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Sometimes, the simple passage of time is enough to really get under Wilford’s skin. At first, it was normal for the door to Milliways to come and go at random. But then it was a little less than random - it just wasn’t showing up.

The possibility that maybe he’d deviated too far had crossed his mind. His secret story had sort of dried up as well. The guy just disappeared without a trace, and nobody seemed to know where he’d gone. Maybe he’d actually got bored this time and decided to go do something productive with his life. Or maybe he’d stuck his nose somewhere it didn’t belong, and someone finally put an end to his meddling. Either way, it was starting to feel like bad news.

The worst kind of bad news is the sort you can’t do anything about. So Wilford waited, and hoped maybe he hadn’t irreparably screwed everything up. He tried to keep his head down, and just do his job. He was very quickly outgrowing local news, but he had to time everything perfectly.

Then, finally. The moment he’d been waiting for. His boss finally, after years of it happening right under his nose, found out his wife had been sleeping with everybody but him. One simple act of revenge sex later, and a text message to the wrong person, and he was front page news. Scandal, resignation, criminal lawsuits, and Wilford breaking the story. Finally, after years of trudging through local bullshit, Wilford’s name was in the national spotlight. New, pointless social networks were springing up, and Wilford was already on them, building himself a presence. It sucked. It was tedious and stupid and pointless, but it sucked.

But it also paid off, because as the network crumbled around him, job offers were pouring in from everywhere. And Wilford knew exactly which one he wanted. He was going to Vinewood.
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The door opens to a squalid little apartment with almost no decoration at all. It's clean, but also has that 'not even started to move in' quality. No rugs on the floor. No pictures or posters on the wall. A single sofa in the living room. On the opposite wall, a TV stand, with an old CRT television and a VCR. There's a kitchen table in the dining room, but it doesn't have any chairs around it. Just a small stack of mail, and a leather jacket. A peek into the kitchen reveals the same level of complete emptiness.

It is the apartment of someone who hasn't a single goddamn care about where he sleeps at night.

Wilford doesn't give Molly too much time to snoop around the rest of the tiny one-bedroom though. He grabs his jacket off the table and heads back to the front door. "It's close enough to walk," he says.

Which is good, because his car is still full of bees.
cottoncandypink: (Animated)
Eight stupid teenagers on some remote mountain in Alberta — nobody cared about it. Wilford hadn’t even heard about this story the first time around, but he wanted in on it this time. There was the potential for some excellent dirt on some very powerful people in this story, but it meant getting to Canada to cover it. And not just Canada. The other side of Canada.

And not just him.

He needed a team. He needed people who could do the job.

Surprisingly, getting the okay to take a team out was the easy part. It was convincing people to go that was tricky. It turned out, nobody wanted to take a trip out to the Canadian Rockies. Eventually, he threatens to break enough arms to gather a decent-sized crew for the trip.

And then comes the next problem: not fucking dying out there on some godforsaken mountaintop. There’s no way they’re getting any amount of firepower through customs, but Wilford had an excellent plan to get around that. As soon as he got home, he gathered up every gun and case of ammo he had lying around his apartment and slipped it quietly into his room at the bar in the middle of the night while everyone was asleep.




Timing is not Wilford’s friend. He can’t figure out for the life of him how time on his world relates to time on Milliways, much beyond the obvious answer of ‘not at all.’ When it’s time to get his guns back through the door into the waiting hotel room, it’s the middle of the goddamn day. Most of the people, Wilford doesn’t care about, but he has to be quick in case some of the people he does care about happen to spot the enormous rifle he can’t manage to cram into his inventory.
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Deciding to let someone almost twice your size use you for a punching bag, as it turned out, is a very bad idea. It didn’t get Wilford any closer to getting some sleep, and left him with a ringing headache, a bunch of bruises, and two sprained knees. He managed to get up to his room and into bed, and eventually managed to pass out from sheer pain and exhaustion, though it wasn’t a very comfortable sleep. But it was something. So there was that.

At one point, he was woken by a sensation he hadn’t encountered in years. Buster was licking the side of his head, getting his dog drool all over his hair and in his ear. Wilford grumbled and pushed Buster away. That sort of nonsense was not helping.

Buster whined quietly, but got down off of the bed. That was his bed, and he didn’t normally have to share it. He didn’t dislike sharing it, but it was different. And different things needed to be investigated. But his daddy was good at making it clear when he didn’t want to be investigated, so Buster trotted over to the little white door in the wall. The door was small, and Buster had to wiggle his way through on his stomach, dragging his legs behind him. But it was his door, and being small meant that nobody else could get in. At least, nobody else that was bigger than he was. There were other things that were smaller than him, but he chased them away any time he saw them near his door.

Buster headed down the stairs and sat down in front of the bar, holding his head up expectantly. The bar didn’t like it when he climbed up there, and he didn’t get his food if he did that, so he waited patiently until his breakfast appeared for him. Only then did he get up, still keeping his back feet on the floor, to eat his breakfast. A bowl of salmon, with a great bit egg right in the middle, and a strip of chicken. Not that Buster waited around to be able to taste the difference. He devoured all of it, licking the bowl clean and making sure nothing had fallen on the bar or on the floor. Once he was satisfied that he found every last morsel, he left the bowl behind and started trotting around the room, looking for something to play with.

There was a rat, carrying a tray with Many Things on it, and they all looked like they’d make a great noise if they fell over, so Buster chased the rat. It squeaked and ran, trying to dodge around tables and chairs while Buster nipped at its tail. These rats weren’t for hurting, but that didn’t stop him from trying sometimes. Finally, the rat ran through the door into the room he wasn’t supposed to go into. That room was where the rats got sharp weapons and lots of things to throw at him, so he skidded to a halt at the door. Buster waited for a few minutes for the rat to come back, but it didn’t. It stayed stubbornly on the other side of the door.

Eventually, Buster forgot why he was waiting there, and wandered off to go find something to do. He sniffed around under the tables for any dropped food, but there wasn’t much but dust and something that looked like food, but tasted like not food. Buster ate it anyway, just in case it was food.

He found himself at the back door, and looked around for someone to open it for him. But nobody was paying any attention to him, so he’d have to do it himself. He sighed dejectedly and got up on his hind feet, using his front paws to slap and punch at the handle on the door. Eventually, it made a sound and Buster pulled away quickly, just enough for the door to swing open and let him through.

One of those stupid cats was outside. Buster hated those cats. Daddy didn’t like the cats either, but Buster really hated them. They taunted him and mocked and made fun, so he barked and barked and barked. But it was up on a high perch, and pretended that it didn’t hear him barking at it. Buster tried to get up to get the cat, but even he couldn’t jump up that high, and his claws didn’t let him climb. He could run and jump, and try to run up the wall, but it didn’t get him close enough. And the cat still didn’t even look at him.

That cat was stupid. Buster left the cat, and went to go visit the Big Dogs that lived in the funny building with the tiny rooms. The Big Dogs were very big. Even their puppies were bigger than Buster was. They had funny hair. Most of their hair was like his, short and shiny, except where it covered their eyes, and on their tail. There, it was long and shaggy. They were strange dogs, but friendly despite their size. Buster walked up to one of their tiny rooms and whuffed a quiet greeting. The Big Dog leaned its big head down to sniff at Buster, and tickle his face with its mouth. Buster licked back, as was only polite and wagged his tail happily. He visited every one of the Big Dogs, except the one that was kind of mean, and stomped its big, funny feet at him when he got to close. That one, he whuffed at from a distance before carrying on with all of his Important Business.

Now that he’d said good morning to his friends, he had to go find all of the trees and benches and rocks that needed to be peed on. And there were a lot, and he always forgot some the last time around, so there were always some he’d come to that smelled like another dog. That annoyed him, so he’d just have to remember not to forget this one next time.

Eventually, his Important Business took him around to the lake, where he stopped to get a drink. There were some shiny rocks near the water, and Buster went to go sniff at them. They were definitely for sure rocks, and not food, so Buster didn’t eat them. But he did pick them up and save them for later. Daddy kept taking the things he saved away, so he had to keep finding new shiny rocks and other toys and snacks for later. Maybe this time, Daddy would let him keep his shiny rocks. He also found some rocks that weren’t shiny, and saved those for later as well.

There were some funny bugs by the water, and they distracted Buster from his rocks. He chased the bugs, nipping at them to make them them go away, but they just swarmed around him and started biting him. Buster didn’t like getting bit by funny bugs, so he ran away back toward the woods. He stopped at the edge, looking up at the trees. He needed to dig a hole, right here. It needed to be done. And it needed to be done now. He dug the hole as deep as he could get it, until he almost fell in. It took a long time, and made his face and paws all muddy, but it was good hole. And it was his. He dropped one of his rocks into it to hide it from Daddy.

Then he went into the forest. There were Little Things that weren’t dogs in there, and they weren’t rats, but they were like rats. Some of them were mean and spit fire. Buster tried to chase those Little Things, but they always won, and started chasing him instead. Then he found one of the other Little Things to chase, with a long tail like a rat, except it was covered in fur. The Little Thing that wasn’t a rat tried to run up a tree, but Buster could jump high, caught it by its tail. He shook his head as hard as he could, and flung the Little Thing that wasn’t a rat around until it stopped squeaking. Then he stepped on it and pulled off its tail. He didn’t know what to do with the Little Thing that wasn’t a rat after that, so he ate the tail, and saved the rest for later.

Now, it was time to go try to get some lunch from the bar. He didn’t usually get lunch from the bar, but sometimes he’d get something. He started his way back toward the building, sniffing at the ground as he went, thinking he might find something interesting. He could smell all the people and the other dogs and the stupid cats that walked around out here, as well as some of the Little Things that lived out in the trees. None of those were very interesting. When Buster got back to the building, the door was closed again. The door was always closed again. He sat down and waited for it to open, but it didn’t open, so he started slapping at its handle with his paws until it did. He happily trotted over to the bar and sat down in front of it to wait patiently, but nothing appeared for him. He barked once, and still nothing. Snorting his disappointment, he headed back upstairs and shimmied through the tiny door in the wall.

Wilford was still asleep on the bed, until the whole thing shook under the weight of his dog jumping up and walking around by his head. He tried to push the dog away, but just got his face licked for his trouble. He grumbled and swore, and tried to roll away, but nobody had bothered to tell the dog that all he wanted to do was sleep. Finally, he sighed and gave up. Sleep was over, apparently. He reached into the night stand and fished around for his spare glasses, only bothering to sit up once he’d found them. They were an old prescription, and didn’t quite do the job, but seeing things a little bit fuzzy was preferable to seeing nothing at all.

Trying to sit up made everything hurt. His sides hurt, his stomach hurt, his chest hurt. He was pretty sure his knees had actually exploded, and he still had the same headache he had when he’d come upstairs. His knuckles were bruised and a bit scabbed up in some places, and he bet he had a good bruise on his forehead, courtesy of Baze’s face. He slowly lifted his shirt to check his side, and was utterly unsurprised to see everything from his hip to his ribs was a nasty black and blue mess. It was a good thing he’d already lost that kidney previously, because he had a feeling he’d have been pissing blood for a month otherwise.

Wilford looked at his dog, where he still stood hopefully on the bed, and sighed again. He needed food, and pain killers, and something to knock him out for another few days, and all of those were going to be downstairs.
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Wilford hated that this was what his life had become. He didn’t even know how things had spiralled so far out of control, or even who to blame for it happening.

Actually, he blamed Jess. It was her big mouth that started the whole damn thing.

It was actually worse than it had been last time. Last time, he was the guy who stopped getting invited, because he kept showing up drunk and pulling a gun on someone. Now…

Now he just wanted to die.

His ‘date’ for the event was some twinky, barely-even-twenty-something who probably expected to have to give the blowjob of his life to get through the doors. But one point in Jess’ favour was that she did do a good job at telling all these gung-ho interns exactly what to expect, and what was expected of them. All Wilford wanted was an excuse to leave early, and for someone else to pay for his drinks and dinner once they had gone. Though even he had to admit that the reputation he’d picked up amongst certain circles was pretty damn agreeable for his position within the industry. Being the guy with a different date every time he showed up somewhere meant he’d avoided being the weird closeted guy with hangups everyone was starting to peg him as.

Hangups, sure. But he’d never been in the closet for a day in his life. If they were going to spread rumours, they could at least get it right.

There was a certain dance to this specific sort of con he found himself running, and like most of the kids before him, Donovan was so far doing everything right. He spent the first twenty minutes hanging off of Wilford’s shoulder and looking completely out of his element, while Wilford drank an obscene amount of free booze and pointed out everyone important. That guy over there with the red-head on his arm owns a tabloid newspaper. That woman over there in blue runs the local CBN offices. That asshole in the stupid Buddy Holly glasses will hire anybody who blows him.

Once Wilford got bored with being helpful, he found a quiet place near the bar to park himself and released Donovan out into the wild. He didn’t keep much of an eye on the kid, but he did notice occasional glances coming his way as Donovan did his part. He introduced himself to people, dropping Wilford’s name and getting the conversation to come round to him. ‘Yeah, he broke that one.’ ‘Yep, that was his story.’ Mention all the dangerous monsters and un-containable mayhem that crossed his path, while riding his coattails and taking a little bit of credit for some of the recent ones. It didn’t matter that Wilford had never seen Donovan before that afternoon; that wasn’t the point. The point was making sure important people understood Wilford knew what he was doing, while getting rumours out there amongst all the new talent coming in that he was the guy you wanted to work for.

He gave Donovan about an hour to move around, making contacts and getting his name out there before deciding he was done. There were too many people there with the sort of personality that made Wilford want to punch someone in the face. He could say it was because they were in it for the wrong reasons, chasing prizes and big paycheques, or because the current state of journalism as a whole was on a slow and steady decline as more and more people took to reading blogs and independent media, but it was all bullshit and he knew it. Wilford just hated them for no reason other than they existed. He hated them because they were all just as psychopathic and self-serving as he knew he was, but they tried to hide it and pretend to be some shining pillar in society; a figure everyone could look to and trust.

The tabloid peddlers were the only honest people in the whole lot. Not that it stopped Wilford from hating them as well.

He finished off his drink and went to go find Donovan. He’d apparently made his rounds through everyone he wanted to get through, and was currently chatting with some nobody anchor .

“Time to scram,” Wilford said, grabbing him by the elbow.

For a brief moment, Donovan looked surprised at this. But they’d made a deal, and this was part of it. When Wilford said it was time to go, it was time to go. Donovan made his quick goodbyes, and the two of them quickly vanished through a side door in the event hall.

“This hotel has four restaurants. Pick one,” Wilford said, not caring where they went, as long as they served food.

“Hey, I just wanna-”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Wilford said abruptly.

“Wow, I heard you’re a real prick, so thanks for confirming that.” Donovan nodded and looked around to find a sign that might lead them to somewhere with food.

