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Something About Not Knowing Stuff

This piece has been uploaded to Ao3 here, if you prefer to read things that way, or if you want to save it/download it.


Pauling and Scout bury vampires in the back of the Teufort churchyard. As it turns out, platonic interaction over work opens up the door to more interesting conversations. Like what fae look like. Everyone knows what fae look like! Right?

Rated General for General Audiences. Mostly just Miss P and Scout having a chat.
I don't remember why, exactly, I decided to write a story entirely about counting fingers being a terrible way to identify fae. But I did. And here it is.

Author's Note

I was going to write something different but the whole "Miss Pauling is basically dependent on the Administrator and there are definitely psychological/social/knowledge implications around never getting out" idea was too interesting. And also my initial idea kept getting derailed by explosives and bad breakfast etiquette. So.

Work Text

The thing about working under the Administrator is that, unless you happen to be the sort who falls for men who run around committing murder all day, the only dates you're going to manage to scrounge on the regular are the platonic kind. You know the sort - the ones which coincide with work and end in someone covered in blood that, luck willing, isn't theirs. And not a pretty single woman in sight.

Disappointing, but sacrifices must be made for the job.

It was a Sunday night, and the only thing left on Scout and Pauling's agenda was burying a pile of mixed ashes in the Teufort churchgrounds. It would have been a terrible idea, were it not for the fact that the townsfolk was too busy digging a public swimming pool to notice things like overturned dirt, or the signs of a vampire infestation. An excellent place for some coven to get in the way of Mann Co.'s business, then; but also an excellent place to dispose of said coven. It was a routine job, all things considered, and it would have been a routine night of eating sugar to stay up and talking about inane things, until Pauling said something that garnered a stronger reaction than just talking.

There was a crunching sound as Scout accidentally bit through his lollipop, blunt buck teeth cleaving the candy in two. "Whaddaya mean, ya never got taught how to tell a fae from a human?" he asked, incredulously, and the half with the stick in it fell onto the ground, forgotten on the dry dirt. "Geez, Miss P, ya must be pretty damn good with that gun, if the Administrator's gonna let you go not knowin' basic stuff like that."

Pauling been in the business of chasing magic for years - probably longer than Scout had, at any rate. Yes, she was good with a gun, but she also liked to think she had a half-decent idea of the basic information required to do her job. Her first instinct was to bristle at Scout's statement, but its implications caught her eye, even as she dropped her shovel into the hole they'd dug, as much to measure its depth as to rest her roughened palms. "What do you mean?" she asked. "There's not much to it. Is there?"

He raised an eyebrow at her - or tried to, at least, even if it dragged the other along with it. "Well, how d'you do it?" he asked, and Pauling shrugged.

"Well, they feel magic, for one," she began, and faltered as Scout sent her a flat stare, green eyes entirely unimpressed. It was a familiar look, but a strange one on him. Usually it was coming from someone less 'guy in his late twenties with visible baby fat' and more 'woman of indeterminate age who is also your boss'.

"Yeah, duh," he said. "If they're not disguised."

"Let me finish," she scolded him, and he shrugged, pulling one of the pouches of ash out of his pocket. She watched him dangle it in the air for a moment, before tossing it into the ground. The thought came to her. "Fingers!" she exclaimed. "Count the fingers! Right?"

Scout squinted at her.

"Remember the time you told me it was impossible to run in heels?"

Pauling frowned at him. "Yeah, after you kept going on about that movie you saw. Still not going to watch it, you know."

Scout half-winced, jerking his head in a sort of affirming gesture. "Yeah. Right. Miss P," he said, "I gotta ask. Have you been reading comic books lately?"

"I - no!"

He raised his hands in the air; the shovel he'd been holding dropped to the floor with a dull thud. "I'm not judging! I read 'em too, ya know! They're just. Y'know. Not great for that sorta thing."

"I don't have time to read a tenth of the comics you talk about," Pauling said. It was only half a complaint. "I just... picked it up. Somewhere."

Scout hummed to himself, shifting from foot to foot. "Ya brought a crucifix, or do I gotta break into the church?"

A topic change, though probably only temporarily. She fished the cross out of her pocket, holding it up to the moonlight for him. He seemed mildly disappointed at the lack of an excuse for breaking and entering, but shrugged as she dropped it into the hole. She dumped the second bag of ashes on top of it, and grabbed her shovel, again. "Start moving that dirt," she told him, and then, more tentatively, "What's wrong with counting the fingers, then?"

