11:48 PM"I like being water tortured,"
grumbled Jericho Piper. "It's rhythmical. Gives me time to think."
There would be no arguing with Jer when he was lying this, Heinrich Gault knew. His most faithful knight had not developed that title for nothing - the Young Devil was mindful of his pride, intense, and stubborn to a fault. Like the logical machines he tried so desperately (and so unsuccessfully) to emulate, once something had been input into his head the odds of it leaving without years of successive counter-brainwashing were limited. Let alone the psychological side effects and moral warnings they'd been taught against torturing people; let alone the number of pop quizzes he failed and pointed questions he'd asked their instructors, nothing would sway Jericho until he had tried something and made up his own mind about it. Sometimes it was endearing. You had never known true bliss, Speer said often and proudly, until you heard Jer venting his disgust at twelve year olds in online shooters, or watched him kill it on a dance pad in a late night rhythm game tournament in the student dorms.
But if someone wanted to convince him that a normal person would find something painful, or falter in its face, Jer would be the first one to try it and insist it was no big deal. It was often bold. It was always cute.
And it was always stupid."I told you we'd keep up with the workload for you.""That's not what I'm concerned about. It's the team. They're..."
There was a moment of tense silence in the car. Jericho's hands were both clutching the steering wheel tight as an old woman's before his next outburst: "Did you know Speer drew a frog with my hair on it in the front cover of my history book?"
stupid. Rich's loud, honeyed laughter rang out through the car."Did he really? Oh that is pricele--"
The car's sudden brake pump put a sudden stop to the rich Atlesian's mirth, replacing it with quiet breaths for air as he checked to ensure his precious whip hadn't been involved in an accident. Neither Huntsman was wearing a seatbelt, but Jericho had time to brace himself for a break in the momentum, and looked to Heinrich with a face as inscrutable and finely drawn as a death mask. The blue and red sirens reflected on his face, casting the other primary colors into the golden depths of his eyes."How fast were you going?"
Rich asked. Jericho, having clearly finished checking Rich for visible injuries and come away satisfied, looked over his shoulder at the cop car. Forward, to where the Sleipnir, and his first solo job as an Atlesian operative, awaited. Then the Young Devil slumped back in the seat, adopting an air of bemused nonchalance. It was straight out of Rich's playbook, so there was no disguising it."Couldn't tell you,"
Jer replied innocently. "I stopped the car before I looked.""You fool. I trust you with my chariot and my person, and you repay me by getting us harangued by this weekend warrior. You're paying the tickets for this--""Ssh."
Jer was looking something up on his Scroll. When Heinrich, incredulous at the syllable that had escaped from his subordinate's mouth, looked over, he caught a glimpse of an online encyclopedia entry for the make and model of the Gault family sports car. It was minimized in the amount of time it took Rich's trained eyes to focus on it. "Did you just ssh me?""Yeah, sssh. He's taking his time getting out of the car. We can--""How dare you, Piper. Devil. I gave you purpose in life. I saved you from drowning, let you walk at my side as my only equal, and extended you the use of my home. My parents look on you as a second son. And yet--""Ssssh. Look, get your seatbelt on, we can make this look like just a speeding violation. Speer didn't leave any of his goddamn weed in here, did he?"
Jer's fingers were fumbling around the cupholders when Rich grabbed them, squeezing them tightly in his own hand. The blonde haired king's crimson eyes were accusing and hot with rage."You have abused the fraternity that only you and I shared, devil,"
Rich spat. "By sshing me you have doomed yourself not only to the costs tonight, but for many nights to come. As soon as we get back I will have you tressed and gagged with enough towels to fill the Gate, and then I will invite Stroud behind Wench's Walk so she can--""Look, put on your seatbelt.""I see you for what you are now, Jericho Dylan Piper. May that name be ever cursed for your wearing it. False friend. Incubus. Tempter and betrayer from hell. Your mother is right. It is in your blood."
Jericho's nostrils flared up, the warning sign of a young bull ready to fight to the death over the matador's perceived slight."Fuck you then,"
he spat. "I'll put on the seatbelt, you can take the day in court and I'll explain to Dad--""You will do no such thing! You'll pay the iron price for your crimes!""This isn't the time for a goddamn LARP, Rich, we've been pulled--""Gimme that seatbelt!""You're being just like your sister--!""WHAT!? ENUUUUUUUMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA--"
The knock at the window stopped both Gold Stripes cold in yet another classic example of the pair's scandalous poses. In the arrest report that would be filed by eight o'clock the following morning, the scene that the officer described would be particularly bizarre to anyone who read it, even considering the pair of young offenders - one, the son of a high-ranking Atlesian official, was in the driver's seat, using a glove as black as midnight and reeking of sin to throttle a blonde young man of the same age and build...who, while straddling the driver, had grabbed at the seat belt like a drowning man with one hand while the other was raised above his adversary's head, opening up a...portal into a pocket dimension.
