I’ve been messing around with Ira in a friend’s tweaked AU version of SCP’s “Black as Night” sub-setting–1920s Chicago gangsters crossed with eldritch horror. Wheels, and Derringer, are both bosses in the Chicago Spirit gang.

***

Ira is at Wheels’ house for the night. Which he hates, because it’s a cozy, cute unpretentious little cottage of a home that he could all too easily love. The kind of place that speaks volumes about the inner warmth and down-to-earth nature of its owners. And Wheels and Derringer are adorable and domestic and healthy in their home, in ways he and Nat never really managed to achieve. They’d be so fucking easy to like this way. So easy to trust, if he were a complete fucking idiot.

He doesn’t forget who they are. But…he can’t not recognize their charm and their capacity for kindness and joy and love and the simple things in life. The humanity in them despite everything else they’ve chosen to be. It’s an intimate glimpse they force into his mind against his will, when they bring him home with them. A string tied between them he didn’t agree to but that he can’t fully break. 

He’s pretty sure that’s part of why Wheels does it—master of string-tying. Even if he says it’s because he doesn’t want Ira out from under his eyesight.

Anyway.

Derringer’s gone to bed. So has one of Wheels, but the other’s decided to stay up and have a nightcap, and however Ira feels about things, he’s not going to say no to Wheels letting him into his good whiskey.

It’s dim, in the living room. Just one lamp, and the fire in the cute fucking fireplace, kicking off warmth against the October chill. The chair is well-stuffed and well-used, and it cradles the ache Ira always has at the small of his back.

“You’re good with him,” Wheels’ quiet words break the silence—which started to slide toward companionable somewhere along the way despite Wheels’ continued dislike and distrust of him.

It hits Ira like an accusation—ice water down his spine, the idea that it’s his choice somehow. With a heroic effort of will, he takes a calm, slow sip of whisky, trying not to let on bow badly he wants to turn toward Wheels to stare like a comedically stoned owl.

He takes his time savoring—caramel and smooth smoke, really good whisky—and once he’s swallowed, he manages to sound only a slight bit weird when he asks, “With Derringer?”

“Yeah.” Wheels’ face doesn’t change an iota, even though Ira’s pretty sure he didn’t fool him one bit. “You listen. You can keep up with him, the things he talks about.”

Ira looks over at him. He isn’t even looking at Ira—not that it means he isn’t noticing his every move, but what he’s looking at, a bit vaguely, is his bookshelf. He looks…wistful.

I can’t, Wheels didn’t say but might as well have. And I wish I could.

Ira bites his lips together. “You’ve said that before,” he says carefully. “You…wish it made more sense to you?”

“Of course I do.” Now Wheels glances over at him, from the corner of his eye. Unreadable, functionally. Ira takes it to be a warning to watch his step. “Something that’s so much a part of him, how could I not want to share that with him?”

Ira nods, and sighs. Yeah, how could he not?

Just. How the fuck do these two terrors manage to have the healthiest romantic relationship he’s ever seen? Weirdest fucking thing he’s seen in the Spirit, he swears.

He bites his lips together. There’s nothing more to say here.

“I could show you,” he blurts out, planting his face into the warm bosom of the re-settling silence.

Wheels doesn’t say anything. Just turns his head to look at him properly, one eyebrow up. The shadows play across the too-deep hollows of his face with the ominous power of a hidden door.

Ira takes a moment to frantically review the offer, now that it’s come out of his big mouth: chances seem low it can make things even worse than they already are, for Ira or people he directly cares about or the world in general. And Wheels is already completely fucking bonkers, it’s not going to hurt his brain in new and shocking ways. 

Well. Why the fuck not? He lifts his eyebrows back at Wheels. Both his eyebrows. He can’t do the one eyebrow trick. Fuck all these eyebrow-lifting showoffs.“Not…much. But I could help you understand a bit more. If you want.”

Wheels’ poison-green eyes flick downward. In the low light they almost glow.. Ira presses a hand automatically to his chest. “No, not that. It’s just a matter of knowing how to look, honestly. I can walk you through it. If you want.” Ugh, he just said that. He tries not to cringe at his obvious nerves.

Ira always wondered how Wheels got his nickname. Sometimes he wonders if it’s the way they’re constantly turning behind his eyes. So wary, most of all when he finds something tempting. Always calculating the angles, scoping for ambushes. Sometimes Ira thinks Wheels is almost as afraid as he is. 

“Is it difficult?” he asks after thinking it over.

