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The Manager

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"I wouldn't want to be him," Briar said, wincing as he watched the car on screen screech narrowly around a corner, almost smacking into a wall.

"Her," Tris corrected, busy with her papers.

"The driver's female?" Briar said, astonished.

Tris looked up. She was smirking. "Daja Kisubo. I know her, actually. She's a very nice person, easy to manage, unlike some people." Her smirk widened. "And someone who pulls stunts like you will be afraid of driving fast, I don't think."

He snorted, crossing his arms and drawing her eyes on purpose to the body art on his hands. No doubt she was referring to the headache he'd given her, when he turned up with distinctive tattoos she'd have to arrange for his body double to duplicate. Briar sat back in his chair, determined to argue if she wanted him to laser it off; he appreciated what Tris did for him, but he wouldn't be pushed around.

Tris sighed, rubbing her temples. The sight was familiar. "Look. I don't want to argue about this any more. Wear gloves, for all I care. Sandry--yes, that's the New York seamstress in the news a few weeks back--she works for me too, and she said she'd make some that wouldn't break the next time you jump out a window. Just don't let the tattoos be seen or they'll find you. I don't want to see you again until your next success."

It was a clear dismissal. Briar left only because he felt the same way.

- : -

As Briar left Tris's office, muttering, someone else was just entering. The new visitor stared momentarily at Briar's back - and then at Tris.

"You don't want to know," Tris told her, sharply.

Her visitor said, "His shirt's very well made."

Unwillingly, Tris smiled. "You must be the only one who sees him and thinks of his shirt, Sandry."

Cornflower blue eyes blinked. "What about you?"

"I don't count," Tris said. "I'm his manager, and a more bleat-brained, vain man I've never met. Except maybe, that botanist. What's his name? Crane, I think." Her nose crinkled up, slightly, and Sandry giggled. "Besides, I've known him for years. It would be like dating my brother."

"Too friendly?" Sandry supplied, grinning. "More likely to talk about people a few tables over and rate them on how pretty they are, like Daja and I do?"

"I wouldn't say that," Tris said dryly. "I don't go... what did you call it that night? Yes, 'getting to know my uncle's city'."

"I was actually doing that," Sandry sniffed. Her grin turned wicked. "But this time, I wasn't admiring his shirt."

Tris enjoyed her meetings with Sandry more than she would ever admit. Nevertheless, all joking aside, she had a task to complete. Their laughter dying down, Sandry and Tris got to work: planning how to advertise Sandry's newest fashion line.

"Uncle refuses to wear any more of my work," Sandry sighed, and her agent crossed that possibility off her mental list.

"Actually," Tris said thoughtfully, "I was thinking about what you said a few weeks ago. About taking your line in a new direction."

"Do you have anyone in mind as models?"

Tris smiled, gleefully. "Two, actually. You know I also manage Daja, and she's always admired your work."

"She never said that to me," Sandry murmured, twisting her fingers together. "And we're friends."

"Well, we're professionals, aren't we?" Tris said. "You can ask her yourself."

"You said two people."

Tris's smile grew positively wicked - something she had learnt from Sandry, in their years of friendship. "The other one's the man who was just leaving my office when you came. Briar Moss."

"The stunt artist?" Sandry questioned. "He... doesn't look like he'll like that."

"Briar Moss: Male Model," Tris said. "I'm his boss, and he's already on probation. He'll do what I want."

They kept their faces straight for precisely three seconds.

- : -

Tris usually held meetings in her office, but for Daja (and her personal health) she was willing to leave and navigate her way, on her own two feet, through the crowds.

She hated the steps down to the track side. Fortunately, it was easier to climb down than up. She was sure she'd be much grumpier later.

"I have a proposal for you," she called.

The race car driver she managed looked up, pulling off her helmet to reveal the smoothest chocolate skin Tris had ever seen. It made her teeth seem whiter when she smiled.

"Sandry asked me already," Daja Kisubo told her. "I said yes. I am rather curious how infamous stuntman Briar Moss will react when he is also asked to model her clothing line."

