John Howle missed coffee. He glared at the pathetic brew in the coffee pot he'd been forced to buy. No, not just coffee, he missed coffee from Joan's Joe. Despite the fact that he had gone to the coffee shop and bought a cup twice a day for the past two days. He still hadn't gotten his caffeine fix. The reason he found himself so appallingly deprived was as infuriating as it was petty.
Felicity was mad at him.
Three days ago, the enigma known as Felicity Doran had informed him that she was attending the event hosted by Senator Winston that weekend and asked him to sign a pass for her to enter the building. He'd known what she was really asking. Everyone at these events underwent a background check, one much more through than the one he'd run on her when she'd first began working across the street. If he issued her a pass, the background check would be waived.
The idea was ludicrous. He and Felicity might have a... unique working dynamic, but he was in charge of security. He wasn't about to allow an unknown factor like Felicity free reign of an area with so much sensitive material. If she wanted in, she'd have to submit to the background check, hope that her cover was good enough, and deal with the extra security that he was definitely putting on the event now. He hadn't fully realized the repercussions of saying no until the next morning when Felicity finished preparing his coffee, smiled at him sweetly, and popped the lid on without taking a sip first.
It had taken him three hours trying to drink it before he'd given up and tossed the cardboard cup, and its contents, into the garbage. He hadn't managed a single mouthful, not when he thought of all of the things Felicity might have added to it every time he brought the drink to his lips. That night, Felicity did the same thing, smiling at him and making a show of placing the lid on the cup without taking a sip.
Howle suspected she hadn't done a thing to his drink. Logically, she wouldn't. They had a repertoire, an understanding of sorts. After all, he could make her life very difficult if he wanted to, but he didn't. And she could dose his drink anytime with something she was immune to or had the antidote for, but she didn't. None of that stopped the information he had on poisons from flooding every time he tried to drink the coffee. The next day was the same. Today he’d bought a coffee pot. He’d been tempted to throw the thing against the wall when it produced a liquid that tasted both burnt and too weak to be called coffee.
He didn’t have time for this. There was an Indian national that Howle was almost positive had a price on his head coming for a clandestine meeting with General Morris and Howle had to figure out how to juggle his staff so he’d always have a guard on him without anyone working out the man was actually there. In addition to that, he had meetings with security details from four different countries. This was not a good day for Felicity to be acting like a child.
When Sally walked in with her usual paperwork that needed his signature, the first thing Howle noticed was the paper cup in her hand. His eyes locked on the logo for Joan’s Joe. “Wow, you look awful.” She flushed as she realized how insulting her words sounded. “I mean, are you alright?”
“Just a little caffeine deprived.” He answered. Sally took the hint and placed the cup on his desk.
“I only took a few sips. You should be fine if you take off the lid.” She said, adjusting her papers to find what she was looking for. Only Sally would hand over her coffee to him instead of being intimidated. Howle pulled the top off the cup and practically inhaled the coffee.
Which is why he didn’t register the scent of cyanide until halfway through his third swallow.
He choked; dropped the cup and started coughing up the poison. “John!” Sally cried losing her grip on the files as she rushed around the desk to stand beside him, hand out stretched, ready to help. “Are you okay?” As Howle’s lungs cleared of the liquid he realized that there couldn’t have been cyanide in the drink. He wasn’t experiencing any of the symptoms and Sally said she’d had some and was fine. Howle frowned and grabbed the cup from the middle of the brown stain spreading on his carpet. He sniffed it and it definitely smelled like cyanide.
“Did Felicity put anything in this?” He asked, turning to Sally.
“Um, yeah. She offered to let me try some almond sweetener for free.” Her eyes widened. “You aren’t allergic to nuts, are you?”
Howle assured her he wasn’t. Any admiration he might have for Felicity’s creativity was overcome by irritation. Cyanide and almonds had similar smells, which meant that Felicity had just tricked him into wasting a perfectly good cup of coffee without even being in the building.
That night, when Howle went to get a coffee on the off chance Teddy would take his order, he was confronted by an almost gleeful Joan. “What did you do to tick her off?” She asked, the ever-present twang in her voice becoming more pronounced as she tried to curb her amusement.
“It’s complicated.” He growled as he watched Felicity neatly snag his cup from Teddy and start filling it herself.
“He won’t clear me for the event with Sally.” Felicity clarified shortly.
“What?” Teddy fumbled with the cups he was stacking, fortunately they weren’t the mugs. “Does Sally know?”
“Oh, Felicity can go.” Howle smirked. It was a low blow but he was going on three days without coffee, and it wasn’t like he was lying. “She just has to submit to the background check.” Joan’s eyebrows shot up. Teddy tossed his friend a confused glance, and Felicity glared at him.
“Oh?” Joan’s eyes sparkled. “You got something to hide, sugar?” She looked positively delighted and Howle felt a kind of smug satisfaction that Felicity was going to be grilled by her boss until she made up something that satisfied her.
“Everyone’s got something to hide. You know that, Joan.” She answered lightly, as if that would get her off the hook.
“I’ll keep it completely confidential.” He assured them, his smirk widening. Felicity must have been about ready to throttle him. She slammed the cup down in front of him.
“I like my privacy.” She said through gritted teeth. Howle shrugged.
“Then you can’t go to the event.” He turned and walked out, leaving the coffee but feeling strangely invigorated. Through the window he could see a livid Felicity, confused Teddy, and Joan in such a fit of belly laughter he could hear it through the glass.
He was facing a mutiny. Felicity and Teddy were refusing to sell coffee to anyone on his staff. When asked why, they were told to ask him. (Apparently Joan found the entire business to hysterical to be bothered by how it would affect her sales.) His staff was dealing with it in a range of ways, from mild resentment to his computer expert, Jessica Jane, streamlining energy drinks that were making her twitchy enough to snap at everything that move. Suffice to say, no one was in a good mood that day, and they weren’t as productive as they should have been.
That was when Howle decided it was time to call a ceasefire. His people needed to always be on their toes, petty grievances or not.
When John Howle walked into Joan’s Joe that evening, his eyes were hard and his shoulders tense. Felicity noticed immediately and fell into a subtle ready stance with the ease of instinct. She eyed him warily as he approached the counter. “Listen to me, Felicity. I can’t issue you a pass.” Anger flashed in the barista’s eyes and she opened her mouth. “You aren’t listening, Felicity.” He cut her off before she could start. “I can’t sign a pass for you.” Comprehension softened her face even as her eyes widened and lips parted in surprise. “I’m glad we understand each other.” Howle turned and walked out of the café without ordering anything.
The next day Howle found Felicity Doran listed as Sally Turner’s plus one with approval granted by General Ian Morris, which was reason enough to forgo the usual background check. His staff was sufficiently caffeinated and the day passed quickly. He soon found himself walking into Joan’s Joe. Felicity looked up as he entered. She watched him come up to the counter.
“General Morris must like you.” He commented casually She didn’t say anything, still watching him. He understood why. He had the power to order a background check despite any approval she might get. That was probably why she came directly to him in the first place. “Security’s going to be a nightmare to organize on Saturday.” Felicity relaxed, taking this for the consent that it was, and started making his coffee. She took a sip and popped the lid in place.
“On the house.” She said, placing it in front of him.
“Good, because you owe me six.” Howle picked up the cup and finally took a sip without worrying about a thing.
As he left, he distinctly heard Teddy laughing. “All this for something you don’t actually want to go to.”
“Oh, can it. It’s for Sally.” Felicity snapped good-naturedly.
Howle smiled to himself. Security really was going to be headache inducing to arrange, but at least now he had coffee to help him through it.