Diamonds and Coal
The sweetest things, they burn before they shine.
Author's Note: This fic was written years ago, just after the Transcendents were introduced, I think. I found this in an old USB drive, felt nostalgic, and decided to post it. I do not know if there are even RO readers (or players even) here still, but if there are, please feel free to leave a review. Updates will be posted once a week.
He should have called in sick.
There was probably a reason why he didn't, but he couldn't for the life of him remember what it was anymore. His head throbbed, he felt like he was going to be sick every other minute, and to top it off, he was assigned to stable duty today. Ted never really liked Peco Pecos and he definitely did not like cleaning after them. He obviously won't be getting any consideration from Larry, the very disagreeable senior swordsman that was supposed to be his partner on stable duty, either. He stood silently in front the roster board, wondering if it's too late to go on sick leave, or if there's someone he could maybe convince to swap shifts with him.
"Hey, Ted," a familiar voice broke his thoughts.
He knew that voice, and he was not particularly pleased to hear it. The Prontera West Constable station was generally busy on early Monday mornings, and he thought he could somehow get away with pretending not to hear anything. With big, hurried steps, he tried to make it to one of the staff-only rooms where he intended to hide until his visitor went away.
A heavy hand clapped him by the shoulder just as he was about to open the door. He should have known better really. Why the hell didn't he call in sick?
Ted turned around and tried to look surprised. "Will? Hey. What are you doing here?"
"I was wondering if I could talk to you for a minute." Will looked at him urgently. He had that mad look in his dark blue eyes and his dark brown hair was in wild disarray. The two shared the same hair and eyes, among other features, but for some reason they looked better on Will.
"Pay day's not until next week, Will and I don't have any-"
"It's not about that."
The young swordsman sighed exasperatedly. "Then what is it about? Because I don't have time-"
"I need your help, little brother." Will's voice was low and desperate.
People were starting to fill the hall and the noise levels were coming up. His headache's not getting any better and Ted now noticed one of the knights eyeing him suspiciously.
"Fine," he muttered through clenched teeth. He turned around and without waiting for the taller man, strode out the back door towards the stables. Through fingers shielding his eyes from the sudden assault of the early morning sun, he saw Larry half-heartedly splashing some water on the floor, obviously unwilling to do all the work alone. He probably had ten, fifteen minutes at most before Larry starts complaining.
The stench of the Peco Peco stalls made Ted's stomach lurch violently, and he reflexively rushed to double up on the nearest corner he could find. After he had vomited the rest of the coffee and toast he had for breakfast, he stood up to his full height, right in front of Larry's back. He quickly ducked behind the nearest wall and, realizing that he had not been discovered, quietly made his way to the nearby tool shed.
Will, who had no reason to be discreet and was walking openly behind Ted, watched all these with a mixture of amusement and disgust.
"Looks like little Teddy's been out drinking last night. Never thought I'd see the day. Congratulations Ted."
The swordsman tried to spit out the lingering taste of vomit in his mouth before glaring at his brother. "Do you want my help or not?" he snapped.
"Right." Will cleared his throat before proceeding. "Well, remember when grandma died I dunno, a year ago? In her will, she left mom the house, and gave you her ring, remember?"
"And to you she gave all her money, which," Ted quickly reminded him with a frown, "you gambled away in less than a week. Of course I remember. How can I forget-"
"Well, anyway," Will continued over Ted's condescending voice. "Do you still have it?"
Ted remained silent, but Will did not need a reply. His younger brother's bright red face was an answer in itself.
"What did you do to grandma's ring, Teddy?"
"Don't call me that!" the swordsman snapped suddenly. "I didn't do anything to it. Besides, it's my ring now and I could whatever I want with it."
Will grabbed him by the shoulders, his dark blue eyes boring through Ted's identical ones. "What did you do to grandma's ring, Ted?"
"I gave it away, alright?" Ted angrily shrugged off his brother's hands. "What is it to you anyway? It's not yours Will, it's mine."
"You gave… you gave it away? Are you serious?"
Ted's head felt like it was going to shatter to thousands of tiny little pieces soon. He could also feel bile rising up his throat again and he tried to swallow it back. But the headache and nausea were nothing compared to the pain in his chest. His voice was quiet. "Yes, I gave it away and neither of us can do anything about it. Now go away, Will. I have work-"
"We have to get it back."
"What? No, I don't think-"
"I didn't know you were promoted, van der Hoek." A third voice joined in. The brothers looked around and saw a swordsman leaning against one of the walls, a mop in one hand and a huge scowl on his face. "Because as far as I know only officers can get away with getting paid without actually working."
"He's calling in sick, Steen," Will declared levelly even before Ted could open his mouth. "Looks like you're stuck with the Pecos for today."
Larry sneered. "I'm afraid it's a little bit too late in the morning for that."
"Not if Barrock's got the paperwork," was Will's cool reply. He took his younger brother by the arm and marched out of the courtyard with a smirk. "Have fun, Steen."
Ted could have sworn time warped back to thirteen years ago, back at Midgard Academy, with him at age seven and Will and Larry aged ten. But that could just as easily have been his nausea as it overtook him, and his protests went back down his throat along with vomit-flavored saliva.
Halfway towards the street, Ted managed to break free of the older man's hold. Bile was rising quickly and he once again hurried to one side, dry heaving. It was only eight o'clock in the morning but it was already by far the worst day of his twenty years of life.
"Why were you drinking last night anyway? Did you get dumped or something?"
There was something wholly irreverent in Will's tone and it was all Ted could do not to punch him in the face. No, that was not true. With his head both throbbing and spinning, he could barely see his brother's face clearly let alone land a fist on it.
"Damn, Ted," realization dawning on Will. "You gave some girl grandma's ring, didn't you? And then she dumped you, took the ring and disappeared. Is that what happened?"
He couldn't take it anymore. He needed to get away. Go someplace quiet and sleep off his hangover. Somewhere he could be alone and think and wallow in his misery. Anywhere but here.
"The ring's gone, Will. And no, I'm not gonna try and get it back." Ted staggered away, his right hand clutching a mop of dark hair. "Just find something else to pawn."
"But there's nothing else worth-"
"Not my problem."
"But it will be," Will informed him somberly, "once they throw mom out of the house."
Ted stopped midstride. He turned around and stared at his brother.
"I've put up the house as collateral," he explained helplessly. "They'll come for it in two weeks' time."
Ted never swore, at least not out loud. And he never drank alcohol. He also don't go around proposing marriage with decades-old priceless family heirlooms to random girls he'd known for four days.
He is going to die soon. There could be no other reason for it.
"How much do you owe them this time?"
Will fidgeted. "More than the price of grandma's ring but less than the house. Look," he said hurriedly, "I've arranged for someone to give me the money I need in exchange for the ring. She promised to keep the ring and will give it back after I repay her-"
"Right, and when would that be?" Ted replied dryly. "At the dawn of the next millennium? You don't even have a job!"
"Anyway, it's all sorted out, okay?" Will said with an impatient sigh. "We just need the ring. And we need it soon."
"Well I don't have it and I don't know where it is."
"Which is why we have to find it!"
"Okay, look," Ted said after a while. "This is your mess Will. You sort it out. I can't handle any more. Not today, not for a couple of months. I'm flat out with my own problems. I've had enough." He turned and started walking away.
"Come on, Ted!"
There was desperation in Will's voice. But Ted merely shook his head.
"At least give me a name," he pleaded.
Ted felt another wave of nausea washing over him. He swallowed it down. "Chelsea."
"I don't know."
And Ted was lost in the Pronteran crowd. Will kicked the wall in frustration.