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Like I Like My Coffee

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There is a certain raucous camaraderie that develops wherever large groups of men congregate. Testosterone binds to itself, building a wall that no amount of estrogen can break through. In the more positive of circumstances, women tend to be assimilated as "one of the guys," rather than ostracized, so long as they can accept the antics of the rougher sex. it was no different in the male-dominated LEP. It may have been hard to break into the force, but, once in, most of the males would be generally accepting of a female coworker. So long as they didn't find themselves reporting to a woman, of course.

Grub Kelp was one of those men who didn't feel the need to participate in the LEP social scene. He was a solitary person, preferring to spend his time processing paperwork in his private office (having finally been given his own room after the fiftieth cubicle prank involving super glue) to carousing with the boys. Still, like most other office workers, he loved his coffee, sim or no. So, at precisely 8:00pm, two hours into his shift, Grub set aside the "in" tablet and made his way to the break room.

When he entered, the youngest Kelp cursed his flightiness. If he'd remembered what was going on this week, he's have ordered in a latte. It was better than these guys, even if it meant he'd be a bit short on rent money for Mummy.

Chix Verbil was on leave from his E1 post, but that wasn't keeping him from the LEP. Specifically, from the break room and the free food therein. The sprite, sporting a pair of black goggles on is forehead—as if he still flew for the force—was leaned against a red Formica-like counter, munching on a bagel with cream cheese and caterpillars. Around him stood Grub's brother, Commander Trouble Kelp; Ash Vein, a fellow sprite currently vying for the position as the Commander's second; and a dwarf who appeared to me...Mulch Diggums?

'I guess Chix isn't the only one who won't turn down free food.' Grub looked about and rather neutrally recognized Holly short, Lili Frond, and Wing Commander Vinyáya ('What's her first name, again? Ah, yes. Arnica.') standing in the corner furthest from the males, going over a data tablet. Apparently, assimilation with the boys only went so far, and "so far" did not extend to any conversation where Chix Verbil was present.

Not really desiring to talk with either group, Grub began to pour a sim-coffee into his over-sized mug. The side proclaimed him to the "The Best Sun In The Lower Elements." Mummy had thought that one hilarious, but the smiling sun next to the text was beginning to get on Grub's nerves. Too perky.

The motive for the women's self-segregation was made readily apparent when Chix barked out, loud enough for the entire room to hear, perhaps the most offensive sentence Grub had heard all month. "Nah, boy-ohs. I like my women like I like my coffee: sweet, ready at a moment's notice, and easy going down."

Grub and the girls left off their tasks to stare at the guffawing quartet. Both Holly and Lili were clenching their fists, though Vinyáya looked bored at the entire exchange. She had at least twenty times as many years on the force as her female companions, coming to view these sorts of exchanges with a sort of amused detachment

"Ah, Chix, you've got your priorities all wrong." Trouble said, running a hand over his tightly bound hair, taking a moment to make sure there were no tangles in his "stallion tail." He glanced over at Holly, winking as he spoke. "Horrible things to admire in a lady. Now, I like my women like I like my coffee: Dark, strong, and with one hell of a kick."

Holly glared, as if he had personally offended her. Which perhaps he had.

More rough, loud laughter met this exchange, the most enthusiastic from Mulch Diggums. He shook his head, waggling a finger at the younger males, grinning like an amused yet disappointed grandfather. "Now, now, that's all good for elves, but us dwarves have a different standard. I like my women like I like my coffee: Rich, pungent, and straight from the grounds."

Grub wrinkled his nose. They were exchanging high fives, now! For Frond's sake, this was why Grub hated it when Chix visited. The sprite could turn the most intelligent fairy into an obnoxious frat boy. Muttering under his breath, Corporal Kelp began to fill his coffee with a variety of extra ingredients. If he did this quickly, perhaps he wouldn't be dragged into the banter.

No such luck. Ash Vein finally noticed the persnickety corporal and whistled, trying to catch his attention. "Yo, Grub. Tell us, how do you like your coffee?"

As if that wasn't completely obvious, being that he was preparing it right now, but Grub denied them the satisfaction as he tapped in a bit of red pepper, dark chocolate, and ground ginger from his personal stash of ingredients. 'Smooth, spicy, and full of grit. Yeah, right. You wish, Grubby.'

