It had quickly become routine for both of them, to come in in the morning and make double the coffee – whoever arrived first put the kettle on – and to put the heating on, and settle down to the day's work. Neither of them were terribly sociable, and it was this fact that made conversation rare: it was unusual for a conversation to concern anything other than a problem that she had encountered which she needed some guidance for – and even this was becoming rare now, she was becoming incredibly skilled, even more so than she had been. Under pressure, she had admitted to some hacking as a young teenager: when pressed for examples, she had dragged up an old government site in its original state, and her modification of it, and he had been supremely impressed by the skilled nuances of a professional in her amateur code. He had nodded, and said merely, "Impressive," and had had to bite his tongue when she flushed fiercely, and turned back to her monitor without speaking.

Complimenting her had become a habit almost without him noticing: the smallest word or gesture could elicit a wordless response of pleasure from her that he was sure she didn't realise he noticed, and it became almost a game of power: he would offer her the slightest compliments he could (though more frequently than would ever be normal for him), and would watch her expression and her body language each time the compliments came, every time commenting on a more minute detail.

As several weeks passed, there was a noticeable change in her confidence. The girl who used to glare at him with what he initially thought was anger, until he recognised the fear behind her eyes, now offered him an "Alright?" in the mornings, and knew how he liked his coffee. Knew his preferred operating system, favourite keyboard, middle name.

Scaramouche noticed things. She had sharp attention and a quick mind, and when Khashoggi came in, keeping his head down and at a strange angle, it only attracted her attention. Damn it.

"What you doing?"

"Nothing." His reply was short, crisp. Anyone else would have left it. Scaramouche wasn't 'anyone'.

"Don't be daft, your face has gone weird. You're being – oi, look over here."

"Piss off."

She got up at that, striding across the room and yanking his hand away from his cheek – it was only through the total shock that she had touched him at all that she managed it, only to let out a gasp, and drop his hand, backing away with her hands over her mouth.

"Fuck, Andrei, what the hell?"

"It's nothing." The angry red graze across his cheekbone was not, in fact, nothing. It was fairly painful, though its visibility, and the stares and mutterings it attracted caused him more irritation than anything else. As far as she was concerned, it was nothing worth the time or effort expended in fussing about it. Scaramouche, the world's least fussy person, seemed intent on doing so.

"Sit down," she was telling him. "I'm going to get something to put on your face."

"You're being ridiculous," he replied, but found himself doing as he was told. He sat, and wondered why he was doing so. He was still wondering by the time she returned, and shoved a loosely-wrapped ice-pack against his cheek. He winced, and glared slightly, and she relinquished her hand a little, looking sheepish.


"It's fine." In truth, the ice pack offered a slight relief from the burn of his injury, and he was grateful for it. She watched him for a minute, and he braced himself for the questions that seemed inevitable.

"Did you…"

There it was.

She sighed. "Like, what happened? Did someone punch you, or-"


"Don't be facetious."

Good god, he was rubbing off on her. She grinned at him quickly. "Just, I want to know what happened. Was it one of those people that wait outside?"

She didn't have to explain any further, and he was glad she didn't elaborate. Either way, they both knew exactly who she meant. You didn't reach the position of personal advisor to the most powerful being on earth (he found it difficult to refer to the virtual-android-being as a 'person') without making some enemies on the way. You didn't have to be a Bohemian to resent the Globalsoft mainframe of the earth, as indeed many weren't – the parents who had lost children in generic 'labour', who had lost children and spouses and family and friends thanks to Globalsoft 'testing' – when ninety-nine percent of the population relied on vitamins and minerals and even contraceptives though their food and drink, that meant extensive testing to ensure that these were safe to feed to the general population. Needless to say, they certainly weren't safe at first.

A small crowd of them often found him at the more populated events the band was known to attend, since it was common knowledge that he now often played the role of coordinator of the security team, and yelled abuse from behind the security barriers. He tended to ignore them, being disgusted by Globalsoft's actions himself, now, and besides which he was able to offer them little comfort or reassurance.

"No." He answered shortly. "Nothing to do with them."


"No." Though the larger man had frequently frustrated Khashoggi, they held a grudging (on Macca's part, at least, who felt that there was no point in having enemies if you just go and forgive them a few years after making them) truce.

There were a few seconds of silence, during which Scaramouche looked down at her feet and shuffled them a bit, and he peered in the reflective screen of his laptop to examine his cheek.

"Was it-" she started abruptly, and he held up his hand to stop her.

"It's unimportant."

She looked outraged. He didn't much care.

"How dare you?"

He looked up. Her eyes were glinting furiously, and her cheeks were flushed. Not with excitement, not now. Now, she was angry, and looking more animated than he'd ever seen her, this rebel teenager with badly dyed hair and a spark on her tongue. He allowed himself the briefest moment of truth, allowed himself to think the words he hadn't let himself consider until now.

I want her.