Magnolia adjusted her skirt as she walked down the hall. Ahead and to her left, two techs were leaning over tablets. However, as she passed, familiar colours told her that they were comparing Rose Room profiles rather than doing anything work-related.
Given her own similar romantic intentions for the night, she couldn’t hold back a small smile.
She’d been half-tempted to bring flowers, but that had never been their vibe. Picking Screen up from her room, however, was something she was happy to do.
Whenever possible, she liked to pick up her date from their room. Most of the time, given her life, it wasn’t.
Most of the time, she’d get shifted to the location of whatever group activity that she was participating in, and her friends would already be one round of drinks in, or someone would have ordered her dinner for her.
And that was just how life was, barely taking a moment to make sure that she was free of blood, that her makeup was half-presentable and that she had sufficiently shifted headspaces from “life and death” to “dinner and drinks”.
The inattentive gods had been kind, and she’d remained free of emergencies and last-minute rescues.
Some weird kind of anti-deja-vu fuzzed at the edge of her brain as she crossed the intersection that marked the point where small miscellaneous Tech rooms became the living quarters.
She’d walked this same path hundreds of times. Although there’d been small changes over the years – a couple of changes to the pattern in the linoleum or tiles, recruits putting different designs on their doors, different announcements on the cork boards and screens, this was a… Different kind of different.
Weirdly, she thought of some of the apartments she’d lived in before she and her father had been able to penetrate the magical side of the world.
In most complexes, the units were clones of each other – sometimes flipped to account for staircases or whatever. Still, mostly to your left, right, upstairs or downstairs, there were people with the same square footage you had but who used it totally differently.
And when she’d had reason to go into another unit – the few times her father had made friends with a neighbour or to sit very quietly while some kindly old lady watched her for a couple of hours, it had been like entering another world.
There’d be a painting where they had a poster, the colour of the toilet had been wrong, or someone had put plates where you were obviously supposed to keep the coffee cups.
Small, parallel worlds that didn’t seem quite right.
This wasn’t “wrong”, but it was “different”. Like this was stepping into the alternate apartment of some other Mags, a Mags who had time to date, to actually call people her partners, rather than the person she’d been the last time she’d walked this hall.
A knock, a kiss, and a quick pressing of bodies together had her in Screen’s room, who was half-dressed. Hair tidy, simple makeup set, pants on, but naked from the waist up.
Carefully, casually, she walked around the side of the bed and let her gaze linger on the carefully-managed detritus of the bedside table and its various little bowls and containers – then immediately looked away when she saw the necklace she needed.
‘It’s a bold look,’ she said and found a patch of the wide bed that wasn’t covered with clothes. ‘But I wouldn’t complain.’
Screen turned and attempted to look angry but only managed to be “frustrated and cute”.
‘Come on, babe, what’s wrong? All of these shirts look fine, so it’s not that.’
Screen picked up a black bra, glared at it, and threw it towards the pile under the window. ‘Bad boob day.’ She dropped onto the bed and rested her head on Magnolia’s lap. ‘I get them a lot less now I work here, but sometimes…bad boob.’
Magnolia ran her fingers through her friend’s hair. This was an old complaint – and Screen was right – this was rare, but not rare enough.
Screen had described it as a bane of girls with sizeable bodohonkaroos, that sometimes, no matter what, you just couldn’t get a bra to feel comfortable, not even an old faithful that you were too afraid to wash, lest its shape or texture change.
And there was little you could do about it.
But…maybe the conversation she wanted to have would be a distraction from the annoying not-quite-pain-pain.
For as long as they’d known each other, love had always been easy. It had started, like so many of her relationships, friendships, beneficial scenarios, whatever term best applied, with it purely being about sex.
She’d been part of a rescue team that had put an end to the hostage situation in Screen’s old workplace. A couple of hours later, they’d been naked and figuring out what level of “hang out afterwards or fuck off immediately after fucking” they were at.
Generally, she tried to keep some distance at first, just as she got to know people who would get into her friends-with-benefits circle.
But she hadn’t wanted to leave.
There had been something magnetic and comfortable about her newest friend, which had kept her from smiling and leaving as soon as was polite.
And it had just gotten better from there.
They’d broached the idea of dating a few times over the years Screen had been with the Agency – the first time was a conversation she had to have with everyone who became a friend rather than just a fuck buddy. A simple fact that had to be understood for things to continue was that there was no real chance of it becoming anything close to “normal”.
The way she simplified it was, “I don’t have time to date”, and it was true.
It didn’t stop her from doing date activities, though, she could go to dinner, go out, see a movie, or just hang out and pet required animals and watch internet videos. Anything a friend wanted to do that sounded fun, but it couldn’t come with the label, couldn’t come with the expectation of more than she was capable of giving.
The next few conversations had been gentle check-ins. By then, Screen had been well aware of the whole story, that Taylor was the axis on which her Earth spun, and that there was always the possibility that she’d leave the Agency and everyone there.
The door had always been left open, that if things with Taylor changed, then an evolution of their relationship would always be accepted, welcome even.
And now, there was nothing left to do but propose just that.
Screen still grumbling in her lap, she leaned over to the bedside table and fished a necklace out of a little iridescent bowl – a silver chain with a pendant that held charms.
Two charms sat on it at the moment – a mushroom and a frog – a set that Screen often wore.
She quietly opened the charm loop, slid the charms off, and dropped them back into the bowl.
‘Whatever you’re doing, it’s not helping.’
‘I’m picking out jewellery for you to wear when your boobs stop arguing with you.’
Magnolia slid a little felt pouch out from the top of her shirt and threaded the two custom beads onto the loop.
They were something she’d designed a long time ago in the hope that this day might come, and like all of her design work, she’d tried to incorporate some substance in with the style.
Two beads, one to represent each of them. Screen’s was a purple and gold glasswork bead that had been embedded with a little bit of blue, which allowed it to be scanned with a phone and could display or transmit whatever data Screen set up.
The other was a clear lampwork, set with the tiniest bits of one of her feathers. Unlike the data-nerdery of Screen’s bead, this one would summon Magnolia if held.
An emergency button, one that could always alert her if her girlfriend was in trouble. And it would be paranoid and overbearing…except Screen insisted on calling her “the bad bitch I pulled by being a hostage”.
She closed the charm loop, held the necklace to her heart for a moment, and then dangled it in front of Screen’s face.
Screen took it. ‘So I guess I’m going to have to pick a top with-’
Magnolia felt Screen take in a huge breath and hold it, her body shaking slightly. Then, Screen rolled over and sat up, a black cami covering her chest. ‘I’m not- Not having this conversation naked.’ She held the necklace up. ‘Girl, are you- I don’t know if you remember the conversation-’
Magnolia leaned forward. ‘Mm-hmm. I do.’
Screen curled her finger around the loop and the beads. ‘Are you fucking proposing to me?’
Magnolia placed a finger under Screen’s chin and drew her face close. ‘Mm-hmm, I am. Be mine.’
She took the kiss Screen initiated as a “yes” and smiled as she pulled her girlfriend close.