There was a hand on her back.
Magnolia felt herself react, but even as her back arched and stiffened, some deeper, animal part of her mind knew that she was safe.
There were very few people that she was comfortable to spend the night with – to fall asleep beside, to be utterly helpless, her throat exposed, her body open to attack. To be vulnerable and-
It had been a pleasure to add Taylor to that list – but that pleasure hadn’t immediately overridden the instinctual fear of a new situation.
But – conscious and unconscious – she was learning the little signs of him, the little markers and indicators that would help her process him, an to sleep without fear.
She rolled her shoulders, and his fingers adjusted to trace the movement. He loved her body, but it was in a way that no one else had ever appreciated her. She was sure – almost sure – there was some component of standard attraction, but there was something more that seemed to appeal to him. Her strength, the way she moved, how fast she could be.
It was attraction, filtered through ability, and she had no problem with that.
She’d always been strong – but he had challenged her, bringing out potential that she hadn’t known she had. He looked at her like she was a perfect blade, and that was thrilling.
His fingers moved to touch the feathers on her back – ones that would need to be clipped soon – else they catch on the fabric of her clothes. That at least, wasn’t anything new – since her early days in the- Since her early days as a recruit, he had assisted with the feathers that were out of reach, or that were stubborn.
It had started almost as a game – if a dangerous one. In the early days, when she thought she could fuck her way out of her situation. That if she shimmied and pouted, that he would confess that his – frankly insane – plan to induct her as a recruit was a long con to get her into bed before getting rid of her.
Nothing about their relationship was normal. Nothing had to be.
Love born of respect. Attraction born from power. Contradictions and subverted expectations.
Taylor wasn’t who people thought he was. A new recruit, or visitor to their Agency saw a tall, angry man. Saw someone who scowled and growled and sent his aide after the recruits to whip them into shape.
They projected ideas onto him. They saw anger, they didn’t see that he was capable of gentleness. They expected him to slam doors. They expected that he had a giant cock, and fucked with the same angry expression he used during a full Combat muster.
They never saw that he hated the quiet. That things haunted him. That trauma followed him, like the expectations of those that had known him.
The world had an unreliable narration about Taylor, and people bought into it without a second thought.
She saw him. Who he was now, not who he had been before he had died. She didn’t level expectations on him to be who he had been before. Didn’t impugn him for moments when he was unsure.
She loved him. With everything that she had to give, she loved him.
Magnolia opened her eyes, and saw that his were still closed.
She drank in the sight of his peaceful expression for a moment, then moved towards him, lightly levering her naked body atop his, and laid a kiss on his lip. ‘Sir.’
He kissed her in return. ‘Magnolia,’ he said, his voice a soft rumble.
With how full their days were, quiet moments never lasted as long as they should, but there were ways to extend them – such as their morning agent/aide briefing, which had been traditionally done clothed and in his office.
This way was far more fun.
Between kissed and light touches to his face, she went over the major points of the schedule, leading up to lunch – when they would reconvene, and look at the adjusted afternoon schedule, as things had a tendency to go awry in the mornings, throwing off whatever had been planned for the afternoon.
One thing, however, was likely to remain for the afternoon schedule. ‘Just a reminder, sir, Hewitt and his team will be unavailable from four till five, unless it’s an emergency.’
Taylor’s brow creased. ‘The child isn’t due for three days.’
Another thing about Taylor’s unreliable narrative was that people expected him to be stupid – thick as a brick stupid, and unable to recall even basic amounts of information. The narrative would have bucked and screamed if he had been seen to recall trivial information about his recruits – such as the date of arrival for an adopted child.
‘Baby shower, sir,’ she said. ‘It’s traditional.’
Hewitt and his perpetually-smiling-to-his-chagrin quokka partner had been in line to adopt a child for months – a little boy that they had previously fostered, and with the paperwork finally finalised, the recruit that practically acted as her lieutenant had been practically floating on air for the last week.
And his team – recruits he fought alongside, and had bled for, were adamant that they were going to throw him a shower – and had been stacking one of the meeting rooms full of presents and treats since the acknowledgment had come through.
‘Are you attending?’
‘I’ve planned to, sir, unless something else needs my attention. If I can’t go, I’m going to have Merlin run my gift over.’
Taylor was quiet – his particular kind of quiet that meant he was thinking something over. She let him think – he took a long time to put words together, particularly when it was a subject that wasn’t directly related to something he was comfortable with.
After a moment, she slipped her body from his, stood, and began to dress for the day. One requirement had a dress on her body – one that was positively subdued in comparison to normal, sleeveless, with a faux-buttoned bodice, all black, except for the pattern of stitched white feathers around the trim of the skirt.
