Raz leant back as the pointy-eared waitress put down the tray of drinks, then slipped a card towards Sacha before leaving.

‘A number,’ Screen asked, ‘or a voucher?’

Sacha flipped the card around and grinned. ‘Both.’

‘Jesus, Sach,’ Screen said, leaning her head against his shoulder. ‘Could you possibly get any more tail?’

He looked at the waitress as she walked back behind the bar. ‘I wonder if she has a tail,’ he said with a grin, then grabbed his beer from the centre.

The pub was Agency-friendly to the point that it apparently received some form of funding from one of the Central Agency departments. It gave discounted drinks for recruits, in return for subsidies. There was also occasional request to close the establishment for a private event –

which could become the parties of legend.

And it was a five-minute walk from the agency, making it a great place to go when you were off-shift and felt like hanging out somewhere…even if there were a million awesome places to hide within the agency itself.

It seemed to be place only recruits went, though. The only agent he’d seen was Curt – who occasionally lingered in one of the darker corners, nursing a single beer, watching whatever fae show happened to be on the pub’s 80-inch screen.

Everyone had taken their drinks, but there was still one left.

‘Who?’ he asked, motioning towards the tall glass – the drink inside was clear, slightly sparkling, and had a stick of fruits running from the bottom to the top.

Screen lifted her head. ‘Mags just texted and said she has time for precisely one drink.’

Raz ran through his mental list of tech recruits, then stopped as the name became very familiar. ‘The– the combat aide?’

Screen nodded, as though Magnolia’s company was nothing unusual.

‘She’s a nerd?’ he asked, curious about the answer.

Screen shook her head. ‘No, she’s here to…work on interdepartmental relations,’ she said, her lips quirking into a smile.

Ten seconds later, Magnolia – in another black-and-white goth loli outfit – slid onto the bench beside Screen and quickly kissed her. Kiss done, Magnolia leaned back against the stuffed bench, and took her drink. She wrapped her tongue around the first piece of fruit on the stick and sucked it into her mouth.

‘You’re dating?’ Raz asked, feeling stupid for the question.

‘I don’t have time to date,’ Magnolia said as she put the glass down. ‘There’s just a few recruits whose company I enjoy.’

Screen elbowed Magnolia. ‘Name tag.’

‘Fine.’ Magnolia pointed to her chest – a name tag reading “Magnolia (Aide)”, along with

“She” and the pink, purple, and blue of the bi pride flag appeared. Raz nodded, and the tag disappeared.

His phone beeped – a text from Jess, inviting him to dinner in a few days. He smiled and responded – even offering to pick the restaurant, as he’d be able to afford it.

Time disappeared with conversation and drinks.

Three rounds later – of which, Magnolia stayed for two – everyone began to check their phones and agreed it was time to head back.

Screen headed off for her room, Sacha headed for one of the common rooms, and Raz headed for his lab – it wasn’t quite time for his shift, but he had work to do, and there was something empowering about showing up early, as compared to hiding in a corner, not being able to show up at all.

Raz settled into his chair, pulled his headphones from his pocket, raised them to his mouth and kissed them, then slipped them into his ears. One day, he’d be able to pay Ryan back for changing his life, for giving him new friends, and helping him find his purpose.

Until that day came, there was work, and there was Duty.

He fired up his playlist, tapped the side of his microscope, and drifted away with his music.