Well, as close to running out as the sole son of the Supreme could get to. Frankly though, what were the chances of being summoned just before his bid could be finalized, and the error notification that flashed on the crowded screen was more infuriating than the notification of a withdrawal from his account.
It wasn't like the Prince didn't have access to unlimited funds, you tended to get that and much more given Laurent Du Pont's heritage- such insignificant digits were less than a drop in the ocean, but still. It was the principal of the matter. Loren didn't like to lose, and he especially didn't like to fund any petty rebellion brewing within the squalor-ridden streets. But what he hated- abhorred- more than anything, was the constant nagging of his father. Talk about annoying.
He didn't give a shit that his father was Supreme Leader; not really. Sure, it gave Loren a shiny nice new title to flaunt around in his friends' faces and force down everyone's throats, but it wasn't like his life had been changed. His father already ruled the masses of the Upper Echelon, had the prior government in his deep pockets and cajoled with foreign emissaries on the daily. Money just became even less of an object with the sudden change in profession. If you could call a societal upheaval and takeover a "profession change". The status of being even more so untouchable was nice, and Loren would be lying if he argued that he didn't appreciate the look of fear that overtook others when he made public appearances. A fact which was made not by his unimposing stature but more likely by the fact that his father had staged a coup d'état and thrown in democracy for a fascist regime headed by a merciless dictator. Not that Loren was any better than his father.
Who needed democracy in this age anyways? The military had all but been revolutionized into militantly obedient cyborgs and it's not like the elite which ruled really gave a shit about the penurious in poverty. Yawn.
That was beside the point though; between betting on 'illegal' mech fights and shopping, Loren didn't have time for politics or whatever it was wars were fought over. Clearly, this was a message his father either didn't get or refused to get, because why else would Loren be disturbed during his time? He'd have to take the matter up with his father, though lately he's hardly been able to get a word in edge-wise with all the bitching being stuffed down his throat. If he didn't enjoy his current quality of life and if it weren't for the fact he was, at the end of the day, utterly terrified of his father, he would've sold his family out to the cheapest bidder ages ago. Not important.
If only to get his father off his back, he'd do his duty as Prince and come when called. At least that was the opinion of his pride and not the nag of fear for a repeat of what occurred when he was an hour too late last time. "I know- I'm coming can't you see? Or are you as dumb as you look?" The words were growled with far too much vitriol for such a lean body, yet they succeeded all the same in forcing the private security who had been sent to back down with placating hands and a bent head. This one looked more human than they typically did, yet through the locks of brown hair startling blue eyes could make out the unnatural glow of motherboards and processors, so he shoved past the man with more force than necessary if only to get his point across. Prince Laurent did not appreciate the hands of commoners on his pureblood skin, and he certainly wouldn't stand for the mechanized fingers of cyborgs to touch him.
The drive back was comfort of the highest luxury, yet that did nothing to soothe the severe agitation brewing within Loren, jaw clenched enough to make his teeth ache and his arms crossed tight enough to strain his shoulders. The signature blue ambient lighting of the car was supposed to invoke a feeling of serenity and calmness, yet it only served to further piss the Prince off. When he got in moods like this, it was better to just leave the cat in the bag by itself. As the towering skyscraper of black mirrors loomed in the near distance, the blond only slumped further in his seat, adamant about not wearing his seatbelt despite the numerous please of the guards who he'd been forced to ride with.
As much as he shared his disdain for the mechanically altered (as most of his status did) he clearly had no trouble letting them open his doors or take bullets intended for himself. He was a precious commodity after all; it was their job to throw down their computerized lives for his. It wasn't as if it was hard to come across an engineered body these days. Pureblooded humans such as himself were far more priceless.
Which is why Loren understood the mechanization of the military and the exclusive employment of cyborgs in the line of duty and protection. It made sense. Cyborgs were far more enhanced and trained beyond any limit humanity once knew, it was only fair that such refinement and work be put to use the best way possible. It did not mean he had to like or even appreciate it though. Frankly, as fascinating as he found the whole process to be, the idea of being so easily slain by nothing more than an amalgamation of flesh and steel was unsettling. Though it wasn't like those under the employment of his father would ever dream of laying a finger, metal or not, on the sole heir.
Loren really wasn't sure what he was expecting to find when the solid African Blackwood doors opened. following the arduously long elevator ride to the top penthouse suite. He could hardly think of a logical explanation for disturbing his peace when he specifically requested to be left alone to his own devices. Maybe his father had finally caved and gotten him a dog. Unlikely. Loren was a) old enough to get himself one and b) smart enough to know that would never happen. He couldn't even take care of himself. Maybe his father was calling him in to apologize for the righteous pain in Loren's side that he'd been. If only. Maybe, just maybe, father had decided that he'd drop the secret squadron posted to follow the Prince around to ensure his safety. That would be an unforeseen blessing. It was bullshit anyway; Loren knew they were there. Didn't that defeat the purpose of a secret guard?
Despite all the wild conspiracies and conclusions Loren's neurons rapidly fired to concoct, none had come close to the reality exposed once the double doors had been opened by two posted servants. Not even the dog one. Definitely not the apology; though at this point Loren would grovel to his knees and apologize if only to get his father to confess that it was a joke.
He looked a lot different. Taller than he remembered, a lot more honed and sculpted than he's used to seeing. Same black hair that had his gut-wrenching painfully and his throat constricting. The metal was new. So were the tattoos. Loren thought his mother would've had an aneurysm if she saw her son's flesh marred with ink and alloy. She wasn't around anymore anyway. He was sure that if the broad frame before him turned, he'd see the same eyes he swore he'd forget, yet all Loren could focus on at the moment was his father, and how much he'd love to lunge himself over the expansive desk to gouge out eyes that never compared to the blue of his own.
There’s a cruel humour in the way history tends to recycle itself.
