Skunkboy knocked on the apartment door. There was no response.
He knocked on the door again. Still no response.
He very carefully stepped to one side of the door and pressed his ear against the wall. He thought he could hear the sound of footsteps and a low, muffled, masculine curse.
Skunkboy took a deep breath. He pulled his pistol from his waistband holster. Checked the chamber for a round. Made sure the magazine was seated. Checked the safety.
He laid the pistol on the ground where he could grab it quickly, then rummaged around in his jacket pocket for his breaching kit.
A moment later, the door opened.
Spider was standing in the doorway. Her cheeks were flushed and her hair was disheveled and her eyes were angry. She was wearing a black silk nightgown, embroidered with red-and-gold spiders.
It was immediately obvious to Skunkboy that she wasn't wearing underwear.
Ohhhhh… Skunkboy thought. And then … crap.
"Sorry about this," he said cautiously. "We tried to contact you by phone, but you weren't picking up."
"I'm supposed to be off-duty," Spider said coldly. "Couldn't this wait until morning?"
"It seriously can't," Skunkboy said. "Scramble Alert. We need to deploy as soon as possible."
"Fuck," Spider growled. "All right. You may as well wait inside, so the neighbors don't freak out about an armed psychopath in the hallway."
She turned away and re-entered her apartment. Skunkboy carefully gathered up his weapon and breaching kit and followed her inside.
"Nice place," he said admiringly. "I like the shoji screens. Adds a bit of coziness. Breaks up the big empty space."
"Also helps the feng shui," Spider explained. "Prevents the positive energy from flowing out and breaks up negative energy trying to come in." She seemed to be getting grumpy now, which was better than pissed off in Skunkboy's book. "There's water in the fridge if you need it. Bathroom's down the hall."
She marched into the next room and closed the door behind her. Skunkboy heard muffled conversation coming from within.
His throat suddenly felt very dry. He decided to avail himself of the water and ice dispensers set into the fridge.
He was just taking a sip when the bedroom door opened and a young man walked out, shrugging into a dark blue blazer. Skunkboy looked over the newcomer with a discerning eye. Nice cheekbones. Strong jawline. Good abs.
The stranger picked up a half-empty bottle and two champagne flutes from the lacquered wood coffee table. He flinched as he looked up and saw Skunkboy standing in the kitchen, sipping his glass of water. "Um. Hi," the stranger said nervously.
"You're Flintlock, right?" Skunkboy asked. "From PTOLEMY division? Public Relations and Information Concealment?"
"Yeah. You must be, uhhh…"
"Skunkboy. Team sharpshooter. I'd offer to shake your hand, but you're busy."
"Oh. Yeah. We were just, uhh… having an evening…" Flint's face flushed pink, which he tried to hide by rinsing the champagne flutes out in the sink. Skunkboy could smell a whiff of Spider's perfume coming off his skin, and noted that the top button of his shirt seemed to have come loose.
He briefly considered one of two courses of action to take and settled on the more entertaining one.
"Did you cut yourself shaving?" he asked.
"What?" Flint replied.
"You've got a little red on your collar," Skunkboy said. He pointed at a patch of smudged lipstick on Flint's shirt collar and was gratified to see the other man start to stammer.
Bam. Right through the X-Ring on the first shot.
"Stop harrassing my boyfriend, Skunky," Spider said. She emerged from the bedroom wearing a black turtleneck and slacks, her hair tied up in a loose bun, her bug-out bag slung over her shoulder. "All right, hon, I'm out," she said to Flint. "Just remember to lock up when you leave."
"Come back safe," Flintlock said.
Spider paused to give Flintlock one of those slow, lingering kisses that makes everyone else in the room cough and look at their watches, which Skunkboy did. "All right," she said. "Let's get going."
Skunkboy ceded this round to Spider.
"So what the hell is going on that they're issuing a Scramble Alert to an Assessment Team, of all things?" Spider asked on the elevator ride down.
"I have no idea. They don't tell me these things," Skunkboy said. "All I know is that Bullfrog needs us back at HQ within the hour, no questions asked."
"I am a mushroom," Spider grumbled.
Kept in the dark and fed bullshit. "Hoorah, Semper Fi, Do or Die, and Tennouheika Banzai." Skunkboy said.
The elevator continued its slow descent down towards the basement of the apartment building.