When the exclusive office worker did not reply, Vein elbowed Commander Kelp, jerking his head towards the subordinate brother. "Well, I suppose his is a no-brainer. It's just like the only women he manages to get his hands on."

All looked at Corporal Kelp, intensely interested in what the conclusion would be. Holly raised her eyebrows at the mixture going into his mug. Lili licked her lips. Vinyáya hummed, tapping a finger to the hollow of her throat, holding the tablet close to her chest. Trouble seemed vaguely uncomfortable, and Mulch was already chuckling. Finally, Chix Verbil was roving his eyes up and down Grub's body, looking way too interested, in Grub's opinion.

Finally, after holding the dramatic pause a bit too long, Ash Vein burst into laughter and choked out his answer. "DRUNK!"

No one joined him in the merriment and he subsided very quickly. Blushing, which turned his cheeks a bit brown (green+red=brown, after all), he looked at Trouble. "Er...not funny?"

Trouble shook his head. "Not in the least.

Holly looked to Lili, grinning. "Hey, I might get that promotion after all. Still looking for secretarial positions?"

Lili brightened considerably at the idea of getting off her circuit as the voice of the LEP.

"Yes," Vinyáya murmured behind the plotting pair, "and that means more office work for you, Short."

Holly's ears actually drooped at this. Not much, but a bit.

Ash Vein scowled. He'd been passed up as second to the Commander when Kelp took the position behind the late Julius Root, but he did not intend to miss out on this one. He'd not been very enthusiastic about trying the female out in Recon, and when she'd begun pulling ahead of him in mission success rate and general renown...well, suffice to say that Vein was not one of Holly's fans. "Oh, sure. Short will get the position, what with being so much better than her fellow officers. I mean, Short is so good she can't take the time of day to hang out with us."

Already on the upper hand in this conversation, Holly tilted her head a bit, smirking. "What, the smug Vein wants me to join in? I thought I already did that every week when I school your sorry self at Crunchball."

Gritting his teeth a bit, Vein fluttered his wings. "Then why aren't you over here talking with the boys, rather than standing aside with your little clique? Discussing your hair?"

Everyone went wide-eyed at this, thoroughly expecting a death in the next fifteen seconds. Except Holly, though the quick flash of blue sparks in her palms showed that she had squeezed her fists so hard the nails had broken through her skin. "Your conversation isn't that riveting, Vein. I've more important things. At least eight more important things," She said, alluding to her position in the LEP special forces. Sure, she couldn't say it outright, but most of the LEP knew, anyway, and it was the second-best way to put him in his place. The best way shouldn't be done with witnesses present.

Vein was not giving up so easily. "Oh, sure. Then just do us a favor and take a moment, Major Short, to finish this sentence: You like your men like you like your coffee..."

Holly seemed to be genuinely trying to come up with something witty, but Trouble had been waiting for this opportunity since the game began. Despite the tense atmosphere (or perhaps because he was trying to dispel it), the Commander took over. Bumping his shoulder against Chix Verbil's, he jerked his chin in the female elf's direction, grinning. "Ah, we all know that one. Fresh, Irish, and quite sharp." He tapped his temple to clarify, giving a satisfied nod when his male companions dived into the biggest laugh yet.

Across the room, Holly was sending off blue sparks from her mouth as she bit her cheek.

"Come on," Vein said, a bit of theatrical begging to his tone. "One of you clever girls has a good line, right? Lili?"

Lili was generally a few steps behind Holly, but she surged forward in sexual repartee. Studying her nails, she gave her reply with perfect timing and tone. "Tall, cool, and available on any corner for under a fifth a gram of gold."

Vein gaped, then began to clap. It was a small, quiet sound. A "golf clap," which the other men joined him in, looking amongst themselves and murmuring.

Lili curtsied and turned to Vinyáya, appearing both amused and nervous. "So..." She ventured, clasping her hands behind her back. "What about you?"

Vinyáya began studying the data tablet, as if shielding herself from the conversation. Of course, this was Vinyáya, so she had both sword and shield, the former in the form of a sharp tongue and cutting sneer. "What are you talking about, Sergeant?"

"You know..." Lili hedged, circling her hand out, indicating the next step in the conversation. "You like your men like you like you coffee..."

"I don't like coffee."

