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But They Make the Best Lattes

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Janey wrinkled her nose as a familiar scent drifted into the bedroom. It had been just three days since she convinced Athena to pack up her few belongings and move in, and - she cracked one eye open to check - it was also the third day in a row her sleep had been so rudely interrupted just before sunrise. The gladiator’s early morning ritual filled the tiny apartment with the pungent aroma of freshly-brewed coffee, assaulting Janey’s nose and denying any possibility of additional sleep.

The junker rolled over with a groan, opening the other eye to confirm what she already knew: the bed was empty. With a few choice expletives, she heaved out of bed, dragging the Dahl-issue sheet along with her.

Sheet draped lazily around her shoulders in lieu of clothes, Janey staggered down the hall and stopped just outside the kitchen. Prepared to lecture the ex-assassin on the merits of sleeping in (and the cons of waking your girlfriend too early), she squared her shoulders and stepped over the threshold.

Athena leaned back against the counter, still clad in bra and boyshorts, both hands wrapped around a steaming mug. Eyes closed, she raised the mug just below her nose and inhaled deeply. With a satisfied hum, she finally drank, savoring the dark brew for a moment before glancing up at the lanky blonde looming in the doorway.

“Well, good morning,” she offered with a smile. At the sight of her girlfriend’s disheveled state, Athena’s eyebrows rose, the corner of her mouth twitching with amusement.

Janey hesitated, lips pursed, her anger deflating in the face of Athena’s good mood. The blonde shook her head in defeat and flopped into one of the kitchen chairs. She yelped in protest when her bare leg brushed against the cold metal of the chair. Unable to hold back a chuckle, Athena set a second mug on the table and took the other chair.

“Bloody hell, ‘Thena, coulda fooled me. Looks like it’s still night out there,” Janey grumbled. One hand snaked out from under the sheet to procure the mug, which she held close to her chest. “Why d’you even drink so much coffee? Only thing good about it is it’s hot.”

The smaller woman leaned back in her chair, nursing her cup. She hummed again.

“When I was in training, we weren’t exactly given a lot of choices. Water or coffee - that was it,” she replied between sips. “Later on… well, there was no drinking on the job, so our options didn't really change. But at least we had the freedom to choose where we got it.”

The now-empty mug came to rest on the table with a soft -clunk-. The gladiator leaned forward, elbow on table, chin against her knuckles.

“Atlas had these fancy coffee makers in just about every building. Probably the only good thing they had going for them. They made the best lattes,” Athena sighed, eyes losing focus as she stared at the space over Janey’s shoulder.

The sound of a throat being cleared brought Athena to the present. Her gaze snapped back to Janey, who was watching her thoughtfully from across the table.

“Anyway, uh, force of habit? Mornings are a lot harder without coffee,” she finished with a shrug.

Janey tilted her head in acknowledgement. She lifted her mug and took an experimental sip. Bitterness flooded her mouth, her nose wrinkling in immediate disgust.

No sugar. Of course.

Laughter sputtered forth across the table. Janey glanced up, scowling at the smaller woman. Athena coughed into her fist, shoulders still shaking as she tried to regain composure.

After a moment, she pushed herself up from the table, extending a hand to remove the offending beverage.

“Sorry, Springs. Sorry. You, uh - you learn to appreciate it,” Athena winked as she whisked the mug away.

The junker cocked a brow in response, eyes following Athena as she disappeared down the hall, presumably to finish getting dressed.

“Whatever you say, hon.”

Janey leaned back in the chair, staring up at the ceiling and mulling over the events of the morning.

Okay. Awake before dawn - bad.

But, Athena. Animated, talkative Athena - good.

Not one, but two genuine Athena laughs. And that wink - bonza.

A sly smile crept over her face as an idea began to take hold.

Janey grew more accustomed to the early mornings with each passing day, though she did not learn to appreciate black coffee, nor did she stop teasing Athena for rising with the “ass-crack of dawn.”

