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"Did you even go home last night?" E saunters into my office with her brows raised, her tone light, and a Styrofoam cup in each hand. There's no doubt she knows I just sat down, even though I thought I'd managed to slip past, unnoticed like a thief in the night.

 

That's what I get for being complacent, I suppose.

 

"No time for that," I state, glancing up from the file lying in the perfect position to imply I was reading it, should anyone interrupt my careful consideration of more important matters. "It's my duty to protect the innocents from all those monsters under their beds."

 

My secretary grins -- no doubt taking note of how 'innocents' sounds suspiciously like 'ignorant' when it comes from my lips -- and comes to a halt by my desk. Her gaze drops, bouncing between the two cups, and a flicker of confusion crosses her face -- which is which is which is which? Then she just shrugs, placing the one in her left hand in front of me, squarely on top of the file.

 

I eye it warily.

 

"You shouldn't have."

 

"You say that every morning," E points out, and takes a sip of her own. I watch carefully in case of unexpected developments, but nothing interesting happens. I find myself vaguely disappointed.

 

"I mean it every morning, too."

 

"You could try just saying 'thanks'," she remarks, not the slightest bit cowed by my tone, and crosses her arms to cup one elbow with the opposite hand. It should be against the rules to look that amused.

 

I pick up the cup and take a whiff, against my better judgement. Today's offering is something with hazelnut and soy, it seems -- a tame option, considering what she'd tried peddling the last few days. Not that my expression hints at my relief, of course.

 

I'm a firm believer in never encouraging frivolous efforts.

 

E doesn't share this opinion; every morning she comes bearing A New And Interesting Drink With Flavour, insisting this will be the one to convert me from my dull and predictable habits -- and every morning, she fails miserable. It should be almost impressive how little this deters her.

 

By this point, she has to be running out of ways to combine foam and flavour shots and soy and latte into different abominations, but she shows no signs of slowing. I'm half-convinced she's just repeating orders from last month to see if I notice -- but if I accuse her of this, and I'm incorrect, it only proves her point: that my palette isn't refined enough to keep up with whatever it is the popular kids are drinking these days.

 

If she wasn't so useful, I'd consider firing her, just to win this game.

 

"Well?" She nods towards my cup, which I'm still staring at in the hopes I can make it explode using only the power of my mind. "What do you think?"

 

"Definitely not coffee," I confirm, and lean back in my chair -- maybe if I distract her with some of that smooth charm I'm so notorious for, she won't notice my reluctance. "What did I miss?"

 

The phrasing is deliberate, but the response is unexpected -- E's expression turns stony, and her posture stiff. If I didn't know her better, I'd think I'd offended her.

 

It would seem things were serious.

 

"C's eager to talk to you about--" She steps forward, shuffling files left and right until she finds the one she wants, and thrusts it in my face. It's amazing she doesn't send any of the precarious piles scattering onto the floor, but that's why she's paid the big dollars. "--this one. He insists."

 

Her shift in attitude is enough to give me pause, and I flick the file open. Plenty of photographic evidence, this time around -- blood and missing limbs and crude symbols carved into stone, all in varying shades of black and white. I push them aside and turn my attention to the text, though I expect nothing more than the generic, ominous babble that usually accompanys such images.

 

"Ugh." E's reaction is more visceral -- she turns sharply to stare out into the hallway, swallowing hard. It's not like her to be so unprofessional, and I ignore the slip. "What's that -- the tenth one this week?"

 

"Third," I correct, absently, still skimming. My assumption is correct -- nothing interesting past the first paragraph -- and so, I flip it closed again. I can see why C wants to discuss this, but what does he think I will have to say that I haven't already repeated ad nauseum?

 

My opinions rarely change, after all.

 

"Were they all so messy?" she asks, still looking away.

 

"Don't you screen my mail?" I challenge, but she's not in the mood. She glances towards the clock, forcing a smile that doesn't look the slightest bit sincere. Terrible liar, my secretary is.

 

"Breaks over," E states, rallying herself. "Back to the grind."

 

"That would be wise," I agree. "I hear your boss is a real stickler for the rules."

 

"Is that what you hear?" I think there's a grin there, but she turns away before I can be sure. "Try your coffee, boss," she adds, glancing back, and struts out just the way she strutted in. I watch her go -- just to make sure she does, naturally.

 

When the door is safely closed in her wake, I allow myself a sigh, and stare at the cup once more. It doesn't bother me that it would be rude not to try the concoction, but it's so much effort to come up with a convincing lie when she pushes for an opinion. It's easier just to do it.

 

So, I do.

 

It's as awful as I expected, hotter than I anticipated, but -- for added points -- I hadn't predicted that the rancid stench would make my eyes water quite so much. It's nice to know I can still be surprised by the little things in life.

 

With a sour look, I throw it away -- it lands neatly in the bin, sloshes a bit, and then sloshes around some more as I nudge it away as far as I can without getting out of my seat. After some consideration, I toss a file on top of it for good measure. I'm sure it's still there, waiting and judging, but I'm sure I can handle whatever it throws at me.

 

I pause, and shoot the bin a sideways glance, just in case it is about to throw something at me, but it appears I've defeated the beast.

 

Damn. I was really hoping it would provide me with more entertainment, or at least an excuse for procrastination.

 

Sometimes, I'm just too damn good at what I do.