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Meinertzhagen: Redux

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It’s not often that Richard is the first one awake in the house in the mornings, but it’s not unheard of, either. Usually, Jared will let himself in while everyone’s still asleep; although he’s all settled back in at his condo, he still spends most of his waking hours here, and no one’s bothered by the fact that he’s still got his set of house keys. So when Richard hears footsteps coming toward the kitchen, he’s prepared to see a six-foot-four stick of a man slinking in, dressed impeccably like it’s totally normal to be put together and ready for the day ahead at six-thirty in the fucking morning.

What he sees instead, however, is a sight wholly more strange.

It takes him a moment to register the faded screen printing on the oversized t-shirt as one of those weird Scandinavian metal bands that Gilfoyle occasionally blasts when he goes on his more intense code-sprints. It takes him another moment to realize that the person wearing said shirt is Monica.

She comes to a halt in the doorway, color quickly rising in her cheeks, and Richard is sure his expression must match hers, because her eyes are wide enough to pop out of their sockets.

“I figured everyone else’d be asleep,” she says slowly, warily.

“Y-yeah. Um. Nope,” Richard manages to croak out. “I’m awake.”

“I can see that. I’m, uh, just gonna get a glass of water.” Monica inches toward the sink, her gaze never leaving Richard; it’s like she’s trying not to startle him into making any sudden movements.

Which isn’t a problem, Richard thinks absently. He’s not sure he’ll be able to recover enough to regain motor control anytime soon; he’s going to have to stay in this chair forever. Maybe he can have Jared give Holden a huge raise and move him into the house as on-site, 24/7 support staff. Like one of those live-in nurses for the elderly and infirm.

Actually, he’s pretty sure a ninety-year-old would have a longer life expectancy than he does at this point, because holy shit, Monica fucked Gilfoyle last night.

Richard remembers most of last night, and what he doesn’t remember is more just a function of exhaustion from playing about eight rounds of PUBG with Dinesh, Gilfoyle, and Bighead to wind down after the third consecutive 60-hour week. So he remembers Monica tagging along when they all finally clocked out of work at nine o’clock on a balmy Friday evening, and, because it was her first time crashing what she’d called their upper management jam session , insisting on paying for all the pizza and beer.

He remembers her tentatively trying out one round of PUBG, then insisting that they turn it into a drinking game to make things more interesting. Nothing too complicated—just something along the lines of, “if you die, you have to keep chugging until you respawn.”

Monica, Richard has come to learn in the years that he’s known her, is very good at a great many things. She’s one of the smartest, shrewdest people he knows; she’s calm under pressure, gives consistently good advice, and has saved all of their asses more times than he can count.

She is also very, very bad at PUBG.

“It was after Jared went home and you and Dinesh and Bighead went to bed,” Monica explains after downing half the water in her glass. “Gilfoyle was describing to me in very colorful terms how bad I was at shooters, so I told him that unlike him, I spent my teenage and college years doing more productive things, like making friends and having sex. And, uh—”

“O-oh,” Richard manages to stammer out. He knows Gilfoyle well enough by this point to know that he would never shrink from a challenge.

“Yep.”

“So,” he says, “are you two, like, a couple now, or—?”

Monica fixes him with a look that makes the rest of his words die out in his throat. Richard drops his gaze to his hands, fingers twisting together in his lap.

“You’re, um, obviously still welcome to hang out with us, you know,” Richard tries. “I mean, I know you probably won’t want to anymore, like, if it’s awkward, or—”

“No,” Monica says with a heavy sigh, “I’m just gonna play it normal. It’s embarrassing enough as it is that you’ve already found out. I don’t want to rouse any more suspicion.”

“Meinertzhagen’s Haversack,” Richard says, nodding in understanding.

“Meiner—what?”

“Never mind.”

Monica squints at Richard in confusion, then seems to decide that it’s not worth asking. She tops off her glass again and turns to leave, but pauses in the doorway.

“Not. A. Fucking. Word,” she hisses.

And here’s the thing: Richard remembers every casual allusion to violence Jared has ever made; in this moment, though, he’s fairly certain they all pale to the steely glare that Monica’s giving him.

He gulps. “Y-you got it.”

Monica lets her gaze linger for a moment longer, then leaves, glass of water in hand. Richard hears the muffled sound of a bedroom door closing ever so quietly, and then the thought hits him again.

Holy shit, Monica fucked Gilfoyle last night.

Some time later—he’s not sure how long it’s been, because he’s still reeling from the fact that holy shit, Monica fucked Gilfoyle last night , but probably just a few minutes because he’s still the only one in the kitchen and the house is quiet—he hears a key scraping in the front door, then the familiar creak of the hinges swinging open. Jared meanders into the kitchen, clutching a reusable tote bag brimming with groceries, humming to himself with a soft smile that widens when he sees Richard sitting at the table.

“Good morning!” he says, bright and cheerful. “I didn’t think you’d be awake yet. I brought you all some fresh-squeezed orange juice from the farmer’s market, to rehydrate after last ni— Richard, are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“What?” Richard says, blinking a couple times. “Y-yeah, Jared, I’m fine. I’m, um, just a little hungover?”

It comes out more a question than a statement, but if anything seems off to Jared, he doesn’t acknowledge it. Instead, he simply offers Richard a glass of orange juice, which Richard takes with a quiet murmur of thanks.

When Jared’s back is turned, he pulls out his phone to send a quick text.

Richard: jareds here. not safe to sneak out yet. i’ll keep you updated
Monica: Fuck you
Monica: Thanks

Richard hides his grin by taking a sip of the orange juice, then slips his phone back into his pocket.