It was said that those in the center of Atlas, closest to the Academy that the metropolis was built around, were paid much more handsomely for their efforts in restraining privileged young idiots like these. For their sakes, Officer Melvin Corona hoped that was true."You two boys enjoying the night?"
asked the hapless officer, a faint smile twitching underneath his mustachio. "There aren't many lover's lanes here in Portside, but I've been following you two for a few blocks now, and you passed at least two you could have cut into off the I-225. You hurtled past both of them. At 91 miles an hour. You were probably too distracted to notice, eh?"
The two kids were sharp enough to realize they were being needled, but not sharp enough to hide their reactions - the driver blanched visibly, his hair shifting along his shoulder and glowing bright red from some kind of fancy dye job. The blonde boy on top of him looked like he may have been pink, but that could have been the violent red hue of his eyes coloring his otherwise pale skin."No, it's--"
The driver had visibly tried to collect himself and done a passable job at it, flustered emotion bleeding from his face with a long, calm breath. "We're doing the trip from Downtown to Portside on a school trip. It's for credit hours for our driving class, and we're--""I would never give a common wench such as this my heart! Not after the blades he's seen fit to bury in it!"
The portal had closed up, but in its stead the car's internal lights had come on, so Officer Melvin could see clearly the betrayal and loathing on the driver's face when his neck snapped to stare up at his teammate. Melvin sighed. He wasn't into another lover's quarrel. He'd just had one with Daisy, for God's sake, over something as damn dumb as giving her damn dumb dog its damn dumb ear medication. It wasn't even his dog. If she wasn't always sitting at home watching the soap operas, she wouldn't have seen many of those stupid commercials that made her bleeding heart want to bring another pet into the house.
Speaking of those pet commercials, the driver couldn't have looked more like an angry, abused puppy if he tried. It was the look of the criminal who couldn't believe when his friend had cut a deal on him. Melvin knew it well, and sighed again. He just wanted to wrap tonight up."License and student IDs, kids. Both of you."
The two looked at each other - the blonde down on the driver, and the driver up at the blonde. They looked to be communicating with their eye contact alone. That could mean anything with the weird kids they were cranking out of academies these days...but they relented, and the driver handed over identification for both of them without a fuss, causing Melvin to release a tense breath he hadn't known he was holding. The mustachioed police officer took a second to examine the IDs, eyebrows knotting together when he realized what they implied about the two jilted boyfriends, before he began the trudge back to his car. Out of the corner of his eye, as he turned, he saw the blonde slip off his teammate's lap, slumping into the passenger's seat again in a huff."You're a dick,"
Jer cursed churlishly when the cop was out of earshot. "A goddamn dick. Now we're both screwed."Like I'd date a fool whose only interest is being at my back and not my side..."What? Oh, yes. Well, maybe if you weren't speeding, wench..."
Jer slumped back in the seat with a huff. His head craned over his shoulder to look at the cop."Hey, man, tell me when he's leaning into his window.""That's still no way to talk to your king.""...Look, please?"
He was lucky he did such a good job of sounding contrite. Or perhaps he was being sarcastic and he had just used his damnable Semblance to disguise his disrespect. Either way, repayment in false coin would be good enough for Heinrich at the moment. Especially since he got the feeling they were both about to lose some very real
coin because of Jericho's recklessness. Nevertheless, Rich craned his head and watched out the back window of the car for several seconds."He's getting in now.""He's a big guy, right? Kind of dumpy?""I certainly thought so..."
Rich mused. "That must be the fate of those who get their orders filled correctly at the doughnut parlour. Did you know that heinous woman gave me a plain doughnut the other day at breakfast with Sister? Just the dough, not even frosting this ti--""Oh my God, is he still in the window."
Rich frowned. Jer was so snippy tonight. The prospect of having to exist as his own human being for once must have truly been vexing his friend."Yes,"
the golden king pouted."Think he might get stuck?"