Tris sniffed. "I already told him, once, that Sandry would be making gloves to hide those tattoos he got. He's just going to have to wear more."

Daja shook her head wonderingly. "Tris," she said, "remind me not to make you angry. The sky would probably crackle with lightning if you asked."

- : -

Briar hated getting his clothes fitted. It was a chore, and he only tolerated it because being a very public escape artist entailed very exacting standards in how well the clothes fit.

However... Briar did like pretty women.

And Sandrilene fa Toren was pretty. She dazzled the media (despite her reputation for being insanely stubborn, as highlighted a month or so ago), who couldn't seem to get enough of the up-and-coming designer. Or 'seamstress', as Sandry called herself. Tris, of course, was ecstatic, or as ecstatic as their placid, equally stubborn manager could get anyway. (Tris had point-blank told Briar his public life was going to be used to boost Sandrilene's new line, and had left no room for argument.)

"Just a little longer," Daja Kisubo, who was waiting for her comfortable jeans to be tailored properly. Another media star who had agreed to the advertising, she seemed to handle being a mannequin with much more patience than Briar could imagine, and Briar could imagine plenty.

Briar often pictured himself as a slow-growing tree, tolerating silliness because everything passed in the blink of an eye, but he couldn't compare to Daja's steadiness.

With Sandry's air-light footsteps, darting in and out as she added to the masterpiece framed upon Briar's and Daja's bodies, Briar thought he rather appreciated that.

- : -

At nine O'clock Tris received a frantic call from Sandry, whose imported fabrics from eastern Europe had been sent on the wrong supply route, and, consequently, wouldn't arrive for another week - after the fashion show she was launching to promote her new brand.

At ten O'clock Daja's car swerved out of control, and Tris received a frantic message from the hospital about how the woman had diagnosed herself perfectly healthy, and was attempting to leave to look after her race car. (Because, Daja had once explained, she loved how the tools sang beneath her fingers and wouldn't let anyone touch her darlings.)

At five-to-eleven, Tris wondered if her day could get any worse.

Then she decided not to tempt Lakik the Trickster, as Briar would say.

At eleven O'clock, Briar Moss decided to drop in, the month-and-a-half-old flowering tattoos on his hands hidden by the gloves Sandry had made for him. He was fashionably dressed for once (because he had agreed, after Tris's, ahem, suggestions, to help advertise Sandry's line), and had, apparently, spent the time it took to dress very productively: thinking about whose house to burgle next.

(And which treasures to flaunt, after the act, because the media loved this, and Briar always returned what he took... eventually...)

Tris had to remind Briar that, ever since she had become his manager, he wasn't actually supposed to burgle anyone. He was supposed to get caught, on purpose, and then mysteriously escape from the guards via the help of a stunt double.

As she showed Briar to the door, Tris wondered if she had ever felt this terrible while researching for Lightsbridge University; and decided that, if she had, she'd probably forgotten it in the interests of self-preservation.

Oh, why hadn't she promised herself only to manage those on the straight and narrow, like Daja?

- : -

"I can't believe I'm sitting in the middle of-"

"Shhh!" Sandry snapped, removing a bobby pin from her mouth and nearly stabbing him in the eye. Briar had always pictured her as quick, but she was practically a blur, backstage at her fashion show, as she fixed the ruff of one outfit, and tightened the laces on another.

"Oh, come on," Daja laughed, nudging him in the shoulder. "I can't believe you're protesting being backstage with half-naked models."

"Like you don't love it too," Briar returned.

Daja grinned. "I didn't say I did." She exchanged a smile with Tris... or rather, Daja grinned and Tris inspected the growing crowds.

Daja didn't quite understand, though. It wasn't that Briar didn't like meeting women (he did); but he usually preferred it when they were paying attention to him.

No; that sounded arrogant even in his head. More that... he didn't like being a human hat rack, because that exactly what Sandrilene fa Toren was doing. Briar was absolutely hung with spare bits and bobs.

"Suck it up," Tris said, unsympathetically, her hair coiled in tight braids for the occasion.