Laurent Du Pont… It was unrealistic to ever have hoped he wouldn’t hear that name. He works for the man’s father, for God’s sake. He never could have shaken him off his shoulders, but he’d hoped, after how their relationship had spoiled and curdled almost seven years ago… he’d hoped he would never have to face the consequences of his actions.
Because what more is this? He thinks, the corded muscle under his uniform tensing and straining as the wooden doors sweep the waxed floor. He clenches his jaw, fingers coiling tighter around his palm behind his back. What more is this? There’s anticipation fizzing in the seams of his electronics; in the junctions of where they meld to his skin, leaving the tissue permanently marred, perpetually breaking, persistently healing but never quite there.
He sucks in the hollow of his cheeks, only to remember that’s not how it works anymore when the metal doesn’t give way; when he can’t bite the silky flesh, can’t accidentally tear another chunk off as he turns around in two heavy, stocky steps, the thick leather lining his boots sticky on the floor. He’s done that before: torn off pieces of his mouth. During fights, drills, training. He was given an open supply of mouthguards at first, and then this;. he licks the rough crisscross pattern the metal makes inside his mouth..
His vision locks-in on that shock of white hair like a missile, and he has to physically restrain himself from reacting. From breathing in too quick, grinding his teeth too hard, wearing his emotions on his face. He’s a soldier, not a diplomat. Not a public-speaker or a politician. He falls short, and the middle-part of his bangs fall over his eyes when he has to avert them. When he has to wear painful constrictions between his brows, when he starts feeling his bionic arm squeezing his flesh hand, even through the gloves designed to alleviate pressure-wounds.
What else is this, but the consequences of my actions? Of when he first took that frail little boy’s hand, all that time ago, back home. Has he ever thought of it before: how he never would’ve ended up here if he hadn’t taken a crying boy’s hand by the sea? How he wouldn’t be stuck here now if– His intake is sharp, his body is heavy when he descends.
“...My Prince,” he vows, rough and curt, as though he cut himself off, as though he it took a grave amount of effort to utter them in the first place. But he is earnest in it. It is a vow, after all, as heady as one could ever be. Even if he isn’t looking at his Prince, even if his head bows, tilts to the side as if he’s avoiding the sight of the man before him. Even if it feels like he’s making the vow to this man’s father instead.
He might as well be. He is.
As if sensing the contrails of his thoughts, Father Supreme announces, “Your personal entourage is released from duty today, son. Effective immediately. Ajax should be enough.”
One man to do an army’s job, that is what is expected of him and the others of his kind. In his legion. The Protective Echelon. He knew he would have to work in close-quarters to the Royal Family and its members, but he had hoped, for the first time in a long time, it wouldn’t be this up-close and personal.
“Ah but, I’m also speaking of my faith in him,” The Supreme continues, speech always conversational. Light, as though he doesn’t have his hand enclosed around Ajax’s still-human heart. As though he couldn’t stage another accident as an excuse to rip that out of Ajax’s humanity too. As though he doesn’t dictate Ajax’s life. Everything he has ever done has been for The Supreme, but there is fear that stitches his respect into memories, and it is fear, he’s learnt, that keeps the peace. “...And the training we’ve given him here, so do me the favour and inform me of any, eh, shortcomings, as they say.”
That is directed at him. It is a threat spoken at him. It is trust in his abilities to keep the Prince safe, but it is also a promise of his fate should he fail. Should he come short, as the words are used. And when Ajax dares lift his head, he finds those steely eyes sheathed in the softest part of his skull, the only part of him left unguarded and uncovered.
It’s odd. Seeing the words form on The Supreme’s lips, directly instead of hearing them over intercoms, or reiterated through Nova’s filters. This used to be his reality, some time ago. This used to be his residence some handful of years ago, enough that he can count them on his fingertips. He sneaks a glance at the blond boy, his responsibility, his reckoner. It feels like a lifetime ago. He can only hope, once more, their blood-grudge has settled now. And then his head turns to the voice, when it speaks to him now—“Isn’t that right, boy?”—and he realises how impossible it is: his request. Because Ajax lives to please, he exists to accomplish, and achieve, and execute to the last dregs of his existence. How can he, repaired with a rigid checklist, ever find peace with him, created with chance and a dream, and nothing more. He shouldn't expect the impossible out of this arrangement.
But there exists a moment in time when he should have been impossible too. Where he should have been dead. And with that in mind, the hand resting on his knee, he brings it to fist over his heart in a more-traditional vow: “I will drive a knife in my own chest before allowing a hand on him.”
That appeases him. The Supreme. He clasps his hands together. Ajax hears the familiar clinks of his rings before he hears the dry, muffled clap of his palms coming together. “Good?” He grins, “Good! You know what to do, right?” Move, install his code in the database, reacquaint himself with the layouts, get to work by today afternoon. He nods. “Good. Then you are dismissed.” The Prince is not. Ajax nods once again, quick, sure.
He pauses mid-step, the perfect picture of discipline, a machine configured with the smallest reaction time. He is meant to be more efficient, after all. He is not, however, equipped enough—they haven’t gotten around to tampering with his mind yet—to hide his surprise when The Supreme says, “It’ll be good to have you back, my boy.”
The warm, red-orange accent-lights melt the colour on his tan face, but he can only hope Laurent doesn’t see the watery expression on his face, on his way out.
There’s a cruel humour in the way history tends to recycle itself, Ajax thinks, finding himself alone for the first time in the weeks he assimilated to his new job. He cranes his neck to glance farther down the hallway behind him. Where is the local security anyway? He’ll need to have a chat with them. Ajax can’t be expected awake every breathing second of the day.
