it is rough around the edges

Lucas Sinclair! Living his life the best way he knows how! Probably part of the only black family on the block in some podunk town in Indiana in the mid-1980′s - potentially the only black family for miles around (until you get to the farmland and even then there’s only one).

Lucas Sinclair! Knowing that he’s Different, knowing that he can never hide his Otherness from those around him with their staring (glaring) eyes (after all, you can’t exactly erase the color of your skin, now can you?). Growing up with the pressure to be great for both himself and his entire race. Trying to be a normal 13 year old while simultaneously trying to outrun all the stereotypes that nip like vicious dogs at his heels.

Lucas Sinclair - rational and reasonable and rough around the edges; vulnerable and loyal and soft where it counts.

Lucas Sinclair: Good soul. Great kid. Best friend.

Iwai and Goro Canons.

(Iwai being a father figure to Goro, inspired by Anon!)

So the Detective Prince visits the airsoft shop ‘Untouchable’, sensing a connection between the shop owner and the Phantom Thieves. Munehisa Iwai quickly jumps into exhibiting concern for the young detective, recognizing him as the celebrity detective on TV. “What’s a young runt like you doin’ handlin’ police business anyway? Shouldn’t you be busy just bein’, I dunno, young?” Goro conceals it but is shocked by how the rough-around-the-edges shop owner is genuinely worried abouy him.

Goro gets absolutely nowhere in pulling information about the Thieves from Iwai, but fibds himself falling in love with the equally rough and dirty environment. Iwai’s manner of speech. The characters running in and out of the shop. Goro says he’ll be back for another attempt at investigating but secretly wants to spend more time in the shop. With Iwai.

Cue Goro returning to the shop time and time again, meeting the colorful cast closely associated with Iwai and sometimes running into Akira, with Iwai ordering Akira to 'take care of him or I’ll rip you a new one’. Goro asks and learns about the inventions in the shop, mentioning the Phantom Thieves less and less.

Goro feels Iwai is someone he can genuinely approach and trust without fear of judgement. That belief is strengthened once he hears of Iwai’s Yakuza connections. Goro is moved to tears when finding out Iwai’s Yakuza connection; he’s connected to a ring of violence but isn’t at all criminal and black-hearted, unlike Shido. Cue a thousand more comfort points.

Goro starts visiting Untouchable as much as he visits Leblanc. Iwai calls him 'kid’ and 'munchkin’ while teaching him about the shop, teaching him how to fix this and tune up that. If anyone looks at Goro the wrong way they’re chased out of the shop.

Goro shows up at Untouchable one day with two large bruises, a black eye and cuts covering his collarbone. Iwai is immediately mortified and vows to kill the one responsible: “Who’s the bastard behind this?! I’ll gut 'em!”

Goro cries. Hard. Iwai holds him.

The day after the battle, Hermione Granger got up before the sun did. The Lake was covered in fog, and she was used to having somewhere urgent to go, to be, to fight. 

She closed the tent flap up behind her. Hogwarts had something like enough beds, but Hermione hadn’t had it in her to climb those moving staircases, to step through the painting’s open frame and make her way to the Gryffindor girls’ seventh year dormitory. Her bed would have been there, months untouched except for the bras and scarves and bottles of sparkly purple nail polish Parvati and Lavender had strewn onto every open surface. 

The fog rolled in off the Lake and Hermione stood at the damp shore and shivered until the sun rose and burned it all away. 


-


The day after the battle, they buried their dead out on an island in the Lake, the day after the battle. Madame Pomfrey fretted and hovered, but every injured witch, wizard, and squib made it out to those conjured chairs. They might sit with assistance– with spells, with braces, with a friend’s shoulder– but they sat quiet and they listened to Flitwick read out the names. 


-


The day after the battle, Ron Weasley stood on tiptoe when he stepped back into the Great Hall, looking over a sea of bent heads to find a cluster of red. They’d brought the tables back. 

The cluster was only a tiny blip of three– Bill and their parents were flitting about, helping Flitwick float steaming bowls of pasta down onto each table. But Ginny and Percy were sitting on either side of George, keeping up a lively conversation about Gilderoy Lockhart’s hair. 

Ginny was sitting half in Harry’s lap, like if she didn’t he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from getting up to help, or to pace the castle, or to walk out to the Forest and not come back. She was holding his hand, her freckled thumb running over the words written into his skin. 

