point-point-point blah blah with all the hotfixes. Point two was the major update. They’ve only started recently generating agents straight with clean four-point-two software. Mostly, they start with a stable release somewhere between three-four and three-seven, then run updates before the babby agent opens their eyes.’ She snorted. ‘And now all I can imagine is like, full-grown agents rolling around in diapers and like, those big frilly cartoon bonnets.’
He bit down on his tongue. Conversations that included references to regular, vanilla sex had to be carefully censored; this was not a time to mention that there had to be an entire group of people who had that exact fetish.
‘So what are you getting started on?’
‘Probably three-seven. Supposed to be smoothest for augments. Well, augments like me. If I was what the cover story said, then three-five would be better, but we’re gonna count on people not giving enough of a shit to care about that minor plot hole.’
‘Better stuff for half-agents in that release?’
She nodded. ‘But, really, it’s at the tech’s discretion. This is more…VFX of phasers coming from the wrong spot than beaming through the shields.’ She smiled. ‘You’re learning to speak Stef, I can adapt a bit too.’
He looked down at his breakfast, hiding his emotions with toast and coffee. ‘Appreciated, Newbie.’
It was something small. Something that would have been inconsequential to most people.
To someone who felt like they had to fight for every tiny scrap of connection, it put another light in the sky.
‘Pull out your homework,’ he said, face set in its perfect Recruit Curt friendly and neutral, ‘let’s see how much I have to red pen this time.’