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It’s a tragedy that Hilbert has dedicated decades of his life to researching a way to prevent human suffering, when a much faster way to do so would have been to find out who invented the concept of weddings, and to hit them repeatedly with his car.

“The reception is at eleven,” Rachel says.

“I’m not going.”

“Your name is on the guest list.”

Weddings are a time for sharing joy with friends and family, but as Goddard employees generally lack both of the above, the burden has fallen upon co-workers. Hilbert taps the invitation on her desk. “I will be busy.”

“All non-essential schedules have been cleared for the day.”

“My work is essential.”

She gives him a smile. “All non-essential schedules have been cleared for the day. A list of appropriate gifts has been emailed out.”

“It says plus one,” he reads, desperately and furiously.

“If you do not bring one, one will be supplied for you.” Rachel’s smile looks like the last thing that fish and unlucky surfers ever see.

Hilbert knows when he’s defeated.

He also knows that in this, as in all things, sabotage is always an option.


In hindsight, it would have been better to have been drunk. Irritable petulance was less socially acceptable than drunk impulse decisions.

It takes Hilbert two minutes to find what he needs.

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The man who shows up on his doorstep the day of the wedding looks like he could be anywhere from his early twenties to his mid thirties, and the same goes for the rumpled suit he’s wearing. He looks like someone who’s up too early, or maybe someone who’s been up all night, and he’s smoking like a chimney.

“Hey there, lover,” he says.

Hilbert shuts the door on him. It takes a full fifteen seconds to go through a cycle of realisation, regret, and acceptance.

It really would have been better to have been drunk. Reluctantly, he turns back and opens it again.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” the man says, and sticks out a nicotine-stained hand. “Doug Eiffel.”

“Alexander Hilbert.”

“Huh,” Eiffel says, and immediately jumps to a point that national security have been unable to reach despite all immigration screening measures. “You don’t look like an Alex.”

“You don’t look like a Douglas,” Hilbert says defensively.

Eiffel winces. “Ugh. That’s fair.”

He stubs out his cigarette on Hilbert’s welcome mat. Hilbert looks at it. Eiffel looks at him looking at it.

“I’m trying to quit,” he says entirely unapologetically, and lights up another cigarette. “So, what’s the go?”

“There’s a wedding.”

“Family? Ex?”

“Co-worker. There’s mandatory company attendance.”

Eiffel’s face creases up a little. “Okay, I get paid to pretend to date strangers from the internet, but that’s still waaaay weird.” He strokes his stubble. “What are we going for, on a scale of like… mild embarrassment to getting punched in the face? Because eff why eye, I charge extra for that.”

“I would like,” Hilbert says, with great feeling, “to never be invited to anything ever again.”

“Can do,” Eiffel beams, and offers an arm. “Lead the way.”


Eiffel insists on putting on his own mix CD in Hilbert’s car for the duration of the entire drive, which lasts until the tenth time that Lust for Life comes on, when Hilbert hits eject and throws it into the back seat like an irritating frisbee.


“I’m paying you to annoy everyone else, not me.”

“I’m just getting into the role. Ever heard of method acting?”

Hilbert looks at him in the rear-view mirror. Eiffel has another packet of cigarettes out again, lighter raised. “This is an act?”

With a put-upon sigh, Eiffel puts them away again. “I’m charging you extra for this. Deprivation of basic human rights.” He shakes himself out, then takes a breath. “Okay, let’s get our story straight. How did we meet? At a bar?”

“I don’t go to bars.”

“Maybe some friends introduced us?”

There’s silence.

“Ooo-kay,” Eiffel says, diplomatically. “Wrong angle. Uh. Our eyes met erotically at a… book club?”

“I do not go to book clubs.”

“Jesus, Alex, work with me here. What’s your line of work?”

“Science, Douglas.”

“What are you sciencing?”

“Infectious diseases.”

“And you want me to be off-putting? Jeez.” Eiffel kicks back and puts his hands behind his head. “Then maybe we met when you were doing experiments on me and– hey! Stop laughing, I’d make a great lab rat. Fine, then. We met at the dog park.”

“I don’t have a dog.”

“Your co-workers don’t have to know that. I bet there’s a lot that they don’t know about you.”

“That is true,” Hilbert says, with 100% accuracy.

“There we go.” Eiffel says, and twists clumsily around towards the back seat. “Now, in exchange for this skillful piece of world-building…” he says, and a minute later Hilbert is being informed at top volume that Eiffel is, in fact, worth a million in prizes, a fact that he very much doubts.


It takes Eiffel five minutes to insult the groom, to convince the DJ to put on Barenaked Ladies, and to steal a tray of hors d'oeuvres all for himself.

Standing next to Hilbert, Maxwell puts on a brave face and, despite the evidence in front of her, tries for polite conversation. “How did you two meet?”

“At the dog park.”

“Our leashes got tangled, our eyes met… I knew then and there that I had to have him. Or he had to have me. To be honest, both are great.”

“It was extremely romantic,” Hilbert monotones.

“And when I say great, I mean great.”

