Magnolia leaned her head back, and shampoo-laden warm water rolled down her back.
If there was no other reason in the world to be employed by the Agency, it was for…everything to do with taking a bath or shower. Water that was always the perfect temperature and would stay there, even if you ran it on full for hours on end. A showerhead that could spit out water of any combination – fat, soft droplets when you wanted something calming, or thin sharp spikes that drove themselves into your skin like shards of glass.
It didn’t matter if you got shampoo in your eye; some bit of blue programming available, even to recruits, meant irritation lasted a couple of seconds at most.
And with a thought, you could have a bench to lie on or turn the entire thing into a sauna.
Some days – more days than she liked to admit – she dipped in and out of a shower in three minutes, doing whatever was necessary to scrub away blood and sweat. Efficient, quick, like so many aspects of her life. No frills, no bullshit, just doing what needed to be done because there weren’t thirty-seven hours in a day.
Other days, she could take her time, massage her scalp, use some wonderfully-scented soaps and, sometimes, just lie back and attempt to let the water wash away her sins and worries.
If today had been any other day, it would have been a day for the latter.
If today weren’t a day she was hoping – and not just dreaming – that Taylor might knock on the door and ask to join her. Even though shower sex was the most awkward and definitely-not-worth-the-effort thing that had ever been invented. Shower not-sex was good, though, a press of bodies and warmth and a pressing need to get to a horizontal surface.
The day had started with perfection, then had slid into momentary anxiety as the sun had begun to burn away the afterglow. Then reality had punched its way in, and they’d gone to work. Providing backup for Rachel’s team and successfully pulling out all of their recruits, along with the fae they’d been there to rescue.
Everyone had lived. Most with injuries, some that would – even under the care of the Parkers and a fae consultant – take a few days or a week to deal with. But everyone had come home alive, and that was worth celebrating.
While bleeding from the gut and being loaded onto a stretcher, Rachel had offered to resign, taking responsibility for the incident, berating herself with every blood-choked breath.
She had assured Rachel that every team leader – new, as Rachel was – or seasoned, could have things go absolutely tits up. She’d rejected the resignation offer and assured her friend that the team was still hers.
Then Rachel, realising how much blood she was losing, had dropped into unconsciousness.
When the day had started, she wasn’t sure how Taylor was going to feel, not after what was effectively the first intimate night of his life. Intimate, not sexual, and somehow a lot more impactful than most first nights she’d had with other partners and lovers.
She’d been worried he might reject her, Grigori or both.
During the rescue mission, they had been as they always had – working together like they were extensions of each other. Complementing weaknesses and strengths, knowing who would take left and right at each door, who would go low and high. Ease and perfection, a routine long ago worked out.
But nothing more than that. No attempt to treat her any differently while they were in danger. No hesitation about sending her forward or hesitation to ask her to do something dangerous just because they’d shared a night together.
Which was good. If it had been any different, she would have kicked his ass. Disrupting how things were would have put both of them in danger.
When things had died down – and the remaining Solstice had just plain died – and when she’d been coordinating the pullout, he’d done something that wasn’t a part of their usual routine. Something that had crushed every anxious thought that still occupied some inefficient part of her mind.
A simple touch to the back of her hand. Three seconds of contact. His hand covered in dust, and hers sweaty. Small. Soft. Deliberate. Nothing anyone else had noticed. Nothing that truly disrupted the flow of operations.
Enough to know he was glad she was alive and that he wanted to acknowledge that in a way that was more personal than usual.
Now with everything squared away. All the recruits and fae in care or discharged. All immediate inter-Agency and inter-planar chats had been done. There had been the moment of life and death stress, the paperwork-filled aftermath, and now was the time for the moments of reflection and recovery.
Which meant a shower for her and would mean Taylor would be in his gym, doing a cooldown routine or something else basic to relax his muscles.