The question is calming. Ira’s shrug this time manages to be natural. “Worst case scenario is you end up confused, annoyed and convinced I’m talking shit.”

Wheels snorts as if to say that goal’s already been accomplished. Rude. But, “Alright,” he agrees, as casual as if he hadn’t just been trying to figure out how Ira could use this to kill him. He sets his whisky down on the side table; reaches over to brush the handle of his cane in that way he has, of reassuring himself support is at hand. Not quite actively nervous, but checking in. “So how does this work?”

“You just close your eyes and follow along with what I describe. Or don’t close your eyes,” he adds irritably when Wheels shoots him a look. “It just helps me.”

Wheels snorts again, but he looks a little amused. Or smug maybe, that he got Ira to bristle. Pointedly ignoring him and whatever he decides to do, Ira shuffles down a little in his own chair, stretches his legs out in front of him, and closes his own eyes.

“Let’s take something you’re real familiar with,” he starts in a murmur. Wheels will play along if and how he wants to. “Think about the Spirit. Its organization. How it’s structured. The way information flows through it, and orders. The way your people answer up through your capos to you and the other bosses, and then orders pass back down the same ways. You give your guys the word and your whole branch can flex like a fist, right?

The idea’s fixed firmly in his head now, so he cracks his eyes open to glance over at Wheels and see how he’s taking it so far. Wheels is watching him with those spooky absinthe eyes of his, but he’s got a faintly abstracted expression on his face that suggests he’s trying to play along.

“You ever think about it like an ant hill?” Ira asks him. “Like a communal organism, you know? All its parts in communion with each other and ticking away, doing their jobs for the whole.”

Wheels grunts wryly. “Not especially, no. Takes too much work to maintain for that.”

Ira huffs a laugh. “Well, humor me and give it a try now.”

It gets him the eyebrow again. But, “Okay,” Wheels says, with that little drawl he does—ohh-kay, just a slight lift on the first syllable that Ira’s come to recognize, when it comes from him, as light mockery. Maybe even good-natured teasing.

Ira dangles his arm over the arm of the chair and spreads his fingers in a stretch, then claws them to pop the knuckles. “Really think about that.” His voice is heavier, when he gets back to it.  There’s something…infectious, it’s always seemed to him, to pull back the veil like this. A danger even in just looking that his intuition has always warned him to take seriously.  “How there’s a way you can think about it where the groups of your guys are like different organs. Each of ‘em performing a service for the whole. Where the three branches are the body and the limbs, reaching out to act and fight and do your will, and you three and Chappell are the heart and the brain. Like it’s a body. Information and actions flow through it like nerves talking to each other, and even sensation and emotion. Victory, outrage, fear, anticipation. Picture it: the Spirit as a single entity. A great beast whose tendrils reach out from its core to stretch across the city and beyond.” He peers again over at Wheels—who does have his eyes closed now, with that little permanent furrow between his brows deepened by…something. Concentration, maybe. “Do you see it?”

Wheels hums deep in his throat. Ira thinks it’s intrigue, mixed in with…not skepticism exactly. Waiting for the punchline. Green glimmers at Ira through the dark of his lashes. “Yes…” He lets the and? hang unspoken.

“And it’s not a metaphor,” Ira tells him. 

He tips his head to the side and rests his temple against the whisky glass in his hand and sighs deep enough to sink further into the cushions. “The last part of the trick is to understand that what you’re picturing in your mind’s eye is physically, wholly true. Reality comes with a lot of different faces. Different facets. The one you see just depends on where you’re looking from. From one angle you see the Spirit as the organization. From another, it’s a literal living, breathing entity you’re all a part of. That you built.”

And then the silence comes back, because that’s all he has to say. More won’t help, he’s found. Someone will either get it or not. Not that Ira goes around making a habit of showing people this stuff, but…when it snaps into focus, when they see it for real and true….

A lot of people would recoil from accepting what he just described as literally real. The idea of themselves being some small meaty piece of a greater nightmare. The insignificance…the helplessness and consumption of it would drive most people away. But after all Wheels has seen…

Wheels’ eyes flutter open and find Ira’s. “Night,” he breathes. Almost dazed, lips parted with amazement and…well, probably arousal.

Ira draws in a shaky breath, and breathes out a shaky, “Yeah.”

Because…of course it’s Night. Of course it is. And of course Wheels would recognize him. He knocks back the rest of his whisky. He isn’t ready to contemplate the implications of all that. “Well. There you go, then.”

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