Ron thought about sitting with Luna, instead. Percy tried to laugh at one of Ginny’s jokes, and Ron didn’t know how to be kind like that. Ginny held Harry’s hand. Ron had thought for a long terrible stretch of heartbeats that he had lost two brothers yesterday. 

He could sit with Dean. He could walk out to the Forest and punch Aragog in his ugly eyes, because normally when he walked away from everyone he loved it was because he was scared and maybe change was good for the soul. 

Ron pushed his hands through his hair. He crossed the Great Hall, swung into a seat next to Harry, and filled his plate with lukewarm pasta. 


-


The day after the battle, Luna Lovegood climbed up to the Astronomy Tower, because it was the furthest she could get away from everything. She laid on her back on the cold stone and cast balls of light and enchanted birds to chase each other across the ceiling until she felt like descending down to the ground again. 


-


The day after the battle, Neville Longbottom went down to the greenhouses to see what the damage was there. He had sat all night and all morning in the infirmary, fetching water for Anthony Goldstein and holding Dennis Creevey’s hand and folding extra blankets down over Professor Sprout’s cold feet. Madame Pomfrey had banished him to go get a spot to eat and some sleep, so he walked down to the greenhouses to see what was salvageable. 

Whole panes of greenish glass stood jagged and shattered. Protective spells had put out any fires, but stray blasts of magic had killed beds of vegetables and flowers and taken almost all the silver-green leaves off an olive tree that twisted in the corner of Greenhouse 4. 

Neville went in through the door, even though there as a broken hole in the glass wall big enough for him, and almost fell back through it when Hannah Abbott stood up from the row of pots she’d been crouching behind. Dirt streaked every crease of her hands. “Hey,” he said, and let the door click shut behind him. 

“Hey.” When she saw where he was heading, she added, “The olive’s still alive.”

The bark was rough under his hand, gnarled from decades of slow growth. He could hear the green magic whispering down its xylem. 

“I was thinking I’d try to mend up the walls, close this place up again,” said Hannah. “But I wasn’t sure I could do it alone." 

"Alright,” said Neville. When Professor Sprout argued her way out of the infirmary and thumped downhill with the wind throwing her cloudy hair in her face, she found every pane of glass healed and Neville and Hannah asleep on the softest patch of moss in Greenhouse 2.  


-


The day after the battle, Parvati Patil sent an owl to Lavender Brown’s parents. 


-


The day after the end of it all, Hermione skipped lunch and found her favorite secluded corner of the library instead. The chairs stood silent and sober, all gouged dark wood. The high windows threw light gleaming across the polished table, catching on the dust motes drifting through the air above it. 

She dumped her carry-all down on it and reached inside– up to her elbows, her shoulders. She tried not to feel like it was eating her alive and she pulled out protein bars and unicorn horn and crumpled wanted flyers. 

She wasn’t sure when it had gotten so cluttered– sometime before the night in the ditch outside the little Scottish village with the awesome curry shop. Sometime after the time they hid out from a storm in an unknowing Muggle’s barn, wrinkling their noses at the itch of hay as they ate their dinner. Hermione had taken first watch, listening to the thunder roll over the shallow hills outside, and she’d gone through her bag pouch by endless pouch. Harry had twitched in his sleep with every flash of lightning, but everything in her bag had been where it was supposed to be. 

She summoned a wastepaper bin to hover beside her and got to work. Quills and ballpoint pens went in a neat heap to her left. Books she stacked by subject matter around her, except for the ones she flew back to their homes on Hogwarts shelves. She checked potions ingredients for decay, tossed the bad ones and wrapped the good ones back up in their oiled cloth and ziplock bags. 

She ate a protein bar while she piled duct tape and the radio and a travel-sized magnetic foldable Muggle chess set and a depleted first aid kit all up around her. She threw the wrapper away and wondered if the smell would ever come out of the bag’s insides, or if she should just buy another one.  


-


The day after the battle, they started putting the stones of the castle back into place. They put bones back together, first, skin and knit muscle and tendons. McGonagall escorted every statue and suit of armor back to where it belonged. 

Sue Li sat atop a pile of rubble and ate the biggest chocolate bar she’d ever seen her life. She thought she could still taste a film of Polyjuice on her tongue, but she told herself that was dumb. She dropped little pebbles down the ragged tumble of stones, counting their bounces and calculating averages, until Astoria Greengrass showed up with a glass of water and a pasty and put them down beside her. 

