Curt toyed with his Agency phone for a moment, then dialled Mags and lifted it to his ear.
After three rings, she answered. ‘Speak.’
‘It’s later,’ he said. ‘Are you free, or–?’
‘I’m in my room,’ she said, and the connection was cut.
Curt rose from his desk, smoothed down his uniform. If it was any other woman, he’d change, go into casual clothes, but Magnolia seemed to appreciate the fact that he was almost always in uniform. It fit, somehow, more easily into her outlook than seeing him in civilian wear.
It only took a few minutes to get to her room, and she let him in without a word.
She wore a white, sleeveless shift – the bottom half of which was obscured by a frilly black skirt. He kept his expression neutral, even as memories of burying his head beneath this particular skirt surfaced. He understood his role perfectly clearly – when they slept together, he was a fucktoy. The fact that he got off, or got anything out of it at all was…inconsequential.
They were occasional fuck buddies, and if he was lucky, they were – or could be – somewhere in the vicinity of something like friends.
She poured herself a glass of water and offered him one, which he accepted. She sat on the edge of the bed and motioned to a newly required, overstuffed pink armchair.
‘I’ll show you mine,’ she said, ‘if you show me yours. Tell me what you know. We need to establish a base of what’s going on before we can move on.’
He leaned back in the chair, wondering if anything that he knew was a matter of personal record, or something that she couldn’t find out. The basics could go first; the gritter detail could wait.
‘Stef’s alive,’ he said, ‘the KIA was either false or incorrect. Ryan’s got something to do with that, to be sure. Last seen before here in the local court, and now…going to be an agent.’
Magnolia nodded, her black eyes glittering at him. ‘That’s almost as much as I know. The Dajulveed mirror was involved. The director made a wish, and some sentimentality means he’s not being recycled for the crime, and further sentiment means that Mimosa is going to live when–’
‘They let older agents get away with almost anything,’ he said, feeling safe enough around her to voice the opinion. Magnolia may have been the model of Agency efficiency and know the rules inside and out, but like him, she seemed to have no illusion about the true depths of evil that the Agency was capable of.
‘We’re not talking about keeping a harem,’ she said, ‘or black market slaves. It’s not food or drugs or sex. Mirror doesn’t usually get a free pass, but he seems to have cock-sucked his way away from an execution.’
‘You have such a way with words, Mags.’
She flashed a wicked smile at him. ‘You never seem to have a problem with my mouth.’
‘Agent,’ he said, letting the word hang in the air. ‘They’re making her an agent.’
Magnolia sipped at her water. ‘Mimosa is a shit name for an agent – and besides, that final result is contingent on Jones doing his job, and her making it through all of the testing phasing, which from what I understand, are quite rigorous.’
This was news to him. ‘Huh?’
‘Basic augments are an everyday thing. There’s known risks and factors, so it’s pretty much down to an exact – if infrequent – science. Full human-into-agent cases…much rarer, something like twenty-five hundred cases that are a matter of somewhat public record over the last hundred years.’
Curt’s eyebrows rose. ‘That seems like a lot, like…a lot, far more than I would have expected.’ He racked his brain for facts and figures that the Solstice had drilled into him. ‘Isn’t there only like a quarter of a million agents? So one percent is–’
‘There’s more than that,’ she ran her finger around the edge of her glass, ‘but that’s close to the official figure. Two-thirds of these human conversions were human/agent hybrid children, or agent/fae. In either case, those are more like upgrades than full conversions.’
He scratched at the arm of the chair. ‘That’s the cover story I suggested to Ryan. Everyone will hit the roof otherwise.’
She nodded. ‘You keep reminding me that you’re not just a decent fuck. He’ll be an idiot not to go that path. So that’s…’ She hesitated for a moment. ‘I don’t usually give two shits about Ryan’s personal life, but I feel like it’s going to be increasingly relevant. That’s their angle? Parent and child?’
He nodded but refused to add more detail than that – Stef’s emotions weren’t his to broadcast.
Magnolia stood, effortlessly sexy as she stood. ‘And what’s your angle, O’Connor?’
He looked away. ‘I don’t know if I have one, Mags.’
‘You cared enough to get Ryan investigated. You…knew she was at the local court. Where are you standing on all this?’
‘The investigation was about Agency accountability. Finding her at the court was sheer fucking coincidence, just like when you found her – what, all of five minutes later?’
Magnolia dismissed the water pitcher. ‘And your opinion of the outcome thus far?’
‘There’s probably a hundred ways it could have been worse, and a hundred ways it could have been better. I don’t think turning people into agents is–’ He shut his mouth, lest he spill some of his own experiences with partial augmentation. He closed his eyes for a moment and ensured his face was neutral. ‘For how quickly the decision was made, I’m worried about what level of informed consent she had. Agent isn’t a job she can quit.’
Magnolia laughed, but there was no mirth behind it. ‘The Agency does what it damn well wants to do, recruits and civilians be damned.’ She started to free her hair from the braids that framed her face. ‘We’re all damned, O’Connor, but at least we’ve got good seats.’
She slipped out of her skirt, walked back to him, and slid into his lap, her long legs draped over the side of the chair. ‘I need to have a shower. I stink and I’m tired. You’re welcome to join me.’
He tilted his head and let it lay against her neck for a brief moment – it was an act of intimacy that would probably get him punched in the dick, but the brief moment of contact was nice. Magnolia turned her head towards him, eyes flaring with annoyance for a moment before they softened.
With no hint of warning, she kissed him.
Curt felt the shock but managed to stop himself from pulling away. He closed his eyes and gave himself to the kiss, for the one sweet moment that it lasted. It was perfect.
And it was so obvious, on some deep level, that it wasn’t for him.
After a moment, Magnolia seemed to come to the same conclusion and pulled her lips from his.
Magnolia stared at him, her eyes searching for judgement, or disdain, or anything that would indicate that he’d never been worthy of sharing her bed in the first place.
Curt very carefully kept his hands from straying towards her hair, or her chest, of acknowledging the kiss in any way that would give her the indication that he was under the impression that it had meant something.
‘I have paperwork to do,’ he said, smirking and brushing his own hair back into position.
For a single moment, she looked vulnerable, and then she was back to being Magnolia again.
‘Stop being Ryan’s bitch.’ She stood, tugging her shift back into place. ‘Either he makes you an aide, or–’
‘Flying under the radar has helped me survive this long.’
She turned and lifted the shift. She dropped it to the floor, leaving nothing but a pair of cotton panties between her and the world.
His eyes turned upward, following her spine and the lines of muscle in her back, letting his eyes linger on her shoulders – and he enjoyed the spikes of arousal.
Magnolia turned and curled a finger towards him. ‘Hurry up if you’re planning on fucking me, O’Connor.’ She turned back and headed for the shower.
Curt smiled to himself and followed.