Only two of the restaurants were open at that time of night, and somehow they wound up gravitating toward the Thai one. Wilford wasn’t super in the mood for Thai, but it was better than the Italian alternative that everyone else seemed to favour during these things. As they ate, Wilford complained about the whole damn event, and spilled as much dirt as he could on everyone who was there. He had a few more drinks, beyond everything he’d already had that night, and while the waitstaff were all off the floor and out of sight, Wilford pulled his spectacle case out of his inventory and pulled out a small bag of coke. There wasn’t time to take it properly, so he dipped his finger into the powder and rubbed some on his gums before offering the bag to Donovan. The scandalised look he got in return was almost worth it.

Keeping up his side of the deal, Donovan picked up the bill and didn’t even try to convince Wilford to cover the tip. He paid, and was all too eager to get out.

“You seem like you probably want to be alone, so I’ll call a cab,” Donovan said nervously as they left the restaurant and headed toward valet.

Wilford shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said. He watched the kid head off toward the street to try to hail a cab on his own, and went to go fetch his car.

He did want to be alone, so there was at least that. But the problem was that now that he was alone, he had no idea what to do with himself. He could go try to find a fight club or something, but he didn’t want to fuck up his face and risk not being able to get on camera for a while. There was the gym, but he was too drunk and too full to do anything other than make himself sick. In a habit he still hadn’t managed to break, he pulled out his phone before remembering that downloadable apps were still years out, and finding local games was more on a word of mouth sort of deal.

Eventually, Wilford found his way back home. He tossed his keys down on the kitchen table that still didn’t have any chairs to go with it, and collapsed on the sofa. The 24” CRT television was the same one he’d had since college, and still only got the same few stations, because he’d never bothered to call the cable company. At that time of night, broadcast was all paid programming, but watching anything else would have required getting up and finding a tape to pop into the player. So he stayed on the sofa, watching some bullshit about some sort of magic blender that may or may not have been actually magic, and waited until it was an acceptable hour to start getting ready to head back into the station.
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It had been long enough. Wilford didn’t act right away, because an impulsive reaction wouldn’t have the right impact. Jim needed to suffer. He needed to understand that Wilford is not a person that can just be walked all over. Fuck with him, and he would fuck right back.

Once he decided enough time had passed, to hopefully make Jim forget that Wilford might have been angry, it took him another few weeks to get everything just right. First, he had to find Jim, and that was going to be the hardest part. But between what he’d told Wilford, and what Walter had said, he at least had somewhere to start. He wasn’t looking for Jim Moriarty. He was looking for Jack something or other. There must have been a million Jack somethings in the country, but Wilford wasn’t looking just anywhere in the country. Jim would probably go where he was already familiar with the area, to cut down on the time it took him to establish himself. Which narrowed the field significantly. It still left him with hundreds of people to search through, but hundreds was better than potential millions.

It took him a few days, since he had a job, and other things to do with his life besides stalking someone. But SAG records for someone called Jack Mahone eventually surfaced. And wouldn’t you know, the headshots showed a very punchable face. Jim would be the kind of bastard cocky enough to think he could hide in plain sight like that.

With a name, Wilford was able to finally get to work. Internet security in 2005 was such a joke. People still thought hackers only cared about banks and the military. A couple of false police reports here, slipping a fake news article into the archives there. Pretty soon, a sordid narrative of bloody murder and even bloodier revenge was woven into Jim’s fake history - albeit, indirectly. After all, real estate agents lie about brutal murders to sell houses all the time. Slap some new paint on the walls, re-do the floors. The tenant will never know that four people were chainsawed to death in their kitchen.

Unless, of course, someone else finds out. Someone, maybe, with a fleet of open-top vans and a loudspeaker. Oh, dear, Jim. You should have asked more questions when you moved in.

And that was that. Wilford wouldn’t know if it worked until he saw Jim next, but for some reason the two of them seemed to have been avoiding one another lately. Whatever. He’d know as soon as Jim burst into the bar, swearing up a storm in Wilford’s direction. But for now, he had other things to do.

Like getting cornered by an intern, apparently.

“I heard you’re looking for a date tonight,” she said, sounding absolutely certain that he was.

“Am I?” Wilford asked. He was planning on escaping and pretending to be sick to avoid having to go to that damn gala. “What else have you heard?”

“That there’s dinner and drinks in it for you,” the intern said.

She was young — freshly out of college by the looks of her, and already trying to get out of intern hell. She had ambition; he had to give her that.

“You get one hour,” he said, holding out his hand. He wasn’t going to be stuck in that room full of people he hated a second longer than he had to. “Give me your phone.”

“Why?” She pulled her phone out anyway and tentatively handed it over. Wilford opened her text messages and punched in his own phone number.

“Your address,” he said, handing it back. “Be ready at seven.”

He walked away after that, eager to get the hell out before anyone else tried to corner him into being his plus one. Before he even got to the elevator, his phone chimed with a new message, making him wonder how this had become a thing he’d started doing.
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The year is 17-something. A new world is being settled, the East India Trading Company operates as one of the highest authorities, and there are some parts of the ocean that you just don’t want to get caught in, unless you fancy yourself a good match against roving pirates.

Which is pretty much anywhere, because pirates are pretty much everywhere.

Like all other pirates sailing the seas, The Red Dragon has its share of legend and rumour surrounding it. The old junk seems barely capable of staying afloat, and its crew are disorganised and undisciplined to the point of anarchy, but its red sails are still a cause for fear when spotted on the horizon.

Captain Won-Jae, known as Will to his crew, is just as disorganised and undisciplined as anyone on his ship. He seems to care more about his dog than anything useful, yet the rumours of slaughter and no survivors persist, and his crew must have some reason for sticking around, and not throwing him and his dog to the sharks.

Will himself is scruffy and unkept, as any pirate ought to be. Most noticeable is the handlebar moustache he wears, which has taken on an almost pink tinge to it. Not a vibrant, cotton candy pink, but the sort of pink you’d get from red-undertoned hair being constantly bleached by constant exposure to citrus and sunlight.

Oh yes, and in his world? Things like the Kraken, curses, and ships crewed by the damned are a thing, and not just maritime myth.



In this AU, Wilford is from the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. He comes into the bar having already been here. If your character already knows him, it is up to you if they know this version of him as well, or if the world’s most disorganised pirate is something new for them.
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Being stuck at Milliways had its downsides beyond just being stuck. Jim had said something — he’d said a lot of things, actually — that got under Wilford’s skin and stuck there. Wilford had to find out what else Jim knew, since he was apparently in his world, ready to cause all sorts of problems.

Walter was easy to find, and indeed had some big watermelon farm out on the west coast. Wilford had always assumed Walter had gone back to Korea with their parents, but now he wasn’t even sure about the initial assumption that their parents had even gone back to Korea. He tried a few searches, but only himself and Walter turned up. And it took him entirely too long to figure out why. Obviously if they had disappeared into the unknown, they would have done so in a way that they wouldn’t stand out so much. They had ready-made aliases before they even made the decision to leave. The problem is Wilford either didn’t remember, or was never told what they had changed their names from. He barely remembered what the name on his own birth certificate had originally been. Though, that wasn’t exactly a problem. It would have been a matter of public record. He fished around online for a little bit, eventually getting bored because when it came down to it, he just didn’t care enough to put any real amount of effort into it. Ultimately, it was that Jim had got one over on him that pissed him off so much. But now he at least knew where Walter was, and therefore which areas of San Andreas to avoid like the goddamn plague in the future.

Wilford pushed away from his desk and leaned against the window to watch the growing scene on the street down below. It was going to come to a riot sooner or later if nobody did anything. Wilford wished his phone had a decent camera so he could film it when it happened. Damn clamshell phones and their pre-megapixel cameras. The future could not come soon enough.

Nichola walked up, running her hand over his shoulders to get his attention. When he looked up, he was presented with a fresh cup of coffee. Wilford took it and went back to watching the show outside.

“What’s going on now?” Nichola asked as she sat down at her desk. She looked at everything piled up on it and sighed.

“Street preacher,” Wilford said, wishing the windows in the building opened so he could hear what was going on better.

“Anything worth listening to?” Nichola asked.

“Oh, you know. God hates fags; we need to protect our white women from all the brown-skinned terrorists. Nothing new.” Nothing new didn’t mean boring though, as the preacher below had amassed quite the crowd already.

“I want to see,” Nichola declared, moving her chair over next to Wilford so she could look down with him. The street preacher was shouting over the jeering crowd that surrounded him, ignoring their shouts and thrown stones in his direction. Finally, one of the stones hit him in the face, sending him reeling to the ground.

“Ow, that had to hurt,” Nichola said.

“He’ll get up again,” Wilford said, craning to try to see him now that he was hidden behind dozens of angry people still shouting at him.

“Who was that cute little thing I saw you with outside earlier?” Nichola asked, sipping on her coffee as if she wasn’t watching the beginnings of an angry mob forming.

Wilford shook his head dismissively. “Nobody. Just some girl I used to mess around with in college.”

“I didn’t think you went for that,” Nichola said.

“What, college?” Wilford asked.

“Girls.”

Wilford snorted. “Not this one anymore. She dropped by to tell me she’s pregnant.” And damn her for it.

Nichola forgot all about the street preacher and turned her full attention to Wilford. “Oh. I thought you said you were dating in college?”

Wilford wanted to bang his head into the window. Was Nichola so starved for scandalous gossip that she wasn’t even paying attention to what he was saying. “It’s not mine. She’s closing her restaurant. Apparently she wants to have a life that doesn’t revolve around resisting the urge to spit in peoples’ food.”

Utterly selfish. Where else is he going to eat when he can’t get the door to Milliways to open?

“Oh,” Nichola repeated.

“Don’t sound so disappointed,” Wilford said.

There was an uproar of shouting down below, and Wilford noticed that the preacher had got back up again, and was back to shouting his sermon at anyone nearby. He had blood running from the bridge of his nose, but didn’t seem to be showing any signs of stopping.

“What are your plans tonight?” Wilford asked.

“No,” Nichola said before he could get any farther with that train of thought.

“Free booze,” he tried anyway.

“Nice try. Still no. I am so not going to anything where my job does not depend on my showing up and looking complacent.”

She smiled at him over her coffee and leaned back in her chair, still watching the scene down below. At once, the crowd parted in every direction as a large jeep bounced over the curb and into the square below, mowing down a few of the screaming protesters as well as the street preacher. For a moment, everything down in the square was silent, with nobody moving as the crowd tried to figure out what was going on. Then, like a switch had been flipped, everyone realised at once that nobody would be resetting, or likely even respawning, and the crowd scattered in all directions as the driver of the jeep stumbled out to survey the damage.

“Ooh, that’s going to be on the six o’clock tonight,” Nichola said, cringing down at the scene below. Already, a team from inside the building was rushing out to cover the scene, getting in the way of police and paramedics. Wilford didn’t envy them. The ambulance chaser beat was one step above the kitten circus, and just as likely to grind your career to a halt.

“So, tonight?” Wilford asked.

“No.”

Wilford rolled his eyes and got up, taking his coffee with him. He wasn’t sure why he expected to be able to talk Nichola into going to the stupid award thing he’d been avoiding all month, since she never went even when she was up for one herself. Somewhere, he’d forgotten that there had been a time when blowing these things off wasn’t an option for him.

Maybe if he was lucky, he could catch Jim on the wrong side of the door, and get rocketed ahead three years without having to do anything about it. He’d like that.

He found Jess hiding in a hallway, avoiding doing any work, and decided to try his luck there. He couldn’t remember what he did the first time around, aside from likely wandering around doing exactly what he was doing right now. Maybe this was what he did, for all he knew.

“What are you doing tonight?” he asked her.

She looked up at him and shrugged. “I have a date with my couch and a frozen pizza,” she said.

“Cool. I’ll pick you up at six. Wear something nice.” He started to walk away before she could protest, but he wasn’t fast enough.

“Oh, no. I’m not going to that thing,” Jess argued.

Damnit. “All the free booze you can drink,” Wilford said.

“I really had my hopes set on that pizza,” Jess said.

Wilford sighed. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll pick you up at six.” This time, he walked away faster before she could protest.

-

He was surprised she was actually ready at six, and didn’t low-key try to bail on him by still being in her underwear when he knocked on her door. In fact, Jess had actually put more effort into her appearance than Wilford had, although he did make a last-minute decision to swap the candystripe jacket for a black leather one. The audible ‘oh thank god’ from Jess seemed to suggest this had probably been the right choice, though he didn’t feel the need to investigate that any further.

The event was every bit as dull and pointlessly stupid as Wilford remembered these things being. He and Jess spent their entire time there casually sharing insults about everyone they crossed paths with and decimating the bar before it became busy enough that they could sneak out unnoticed. Wilford had shown up, made his presence known, and got the hell out before anyone had a chance to shove a microphone in his face for a quote. He almost thought he’d be able to get away with skipping the pizza, but at the last minute, he changed his mind. If he wanted someone to go to these things with him again in the future, he’d have to play nice and uphold his end of the deal. So she got her pizza, and Wilford got garlic bread and a glass of beer. By the time he dropped Jess back off at her place, he was starving, and just drunk enough to be not even close to drunk enough.
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There was only so much Wilford could take of Billy’s sofa. And his food. And his TV. And everything else. Someone had hacked the airwaves again anyway, making the already unbearable programming even worse with frequent interruptions from some weird cartoon. Enough was enough. He could get up and move around on his own, even if it did hurt, but as far as Wilford was concerned that was as good as a clean bill of health. Billy taking more shifts at the station, and leaving Wilford alone only reinforced this idea.

That, and Wilford just wanted to leave, and spend some time in his own apartment for a while.

He took the dog back to the bar while Billy was out, and left a note for Jim that the dog needed to go back with him again. Hopefully, a few unsupervised hours outside weren’t going to bring the end of the world. When Billy finally came back home, it was a quick explanation. His friend came and got the dog. You just missed him. Wilford had managed to pack up his things on his own, though it wasn’t a terribly difficult task when he was living out of a backpack.

“When are you coming back?” Billy asked as they pulled into the parking lot at Wilford’s building.

He had to think about that for a moment. And not just because he was still sore. His car was still elsewhere. Like hell was he taking the bus in his condition. Whatever his condition even was.

“Monday,” he said finally. “I want a few days to myself first.”

Billy nodded. “All right.”

Wilford pulled his keys out of his backpack and unwound one from the ring. “You have to open the door from the inside,” he said, handing his car key over. “Watch your ass so the bees don’t sting you.”

It took Billy a few seconds of looking at the key in his hand to figure out what he was being told. “Bees. Got it.”



How dare that Jack person just show up on his doorstep one day with no warning and start asking about Wilford. Who gave him the right? The last five years had been good. They’d been peaceful. Walter had to move to the west coat to achieve that peace, and then Jack Mahone just showed up and asked too many questions, and Walter was left angry and curious and it wasn’t fair.