Astoria got her hands dirty every chance she got, put her back into sweeping up glass shards or hauling bandages or Wingardium Leviosa-ing stone blocks the size of a horseless carriage. She would stay in the castle as long as she could, finding odd tasks and errands and corners to lurk in. When she finally went back to the Greengrass family estate, it would be to pack her bags, kiss the old house elf on the cheek, and steal her dog away with her. 


-


The day after the battle, Ron went out to Hagrid’s cabin in the stubborn chill of the afternoon and sat in his pumpkin patch. He didn’t go knock on the rough-hewn door, and Hagrid didn’t come out, but after twenty minutes Fang trotted into the yard and patiently got slobber all over his shirt. 

Ron watched the sway of the shadows beyond the Forest’s edge. Buckbeak’s old tying post stood among the twining squash vines and their giant fuzzy leaves, the metal ring hanging empty against weathered wood. He thought about Ginny brushing her thumb over Harry’s scars and wrapped 
his hands over the pale marks that curled around his wrists. 

When the air started biting and the sky started darkening, Ron pulled himself back to his feet and climbed up to the library. He had never lived there, never really liked its labyrinth of stacks and dusty air, but he knew the way there better than he knew the way to the Quidditch pitch or the Room of Requirement or all those other places he liked so much more. 

It was empty, except for Hermione, and he was glad. She squeezed her last book into her bag and looked up at him, shoving her hair back off her forehead. 

“They doing dinner down there?” she said, her dry throat rasping on it. 

He shrugged. “Mum’s organizing, I think. It– helps, I think." 

She nodded, looking down to do the clasps up slowly, one by one. 

"I just wanted to go back to the tent,” said Ron. “Be alone. It’s quiet." 

"I won’t get in your way,” she said. “It’s still pitched down there." 

"I know,” he said. “With you, I meant.”

“That’s not alone,” she said. “I’m not quiet,” she said. She clasped and unclasped the bag. 

“Words. Accuracy. I never claimed to be the clever one." 

"But you are, Ron–" 

"Hermione,” he said. “Come with me? You shouldn’t be sitting here alone. Come home.”

They went down the grass through chilling air. Ron could hear his mother in his head, telling him to take her bag and carry it for her, but he just reached out for her hand. 


-


The day after the end of it all, Ron laid on the floor of the tent, counting stitches in the canvas, while Hermione read Hogwarts, A History like she didn’t have it memorized. She read her favorite parts aloud, stopping mid-sentence when the tent flap rustled and opened. 

“Ginny’s sitting on Neville until he agrees to sleep in a real bed and not a pile of shrubbery,” Harry said, stepping inside and shutting it up behind him. “She got Luna to help because she says otherwise Luna will just fade into a corner and not come out for food.” He hunched his shoulders. “I’m not intruding, right?" 

"Don’t be daft,” said Ron and patted a bit of floor next to him. “C'mon, join in, Hermione’s trying to bore me to sleep. I suspect it’s an act of caring concern.” Hermione threw a pillow at his head without looking up from the pages.  

The day after the battle, they fell asleep in a tangle in the center of the tent that they had lugged across their country, across these long, cold days of the war. They had danced here to the radio, had chewed protein bars, played chess and bled and yelled at each other. 

But the war was over and they were growing into it, slow, staying up too late as they leaned into each other and whispered on this threadbare rug. They meant to wobble to their feet and get to bed, but Harry was clinging to Hermione’s hand and none of them wanted to go. 

They would get too old for this– hard floors and the way Harry’s neck was cricked up on Ron’s bony shoulder. Hermione’s snoring would get worse and Ron would have to sleep with four carefully arranged pillows to stop his back from aching in the mornings, but Harry would always have a place here. He had slept on Ron’s bedroom floor at fourteen, leaned on Hermione outside his parents’ broken home. 

In the weeks after the battle, Hermione would track down her parents and move back home, and they would all help the Weasleys rebuild the Burrow. Harry would move in Andromeda Tonks’s spare room. “We’re almost like family, after all,” she’d say briskly, shooing him into the house and showing him where she kept the tea, Teddy’s diapers, and the whiskey. They’d come for visits and talk through the night in each of those homes, curled up under Molly’s quilts or out on the Granger’s back porch swing or over fingers of firewhiskey with Andromeda. 

In the months after the war, he and Ron would get a flat while they went through Auror training and Hermione would crash there five nights out of seven. Her university textbooks would take over their countertops, shelves, tables, and floor and Harry wouldn’t tease them (too much) for how hilariously long they tried to pretend it was the couch Hermione slept on. 

