Vignette:Impostor Syndrome

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Impostor Syndrome

Blanckstrand, Free State of Sungkou, Confederate States of Northern Avalonia
August 18th, 1989

oday had been an exhausting day, and today was not a good day to be on Sofie Winter’s shit list.

Her face is bisected by a pair of thoroughly black metal-rimmed aviators, lenses completely opaque; a must-need in the Sungkou summer. Her hair, a natural silver blonde tied up high in a loose bun, remains steadfast and composed against the consistent breeze. She smells of tea leaves, freshly roasted.

Winter. A fitting surname, given her aura.

Her dress shirt billows in the ocean wind, the fabric rippling against her frame like waves in a puddle of water under a thunderstorm. Her sleeves are rolled up, revealing a simple yet dashingly elegant tattoo of a lily on her left forearm. It never gets old admiring the flower. I should probably ask what it means later.

"Becker. She says his surname with thinly veiled apprehension.

Despite coming straight from the office, he feels woefully underdressed. She leans back on her sedan, arms crossed and clearly not enjoying the present situation. Her onyx dress pants don’t waver as much in the wind as her oxford shirt, but there’s an unusual velvet feel to it, even as he stands metres apart from her. Her flats point threateningly at him, or at least that’s how he perceives it.

You were right. He can feel his shoulders slouch the moment those words leave his lips, his hands sinking even deeper into his pockets. Yorck’s sent audit teams to the Accounting and External Relations departments as we speak. Assuming he finds the additional funding and the documentation to boot, he’ll page you and you’ll bring his findings to the Board as soon as possible. If he doesn’t, we already have enough evidence to boot the Peralta geezer off. He takes a small breath before continuing. I know we can’t nab the elder Krause and Roth without evidence of their end of the deal, but-

I know, she says abruptly.

Ah. He’d driven an hour through noon rush hour traffic to deliver her news she’d already known about. Well, that’s one way to cap off an investigation.

He was used to awkward silences; if anything, he usually started them. This one seemed to injure him more than usual, sucking in air to temper the painful twisting motion in his stomach. He could handle being left in the dark for one more thing, right? Not knowing Winter would be his partner until the very last moment hadn’t been the first time, but it had precipitated the events that led to this situation. Chief Koo, Chief fucking Koo had the gall to poison his career’s lifeline with her presence. It’s fine, he thinks. I’ll probably need a gap year after this is over. Grey hair before my thirties is an achievement, really.

Oh, Winter’s face lights up in embarrassment. I didn’t mean it like that.

The witty retorts he found so easily over the past five months are nowhere to be seen. Forget it.

No, look- She almost shouts, before correcting herself. I know your job depends on this case, Becker. What I don’t understand is why you’re so willing to attribute everything we’ve done to just me.

He gives her the sigh a teacher would give to a student, even though they’re practically the same age. You of all people should know I’m only on the audit committee because my aunt was on the Board. I’m a nepo baby, Winter–there was no hiring me based on my merits.

Winter seems ready to lash out a response, but he’s first to the punch. Yes, we’ve spent roughly the same amount of time working here, I won’t deny that. But you had to claw your way here. Tante Magda- He takes a moment to pinch his nose. She got me fast-tracked here, and everybody knows how easy it is for Board members to have their way with things. I’m a fraud, Sofie. His throat seems to sting at the words.

Becker, hold on– Winter creases an eyebrow in confusion, absorbing his rant. For some reason, he compiles. Can you stop lowballing yourself like a git? Yeah, I admit there have been times when I felt like your circumstances may have impeded our work–but you have been nothing but extremely helpful and reliable. I already forgave you for letting the younger Krause go. Her voice is strained. She’s a woman of action, not words. This is tiring for her. Good, he thinks.

You really don’t have to, Winter. I could’ve–we could’ve pinched both Krause senior and junior if I hadn’t-

He doesn’t notice her palm swiftly making contact with his cheek. His train of thought derails, slides off a cliff, and explodes in a great big ball of fire. One half of his face is red with irritation, the other pale from shock. There’s the action. At least it wasn’t a punch this time, he reassures himself. But firstly…

What the hell was that for!? His hand shoots up to his cheek as if that will make the pain go away faster.

Wake up, Theo. She releases a final low sigh. You’re competent now.

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