A good moment, now that she was clean and smelled like – according to the soap label, petrichor and a lakeside cabin – for them to have a chat.
She dressed – boots, a black skirt, and a textured, lacey tank top. Simple. Something in her usual rotation so that it wouldn’t seem like she was being too forward, that she was trying to change anything, or that she expected-
Everything was going to change, but if today was any indication, everything was also blessedly going to stay the same.
Her feet naturally took her to his office, where she tried the handle. His office, at least during daytime hours, was essentially their communal property. If she could open the door, she was welcome to come in…and in all the years she’d been there, there’d never been a case of him improperly setting the security level. No time when she’d walked in and hadn’t been – at least on some level – welcome.
She’d seen him at his worst and at his best. When he needed space, he would ask for it or simply not allow her in. She hadn’t expected the door to be a barrier, but it still felt like succeeding in some step in her quest to get dicked down by or dick down, her commander. Whichever he would prefer. Hopefully both.
Taylor was at the far end of the gym – one of the wood panels was open, and he was organising its contents. Simple, easy work. His clothes were still stained from the mission, though he’d discarded his jacket, so his upper half was relatively clean.
He paused in what he was doing for a moment, lifted his head, but didn’t look at her, and continued to optimise the objects in the shallow display unit.
Someone less sure of themselves might have run at that. She knew him far better, knew what was beneath the surface of those tiny motions. He was unsure of what to say, how to act and was waiting for her to take the lead.
‘When we get a new recruit, there’s paperwork. There’s negotiation as to what their particular duties will be. If they need any special accommodations or require us to take any aspects of their life into account.’
He gave a soft grunt of acknowledgement.
‘It’s rather similar now, sir. We need to see what our wants are, our needs, our limits and our boundaries. What we’re going to call each other. If we’re going to be public or not. I feel like you’ll be more comfortable going forward.’ She wrapped her arms around his left arm and rested her head against his bicep. ‘If you have guidelines to act within.’
His knuckles gently ran across her cheek, and she tried not to melt. ‘Yes.’ He put away a revolver, something old and dangerous, one of the many things in their stores that could kill an agent. ‘You. Start.’
It wasn’t surprising to go first – she was more experienced, and it would provide him with a template of how he should answer. Still, it left her ass hanging in the wind a little, making her vulnerable, exposed, bearing her heart. Not something she minded doing, but it still took a moment to disarm herself, to lower her defences enough to be real.
‘I want you, sir. It’s everything I said last night. I love you. I want you. Romantically. Sexually. Deeply. As a friend. As a partner. As what we are now, just with added dimensions. I want you to continue to respect me, my abilities, and my worthiness in the field. Like today. If we act like we did today, but sometimes we fuck afterwards, I would be rather happy with that life.’ She slid her hand down his arm to interlace their fingers. ‘We’re Combat, I can’t think long term. I don’t think it would scare you off if I said I wanted to grow old still loving you. I doubt either of us will see old age in any capacity.’
Another grunt of agreement.
‘I’m not going to call you my boyfriend. We’re already a lot more than that. And I’ve always thought it denotes a…shallow relationship. It can be cute as a pet name or-’
She noticed him stiffen a little, and she couldn’t keep the grin off her face at the idea of someone calling him their lovebug, honey bear or cupcake. Maybe some kind of tactical cupcake. One kept behind glass for emergencies.
‘I think we’re safe on that front, sir. I- You are who you are to me. I barely call you by your name as-is, sir. I can’t promise the same from Grigori. You…might need to win a match, so he doesn’t call you babygirl.’
‘And you love him.’
His fingers tightened on hers. ‘I do.’
‘Is that something we need to vocalise? I don’t think you will ask for exclusivity, and I’d never keep you from anyone who loves you as much as I do.’ She smiled. ‘Or even just someone who takes your eye. Not everything has to be always and forever. Casual is its own, very valid thing.’
His fingers traced her face. ‘You. Him. I am not seeking more.’