Every home Ron and Hermione lived in, for the rest of their lives, would have a place for Harry– a spare room or a patch of floor or an old sofa. He would know how Hermione took her coffee, and his favorite cereal and Ginny’s favorite oatmeal would always been in the cupboard, and their children would have giggly cousin-sleepovers in magical tents they pitched on the living room rug. 

When the kids came shrieking in to wake them at absolutely unacceptable, ugly hours, Ginny would groan curse words they’d repeat gleefully among themselves, but Harry would let them grab his hands in their little sticky ones and pull him barefoot and messy-haired out into the morning.

Tasty Tryst (M)

Summary: Selling preserves at the local farmers’ market has its distractions when your vendor booth is placed next to the one belonging to the young strawberry farmer who’s been sweet on you for years.

Pairing: Taehyung x Reader

Genre: Smut, Fluff

Word Count: 9,643

Warning: StrawberryFarmer!Taehyung, foodplay, sexual themes, profanity

Series: Working Man Bangtan

A/N: Just in time for strawberry season.

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Cuddle Styles

I saw @aidens-archive make a post like this about the Dunkirk cast, showing how they all might like to snuggle up, and I was totally inspired! So here’s how I think our Painfully Thick™ gentlemen would cuddle…

Jason Momoa This guy. There’s no way he can cuddle without trying to get it in, ya know what I mean? He’s a rough-around-the-edges kind of guy, and that’s exactly how he cuddles - tossing you onto the bed and rolling around with you between the sheets.

Henry Cavill Superman is the ultimate big spoon. And what could be better than having those big, bulging arms wrapped around you? He’d nuzzle into your hair, whispering sweet thoughts into your ear as you fell asleep.

Tom Hardy This big beefy puppy. He’s got that tough guy exterior, but deep down, he’s an emotional, cuddly guy. He’d want you to hold him, soothe him, protect him. He’d be happy falling asleep in each other’s arms whenever possible.

Tom Holland He’s such a fun, light-hearted guy and cuddling with him would be just the same. He’d be playful and active, unable to stay in the same position for long. He’d play with your hair, tickle you, and give you kisses on your nose.

Chris Pine Chris is an old-school, romantic type. He’ll want to shower you in affection, kissing on you the entire time. He loves sweaters and blankets, so he’ll always have a big fluffy comforter to wrap you up in when the weather turns cold.

Sebastian Stan HO BOY what I wouldn’t do to snuggle this man. I think he’d be a quiet cuddler - wrapping himself around you, intertwining arms, legs, souls; holding you close for as long as you needed. Making sure that HE is the peaceful, calming place for you to be at the end of the day.

Chris Evans Whereas Hardy is the cuddly puppy, Evans is the mischievous, troublemaker puppy. He’ll want to be face-to-face, looking into your eyes at all times. His hands will always be fussing over you, whether they be playing with your hair or unhooking your bra. He’ll never cross the line, but always be pushing boundaries to see what he can get away with.

Tom Hiddleston Oh, Hiddles. He’s going to hold you in his arms like a treasure. What’s important to him is your comfort, your happiness. He’d never want to let you go, kissing you on the forehead every chance he got, telling you exactly how much you mean to him.

So what do y’all think!? Reply/reblog with your thoughts! I had so much fun making this; is it something you guys would want to see more of? 😏💖

Spent several weeks on this one. I’m not typically one for a lot of details, but that’s how it unfolded. It started off on the thought: How does the Doctor deal with self-image? I wonder what goes through the Doctor’s mind when he/she sees a reflection. It can’t be the same psychological experience of self-awareness that humans feel when they see their reflection. Does (s)he recognize past selves in the same way I always see my 10 year old self in the mirror, even though I am clearly much older and rough around the edges?

These are rhetorical of course. I’m not looking for debate. It’s just a thought that started this digital painting.

sweetheart

Summary: The man in the bar can’t seem to keep his eyes off you. || sebastian stan x reader || oneshot

Warnings: smut, oral (f/m receiving), face fucking, (very brief) naughty stuff in a (kinda) public place (its an elevator), wall sex

Note: Chris would be the best wingman lol; i’ll add this to the masterlist later

MASTERLIST

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Know what these pictures bring to mind?

