The coffee shop was small, and as far as Stef could tell, entirely human. ‘The medical is almost finished,’ she said, reading the update stream in her HUD. ‘Jonesy has booked the Tech conference room to go over what we know, and discuss next steps.’
Ryan lifted his coffee. ‘We can head back whenever you need, sweetheart.’
She lifted the small cup to her mouth and sipped, then licked the foam from her lips. ‘Hey, dad?’
‘What happens if this doesn’t have a happy ending?’

He reached for her hand and squeezed. ‘You, Jones and his recruits will do their best. You have your Field work to do, but I’ll try to excuse you as much as I can from non-mandatory duties. I have no intention on stopping you from helping with this.’
‘I just- I had plans to see Milla this weekend, and I don’t know if I should cancel or not. I just don’t want to-’ She shrugged. ‘I don’t want to seem frivolous or something, if I take time off to have fun.’
‘Sweetheart, you don’t even know what the situation will be at the end of the week. Don’t cancel your plans until you know more.’ He smiled. ‘And I know I’m no model, but it’s important to have fun.’
Stef stole one of the pieces of biscotti from in front of Ryan and put it on her plate. ‘It’s still weird to have friends. I mean- I told you, I honestly expected to just die one day in my apartment and it’d take the stink of my corpsified body before someone noticed I was gone. Now- Now I’ve got people that willingly talk to me. Who share stuff on Tumblr just cause they think I’ll like it.’ She smiled. ‘It’s nice.’
‘It’s no less than you deserve,’ Ryan said, a warm, dad!smile on his face. ‘You just had to find the right people. Sometimes it takes longer than you would like-’
‘Please don’t give me nonsense about it being worth the wait.’
‘I try to minimise untrue platitudes,’ Ryan said, ‘unkindess doesn’t build character that a person wasn’t intrinsically capable of in the first place; and many things happen for no reason at all. It took you a long time to find friends, there was nothing inherently good about that wait, but I think you’ll really appreciate those moments of friendship that you have now.’
She finished off her coffee, then tapped it with her index finger to refill it. ‘Hey. Um. There’s an elephant I want bring up. Well, it’s an elephant to me. But-’ She stared down into her coffee. ‘There’s- Um- There’s a rumour about me and Curt going around. I know you’re away from most of the gossip, but-’
‘Clarke prides himself on knowing all the gossip. He approached me last week, and- In vulgar terms, asked my opinion about your treason.’ Ryan wiped his hands on a napkin. ‘He sees no line between a Solstice and an ex-Solstice, and he has parsed the rumour that you’re involved with Mister O’Connor as a treasonous act.’
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake.’ She looked at Ryan, allowing her confusion to write itself across her face. ‘I always get so much flack for the sex I didn’t have far more than I have for-’ She felt heat in her cheeks. ‘For the sex that I have had.’ She scratched the back of her head. ‘Man, it’s still weird to think that I’ve-’ She refocussed on Ryan. ‘I’m asleeping with Curt, I’m not sexing with him.’
‘It’s none of my business either way, sweetheart, unless it’s something you choose to bring up.’
‘How can you be so…unstressy about this? I mean, I didn’t even know about Clarke-’
‘Clarke is a bastard,’ Ryan said, ‘and that isn’t a word I use lightly. His opinion means very little to me, even when it comes to relevant things.’ Ryan reached forward, and took back the piece of biscotti that she had stolen. ‘So long as it’s an action you’re performing of your own free will, then it’s nothing to concern me.’
‘He had- He had big sads, and he needed someone to get him through the night. And then-’ She gave a deep shrug. ‘Now it’s just routine. I like it- But it’s weird and-’
‘Stef, there are things far stranger in this world than platonic comfort.’
She stole the biscotti again, then crammed it into her mouth. ‘Thanks for not being weird.’
Talk to him, he’s your dad.
But I don’t even-
‘Hey, um.’
Ryan arched an eyebrow, then slid his plate – with the only remaining of biscotti on their table – towards her. ‘I never assume that any baked goods in my general vicinity are going to remain mine.’
‘How do you know what a crush feels like?’
His eyes surveyed her carefully for a moment. ‘Is there someone in particular? Or is this a general scientific enquiry for later study?’
‘I was in love once. But it- It wasn’t- We were friends, and then there was a kiss.’ She shrugged. ‘Also, I was twelve, so I don’t think it’s a good basis for understanding anything as an adult.’
‘Depending on the friend, and the friendship, falling in love with a friend can be a good thing. I’ve known friends whose love was stronger because they had that basis in friendship first. Idealised love, the eyes of a stranger across a room, instant attraction, that to me seems less likely to endure than a relationship where the people involved know each other’s interests, hopes, fears.’
She stared down at her coffee. ‘Okies. Um. Scientific enquiry over for now? It requires more thought.’
Ryan ruffled her head. ‘It’s no problem, just so long as your idea of requiring more thought isn’t trying to expand your cognitive capacity by surgically attaching sticks of RAM to your brain.’
She smirked. ‘I never tried that.’
‘I never said that you did. I’m just forestalling your attempt of it.’