It took a second for the implication to sink in."Oh, no no no.""Relax, I did this fifth year with Bright coming out of that street racing circuit in East Atlas. You got rear wheel on this thing?""No. No, no, wench, we are going to sit here and take the tickets and you can pay then when you retu--""Is that a no.""What?""No, don't do this Jer, or no, I don't have rear wheel drive, Jer?""Of course this has rear wheel drive, do you take me for a peasant? Listen to me--""Great,"
Jericho Piper said. The next five seconds passed in a screaming blur - or rather, Heinrich screamed, while Jer's movements became a blur. When the immediate whiplash pressuring his neck subsided, the golden king realized they were traveling the way they'd came. They were mounting a retreat."Holy shit!"
Heinrich yelled in anger, words muffled by the open driver's side window."Hoooooly shit!"
Jer crowed, exhilarated, gloved hand out the window and cupping the breeze like the back of a lover's head. His face had split into a wide grin, bordering on feckless laughter the likes of which Rich hadn't heard from Jericho in...a year. He looked excited again. He looked like he was enjoying something in life. In other circumstances, it would have been an improvement from how he'd been since Graduation Day.
This was, however, not the time for him to start gaining joie de vivre."Jericho, we're not getting away! The car is--""What?"
Jer yelled, trying to be heard over the rushing wind. "Nah, don't worry about it, man! I gave him the fake IDs! You know, Gold Stripe Lieutenants Macklin and Scarn? I was gonna go Mario Sault and Luigi the Viper, but you didn't have the fake mustache! Where is that thing, anyway?""The car is registered for--""What!?"
For the second time in twenty minutes, the car went from a nigh-breakneck pace to stopping completely still, and as neither Atlesian had actually
put on the seatbelt during Jericho's hasty, ill-advised escape, both of them once again had to fight not to go head first through the wind shield and wind up highly-trained pieces of modern art glued to the pavement.
Jericho slumped back in his seat yet again, looking at Heinrich sulkily."You could have warned me this was the car that you registered with the school."
Heinrich's gaze, locked forward on the windshield that had been mere scant inches away from being shattered by the force of slingshotted royalty, turned with creeping slowness to stare daggers into Jericho.
The portal began to open again over his head.
1:05 AM"Atlesian carnage, folks. Lots of people have been saying it about you.""Bek, listen, I know I shouldn't have driven off. But I have an assigment from Dad. I was thinking about my mission. And about Rich.""Gault is with you?""Yeah. We're both locked up here until someone from the school gets down. That's why I wanted Babs to get in touch with Dad. Is she there?""Gault got you arrested?""What? No, I--""If he got cum in your hair I'll give him the chair, love mole."
Jericho growled, slumping against the brick wall of the prison and looking into the cell where Rich was languishing, eyes half-lidded and fighting off sleep. He looked pretty relaxed for someone who was facing the night in here. Maybe he already thought he owned the goddamn place. This was his fault, too. If he'd just buckled his seat belt...
Or if he'd let Jer buckle his..."It wasn't like that. We were on the way to the job. Bek, can I talk to Babs?"
There was silence over the phone, as his clone sister worked out best how to answer. "Babs is indisposed for a few minutes. I will take a message, love mole. She left her Scroll unguarded, love mole. Who is Shiloh Metropolis?""Shi's a teammate of Celia's. I was supposed to be his leader before...you know, I stuck with these idiots.""He has many texts in this Scroll. I fear lewdness.""Shiloh wouldn't do anything to Babs, he's my friend.""Lewdness can be discreet.""He's gay.""I see."
Bek's voice had lightened up slightly over the phone. "I see. Love mole. Well. Don't worry folks. I'll talk to Babs and she'll send you our best. Love mole.""Tell her to get in touch with Da--""I said our best,"
Rebekah Piper repeated firmly. "Remember clone. If a guy gets you hard, prepare to get charred, love mole."
The line clicked; Bek had hung up, no doubt to go and fiddle around in the vents and stalk Babs for a while before actually filling her in on her twin brother's request. Jericho sighed and filed back into the cell without any prompting from the holding officer."We might be out of here by morning. If Dad's amenable.""Hmm,"
Rich replied sleepily, head tilted back. He looked pleased with himself.
..."Did you try and get me stuck here in Atlas?""Blaming me for your own decisions yet again, wench? Ha. For shame. What a king you would have made."
Rich yawned and set his head back on the cell's lone cot. Jer, being Jer, had given it to him.
He was comfier on the floor.
The clattering of the cell door, the jingling of keys in its lock, the ringing laughter as a familiar voice traded innocent jokes with the holding officer...