Five a.m. routines are hard to break, he muses. He would have been up and sweating in the gym by now last month, now he stands watching a new hue of faded blues wash over the living room. Laurent’s living room, it should be noted. Why did he assume the Prince lived in the same zone as his father? Why had he assumed working with the Prince meant he was indirectly part of The Supreme’s personal guard? His misunderstandings had been worked over, kinked out, during his first days here.
Now, he stands next to the glass coffee table. He kicks it without vigour, just to feel the edge of the flat top eat his calf… It doesn’t sting like it used to, he decides. He stands, trying to fit into the furniture how he once used to, but he isn’t that boy anymore, and this isn’t the same environment either; a near-perfect impression of it, although. Ajax notices only because it’s not meant to go unnoticed by someone in his profession.
He has been waking up at five a.m. all these past weeks, with nothing to do but wander aimlessly around the same kitchen island. Routines may be hard to break, which works in his favour, because he’s required to maintain his stats, but he is not allowed to step away from Laurent.
So for the first time since he started this new routine, Ajax approaches a door he’s kept a respectable distance from. The scanner glows over his prosthetic eye, and recognises it instantly. He hears the locking mechanism give away, watches the door smoothly slide into the wall like a vacuum.
Ajax almost doesn’t want to disrupt his charge’s sleep. Not because he’ll feel bad for it; because the sight of him… Ajax pauses over the step that lands into the pitched area around Laurent’s bed. I shouldn’t be here. It’s quiet enough this early morning that he hears, not only his own breaths, but every rustle of Laurent’s arms in his comforter too. Ajax can’t see his face, it’s turned away from him, but he can see the way his body sinks into the mattress, and he can see the shape it forms around his heavy limbs.
No, he should be here. He needs to be here. He has this much professional leeway.
He clears his throat, standing a couple feet away from the threshold of the bed. “Change of plans,” he announces, “We’re going down.” He doesn’t understand why Laurent wasn’t instructed to move into the Protective Echelon’s barracks. He can’t think of a most secure place. There isn’t anyplace else he would feel truly at ease leaving Laurent unattended. But ah, he traces the boy’s hair like a river’s tributaries, hedged in the creases of his pillows; some things can’t be permanently compromised. He can’t imagine someone like Laurent, with how he physically is—Ajax tears his eyes away from his silhouette in the sheets. This is not appropriate. He means to comment purely from a fitness point of view—living in the barracks among his brothers.
It was not nausea from the sudden rush of memories and emotions that assaulted his senses. It wasn't that his gut was racked with guilt or his lungs seized with remorse. Rather, the cause instead of the sudden invasion was his heart set ablaze with anger. All-consuming blistering fury that soured his tongue and left the pungent taste of ash in his mouth, as if the internal inferno had feasted upon his innards and in its wake left his organs scorched and his blood boiled.
Loren was no stranger to wrath and animosity. His temper was legendary and his rage righteous. It came with the territory of being a spoiled brat, no doubt, Throughout the course of his life, there have been ceaseless events to have garnered such vitriolic reactions. Minor inconveniences to grave indignities; it was all the same to the Prince. Though of such upsets, this was low, even for Father Supreme. The agitation brewing within the blond was tangible, the expression on his face downright murderous and if he weren't so utterly caught off-guard the tantrum thrown would have been substantial.
Contrary to the guard, who kept his external composure polite and reserved, Loren was unabashed with his reservations. His glare was blatant, and the heat of his glower was not lost in the slightest despite being split between two individuals. As was his right; if he wished to examine the cyborg before him like an object, like they were, he was well within his privilege to do so. Though his was more akin to the desire to dismantle rather than appraise.
The demand for an explanation fell short from Loren's lips at the grand announcement and flourish of bullshit that spewed from the mouth of his father. It wasn't that he doubted the capabilities of the enhanced father posed so perfectly before him. He was aware of the training those of the Protective Echelon endured, the cognitive disarmament of any sense of individuality rebuilt to dismantle the very human quality of survivalist instincts. How could one be expected to lay down their lives for their charges when every firing neuron demanded withdrawal. It made for poor soldiers and even worse martyrs.
Loren was positive Ajax likely would be more than sufficient. The blond wouldn't trust the former entourage to guard shit, let alone something as precious as himself. He thought he'd rather suffer the humiliation of being assassinated rather than being saddled with such a tragedy from his past, however. Ajax was not the name Loren had committed to memory. Even with the years past, the diplomat was cognisant of how foreign the name sounded to his ears and was sure it would roll just as foreign off his tongue. Yet with the familiarity and comfort his father spoke with when addressing the man as such it was evident this moniker was nothing new.
He wondered if it had been the last or first time he'd set ocean eyes upon the elder man in any one of the buildings his father owned that the name had been bestowed.
It made sense, all these years later why Ajax had, for a length of time, been a familiar face around the complexes dictated by the Supreme. There had been no perceivable reason why a regular civilian such as him had been allowed in such exclusive quarters. Loren had thought that the consequence of his mother's transgressions had finally reached retribution when he ceased to see the other boy around, and if only to spare himself the heartache, he had been all too keen on forgetting the other. When his sorrows wished to sink him he persisted with his swimming. Only the Supreme would be bold enough to make a request of favor while simultaneously commanding something so absurd. Though it was a given that the only person who refrained from fearing the wrath of Loren was his father. As much power and authority the young adult possessed, it pales in comparison to the resources available at the fingertips of the Supreme Leader.
The utterance of an oath was finally enough to break the revelry of disbelief that had enchanted Loren, and the scoff that jerked his lean frame hardly impacted the pleasure of his father at such obedience from the latest academy graduate. The exchange between the two only served to sicken Loren further; he really did feel nauseous now. His father was only so amicable when he laced his words with vile threats and promises of pain.
For the duration of the encounter, the blue of Loren's eyes had been a solid presence split between the two objects of his ire, yet the praise had all but captured the Prince's sole attention. Damn the presence of an audience; he'd deal with the consequences later.
