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Chapter Nine: Speed Limits

We had two weeks of preparation before it was finally time to embark on the five hour drive to Bubbleport. There was a lot going on in that city; most of which the rest of the world wasn’t being informed about. The small riots that were mentioned on television weren’t always peaceful and easily subdued as implied – often the militia had to be called in to quell the masses. Members of both sides were hurt – some even killed. The police force arrested any Berry out of their color on sight and cared little about any personal freedoms their prisoners should have been afforded.  Martial law was in effect, true to the reports, but most of the citizens disregarded it and wandered around past midnight. After all, Bubbleport had always been known for its nightlife and party scene. This was good for the Uprising, it allowed them to move easier through the night without drawing too much attention to themselves. Well, unless they wanted it.

Generally, the citizens of Bubbleport supported the Uprising’s cause but were either too afraid of the repercussions of being known as a supporter or did not want to limit their clientele to one side. At least that was the impression Noir gave me. It was also where he said I came in – the spark that would light the fire under the whole city’s feet. I wasn’t sure how I honestly felt about that but if it meant that eventually my family could live without fear of being discovered – or even if nothing changed now but future generation of lovers could be together no matter their color- it would be worth the dangerous price tag that such a task carried.

Or I hoped it would.

I didn’t tell my parents where I was going. I begged Pandora to cover for me and eventually she agreed; she would tell them that I was busy here in Sugar Valley, sleeping over Ocean’s house because it was closer to town. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my Mom and Dad, I just knew they would plead with me not to go, that it was too dangerous. They would have wanted to meet Noir and Eden, as well, which I could see going sour. Especially with my father – there was no way he would be okay with me leaving town with two men no matter the location. He wouldn’t understand, wouldn’t accepted that this was business and not some polygamy thing.

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Eden was fairly adamant about me dying my hair before we left but I refused. Instead, as we all piled into Noir’s small purple death machine, my hair was pulled up and wrapped in a scarf. I had also been practicing wearing Pandora’s contacts and, though they still felt itchy and strange, I had pretty much mastered them. Completely decked out in my disguise, I climbed into the back of Noir’s purple death machine under the cover of a velvet sky.

“Princess.” Eden greeted as the door slammed shut behind me. I snuggled up close to duffel bags and suitcases but smiled back at the rear-view mirror to both the boys tucked away in the front.

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“You ready?” Noir called over his shoulder, the motor already purring away. I had barely nodded before I was lurching forward, Noir flooring the gas pedal. I fumbled around in the dark, buckling my seatbelt, as Eden attempted to dictate Noir’s driving. From experience I understood that Noir wasn’t going to change just because Eden was uncomfortable and I couldn’t help but notice that the speed-meter only crept up with each word that escaped from those teal lips. Sighing deeply, I averted my attention out the window and allowed the starry sky to lull me to sleep.

Blue and red lights flooded the night sky, piercing my eyelids. I groaned in annoyance, unsure of how long I had been asleep but knowing that it had not been long enough. Tugging on the rough fabric of one of the duffle bags I attempted to yank it over my face but rough hands touched my bare thighs before the motion was complete. My eyes snapped open, dry and itchy from sleeping in contacts, as I glared at the teal hand that was gently shaking me awake.

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“Princess, please, get yourself in order.” Eden whispered, gesturing in my general direction. I blinked a few times, not understanding what he was talking about, until I noticed the white fabric on the floor. My scarf had come off as I was sleeping. It was then that I realized that the purple death machine was no longer moving and that the flashing lights were coming from behind us.

I quickly fumbled for the scarf, rushing in an attempt to situation myself before the police officer reached our vehicle. Noir was rummaging around for what I assumed was his license and registration, cursing under his breath, as I twirled my hair on top of my head. Butterflies flooded my stomach, my hands trembling far too much to tie a knot properly and soon my hair was cascading down my back again.

“I told you to slow down. You’re such a bloody idiot.” Eden hissed at Noir before he reached back, unzipped the duffel bag I had been molesting and quickly grabbed the neatly folded clothing inside, “Pretend to be asleep.” He murmured; his voice much kinder as he addressed me. Before I had time to react shirts, pants and other articles of clothing landed on top of my head just as the officer knocked on Noir’s driver-side window.

