Curt pressed the button for the elevator, then lifted his hand to play with his hair, but it pinged before he’d done anything. No standard wait time, which meant the lift had already been in motion.
He steeled himself, hoping he wouldn’t have to share a car with one of the many, many people who looked at him like he was shit and-
The breath in his chest untangled as he saw Sacha. A layered black skirt that looked like it could have been borrowed from Mags, a sleeveless top and striking gold makeup.
Sacha grinned as he stepped into the lift. ‘Nice,’ he said, gesturing to Curt’s top. ‘That’s a Maple, right?’
Curt nodded. The top was one of the first Carmichael had bought him – it had been amongst the clothes that had been supplied along with the apartment. Most of those clothes had been from the brand Maple, a mid-to-high-end chain store that did many good quality, simple clothes. A perfect start to a fae wardrobe.
The shirt he’d chosen for the pub outing was slightly asymmetrical, both on the hem and the neck, and had several reflective fibres stitched into the right-hand side that only showed under direct light. Nothing that read as “magical” or that civilians would really look twice at. If they did, all they’d be able to assume was that he was doing a really-half-assed cosplay attempt of some obscure character.
But it had been one of the few pieces he’d transferred to his Agency wardrobe.
This was, despite his mixed feelings, going to be where he lived for at least the next few years unless he died on a mission, so it was probably time to start to make it feel like “home”, if only in the smallest ways.
Nothing like the absolutely extravagant modifications Sacha had done to his quarters – the Tech lived in, once you stepped past the very plain door, something that resembled part of a mansion. Marble and gold and rich furnishings. A level of detail, care, and customisation that very few recruits did.
‘I can’t always rely on you and Mags to dress me for events,’ he said, ‘so I saved up some per diem and took whatever the sales guy told me to buy.’ A lie, but a harmless one. ‘I know I could have gotten cheaper, but I didn’t see the point? Especially since it’s not like I’ll be wearing it every day.’
Sacha smiled as the lift opened. ‘There’s hope for you yet.’
Mags stood in the lobby with the rest of the party for that evening – Screen, Raz, Hewitt and Caipe.
He gave her a quick look, which she returned with a smile. The news was coming out in just over twelve hours anyway, but it had felt fair that this group would get the head’s up first.
Screen and Raz were directly affected – Stef’s operator and his operator, respectively. Sacha was a department head in Tech, and someone Mags always invited out on group nights. Hewitt essentially functioned as Mags’ aide, and it was rude to invite someone out without also inviting their fiance.
And he liked Caipe, even with as little interaction as they’d had. The quokka with the inability to wipe the smile off his face, even when annoyed, was endearing.
The pub was a casual walk from the Agency.
The early evening air was nice, if hot. Something that would be immediately solved as soon as they were back inside.
He walked at the back of the pack, not wanting to impose on anyone, but Raz moved to walk beside him, and Mags yelled at him about keeping up.
They passed a group of people walking in the opposite direction, some other group of co-workers probably heading to a night out, and he noticed the immediate change in body language. Mags tensed in a way that he knew meant someone utterly getting their ass handed to them was definitely on the menu, and everyone else seemed to follow suit.
The other group continued on, but as he swung his gaze back around, he saw Raz looking at him.
‘You’re a very confused straight boy right now, aren’t you?’ Raz asked.
‘I-’ He looked at the group that had passed, then at his group of co-worker-slash-possible-friends as they gained a little distance from him and Raz and became fully aware for the first time that he was indeed the only straight guy in the group.
Raz smiled, the look tinged with pity. ‘Most of us can pass,’ he said. He held up his hand and showed a small white patch over the pixel-rainbow-heart tattoo on the back of his hand. ‘Sometimes just takes a second to make sure you don’t have a pin or a badge on your bag or jacket. When you’re with someone who is visibly queer though, and you’re walking in a group, there’s always at least one person who is ready to throw hands if anyone says anything.’
‘Hurry the fuck up!’ Mags called from up ahead.
‘Mostly it’s looks,’ Raz continued. ‘A look says a lot. Even a look’s enough to make you feel unsafe. Those two,’ he said, pointing at Hewitt and Caipe, ‘are picking out wedding tuxes and they don’t feel great about holding hands most of the time. It’s easier to be invisible.’
‘You’re learning. You listen when you’re being a stupid white boy or haven’t had to stop and reconsider what your het privilege has gotten you. Look, Agent C,’ he said, using the nickname that Raz meant with something akin to hero worship. ‘I know you’re one of the safe ones. That if something happened to me, you’d go ham with a cricket bat or something.’