Maxwell’s smile is glassy, but she pushes on. “What kind of dog do you have?”

“A standard Cardassian,” Eiffel supplies, and leans over to take a miniature cupcake from her plate. “Holy shit,” he says around a mouthful of crumbs, “these are good!”

With great precision, smile still fixed in place, Maxwell turns slightly away from them and cuts off eye contact. Apart from the distant sound of someone yelling at the DJ, a pleasant silence falls. Hilbert’s never been so relieved.

You’re welcome, Eiffel mouths, and winks. “Now if you’ll excuse me, honey sweetie, I’m going to go mingle.”

The thing about Eiffel is that people keep talking to him despite themselves. Hilbert can see it even across the room: a hint of dismay sinks into their expressions, but he keeps them talking, and politeness has them compelled to keep responding.

He’s relatively well-behaved during the vows themselves, which is a relief– Hilbert is aiming to still have a job by Monday– but by the time of the reception, there’s definitely a well-defined space surrounding the both of them. Everyone in their vicinity just seems to have somewhere else to be.

It’s going fantastically, right up until the music comes on and everyone dutifully begins to dance. Eiffel holds out his hand.

“Up you come, boss.”

“What? No.”

“C'mon. You’re paying for the whole package, you may as well get your money’s worth.”

Maybe it’s the sense of relief, or maybe it’s all the drinks from the bar that he’d got for Eiffel and had handed back to him with strange smiles and I’m trying to quits. Either way, Hilbert finds himself upright, Eiffel’s hand in his and his hand on Eiffel’s waist.

And then his foot on Eiffel’s foot.

And then his knee into Eiffel’s knee.

And then his elbow in someone passing by, who probably did not deserve it all that much.

“It’s been a while?”

“Yes,” Hilbert lies, because it’s better than admitting that he’s never danced with anyone before.

“Uh, crap. I was hoping that at least one of us would know how to do this.” Eiffel tries to lead, and manages to step on both of Hilbert’s feet at the same time. “Look, just pretend we’re… mitochondria or something.”

“We’re what?”

“Don’t they do, like, some sort of beautiful dance? I fall asleep to the science channel a lot.”

“Does any of it sink in?”


“I can tell.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Okay, new plan: abandon ship. Let’s get out of here.”

Hilbert looks at his watch with a grimace. “There’s still an hour left before we should leave.”

“I can cut that down to…” Eiffel closes one eye, does some mental mathematics. “Four minutes, maybe? I’ve picked up some good intel. It’ll be twenty bucks extra for hazard pay, though.”


“Great. No, wait. Fifty?”

“You can’t barter after a deal’s been made.”

“Hey, it’s my beautiful face on the line.”

“Twenty five,” Hilbert sighs.

“That’s better.”

Hilbert braces himself, but Eiffel just keeps on dancing. He raises an eyebrow.

“Hey, good things take time. Trust me, doc.”

They keep awkwardly plodding around to the music, right up until they pass Jacobi.

Very quietly, very precisely, Eiffel quacks.

Jacobi’s head snaps around, but Hilbert’s expressionless, staring into the middle distance. He has seen nothing. He has heard nothing.

A minute later, they’re close enough again. This time, Jacobi, wide-eyed and tight-lipped, glares at the back of Eiffel’s head hard enough that Eiffel should be able to feel it.

“For my next act…” Eiffel’s hand tightens a little on Hilbert’s, and he leans in to whisper. “Can you try to stop me from falling into anything?”


“I dunno, tables, chairs, anything that’ll leave a scar–”

“That’s not what I meant–”

“Too late,” Eiffel says, and as Jacobi comes back into range, he quacks again.


“I said to catch me,” Eiffel grouses, slumped on the ground beside Hilbert’s car. He’s holding his rapidly-swelling eye, and he’s soaked in unnatural red. Ants are beginning to circle. Hilbert has solicitously placed a dozen stolen bar towels on him, and is unsolicitously waiting until Eiffel is drier and less sticky before letting him into his car.

“I didn’t know that’s what you were going to do.”

“The punch bowl was right there! You had one job!”

“It’s all part of your hazard pay.”

Eiffel makes a noise. “Fine. I guess fifty extra bucks is worth it.”

Hilbert opens his mouth, but shuts it again. They’re outside, and the likelihood is high that he’ll never be invited to a work social event ever again. In gratitude, he drops another bar towel on Eiffel’s punch-sticky mussed-up curls.


A few days later, Hilbert gets a text, which is unusual enough in and of itself.

hey so........ want another bad date

I have not been invited to anything else, he replies. It’s true. Everyone at Goddard has made very sympathetic noises about his friend getting punched for no reason at all. Everyone knows that SI-5 are loose cannons. It’s such a shame that your friend won’t be comfortable attending any more workplace events, they’ve said, with tangible relief.

you have now ;), Eiffel says, and over the two minutes it takes Hilbert to understand what that means, he sends twenty-seven more winky faces.

I would prefer a good one, Hilbert replies before he can stop himself, and Eiffel sends back an indecipherable stream of emojis that ends with see you at 8.