"No- absolutely not. This- I'm not doing whatever the hell this is."If father and friends wanted to play House, Loren would have no part of it. Not now, not ever. He refrained from saving the bulk of his accusation until the door had shut, contempt hot on his tongue as his legs ate up the distance to the expanse of marble that made up the desk Father Supreme was stationed at.
"Is this some fucking sick joke? Where do you get off on controlling every aspect of my life?"
The ensuing conversation had been muted from the outside world by the proofing seal of the door's locking mechanism, but it was evident on every line of Loren's body just how well it had gone when he made his exit a near hour later.
Laurent, as he so adamantly liked to point out, wasn't dull. Far from it; unlike the majority of the mechanized population, he didn't need some ridiculous CPU implanted deep within the cortex of his brain just to figure out what 2 + 2 was or how many years it would take for the Sun to consume its hydrogen core and implode on itself. Granted, his knowledge was a result of his numerous years of severe schooling, but that was beside the point. His intelligence was natural, thank you.
There was nothing natural about the cyborg who had decided to enter his room, though.
Even through the blackout curtains which covered the expansive walls of glass floor-to-ceiling, the young man could tell it was early as fuck, far too early to warrant his disturbance for any reason. With how much time, energy and resources had been spent during the construction of the building, there was no room for peace and tranquility between the soundproofed walls and insulated glass.
Father was less than thrilled when Loren expressed his desire to have his own compound. He couldn't imagine why his son wished to live anywhere else but within his own Royal complex. The Prince already felt suffocated even just thinking of his father; let alone when he was forced to go on 'bonding trips' to exclusive resorts with the others that made up the core of the highest echelon. He'd sooner throw himself from one of the numerous skyscrapers bearing his father's name than share the same living quarters.
Regardless, it had been one of the few arguments Laurent proved successful in, if his own penthouse had been anything to prove. So high about the streets, he was all but removed from reality. Living in the barracks was absolutely out of the question. As obedient as the lot of mechanized soldiers was, there wasn't a chance in hell Loren would resign himself to living among the steroidal constructs of technology and tissue. He wasn't suicidal- he's seen the passing looks of peons.
If it made the job of ensuring his safety more difficult, all the better.
He could hardly bring himself to care how early Ajax awoke, that was none of his concern. It did, however, become his concern when said aforementioned robot decided to impede on his personal space and awake him from his sleep. The clearing of one's throat had awoken him from his slumber, not the whirling mechanics of metal. The Prince wasn't necessarily a light sleeper, not in the sense most people of importance were or how their protection units were. There was no paranoia of casualty when the blond slept; he knew regardless of the state of his consciousness no harm would befall him. A luxury he often took for granted.
Loren may have, in theory anyways, owned the bodyguard. He'd all but been gifted the creation by his Father, who had attempted to soothe the boy's ruffled feathers with assurance that "he's yours to do as you see fit". Words of a liar, come to find out. Sure, Loren could boss the broad guard around, bark orders like a yappy little dog till he turned blue in the face. Come to find out though, he couldn't demand the man to keep his distance.
It would compromise the entire premise of having a personal bodyguard, naturally. Loren understood that; logic and reason were no strangers to the young diplomat. Yet just because something made sense didn't mean he had to like or even listen to it.
Ajax had, up until this point, seemed reserved from entering the most private of Loren's quarters; the bedroom. Naturally, as soon as this became apparent to the blond, he deigned himself to spend most of his time sequestered away in said room. It wasn't like he particularly enjoyed being forced into one room of his own compound, yet it was better than the alternative of having to suffer the cyborg's presence consistently. The man was an ever-constant shadow and Loren was getting pretty damn sick of it.
His father would be less than pleased to know his son had been keeping his protection from doing just that; protecting. He'd go on a rant about how ungrateful Loren was and Loren would spit that his father had no right to dictate every aspect of his life like he was some commoner. The same old song and dance that was bound to repeat itself for the entirity of history.
"Learn to knock before entering my room."
Scornful words, hissed with more disdain than someone who had just awoken should possess. Knocking was pointless, a way to announce the unknown. Pointless in the sense that it was a waste of time when all your biometrics were built into the most advanced security system in the world, but still. He had to establish some variant of a boundary. It was ironic, the present yearn for distance when closeness was all he craved as a child. He's changed a lot since then. Ajax as well, evidently.
There had been a time in history where Loren would whimper and cry when his mom insisted he sleep in his own bed as to not disturb the son of their gracious host. By all means, the boy had been old enough to sleep on his own and not snivel like a newborn. Where his own mother worried of being thrown out, Laurent worried of being alone; he couldn't- wouldn't sleep alone, crawling out of his room in the wee hours of the morning to seek out the presence of his sole companion. The older child never seemed to mind, nor did his mother. Ajax's mother found it endearing, the relationship the two had formed in such a small window of time. When she had offered the mother and son asylum by the sea, there had been no concern for the consequence such action would warrant. For her dear friend, there was no hesitation. No regard for such disloyalty to the ruling class. There should've been.
A sudden shuffle of limbs underneath a comforter, and a blur of off-white.
The only reason he was able to feel the satisfaction which placated his agitation for the moment was because Ajax allowed the pillow which Loren had thrown following the conclusion of his words to make contact. It was a shit throw, by all means. For someone who possessed the reaction and processing time of the most self-aware technology to date, dodging the clunky construct of cashmere and memory foam was akin to dodging a parked car.
So to say it brought immense gratification to Laurent to hear the dull thunk of thick foam hitting a solid creation of flesh and metal was an understatement. He knew if he wasn't who he was, there was no chance in hell the cyborg before him would've allowed something as meager as a pillow to make contact, but it did because Loren was the one who threw it. The Prince had kept his prone form turned away from the intruder when his left arm reeled back to throw the pillow, a haphazard sling by all means, so while he wasn't able to see the collision he'd like to think that his mental aim was high enough to connect with the guard's face.
