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First Sign of Failsafe

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The first time George meets Alanna, she's on a date with an asshole.

George is pretty good at identifying assholes; he's in the service industry, he meets a lot of them. The guy is one of those types who acts like he's on reality TV all the time, like he's trying to make a good impression on the audience at home and doesn't realize he's making an awful impression on actual human beings.

Alanna is a little harder to read, at least initially, but he likes the look of her. Her date pulls out her chair and misses her glare, and orders for both of them before she's gotten a chance to finish the menu, which George hates. There's no good way to get around it, not with the guy right there, and he knows from experience that trying to get the girl's real order will just make the asshole complain to his manager, and everything goes very badly very quickly.

Luckily, the guy goes to the bathroom, and George goes over and says, in a low voice, "Just checking, did you want to order something else?"

She looks up at him, clearly surprised, and flashes him a grin. "That obvious?"

He shrugs. "I'm very good at my job."

She makes a face. "I don't even remember what he got me."

"Chicken caesar salad."

"Jesus, what a dickhead," she says, and George lets out a surprised laugh. She grins again. "Sorry, this is a nice place. I should watch my language, right?"

"Please, don't hold back on my account. I can get you something else."

"Do you have steak?"

"We have steak."

"I would love steak. Medium rare. He seems like the type who's going to insist on paying, might as well make him shell out." She considers, and then finds a twenty in her wallet. "And he'll probably stiff you on the tip when you bring me something other than what he ordered, so I'll cover that."

George isn't nearly noble enough to turn down free money. "Much appreciated."

"It's the least I can do. You're rescuing me from nothing but salad. And I get the feeling I'm going to be here a lot, so I want to be on your good side." She offers her hand. "Alanna."

"George." He's going to ask why she'll be in a lot, but her date comes back before he can, and he pretends he was giving Alanna more water and leaves.

As she predicted, the date makes a big fuss about the steak, but Alanna finally convinces him it's not worth sending back and she'll choke it down somehow. He doesn't leave a tip, but Alanna leaves a note that says, thanks again :) and that's more than enough for George.

*

True to her word, Alanna is back in a few days later with a guy who doesn't take his bluetooth out for the whole date. George can't quite tell if he's talking on it or just on call, but either way, he can't blame Alanna for looking bored and annoyed the whole night.

She goes over to the bar afterward, and George might hang out there more than he usually does between tables; the rush is dying down, after all. He's not too busy.

"That bad?" he asks, seeing her drink, which is some sort of clear liquor, straight.

"I hate dating."

"Explains why this is your second date here this week."

She makes a face. "My best friend is getting married."

"Ah," he says. He's heard that's a thing that bothers women, when their friends are married and they're not. He can see it, although it's never been something he struggled with himself.

"No, it's not--" she sighs. "He's also my ex. And I set him up with his girlfriend--well, fiancee." She smiles at that, and whatever there was between her and her ex in the past, she seems genuinely happy about this part. "Anyway, he feels like he owes me, so he and the rest of our friends have made it their mission to get me a date for the wedding, since I was complaining about it."

"When's the wedding?"

"Two months."

"Hence the dating."

"Hence the dating," she says.

One of his tables gets their order up, and George takes it over to them before returning to Alanna. "They must not know you that well, if these are the guys they're setting you up with. Not that I know you at all, of course. But I wouldn't set anyone I liked up with either of your dates."

"They mean well," she says, with a smile. "And, really, how could Raoul have known that guy wouldn't take his bluetooth off the whole time? He probably just assumed he was a reasonable human being with work/life balance." She stirs her drink absently. "And I can't really blame them for not knowing who to set me up with. I never date. I don't even know what my type is, how are they supposed to know? The only thing dating Jon taught me about my type was that it wasn't Jon."

"So this is kind of a learning thing," says George.