There was still time before the migrant workers had to come take care of the crops, so Walter was able to leave everything in the care of one of his farmhands with relative comfort. Not that anything about this situation was at all comfortable. And yet, here he was boarding a plane back to Washington. He’d spend a week looking. No more. If he couldn’t turn up anything after a week, he’d go back to the assumption he’d always held onto and go back to his life of being an only child to parents who returned home to Korea to retire - a simple fantasy to suit his simple life. Not that he held any hope of actually finding anything other than what he’d told Jack. He even planned on taking his own advice upon landing. His search wouldn’t go much farther than prisons and death certificates. It wasn’t even that Wilford had made a habit of hanging around dangerous people. He was plenty dangerous all on his own, with a quick temper that was sure to spark the same in someone else sooner or later.

His search didn’t start as soon as he landed. He was too tired from the long flight to bother. And it wasn’t likely that Wilford would be going anywhere. He could wait twelve hours, while Walter checked into a hotel room and had a real meal and got some rest.

The hotel was a modest little thing. The kind where the TV only got the local channels, and even then, only about half of them. Walter had been so long out of the area that he couldn’t even remember which channels were what, and picked a random one to serve as quiet background noise while he ordered cheap delivery and took a hot shower while he waited. He didn’t expect much from the local Japanese place that catered to the airport crowd, and still managed to be disappointed by the tempura and completely flavourless beef. He took it to the bed, to relax and pick at it until he could convince himself to get some sleep, but the time change was working against him. He’d be up until four in the morning, and he already knew it.

Suddenly, he heard something on the television that caught his attention so quickly, he nearly spilled rice all over his lap: his brother’s name. He scrambled for the remote to turn up the volume to be able to hear what the news anchor was saying, finding himself even more confused as she kept talking with her co-anchor. Walter caught the tail end of something about a shootout, which involved Wilford. That much was not a surprise, except the fact that he was still out on the streets to be involved at all. But it was their tone that caught him first. They were almost celebratory. Apparently Wilford would be returning the next day.

What in the hell did that mean?



There was something to be said about the health benefits of getting a clean shave, especially after spending so much time neglecting it. It’s one thing to let it go deliberately, but when it’s out of pain and sheer lack of energy, it’s another thing entirely. Finally getting rid of all the dirty-looking, uneven scruff on his face made Wilford feel like he was actually ready to go get some work done finally. He’d been sitting around for far too long, getting nothing accomplished, and he was getting bored. It still hurt to move, and his energy still felt like it was through the floor, but just getting out of the house and to work would do him wonders.

Jeans were still uncomfortable against the cut above his hip, but less because the fabric irritated his skin and more because the area was still tender, and probably would be for a while. It took him far too long to decide whether or not to wear a belt. But he wanted to wear a tie, which meant tucking his shirt in, which meant wearing a belt. It served only a cosmetic purpose, and was clasped as loosely as he could get it without making it look too big. Even then, he didn’t expect it to last the full day. He didn’t expect to last the full day either, so it was fine.

He grabbed his racing stripe tie, suddenly glad he hadn’t been wearing it when they went to go talk to Father Hillbilly. The candystripe one he’d been wearing that day had been completely ruined. Which was a shame, because he liked that one too, but the racing stripe one had really grown on him and was quickly becoming his favourite. That one needed a black shirt.

And the black leather jacket. Which he had also been wearing that day, and which had probably long since been thrown into some incinerator by then. Damn. Fine. No jacket today then. He rolled up his sleeves instead, and decided it was good enough for his first day back from medical leave. The only thing left after that was the absurd amount of forming cream to get his moustache to twirl at the ends just right, and then he was finally out the door.

The acrobatics to get into his car disagreed with him, but he managed it all the same. Traffic into DC was just as awful as it had always been. It was good to see some things never changed.

He finally got to the station, and found things very much different, however. So many warm, friendly greetings from people he didn’t even know, or who had spent the last year blowing him off completely. Wilford ignored all of them and made it back to his office, where he found Billy and Nichola already waiting for him. The warm, friendly greetings from them were tolerated, and maybe even a little welcome.

“I was starting to think you were never coming back,” Nichola said as Wilford very carefully sat down. She got up to greet him, and for a horrifying second, Wilford thought she was actually going to hug him. She grabbed his hand instead, which was far more acceptable. “I thought you were going to leave me with all this crap on my own.”

“And let you keep hogging all the fun? Never,” Wilford said.

Nichola grinned and let go of his hand.

“Good,” she said.

She disappeared back to her own side of the desk, and came back with a big, fluffy blue teddy bear.

“I was starting to think I’d be stuck with this thing forever.” She plopped it into Wilford’s lap, and returned to her own seat.

“This thing is awful,” Wilford said, holding it up to look at it. It had a smiling face, and its arms were outstretched as if waiting for a hug. It was also the size of a very small child.

“I know, right?” Nichola agreed. “It’s recommended to help you heal.”

Wilford wasn’t sure if it was sarcasm or scepticism in her voice, but it didn’t matter. The bear was still awful. Maybe he’d give it to his dog.

“I’m afraid the bear’s my fault,” Billy said. “She was going to bring you a bottle of vodka, but I told her your medication wouldn’t allow it.”

Rude. “I’d rather have the vodka. I stopped taking those damn pills a week ago.”

“You only left my place three days ago,” Billy said.

Wilford shrugged. It wasn’t his fault Billy was a terrible caregiver.

Before Billy could scold him further, there was a knock at the door about half a second before Kevin poked his stupid blue head into the room.

“Hey, Wil. There’s someone out here to see you,” he said.

“Jesus Christ, I’ve been back five minutes. He can wait another half hour,” Wilford complained.

The door swung open, and Wilford was almost certain his heart actually stopped for a second.

“What in the fuck are you doing here?” he demanded.



Walter moved around the edges of the room like he was trapped in a cage with a tiger. Wilford had pointed to one of the chairs, but if he didn’t want it, fine. Wilford hurt too much to play these games.

“Well?” he said impatiently. He wished he hadn’t sent Nichola and Billy away. This was already boring. Now he had to imagine the snide remarks Nichola was surely making elsewhere.

“Well what?” Walter asked.

Wilford looked around the room, wondering what was possibly making Walter so dense. “You came here. What do you want?”

Walter’s awkward fidgeting was slowly turning into outright pacing. He stayed near the door, on the other side of the desk from Wilford. If he was going to be like that, why did he even bother coming here in the first place?

“Someone was looking for you,” he said finally. “Some Jack person. He said you owed him something.”

“Jack?” Jack who? “I don’t know any Jack.”

Did he? Wilford couldn’t remember. But he would have remembered this.

“Well, he knew you. And our parents,” Walter said.

What was different? Who was this Jack person, and why had he sought Walter out this time? Why hadn’t he gone there last time? Wilford tried to sit up, and suddenly remembered exactly what was different.

“Jesus Christ, Walt. He’s probably some lowlife who saw what happened and thought there was insurance money in it.” Ha. Insurance money. That’s a good one. Was Walter always this stupid, or did someone drop a brick on his head recently?

“No,” Walter said. “He knew you. Knew us.”

Wilford sat forward, watching the way Walter moved away quickly, getting closer to the door. But he didn’t get up. He just wanted to turn on his computer. “Haven’t you ever heard of the internet?” The internet was crap these days, but it still had some uses. Wikipedia was just getting off the ground, and Google was already taking over as the search engine of choice. It would take a person five minutes to find Wilford’s old Hoyas bio, saved on some archived page for posterity. In fact, once his computer was up and running, that’s exactly what he did. Sleek, flatscreen monitors were above and beyond this shithole’s budget, so he twisted the giant CRT dinosaur as far as he could, trusting Walter to move his ass to actually look at the screen. Eventually, he did, just long enough to peek at what was there.

“Your name’s right there, dumbass.”

“No,” Walter repeated. “I was afraid he was going to break my legs.”

Did he not get it? “What kind of drugs are you on?” Wilford asked.

“Wil, listen—”

“No. You don’t get to call me that. Only people I like get to call me that, and you’re not on that list.” He would tolerate Walter’s presence, only as much as he had to, but even he had a hard time holding onto a grudge for almost twenty years.

No. Not twenty. Not for Walter. No wonder he kept moving around like he expected Wilford to leap over the desk and strangle him. If Wilford hadn’t still been so stiff and sore, he might have done just that to get Walter’s heart racing. But it wouldn’t be worth having to go back home because he still wasn’t truly ready to be moving around at all, let alone back at work.

“Wilford, what are you doing?” Walter tried again. “You’re pissing off strange people, and now they’re coming to me.”

Wilford tried very hard not to sigh. “What am I doing?” he asked. He was done talking about this Jack person, since he already told Walter what that was most likely all about. “I’m using my BA from Georgetown to do my very comfortable job that I rather enjoy, even when someone’s trying to turn me into Swiss cheese. What I’m doing right now is sitting in my office, wondering what the hell you’re doing.”

“You got into Georgetown?” Walter asked.

This time, Wilford did sigh. “Go home, Walter. And if anybody threatens to break your legs again, man up and break theirs first.”

“Well, maybe next time, they’ll try to do something worse,” Walter insisted.

“Get. Out.” Wilford’s patience was fried. He was done with this stupid conversation, with his stupid brother. “Now. Before I have you arrested for trespassing.”

Walter stood, seemingly stunned for a long moment. When he still didn’t move, Wilford reached for the phone in the middle of the shared ‘desk’ between his and Nichola’s stuff. That seemed to finally light the fire under Walter’s ass, though he didn’t take his eyes off Wilford until he was out of the room, and had the door shut between them.

Why now? Wilford had been shot, stabbed, and eviscerated more times than he could ever hope to count last time, and Walter never showed up looking for him. What in the hell was so different about this time that he felt the need to come ruin a perfectly good day by turning up like that?
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Billy hadn’t really known what to pick up from Wilford’s place, but there wasn’t much of anything there to be picked up. He didn’t have anything, and Billy already knew that. He came back with a ratty old bathrobe that Wilford had had since high school, a pair of slippers that had been buried in the back of his closet, and a backpack full of clothes that he couldn’t really wear around all the stuff he was hooked up to. The bathrobe wasn’t much, but just wearing something that was actually his made him feel a little more like himself. He mostly slept to pass the time, but it wasn’t a pleasant or restful sleep. It was a fuzzy, drugged sleep that left him feeling just as gross as he’d felt before. He hated pain killers, but he imagined he’d hate being in pain even more in this one case.

The first time he saw the damage, while a nurse was invading his space and checking his stitches, he almost puked. The only reason he didn’t was probably because he had nothing in his stomach to puke up. One of the hidden benefits to a clear liquid diet, it seemed. He hadn’t ever seen the aftermath of taking three rounds to the stomach and surviving. He’d expected a few stitches here and there from where the bullets had gone in. He hadn’t expected the long incision straight down his stomach, or the other long one just over his hip. There were more in his side, and two more spots on his back that needed checking.

“Two of them went straight through. The third took a detour,” Billy had explained later.

It was no wonder everything hurt. Because everything was hurt. The clean-up operation must have taken hours.

“You’re a tough little bastard, you know that?”

He kept his bathrobe tied closed after that. He had to wear the belt high around his chest, because anything around his stomach was agony. But anything to keep him from having to look at that mess was preferable. Even more preferable would have been being anywhere but where he was. He hated the nurses and doctors and everyone else constantly invading his space. Billy was there more often than not, but he at least kept his hands to himself. He probably felt like he had to be there, for some irritating, sentimental reason, since nobody else would be coming to look smug at him.

“I want to go home,” he said while the doctor was in having a look at his charts.

“I… would very strongly recommend against that,” the doctor said.

Wilford shook his head. He hated the room, and the people in it, and the bed he was on, and the TV that never stopped showing the news, and everything that was sticking out of him. He wanted it all to just go away, so he could curl up somewhere dark and just be miserable for a while.

“I want to go home,” Wilford repeated.

The doctor put the clipboard back on the end of the bed. “Do you have anyone at home to keep an eye on you?” he asked slowly.

Wilford started to answer that he didn’t need anyone else, but his head was still all full of sand and cotton, and Billy was faster. “He’ll stay with me,” he said.

The doctor seemed to accept this a little more easily, but going to Billy’s wasn’t what Wilford wanted. He wanted to be left alone.

“Wil, you’re on the third floor. That’s a lot of stairs, man,” Billy said.

It occurred to Wilford he may have been even more slow to react than he realised. Or maybe Billy was secretly psychic. But he had forgotten about the stairs. Even sitting up hurt; he’d never be able to get to his front door.

“I’ll go with him,” he said, pointing at Billy.

The doctor still didn’t seem very convinced, but he nodded anyway. “Okay. I’ll go get the discharge started.” He gave Wilford a strange look before leaving the room.

Billy watched him go, waiting until the door was closed before turning back to Wilford. “You sure you don’t want to give it a few more days?”

He didn’t. It was the last thing he wanted. He hated everything about this place.

“I want to go home,” he repeated again.

“All right. We’ll go home.” Billy didn’t seem convinced either, but at least he’d leave Wilford alone. He respected personal space boundaries, unlike everyone else here. Wilford just needed to be left alone, and then he’d feel better.

Eventually, the doctor came back in with a stack of forms and releases and waivers for Wilford to sign - agreeing that the hospital wasn’t at fault if complications arose from refusing treatment, agreeing that he’d refused treatment, agreeing to having consented to the treatment he did receive. He didn’t care about any of it. He signed them all with a loose, sloppy signature that barely looked like his own, trusted that Billy was listening to medication instructions and garbage about follow-up appointments, and everything else. He still didn’t care about any of it. He was tired, he was starving, everything hurt, and he wanted it all to go away.

While the doctor finished up, a nurse Wilford hadn’t seen before came in and started getting everything ready for him to get up and leave. He removed all the gunk stuck to his chest, and took the line out of his arm so quickly, Wilford hadn’t even realised that’s what he was doing until it was done. He was already starting to blank out again when the nurse got up and moved to the foot of the bed. He was saying something, but Wilford wasn’t paying attention. He just wanted this guy to finish what he was doing so he could go. And then he felt the nurse’s hands go under the hospital gown, and Wilford jumped back to reality so quickly, he could feel his foot connect with something hard.

“Woah!” Billy said, quickly stepping forward to lean Wilford back into the bed. He had a strange look on his face that Wilford couldn’t read, but he wasn’t trying to. He was more concerned with the nurse.

“What the fuck is he doing down there?” he demanded.

“Man, you haven’t been able to get up to take a piss in three days,” Billy reminded him. “He’s got to take the tube out of your dick. You have to let him.”

Wilford had been so out of it, this fact had not even occurred to him until that moment. He didn’t even have anything to say. He just glared up at Billy, like it was his fault.

“That’s a normal reaction,” the nurse assured. He didn’t sound very sincere, but Wilford wasn’t equipped to go picking that fight. “It’s just a couple of seconds, okay? Let’s try again. Deep breath.”

Wilford did not take a deep breath. He kept his jaw set tightly and tried to ignore the fact that this man had his hands on him. It wasn’t a fact that was easy to ignore, and left him feeling light-headed and nauseated. Even once the nurse finished up, Wilford could feel himself trembling from trying to stay still. Billy put a hand on his shoulder, but Wilford slapped it away before he puked.

“Okay, all done,” the nurse said. “Do you want to try to get up and go pee for me?”