It was only after a pregnant pause that the young diplomat arose from his bad, arising to sit cross legged on his bed with the thick comforter and various blankets pooling at his waist. The near-sheer loose silk blouse he wore could hardly be considered a sleep shirt, such finery typically reserved for matters which required the utmost composure. Yet to someone like Loren though, this hardly graced the list of luxury. The garment was buttoned low, the cut of undone fabric revealing a V of flesh down to his sternum, yet even such a window was hardly enough to display the collection of jewelry adorning light flesh. For someone who, as a whole, detested metal so much, he sure wore a lot of it. To bed no less.
Various length necklaces of gold and silver, cartilage adorned with studs of sapphire and blue diamond and lithe fingers encased with countless rings. Loren was right, by the way. It may have taken a month for his suspicions to be confirmed, but he was right. The name was foreign, coming from his lips. He supposed it was fitting, however. A new name for a new person.
"I don't remember telling you to wake me, Ajax. By whose orders do you act on?" He had an idea, though he was curious to see what reaction his accusation would garner. The interactions between the two had been all but nonexistent, even with a month of the two being within the same space.
A ringed finger ran through the askew strands of two-toned hair, the underside of near-white blond a shocking splash of blue that rivaled the hue of his own eyes. The exact blue of his eyes had been an object of disdain for a while, something his father often liked to shove down the throats of his peers. For the longest time, it was a color Loren viewed with contempt. He already knew he was special, destined for greatness. The color of his eyes had nothing to do with that, despite the opinion of his father. Anywhere the color of the ocean could be incorporated, it was. It had been more than annoying at first, yet eventually it only served to boost the Prince's already gargantuan ego.
In his eyes, it was a color he now owned. Reserved just for him. A constant reminder of just how great he was. A color that hardly paired well with the orange underglow of Ajax's mechanics. Something would have to be done about that, sooner or later.
With more dramatics than necessary the comforter was flung from Loren's form, the silk sleep shorts he wore hardly covered any expanse of lean legs but it wasn't as if the Prince cared nor expected guests at five in the fucking morning. No attention was spared as the blond took his time stretching his arms far above his head, before dismounting from the lofted bed as bare feet pattered across the heated black marble flooring to the direction of the en suite.
"Keep staring and I'll have them take your other eye. Be useful for once and get me breakfast."
Whose orders? Ajax sputters, and the indignation must show on his face, in the slight widening of his eyes and the slackening of his mouth. He needs to learn to school his features better. He never thought he’d need to, but what if he accidentally conveys something more unseemly at a public conference—he assumes he’ll be escorting Laurent to those as well, but the blond hasn’t been as politically involved as he’d previously surmised—where his opinions are most undoubtedly not needed? He should…
He should stop by Genji’s today; see if she has something that might help with his predicament. A patch, maybe. An update. Or maybe she’ll finally grin and pull her surgical gloves out to probe around in his cortex. Will… He watches Laurent’s fingers disappear in the roots of his hair, observes the stark black peeking through, catalogues it, averts his eyes. Will Laurent be accompanying him for this then? He makes a note to bring it up later.
Your father’s orders, is what he wants, means, to say now, but neither do the words form in his chest, nor does Laurent press on it. It must’ve been a slip of cognitive dissonance; he reckons the Prince isn’t accustomed to being awoken this early in the morning. Ajax still watches, silent, how he acquiesces to his warden’s request.
Who stands to lose more in their balance: the Prince for disrupting Ajax’s training routines, or the conscript for standing and near-demanding something from his charge? Perhaps neither of them own enough collateral to wait and see which way the switchblade flips. Perhaps they both hold one end of it, facing each other, ignoring the blood pooling in their palms and meeting by their feet, sullying their uniforms in its path. Perhaps, that is exactly why Laurent acquiesces, and why Ajax watches him rise from his mound of comfort.
He doesn’t think about it: his feet simply move to follow after the Prince’s receding figure, pillow still animatedly held in his hands, square over his chest. “I wasn’t staring,” he snaps immediately, only to backtrack the next second. Physically; his body reels one gaping step back. “Excuse me,” it’s as much of an apology as it is his informant. It’s a reflexive afterthought, one that abrades his throat like sand when he swallows. One he repeats with much more conviction—“Excuse me.”—once he realises where exactly he’s standing, and what he’s looking at: the mise en abyme of him standing behind Laurent.
He meets his own dark eyes, his right pupil glowing slightly warmer, slightly brighter, the eyeshine characteristic of late night predators. It’s easy to forget, in moments like these, when his reflection towers a head over Laurent’s, and he’s still holding that goddamn pillow like some kind of cartoon, it’s easy to forget who and what he is. What he’s done and what more he will. It’s even easier, this slip of reality, this dupe of his senses, when he’s spent the bulk of this past month cooped inside Laurent’s luxurious penthouse. Fuck, he needs to get his muscles reacquainted with the rip and strain of action.
There’s a slow, the gentle slope of his gaze lowering to meet the striking blue eyes already on him. Studying him with a carefully blank, unreadable expression. There is something unnerving in looking at him head-on, in the light. Despite being The Supreme’s son, he commands a smouldering presence of his own. As do his…
Ajax inhale freezes down its track, but his body doesn’t betray him with any further physical reactions. Is Laurent aware of how sheer his nightshirt is?
Ajax feels the familiar weight slowly dawning right over his left brow; he wears confusion heavier on the left side of his countenance, it must be a quirk to balance the heft of the right side of his body, that’s the only explanation he can offer.
Maybe it’s a trick of the light—he doesn't truly believe that, but he can convince himself to—the colour that peeks through Laurent’s shirt. The skin tender, darker than his natural tones, and dancing over his back in stripes, no. Straps.