"So…" Skunkboy said.
"So…" Spider agreed.
The elevator continued to descend.
"You've been dating that guy for a few months now," Skunkboy said.
"I have," Spider agreed.
"… I hope I wasn't interrupting, like… you know. THE night," Skunkboy said.
"We've slept together before," Spider said.
The elevator continued to continue to descend.
"He treating you right?"
"… do you mean in bed or in general?" Spider asked.
Spider shrugged, and a small, pleased smile appeared on her face. "Well, he calls after each date. He picks up the check at dinner, but doesn't flip out if I want to pay for half. And he brings me flowers."
"Nice," Skunkboy said.
"… plus, he does this thing with his tongue that's like… really good."
"Niiiiice," Skunkboy said, grinning. "High five."
They exchanged high fives, and Skunkboy ruffled the smaller woman's hair. "If he ever hurts you," he said, "Let us know."
"Thanks," Spider said, "but if he hurts me, I'll take care of him myself."
"Contagion is an interesting thing. You can attack someone through their toenail clippings, hair clippings… but bodily fluids have some of the strongest links," Spider explained. "That's why a lot of mages are celibate."
"Really. Huh." Skunkboy said thoughtfully. "So after sleeping with him…"
"I could wither his balls into raisins and make his piss feel like glass and fire. And that would just be for starters," Spider said.
"Remind me never to date Type Blues," Skunkboy said, laughing. "You mages are scary."
"Mmm… there are benefits," Spider said smugly.
"Huh." Skunkboy was about to ask more, but then the elevator dinged and the doors slid open.
"Where are you parked?" Spider asked.
"Visitor spot number six," Skunkboy said. "This way."
The two of them continued across the parking structure towards visitor parking.
"So yeah," Spider said. "My focus of study has been on neo-traditional thaumaturgy. Studying traditional forms of magic and updating them to modern understandings of thaumatology."
"Yeah. Hence the knives and the mistletoe and stuff."
"Mm hmm," Spider said. "Well, my current focus of study is O.T.O. Ordo Templi Orientis. Aleister Crowley and stuff like that. Most of his stuff is bunk, but there's enough info in there that I've been researching and refining down into the useful core."
"… I have no idea what you're talking about. Or how that relates to your boyfriend."
"Crowley did a lot of work in sex magick," Spider explained. "And the better the orgasms, the more energy generated."
"… huh. So basically, you've been spending your research budget from ICSUT…"
"Practicing better ways to fuck my boyfriend," Spider said, sounding unbelievably smug.
"Nice." Skunkboy popped open the trunk of his car, and Spider tossed her bag inside. "Found anything useful?"
"A little bit. Mostly academic, though. Not much there that I can use in my day job. I mean, I can't exactly carry a vibrator and scented candles into the field." She opened the door of the red sports car and climbed into the front passenger's seat.
"You'd be surprised. I've seen weirder things in the field." Skunkboy slid into the driver's seat and buckled up.
"Yeah. Hang on, I need to give Bull a call." Skunkboy dropped his smart phone into the docking port on the dashboard of his car and pressed a couple of buttons. The phone lit up and began to dial as he started up the engine and pulled out of the parking spot.
"Skunkboy, this is Bullfrog," a baritone voice said. "Go."
"I've got Spider, and we're on our way in," Skunkboy said. "ETA fifteen minutes."
"All right. Kitten's already here. Meet us in the briefing room and I'll explain when you guys get here. Bullfrog out."
"So yeah," Skunkboy said, as they drove out of the parking structure. (A pale blue line of runes across the driveway glowed briefly as they passed: the protective ward confirming that everyone in the car was in it of their own free will). "You ever meet Knuckles? From 792 Fire Lance?"
"Brings a fleshlight, dildo, and lube every mission."
"… why?!" Spider exclaimed incredulously.
"Man, I don't know and I don't fucking want to know. Or how the fuck he got the handle 'Knuckles' in the first place. Dude's fucking strange." Skunkboy stopped at the red light, leaned his elbow against the driver's side door and watched the cross-traffic drive by. "He's one of the best safecrackers in PHYSICS Division, though. There's that."
"… so he's really good at putting long, thin, hard things into tight cracks? Working in tight spaces?" Spider smirked.