Raz smiled. ‘Does that affection stretch to telling me what this announcement is?’
‘You can wait five more minutes.’
Curt leaned in close. ‘No.’
Raz slapped his arm and grinned, then they hurried to catch up with the group.
Since the pub was so closely affiliated with the Agency, recruits always got first dibs at booking the private event rooms – not that there was much competition on a Wednesday evening.
Magnolia had arranged everything, and there were already finger foods and a couple of pitchers of angel water waiting for them. As much as he managed his alcohol intake so that he was never impaired, never caught vulnerable, angel water was something it was easy to drink a few glasses of – it was barely alcoholic, somewhere just under two per cent.
Everyone took a seat around the long table, and he noticed that before they said, Hewitt and Caipe shared a quick kiss, now that they were somewhere safe.
‘Please don’t be schmoopy all night,’ Mags said as she poured herself a glass of blue angel water.
‘I’ll dial it down if you tell us why we’re here,’ Hewitt said and pulled a basket of fries towards his fiance.
‘I was trying to literally wine and dine you all first,’ she said, but stood, her chair scraping the floor theatrically as she did so. She looked at him, and he nodded, giving her his blessing. A photo of Stef appeared in her hand, and she showed it to the group. ‘Who recognises her?’
Raz and Screen both nodded.
‘Yeah,’ Screen said, ‘I had her for about a day. Died in the mirrorfall. Field. Uniform in the photo gives it away, but yeah.’
‘Her?’ Hewitt said, blinking with recognition as Screen spoke. ‘The almost dead girl from the cafe where the Director was injured.’
‘Ice cream shop,’ Curt corrected quickly.
‘Sorry. No. Yes. There’s a cafe next to it. Ice cream shop. We handed her over to the Parkers with a prayer and not a lot of hope.’
Curt kept his expression neutral. He knew she’d been hurt that night. She told him she’d been shot, but not- Not that she’d been so close to death. Between that, how she’d recruited and how she’d died, it had been one truly miserable week for her.
‘Is it being investigated for some reason?’ Screen asked. ‘Or-’
Mags squeezed Screen’s hand. ‘Let me tell it.’ She looked at the group. ‘What was on file after the mirrorfall was that she was killed that night. Lie. Not without reason, but a lie.’
This was met with a general consensus of “yeah, shit happens” from the group, all of them having been in the Agency long enough to know that official records weren’t always the truth and that the truth could vary by your security clearance.
‘Mimosa was hit by an experimental fae weapon. Fucked her up a lot. A decision was made, and the reason behind that is the second part of the secret. She’s Ryan’s daughter. Raised completely human, so she’s still a fucking newbie when it comes to Agency shit. Which will make calling her “Agent” weird but technically correct.’
‘I’m helping her catch up,’ Curt said, breaking into the silence that followed. ‘But I’ve had to start from basic recruit orientation.’
‘Agent Mimosa?’ Sacha said. ‘Sounds like a pretty good drink, honestly, like a mimosa with curacao. We should order some.’
Magnolia grinned at Sacha. ‘I knew one of you was going to say that. It’s already a thing, a “Tiffany Mimosa”.’ She paused. ‘We should order a round, though.’
‘On it,’ Sacha said and picked up the ordering tablet.
Hewitt leaned across the table, his elbows planted in the empty spaces between the glasses and baskets. ‘Ryan fucks?’
‘For all I fucking know, he stole her from a nerd factory. He does not give off “fucks” energy.’
‘At least twice,’ Sacha said. ‘Now that another child is in play.’ This was met with a round of blank stares. ‘Look, there’s a lot you can hear in working here for a decade. Director Ryan has at least one other child. Jonesy has shown me pictures. A son. With the age difference though, I’m going to assume these two are half-siblings.’
‘Wait,’ Screen said, ‘so, if she was raised human, did she not know the Director at all?’
Thankfully, the cover story had been pretty comprehensive in terms of the basic questions that might be asked. ‘As I understand it,’ Curt said, ‘it was a pretty awkward, “Luke, I am your father” moment.’
The door opened, and a server brought in a tray of champagne flutes, each with a sugar-crusted rim, containing liquid that was pretty close to the colour of the angel water on the table.
Raz looked at him. ‘Is she going back into Field? Or getting reassigned?’
‘Field,’ he confirmed, ‘as a secondary agent. There’s going to be a lot of “not trying to rock the boat going on”, so don’t expect her to be throwing out a lot of orders.’
‘We should do this again next week,’ Screen said, ‘and properly welcome her to our beloved little dumpster fire Agency.’