There was a hand on her face.
Magnolia felt herself waking, ready to attack whoever had managed to catch her off-guard and-
The hand was familiar. Fingers she would have known, even with total amnesia. Knuckles that had bruised her countless times, dragging her further and further towards fighting fit and able to uphold the tenants of her duty.
Memory came flooding back.
Memories that couldn’t possibly be real.
Memories that seemed to be corroborated by the hand slowly tracing the edges of her face.
‘You’re awake, Magnolia.’
Her commander’s voice. Her- Her- They hadn’t discussed what this made them. Words were always too hard. They’d both said the three little words that would seem to make being “lovers” an eventuality, but it wasn’t her place to push, and it wasn’t her place to make assumptions.
He’d said “I love you”, even – and perhaps especially – because it had seemed so hard, that the words had been impossible.
He loved her, something that had been truly, uncomprehendingly unimaginable.
She opened her eyes, and his hand came away from her face, and she almost whimpered at its absence.
‘Training in fifteen,’ he said, ‘this is as late as-’
She quickly nodded. ‘I understand, sir.’
He closed his mouth, seemingly glad that he didn’t have to finish the explanation.
‘Sir,’ she said, but then fell silent, unsure as to what to say. Everything – almost everything – required words. She slowly, gently, brushed her lips over his, and her heart started to thrum as he kissed her back.
He rested his fingers against her cheek as the kiss ended. ‘Magnolia.’
‘Yes sir,’ she said, and climbed out of- Off the bleachers that had been converted into a bed. She quickly refreshed her clothes and hair, then made sure her knife was secured before turning to him. ‘I’ve already got this morning’s session set up. I can handle it myself if needed.’
He reached for her, and she stepped back so that he could hold the edge of her skirt. ‘My integrity-’ he looked away. ‘Forty-eight percent.’
She kept her expression locked down – the percentage she had assumed was in the lower sixties, or at worst, the high fifties – forty-eight percent was an unacceptable figure, and they’d seen the results of it.
Results that had nearly cost his life.
He looked to her, his expression clearly telling her he wanted input.
‘You could perform an emergency switch-out, using our dump tank, sir – that would bring it up at least fifteen percent, but that method is useless in the long term. A longer-term solution would be to see the Scholar, sir.’
He stood, his hands moving to check for his weapons. ‘Jones,’ he agreed, lingered to touch her face for a moment, then he shifted away, leaving the brief, static-like sensation of a shift on her skin.
Her mind split into priorities. The need to dance in circles until the exhilaration finally made it out of her chest; and the need to do her Duty – and to be the person he relied on.
She hung her head for a moment, required her tablet, then headed for the recruit gym.
Everything for this morning’s training was fairly basic – the usual selection of warm-up exercises, a hostage extraction sim with a twist, then individual exercises.
There were already a scattering of recruits as she came into the larger gym, and began to set up the three sim rooms – the three groups would all be running the same sim, and hopefully at least one of the groups would realise that the hostage they were rescuing was a Solstice traitor.
It happened. It was a situation they could very well encounter in the future. It was – if she’d read Ryan’s reports correctly – something he should have at least suspected about Mimosa, instead of assuming she was innocent.
She perched up on the balance beam – despite the size of the combat boots, she always felt steady. Sometimes, and only sometimes, her heritage came in handy.
Taylor had kissed her.
Taylor had said he loved her.
There was the future to consider; for now, there was Duty.
She looked up as the last of her recruits filtered into the room. She jumped from the balance beam, dismissed her tablet, and folded her arms behind herself. ‘Form ranks! Benson, pyjamas are not acceptable! Get your fucking uniform on!’