She laughs. "Kind of. Although I don't think I needed to go out with either of those two to know I wasn't into them." She finishes her drink, standing and stretching. She's probably a full foot shorter than he is, which he hadn't expected. It's cute. And then she smiles up at him, which is even cuter. "Thanks for listening to my dumb sob story."

"I've heard dumber," he says. "Not much of a sob story though. You don't seem broken up about it."

"Nah," she agrees. "And I'd probably like a boyfriend, you know? I hear they have some advantages."

"I assume so."

She laughs again. "Are you working Tuesday?"

"I usually do, yeah. But next week's schedule isn't done yet, so I'm not sure."

"Well, I've got another date then," she says. "So maybe I'll see you, George."

He's glad she remembered his name; it makes him feel less creepy for remembering hers. "Maybe so. Have a good night, Alanna."

"You too."

He requests the Tuesday shift.

*

The next few dates range from boring to, from what George can tell, wholly unobjectionable, and even pretty attractive. He's a little worried she'll take a shine to that one, that her dating misadventure will be over, and then he instantly feels guilty. He should be wanting this to work out for her, not hoping her friends keep setting her up with douchebags.

But she goes back over to the bar after her date with that one too, and hangs out while George attends to his other tables. She's drinking beer, not hard alcohol, though, so it couldn't have been that bad.

"That one seemed okay," he remarks, leaning against the bar next to her.

"He was fine," says Alanna, with a shrug. "But not my type."

"Yeah? I thought he was kind of hot."

She glances up at him, amused. "If he's your type, I've got his number."

"Nah," says George. "More into girls. Besides, you seem to have pretty good taste. If you're not into him, I doubt I would be."

"Jon says I'm too picky."

He shrugs. "Still got more than a month to find a date for his wedding. I figured he'd want you to bring someone cool."

She laughs. "You're right. I'll remind him he's going to have to put up with this guy for at least a night." Scholar slides him drinks for one of his tables, and he takes them over and gets the couple's order before going back to Alanna. She's frowning a little. "I'm not distracting you, am I? I've gotten kind of used to the post-date debrief, but--well, you are at work."

He ruffles her hair and immediately regrets it, but then he sees her smile. "I like the post-date debrief," he says. "I'm invested now. My own personal soap opera." Her smile dims a little, so he adds, "Besides, I'd miss you. Never get to talk to you when you're with those other guys."

It feels a little too honest, but Alanna grins at him, which is totally worth it. "You should," she says. "Any guy I'm out with who doesn't like me being friends with the waiter isn't a guy I want to date anyway."

Friends, George thinks, and resists the urge to do anything stupid.

*

She's back three days later, but with four other people, three guys and a girl. She grins at him and waves, and when he comes over, she says, "Hey, George! This is my best friend Jon, his fiancee Thayet, and my friends Raoul and Gary. This is George, guys."

George doesn't react, but it takes all of his self-control. Jonathan Conte is the Queen of England's nephew, something like fifth in line for the crown; he remembers the news when the guy came to college here in the States. Alanna used to date an almost literal handsome prince. And they're best friends. She's finding a date for a Duke's wedding. He hadn't thought, not really, that Alanna was going to--going to be someone he really saw, not outside of work. Even if he wants to.

Still, he smiles. "Nice to meet you all. Can I get you some drinks to start?"

They're nice enough. He recognizes Gary and Raoul too, local rich kids, and he read about Thayet's engagement to Jon, knows she's some kind of nobility herself. Alanna is the one he can't get a handle on anymore, can't quite square the girl he knew with the girl who hangs out with the city's movers and shakers. Not that they're bad company; he chats and jokes with them, they laugh and tease each other, and they seem like really good friends. But George lives in a crappy studio apartment and works two jobs, and these aren't his people. She's not his people.

Jonathan shakes his hand after the meal. "It's been a real pleasure," he says. "Alanna says you're the best part of this whole dating scheme."

George glances over at her, surprised, and sees her pointedly joking with Raoul. She's a little pink.

"Nice to meet you too," he tells Jonathan, and means it. "Congratulations on the engagement."