"Why couldn't my stunt double have been here for advertising instead of me?" Briar grumbled.

"Everyone will see it isn't you," Daja supplied. "And as much of a con artist as you are, I don't think you'd like your fan base collapsing. More importantly, I don't think Tris would like it."

Sandry reached over by them and tugged at a tie on Briar's arm. Briar glanced at Tris, who looked like she could make earthquakes begin with sheer willpower, and wisely helped her.

"Thanks," Sandry muttered, patting his hand distractedly.

- : -

"Calm down," Briar muttered.

Sandry was shivering with excitement, beaming as she watched her creations parade down the catwalk. Daja and Tris had been forced to remind her of this already (before Daja was mobbed by her fans, and Tris begged off with a headache); now it was his turn.

"I'm just happy," Sandry shrugged, watching her fashion show progressing.

She certainly looked happy. Briar had met plenty of beautiful women before, and Sandry was more "pretty" than "beautiful", but her smile was warm and wide, and somehow more attractive than any of the women on the catwalk. And when she wasn't busy, she was nice; Briar couldn't bring himself to regret that Tris had introduced them.

A sudden presence sprawled beside Briar.

"So what did I miss?" Daja asked.

Sudden realizations, Briar thought. He said, "Nothing."

- : -

She hadn't been able to stay there a single minute longer.

It wasn't the flashing lights, which had made her see dots when she stumbled away from Sandry and Daja; it wasn't the noise level itself, which Tris was somewhat used to; it wasn't even the inane chatter about who was wearing what, though Tris couldn't stand that either.

Tris smiled grimly as she remembered Briar's words from earlier that day, when they'd been behind the curtains of Sandry's show; what had struck her suddenly was the disbelief that she was passing her time at a fashion show.

"I can't believe it," she muttered to her absent friend. Client. Whoever he, and Sandry and Daja, were to her, which was something in between.

For a moment, she wondered what life would have been like if she had decided to follow her research. If the stark knowledge that lay just out of her grasp hadn't scared her into taking a business career instead. She would probably still have met Briar (while he was burgling her house); Daja, who had been a driver on the verge of fame? Sandry, who had bourn arrogant disapproval from her relatives to follow her chosen career path?

Maybe not. And Tris would have regretted never knowing them.

But it didn't make her feel any better when she stood in the crowd and realized that perhaps a handful of them shared a common interest with her.

- : -

At the tail end of November, Sandrilene fa Toren was the principle designer for her fashion show.

Unsurprisingly, the media, the critics, and the audience adored it.

Tris thought she ought to be ecstatic, but she wasn't. She was pleased, even happy for the client she had come to think of as a friend; she was pleased that her name was slowly becoming synonymous with success. And, yes, she did enjoy the money, just as much as her (perpetually absent) parents, both of whom had been business owners before retiring, would have. But... the night after the hailstorm of congratulations, Tris stared up at the sky.

It was so bright it obscured the stars.

Once, she would have hated it.

'Or maybe,' said her voice of common sense, which had begun to sound more and more like Daja Kisubo (ironic, considering her chosen career path), 'You still hate it and just won't admit it.'

"I don't hate it," Tris said, to the empty air. "I just don't care about it either way."

A flash of light blazed, suddenly, followed by a torrent. Tris had been in the business long enough to know the cause - the press.

Hastily, Tris withdrew from her balcony, fighting the nagging question of how presentable she looked, because her hair was not acceptable without at least twenty minutes of fighting and wrangling.

"You win, Briar," Tris muttered, pausing beside the ornate glass dragon her client/friend/former burglar had once attempted to steal. "I didn't know what it was like to be famous until now, and I don't enjoy it."

- : -

There was a tentative knock on her door.

"Tris? Are you in there?"

Tris groaned, attempting to block out the voices. Why hadn't she realized that Sandry could sound so shrill when she was upset, or worried?

Morning sun filtered hazily into where she had fallen asleep, on the couch - awake one moment, and her three days' worth of sleeplessness catching up to her in the next.

