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The Importance of Imagination – 13

It was eleven. Time for bed.

Curt looked at the red numbers of his alarm clock as they ticked from 11:01 to 11:02 to 11:03 – time seeming to drag and to fly past in a weird paradox.

He’d taken his pills, and they’d work as soon as he laid his head down. They always did. The Parkers knew what they were doing – and how to keep him functional.

There was no hacker in his bed – and without her, it was a large and lonely place.

Absently, he reached for the left side of the bed, where Stef would usually be twisting and turning in an effort to get the last bits of conversation done for the night. It was weird. It was weird that it wasn’t weird anymore.

Going to bed without Stef just didn’t seem right anymore. The Parkers’ pills kept him asleep. Stef kept him safe. Without her, shadows were darker, nightmares clawed on the edges, and Petersen’s spectre was closer.

He looked to the clock again, then flung the covers back – the bed would be made by the time he returned – hopefully with his hacker in tow. She needed to rest – even if, by all technicalities, she didn’t need as much sleep as a human.

Science said one thing, practicality said another.

Blue, mirror, and claims of zombieism aside…Stef was still human. If she didn’t get enough sleep, she was cranky.

And agent, human or fae – no person was at their best when they kept throwing themselves at the same problem over and over again.

He required a pair of pants and a pair of sneakers, then left him room, heading for the Tech Department. He took a left turn, and took the shortcut through the infirmary – which, for once, was without the Parkers. The doors hissed opened and closed as he used the little bit of space-bending magic as he seamlessly traversed to another floor.

She was working in one of the small computer labs – one that had workstations for four people – when he’d last seen her, there had been two other recruits working on the problem with her.

Curt lingered in the doorway of the dark lab. The other techs had headed to bed, or were working in one of the multitude of other rooms. Stef, however, sat in front of a wall of screens, her slight body slumped in a uncomfortable position, her left hand propping her head up, her right hand laying on the closest keyboard.

There was salt crusted on her cheeks, where she’d been crying.

‘Newbie.’ No response. He walked into the lab, and stood three feet to her left – not so close as to spook her. ‘Newbie?’

She lifted her head a little bit, but otherwise, gave no reaction.

He walked forward, and knelt down on one knee beside her. ‘Hey,’ he said gently. He laid a hand on her cheek – still astounded that she let him touch her like this. ‘Newbie, you have to take a rest.’

‘I can’t,’ she mumbled, even as she moved her head to rest her cheek into his palm. ‘I need to-’ She blinked slowly. ‘I need to work more.’

‘Come to bed, please?’ he asked, his voice small.

She kept him safe through the night, but right now, she needed him as much as he needed her. If she didn’t stop working, she’d burn out.

‘I haven’t managed anything yet.’

‘Stef.’

She stirred a little close to wakefulness. ‘Yeah,’ she said, completely resigned. ‘Yeah. Okay.’

‘Stand up,’ he said, as he took her hand away from the keyboard. ‘Come on, Newbie.’

‘Help?’ she whispered, as her hand curled into his. ‘I don’t have…brain.’

He made a small, affirmative noise, adjusted his position, scooped his arms beneath her, and lifted her. Her head fell against his chest. ‘I’ll just rest for a bit,’ she said, sounding as if she was trying to convince herself more than him.

‘As you wish, Newbie.’

He turned, and carried her towards his room – he was grateful for the hour – even though there were Techs awake, not many of them were roaming the hall. He made it back through Tech, the Infirmary and – with a silent thanks said to the heavens – Field.

He kicked the door to his room closed with his foot, slipped off the sneakers as he walked towards the bed, and laid Stef down on the bed. Immediately, she sought out her pillow, pulling the pillow, encased in a Star Wars pillowcase, beneath her head, her brown hair obscuring most of the Imperial logos.

‘Curt?’

He knelt in front of her. ‘Yeah, Newbie?’

She reached forward and touched his face, her eyes fluttering closed as she did. ‘Good night.’

By the time he’d rounded the bed and crawled under the blanket, her breathing was slowing, taking her towards sleep. As he settled in, she wiggled, probably not more than half-conscious, back towards his body warmth.

He wrapped his arms around her, kissed the back of her head, and followed her into sleep.

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