Super mountain man author Derek living in the middle of the woods, keeps to himself because brooding writer stereotypes and also people are the worst. So he’s legit like in the mountains somewhere, a ridiculously long way away from everything and it’s quiet and peaceful, and he can shift and go running without running into campers or people going skiing. He chops wood, he drinks coffee on his porch overlooking the valley, he writes—it’s peaceful and it’s quiet and he loves it.

And then one morning, he’s sitting on his porch, drinking his coffee and minding his own business, and a fucking serial killer wanders out of the woods. Dingy hat with a huge beard, looking like some crazy libertarian nutjob who lives in a tent to avoid the government taking his guns.

He’s a werewolf, but Derek doesn’t mess with serial killers, so he freezes and stares and hopes that if he doesn’t move, the serial killer just won’t see him. The guy looks a little rough around the edges, to say the least. It could happen.

Except the serial killer does eventually notice him, and he also freezes and stares, and seems to be…scared of him? Of the guy wearing flannel and drinking coffee with a book on his own front porch?

Turns out the serial killer is actually Stiles, out in the wilderness looking for his best friend Scott, who went on a camping trip with a couple college friends and hasn’t been heard from since. And Stiles is not actually a serial killer, just a really unequipped college kid roaming the woods, pretty damn lost, with a Tracking for Dummies book jammed in the bottom of his backpack.

And I mean living off trail mix and beef jerky levels of unequipped.

Like, the second this kid heard the rangers even start to suggest that they’d exhausted their resources, he said, “fuck you, I’ll find him myself” and took off into the mountains with his college backpack and the cheapest tent he could find.

So once Derek realizes that the not-serial killer is even more freaked out than he is, all he sees is a really pathetic, sore, and exhausted ball of rage and determination and offers him coffee. And actual food. And a shower because all he can smell is beef jerky.

Stiles is understandably weirded out because this dude offering him food definitely looks like a mountain man serial killer who cut himself off from society so no one would hear his victims’ screams.

There’s a lot of appearance-based assumptions all around.

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The Brown Bottle

Pairings: Alpha!Werewolf!Sam x Omega!Werewolf!Reader - A/B/O

Word Count: 3400+

Summary: Sam is rough around the edges, you do your best to avoid him until one night you discover he’s your true mate and instincts take over. This is really just a lot of smut and a little plot to ease things along. 

My twist on a/b/o dynamics.

Beta:  @just-another-busy-fangirl

Warnings: NSFW gif, knotting, mating, breeding, dominance, claiming, fingering, unprotected sex, biting, dirty talk, rough sex, some dom/sub overtones.

Your name: submit What is this?





You stop in your tracks, clutching an open hand over your abdomen.

“Shit,” you mumble under your breath as an afterthought. Shit doesn’t quite do this kind of pain justice. This cycle’s heat has brought what your mother, Millie (owner and proprietor of The Brown Bottle), refers to as The Real Motherfuckers. The kind of cramps that stop a woman unexpectedly while on her way to work well after sundown. The two generic suppressants you popped an hour earlier aren’t working as well as you hoped and you find yourself wishing you’d taken a third.

These are indeed The Real Motherfuckers.

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A Wizard Did It
  • ((Context: My character, a Tiefling, is trying to sneak down the corridor at our party wizard Miana's guild, somewhere she shouldn't be and doesn't want to be recognized.))
  • NPC: Oh, hey Miana! Why.... is there a demon stood next to you?
  • Me (OOC): Shit. I'm gonna roll to convince her that I'm just an illusion.
  • Roll: *8*
  • Me, halfheartedly: I'm an illusion, created by a wizard.
  • NPC: Uh... huh. Not a very convincing one.
  • Miana: Oh, um, yeah. I'm working on it, it's still a bit rough around the edges.
  • Miana (OOC): I'm going to cast Minor Illusion to make the Tiefling look shimmery and poorly-rendered.
  • GM: Okay, that'll let you roll your Deception again.
  • Roll: *18*
  • Me, motioning emphatically at Miana: I'm an illusion, created by a wizard!
  • NPC: Ohhhh, now I get it. It definitely needs more work - can you make it say anything else?
  • Me, shaking my head sadly: I'm an illusion, created by a wizard.
  • Me (OOC): Looks like she's buying it! I'd like to roll to escape down this corridor while moving as if I'm a poorly-animated illusion...
  • Roll: *natural 20*
  • GM: Wow. You jerk, slide, and T-pose your way along the hall. When you get to the adjar doorway, you sidle through it so quickly and smoothly that onlookers are convinced that you clipped through it.
Hufflepuff categories
  • Context: on a scale from HARD to SOFT, which Hufflepuff are you today?
  • Hufflepunk: loud, speak their mind, a bit rough around the edges, fights for justice and equality, put a bold front, will fight you with their teeth bared and fingers aiming for your soft spots
  • Pufflepunk: kind of a softer version of Hufflepunk, One Fear meme, despite their loud voices they still know how to tread soft tunes, not a good person to anger, have a RageMode button
  • HufflepuffTM: just, kind, loyal, like soft things, would commit the most gruesome murders for their loved ones, love gatherings that contain good food and friends, lovely taste of music
  • Hufflepuffett: aesthetic af, cute scruffy style, likes warm drinks and soft blankets, always has snacks for their friends, haters gonna hate (but a badger don't care), ready to lend a helping hand (even if it's just burying a body)
  • Pufflepuff: a ray of sunshine, has the biggest smile around that makes everyone happy, soft-spoken, lover - not a fighter (still ready to punch your lights out tho), everyone's favorite person