“No,” Wilford said firmly.

An awkward glance was shared between the nurse and Billy.

“All right. He’s going home with you, right?” the nurse asked.

Billy nodded, giving Wilford that same strange look again. “Yeah.”

“If he’s not able to urinate within the next eight hours, bring him back,” he said. He nodded to Wilford and gathered up everything to be taken away. “Good luck.”

Now that it was finally time to get up and go, Wilford couldn’t even force himself to get out of the bed. He felt like if he moved, he’d be sick. He hated himself for not even being lucid enough to realise that was going to be a thing. Thankfully, Billy said nothing, and busied himself with getting some clothes out of the bag he’d brought over on the first day. He’d been smart about it, and grabbed some T-shirts that were too big, and a few pairs of pyjamas.

“Do you want my help?” he asked cautiously as he laid the clothes out on the bed.

Wilford shook his head. He wanted to tell Billy to fuck off, but he didn’t know what would happen if he opened his mouth. Billy hung around after that for a few more seconds, before nodding and finally turning to leave the room. Even after he was gone, it took what felt like a week for Wilford to feel like he could move again. He moved even more slowly and sluggishly than was just from the drugs surging through his system, but he didn’t try to fight it. He put the pyjamas on first before he even thought about taking off his robe and gown. Even that was exhausting, and he had to take a long break afterward. Then he pulled the shirt on and took another break before even considering getting something on his feet. But he couldn’t reach the floor from his high perch on the hospital bed, and trying to stretch or bend down to get his feet into the slippers just made everything hurt again. If his nerves didn’t make him puke, trying to get down on his own would have, so he sat in a bitter silence. As he waited for Billy to come back, he slowly realised that there was something else he should be doing. Something important. Something about all this.

If something did happen now, he’d be doing all this again. He did not want to do all this again, because it was awful. He slowly and deliberately took his save log from his inventory and opened it up to find the next empty space. This was not an ideal place to save, but it was better than the alternative. If a helicopter dropped out of the sky on him as they drove down the freeway, he wouldn’t have to figure out what to do differently next time, and risk getting shot in the face instead. Any other time, he wouldn’t have even thought twice about it, but this time was different. He was clinically dead twice. But clinically dead is still dead, and should have triggered a reset anyway. But it didn’t. And now he was here, feeling miserable in every possible way while someone knocked at the door to be let in.

Wilford didn’t bother responding, forcing Billy to crack the door open and cautiously peer in. When he found Wilford dressed, he opened the door all the way and pushed a wheelchair into the room. Wilford tried to get down on his own, but even with the absurd amounts of morphine in him, it hurt too much to try, giving him no other choice but to let Billy help him down. Once he was in the chair, Billy helped him get his slippers on, and folded up his bath robe so he could hold it in his lap. Wilford had never felt so useless in his life.

-

Billy’s apartment was small, but thankfully on the ground floor. He opened the door into his front room, and slowly led Wilford over to the sofa to sit down.

“Let me get some stuff out of my room, and you can have my bed.”

“Couch is fine,” Wilford said as firmly as he could manage. Like hell was he sleeping in someone else’s bedroom. The hospital room was bad enough.

That strange look was back on Billy’s face. He was making assumptions, but Wilford didn’t have the energy to challenge him on it. He could have his assumptions, if it meant Billy would leave him alone while he was stuck here.

Still, Billy disappeared to somewhere in the back of the apartment. A few moments later, he returned with a pillow and a blanket from his room, which he carefully put down on the sofa for later. Wilford wanted to lie back down, though it felt like it would take him about twenty years to get the energy to do so. Billy put the remote and a huge paper bag down on the table in front of the sofa, before leaning over to pull the table out to make a little more room. He sat down on the other end of the sofa, keeping plenty of room between them, and reached for the paper bag again. He pulled out several bottles of pills, reading the labels for each of them in turn. Antibiotics, pain killers, sedatives, anti-inflammatories. No wonder he felt like everything was full of sand. He’d been pumped full of two of the things he hated most, and a bunch of other junk on top of it. With everything laid out so neatly on the table, Billy sighed and looked toward the kitchen.

“You think you’ll be all right on your own for about twenty minutes?” he asked.

Wilford nodded. Being on his own was exactly what he wanted at that moment.

Billy got up to get the bag he’d brought from Wilford’s apartment, and dug through it to pull something from the bottom. He handed Wilford his phone, and went to the kitchen to write down a quick note.

“The address here,” he said, putting the note down on the table next to the remote. “If you need to call an ambulance.”

Wilford waved him away tiredly. He didn’t want to look at Billy’s face for a moment longer. Billy hung around for a few moments longer before leaving the apartment again. Wilford waited until he seemed like he was well and truly gone before he convinced himself to try to get up. It felt like it took about a year to manage it, and the first thing he did was slowly wander off to find the bathroom. Whatever that nurse had done to him made him feel like his bladder was about to burst, which made that priority one. Once that was taken care of, he started to make his way back to the sofa, but thought better of it about halfway there. He turned to find a door, and on the first try, managed to find exactly what he was looking for. He stayed at the bar just long enough to leave a note, before returning to Billy’s apartment to rest. About fifteen minutes later, he got up to check the bar again, and was pleasantly surprised to find Buster waiting for him in the bed the kids set up for him. The dog started to jump up excitedly, but seemed to immediately realise something was wrong. Wilford let him into the apartment and closed the door behind him, where the dog promptly dropped his bat right in the middle of the hallway. He tried to make it back to the sofa, but ran out of energy in the middle of the living room. Buster danced nervously at his feet, looking up at him and whining loudly. Eventually, Wilford gave up and very carefully managed to lie down on the floor. It wasn’t comfortable in the least, and just getting down there hurt, but it meant he wasn’t standing up anymore. Buster continued to dance around him, and tried to lie on top of him until Wilford pushed him away sharply. After a few more repeats of that, the dog got the hint and sprawled across Wilford’s legs instead. That was… acceptable.

He didn’t know how long he’d spent on the floor, but Billy didn’t seem terribly pleased about it when he got home with his hands full of Chinese takeaway. As soon as he stepped through the door, Buster turned his attention to him and growled sharply.

“Knock it off,” Wilford said, twisting his ear.

“…Where’d the dog come from?” he asked.

Wilford suddenly remembered that Billy didn’t know about the dog yet. Whoops.

“He’s mine. Friend brought him over,” he said.

“I didn’t see a dog at your place,” Billy said.

“Lives with my friend.”

Billy shook his head and abandoned this line of questioning, and took the paper bags to the kitchen instead. Once they were settled, he immediately rushed back out to the living room to kneel down beside Wilford. Buster growled at him again, until Wilford twisted his ear and shut him up.

“Knock it off,” he said again.

Cautiously, Billy offered his hand for the dog to sniff. “We gotta get your daddy off the floor, okay,” he said, hoping to convince the dog to get up.

It didn’t, but a nudge from Wilford did. Buster danced nervously nearby while Billy helped Wilford up off the floor, and got him back to the sofa. As soon as Wilford was settled again, Buster immediately climbed up onto the sofa and sprawled over Wilford’s legs, resuming his task of dedicated protection. Wilford would have found it funny if he didn’t feel so fucking helpless. When Billy came again from the kitchen, he put a squat, styrofoam bowl down onto the coffee table, along with a plastic spoon. While Billy got rice and teriyaki beef, Wilford got egg flower soup. If he hadn’t been so tired, he would have been insanely jealous.
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Even the biggest stories have a limited shelf life, and it wasn’t long before Slenderman was cast aside until his trial, and Wilford was off chasing something else. This time at least, he wasn’t forced to chase after the stupid, pointless filler stories someone else wanted him to chase. He wasn’t chasing his own yet either, but at least the assignments he was given were decent. And there was nothing really stopping him from using his free time to branch off and find something else on his own.

He listened to Nichola do an interview over the phone, while he and Billy trawled through old planning records. This story was boring, and probably wasn’t going to go anywhere, but would be a big deal if it did.

“What time are we meeting that guy?” Wilford asked, tossing a stack of pages aside and leaning back in his seat. He didn’t remember this story, but he’d managed to wrap up Slenderman early this time. Someone else would have had this story last time.

Billy checked his watch. “About an hour. I’ve got a shadow today, so it’ll be cramped.”

“Whose idea was that?” Wilford asked.

“Not mine.”

Wilford wasn’t surprised. He knew this was coming, and even liked Jess. She didn’t care about a goddamn thing in the world, which made her exactly his kind of person. But he wasn’t to know that yet, and had an act to put on because of it. So he rolled his eyes and sighed. “He better not get in the way.”

“She, I think,” Billy said.

“That’ll be good for both of you,” Nichola piped up suddenly, before ducking her head back down again to listen to the person on the phone.

Their office wasn’t so much of an office, as much as a small conference room with their things in it. Wilford and Nichola shared a table, with both their computers on it, while filing cabinets and boxes of folders lined one of the walls. There was a TV on mute on top of one of the filing cabinets, playing a live feed of some nonsense happening on the west coast somewhere. Even though Billy worked in the van, he spent most of his downtime in with them, rather than skulking around with the other technicians. And since Wilford had possibly implied that Billy was on his ‘team,’ he didn’t seem to get called out as often as he used to. It was funny how that worked out.

Wilford poked through pages for a few more minutes, until Billy got up to go find his new shadow. That gave him just enough time to gather up everything he wanted to take with, before heading down to the garage to meet Billy and Jess by the van.

The interview was a bit out from town, so they didn’t waste a lot of time getting on the road. With Billy driving, and Wilford in the passenger seat going over everything one more time to make sure he had every tiny detail, Jess was crammed in the back in a jump seat that barely seemed attached to anything. She was quiet for the entire drive, not asking any questions or finding the need to fill the silence with chatter. It was another reason Wilford liked her.

The guy they were interviewing was some preacher. There had been another string of disappearances out there, but this time they were all adults. The police didn’t think he was a suspect though, because only a small number of the victims belonged to the church. Wilford had other ideas, though. He was able to get the on-camera interview with a bit of creative spin, telling the guy that as a trusted community figure, he could help keep people calm in this troubling times if he went on TV and spoke for a few minutes. It wasn’t even supposed to be an interview, but Wilford would make sure that it became one.

It started off simply enough, with the shot framed so the preacher stood outside, in front of his small church house. Wilford stood by patiently while the preacher talked about God providing, and having faith in His plan, blah blah blah. It was all bullshit, of course, but it was necessary to let him spout it. They’d cut it out later, when they actually aired the segment.

“And to the families? What do you have to say to them?” Wilford asked.

“Our doors are always open to any who seek comfort,” the preacher said. “We’ll be holding a vigil Thursday night, and encourage people to come out to show that we’re not afraid of whoever, or whatever is responsible for this nasty business.”

“And would you say you feel guilty for viciously murdering these people for your Satanic rites?” Wilford asked.

“Oh, no. Not at all.” It took a moment for the preacher to realise exactly what he’d said. “Which is to say, I’ve done nothing to feel guilty over.”

Wilford could see Jess moving a little closer to Billy, but he kept his focus on the preacher. “Because guilt would imply that you were unsure about these rituals?”

“I mean. I didn’t say that.”

“Rites, sorry,” Wilford said. “Different things, aren’t they?”

“You need to go now.”

Wilford saw him move before he realised what was happening next. The preacher pulled a gun out of his inventory and aimed it straight at Wilford. Billy and Jess stood stunned while Wilford turned to run. The gun fired from behind him, the bullet whistling past his ear as he tried to duck for cover. That’s what it took to get Billy and Jess moving again, away from the insane cult leader and back toward the safety of the van. More shots were fired, but the preacher’s aim was terrible. Two of his bullets hit the side of the van, and another hit the ground near Wilford’s feet. He didn’t notice that the one at his feet hit in front of him, rather than behind. He was too busy keeping an eye over his shoulder to make sure the preacher wasn’t chasing after them to notice the pickup truck speeding up the lane toward them. It wasn’t until he saw Billy take a wild turn off the path that Wilford realised they had somehow become seriously outnumbered. It was time to stop being the innocent little reporter, and time to start fighting back. He pulled his Magnum out and fired at the truck as someone leaned out the passenger window and fired back.

Wilford had been shot before, plenty of times. He knew what it felt like, and he knew what it meant. A searing hot pain shot straight through him, and suddenly his legs didn’t seem up to the task of carrying his weight. He managed to get off two more rounds in the direction of the pickup before he fell to the ground. Everything was turning a bit grey around the edges while the sounds of gunfire and shouting around him seemed to be completely shut off. Suddenly, there were hands on him, but he couldn’t see whose. He was only vaguely aware of the feeling of being picked up, and that he was being moved. Someone was frantically shouting, and then there was a lot of noise in a very small, cramped space. He was uncomfortably close to someone, but he was too sluggish to even think about getting away. Everything was like his head was under water. He didn't just feel slow; he couldn't see right, and sounds were all muffled and distant. He didn't know why it was wrong; just that it was.

“Come on, pal. Stay with us.” Someone slapped his face, harder than they needed to. Someone else was shouting frantically, too far away for Wilford to understand. A woman?

“You’re not going anywhere. Just stay with me.”

Who was going anywhere? Why wouldn’t this person just leave him alone, and stop slapping him? He wished it would all just go away. Eventually, it did.

-

Everything hurt. Every inch of his body felt like it was full of gravel, and when he tried to sit up, nothing cooperated. It just hurt worse.

“No, don’t do that.”

A light pressure on his chest pushed him back down onto whatever he was lying on. Someone’s hand was on his head, slowly carding through his hair. It was invasive and intimate, but at that moment, Wilford kind of liked it. When he opened his eyes, he was surprised to see Nichola sitting next to him with worry written across her face. But she wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at something across from Wilford, and it took him several long moments to convince his head to turn to see what she was looking at.

It was Billy. He was there too. Why was he there? Why were either of them there?

Actually, where was ‘there’ even supposed to be? Wilford’s attention drifted from Billy to the lines coming out of his arm. He slowly traced them up to a machine hanging over his shoulder. Why was that there? What the fuck was going on?

"Mister, you scared the hell out of us," Nichola said finally.

Why? What had he done? Wilford hadn't done anything. He just hurt. A lot. Somehow, none of these thoughts seemed to surface into words though.

“We probably don’t need to both be here now,” Nichola said slowly, still looking at Billy. "I'll go call the station."

Billy took a moment before nodding. “I’ll stay here,” he said.

Nichola looked down at Wilford and sighed, before she got to her feet. On her way to the door, she stopped next to Billy and bent to whisper something to him. Whatever it was, Wilford didn’t care. He was too busy trying to figure out why there was a bunch of stuff stuck in his arm. While trying to figure that out, he realised there was even more stuff stuck to his chest, and something else stuck to his face. After a few moments of foggy confusion, he was surprised when Billy leaned over and helped him put on his glasses. Wilford hadn’t even realised that he couldn’t see until just then. While he looked around everything, still trying to figure out what was going on, Billy did something else to make the entire bed sit up, just a little. Not enough to actually let him sit up properly, but he felt like anything more dramatic was just going to make everything hurt even worse.