This time, his eyes don’t miss a beat in skipping back to Laurent’s, and his lips press. It’s not your place to ask…? It ends in hesitation only because it is his place. It’s his place, and only his place, but Ajax can recognise wound patterns better than he can recognise the faces of his own comrades. It’s ingrained in him like a book. And besides, he’s heard the rumours. He doesn’t acknowledge them, but he’s heard of them, and he can say with full conviction that this falls outside of his field of expertise. So he respectfully extracts himself, blindly taking one step back, further into Laurent’s room.
“I will…” He fumbles. God, it shouldn’t be this difficult, he shouldn’t be struggling to balance on this tightrope. He shouldn’t be looking at Laurent and taking time to contemplate how to behave around him, to question if he should fall back to old traditions as a crutch; he has, after all, been in this exact situation before. This is not the first time he's found bruises on Laurent's skin. It is, however, the first time he doesn't blow upon discovering them. Because he shouldn’t be allowing past entanglements to affect his current obligations in the first place. Laurent clearly has no qualms about separating personal affairs from his formal commitments; no latency in reminding his counterpart either, if his threat about Ajax’s remaining eye is meant to sober him up.
Who’s to say Laurent even remembers. He must, the time Ajax spent in suites with him, but the circumstances leading up to it… who’s to say Laurent even remembers. He was younger than Ajax, and the massacre, it had happened before their eyes. Children tend to trauma-forget. So who’s to say?
He watches his reflection, still standing in the shadows of Laurent’s dark room. Ajax hadn’t forgotten though. Perhaps that means he was always written to end up here. That thought sobers him up. “Your car will be ready for you downstairs,” he quickly decides in the slip of silence between them, and doesn’t give Laurent the opportunity to respond.
The stupid pillow in his hands is flung across the room with more force than strictly necessary. He hears it hit the headboard of Laurent’s bed, the sound loud and regretful in his ears. It makes him heavily aware of the rough edges where his tactical gloves circle the individual fingers of his left hand, suddenly scratchy in the webs, in between each of the natural appendage. He doesn’t conceal his frustration when his prosthetic arm comes to press in the dips of his fingers, a dangerous pressure to itch away the discomfort, the sudden edge he feels.
Despite this unfamiliar fire raking its fingernails over him, he still pauses outside Laurent's door, reconsidering. The drop in temperature between his room and the outside is infinitesimal; a common laboratory thermometre wouldn't record it. But Ajax has spikes in his spines and wires replacing his most optical nerves. Not only does he notice, but it clears his head too, reminding him that the Prince is awake and he is intentionally about to leave the premises. Surely, he’s being too paranoid; not of the Prince’s fate if Ajax isn’t where he was specifically instructed to be at all times; but of his own, at the hands collared around his throat, not touching his skin just yet, but the scratch of anticipation everpresent; one step forward, one step astray, and he’d overload his circuits. Yes. Ajax had also heard of the kind of technology The Supreme’s rings are integrated with.
By the hands of a man he once called “father”… He still does, he supposes, but the context isn’t the same as it used to be, is it? Is any of it? He deliberates, taking wide strides as he. Is any of this as it used to be? It's meant to be a cheap portrait of what he used to have; what he was once given, would be the better wording. This time, he picks up on it, not because he's specifically designed to, but because you'd have to be blind to miss it.
He shakes the useless trail of thoughts out of his head, and stops by the kitchen to press over a quick slide of illuminated tags on the centre island. He inputs the instruction in the system to have the Prince’s morning platter served in his car. As for his own breakfast, he’ll worry about that later. His hunger doesn’t work the way it used to; he doesn’t require as much as he used to, and he doesn’t feel the pang of it until he’s exhausted himself to the core. Something he, tragically, shamefully, hasn’t done in recent weeks.
Nova is going to get on his ass for his negligence, but he still has an hour, at most, until he has to face her wrath. For now, he takes the stairwell with an extra jump in his step, all the way down to the basement levels. There’s hardly a change in his breathing pattern once he passes the last vaulted door. The security guards shoot him strange side eyes when he saunters in, flicking a finger through his fringe.
He doesn’t bother asking which one the Prince prefers taking, clapping his hands once to set the platforms under each vehicle alight.
The retort was wholly unexpected, the sudden cessation of movement by Laurent's feet and the whip of his head was indication enough. He'd be floundering with ire if all his cortex functions hadn't been muddied by sleep. Instead, there seemed to be a manner of disbelief about the blond, and the riposte had been hauntingly efficient in garnering the attention of Loren, for his eyes were immediate in their fixation on Ajax.
The glow of soft ambient light from the ensuite lit up the left side of Ajax's face in an almost ethereal light. Yet by the same token, it cast the right side of the man's face in a blanket of darkness, alight only by the warm smolder of cybernetic implants. The mirror before the pair did not help to soothe Loren's erratic brain, rather it feed into the distortion so common in smoke and mirrors and portrayed Ajax to be a sentient creature of the abyss. He could not help but feel cornered, hellfire before him and an unforgiving sea behind. The inspiration he felt was not of fear but rather spurred on by grave indignation.
For someone who never minded the mantle of being the center of attention, the preternatural gleam from bionic retinal prosthesis was almost a weight too heavy to bear. That didn’t lessen the heat of the boy’s glare, however. If anything, it only further caused his eyes to narrow in an unspoken challenge. He was not yet privy to the mental process of his guard, their interactions scarce and hostile. Should the mechanized creation be looking for a reason to earn the wrath of Loren, the unabashed gaze was a good place to start. It was a crippling gaze to stand under, however. Laurent felt like his skin was being peeled back to reveal the most intimate and private aspects of his life, and he hadn't realized how brief the exchanging glance had been until it was removed and the blond felt as if he could once more breathe. Perhaps the cyborg was cognizant of the trepidation steadily brewing within the human, for it was without being prompted that he backed away from his charge.