the spy au that @philosophium ordered !!


Andrew slips through a slit in the crowd, brushing through the sleek trains of expensive gowns, rich wool suits jackets catching on his own. He’s on his second flute of champagne, and the tartness keeps him focused. His attention is on the flavour and the rim of the glass and the warp of faces through it. His earpiece crackles and whispers.

He can see his mark on the opposite side of the room, surrounded by servers and liars and pretty things. One of them is all three, Andrew can tell: a waiter’s vest, a seam of over-applied foundation, and bright blue eyes.

He’s distracting, flighty, a rubber band pulled all the way back. He looks like the memory of a case file, and a name occurs to Andrew one second before Kevin hisses it into his ear.

“It’s fuckin’ Charlie Pilot. Don’t engage, Minyard, we’re not here for him.”

Andrew doesn’t make any effort to reply, just takes another pull of champagne. He’s not really watching the troupes of entertainers or the clockwork security or the velvet and silk blooming under bowing chandeliers. He’s not even watching the man he’s either going to rob or kill, who’s laughing and weedy, red in the face from the alcohol. He’s stuck on Pilot –  next to his target, holding a heavily stocked tray of appetizers, his expression pleasant and empty.

He’ll be an irritant to what should be a straightforward plan, if he keeps hovering. Andrew takes a loaded step forward and the voice in his ear complains.

“Don’t even think about moving in until Pilot leaves. He’s probably doing reconnaissance for Matt. I bet he doesn’t even know about the file.”

Andrew watches Pilot’s face tick, the way he blinks like he’s on a timer, the way he’s worrying the inside of his cheek with his teeth.

“I bet he does,” Andrew murmurs, and he drains the last of the champagne. He plucks his tie pin away from the fabric and drops it in the empty glass, leaving it on a passing tray.

“What— what the fuck Minyard, we’ve lost visuals. Do you hear me? Andrew? Andrew?”

Andrew weaves through the rest of the golden crowd, ignoring the buzz of Kevin’s reprimands in his ear. He finds a new spot on the outskirts of the crowd where Pilot has installed himself.

“Do you know how fucking expensive those cameras are? You’re such a piece of shit operative,” Kevin says. “When you inevitably come back without the intelligence and without our equipment, it’s costing us to keep you around, do you realize that?”

Andrew’s more focused on the way Pilot’s shoulders are turning to face him, the slim line of his tailored pants, that eyelash-thick smudge of un-blended make up.

“Shrimp?” Pilot offers, swaying the tray in his direction.

“No,” Andrew says, but he stays uncomfortably near, feeling along the edges of his boundaries without finding any seams. Pilot’s composure is still and reserved as a frost-ravaged garden.

“Have a good evening then,” Pilot says graciously, turning back towards the host that Andrew should be sizing up but hasn’t even looked at. He glances at him for a sliver of a moment, finds himself uninterested, and looks back at Pilot.

Andrew catches him suddenly by the arm, but relaxes his grip just as quickly, caught off guard by his own impulsivity. His own disguise is just an invitation and sun bleached hair; he isn’t playing a character like Pilot is. He’s neutral for a living, but Pilot is a new weight on his scale, unbalancing him so that he can’t quite settle at zero.

When their eyes meet, the polite, curious waiter snips out of existence. Charlie Pilot stares at Andrew, with eyes like the bluest part of a fire.