His grin is boyish and joyful, and George remembers with a twinge that this was Alanna's last boyfriend. No wonder she didn't think the last guy was that hot. She must have very high standards. "Thanks," he says, glancing back at Thayet, much like George just looked back at Alanna. "I'm rather pleased about it myself."

The four of them take off, and Alanna heads back to the bar, like this was one of her dates. George takes a little longer checking his tables than usual, trying to get his feelings under control. He'd thought, more than once, about asking her to stick around until his shift finishes, seeing if she wants to get a drink somewhere else, somewhere he can pay and walk her home after.

He'd thought he'd be a pretty good date for her. He was getting ready to find out.

"Sorry for springing that on you," she says, giving him a sheepish smile when he comes back. He can't tell what she's drinking, except that it's very pink. "My date canceled. He, uh--" she ducks her head. "He took one look at me and said it wasn't going to work out. So Jon got everyone to come out for dinner with me so I wouldn't have to be alone." She bites her lip. "I was going to warn you about--them."

George sits down next to her heavily. It's a lot to take in. "Jesus," he says. "Who'd look at you and leave?"

She laughs, blushing down at her drink. "Him, apparently. I'm not for everyone." She gives him another smile. "I really am sorry about, you know, famous people out of nowhere. I'm so used to him just being Jon, I kind of forget he's the actual Duke of York."

"How'd you ever meet him?"

"We went to college together," she says, with a shrug. "It would have been this total storybook romance, except we realized we were a lot better as friends. We went out for about a year, but it was never that serious. Mostly friends who slept together, and then we stopped sleeping together. He's better off with Thayet. She's great for him."

"She seemed nice," says George.

Alanna bites her lip, looking kind of miserable. "This is weird now, right? Fuck. I didn't want this to get weird. If we're ripping the band-aid off anyway, my dad was Alan Trebond. So I'm stupidly rich too. Just so it's all out there."

George's heart clenches at her expression, and he puts his arm around her. She leans into him, smiling. "I'm stupidly poor," he says, smiling. "You mind?"

"Yeah," she says. "But not, like--I hate that anyone's stupidly poor. Especially when I'm so stupidly rich. I'm working on that part. But I like you. I don't care how much money you make."

"I like you too," he says. "And you're getting me in with the Duke of York," he teases. "Can't be upset about that, can I?"

*

He does some reading about the Trebond family when he gets home. They're really, really old money, and Alanna's dad died a few years ago and left everything to her and her brother, so they really are stupidly rich too. She could get away with not doing anything, but she works for a non-profit that helps victims of domestic abuse and apparently does a bunch of other charity stuff.

She's incredibly out of his league. They're not even playing the same game.

But he can't just turn off how he feels about her. She's smart and funny and gorgeous, and they're so easy together, it feels like they've been friends for years. He thinks of things he wants to tell her when he's not at work, wishes he had her number so he could text her things she'd find amusing. As stupid as he knows it is, he can't stop thinking about her. Every time she comes in with a date, he worries this is going to be the one she likes, and every time she comes to the bar to talk to him after, he's so relieved he almost faints with it.

Still, he can't just ask her out. He can't. He wouldn't know what to do at Jonathan Conte's wedding. Not even with her. Maybe after. Once she's found a better escort and doesn't have to worry about that part. But there's always going to be another rich person thing. He's pretty sure that's how it works.

He's on the lunch shift when Jonathan Conte himself comes in on his own and gets himself seated in George's section.

"Afternoon," he says. "Good to see you again."

"You too," says Jonathan, with a genuine smile. George couldn't be that handsome even if he had plastic surgery. "I heard Alanna's last date didn't go well."

George has to grin. "She had me fake an emergency call for her," he confirms. So at least he has her number now. "Dude was a dick." He gives Jon a wary look. "You guys aren't great at setting her up."

"She's very difficult about it," he says, sighing. "And we're getting close to the wedding."

