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helpless to the bass and the fading light

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“Someone tell me again why we're doing this?” Arkady asks, slightly louder than usual so the sound will get picked up by the microphone masquerading as a jeweled pin in her hair. “And why I'm wearing more sparkles than a drunk unicorn?”

Sana sighs, the rush of air like static over the comms. “Because this contact won't talk unless we go to his daughter’s big ‘sixteenth-birthday bash.’” Arkady imagines the air quotes Sana’s used every time she's said those words, and she's a little less frustrated as she and Violet walk up the driveway to the contact’s ludicrous mansion.

“And,” Violet says, not looking in Arkady's direction in a way that feels very pointed, “that dress looks really nice on you.” She hurries ahead, dress shoes snapping against the asphalt.

Something warm sparks in Arkady’s chest. She tries to ignore it, but there's no denying that the dress and heels are somehow less aggravating if Violet thinks they look nice. Outwardly, she just rolls her eyes. “Violet could've worn the dress. I'd look damn good in a suit.”

Laughter filters over the comms as she follows after Violet. “Technically true,” Sana says, “but I think Brian’s suit fits Violet a little better than it would fit you. Can’t lengthen pants on that short of notice.”

“And that's another thing.” Arkady catches up with Violet and flashes her a smile, meant to reassure that what she's about to say is only in jest. “Why isn't Jeeter on this one with me? It's his suit.” She belatedly realizes that she's still smiling at Violet and snaps her lips closed.

Four voices speak in unison, in her ear and in front of her. “Mafia,” they all say, and another round of laughter ripples across the comms.

She rolls her eyes again, but there's no annoyance behind it. “Well. Let's go crash this guy’s party.” Leading the way through the ornate gate in front of the mansion, she pulls their tickets from the obscenely small clutch bag attached to her wrist. She'd been baffled at first, that someone would still be issuing paper tickets for anything at all - paper, how archaic - but as the guard with the poorly-disguised mafia stance beadily eyes each ticket, she's grateful she didn't have to hand over any sort of personal electronic device into their oversized paws.

“You're clear,” the guard says gruffly, and Arkady throws them a coy smile, the kind of smile appropriate to the kind of person who wears a unicorn-barf dress to a party. Once they're out of earshot, she drops the simper and lowers her voice.

“All we've got to do is find the contact and get the drop-off information. I'll do all the talking, you don't have to worry.”

Violet looks immensely relieved, and another flutter zips through Arkady’s chest. She almost misses Violet’s response. “I think that’s probably best.”

They climb the marble staircase to the front doors. Throbbing bass notes from the music spill into the night air, and Arkady’s turning to whisper a snarky comment about their taste in music in Violet’s ear when she realizes Violet’s grinning from ear to ear.

“Having fun, L - Wong?” she asks instead, belatedly remembering to use the clean alias Campbell was finally able to procure.

Violet nods, gazing through the front doors at the mass of flailing, dancing bodies in the middle of the floor. Damn, Arkady thinks, she’s starry-eyed. But try as she might, she can’t be upset about it, watching Violet watch the party.

“We should look for the contact,” she says eventually, and steps through the doors. The very air feels like it’s pulsating to the music, beating in her teeth as she scans the room. There’s a stairway sweeping upwards in the back, leading to a balcony overlooking the main floor. She tries to make a beeline for it, but there’s too many bodies in the way, and she settles for weaving through the tables scattered around the edge. Violet hovers behind her, keeping up, but every time Arkady sneaks a glance over her shoulder, she’s staring out over the dance floor.

When they’re halfway to the staircase, the song changes, and a cheer goes up through the people scattered on the main floor - including Violet. A rush of people floods out to dance, arms and legs akimbo. Violet sings along when the lyrics start, her voice at full volume in a way that Arkady’s never heard.

The pathway to the staircase is clearer now, with most of the partygoers packed onto the dance floor or on the balcony. It’s definitely the best chance they’re going to get to get upstairs. But Arkady looks at Violet, singing with abandon, and knows she’s not going to rush her away.

“Do you want to dance?” she asks, and she hears an excited gasp that sounds like Krejjh from the comm link in her ear. Damn microphone.

Violet nods excitedly, and grabs Arkady’s hand to pull her onto the dance floor. She drops it when they’re pressed into the crowd, raising both her arms above her head and closing her eyes, still singing.

“I don’t know this song!” Arkady shouts, trying to mimic the slightly less excited dance style of some of the people clustered around Violet. Rock is definitely not her genre.

“I know!” Violet’s eyes snap open for just a moment. She nods encouragingly. “Don’t worry about it!”

Don’t worry. An odd sentiment coming from Violet. But it’s a party, and it’s a rock song, and Arkady tries to focus a little less on the exact placement of her limbs and let the music guide her. The song swells into the bridge and the last chorus, and the energy on the floor crests into cheers as the last chords fade out. People who ran onto the floor for just that song flow back to their abandoned drinks, laughing and talking animatedly. Arkady watches the path to the stairway fill up again, necessitating a lot of pardon-mes and would-you-minds, and a groan starts to build.

But she looks back at Violet, whose still-closed eyes and bright smile exude a comfort and happiness and belonging that Arkady would give anything to keep her feeling (where did that come from races through her head), and the groan dies in her throat. After a moment Violet’s eyes open, and she leads the way off the dance floor.

“Uh, good song?” Arkady asks, when they’re finally climbing the stairs. And then she kicks herself, because what a dumb question.

But Violet turns that dazzling smile back on, directed at Arkady this time. “A great song,” she says. “Thanks for dancing with me.”

Arkady finds herself smiling back. She must look like the biggest fool, standing here in the middle of this damn staircase with a slack-jawed smile plastered on her face, but she finds she can’t care. “Of course.”