"Ha! I didn't even think about that angle." The light turned green, and Skunkboy continued on. "And that's not even getting into the condoms, tampons, pads, and other shit we use as field-expedient solutions. Sometimes I think we just do it to fuck with Q Division."
"Man, don't even get me started on Quartermaster Division. You know they've got digi-cam tampons in stock?" Spider asked.
"Really? Why the fuck would you need tactical tampons?" Skunkboy wondered.
"Having your period in the field? But if they're gonna get all bloody anyway, what's the point?"
"I mean, I can kinda understand the wrappers and applicators and shit being digi-cam, but the tampons themselves? I mean, it's not like they make us digi-cam our shell casings." Skunkboy made a left turn at a yellow light and pulled onto the freeway. "Plus, isn't that dangerous? Dyeing tampons, I mean. Toxic Shock Syndrome and shit like that?"
"Man, I don't even know. Q Division is a bunch of fucking weirdos," Spider said. "That bald asshole with the Batman tattoo on the back of his head…"
"Yeah, that motherfucker," Spider griped. "Every time I go down there, he tries to tell me that I should trade in my 1911 for a USP. 'Bigger magazine,'" Spider said, doing a passable imitation of a gruff, Southern accent. "'Yew don' wanna be stuck out thar in the shit wit' only seven rounds in yer mag, do ya little lady?' Fuck off! As if I'd ever be able to shoot one of those big-ass double-wides with these tiny hands," Spider grumbled.
"Spencer's a fucking tool," Skunkboy agreed. "Go to Vic instead. Little old dude with the Colonel Sanders beard. He's old-school."
"Yeah, I know Vic. He looks at me as if I'm a three-headed kitten or something. And I've heard some of the shit he says in the mess hall. Dude's 'phobic as hell."
"… huh. Really?" Skunkboy said curiously.
"Well, I'm not sure. He could be calling me 'that he-she from Sparkplug' with the best of intentions," Spider said sarcastically.
"… well. That's disappointing as shit. And against policy." They pulled into the parking lot of a nondescript office building, crossing another line of blue runes that glowed briefly as they passed. "You should take it up with Schowalter in HR." Skunkboy popped the trunk and pulled his bug-out bag and rifle case, slinging the latter over his shoulder.
"It's not worth rocking the boat over," Spider insisted, retrieving her bag from the trunk.
"Bullshit. You're not at your best if you don't trust your Quartermaster. And if you're not at your best, it puts the rest of us in danger. Talk to Angela. She'll straighten Vic out." Skunkboy closed the trunk, and the two of them headed into the building.
"I guess. It's weird, though. I've put up with that shit all my life, but I didn't figure it would keep on going after I went for full identity reassignment. I mean, shit. I'm female down to the DNA now. No different from Kitten or Fox," Spider grumbled.
"Eh. There's always gonna be some asshole hates you for no good reason, and they'll justify it any way they can. Human nature." Skunkboy walked to the elevator, hid the button from view with his body, and turned the "up" button so that the arrow faced down, pressed it three times. "Anyway, talk to Angela. She'll work it out."
"I guess. You think it might cause problems between us and Q Division, though?" Spider wondered.
"I don't know. But you think you're the only one Vic's talking shit about behind their back? Best to let HR deal with it and smooth this issue out for you."
The elevator went ding, and the doors opened. Spider and Skunkboy walked in, and the doors closed. Shortly afterwards, the back wall of the elevator slid open, revealing a second elevator with bare steel walls and floor.
Skunkboy pressed the button for the bottom level, and the elevator descended into the hidden section under the unassuming office building. "Anyway, if you don't want to talk to HR, I'll do it for you," Skunkboy said. "I won't even mention your name."
"All right. That's fine, though, I'll talk to Angela once we get back from the Scramble," Spider said. "Speaking of which, we'd better get our game faces on, and find out what the hell is so important that it's worth pulling me out of bed for." Spider paused. "You weren't in the middle of anything too important, were you?"
"… Powerpuff Girls marathon," Skunkboy admitted.
"Sister asked me if I'd come over and watch her daughters for the evening," Skunkboy said. "If you think YOU were pissed, imagine how Vicky felt when I told her she had to come home from her date early."
"Shit. Now I feel bad."
"Eh. Her date was trash. Didn't even walk her to the door."
"What a fucking asshole," Spider agreed.
Skunkboy opened the briefing room door, and they walked inside.