There was even the occasional day where they didn’t rise with the sun, the gladiator surrendering to the taller woman’s insistent cuddling, relaxing in each other’s arms until hunger forced them both out of bed to seek breakfast.

Months passed before the black marketeer located her objective. At last, one of her connections came through, relaying info on a so-called reasonable deal for a slightly battered, definitely non-functional, bonafide Atlas Xtreme Latte 5000™.

Regardless of the machine’s condition, Janey jumped at the opportunity, hurrying to stash her prize at the emporium before Athena returned from her latest job. Busted coffee maker tucked under one arm, she ducked into the shop and cast about for a hiding place. She settled on an especially dusty corner, already piled high with other bits and bobs that would provide the perfect cover for the device.

After a few minutes of arranging and rearranging the pile of scrap, Janey stood back to inspect her work. With a little nod of approval, she locked up and headed for the apartment.

The machine lay untouched, gathering dust, for weeks. When Athena announced that her next job would require several days of travel, maybe longer, Janey smiled inwardly. Finally, a chance to work on her pet project without fear of discovery.

Less than an hour after her girlfriend’s departure, Janey was at her workbench. The coffee maker sat in front of her, half-disassembled, dozens of tiny parts spread out across the table. She carefully removed and inspected each piece, setting aside anything that looked too damaged to be replaced.

She stayed hunched over the workbench for hours, disassembling, swapping parts, and reassembling the machine, swearing whenever she noticed a missing piece and had to undo the last fifteen minutes of progress to put it right.

Late into the evening, Janey sat up and stretched, wincing at the pops and cracks traveling down her spine. The coffee maker stood in the middle of the bench, looking not much different than it had that morning. Taking a deep breath, Janey reached out and flicked the switch on the side.

Nothing happened, at first. The breath she was holding escaped as a disappointed groan. Seconds ticked by, when a wisp of smoke curled its way out of the top of the machine.

“Shit shit SHIT!” the junker slapped the switch off and frantically yanked the plug from the wall. Janey glared at the coffee maker, adrenaline quickly giving way to frustration. “Ya gotta be kiddin’ me,” she muttered, dragging the machine closer. A bit of fiddling and she pried off a side panel, revealing the mechanical guts she’d spent most of the afternoon reassembling. She leaned closer, squinting to inspect the damage. Her shoulders fell.

It was gonna be a long night.

When Athena returned two days later, she found the junk dealer already face down in bed, dead to the world, despite the fact that it was mid-afternoon. She knelt at the edge of the bed, resting one hand on a scarred shoulder.

“Hey, I’m home,” she whispered. Janey shifted slightly, but her breathing remained even. Smiling to herself, Athena rose and slipped from the room to clean up.

Hours later, she crawled into bed. Janey woke just enough to register her presence, drawing her into a warm embrace before drifting off once more.

The following morning, Athena woke to find an empty bed and - her brow furrowed, unable to compute the incoming information. Was she really smelling coffee right now? That didn’t seem right.

Janey doesn’t like early mornings and Janey doesn’t like coffee. Janey is gone but someone is making coffee. Athena’s brain followed to its sleep-addled conclusion: intruder.

She bolted upright and leapt out of bed. Without a second thought, she sprinted down the hallway to the kitchen.

And stopped dead in her tracks.

Janey wore a smug grin, steaming mug in one hand, the other draped casually over the refurbished Atlas Xtreme Latte 5000. The Atlas logo had been pried off the front, replaced with “Springs”. Below the logo, “Slightly-Scavenged” was engraved in front of the model name.

“I made you coffee,” Janey said with a smirk, holding out the mug.

Athena short-circuited, crossing the kitchen in two steps and sweeping the taller woman into a near bone-crushing hug.

"Marry me."

Janey buried her free hand in Athena's hair with an affectionate chuckle. "Love you, too, hon."