That one light, Jeff thought, that one damn light again. The fluorescent bulb was flickering again in the conference room where he and Mal were working, sputtering annoying shadows all over the long dark table covered with papers. He looked over at Mal, who was also looking up at the light with frustration. Her hair seemed to get wavier as the day would progress into night, Jeff observed, and she would push it out of her face more often. It was cute, and he smiled when she looked down at the table again, taking two fingers to hook some of the rogue strands behind her ear.

“Is there any coffee left?” Mal asked him, while glancing over to the corner where the obviously empty pot was sitting.

“Um, nope, doesn’t look like it, Mal. Have a nice mug of air instead.” Jeff let a grin slowly slide across his face.

“Mmmm…air…” she replied, channeling Homer Simpson. She rose from the table and walked over to the pot and lifted it to her mouth, pretending to drink before setting it down. “I don’t know that we’re going to get much more done tonight anyway. I need the data from Precision, and I need to get out of here every 16 hours or so.” She leaned against the counter and let her head loll backwards for a second.

“What, it isn’t your dream to spend all your time with me in a big stuffy room with a broken light working on plans that will just have to be revised six more times? I’m heartbroken.” They smiled at each other, and Mal returned to the table, flopping in her chair, comfortable with him. They had known each other for a few years now, and had worked as a team at the agency for awhile. They did good stuff, Jeff thought. She was really talented, and he was lucky to work with someone like that, someone who was smart, and funny, and totally reliable.

And so incredibly, amazingly beautiful, he thought, as he looked at her there. She really, really is, and she doesn’t even know it and that is a goddamn shame. Mal looked up at him again, and this time neither one of them looked away, or cracked a joke. It was silent in the room, save for the buzzing of the light overhead.

“So…Mal…what’s your story?” Jeff’s voice was quiet, and he tried not to look as nervous as he suddenly felt.

She looked taken aback, and then made the saddest little smile Jeff thought he had ever seen. “Oh, well, you know, ha ha…damage, ha,” she tossed off, letting the corners of her eyes crinkle, then drop.

"Is that an invitation to ask about it, or a warning to stop?" Jeff blurted, regretting it immediately.

For a fraction of a second, he felt she was open, going to say something to him. But almost as fast the curtains closed again, and she got up from the table, rustling around for her purse and coat. “Gotta feed the cat. I’m sure she’s completely ripped up the couch in fury by now, heh.”

“OK. Well, yeah, it’s late. I’ll clean this up, go ahead.” Jeff sat there as she walked to the door. She was going to go home again, alone like every single night, home to a cat, a woman like that who deserved the world. And every night, he thought, he would let her, and nothing would ever change.

“Goodnight, Jeff. Don’t forget to wash the air out of your mug.”

“’Night, Mal. I won’t forget.”

She closed the door and he sat for awhile, as the light buzzed and the city outside still hummed with life, and he could still feel her there.