He picked up his own shovel, scooping up oversized lumps of dirt with dwarfen levels of zeal. "Spy's got ten. Ain't that right?"

She froze, midway through moving a shovelful from the pile next to her to the makeshift burial site. Her mind whirred. Spy was definitely fae, she knew; that was the whole reason they'd hired him. Because fae made good actors. And yet...

A clump of dirt fell off the shovel. Scout scratched his nose. "There was a kid with eleven fingers who lived down the road from us," he said, offhandedly. "Human, I mean. About as magic as a rock."

"Oh," Pauling said.

It was embarrassing, she thought. Although, luckily for her pride, she wasn't one of Scout's preferred targets for ribbing. "It ain't about stuff being different the first time you see 'em," he explained, waving his shovel for emphasis and sending crumbs of dirt flying. "It's about stuff being different the second time you see 'em."

She frowned at him, and went back to shovelling dirt. "That's not any different, Scout?"

"No, it is!" he exclaimed. "Like - uh. Like, like the hands! If they're small one day and big the next, they're fae. That's how they got one back in Boston - her fingers were always a different shape. Like, uh. Pasta noodles."

"Got her?" Pauling asked, and Scout stopped waving his shovel, sticking it firmly back into the pile of uprooted earth.

"Yeah. You know how it is. Control one, really properly, and you get their magic, but they get angry, or whatever, so you gotta keep them sealed up. Lizzie's a statue, now. Still standing outside the stadium. Looks different, now. Older. Thinner, too. That's magic leachin', I guess."

"Lizzie? Is that -" she trailed off. It was almost impolite to ask, even if "Lizzie" was long gone.

Scout shoot his head. "Nah. Wouldn't say it out loud if it was. I just remembered it, 'cos we were in the same math class, and I thought she was cute." He paused. "And also 'cos she punched me in the nose one time. Hey, maybe you'd'a liked her too!"

"I'd like anyone who punched you," Pauling told him, and smiled to herself as he made a melodramatic noise.

"Miss P!"

"Hush, you," she said, and thought for a moment. "They really got her just on the hands?"

"Yeah," Scout said, regretfully. "It was a big deal, 'cos we were, like, thirteen. Most of the time it's other stuff, smaller stuff - eye colours different every day or freckles that change shape or somethin' - but Lizzie was big on art, see? So she'd get stronger hands for clay stuff, or thinner ones for painting. That's what Ma said, anyhow. Taught us all to recognise fae, after that. Said knowing who you were coverin' for always made life easier. Her boyfriend at the time was fae, see."

"Is that how you were introduced to magic?" Pauling asked, and Scout snorted.

"Nah, my brother's dad was a dragon."

Pauling blinked at him. Something that wasn't on file - and freely volunteered. Odd. She made a mental note to write it down later. "Oh. Wow. I learned about magic because the Administrator told me I had a tree."

Scout paused a moment in his shovelling. "Uh. You didn't know you had a tree? This gonna be a thing? It shouldn't be your thing. Not knowing stuff's my thing."

Pauling chose to ignore the tail end of his rambling. "Should I have?" she asked, instead.

He made a face. "I ain't a dryad."

That was true.

The pit was almost full, again. They'd filled the grave quickly - almost inhumanly so.

"I'm telling ya, you gotta get out more," Scout said. "You're cooped up all day doing papers, or busy takin' care of problem. You gotta see stuff! Ain't you meant to be getting sun, too?"

"Too much sun makes my hair bloom," she reminded him. "That makes it harder for me to hide, not easier. Flower crowns aren't so popular, nowadays. Not if you don't want Soldier to explode you, anyway."

He frowned, but didn't argue. The last shovelful of dirt went into the hole, and Pauling tamped it down with her foot. It crumbled into place, flat and solid.

Teufort earth really was terrible. Humans picked the strangest places to reside.

"So, if we're done, can we get some chicken?" Scout asked, hopefully.

She glanced over at him, and big blue puppy-dog eyes looked back. She resisted the urge to roll her own. "Is there even a chicken place on the way back?" she asked.

"Uh, yeah, duh. Would I ask if there wasn't?"

"Yes," she said, and he deflated, if only slightly.

"Well, there is one. I promise! C'mon, Miss P."

She gave him a once over. Slightly dusty, but not horribly so. "You're driving," she said, and he flashed her a grin, front teeth gleaming sharp in the moonlight.

"Sure thing."

End Note

Knowing something is different to applying it in practice.