Hello, all! My apologies for the gap between updates! Thank you for your concern. There have been some issues in my non-Internet personal life, plus a much larger influx of fic requests than I anticipated. I hope to have a more consistent updating schedule from here on out. Thank you so much, both for reading and for your very kind reviews!
She'd fallen asleep in her paperwork again. Iko tsked under her breath as she stepped through the connecting door that separated her office from Cinder's, narrowing her eyes at the form slumped over the desk. She'd been doing that a lot lately...it was concerning. It was one thing to be dedicated to the job, but quite another for a teenager to be snoring at her desk at four in the morning.
Iko kicked off her stilettos at the doorway and scooped them up by the straps to pad silently over to Cinder's side. Cinder herself had listed forward, one arm folded on the desk to pillow her head and the other—the metal one—flung out to hang over the edge of the desk, still stubbornly clutching one of her papers even in sleep. Her snores stirred the pile of paper mounded around her, rustling it softly with every breath. Part of said pile appeared to be composed of the plans and proposals for the upcoming First Annual Lunar Gala, while the rest was a mix of reports regarding the reconstruction and a few old files detailing some of Levana's more private projects and plans. Iko pursed her lips. She hadn't yet had occasion to read those files herself, but judging by how Cinder reacted to them, the contents couldn't have been pleasant. Probably more plans for the domination of the galaxy or the destruction of Earth or possibly the eradication of puppies.
She hated it when Cinder buried herself in those particular files...It was a necessary evil, given that a good queen had to be informed on the affairs of her predecessors, but it always left Cinder like this. Depressed, disgusted, and so utterly drained that crashing at her desk seemed easier than trudging to the luxuriant bedroom only a few halls and a stairway away.
"Ah, Cinder…"Iko sighed and took a step back, scraping a hand through her cascade of delicate braids as she deliberated. If she left her here, she'd have the headache to end all headaches when she woke up. Iko could wake her up and try to herd her up to bed…but that would likely just result in Cinder trying to go back to work. That left physically moving her up to bed without waking her…which Iko couldn't do with a standard escort droid body. She moved to the broad double doors and pulled one open as quietly as she could to enlist the help of the guard on duty and promptly froze.
Iko stared, her fingers tightening unconsciously on the doorframe. They hadn't spoken since the incident in the conference room a few days earlier. And given how infuriatingly confusing that conversation had been, Iko had been okay with that.
"Madame Counselor? Is there a problem?" The hallway was dark, only the faint light of a few dimmed wall sconces illuminating Kinney's face as he straightened from where he had been leaning against the other door. His voice was rough with exhaustion, but his body had gone rigidly alert the moment the door opened.
"Wasn't your shift over at eleven?" Not that she kept track of his shifts because…she didn't. Really. She didn't.
"Double shift tonight. Carson's wife is having a baby." Kinney relaxed slightly, no longer holding himself at attention, but somehow he looked no less uncomfortable. He shifted his weight uneasily from foot to foot—not overtly enough to be conspicuous or often enough to overtly highlight his discomfort, but just enough for Iko to notice—and his gaze stayed firmly averted from Iko's. She frowned. So he was going to simply pretend their conversation didn't happen, then. Fine. Fine.
"Aww. Pass on my congratulations. And tell him to bring baby pictures on his next shift. And speaking of shifts…" Iko stepped back, sweeping the door wide enough to reveal desk and its drowsy occupant. "Hers was over about three hours ago. I need help getting her to bed."
Kinney's brows rose and he stared for a moment before releasing a quiet huff of something between amusement and disapproval. His face softened almost fondly as he stepped inside, shaking his head. "Again?"
"Third time this month."
"You really ought to talk to her about that." Kinney murmured, circling the desk as he sized up the situation to determine how best to move a sleeping cyborg. "Doesn't scolding royalty fall under the 'Counselor' job description?"
"Believe me, I've tried…she's just ridiculously stubborn." Iko replied, bending to scoop up the papers that had slid off the desk and stack them in a meticulously neat pile to one side of the desktop. "It's a lost cause."
"Hmph." Kinney grunted back, lapsing into a concentrated silence as he eased an arm behind Cinder's back and gingerly gathered her up in his arms. His frown deepened as he straightened, taking in the dark smudges of exhaustion beneath her eyes. "She's going to kill herself if she keeps working this hard."
"She's…dedicated." Iko said softly, reaching over to brush a few loose strands of dark hair back behind Cinder's ear. A familiar surge of worry welled up in her throat. She couldn't be prouder of her friend if she tried. She'd watched her grow up, she'd seen her do everything from proudly opening her mechanic's booth to accepting the crown that was owed to her…but never once had Iko seen her do anything half-way. Even when perhaps she should have.
"Hmph." Kinney said again, his tone just as unimpressed as before and twice as disapproving. Iko smiled faintly as she trailed him out into the hall, pausing to switch off the office's lights before trotting to catch up. At least she wasn't the only one who was concerned. If she wasn't mistaken, Cinder was around the same age as Kinney's younger sister—she'd caught a brief glimpse of her in the kitchens several weeks earlier and they looked approximately the same age—and Iko wouldn't be surprised if some of that concern stemmed from that association. All the same, it was reassuring to know that she wasn't the only person on Luna who had Cinder's back. Reassuring…and a little endearing, too. "Why exactly were you still up, too?"
Iko's smile faltered a little, her heart dropping in her chest. It wasn't a question she could answer without stirring up their same old tired issues. "I…don't need to sleep. I usually just do quiet work—paperwork and things—overnight."
"Oh." Kinney's face slid back into the mask of thinly veiled discomfort Iko knew all too well, and they lapsed into an uneasy silence as they made the trek through the darkened halls between the office wing and the royal suite. Iko barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes. That was one thing she would never understand about that man. He was brave—he was the first of the guards to switch his allegiance to Cinder, he was caring—she knew for a fact that he spent most of his off-hours looking after his family, and yet, when it came to accepting Iko as an android—a little detail that hadn't seemed to bother anyone else in the palace—he was as unyielding as stone. Whatever went on in his pretty head, she would never understand it.
Iko swiped her wrist across the scanner at the door to unlock Cinder's suite and shoved the door open a little harder than necessary, stepping back to hold it for Kinney and his cargo. She didn't bother turning on the lights, instead marching straight to the bed to turn down the covers and fluff up the pillows. Kinney eased Cinder gently onto the mattress and carefully tugged her shoes free to set them at the end of the bed. Both grabbed one side of the duvet and pulled it up, tucking it snug around her shoulders before they stepped back. Iko glanced over at Kinney as they edged quietly from the room. They'd worked perfectly in tandem, like a well-oiled team, and pulled it off without so much as stir from Cinder. How could they work so well, but clash so badly all at the same time?
"Well…good night." She murmured as the door clicked shut behind them, and Kinney settled his back against it to take his post for the night. The evening's paperwork was done, but she still had plenty to do. First off, she'd head back to Cinder's office to tidy up the explosion of papers, then perhaps she would review the prospective designs for Cinder's Gala dress, then—
Iko froze mid-step, then turned slowly on her heel to stare at Kinney. His face revealed nothing, his features remaining just as blank and professional as always. But his eyes…his eyes were troubled. Uncertain. As well they should be…she'd never heard him refer to her by her name before.
"You…you should take a break, too." He paused and cleared his throat, as if fighting to dislodge whatever sentiment was stuck in the back of his throat. "She isn't the only one who's too dedicated."
Iko smiled faintly, but made a point of turning away quickly, before Kinney could see. He was an idiot, to be sure. But perhaps…perhaps he was finally trying.