Grub could almost hear the snap of displaced air as Trouble whipped his head about, long hair flying, to stare at Chix Verbil, who was gaping back at him, mouthing the words "I always suspected." All four men were too shocked to actually speak, trying to decide if the Wing Commander was being completely literal of is she had also answered Lili's question.

First taking a moment to sip his cup, satisfied at the balance of flavors, Grub left the room. As he went, he raised a hand in farewell to his brother, who remained frozen. The Corporal returned to his office resolved to enjoy the last few minutes of his break.

His coworkers were not so willing to let him. Just as Grub settled down for a long drag of caffeine, his office door cracked open, letting in a bit of the unnecessarily harsh hall lights. He had told the higher-ups that those lights gave him an awful headache, but their solution had been the drywall the windows and give him several desk lamps.

With a long-suffering sigh, Grub set down his cup. "Come in," He said, a bit of snap in his tone. They never gave him a rest...he should get a lock put on that door.

"Urgent paperwork," The officer said, crossing the room to lay a data card (no doubt filled with documents) on Grub's desk. Corporal Kelp was known as the pickiest officer in the LEP, but he was also the best paper pusher to date.

Rather than simply dropping off the documents and leaving as quickly as possible, the other fairy paused, looking down at Grub. This, quite quickly, began to irk the lower-ranked elf. He tapped his fingers on the side of his mug, trying to hold in a glare. Glaring at a superior officer was never a good idea. Especially when you could still be pushed down a rank. "Anything else?"

"I...well, I just wanted to say that not going along with the guys in the break room was...rather decent of you."

"I'm flattered. Really. Is that it?"

The officer's fingers fluttered in the air, revealing the indecision of their owner. The fairy took a deep breath and shot its hands out.

Grub found his fingers bordered on the bottom by a hot cup of coffee and on the top by warm, rubbing hands, working his skin from wrist to fingertips. He couldn't decide how to respond to this. More than one, a female officer had hit on him as part of a dare, but nothing ever came from the interchange but hurt pride. This, one could see into his office, so what was going on?

"What would you do..." his superior began, biting lips and smirking, "if I said I really appreciated it?"

"Er..." Damn! He was blushing! How had he never managed to inherit the Kelp coolness? His brother broke hearts on an hourly basis, yet he couldn't come up with something witty? "It's nothing. It would have ended badly for me if I joined in, so don't worry about it."

"Oh...I don't know. I think it showed a bit of chivalry that Commander Kelp lacks." When Grub did not respond, the officer angled a breath up their face, rearranging an unruly strand of hair. "Look, do I need to spell it out?"

"Apparently," Grub drawled. He was used to sideways compliments that blended into sharp insults. He wasn't helping this one along.

The fairy huffed. "Fine. The direct approach." Leaning over his desk, the officer ran hands up Grub's arms, then his neck, and finally ended by brushing fingertips on his extra-sensitive elven earlobes. "I've decided to give you a test run. So, tomorrow, I'm coming back in here after my break. If you're interested..." And, here, the officer leaned in, whispering a rather...interesting description straight into Grub's tingling ears. A description that, for propriety's sake, no innocent eyes should ever read. Suffice to say, however, few people are that bendable. "Clear enough?"

For a while, Grub didn't respond, unless you count violent tremors that shook his coffee cup until the warm drink spilled out onto his hands and desk as a response. How do you respond to that? "Is this really happening?" would have been a good start. When the fingers moved just a bit further up his ears, Grub Kelp snapped out of shock. "I-I mean, you... O...kay?"

"Good boy." The fairy gave him two sharp slaps on the cheek. Then, as if this visit was merely to drop off some paperwork, the officer straightened and moved towards the door.

"W-wait!" Grub stretched out a hand to the retreating figure, sure this was all a dream that would fade away the second he was alone. "Why...why me?"

"Because..." The female elf did not stop, but she did slow a bit, adding in extra sway to her hips as she reached the door. She paused there, long silver hair framing the firm, round flesh of her buttocks, as if making sure Grub acquired his new target. "I like my men like I like my tea: bitter, weak, and green. See you tomorrow, Corporal." Then Wing Commander Vinyáya sauntered out the door, clicking it closed behind her.

Grub stared after, unable to breath. When blackness finally began to dance before his eyes, he began hyperventilating, clutching his chest. Only one thought occupied his mind, and it would remain thus until he achieved the most important goal of the day. 'A lock. I need to install a big lock on that door.'