“There’s a conflict of interest,” he tells Andrew calmly. “And your interest will lose.”

“I’m not interested in anything,” Andrew says broadly.

“Hm,” Pilot says, unconvinced. “You’re lying.”

“I don’t lie,” Andrew says. He’s always saying it; it’s a novelty that employers enjoy and enemies challenge, amused.

Pilot raises his jaw, mouth twitching. “No, you wouldn’t, would you.” His eyes flicker to the side of Andrew’s face, where Kevin is breathing furiously through his earpiece, then down to the grip he still has on his forearm. He lowers his tray down until the rough edge is pressed to the root of Andrew’s hand threateningly. “You’ll want to let me go, Andrew, or you’re going to end up needing a longer armband.”

Andrew feels genuine surprise squeeze his fingers around Pilot’s wrist. He hadn’t noticed the black fabric extending a whiff beyond his crisp white sleeve. He lets go, and Pilot tucks his shoulders back, satisfied. His hair is too dark to match his freckles, Andrew notes quietly. It is, perhaps, what the make up was meant to cover up.

“You are not going to win, Charlie,” Andrew says. “We’re the more capable team.”

Pilot smiles indulgently. “‘Charlie’,” he repeats, mouth curling around the name. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been Charlie Pilot.” He jostles his tray from one hand to another, and loosens his collar with his freed hand. “And I don’t think you understand how much farther ahead we are than you. If you’re looking for information, we already have it. If you’re trying to find the connections this place has to the Yakuza, we’re the ones undoing them.”

“Who’s we? I don’t remember seeing anything about loyalty in your case file. You’re just a runner.”

Pilot looks briefly bothered by this, and he juts his chin again. “I’m loyal to whoever’s doing the work that needs to be done.”

“That doesn’t answer my question. Who are you?”

He looks down, at Andrew’s empty hands, at the hip where he’s hiding his gun. His expression is warped and sad when he looks up, like the real filling in his strange costume is finally oozing out.

“You can call me Neil,” he says, and drops the whole tray of food so that it clatters and rolls into the host’s feet. There are gasps and yelps, partygoers dodging and stooping to catch the runaway platter. Andrew looks impulsively down to track its progress, and when he looks sharply back up into the knot of activity, Neil is gone. Of course he is.

He doesn’t have time to think about where he might have disappeared to, just steps neatly into the opportunity that’s been afforded to him. He uses the distraction as a doorway directly into the offices behind the coddled host.

Kevin is asking repeatedly for updates, and Andrew fishes the earpiece out and tucks it into his breast pocket. He likes to be alone for this part, when the most important door closes behind him and everything makes as much sense as a ticking clock.

He keeps thinking of Neil’s reaction to ‘runner’, of the vulnerability trussed up in his persona. He finds himself sick to his stomach wanting to know what his real hair colour is.

He tries every door in the polished row of them, finding all of them locked. He picks the lock on the door farthest from the burble of the ballroom behind him, and cracks into what looks like a room built for business arrangements and drinking. There’s a snifter next to a half dozen tumblers on a cart along the wall, and extensive cabinets under the desk.

He feels his way along the underside of the desk, and opens each drawer, idealistically left unlocked and unprotected. He finds useless information and shady information and heaps of anonymous, unlabeled tapes.

He finds the safe in the floor, facing up patiently under a wingback chair and a panel of floorboard. He stoops so that he’s face to face with it, shrugs his jacket off like a dead skin onto the floor, and puts the heart of a stethoscope to the face of the safe.

He’s sweating, spread out surreptitiously on the floor, but the safe is flimsy. It cracks in under an hour, the party wilting two rooms over, pressure taking him by the hair. Andrew flicks the door open impatiently, unwinding the stethoscope from around his neck.

It’s filled top to bottom with paper, and he reaches for the first file, carding his fingers through the spill of sheets.

Got you, it says. Over and over again, in unassuming little typescript. And on the next page, got you.

Andrew’s fingers flex. The next file is the same, and the next. A million taunting, twirling repetitions: got you. Got this. Got here first.

The safe was already cracked. The list of names was already stolen. Neil’s face winks and swarms when he closes his eyes, furious. If you’re looking for information, we already have it.

He roots around for the bud in his pocket and pops it back into his ear. He leans back, splayed away from the spill from the safe, the stacks of failure. He enunciates clearly into the microphone sewn into his collar.

“We have to find Neil.”

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