The Prince's nose flared like a riled bull, and the glare he settled on Ajax's shadowed form was withering.
"Fine. I'll be down soon. Get out."
The uttered words were more so for the sole benefit of Loren, some composed illusion of control to soothe his aggravated nerves considering the object they were directed at had, as far as Laurent knew, long since vacated the room by the time he came to a state capable of response.
A cacophony of fabric and wood colliding was hardly the most pleasant noise to hear while his drowsy brain still played catch-up, and as he braced his hands before him on the countertop his head hung low between his shoulder blades as if the change in height would cause the ringing in his ears of cease. He'd have a conversation about that with his guard when the mere thought of opening his mouth didn't inspire nausea.
Angular fingers found purchase on the beveled edge of backlit marble, melodic chimes of rings scraping across the polished stone. The registered presence of someone within the confines of the bathroom caused the dim lights to flare to a high illumination, earning a disgruntled exhale from Loren as the sleep was scorched from his eyes. The squinting of his pupils caught the biometrics of the mirror and the frosted glass gave way to the crystal-clear rendition of his reflection.
It was hard to recognize himself. Who he knew thought himself to be, at least. The mirrored depiction before him never quite offered the comfort Loren sought. His eyes weren't this bloodshot, cheeks not nearly this gaunt. The Prince walked the thin side, but he wasn't this emaciated. Was he? As his eyes bore into the void, svelte composure worn by a bloodied, tear-tracked face stared back. He didn't look like that- not anymore at least.
A drag of long, skinny fingers roughly down his face sufficed to break him from his internal dissociation, and the fog which had been building behind his eyes like a pressure cooker since his unwarranted awakening dissipated with each splash of scalding water. The image staring back at him once he'd allowed blue to flint back up was, a concrete reassurance to the foundation of sand that Loren's psyche currently stood on. He wasn't the same child from all those years ago.
They'd gotten worse, since his arrival. His insomnia. The memories. The nightmares. Laurent thought that was a bridge he had long since burned, though he wasn't quite so sure now.
If they were venturing below today, he might as well swing by the pharmacy. No big deal.
He'd flushed his last prescription, the same night 'Ajax' had appeared back into his life. At the time, it seemed like a proper fuck you to dear old Dad. He knew what the medications were, his father wasn't one to beat around the bush. He was eager to prove to himself he didn't need the pills anymore. He did.
The monotony of his morning routine, something he typically dreaded and dragged his feet to get around to, was a comfort blanket of consistency this morning. Waking this early, he hardly looked like himself. Didn't feel like it. So it took him a bit longer to ready himself to a presentable state than one would assume. That, or it was with purpose that he wasted time if only to prove a point already made evident in the relationship of charge and sovereign.
Regardless, the Prince would keep his word. This early in the morning, he didn't have the effort, coordination nor desire to lie.
If there was a reason for such a rude awakening, then there was cause for a more composed outfit. That being said, Loren didn't have near enough patience or desire to comply with such logic. The Supreme would likely blow a fuse should he catch wind of the plain clothes he wore,. It was as if his Father preferred for his sole son to wear a target on his back. Probably.
Eyes as captivating as Laurent's did not come without a cost. As extraordinary as the brilliant hues of blue were, such shades tended to invoke severe sensitivity. It was manageable, the majority of the time. His lashes were long enough to offer shade from the vivid rays of a dying star, yet the true irritation came from artificial illumination.
Hence the sunglasses coupled with the hood of his jacket pulled high over his head.
The weight of various necklaces looped around his neck was as grounding as he'd be able to manage, for now, gravity solidifying his earthly body as he boarded the elevator. The lift was bare of buttons, a security measure naturally, but with the offered bark of an access code, the descent to the main garage began with a chime. The low hum of exuberant music was disconnected near instantaneously with a similar command. If it was too early for the sun, it was damn too early for that kind of bullshit.
His entry into the basement was met with averted eyes and bowed heads, proper subordination in the presence of one's superior. Leave it to his father to saddle him with the one soldier who had the gall to confront Loren. What a clusterfuck this was turning out to be.
The sentry closest to the elevator offered a pre-programmed tablet out to the Prince, which Loren took without so much as a blink, immediately absorbed in the daily report of global going-on and the latest societal scandals. The latter was of far more interest to the diplomat, a ringed finger brisk in its scrolling as he rounded the awaiting vehicle.
He had assumed Ajax had already settled within the navy and cream interior of the sleek gray car, though he hadn't been opposed to leaving the guard at the compound altogether. No such luck, however. No doorman was needed, for a construct of such technology recognized the presence of its owner, and the back right door opened as soon as Loren breached the vehicle's spatial zone of recognition.
No greeting is offered, but after a month of breathing down each other's necks, that's to be expected. Laurent's sunglasses are only removed once the ambient lighting of the car dims down to a tolerable level, and the no-doubt exorbitant shades are thrown haphazardly to fall within the interior of the car.
He's pleased to find that his order had been honored, a cursory glance spared to the dark-haired man beside him at the sight of a silver platter laden with various breakfast items. Truthfully, Lauren didn't plan to eat any of it. He couldn't stomach food at a regular hour; let alone this damn early. The blond settled within the plush confines of his seat, propping a booted foot on the leather edge to balance the tablet against his knee.
The car had barely started towards its pre-routed destination, just rolled out of the underground basement when a notification pinged on the low-light screen. Laurent's groan was palpable, and he nearly declined the incoming call. He fumbled with the entertainment set embedded in the back of the seat in front of him, withdrawing a sleek earbud before relenting and allowing the call to connect. The technology was of the utmost standard, and while the earbuds were more than adept at eliminating background noise and preventing any eavesdroppers, it was not a grand feat for those with enhanced hearing to make out the conversation being exchanged.