She looked to her wrists, and required leather bracers – each with three small pockets that held various tricks and treasures – from stimulant powder, to an impressive, if small, collection of diamonds.
All of her clothes – each piece custom, each outfit representing dozens of hours of design and testing – were far more than they appeared to be, all being a kind of mobile go bag. If they were ever stranded in a blackout zone, or in some part of Faerie where they couldn’t get to a set of stairs, she had enough valuable objects to barter for shelter, protection, or the beginning of a new life.
Weapons inside weapons. Fabrics woven with harm-resistant threads. Decorative stitching done with coils of real gold and silver. No article of clothing was just an article of clothing.
Lastly, shit-kicking combat boots. Perfect for stomping on those who needed to be stomped.
With one more requirement to fix her hair, she was almost ready for the day, and whatever it would throw at them.
She fetched her knife and its scabbard from the bedside table, and slipped it into its usual place in her boot. Knife in place, she felt complete.
‘Is that what you want?’
In their way, conversations with Taylor ran behind real time in a way that you had to be specialised to properly handle.
It was an unexpected question. Not unwelcome in the grand scheme of things, but likely not- Truth was the only way to move forward. She had kept the truth from him for so long, been in love with him for so long. Had expected the worst outcome if she had ever let it slip to him.
She had told him, and beyond all dreams, he had reciprocated.
There was nothing transitory about their love. That idea might been seen to be…childish, the unbelievable romance of movies and happily ever afters that never dealt with the reality of day to day life.
It could be seen that way, but it wasn’t. There was just something in the way that they loved that meant that they would be together forever – whether that forever was a hundred years, or the short bright burn of those that acted as the shields for the Agency.
It wasn’t unreasonable that the question of children might come up. Was a question she had spent a long time pondering. Wasn’t a question she had expected to deal with so soon.
She squared her shoulders, and tilted her head up to look him in the face. ‘Children, sir?’
He gave an affirmative grunt.
Agents had children. Taylor of all people knew that – best friend to a man who had literally dozens of children, and an ever-growing number of grandchildren. Saw day to day Jones and Ryan with their tiny, nerdy children.
But Taylor was without children – that wasn’t surprising for Taylor as he was now, but not even the Taylor of before had had children.
Taylor of before, and Taylor now were unquestionably different men – but there were some similarities. Some things that survived his death and rebirth. Grigori – who still looked for the old version of his friend far too much for her comfort – remarked on small things that the two Taylors had in common.
Taylor, before, had lived a long life without ever taking the opportunity to have children. It meant something. Or had meant something. And Taylor now-
Truth was the only way.
‘Yes, sir, I would like a child. At least one. One for preference. To start with.’ She closed her mouth to prevent rambling. It wasn’t a well-worn subject, and it was very subjective, so there was the chance that she would use far too many words.
Brown eyes surveyed her. That was yet another thing people missed. How gorgeous his eyes were. How deep and-
‘Now?’ his voice a rumble.
She felt the corners of her mouth turn up. ‘No, sir, not yet.’
He grunted in the affirmative, then rose from the bed, his uniform blinking into existence over his naked body.
He had said everything without saying a word. But- This was one of those times where she needed words from him. Where his comfort level had to be pushed. Clarification was needed. And with the positive reaction, it felt like a time where she could push.
He crossed to her, his right hand burying itself in her hair, the rough pads of his fingers pressing against her head – pressure, but not pain. Protection. ‘With you. Yes.’ He blinked and looked away. ‘I may not- You know I am not- Complete. But if you want this- Then yes. I am not perfect for you. I will not be perfect for you. But I can protect. Teach.’ His lips brushed hers. ‘And- I love what is mine.’
Something delicious twisted inside, and she fought down the urge to bring his hands towards her skirt. She breathed out, trying to deal with how much a few simple words had made her want to fuck him, hold him close, and cry to the world that she was in love.
An alarm snap-kicked away any chance of a quickie. She blinked, and tried to bring her thoughts under control.
‘On your schedule, Magnolia,’ he said, ‘when you are ready. I am ready.’
She kissed him deeply, and made a small delighted noise as he lifted her, easily holding her to him.
‘I’ll keep it in mind, then,’ she said, a smile on her face, something she’d have to deal with before getting in front of the recruits.
He lowered her to the ground, and she moved to fetch her workbook – a physical folder that held actual papers and printed schedules – there was, of course, a digital copy that she relied heavily on, but there was something about putting pen to paper that allowed her to think better when making plans.
Paperwork ready, she nodded to Taylor, and walked out of the room, ready to face the day with her commander. Against the two of them, the world didn’t stand a chance.