“What the fuck?” he managed to say, before running out of energy to say any more. His throat felt like sandpaper. One more thing that didn't make sense.

“A bunch of hill-billies pulled guns on us,” Billy said. “I think you got on their nerves.”

That did sound familiar. Wilford remembered the shooting. He remembered making the preacher angry. He remembered the noise and the panic. And then he slowly started to remember something else, and it dawned on him just where he was. He wasn’t wearing his own clothes. He was wearing an ugly cotton gown with tiny blue flowers on it. He looked down at his stomach, but he couldn’t quite find the energy to try to figure out how to get underneath all the blankets and everything to see the damage.

“I never done this part before,” he said. If he had more energy, he’d probably be surprised that he was doing it now.

“You’re lucky to be doing it now,” Billy said, with a troubling lack of sarcasm. “They had to restart your heart twice.”

It hit Wilford like a very slow smack in the face. He’d never done this part before, because one of two things had always happened instead. Either the bullet had killed him and triggered a reset, or it hadn’t been enough to incapacitate him, and he reset manually. He looked down at his stomach again, and decided he didn’t want to see the damage after all. Not if whatever was hidden beneath the blanket was enough to trigger an Event.

“…ffffuck.” He looked down at the line in his arm again, understanding what it was now. “Jesus Christ.”

“The good news,” Billy started. “This is already blowing up. Nichola’s gonna take it from here. She won’t let anyone else touch it.”

Wilford nodded. Vaguely, he understood there was some element Billy wasn’t mentioning, and that it was a good element for ratings but a bad element for him, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. It was like his head was full of fluff and sand all at once. He probably wouldn’t even remember this conversation in the morning.

Wait. What time was it, even? He looked out the window, but couldn’t tell if the sun was going up or coming down.

“They gave me your keys when they took your things. I can run by your place, if you want anything,” Billy said.

Wilford nodded. He wanted… something. What did he want? He had no idea. Something that wasn’t here. Billy waited for him to respond, but when Wilford didn’t, he nodded back and stood up from his seat. He started to turn toward the door, but stopped suddenly.

"Do you have anybody you'd like us to try to call?" he asked cautiously.

Wilford was confused at first, until he caught up with what Billy was actually asking, and the tone he'd used. Like he already knew the answer, but just wanted to be sure.

"No," he said. Even if there was any way to get in touch with anybody, Wilford didn't want them here looking at him like they knew this was going to happen. Fuck them. They could stay in Korea, or wherever the hell they'd all fucked off to.

“Okay. They’ve been told not to let anyone in. I’ll be back in a little bit, okay?”

Wilford nodded again. He felt so tired suddenly. All he wanted to do was sleep.
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Wilford had no idea that he’d done anything wrong. How could he? It’s not like he had any control over whether or not the door showed up for him. The door disappeared for six weeks, and then came back exactly when he needed it, so Wilford didn’t think anything about it. He was more focused on other things. Things like other people resetting and fucking up his own plans. So far, everything seemed right, but that was the problem with resets. It always seemed right, because you had no frame of reference for the way it should have been. When someone else reset, or opened up a new save, they were the only ones to know. To everyone else, it was just another day. You might notice something was wrong if you paid enough attention. Those little bouts of precognition that could just be coincidence, or could be because they’d done this all before. Persistent déjà vu would be another clue, but Wilford didn’t have any of that to go off of, because the guy he was worried about wasn’t anywhere near him. He’d fucked off to go do whatever it was he did when he wasn’t sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. And Wilford had to let him. He had to let everything continue as normal, or else he risked changing too many things and ruining everything.

So he waited. He passed the time around the station, watching editors put together his segment where he and Billy had brought an end to Slenderman’s reign of terror. His name was out there now, giving him a little more leverage around the station. Not much, and not enough, but more than none, which is where he’d been before. Even if Nichola didn’t get any of the segment credit, he made sure people around the building knew she’d done half the work. She didn’t want to be in front of the camera, which is why she didn’t go with them. Or at least, that’s the story he told people. There was even some truth to it, though it wasn’t the reason Wilford didn’t even consult her before going. He didn’t want anyone in their way, plain and simple. The sudden appearance of a third party was bad enough. More people would have just gotten someone killed. But Nichola was smart enough to go along with it. She insisted it was her idea to stay close, and to do other interviews that Wilford was too abrasive to navigate successfully. As long as it got her name out there, it was good for her career.

She disagreed of course, but kept it to herself, save occasional glares in Wilford’s direction when she thought nobody was looking.

The segment ran the following evening, while the cuts on Wilford’s face were still fresh. He was a hero. The cops had done nothing, but he’d gone with a gut feeling and sorted the whole thing out. Everyone was breathing a little bit easier now. But he was just doing his job; reporting the news and informing the masses. At least, until he knew nobody was looking.

“I need a raise,” he said, letting himself into his boss’ office.

Shit for Brains didn’t even look up. “You haven’t been here long enough.”

Wilford dropped down into the seat in front of the desk and leaned back casually. He wasn’t here to negotiate. He was here to demand.

“The CBN affiliate's offering me twice what I’m making now.”

Shit for Brains did look up. “Is that supposed to scare me? Nichola did all your research for you. It’s practically her story.”

Wilford looked positively shocked. “She hasn’t told you yet?” he asked. “They offered her the same. I’m trying to convince her to stay, but I don’t really have many strong arguing points right now. I thought you’d probably want to give me a few.”

He felt positively giddy watching the idiot run all this through his mind, with the slow, dawning realisation that he was about to lose the biggest story of the year if he didn’t handle this right.

“This is blackmail,” he said.

“No, this is my team looking for a station who gives a damn,” Wilford pointed out. “We can take the job anyway, if that’s what you want.”

“Your team?”

“Adler too. He almost got himself killed, and have you seen his camera work? Being a fucking giant gives him some great angles. CBN would love to have him.”

“Why aren’t they in here with you?” He thought he had Wilford cornered here. He thought he was winning.

“Because I think Dennis is already packing up his things, and I told you, Nichola doesn’t want to stay anyway. But you’re closer, and traffic in this city is a nightmare. I don’t want to add another twenty minutes to my commute.” Wilford thought about this for a moment. “Actually, I think they are closer for Nichola, though. That might be why she wants to go.”

There were few things Wilford enjoyed more than seeing some smug asshole slowly realise that he’d lost, but he managed to keep all that joy clamped down while he watched Shit for Brains deliberate over the situation. When he said nothing, Wilford shrugged and got up.

“I’ve got a phone call to make, I guess.”

“No, wait.” He sighed angrily and shook his head. “I’ll match it. Whatever they’re paying you.”

Wilford considered this, and cringed dramatically.

“Two and a half.”

Wilford nodded, mulling this offer over for a few moments. “I’ll see what they say.”

He let himself out, trying to hold back on a grin that threatened to undermine the entire thing. He had to get away from the office before he gave himself away. He found Billy and Nichola waiting in her little section of the newsroom, putting on a show of packing up her desk.

“What did he say?” she asked as soon as she spotted Wilford.

“I got him up to two and a half. He knows this story isn’t over, and our names are out there, but I didn’t want to push it.” He probably could have gone for three, but it wasn’t a risk he was willing to take.

“I can live with two and a half,” Billy said.

Nichola nodded. “So what now?”

Wilford took a deep breath and looked around the newsroom. Everyone was trying to pretend that they weren’t watching whatever was going on between the three of them, so they had to make a show of being serious.

“We go to lunch, and take an obscenely long time to come back, I think,” he said. “Look like you’re not convinced.”

Billy stood up and shook his head. “No,” he said as he turned to walk away. Moments later, Nichola got up to follow him, leaving Wilford standing there alone. He watched them leave for a few moments, before rushing to follow after them, frantically trying to convince them to wait. When they didn’t stop, he sighed and followed them out of the building. Billy’s care was actually in something of a working order, so the three of them got inside, with Wilford taking the back. The waited until they were out on the street before they dropped their act and started laughing.

“What the hell did you say to him?” Nichola asked, turning around in her seat to face Wilford. “Two and a half? How did you do that?”

“Stupid fucker accused me of blackmail. I just reminded him that people are allowed to quit their jobs,” Wilford said.

The other two laughed like they still couldn’t believe it.

“If you keep this up, you’ll own the network in fifteen years,” Billy said.

Wilford suppressed a shudder. Owning a network was the last thing he wanted. So much work involved. “I’ll settle for my own show,” he said.

Billy took them to some little diner nearby. They took a table in the back and took their time getting through lunch, ordering multiple refills on coffee, and several items from the dessert menu. Wilford tried to order cheaply, because he hadn’t got his raise yet, and only had $20 in his wallet. Even ordering carefully, by the time they finally asked for the check, he couldn’t help but cringe at the sight of it. He threw his twenty down, and was surprised when Billy tossed it back at him.

“Pay day’s not for another week,” he pointed out.

Wilford didn’t miss the awkward glance Nichola threw toward Billy, though he pretended to as he stuffed the cash back into his wallet. She’s seen the state of his kitchen several times now, but apparently hadn’t realised that Billy had started paying part of his grocery bill in recent weeks.

“Yeah,” he said. He could make $20 last the week. He’d got by for longer on less.

He wouldn’t have to after this, though. Even without the money he had stashed away in the bar, which had already proved unreliable with the door disappearing for six weeks. He could keep that around for something else now.

Nichola paid for her share and the three of them got up to leave their mess for some under-paid server to clean up. They all piled back into Billy’s car, taking a long, leisurely route back to the station. By the time they got back to the garage, their game-faces were back on, with Nichola and Billy giving off every impression of having come back very grudgingly. Wilford took them back to their boss’ office, barging in on him again without so much of a knock.

“I want a better office,” Nichola said simply. “I can’t get my job done if I’m sharing a cube with a bunch of noisy scriptwriters.”

“Yeah, me too, actually,” Wilford said.

Shit for Brains sighed and looked at Billy. “What about you?” he asked tiredly.

Billy shrugged. “What do I need an office for? I work in a van.”

Wilford almost laughed. He wanted to, but it wouldn’t do them any good.

“I can’t give you both an office,” their boss said. “I don’t have that kind of room.”

Wilford and Nichola looked at one another for a long moment, before they both shrugged. “I think I could live with that,” Nichola said.

“Yeah. We’d be working together anyway, so sure,” Wilford agreed.

Goodbye for now, Kevin. See you again in a few months.

Shit for Brains seemed like he wanted to say about eight different things at once, the way he kept opening and closing his mouth like a stunned fish. “Monday,” he said finally. “I’ll have one of the rooms cleaned out for you by then.”

Wilford looked between Billy and Nichola, daring to seem hopeful, and a little pleased.

“All right,” Nichola agreed finally. “What do you think, Den?”

Billy nodded. “Yeah, all right. But the raise is effective starting today, right?”

Their boss shook his head and sighed. “Yeah, fine. I’ll put the paperwork through.”

He waved them out of his office, clearly regretting this already. They left without another word, and returned to Nichola’s desk. Now, everyone wasn’t even trying to hide their direct looks toward them as they sat down and hid behind the partition wall, Billy and Wilford taking the empty seats of a couple of writers who weren’t doing their job.

“I think they smell blood in the water,” Billy said, trying not to laugh too loudly. “We’re gonna have a mutiny here before too long.”

Wilford waved it off. It wasn’t going to happen for a few years, even at the rate things were going. “That’s their problem,” he said. “We’ve got one of our own now.”

Nichola looked at him impatiently. “Do tell.”

He shrugged, and looked out over the newsroom. “We have to find the next big thing before he decides to kick our asses to the curb.”
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Nothing. Wilford waited for something familiar to turn up, but it was like everything had suddenly stopped. And worse, the bar hadn’t shown up in weeks. It had maybe even been a couple of months. So Wilford was stuck waiting for something to happen, getting by on a shoestring budget, since all his money was stashed away in a place he couldn’t seem to get to. He had to avoid the fights, because he needed to be able to get in front of a camera at a moment’s notice. He still couldn’t convince himself to put on a nice shirt and a pair of tight jeans to go find someone else willing to throw a little money at him, so it was back to barely surviving between paycheques. He just had to get through this story. Then the next one. And then the next one. Eventually, things would change, and he’d be better off. But that was later. This was now, and he was starting to get desperate.

And then it happened; three kids in less than a week, vanished from thin air. This time, Wilford knew what he was looking for, and he was able to move before it became four, or five, or six.

-

Somehow, Wilford got the feeling Billy was hiding from him. It was a subtle feeling, but one that was hard to ignore when he found Billy eating his lunch in the men’s room.

“That’s fucking gross,” Wilford said when he finally found him.

Billy moved to guard his sandwich, and then changed his mind with a sigh and offered the other half to Wilford. Wilford took it and pulled the slice of cheese out, dropping it onto Billy’s paper towel on the counter.

“There’s this old school out in Temple Hills I want to go check out,” he said.

“What, tonight?” Billy asked.

“No, like,” he looked down at his watch, “now. I think I’m onto something.”

“Can I finish my lunch?” Billy asked.

“Can’t drive with one hand?” Wilford asked him.

Billy rolled his eyes and sighed again. It was a wonder he didn’t run out of breath. “All right.” He quickly wrapped everything up in a suitable to-go package and began the trudge out to the garage.

“Should we take anyone else?” Billy asked.

Wilford followed after him, having to work to keep up with Billy’s comically long gait. “They’d just get in the way,” he said around a mouthful of turkey and lettuce. “Probably get us killed.”

Billy seemed to accept this at least, and got out his keys to let Wilford into the van.

The school was as Wilford remembered it – or at least, how he thought he remembered it. It was definitely abandoned, but unlike most abandoned buildings, nobody else had moved in and tagged up all the walls or smashed the windows. There weren’t even any creatures living inside it. The whole building seemed dead. But it wasn’t. It was very much alive, though not with anything physical. Something had moved in, and they could feel it the second they stepped onto the property.

“This hunch of yours didn’t happen to say what we’d find here, did it?” Billy asked, grabbing his camera out of the back of the van.

“Keep your gun ready,” Wilford answered.

“How do you know I have a gun?”

“Because you’re not completely stupid.” Wilford ignored Billy’s impressive eye-roll, and unravelled a mic cord. It took him seconds to hook the pack up to his belt and run the cord under his shirt. Billy flashed him a thumbs up while he closed up the van, and followed Wilford into the school.

It was an awful place; dark even in the middle of the day, and unreasonably cold. Billy slowed to film something written in blood on one of the walls, but didn’t stop, lingering just long enough to get the point across. There were teddy bears in random places, impaled on hooks on the wall, or sitting ominously on old desks, as if they were watching what went on in their room. Wilford wanted to grab them; to reach out and pick up every one of the bears and take them all with him.

“Don’t touch them,” he said when he noticed Billy gravitating toward one. “I think they want to be picked up.”

