Underneath the Red Lights, 2/? (2016-08-30)

Carlos spends–spent–his days making locks. And doorknobs. And latches. And fences. And gates.

But no keys.

Which is bleakly appropriate considering all of the people he ever loved are in prison.

The point is that Carlos works–worked–with a lot of metal. A lot of shiny, reflective metal.

The first time he saw it, he didn’t even notice–it was just a blur of blue and peach–it could easily have been his own reflection even though the uniform is more grey than blue, and his skin more tan than peach.

The second time, he took a moment to look around. Figured maybe it was someone else, the curved angle of the metal bouncing the light bizarrely. But no one was there, and when he turned back the reflection was gone.

The third time, he actually saw a face–a face that he’d recognize anywhere even after five years, a face he thought he’d never see again.

“Evie!”

It turns out that, no matter how kind their hiring practices, dwarves are about as tolerant of an employee halting an entire day of production to have a freak out as humans are.

That is to say, not tolerant at all.

He’s told to turn in his uniform and keycard, they inform him he’ll receive his partial paycheck in the mail, and then he’s summarily guided out the door never to return.

“I didn’t want to work here anyway,” Carlos mutters, quietly enough that he won’t be overheard because maybe if he’s lucky they’ll still give him a good reference. Though when has luck ever been on his side?

His unemployment walk of shame is about as awful as a regular walk of shame, worse actually because he didn’t even have any fun to make up for it, but a part of him is thrumming with excitement and a little bit of what might be hope.

He keeps looking in ever reflective surface–the windows of shops he passes by, the side mirrors of parked cars, even each puddle he carefully steps around–hoping to see another glimpse of Evie, but so far nothing.

Maybe he’s going mad.

He’s straining so hard to find her that he isn’t paying as much attention to walking as he ought to–

“Carlos.”

–he hears his name, a familiar voice for all that it’s deeper and somehow not attached to a body. He stops, nearly trips, nearly–

–a car rushes past him, close enough and fast enough that the displaced air ruffles his clothes, his hair, blows violently against his skin.

He goes straight home–no more gazing at windows and wishing for something that’s not real, refusing to respond to a voice calling his name in a tone and cadence as fondly irritated as he remembers–although home is a bit of a stretch.

The tiny studio apartment he shares with Jane doesn’t leave room for much privacy, but neither of them really care about that because at least it’s only one other roommate instead of the twenty they grew up with.

Their cracked and mismatched dishes are piling up in the sink, their clothes are mixed together–whites and blacks and greys and, on the rare occasions they can splurge, tiny hints of blues and pinks and reds–and the bathroom door isn’t so much a door as it is a jury rigged plank of wood and that they have to either eel around or manually shift. Neither of them have actual beds–not that there’s space for it–so Jane has a futon and Carlos uses a couch that they scavenged from the curb and cleaned as best as they could (it still smells like bleach, which is better than the alternative).

It’s not home, but it’s the closest thing they’ll ever get. Just like how neither of them are each other’s first choice in friends, but they’ve worked hard to make it work.

Carlos goes home and Jane sees his face–pale and shocked and horrified and wild-eyed–and decides he needs a distraction.

“Don’t sit down,” she orders, already digging into their shared pile of clothes and tossing a pair of black skinny jeans at his head–it might be hers or it might be his, they’re the same size so it doesn’t really matter.

“I need your help with something important,” she adds, without elaborating, and it’s not until they’re in line to enter Problématique does Carlos realize that the ‘something important’ is either helping Jane get drunk or get laid.

Whatever, he’s not opposed to having a night out.

It’s not like this day can get much worse.

~

A/N: Not keen on that ending, but it’s already seven past so…

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