‘I anticipated that was how you felt. I just don’t want you to feel confined. And there are people I would like to continue to see. Some- Maybe a little more seriously, now that I know I’m staying here.’ She kissed his fingertips. ‘I needed to know where we stood before I felt like I could put down roots. I didn’t want to be unfair to people if I left.’
‘I will not make unfair demands on your time.’
Slowly, they made their way to the bleachers. ‘I know you won’t. We’re- The old joke is that poly is almost more about scheduling than anything else. I’m pretty fucking good at scheduling, sir.’
There were still questions on his face, parameters they needed to set, and details that needed to be hammered out. Still, this had been the optimal version of this conversation. Two people who had been on the same page for so long…continuing to be on the same page, even the same paragraph.
‘I don’t want to be the only one to speak, sir. If this is a partnership, then…’ She looked down at him, where he sat one lower than her. His hand was on her leg. Not…suggestive. No attempt to go beneath her skirt. Just- Contact. Touch.
And it was good.
‘I am not Grigori,’ he said.
A true statement, but she wasn’t sure what particular point he was trying to make. Not to expect grand romantic gestures? No invites to fancy restaurants? All nice things, nothing that was necessary for a relationship to work.
‘Grigori doesn’t have his hand on my thigh right now.’
‘He is experienced. I am not.’
Words spoken plainly.
She gave him a warm smile, took his head in her hands for a moment, and gave him a gentle kiss. ‘Is that all?’ She turned her body and slid onto his lap, straddling his muscular legs, one hand helping him to maintain contact with her leg.
‘You-’ Her skirt shifted slightly so that it covered the tips of his fingers. His hand hadn’t ventured further, but somehow with the movement of a little bit of fabric, it suddenly seemed…more intimate. ‘I am aware-’ He faltered again. ‘It is important. And I am not trained.’
She took her hand off his. ‘May I establish a baseline?’
‘Is it something you want? Grigori flirts with everything that has a pulse, and you’ve walked in on me in fla- whatever that phrase is. Mid-fuck. Multiple times. How we act is not an expectation of you. If it’s not something you want. Or if it’s something to be put off until much later, that’s valid. And you need to know it is. I will wait, or I will readjust my expectations. I just need your lead so that I may follow.’
He kissed her, and he moved so that their bodies slid a little closer together, that her crotch rested against his buckle, their chests in contact, his arm- Slid around her back, thumb finding its way under the hem of her shirt, hand sliding up her back to rest between her shoulder blade, his fingers splayed, pressing her closer to him, holding her even closer than the previous night.
‘I want you,’ he said, and she died, surrendered to the moment, and kissed him.
One of his hands slowly moved across the muscles of her back. Fingers probing like a masseur looking for knots that needed to be worked on. His other hand remained on her thigh, just a little hidden by her skirt.
‘I do not-’ he said as their foreheads rested together. ‘I don’t know what I want, not in the way he can articulate his- I’m not him. But- I want. Is it enough?’
‘We’ll start with the basics, move to expert programs later on, and figure out exactly what it is that you like, that we like, and what works.’
His hand pulled away from her back, and he moved to hold both of her hands. ‘I-’ He looked down, the movement deliberate, something she was meant to recognise and respond to. ‘You are aware-’
‘If and when you want to add a dick to this equation, sir, that is-’
He squeezed her hands, and- Even with several layers of fabric separating them, there was a subtle change to how he sat and what she could feel beneath.
‘Oh!’ The noise slipped out, higher pitched and more surprised-sounding than she would have liked, and she rushed to get her face under control. ‘I will be aware of this information, sir.’
‘Not- Now. But. Yes.’
‘Whenever you’re ready. Whatever you want to do before that. After that. Let me know. And- I promise to be gentle.’
He cupped her face, and she curled in against him, face in the crook of his neck. Maybe without the blood stain on his collar, it would have been perfect, but she’d always take real over perfect.