Billy quickly moved away, giving Wilford an uneasy look. But before he could say anything, something crashed to the floor in another room, followed by frantic hissing. Billy and Wilford both looked around frantically, hoping to find a place to hide. At the sound of frantic footsteps coming their way, Wilford pulled his Magnum out of his inventory and was ready to fire, until he saw a slim man with a mohawk stumble through the door with one of the teddy bears in his hands. He didn’t notice anyone else in the room until he almost ran into them, and then he took a dramatic step back.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked.

“I could ask you the same question,” Billy said.

Wilford recognised him immediately. He was snooping around Freddy Fazbear’s 12 years in the future. And here he was now, snooping around an abandoned school.

“Put that fucking thing down,” he said, slapping the bear out of his hand.

“Oh. Yeah, there are loads of them here. Weird, huh?”

He was going to get them killed. Wilford wasn’t sure why, but that seemed normal. Last time, Wilford hadn’t had his precognitive lead that led him here at this time. Last time, it was just him and Billy, desperate to figure this story out before the disappearance count reached double digits.

“You shouldn’t fucking be here,” he said, pushing past the other guy to peer into the hallway. “How many of those bears have you touched?”

“There’s nothing here. I’ve looked all over this place,” the other guy said.

“How many?”

He looked back to see the other guy shrug indifferently. “Like, four?”

Wilford had to resist aiming his gun at the moron they stumbled across. “Jesus, we’re already dead.”

“What?”

Wilford could hear the other two mumbling something at one another, but he ignored it. The heavy, oppressive air around the building made sense now, because this asshole had actually summoned Slenderman. Fucking amateur. If Wilford hadn’t already known the answer, he’d be wondering how he survived long enough to be snooping around Fazbear’s more than a decade later. Somehow, Wilford had just caught him on the first run.

Or he’d changed too much by coming here early.

“We need to get the hell out of here,” he declared.

He’d come here with the intent of summoning Slenderman, but on his own terms. Showing up with him already crawling around was not what he wanted. He stepped out into the hallway, trying to peer through air that was entirely too dark. The windows opening out to the playground didn’t let any light in, making the end of the hall look like an inky, black abyss.

“Come on.”

He looked back, but the other two were gone, like they’d never been in the room to begin with. Wilford immediately turned back to see if they’d found another way out, but the room only had one door, and he’d been blocking it.

“No! No, no, no!” he hissed, turning back to the hall. This couldn’t happen. He couldn’t let it. He needed Billy for more than he cared to admit, and the moron with the mohawk was the entire reason he’d come all the way back this far. Even if he got out of this alive, without those two, he was on a completely different trajectory. Everything was lost, because he turned away for two goddamn seconds.

Wilford ran down the hall, keeping his fingers on the wall to maintain constant contact so he didn’t get turned around even more than he already was. He strained to listen to every little sound, but the only things he could hear were his own footsteps on rotting tile, and his pulse pounding in his ears. Something like the static between radio stations seemed to seep out of the very walls, so Wilford quickly turned, touching the wall with his other hand as he broke into a full run. Bursts of static filled the air, so loud he thought his eardrums would burst. As he tried to turn what he thought was a corner, he found himself in a wide room. There was more light in here than out in the corridor, letting him see the writing on the walls, and a collage of mangled and burned photographs nailed up. The static was so loud, Wilford had to cover his ears.

The sound was going to be utter garbage.

Wilford quickly turned, hoping to get out of the room, but his way was blocked by a figure eight feet tall, with long, black tentacles spreading out like spider legs from his back. Wilford tried to turn and run, but his feet tangled on something laying in a heap on the floor, and he fell down with it. The monster loomed over him, screeching its static roar so loudly, it felt like the entire building was shaking. With nothing left but reflex, Wilford shouted back and lashed out with his fist. He felt something connect, and the static noise stopped as Slenderman reeled backwards. Wilford had just enough time to marvel that it had worked before he felt hands on his shoulders, reaching around him and grabbing him. He tried to throw another punch, this time missing as he was hauled to his feet. He was surprised to see the tall figure behind him wasn’t another monster, but Billy. He quickly bent down to pick his camera back up, and started running toward the opposite side of the room, where Wilford could now see another door. He followed after Billy out of the room and back to the corridor, grabbing onto the sleeve of his jacket so they didn’t lose one another again as they ran. It was sheer luck and nothing else that let them find the door back out to the parking lot. They slowed abruptly as they both looked up at the sky, now completely dark with stars shining overhead. At once, they both reached for their phones and scrolled through their messages.

“Six missed calls,” Wilford said.

“Ten,” Billy said.

The van was parked a few feet away, and the two of them gave one another confused looks as they quickly made their way to it.

“Oh, you guys made it.”

Wilford swung his gun around and almost shot, until he saw Mr Markiplier standing in the parking lot with a stupid grin on his face.

“How the fuck did you get out?” Billy demanded.

Wilford lowered his gun, only because he wanted to know the answer to that question as well.

“Climbed out a window,” he said, pointing back toward the school.

If Wilford didn’t need him alive, he would have shot him anyway. Instead, he put his gun away and shook his head. He felt like he’d been running for hours - and had been, apparently. With a huff of laughter, he leaned against the van and slid down to sit on the pavement, resting his back against the wheel. They all got out. Somehow, stupidly, they all got out, and he laughed.

“What the hell’s wrong with him?” Mr Markiplier asked.

Billy looked down at him, and shook his head.

“We know where the fucker lives,” Wilford said, looking down at his phone and scrolling through his messages. He hit the call button on one of them and held the phone up to his ear. “We didn’t just break this thing wide open. We fucking solved it.”

As soon as their boss answered the phone, Wilford passed it up to Billy, so he could do the irritating work getting a proper crew and police backup to their location.
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The door opens into a bustling TV news station. Nobody seems to even notice that Wilford has stepped out of the conference room with someone who doesn't belong. There's a heated argument about frogs taking place somewhere across the room, and just a general sense of chaos.

"You packing?" Wilford asks as he quickly checks his phone for the time.

Not that it matters. In the light, his black eye is more than obvious, and he won't be going in front of a camera until it clears up enough to cover with makeup.
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As it happens, Nichola had a secret special gift for getting people to trust her. Wilford knew this already, of course. Which is why he skipped all the bullshit with Nichola this time, and brought her in from the start, rather than letting her glare at him angrily from across the station for the next few months. She still didn’t trust him, and wouldn’t until after the story went to air, but that was fine. She would, eventually.

Having Nichola on the story early freed Wilford up for other things. He’d thought this would be a good thing, but he couldn’t rush the story any more than he had, or else he’d risk changing his entire trajectory. He needed to be at certain places at certain times over the next twelve years. If he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, he’d lose sight of the whole reason he opened the old save. Or worse, he’d completely move the finish line and screw things up for himself a decade down the road.

Suddenly, Wilford found himself with a lot of spare time. It wouldn’t have been too big of a problem if he also didn’t have an empty bank account. Which came right back around to the problem he already had. Last time, he didn’t have the time to get bored. And when he did find himself with some free time, he had outlets for it. Even with an empty bank account, the right shirt and tight pair of jeans in the right club were as good as a guarantee that he’d find some way to get fed and have a little fun. This time, as he stared into the abyss of an empty refrigerator, Wilford couldn’t bring himself to walk into his bedroom and open his closet. The idea of trying to hit up a club disgusted him. Even if he did get past the initial revulsion and get dressed properly, and get through the door to whatever random club he picked at random, he wouldn’t be able to follow through. But he had to do something, because every time he opened his fridge or the cupboards, they stubbornly remained empty. Eventually, just to get out of the cycle of flipping between the eight channels he got on TV and trying to find a box of crackers that simply wasn’t there, he grabbed his keys and left his apartment into the night. He walked right past his car, because he had no idea where he was going and he needed to keep the tank full to get to work, and headed out toward the street. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in his neighbourhood, and phone apps hadn’t been invented yet, so finding something was more of a matter of luck, or knowing the right people. Wilford had very little luck, and didn’t know many people, since the sort of people who organised games tended to be the sort of people who liked to barge in whenever they felt like it.

Eventually, after hopping enough fences and cutting through enough shady parking lots and back alleys, he found something that sounded like a suitable amount of noise. He wandered over to find about a dozen people standing in some back lot, surrounding two people beating the shit out of one another on the ground. The guy was covering his face and curled up on his side, like he wasn’t expecting a woman half his size to be able to so easily hand him his own ass. Finally, he gave up and tapped out, staggering to his feet and keeping his head down while everyone laughed at him. The woman picked up her cash from the ground and walked off, clearing the space for the next pair.

“New guy has to fight,” someone said.

Wilford wasn’t surprised. That was usually how things went, even if you accidentally wandered in and tried to wander right out. He shrugged out of his jacket and took his glasses off, hiding them safely in the pocket before hanging it up on the fence.

“I’ve got five bucks. That’s all,” he said, pulling the wad of singles from his wallet and showing it empty after. The guy in charge shrugged, and pointed to the ground. Obediently, Wilford dropped the cash and stepped back, slipping his wallet back into his pocket.

Another guy stepped forward and matched his five, seeming confident in the way he sized Wilford up. Wilford knew he didn’t have the size, but he didn’t need it. He just needed to be quicker. The other guy was taller than him, but no more in shape, so he felt confident. These back-alley fight clubs were good for some quick cash, but not a whole lot of fun. It was all a bunch of retail workers and call centre slaves looking to blow off some steam. Nobody who really knew how to fight, on the whole.

The match was quick. The other guy almost knew what he was doing, but he kept over-compensating and pretending he knew a lot more than he did. While there were no illegal moves in clubs like this, there was a tendency to be generally decent and not just take the round with a quick kick to the balls, but this guy tried to be above board the entire time. All it meant for him was that his stance was too wide, and he was easily knocked off balance, and then all Wilford had to do was kick him in the side a few times to get him to tap out. Wilford took his cash from the ground and stepped back to watch the next fight. Though nothing was officially structured, everything moved like it was. Fights stayed pretty evenly matched, with nobody going out of their way to throw down on someone twice their size for an easy win. A few people got cocky, and challenged up, but those matches ended quickly, and were far between.

An hour later, he had $50 in his pocket, and a black eye to show for it. As these things tended to do, the club broke up naturally, as people ran out of steam to keep going. Wilford grabbed his jacket from the fence and headed off to find somewhere to spend some of it. There were a few crap fast-food restaurants that might still be open, and if not, the 24/7 would have something on the grill he could take home. And he’d have enough cash to get him through the rest of the week until pay day.

He didn’t know if he’d forgotten just how awful that felt, or if it just hadn’t been this bad the first time around.

It probably had not been this bad. Even if he didn’t want to think about why.

Wilford hopped over fences and cut across dark streets, eager to get some dinner and go home. He didn’t hear the other footsteps until it was too late, and they were right on top of him. Someone grabbed him by the front of the shirt, and shoved him against the wall. There were two of them - some of the bigger fighters from the club who had apparently followed him - but Wilford didn’t immediately recognise them.

“Cash. Now,” the one still standing back said.

“Fuck you. Get off me,” Wilford said, trying to kick off of the wall.

The other guy was bigger than him. A lot bigger. He leaned his weight against Wilford, pinning him against the wall. His arm pressed into Wilford’s neck, not in quite the right spot to properly choke him. It didn’t matter though, because Wilford still couldn’t breathe. This guy was too close, and Wilford couldn’t move away, no matter how hard he tried to kick away. The second guy stepped forward and tried to reach for Wilford’s wallet, but as soon as he got close enough, Wilford managed to land a single kick to his knee. The punch in the face he got for his effort hurt worse than anything else he’d been hit with that night, because he got it from both sides - the fist right on the side of his face, and his head slamming against the brick wall behind him. Wilford couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He wasn’t even aware of pulling his gun from his inventory until he heard the shot. Everyone stood stunned for a moment, until the guy holding him against the wall staggered backwards. It gave Wilford enough room to slip away, and when he raised his gun at the second guy, his hand was so shaky the bullet went high over his head. It didn’t matter though. He’d got his point across, and turned to run. He didn’t look back to see if he was being followed, and just ran straight to his apartment. Once inside, he bolted every single one of the locks on his door, and collapsed against it a few seconds later. He still couldn’t breathe, and everything was still twirling around in his vision, and greying out on the edges. He had blood on him that wasn’t his. He dropped his revolver on the floor as soon as he realised he was still holding it. As badly as his hand was shaking, he was likely to accidentally fire it and shoot himself.

He stayed there for so long, his back cramped up and his legs started to fall asleep. He got up shakily and moved the few steps across the room to the sofa, where he immediately collapsed. Wilford hated himself. He hated that he lost his shit over a simple mugging. He hated that he couldn’t defend himself, when not a half hour earlier, he’d been having plenty of fun fighting people for money. That had to stop. He had to do something about it. It meant he’d have to change more things, but in this case, it was worth the risk.
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Wilford was idly clicking around his email when he was startled by a cardboard box being dropped next to him on his desk.

“I’m in,” Nichola said, stealing Kevin’s empty seat and sitting down.

Wilford looked at her, momentarily too tired to understand what she was talking about. And then he looked at the box, and slowly caught up.

“Oh? What’s changed your mind?” he asked.

“Because I know you’re up to something,” Nichola said. “And you’re going to be my ticket out of the script room.”

The script room, like the website room, was just another large, partitioned-off section on the same floor, where eager, young hopefuls had their spirits broken. Nichola was wasted in there. Wilford knew it the first time around, and it was no different this time. Only this time, he had the advantage, and was able to get her to join his sinister little team much sooner than before.

“I might be,” he said.

He started fingering through the box of notes, photographs, tapes, and everything else Nichola had managed to gather off the clock. She’d collected a lot of information; more than he remembered.

“Your place, or mine?” he asked, pushing the box closer to her.

Nichola shook her head. “No,” she said firmly. “If you think I’m going to-”

“We can’t do this here,” Wilford pointed out. “If shit-for-brains thinks I’m recruiting, the whole thing will go to someone else who’ll just fuck it up.”

Nichola still didn’t seem convinced. “I know what you’re like.”

“Oh? What am I like?” She wasn’t wrong. Or at least, she wouldn’t have been. Things were different this time, though not exactly by choice. The first thing Wilford had done after he reset was to block and delete about half a dozen numbers from his phone so he didn’t have to go through the hassle of ending everything like a goddamn adult.

She glowered at him, and finally picked up her box and stood. “My room mate goes to bed early. Your place.”

Wilford watched her walk off after that, surprised she’d agreed so readily.

Four hours later, he was surprised to see her waiting in the garage near his car. He was also surprised she hadn’t keyed it, though he wasn’t sure why that surprised him.

“I’ll follow you,” she said.

“Passenger door doesn’t open anyway,” Wilford said as he got his keys out. The driver’s side door also didn’t open correctly from the outside, forcing him to open the back door and snake around to open the front door from the inside. “And there are bees over on that side.” He hadn’t taken care of the bees yet, because he was pretty sure they’d become structurally integral by that point.