"I guess you have to set her up with the right kind of guy," George says carefully. "Since it's your wedding and all."

"No, not at all." He doesn't sound concerned or defensive. He also doesn't sound surprised. "If she could just find someone she wanted to take, I'd be happy. Honestly, I don't even care if she brings anyone at all, but I think she'd feel better with company. It's going to be very dull for her, with Gary and Raoul in the wedding party and no one to keep her company."

"Ah."

"I'm not being too subtle, am I?" asks Jonathan, squinting at George. "I'm trying to not just say it straight out."

"Not too subtle, no." He has to smile. "Think I've got a chance?"

Jonathan laughs. "I certainly hope so. I don't want my best friend bored out of her mind at my wedding, and we're obviously shit matchmakers."

*

He stares at her number in his phone for about ten minutes before he finally manages to hit call. And then he very nearly hangs up, but she answers before he can change his mind.

"Hey, George!"

"Hey," he says, breathing slow and steady. "How's it going, Alanna?"

"Can't complain. Just getting off work. How are you? What's up? Is everything okay?"

He has to laugh. He supposes he might call her, if he had an emergency. He imagines she's pretty handy in any kind of crisis. "Everything's fine. I was wondering if you had a date tonight."

"No," she says, sounding confused. "You don't work Wednesday night. What would I do if you weren't there to complain to?"

"Well, you could--" he starts, biting his lip. "Like you said, I don't work Wednesday night. So you could just go on a date with me." She's quiet for long enough that George is sure she's trying to think of ways to let him down easy. "Or not, obviously," he says, quickly. "You--"

"I'd love to," she says, and she sounds really, really happy. "Please. I've been trying to figure out how to ask you. I didn't want to be creepy, since you're always on the job when I see you."

"You're not creepy," he says, grinning. "So, um, where do you want to go?"

"Where do you live?" she asks. "I'm on my way to the train, so I can come to you. Something close by, and not too fancy. I'm tired of your restaurant's tiny portions and weird stacks of food. I just want a big, flat meal. Or a burger. Jesus, I really want a burger. Anywhere near you that does awesome burgers?"

"Actually, yeah," he says, smiling. She might be just trying to spare his pride (and his wallet), but she's doing a convincing job of it. "We've got a great burger place."

They meet at the restaurant and George feels awkward seeing her away from his own workplace for all of thirty seconds, and then she smiles at him and says, "I'm really glad you asked me out," and he just leans down and kisses her and it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

"I'm really glad you said yes," he says, smiling down at her. She's wearing a t-shirt and jeans, looking casual and relaxed for the first time he's ever seen. Her hair is blowing everywhere, and he's half-tempted to skip dinner and drag her home with him. "I've been wanting to ask for a while."

He holds the door open and follows her in, and they chat about her job and his jobs and Jon and Thayet's incredibly stressful wedding preparations.

"I'm just glad he's having it here," says Alanna. "I didn't want to go to to England just to see him get married. I hate weddings enough without having to go to another country."

"How many weddings have you been to?"

"Okay, not that many," she admits. "But I hate every one I've gone to, they're so boring. And this is one is going to be so long and boring. It'll be a huge state affair. It will take forever."

He nudges her foot under the table. "You'll be fine."

"I will," she agrees, but she doesn't ask him to come. It's hard to feel too torn up about it when she follows him home and they make out on his couch for half an hour before she regretfully says she has to go. "Work tomorrow. But I'm, um." She tucks her hair back, looking suddenly shy. "I guess I'm not going on any more stupid dates," she says. "So I won't see you unless you call me."

He laughs. "You could call me," he says. "I've got work tomorrow night, as you know." At some point, he'll have to tell her that he's been switching shifts to make sure he's at work for her date nights, but he'll wait for the third date for that. "And Friday until eleven." He gives her a rueful smile. "My schedule kind of sucks, sorry."

She kisses him again. "I don't mind. You're worth it."