To Rich Gault and Jer Piper, the cacophany of sounds in their tired ears were built on the same foundation - someone had come to pick them up. Their heads raised up in unison in a Pavlovian response to the noises at their cell, and Jer stood up to greet whoever had come for them--
--only to lock up, leaning against the wall for support. Heinrich, ever at ease with the situation when there was another audience besides his knight, sat up in the cot and beamed."Ahh!"
he exclaimed, as if it had been years since they'd last seen their visitor. "Noah!"
Noah Bright, the other seventeen year old driving prodigy of the Atlesian Gold Stripes, had enough of a burger shoved into his mouth that Jericho had to angle his head to ensure that his jaw hadn't become as unhinged as his temper. The fast food had stripped Bright of any ability he had to speak, so he spoke entirely in basic gestures.
Point at Jer. Point at Rich. Middle fingers. Bright rubbed his eyes."We were worried about you two,"
translated the voice that Jer had heard charming the cop. Hedwig Tritten, wearing Noah's jacket and a bleary pair of eyes behind her giant bifocals, looked happy to see the pair of incarcerated Gold Stripes regardless. Her ever-luminescent blush glowed redder at the sight of both of them. "Babs called me a couple hours ago and said that the police down here had racially profiled you, Jer. Can you believe it?""Mm mm!"
Bright exclaimed, although the few words that succeeded his denial were muffled. Instead he resorted to gestures again.
Point at Jer. Point at Rich. A hand zigzagging, like a jet ski along the waves. Jerking off with one hand, steering with the other. Hedy rolled her eyes."Where do they serve burgers at 4 in the morning, man?"
Bright made an M with his fingers. It could have either meant MgRonald's or been a gang sign; with him, you never knew.
Once all necessary paperwork had been filled out, the four made their way back outside, Heinrich and Hedwig chatting nonchalantly while Bright finished off his burger and Jericho brooded in relative silence. When they were outside and had reached Bright's mom's sedan, he had finished off enough of it that he was satisfied tossing out the rest, making a face as he swallowed the last bite."God, what a piece of crap,"
he cursed, disgusted. "Should've stuck with Wendy's. Speer says you can taste the memes on your tongue, they're so fresh. Hey Jer, I promised your dad that I wouldn't put you and Rich in the back seat together. Rich sits up front, you're in the back with Hedy."C'mon, man, I'm not gonna start any trouble. At least let me have the radio.""Listen, jailbird, you're lucky you're even going home this weekend. I've got orders from the Captain. No golden oldies. He was positive on that.""Positive as your mom's HIV test,"
Rich added happily, sidling into the passenger's seat with a smug look on his face. Jer sat behind him and crossed his arms; Bright scowled at their team captain."Thought it was Hep C. Sharing needles or something.""My mother's fighting a hard battle, you fuckers.""Noah, it was just an allergy to a blood transfusion. She got better six months ago.""Did she?"
Jer asked. "You never told us that.""I guess her future's looking brighter by the day!"
Rich exclaimed happily. "What an occasion! Yes, Bright, of course I'll take the aux cord, thank you very much. Let's get under the wench's skin. What's the opposite of jazz?"
As the two began to squabble over what music to play, Jer turned to Hedwig and stared at her for a second. She was looking at him with her typical catlike smile, head cocked slightly, seeming to anticipate his question. Reluctantly, Jer posed it:"What are they gonna do about the Sleipnir job?""Oh, it's taken care of,"
she replied warmly. "We're sending Opal. She's one of our best infiltrators after you."
That sounded like a Babs pick, not a Dad pick. His sister calling in favors with her karaoke buddies.Sending the best, folks...
Jer rested his forehead against the cool glass of the forehead and sighed."Wish I could be a fly on the wall for that one,"
he joked, though his face didn't change expression. The weight of his fuck up was starting to hit him. "Opal, pretending to live a little. Pretending to like people. ""I'm sure it'll be fine,"
Hedy said reassuringly, smiling wider. "Wouldn't you have had trouble too?"
Jericho turned to face Hedwig, ready to mount a retort to the implication not-so-subtly hidden in that sentence, but Bright's girlfriend had already turned away to look at him in the rear view mirror, smiling at the pompadoured reflection she spied there. She was tucking further into his jacket for warmth. It was fall in Atlas, and the Bright family sedan was cold; the heat took a while to reach the backseat.
Watching her shiver without a care in the world, having happily come to bail them out of jail at 4 in the goddamn morning...
Jericho Piper bit back his retort and leaned against the window again.
It wouldn't do him any good getting into more trouble.