Nichola rolled her eyes at him as he made his way awkwardly into his car, and got into her own car, which was in far better condition than his. The way she waited, it was almost as if she expected him to take twenty minutes to get the engine going. But when it started right up, Wilford stuck his tongue out at her and backed out of his space to lead the way to his apartment. He led the way out of DC, trusting her to keep up on the freeway as they drove toward Fairfax. Evening traffic was about the same as it always was, causing Wilford to have to pull over at one point to let Nichola catch back up after someone decided to taxi a jet the wrong way down the freeway. She found him eventually, and soon they were able to get off the freeway and onto the surface streets, which were no less hectic. But the average speed was at least a lot slower, making it easier to stick together. In theory, anyway. After he’d lost her for the third time, Wilford began to think that he probably should have fought off a few bees for her to just ride with him. But this way, he wouldn’t have to deal with driving her back to the station to get her car.

They got to his building without being killed by one of the many maniacs out on the roads, and he even offered to take her box of information, but she refused, apparently still not exactly convinced this was the right thing to be doing. Instead, he led her up to the door and let her in, pointing at the stacks of his own notes he hadn’t bothered to organise or put away yet.

“This is where you live?” Nichola asked incredulously.

“What’s wrong with it?” Wilford asked.

He didn’t have much. A small TV in the corner, and an old sofa on the opposite wall, making the living room seem needlessly large, despite how small it was. A card table in the dining room was buried in mail he refused to look at. And that was about it.

“I expected more, I don’t know. Everything?”

“Thanks,” Wilford said flatly. He shut the door behind her, only locking the top two locks, instead of all five like he’d normally do. While Nichola found a place on the floor to start sorting out her own notes, Wilford kicked off his shoes at the door and went to the kitchen.

“I have Pißwasser, or… red something.” He picked up the pitcher, completely unable to remember what sort of drink he’d mixed up in it, or when. “Maybe not the red.”

“I’ll take a beer,” Nichola said.

Wilford grabbed two bottles and used his lighter to pop off the lids, letting them drop on the counter to be collected later. As he handed one to Nichola, he sat down to start nosing through what she’d brought. She had about a dozen micro-cassettes, and a few mini-CDs, which Wilford set aside to look through later.

“What’s this?” Nichola asked, picking up the tape he’d shot with Billy.

“We found him,” Wilford said, pointing to his TV, and the VCR on top of it.

“We?” She hesitantly got up and fed the tape into the VCR. It hadn’t been rewound since Wilford had used it as his get out of jail free card, but Nichola seemed almost hesitant to try. Finally, she rewound it just a few seconds before hitting play. Wilford and Billy were still bumbling about out in the woods, starting to give up on the night when something caused the film to go static-y. Wilford saw him first, but Billy was quick to spin around and get a glimpse of Slenderman on film. While Wilford shouted at the giant monster, Slenderman seemed poised to attack, but decided to beat a hasty retreat instead, leaving the two of them a little startled, but otherwise alive out in the dark.

“How in the fuck?” Nichola asked.

Wilford just gave her a big, fake smile. “Now you know how I got the story,” he said.

“No fucking kidding,” Nichola agreed. “I was ready to believe the rumours that you blew shit-for-brains.”

“Ew.” Not this time. Not the first time.

He got up to grab his laptop and tape player from the couch, and started with Nichola’s mini-CDs first. She had a few clips that might have had glimpses of long, black tentacles and a blank face, or might have just been weird lighting. The micro-cassettes were hasty interviews with people who didn’t want to talk to her, but she was persistent, and managed to get little snatches of information out here and there. While he sifted through her information, she did the same with what he’d managed to gather. Slowly, they began to actually organise it, grouping their notes together where information overlapped or sources were the same. Two hours in, Wilford called Billy and convinced him to come over, and bring some dinner for the three of them. It wasn’t until he mentioned Nichola being there that Billy agreed, but he did take his sweet time showing up.

By midnight, they’d got through half of the notes, all of Wilford’s beer, and the entire stack of McDonald’s junk Billy had brought over. None of them got any sleep that night, and while it was nothing new for Wilford, the other two seemed to regret this by the time they noticed the sun had started to peek over the trees outside.

“Oh, shit,” Nichola hissed, quickly getting to her feet. She looked over the organised chaos spread across Wilford’s floor like she wasn’t sure what to do with any of it.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Wilford told her.

She hesitated just a bit before nodding. She still didn’t trust him not to just steal it all, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to, and she’d know that soon enough.

“There’s some instant coffee. There,” Wilford said, pointing to the kitchen. “Cups are in the dish washer.” He only had two mugs, but that was fine. He could last until he got to the station. He usually did.

Nichola nodded again and went to the kitchen. A few seconds later, Billy got up to follow her. The two of them were silent as they microwaved their water and searched Wilford’s barren cupboards for the small jar of coffee. Wilford waited until it sounded like they were nearly done to start picking up beer bottles and food wrappers, taking them all to the trash. Billy and Nichola were both standing silently in the kitchen, staring at their coffee like they’d rather be crawling into bed.

“I thought this was over when I graduated,” Nichola said eventually.

Wilford shook his head and laughed. “Not if you want to get out of the script room, it’s not,” he said as he headed to his bedroom to find some clean clothes.
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The look on Billy’s face was pure surprise and relief. In fact, Wilford was even surprised they didn’t lose their jobs. But Wilford knew how to play his cards, and when to play them. He’d been sitting on the tape from that night out in the woods for weeks now, waiting for the right opportunity to use it. Defending a stolen news van, and tens of thousands of dollars of equipment was the right moment. The outrage quickly shifted from a van being stolen by thugs, to a van being stolen by employees.

Although technically Billy was salary, and therefore never truly off the clock, and was always in possession of the keys, so it wasn’t really stealing at all.

And anyway, that tape was pure gold. It took some convincing to get it queued up, but only five seconds to convince the world’s worst station master of its worth. Wilford knew it would work. Billy hadn’t been so sure, even after they were let out of the office with a warning to sign equipment out next time.

“How did you know that would work?” Billy asked once they were in the elevator back down to the ground floor.

Wilford flashed him the fakest of fake smiles. “I told you. I’m fucking awesome.”

Billy did not see convinced, but Wilford didn’t care.

“This story’s gonna be huge. Anybody who works on it will be able to go wherever they want,” Wilford told him. “Starting with away from here.”

Billy still seemed unconvinced, but Wilford left him to figure everything out for himself and returned to his desk

“I heard you got jacked. What happened?” Kevin asked before Wilford could even sit down.

Wilford paused just long enough to make sure Kevin understood how stupid he sounded. “We got jacked.”

“Oh.” It took him a second to apparently realise that his question had not been answered. “Yeah, but. I mean. How bad was it?”

“I’ll live.”

“Man, what kind of reporter are you, that you can’t share the details?” Kevin asked.

“What? And give you ideas?” Wilford watched Kevin twist himself in knots, trying to find yet another way to ask what happened without repeating himself. He thought he might have a shot at the record until they were both suddenly interrupted.

“You slimy son of a bitch!” someone hissed at him loudly enough to make him jump.

Wilford turned around to see another young reporter stepping into the shared cubicle. Like him, she’d been shoved aside and her talents squandered. Also like him, she’d planned on doing something about it. Nichola invaded every inch of Wilford’s space, pushing him uncomfortably up against his desk.

“Can I help you?” Wilford asked, not even having to pretend to be shocked at the sudden aggression. He’d forgotten that Nichola hadn’t just woken up one day and decided to hate everyone. She’d always hated everyone from the day she was born.

“I’ve been trying to convince him to run that story for months. How did you walk in there and have him just give it to you?” Nichola demanded.

“I got stabbed today. The pitty angle works great,” Wilford said.

Nichola moved her hand like she wished she had something else to stab him with. Or like she was trying to resist pulling something stabby out of her inventory.

“That was supposed to be mine,” she said through her teeth.

Wilford wondered if she did have something sharp in her inventory. A broadsword probably, knowing her. She seemed the sort to carry one of those around.

“You must know an awful lot about it, then,” he said. “Probably more than I do.”

“No. You don’t get to steal my story, and then steal my work on it as well,” Nichola said. Again, it seemed like she really wanted to stab him with something. Wilford tried to put a bit of distance between them, but his desk was very much in the way and not letting him move very far.

“No, I didn’t know it was yours,” Wilford lied. “You must have worked hard on it. Months, you say? And you’re sure you don’t want to work on the story with me?”

“Oh, you’ve got some nerve, pal.”

She moved like she was pulling something from her inventory. Wilford reacted quickly, guarding his sides against further abuse, but he didn’t act correctly. Rather than grabbing something, Nichola surprised him and slugged him in the jaw instead. A stunned silence hung over the area as Nichola stomped away, leaving Wilford holding his face like an idiot.

“I think she likes you,” Kevin said.

“Shut the fuck up,” Wilford said, turning back around so he didn’t have to look at Kevin.
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Given to all the children Wilford pays to take care of the dog. And Jim.




Do not over feed this dog. He’s too stupid to know when he’s not hungry and will puke if fed outside this schedule. If he pukes, he’s your responsibility. I will not be blamed.

Breakfast (pick two):

- 1 can or pack of fish - tuna or salmon or whatever
- 1 egg - boiled or raw - he likes the shell
- 3-4 slices of bacon - raw

Lunch/Dinner (pick one):

- Chicken
- Beef
- Pork
- Fish

About the amount that would normally come with a rice or noodle dish. Cooking is optional

You can feed him snacks, but be prepared for him to puke. If he pukes, he gets another meal, but no more snacks. He is a dog; not a celebrity chef. Don’t bother trying to impress him with sauce or seasoning. None of that dog food shit. Not unless you want to clean up dog mess everywhere. He likes trash. Don’t let him eat it. He gets soup bones sometimes. Absolutely no bones otherwise. You can throw a few noodles at him if you want to watch him be stupid. He gets minimal table scraps. Do not let anybody else feed him, no matter how much they complain about how skinny he is.
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Wilford probably should not have left the dog at the bar. But going through the hassle of finding a place to keep the dog, or trying to hide it in his tiny DC apartment would be more time, money, and hassle than it would probably be worth. But he still should not have left the dog at the bar. Thor had assured him that it would be fine, and that no harm would come to the useless animal, but assurances from a stranger meant exactly nothing, especially when Wilford knew the power of spite in someone who believes they’ve been wronged. He knew it from himself well enough to have been able to recognise it in Jim Moriarty.

Well. If that fucker wanted to cross that line, he’d get to find out first hand just how much Wilford dislikes people messing with his things. And lucky for Jim, he’d probably get the chance to experience that, because Wilford actually had work to do, and the bar was fickle about showing up for him these days. And that in and of itself was a problem, beyond the dog. But also a problem to deal with when it arose.

As it was, Wilford had some decisions to make that were easier this time around, but still not as easy as he’d expected them to be. He liked his mohawk, and his fuck-you fashion, and apparently hadn’t actually outgrown any of it as much as he thought he had. But the fuck-you fashion to match his attitude was past its sell-by date, and had to go if he was going to pull this plan of his off. It was time to be a proper adult again. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the spare cash to have someone professional take care of it, so it was down to himself, a pair of clippers, and the bathroom mirror. It took some time, and a bit of careful patience, but eventually he got everything trimmed down to an even fade that didn’t leave his head completely shaved down. It still had a bit of a boot camp vibe to it, but at least it would grow out to something a little more decent within a few weeks. Usually that was a problem, but just this once it was a blessing. Now, all he had to do was go back to work, playing the role of the eager young reporter, and wait for the right cue to act. He hadn’t been able to save any notes or information, but he knew what he was looking for, and that it was getting close. He just had to be patient and play the game. He hadn’t been good at it the first time round. Maybe he’d have got better at it by this time.

He hadn’t got better. That, or people were more obnoxious this time round. Things couldn’t have changed that much so soon, so maybe he had just erased every memory of shit-talk and teasing over his sudden decision to lose the mohawk. When he got his next paycheck, he put every spare penny of it into some decent shirts, so he wasn’t constantly cycling through the same two. He got a pack of proper undershirts, so band art and beer logos weren’t showing through the light-coloured ones. He found a few more neckties he’d hated the first time around – either because of who gave them to him, the colour scheme, or both – and found they suited his tastes quite nicely this time. He hadn’t realised just how much the colour pink as a general concept had grown on him. And back at the station, he ignored the teasing and the “good-natured” ribbing from people who noticed what he was doing, and couldn’t stand the thought of him getting out of the trenches. He had something planned for every last one of them.

He got a new assignment. Then another. And another. And none as good as his first, only because the first had been a fluke. Nobody expected Holby to be the centre of controversy when they sent him there in a bizarre hazing stunt. Nobody expected the kitten circus to be the centre of controversy either, but this time they were right. Another shelter having an adoption day. A puppy that fell down a storm drain. The mysterious case of a cat with six different homes. All the crap they showed during the last three minutes, after everyone had turned the channel because the sports scores and weather reports had already been read. Fluff pieces to fill the time before the network switched back over to national programming.

Maybe it was a good thing the dog was at the bar, and Wilford wasn’t, because his patience for things cute and furry was a negative number before the end of the week.

Not that things were all bad, though even the things that were ostensibly good had a way of being horrible. Wilford was typing up a piece for the website when his boss showed up beside his cube, with that stupid, clueless grin on his face.

“Good news, buddy,” he said, putting his hand down with a smack on Wilford’s shoulder. “Finally got you that replacement.”

Wilford wanted to point out that he wasn’t the one who needed the replacement. He wanted to point out that he should have been given a raise for all the extra work he’d been doing in lieu of an actual replacement. But he knew how those scenarios ended, so he flash a painfully fake smile up at his boss.

“Oh? Tell me more,” he said.

Kevin stepped around the cube partition, looking over the space that was meant to be shared by three people, but which Wilford currently had to himself. Wilford had almost forgotten how stupid Kevin looked, with his poorly-maintained dye job. Bright blue roots shone through the jet black dye, and his eyebrows were an absolute mess.

“You two have fun,” the idiot boss said, before walking off. And once upon a time, that guy wondered why Wilford had fucked his wife. To anyone with half a brain, it was clear as day.

That was also a lesson in how not to behave around other people, and one which Wilford got loud and clear. After a few repetitions.

“Your mascara’s running,” Wilford said as Kevin took a seat on the other side of the large cube.

“What? Shit.” Kevin quickly dove into the satchel he’d had with him, and pulled out a small mirror to check for himself.

“You could have at least touched up your roots. You look like a goddamn moron,” Wilford said. “Did you actually do your interview looking like that?”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Kevin shot back as he tried to fix the mess his mascara was making on his face.

Wilford finally turned around properly from his computer to face Kevin. “Oh, fucking try me, bitch,” he said, arms crossed over his chest.

Kevin looked up and snorted in a way that completely gave away the fact that he was trying not to laugh and poked himself in the eye with his mascara wand, undermining whatever stance he was trying to make.

“Put that thing away and strip that shit out of your hair. You aren’t fooling anybody but yourself,” Wilford said.

Kevin did not put his makeup away, though he did stop to rub his eye, and smear what was already there even more. “Is that why you’re still in cube hell?”