She shows up at ten-thirty on Friday, gets a drink, and follows him home. He's too tired to do much more than curl up on the couch with her and watch TV, but she doesn't seem to mind. They fall asleep on the couch and get breakfast and lunch together the next morning, so he can't say as he minds either.

*

After a week, he's a little worried about the whole wedding thing. Not about going to it, he's ready for that, but she hasn't mentioned it at all. He's much more worried about not going. Maybe she's worried he doesn't have anything fancy enough for a Duke's wedding. He might not have anything fancy enough, honestly. But he could find something. If she wanted. And he's not sure how to ask if she wants him to come without it being a big deal. It probably should be a big deal if she won't take him. He should maybe be upset about it, if she's embarrassed to be seen with him. But he can't say he wouldn't get it.

Luckily for his sanity, Jonathan Conte has his back. Which is something he never thought he'd be able to say.

"Jon says I'm being stupid," she says. They're curled up on her couch this time; her couch is a lot more comfortable than his.

"About what?"

"He said you didn't seem like you'd mind going to his wedding."

"You thought I'd mind?"

"I mind," she says. "It's going to be miserable. I'm going to be bored stiff, and everyone is going to be rich and snooty and possibly assholes. There will be press there asking who made my dress." She smiles. "I'll understand if you don't want to be anywhere near it."

He frowns. "That's why you didn't ask?"

"Of course. What did you think?"

He rubs the back of his neck. "Well, I thought maybe I wasn't the date you were hoping for. Not for something like that." He manages a weak grin. "If it was me going to my ex-boyfriend's wedding, I'd want to get someone who made him look like a chump."

Alanna punches him in the arm. "I like Jon, and I was the one who broke up with him, so I don't need to rub anything in his face. And who says you won't make him look like a chump? I like you better. I'd love it if you came to the wedding. I just don't want you to be miserable."

"Turns out I like you too," George says. "But I might need you to help me pick out what to wear. If there are gonna be reporters there. Gotta look my best."

"I can do that. I don't mind helping pay for it too," she adds, worrying her lip. "If we can't find something that's nice and cheap." Before he can respond, she groans and rubs her face. "Jesus. I don't care how you look, okay? I'm trying to be, like, supportive and helpful. You can wear whatever, I just--I don't want you to feel like you look shabby. But if you wore a t-shirt and jeans, I'd still want to go with you. How badly am I fucking this speech up?"

He has to laugh and kiss her. "You're doing fine. I get it. I'd like to look respectable. I'm not too proud to let you help if it looks like it's going to be expensive."

She grins. "Oh good. I just want us both to survive this stupid thing and move on with our lives. That's my only goal."

"You really hate weddings, huh?"

"So much." She kisses him. "And this one's going to be awful. Thanks for coming with me. It's a lot to force on a new boyfriend."

"I'm your new boyfriend, huh?"

"Of course you are," she says, apparently missing the teasing in his voice. "Why wouldn't you be?"

He laughs. "No reason in the world. I'm your new boyfriend."

*

The wedding is very long, and very boring, and very full of press. A few of them want to hear about Alanna, how she's doing after her dad's death, who she's wearing, who she's with. He can tell they're disappointed he's no one they've heard of, but Alanna looks delighted with the lack of follow-up questions.

"My boyfriend George Cooper," she says happily. "Totally ends the conversation. You're the best."

"You're an awful famous person," he teases.

"The absolute worst. How bored are you?"

"Pretty bored. You were right, that did take forever."

"I promised Jon we'd stay for an hour at the reception, and then we're allowed to leave. You want to go bowling in fancy clothes? It's the best. I told my dad I was going to prom and went bowling instead, it was so much better."

He snorts. "I was looking forward to being one of those kept guys, you know? Let my rich girlfriend buy me shit. I didn't know I was going to have to leave all the fancy parties early to go bowling."

"Hey, give me some credit," Alanna protests. "I would be paying for the bowling."

"Oh, well," he says, leaning down to kiss her. "In that case."