"Tris!" Sandry sounded considerably more worried this time. Tris became aware of someone pounding on the door - the rhythm keeping pace with the pounding in her bed.

"Lemme do this," someone who sounded very much like Briar Moss said. There was a scraping sound, a few moments of silence, before Tris's door swung open to reveal three figures. Stupid lock; Tris reminded herself to change it as soon as possible. Three clients, in fact, and Tris wondered what to make of the fact that those closest to her worked beneath, or for, or with her.

"Daja," Tris muttered, instinctively picking the most clear-headed of them to address her words to. "If you, Sandry and Briar do not leave, I will get up and chase you out myself." She motioned at the ornamental class dragon on her coffee table, nearly hitting the bin full of used tissues that squatted beside it. "With that. It's very painful. And heavy. Just ask Briar."

Daja shook her head, slowly, making her braids shake. The sight made Tris blink; how had she not noticed that Daja's hair was long enough TO braid?

"We're you're friends," Sandry said. "So maybe we're your clients too, but still..."

Daja and Briar nodded.

- : -

"Don't think I didn't notice," Briar muttered beneath his breath.

Tris stared at him, blankets tucked around her body, still reeling from the fact that her three main clients had showed up together to keep her company while she was ill. "What do you mean?"

Briar's eyes were decidedly unimpressed. "Three nights without sleep. That's why you got so sick."

"I didn't do that on purpose, you know," Tris snapped, irritated. She lowered her voice as Daja and Sandry's quiet chatter floated in from her kitchen. "It's the cameras outside at all hours of the night."

Tris hated attention, especially like this. Growing up, her parents had been well-to-do, but hadn't been successful enough to claim the limelight. She had pushed herself and done very well at Lightsbridge University, but there had been purpose and reason behind the attention she got then.

It was much more uncomfortable being known for successful clients, successful friends. She was happy for them, and maybe it would have been enough for someone else, but in the depths of sleepless night, she wanted something more.

"So go find more," Briar said, and Tris realized she had been speaking out loud.

- : -

Once upon a time, Trisana Chandler was on the verge of a great discovery.

"Of course we'll keep in contact," Sandry sniffed, hugging her. "I'm flying down every summer anyway."

Once upon a time, she had been afraid of that knowledge.

Daja said quietly, "And the race course near Lightsbridge University's becoming pretty popular." They all knew what she meant.

Once upon a time, because of that fear, she had settled for second best.

"Go show that stuffy Vice Chancellor of yours why you were offered a scholarship," Briar told her.

Most people wouldn't call successfully managing (although not mentoring) future legends and celebrities a failure, but because it wasn't what Tris wanted, it had been settling all the same. Now, a few hours away from returning to researching at Lightsbridge University, her closest friends in her years as a manager had come to see her off. Promises were exchanged about keeping in touch; they all meant them.

And because of that, despite the time it took away from her research into parallel worlds, Tris couldn't regret her years working as a manager.

- : -

(Some days prior...)

"What... exactly... are we doing?"

Sandry raised her finger to her lips, frowning at Tris. "Watching a movie. We can do that too."

"This is for teenagers," Tris said flatly. "I'm thirty-three."

Sandry shrugged. "So am I. But half the population of New York seems to be obsessed with it..."

"And vampires," Daja supplied, expressionlessly, "have been in stories for centuries."

Briar leaned closer to Tris, and murmured, "I'm betting you find your research into parallel worlds more probable than this."

Tris glanced at Sandry, warily.

Sandry just shrugged, again. "I'm only watching it because everyone else is."

Abruptly, Daja stood up, turned, and marched out.

"Daj'?" Briar called, shoveling hand of popcorn into his mouth and leaning against Sandry's couch. "You can't leave us here alone!"

"By definition," Sandry said, poking his knee, "there's three of us. We're not alone."

The words were barely out of her mouth when Daja reappeared, a set of ear plugs in her left hand. She plopped cheerfully beside Sandry and popped them in.

"At least my parallel world didn't have sparkly vampires," Tris murmured to Briar.

- : -

the end