It was Wilford’s turn to snort. “Didn’t you hear? You’re my replacement. I graduated to kitten circus hell.”

“What? No. I was told I was on the website team,” Kevin argued. “Who else is there?”

Wilford had an exaggerated think. “The webmaster’s actually off-site, but you knew that already, surely. And there’s… no, he quit last month. But there’s–uh. Oh. Just you. Congratulations.”

Kevin stared at him for a few long moments. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

“No, I’m fucking out of here.” Wilford quickly saved the article he was typing up to the network, and tossed the folder of notes across the cube to Kevin. “Which makes you head of the website department. Welcome to the worst fucking station in DC.”

Kevin stared down at the file where it landed on his keyboard. “Great,” he said flatly.

Wilford was not, in fact, out of anywhere, because he’d completely forgotten that he didn’t get moved to a different section along with his so-called promotion that still didn’t come with a pay raise. It meant he was stuck with Kevin, but at least this time around, he knew how to handle being in close proximity to him. Where harsh words didn’t work, a good kick to the knee did wonders. He also took great delight in sending Kevin off to someone else, to watch him irritate them right out of the building. If he’d known about that trick the first time around, it mightn’t have been so completely unbearable.

It took Kevin about two days before he came in with a brand new look, which also seemed to make things easier this time around. For some reason, people found it more difficult to tease him about his bright blue hair when it was out in the open, even if it had been bleached out and dyed a shade to closely match his natural colour. While Wilford did enjoy the teasing, it meant Kevin was less of a moody brat all the time, and a bit more like the irritating brat Kevin Wilford knew, and was able to predict.

And then he saw the little red flag he’d been waiting for. Kids disappeared all the time, but this was the one he remembered. This was the one with a witness nobody took seriously. According to the cops, the girl had run away. Case closed. Kids run away all the time. But Wilford knew that wasn’t true at all. He knew someone new had moved into the neighbourhood, and Wilford knew his signature.

He waited for the quiet lull between the lunch broadcast, and the 5pm broadcast to go find his new partner in crime, stuffing his face with a sandwich and playing with a portable video game.

“What time does it get dark?” Wilford asked him, leaning over the back of Billy’s chair to see what he was playing. There was a second half of the sandwich sitting in a Tupperware container, and Wilford helped himself to it.

“Uh. I don’t know. Six? Seven?” Billy said. “That was mine.”

“Great. I’ll see you then.”

Billy shook his head and grabbed Wilford’s sleeve to keep him from wandering off. “Hang on. See me for what?”

“Don’t tell me you went to school to film orphaned kittens your whole life,” Wilford said.

It brought a look of mild indignation to Billy’s face, but Wilford already knew why. Billy had gone to school hoping to be a war correspondent. But a civilian or not, he was a towering giant of a man, and made an embarrassingly easy target for anyone wanting to stir up trouble.

“No. I didn’t,” he said.

“Good. Because I have got one hell of a lead, and it’s going to get us the hell out of this sinking ship,” Wilford said.

Billy looked at him suspiciously. “Why me?” he asked.

Wilford shrugged. “Because you want to.”

He walked away after that, leaving Billy to consider the choice. Last time, he hadn’t had the advantage of knowing which buttons to press, and it had taken him all day to hound him into submission. This time, Wilford knew he had him. When he went down to the garage at dusk, he wasn’t in the least surprised to see Billy hanging around nervously.

“Care to tell me where we’re going?” he asked.

Wilford hopped into the van and grinned. “To catch ourselves a monster.”
cottoncandypink: (Default)
Someone kept resetting. He felt like he'd transcribed the same sentence eight hundred times – and he probably had. He just couldn't remember actually doing it. He'd only got back from lunch a half hour ago, according to the clock, but a niggling sensation at the back of his mind was telling him otherwise. His ears ached from the headphones crammed into them, not quite drowning out the sounds of everyone else in the other nearby cubes getting vocally angry with the persistent feeling of déjà vu. Just knowing that he’d been sitting there, practically unmoving for hours, made his back ache as if he had actually been sitting there all day.

And it was all made worse by the fact that he wasn't even supposed to be transcribing poorly-recorded scene interviews. It wasn't what he was hired to do, but apparently the words "junior reporter" meant something else entirely at AFC.

Minutes dragged on as hours as the entire building was stuck in the reset loop. Nobody could tell when it was starting, or when the reset kept happening, but everyone could feel it. Once or twice was normal. Everyone indulged from time to time, to keep that coffee from spilling on the keyboard, or to make it to that meeting on time. That wasn’t what resets were for, but nobody cared. What they absolutely were not for was endlessly starting over every time something didn't quite go exactly to plan. The more it happened, the more everyone else could feel it. The clocks may have all but stopped, but clocks didn't get tired and sore after sitting in the same chair for hours. They didn't get eye strain from looking at a flickering monitor while trying to listen to someone mumble underneath wind noise. They didn't feel the extra time of repeated resets. A person could literally grow old and die from resetting the same five minutes again and again.

"Warfstache," a stern voice barked from above as a folder fell on the keyboard.

Wilford jumped sharply and bit hard on his tongue to keep from saying anything he might want to reset from. He wondered if this had happened already, or if it was new, and the reset was finally over.

"Congratulations. Your first assignment," the senior editor said before walking away quickly.

Wilford moved quickly, not sure if the reset loop was actually over, or if this was just a cruel trick. He pulled off his headphones and threw open a drawer where he kept a couple of neckties just in case he actually, finally was given an assignment. He remembered getting the one on top, as some sort of mean-spirited joke. At the time, he hated it, which is why it wound up crammed in the drawer in the first place. Looking at it now — black, with pink racing stripes — he found he actually rather liked the look of it. Maybe this time around, he’d hold onto it. He snatched it out of the drawer and quickly rushed out of the room, hoping to get away from whoever had decided to put the entire station in a choke hold.

He wondered if he'd done this before as well.

The pool of camera operators hung out closer to the newsroom. They looked just as miserable down there as everyone upstairs had. That couldn’t have been a good sign. Wilford found the man he wanted playing some loud Flash game on a computer, and gave him a nudge.

“Come on. We got work to do.”

Billy looked up at him with confusion and relief quickly trading places across his face. “Thank god,” he said, quickly getting up to fetch his gear. “I haven’t seen you down here before. Are you new?”

“Not exactly.” Wilford didn’t waste any time in getting out of the building, and neither did Billy. They made quick tracks out to the garage and into a waiting van. As Billy tore out of the garage a little too quickly, Wilford put on his tie and used the visor mirror to try to flatten his hair to something a little more professional-looking than a mohawk.

It wasn't until they were a few blocks away, and Wilford was properly in his seat and not in danger of falling out onto the floor, that they finally resumed a semblance of calm after their mad dash for freedom. Clocks were moving again, and the air didn't feel stale and heavy, as it had inside. No longer within the sphere of influence of the unknown resetting bastard, everything was once again back to normal.

"So, where are we going?" Billy asked as he cut off a Prius.

Wilford finally opened the folder, already knowing exactly what was inside. "Let's find out, shall we?" he said slowly, reading over the brief sheet in front. "Holby Medical Centre," he read aloud. "To interview one Doctor Nigel Burke, and someone upstairs thinks they’re real fucking funny.”

"What do you mean?"

Wilford slammed the folder shut and tossed it into the foot-well. "Who have you pissed off lately? It seems someone at Holby is leaning on the reset button."

The drive from that point on was a quiet one, but it was far from peaceful. Billy drove like a maniac through busy streets, using the size of the news van to muscle into spaces he couldn’t fit into, while Wilford tried to think back to the first time he’d done this. People like to say that you don’t forget your first assignment, but you do. You forget everything about it, because it’s usually this sort of hazing bullshit meant to make you quit before they have to start giving you real stories. But Wilford couldn’t actually remember any of the real details. Anything he thought he remembered could have just been implanted from the brief he’d just read. He’d just have to wing it, like he did the first time. And he did remember the outcome, so winging it had worked.

As he worked through scenarios in the passenger seat of a speeding news van, Wilford became increasingly aware of the sideways glances he was getting from Billy. He was able to ignore it at first, but it soon became a needling sensation that bored straight through him.

"Keep it to yourself, Billy," Wilford warned.

"I–" The cameraman was suddenly focused intently on the road straight ahead of him. "My name's not Billy."

"Of course it is," Wilford said, reaching up to straighten his moustache. Not that it needed it with the amount of forming cream he used, but this was going to be his first impression to the people who made the real decisions. He had to look good.

As soon as they reached the hospital, Wilford left the van to pace around the parking lot for a few moments. He straightened his tie, and and made sure his glasses were clean, hoping he didn't look like he'd spent all day stuck in an endless reset loop. But the air felt heavy here, too. It was a hospital, after all, so the sphere of influence would be much bigger than some moron somewhere in a news building. If it were one of the doctors resetting, dozens of people would be directly affected every time. And that affect would ripple outward, like rings from a boulder being dropped into a very large lake. Eventually, they'd settle and fade, but not until they got far enough away.

Wilford turned around to make sure Billy hadn't just taken off and left him there. Even the smallest differences could change everything, making Wilford extra conscious of everything he did. Almost surprisingly, Billy had the camera on his shoulder and was ready to go, taking step after step backwards to try to get Wilford in frame.

“Knock it off, I’m not that short,” Wilford scolded. Eventually, cameras would get smaller and be mounted on gimbals, making Billy’s absurd height less of a problem. For now, there was the hood of the van. Wilford pointed at it and stepped in front of the van while Billy framed his shot. “You need to learn to shoot from the hip.”

“This thing weighs half a ton,” Billy argued as he set up the shot for the intro segment.

Wilford got through it quickly, ignoring the niggling feeling that he’d done it a dozen times before. As soon as he finished, Billy packed up the camera and they trudged across the parking lot like they were facing Everest, determined to make it inside before they were blipped back out to the van. The vague worry that it had already been happening hung on Wilford's mind, even as they walked through the entrance and up to the reception desk. The blue-haired woman who looked up to greet them did so with a cheer so false, it was clear she'd been there at least sixteen hours. Probably more.

"Are you who I think you are?" she asked in a squeaky voice.

Wilford unclipped his press pass from his belt and slid it across the counter with his index finger. "Wilford Warfstache," he confirmed, before cocking a thumb over his shoulder. "And my cameraman, Billy."

"My name's not Billy," Billy said again.

Wilford ignored him completely, and smiled the same falsely cheerful smile down at the receptionist.

"Doctor Burke should be out of surgery any minute now," she said flatly as she pointed down the hall on her left. "His office is down there. Take the elevator to the third floor. Follow the signs after that."

She slid Wilford's pass back across the counter to him, along with a clipboard. He took his pass, signed his name, and turned to find the man he was supposed to interview. As he and Billy made it to the elevator, Wilford began to wonder why it felt like he'd been on his feet all day. As he pressed the button to call the car down, he was hit with a sudden feeling of stupidity. If the hospital was Everest, Dr Burke's office was the summit. And it was going to take days to get there. Wilford looked over at Billy, and saw that he had come to the same conclusion. Then, he wondered how many times he'd come to the same conclusion. A quick glance to his watch told him that it was a perfectly reasonable hour in the middle of the afternoon, but every fibre of Wilford's being was telling him that it was well past midnight.

But instead of giving up and going home, like he suspected he was expected to, Wilford stepped onto the elevator as soon as the doors opened, and mashed the button for the third floor, powered by pure fuck-you determination to get this right. By the time they finally reached Burke's office, it felt like it had taken a week to get there. But amazingly, they needed only wait a few minutes before the completely unassuming man in blue scrubs walked cheerily up towards them. Wilford hated him immediately.

"Wilford Warfstache," he introduced with all the false candour he could muster, holding his hand out.

Dr Burke took his hand, shaking a little too vigorously. "Nigel. Come. Have a seat," he said, his accent implacable, other than stereotypically English.

As soon as Dr Burke turned to unlock his office door, Wilford turned round to look at Billy, mouthing the words 'Roll it'. Billy was just as fast and smooth as he’d always been. He reached up to turn on his camera, holding it nonchalantly on his shoulder as if to just carry its massive weight. By the time Dr Burke's office was unlocked and the three of them were inside, Wilford's false charm was plastered over his face, obvious to anyone who didn't have their head completely up their ass.

"Is this about the space station?" Burke asked as he sat down behind the huge desk.

Wilford hadn't got that far into the file, but he nodded all the same. "Of course," he said slowly. "It was your idea, wasn’t it?"

He played along, asking vague questions and letting Dr Burke ramble on about this new project. Slowly, Wilford transitioned the interview to more terrestrial topics, asking questions about the hospital itself.

“Just one more question, before we go,” Wilford said after a believable amount of time had passed.

Burke held his hands out, opening himself up in either complete ignorance, or utterly false innocence. "Go ahead," he said.

"Precisely how many times did you brutally murder your patient today?" Wilford asked.

Burke's entire demeanour changed. He sat up stiffly, gawping like a big mouth bass in blue scrubs. "I–I–I mean–"

"Because if I had to guess, going off of the rings around your otherwise lovely receptionist's eyes, not to mention the amount of time it took to make it up to the third floor, I'd say you've been going at it at least eighteen hours."

Burke shook his head frantically. "No, you don't understand–"

"And presumably, you've left someone else to close, so you could be here for your big interview about this alleged space station, am I right?" Wilford continued. "Eighteen hours is awfully long for something routine, especially when you're only halfway done. Wouldn't you agree?"

Burke continued to gawp and stutter, until he looked over at Billy. "Is that on? Is he recording?"

Burke lunged for the telephone on his desk, but before he could even dial the first number, Wilford was rushing Billy out the door and back down to the elevator. They zipped right past the dozing receptionist, breaking into a full run as soon as they were back outside. But instead of getting back into the van to make their escape, Wilford stopped, and made sure Billy had the lens trained on him.

"And there you have it, folks. Doctor Nigel Burke, world renowned surgeon here at Holby, isn't all he's cracked up to be. Unless you want to spend twenty hours on your next tonsillectomy, you might want to consider finding a new medial provider. This has been Wilford Warfstache–"

A banging and a chorus of shouts behind him cut him off abruptly. Turning, he saw a trio of security guards pouring out of the hospital's front doors. It took them only a moment to spot Wilford and Billy, but they had the advantage of their van. Before the security guards could get to them, Billy was already peeling out of the parking lot, once again leaving Wilford to hang on for his life as he tried to get settled in his seat.

Even as they took sharp corners back out onto the street, Wilford wondered why Burke had called security at all, instead of just resetting to avoid the meeting. Watching the security guards give up their chase through the wing mirror, Wilford realised exactly why.

"All that, and he didn't even remember to save when he was done," he said.

Billy laughed as he checked the mirrors for any remaining security guards, but they were all doubled over in breathless agony far behind them.

"If I'd spent all day fucking something up, saving would be the first thing I'd do," Billy said.

Wilford had to laugh at the whole thing. It had been absurd from start to finish, but he let himself relax into his seat as they made their way back to the station, knowing he'd be getting something out of pulling off the impossible.

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Wilford Warfstache

October 2017

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