Objectively one could say things had been kind of shitty for a while.
Morgan, Magpie to his friends, didn’t like lingering on things. Brooding had never improved his circumstances, and in his experience getting over something was easier if you could either stay on the move - or get under someone.
Or on top. Or in-between. Really, it all depended on the night, circumstances and company.
After his first and last experience in a more serious attempt of a relationship, he had decided that it was not for him. It had been both the best and the worst three years he’d ever had, and until the final year the good had far outweighed the bad.
Then the scales had flipped, just like the table Magpie had shielded himself against, and all he could think in that situation was that the mess would be a pain in the ass to clean - a mess in both the figurative and literal sense of the word.
Afterwards he had made himself one very simple rule: no relationship shit of any kind.
It was a morning in September, chilly and windy and air filled with scattering autumn leaves, when he found his resolve tested for the first time. The occasional work as a part-time makeup artist paid better and left him feeling less shitty than shifts of serving tables or cleaning bathrooms; the only real downside of the job was how rare the gigs were.
The routine of it was familiar to him by now. Get to the venue, see the requirements, apply foundations and proceed with the art. Often there was something about having strangers poking at your face that rubbed people the wrong way, but Magpie liked to think he was good at making people relax, in bed and at work.
“Good day, ladies,” he chimed as he entered the room. The flock of radiating, colorful energy and chatter greeted him when he made his way to the makeup table. Most of the models knew each other from before, and Magpie knew some of them; Emily was the first one to sit down and flash him a cheerful smile.
“What can I do for you today?” Magpie picked the foundation tone from memory and started working on Emily’s face. She offered him a sheet of paper.
“It’s a contrast day here. I’m part of the Black and White shoot.” The words made Magpie take another look at the sheet and bite his lip. Emily had pretty pale skin, but for this one he would need even lighter foundation.
“Looks like I got ahead of myself,” he laughed and cleared what he had prepared, before starting over again. The playful glint in Emily’s eyes revealed that she had been fully aware of the mistake. They had slept together a couple of times, never at his place and once at a hotel Emily had a room in. She was fun and harmless, which made her a perfect match for ‘no relationship shit’-rule.
But that was just about it. They didn’t share other interests outside the work, and Magpie never stayed the night. Crappy little shithole his apartment may be, but it was home.
He finished Emily’s white makeup and her counterpart’s black one, then worked with “sun” and “moon”. By then he had already realized that the shoot was being done in pairs, which made sense until he realized there had been five people in the room in addition to him.
The last person in the room was a man Magpie had never seen before. The golden eyes glanced around the room in a startled manner, before landing on him. A newcomer, Magpie deduced from the way the man stared at him with a helpless, faint smile.
“Hi, uh, I’m not sure how this works,” he laughed nervously. Magpie flicked the makeup brush in his fingers to make it twirl - it looked effortless, but had taken many hours to appear so. Emily had been cackling on the floor each time he had dropped it with a heavy curse.
“No worries, that’s my job,” he replied and flashed a friendly smile. “Do you have an instruction sheet? You part of the contrast shoot?”
“I think so,” the man muttered and handed his sheet over. Gold and silver, Magpie read, the gold underlined. When he looked up, Gold was staring at him and quickly averted his gaze. Magpie flicked the makeup brush again, thoughtfully. Warm, brown skin, golden eyes like a cat. And, a detail to which Magpie found his eyes wandering, gilded tattoo patterns on his shoulder and face.
He had always had an affinity for shiny things.
“So you’re obviously Gold,” he started to make small talk as he ran his fingers over the rows of cans and tubes, brushes and sponges. “Where’s Silver?” Gold hunched his shoulders when Magpie leaned closer with a tube to try and match it against the skin.
“I’m not sure,” Gold replied with wary eyes, nails dug into his palms. “I don’t always work here, I just came here for the photoshoot.” Magpie took the sponge and started to spread the foundation, trying very hard to ignore the way Gold was chewing his tattooed lower lip. It prevented him from doing his job, but it was also very distracting.
It also seemed to signal Gold didn’t want to be here.
“Maybe they’re running late,” Magpie suggested and slipped his fingers to tilt Gold’s head a bit more towards the light. “Let’s get you all primped up before they get here, yeah?” Gold nodded, but didn’t seem very convinced. Magpie shifted his chair a bit closer and reached to tidy up the foundation a bit, before moving onto the next step. The door slammed open.
“Hey, where’s your partner?” Magpie had learned to quickly separate the kind of producers he liked and the kind he didn’t much care for. This man very much fell to the latter group; expensive suit, eyes that ignored his existence, wrist watch that cost more than Magpie’s annual tuition. Gold flinched as if he had been caught doing something wrong and turned around, eyes wide.
“Not here,” Magpie replied in his stead when it looked like the producer was about to repeat his question. “I take it they’re not picking your calls?” The producer turned to look at him, and Magpie saw several emotions flash in the eyes. Annoyance, realization. Revelation, even. An idea.