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I laid down, eyes cracked open as I tried to peer through the teal cloths blocking my vision, “License and registration.” The officer’s voice was stern and tired, hoarse from hours of work without rest.

Noir said nothing as he handed the man the required documents but Eden addressed the man in a cheery tone, “Good evening, Officer.” He got no response to his greeting but I imagined the man nodding in Eden’s general direction before shining his flash light into the vehicle. The light illuminated the backseat, turning my eyelids bright red when it coasted over the lump of a mess I must have been.

I held my breath, terror etching into my bones, as the officer held his flashlight there, “What’s in the backseat.”

“Our-“ Noir began but I heard him grunt in pain as Eden spoke over him.

“It’s a friend, officer. She hasn’t been feeling well lately.”

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I could almost hear the Officer’s eyebrows rise as he spoke, the flashlight lingering on my form again, “Why is she covered in clothing?”

“We did not want the sun to rouse her when it rose.”

“I see…” The officer drawled, suspicion coating his words, “If you boys don’t mind, I’d like to have a word with her. Just to make sure everything is A-ok.”

“I believe we can resolve this issue without disturbing the lady, Sir. I’d be more than happy to explain her medical condition to you outside the vehicle.” Whatever motion the Officer made in response must have been one of acceptance because I heard the door pop open and felt the gentle rock of the car as Eden’s weight disappeared. It was silent for a while – even as I strained my ears to try to hear what was happening outside.

“You ok?” Noir whispered, moving the shirt that had been thrown haphazardly across my face. I nodded, though the butterflies were still floating around my tummy and I had clutched both my hands tightly between my thighs in order to stop them from shaking. Noir laughter was surprising but helped to alleviate the fear that had twisted my gut, “You look like you’re going to be sick.” I stuck my tongue out in response before the shirt was thrown back onto my face – signaling Eden and the police officer were heading back our way.

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“Drive,” Eden commanded once he was back in the purple death machine, “within the speed limit this time, preferably.”

“What happened –“

“He’s letting us off with a warning. Now can you drive before he changes his mind?”

“What the fudge did you say to him?” Noir demanded, though he did start the engine and pull back onto the road.

There was a long pause as silence charged the air. When a minute ticked by I yanked myself free of the garments, feeling more stable and clam than just moments before.

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“What I had to tell him – that Estelle is mute.” Eden finally conceded, though begrudgingly, “I hope you’ve realized that your insane driving not only puts your own life at risk but the princess’ as well.”

I heard Noir snort in retort, his gaze locking with mine as he glanced into the rear-view mirror. Though he rolled his eyes, I assumed out of annoyance with Eden, I couldn’t help but notice the small glimmer of guilt that nestled into the those purple orbs.

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Chapter Eight: Finding A Place Within the Sour Apple

The Uprising accepted me with open arms.

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It was a little strange at first. I wasn’t used to being surrounded by strangers all the time. The small crew I met at the Sour Apple that night had only been a small portion of the Sugar Valley division – the members who were in the inner circle. The inner circle was, basically, privy to all information about the plans and details of the Uprising. They were responsible for recruiting new members (which Noir was the leader of), designing logos and imagery to empower the movement (which is where Sunburst and Ocean came in), leading marches and protests (Flax was in charge of this) and planning the finer details of events (which was Eden’s job). Pandora ended up speaking vividly and passionately at many events with Flax – though she always wore her gray contacts. Jasper ran our home base and helped out where ever an extra hand was needed.  And me? Well, I wasn’t good at drawing and it’s hard to be the leader of anything when you don’t speak. No, I mostly watched them argue and debate in silence when they held those meetings. There were only two duties I ever really took on.

The first was volunteering at the make-shift hospital in Jasper’s basement. Ivy would stop in once or twice a week with supplies for us and occasionally, when something truly horrible happened, she would come to check out the patient herself. Most of the time I was able to handle it on my own – cuts, bruises and minor head injuries were the most common reason a berry would visit. Nothing I couldn’t handle on my own after some instruction from Ivy.

