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03.09

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“Do you even know what day it is?”

Adam looks up from where he’s checking his gear. He turns the stun-gun over in his hands, and waits for Pritchard to get to the point. “I know it’s March.”

The rare sound of Pritchard’s chair being wheeled back, and Pritchard walking out from behind the computers. Adam looks down sharply to his guns, and listens to Pritchard’s steps in the echoing, empty theatre.

Pritchard says, voice heavy and every syllable pointed, “It’s the ninth. Congratulations on being another year closer to death, Jensen.”

Adam frowns down at his gear and tried to figure out the significance of – Oh. He raises his head, to where Pritchard’s standing over him. Blinks. “How’d you - ?”

“It’s in your personnel file. Also, Sarif liked to put little gold streamers on your office door.”

Adam just stares a little. “Huh.”

“Not that you were ever in there enough to know. You were too busy babysitting the security staff.”

His stare turns to a glare. “I was the head of department.”

“Lewis once told me that he used to look around every time he sat down for a coffee because he could feel you breathing down his neck.

Adam tries not to grind his teeth. His hair’s flopping into his eyes, and the itchiness isn’t helping his mood. Neither’s Francis. “Considering Sarif’s backdoor - “

“Yes, yes, I know. And perhaps if we’d found it earlier…”

They both sigh, loud in the echoing silence.

Then Adam raises a brow. “’We’? Thought you always said that one was my fault.”

“Yes. Well. Things change.” Pritchard fidgets and runs a hand through his hair, then seems to remember it’s tied up. And there’s something in his other hand…

After a second’s obvious debate with himself, Pritchard tosses over a bag.

Adam catches it by instinct. It’s small, simple, leather and cloth. He unlaces it and squints inside. 

He silently, bemusedly brings out a straight razor and shaving cream, scissors. Lays them carefully out on the floor. He remembers how long it took him to shave, after the augs. Pauses with his fingers on the handle of the razor, staring at it. “Pritchard?”

“I called in a few favours,“ Pritchard says hastily, like he wants to make excuses. Like he’s done something wrong. Adam can hear him shifting from foot to foot. “You look like you’ve been living in the sewers.” Frank sniffs, pointedly, but leaves that one unsaid. “I couldn’t find your usual litre of hair gel…”

Adam gets the point. “Thanks.” He swallows. He looks into Frank’s eyes, and knows his face says too much. He tries to school it into something less grateful. He’s not a dog begging for scraps, but… he gets the feeling this cost something.

Frank nods, stiff as a robot. Adam almost snorts at that, considering he’s the one mostly made out of steel and titanium.  Frank says, “And there’s something else…” His pocket sec pings, and he grabs it. Almost fumbles it.

He looks exhausted, and the circles under his eyes are even darker than usual. They’ve both been pretending not to notice the other’s nightmares and lack of sleep. It’s a weird kind of stalemate – at least, that’s what Adam would’ve called it a few months ago, but now it feels almost like… The word friendship slips into his mind, and he pushes it away. No time to think about that, not now.

Even with all that, Frank brightens as he reads a message. “Ah. Faster than planned.”

A knock at the door, sharp and efficient, breaks the silence.

Adam goes for the stun gun. But Frank almost saunters across the room, starts unbolting chains and padlocks, and there’s the beep of some kind of improvised security system. Daylight sneaks into the room, and in it, there’s a shadow. Adam leaves two fingers on the stun gun, but cranes his neck to see what’s going on.

“Frank!” a familiar voice says. “I’d hug you, but I’m kinda... Hands full.”

“Malik?” Adam doesn’t realise he said it, soft and under his breath, until he hears himself.

Pritchard smiles, just slightly. It’s more obvious in the light. “Malik. It’s been a while.” He steps aside.

Malik meanders inside uncertainly. She’s got a new flightsuit, darker than the SI one, and under her arm, there’s something in black leather, brushing her knees. Something familiar.

Adam opens his mouth. Closes it again.

She glances around, frowning. “This place is… didn’t you have someplace else to go? Look at it.”

“It’s underground. Defensible.” The snippiness is back in Pritchard’s tone now. “Some of us had to stay and rebuild. I had security concerns to worry about.”

Adam stands with that same slow uncertainty. He guesses none of them knows quite how they ended up here.

Malik’s eyes flicker to him with the movement, and then she… stops. Stares.

He swallows. “Hey, flygirl.”

She crosses the room in what feels like a couple steps, eyes wide. For a second he thinks she’s going to hit him, and then he realises her eyes are watering. “Jesus, Adam. I know Frank told me, but… you were dead. I watched them turn over your office.”

He scratches the back of his neck. “Yeah.”

“Where the fuck were you?”

“Alaska.” He says it just to cut off the stream a little. “Kind of a long story.” He tries, “I’ll tell you over coffee, if you want.”

She won’t be distracted. “And then you come back looking like…” She glances him over again. “You look like you’ve been through hell. Even after the augs…”

He swallows again. His throat’s suddenly desperately dry, and he glances away. “Yeah. Sorry.” He starts to move, to try and get out of this -

Arms round him, tight, and he smells hair product and polished leather. The coat’s heavy, squashed tight against him, and between that and Malik he almost can’t breathe. It’s good. It’s been so long since someone did this that he can’t even remember… Must be more than a year. He hasn’t got many friends left these days. He closes his eyes before he can help it. “Where’d you find that?” he murmurs.

“You left it in the back of the VTOL. Before you went to the Omega Ranch. Last time I saw you. Thought it’d be the last time ever.”

“Faridah…” He realises after a second that his hand’s on her back, and his arm’s round her, too.

“You were dead.” It comes out in a breathed-out rush.

“Yeah. I’m sorry.”

“You’re a goddamn idiot and…” Her voice sounds suspiciously damp. She steps back and offers him the coat. “…you don’t even deserve this.”

He just looks at it, for a second. “You kept it? All this time?”

“What else was I supposed to do? Everyone was trying to liquidate your assets, but I figured you’d gone off the grid enough times… It seemed pretty expensive, and I guess I needed a throw blanket.” She inhales. Her voice is so quiet that maybe augmented ears wouldn’t catch the next words: “And part of me didn’t want to believe.”

He takes it with tentative hands. Runs his thumbs over familiar patterns and feels the weight of it. “I… Thanks.”

She smiles, and it trembles but it’s real. Familiar. “Happy birthday, spyboy.”

He huffs a laugh, just slightly, at that. “I uh, I meant what I said. I figure Frank might have some of the shitty coffee he keeps by the caffeine pills.” He looks past her. “Pritchard?”

Frank glares back.  “Not everyone likes their coffee to be a gritty sugar milkshake, Jensen.” After a second he relents, sighs. “I… might have some. Come on, then.”

“And then I’m gonna shave,” Adam says, running a hand over his beard.

“Thank God,” Frank sighs.

Malik falls into step with him, shoulder comfortably nudging his. “Yeah, angry Aug Jesus is kind of a weird look.”

For the first time since Stacks, in what feels like a lifetime, Adam grins back.