“You will do,” he decided and marched over, patting a hand on Magpie’s shoulder so firmly that he almost dropped the palette he was holding. “We’ll need someone like you for the shoot. You can do your own touch-up, right?”
Magpie stared at the producer with blank eyes, before allowing his lips to curve into a wry smile.
“You need a drow in particular for this shoot? Anyone will do as long as they got knives for ears?” He didn’t bother to hide all of his wry tone. The producer scoffed slightly and shook Magpie by the shoulder.
“Come on, it’s good money. We’re in a pinch here, the shoot starts in fifteen minutes and without the counterpart, this guy can go home as well.” He nodded towards Gold. Magpie saw color drain from Gold’s face, and his expression turning immediately alarmed.
Either he did want to be here after all, or he really needed the money.
“For feck sake,” Magpie exhaled and shook his arm off. “Fine, I’ll do it. Models get paid better than touch-ups, anyway. We’ll be there in a minute.” Without waiting for permission, Magpie turned back to finish the touch-up for Gold. The producer didn’t seem like he was too happy over being dismissed so nonchalantly, but turned around and left the room in lack of a witty comeback.
“Fecking privileged assholes, think everyone just dances to their tune when they come and tell you to jump,” Magpie stated firmly as soon as the producer was out of the door. “Close your eyes, I’m almost done.”
Gold closed his eyes, and Magpie had plenty of time to admire what was before him. Lacquered, sleek black hair, perfect skin, nice build. Gleaming gold on his skin. One tattoo drew from his lower lip all the way down his neck, and Magpie imagined licking on it. Then he discarded the thought; Gold seemed a bit too wary to be a safe choice.
“There, all done.” He patted Gold on the arm and turned towards a table mirror to start his own touch-up. For better and for worse, he had gotten a lot of experience doing this lately. Silence fell between them as Gold seemed unwilling to move without him, and Magpie focused on getting his touch-up done.
“Five minutes!” The voice cut through air from the hallway like a whip.
“Asshole,” Magpie muttered to himself, drew silver eyeliner on one eye, messed it up on the other and started fixing it. Gold shifted nervously, and Magpie turned to look at him with an eyebrow arched.
“They’re not actually gonna start without us,” he stated, dropping the eyeliner with an elaborate gesture on the table after fixing the lines. “I’m doing them a favor, not the other way around. Even when they probably want to frame it like that.” Gold nodded, but didn’t seem to relax. Magpie sighed.
“What’s your name?” Silver eyeshadow. It made his ashen grey skin look metal.
Magpie took a small turn from the makeup table and extended his hand over to Nura, who shook it in slight confusion.
“My friends call me Magpie,” he introduced himself and flashed a grin at the end of the words. “That’s because I like shiny things. You got nice tattoos, did it hurt when you got them?” He finished his touch-up while waiting for Nura to reply. Tattoos had seemed like a harmless enough topic to make small talk about, but it still took him a surprising amount of time to reply.
“I think. I can’t remember.”
“What, you were drunk or something?” Magpie brushed crumbs of mascara off from his cheek and managed to do it without a single stain, before pushing himself up. Nura offered a meek smile when Magpie faced him.
“Something like that,” he said. Magpie cocked his head and spent a few moments trying to determine if it was a joke, but Nura seemed genuine. Genuine, nervous, and a bit aloof.
Magpie found his interest slightly piqued.
“Huh. Sounds like there's a story there,” he concluded and offered his hand towards Nura, grinning. “Wanna talk about it during the coffee break?”
He knew that he was in no place to try to save anyone. Whatever Nura - short for Nurasyl, it was soon revealed - had going on in his life, Magpie knew that the last thing he needed or wanted was a duckling in tow. He had just done a favor to someone who happened to need it, that was all. Had gotten paid for the favor, too.
But as the shoot progressed, Nura turned out to be fun company. A bit wary, but quick to smile and laugh; obviously had circumstances, but was still grinning to cover it all up. He seemed just as keen to keep up appearances and masks as Magpie was.
Magpie still wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea to sleep with Nura, but he very much did not mind the thought of having a friend like that. He did not want to linger in the past, either, and having someone else around made it that much easier to laugh at silly things or busy schedules of people who made in an hour what both of them made in a month.
Their friendship started from there, from the one rule, and from the fact Nura’s presence helped Magpie not to think.
Of course he realized the long looks Nura started to give him as months rolled past and they started spending more time together - not at work, but outside it, often drunk or hungry but always in a good mood. And it wasn’t like Magpie wasn’t encouraging it. He had spent a long time building a habit of constant flirting, and it was difficult to break when Nura was so responsive to it.
But it was fine, since they were just friends. Some flirting between friends was harmless, right? It wasn’t like it was going to lead anywhere.
So he allowed himself the concession of flirting. After all, it wouldn’t lead to sex.
And even if he did sometimes think about what it would be like to plow Nura against the mattress, he strictly forbade himself from ever thinking about what it would be like to date him.