The second activity I aided was the recruitment runs. Noir only asked for my help when the client was powerful and required ‘proof’ that the government of Berry was lying. So far it had only happened once – with a business owner in the middle of town – and he had quickly agreed to let us use his store front as a canvas once his bright blue eyes glided onto my pale white skin and yellow hair. I knew from the way that Noir’s bright lilac’s shined and his metal clad lip jutted out that he was about to ask me for help again.

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I sighed as the meeting disbanded, the scrapping of chairs against wooden floors bouncing around the room. Pandora shot a tentative glare in Noir’s direction as he approached but left us alone – instead walking down the stairs with Sunburst and Ocean in tow, “Hey, I was wondering…” Noir began, his long legs stopping in front of my chair.

I turned to face him, folding my legs under the table and fighting back the familiar bubbling in my stomach, ‘You need my help?’ I mouthed, signing along with my voiceless sentence. It was a slow process but Affair had suggested that I learn how to ‘speak’ sign language one night and Noir had jumped at the idea – not to mention just about everyone else in the inner circle. As far as I knew, they were all learning a second language just so they could communicate a little easier with me. It was sweet of them and did wonders in making me feel included.

“Sort of,” He began as he dragged a chair out and swung a leg gracefully over it. He rested his chin on the back of the chair, gazing down at me curiously, “How would you feel about going on a trip?”

‘Where?’

“To my hometown; Bubbleport.”

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I certainly had not been expecting that. I had never been outside of Sugar Valley and the very thought of going somewhere new was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Noir watched patiently as the emotions played through my face, his eyes twinkling with amusement as I felt my eyebrows crinkle. In the end I did not see the harm in accompanying him during his travels but I did want more information – the reason for the visit, what we would be doing while we were in town. Before my lips and hands could start questioning a deep, distinctly male, voice intercepted my thoughts.

“Would it be wise to take the princess with you?” My head snapped towards the sound and my vision was filled with the tall teal vision of Eden. I was surprised at his appearance – not because of how sudden it had been but because Eden hardly ever spoke to me or Noir.

I knew from experience that the two men usually did not see eye-to-eye. Eden liked everything to be planned and in order while Noir did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. I did not know, however, why Eden always seemed uncomfortable in my presence – as if there was something on the tip of his tongue that he could not bring himself to say.

If Noir was shocked at Eden’s company it did not bleed through the distain emanating from his core, “She’ll be fine with me.”

“How, pray tell, do you expect her to be safe in the middle of a war zone?” Eden’s arms folded across his chest, legs locked into place. Standing tall and firm, it did not look like he was going to cave in anytime soon.

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The duo argued back and forth, their words nothing more than mere mumbles to me, as I mulled over Eden’s statement. Bubbleport was a war zone? I had heard nothing of it on the news – just the same old reports of rebellion and how the government was trying to peacefully squash the Uprising. I hoped Eden had been exaggerating but something in the set of his jaw told me he wasn’t.

“It’s her choice!” Noir snarled as my attention snapped back to the two men before me. His hand was clenched into a quivering fist and I realized that if I didn’t step in soon the two might end up duking it out.

Standing up, I waved a hand between the two of them. This garnered their attention quickly and Eden’s response died on his lips, ‘I want to go but maybe… possibly… perhaps Eden can come with us?’ I signed and mouthed, ending the statement with a wide smile. It seemed, to me, that since Eden thought Noir lacked the ability to keep my safe that the best solution would be to have Eden tag along as well. My sister would probably be more likely to agree to let me go if it wasn’t just Noir and me, as well.

My suggestion left both boys looking stunned – though Noir more than Eden. Recovering first, Eden bowed ever so slightly in my direction, “Yes, I see no issue with me accompanying you, princess.”

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I winced at his name for me – having told him before that Estelle was more than appropriate – but didn’t let the smile fall from my face. Instead I averted my attention to Noir, who still looked like I sucker-punched him in the gut. After a few seconds he sighed, crossing his arms across his chest. He quickly went back to trying to slay Eden with his gaze, “Yea, fine. I guess that’ll work.”

Though the problem had been solved I couldn’t help but wonder what I had gotten myself into.