"I see you're up with the sun, for once." The underlying bite to the Supreme's words, despite the overt chipperness, earned only a noncommittal hum, as if Loren had everywhere to be yet nowhere to go. He'd rather be anywhere but on a phone call with his father, headed God knows where. He could suffer through this if he just focused on the digitized tabloids. If his father was bothered by the utter lack of response, it wasn't evident in the slightest as he continued on with his address.
"And Ajax?" Laurent was aware the flute of orange juice contained no alcohol, yet he'd need a drink all the same just to get through this conversation, and grasped the glass like a lifeline. The current direction of the discussion had his throat seizing horrifically, and his molars began to ache with the pressure his jaws collided with. "How is my boy doing- settling in? You two getting along- I knew you would!"
The syntax relayed through the earpiece gives Loren considerable pause, his mindless scrolling reined to a halt as if all cognitive functions the young man possessed froze at a simple collection of vowels and consonants. My boy? Loren's been called numerous things by his father, referred to as worse. He, the sole heir and only blood-relative of his father, had never been called my boy. He wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry. He felt unwell, an all-too-common occurrence now.
The abyssal blue of Laurent's eyes is slow to focus, patient in their slide until they fixated on the broad stature of Ajax. The gaze he settled on the cyborg is less than kind, disdain evident within the various pigments and swirls of blue. There are a thousand different responses the Prince could offer, and even more curses, and yet no explanation would come close to sufficing.
"He's fine." His fingers seemed to regain their motor skills, mindless scrolling resumed after a pregnant respite. "Running errands with me, though you already knew that right?" With as much as Loren could get away with when it came to his father, there was still a distinct line to be crossed and the Supreme had no qualms about pulling rank over his own child. So he'd bottle his venom for another day.
The laugh that was offered through the receiver made Loren's stomach burn with nausea and convulsing rage. He watched the swirl of pulp in a sea of orange as his father continued on with his now monologue, his tabloids and scandals are all but forgotten for the moment. The Prince couldn't seem to hang up fast enough, of course after he had been dismissed.
A lithe index finger skimmed from the screen of his tablet, abandoning the latest celebrity drama to roam over the brushed aluminum panels, backlit by blue before toying with the window lock. He'd already made his mind up as the tinted glass rolled into its recess within the door, and the glass flute was tossed from the car before the window began its crawl back. For a moment, his eyes watched the ensuing world outside the ambiance of the car, the city just started to wake as the first rays of sunrise began to creep above the horizon to paint the sky in vivid shades of violet. And as if reality and the current situation dawned, Laurent let his tablet as well as the popped-out earbud slide to the floor.
"I need to go to the doctor. Where are we going."
Where are you taking me was perhaps a better alternative, but doing so would expose Loren's lack of control over the situation. The chance of that occurring was nonexistent. He was the elite, the diplomat, the fucking Prince. If he wished to know their destination, then he had all the right to know. Just as he had the privilege to demand and deny as he pleased.
Ajax watches the tinted window roll back, setting into place; watches Laurent’s fingers flick over and under its lock. He promptly reaches behind himself, and watches the bionics on his right hand complete the circuits on the instruction pad in blue circles around his fingertips, blue lines extending on the matte screen, blue dots joining the current into the preinstalled electronics in the car. It barely makes a sound: the windows shifting to opaque black.
The LED strips running along the car’s ceiling and floor cast a soft glow in the darkness, making all of Laurent’s hair appear a regal blue. Ajax briefly wonders how his own lurid orange must clash boisterously against their new lightning, but it’s not something—the colour or its intensity—he has control over.
And then, those thoughts turn trivial when all sound is suddenly vacuumed from their car: the faint hum of the engine, the muffled crunch of gravel under the tyre grooves. Ajax sits up straighter, but doesn’t reach for the gun strapped on his right thigh. Judging from the quiet, one would assume the car had stopped running entirely, but Ajax still feels the quiver of the car shell under his boot.
This is semi-familiar routine, though not one he’s ever had to revisit often.
“The doctor,” he supplies, with an extra kick in his voice. He meant to stop by Genji’s anyway, this makes his task a lot easier; but the enthusiasm is short lived. “Eventually,” he quietly tacks on, remembering most pureblood humans still prefer getting checked over by fellow pureblood doctors, even if humanoid ones are more efficient; even if humanoid ones run labs and diagnoses in the backrooms. It must be the personal comfort of sitting with a familiar face, one you can rake your eyes over and recognise similar facial patterns in.
Like how Ajax rakes his eyes over Laurent now, following the jut of his ankle and the curve of his thigh, all the way up to the unblemished column of his neck. He can’t identify any physical ailments, at least, and the Prince hadn’t looked too sickly or walked with an off-kilter limp in his step in the morning either. Ajax would offer, unsolicited, that he is perhaps on the lower side of the weight scale, but it isn’t nearly as severe as some of the cases he’s seen in the city hospitals. Scratch that, most weren’t hospitalised. Ajax can understand why. He’d employed the same mindset his first few months into conscription: either you become untouchable and spare yourself the extra clinic visits, or you grit your teeth and bear it. Every moment spent strapped to a hospital bed—or in his case, a technician’s table or a stasis pod—is valuable time lost he could be working on himself. Nova was quick to beat him to his senses, “You’ll be dead before you even get the chance to prove yourself on the field.” The ultimatum. Absolutely unthinkable. However, Ajax can still understand and respect the sentiment the street rats follow.
Abruptly, and without Ajax having to reach behind him again, the car windows are wiped of all colour, and he finds himself staring through panes of crystal-clear glass at an endless reflective wall that curves in its path upwards, threatening to round into them too. The self-driving car makes no sound as it swerves down the carved tunnel.
The unnatural shape of the passageway is not what catches his attention. He's staring at the arsenal incorporated into the construction of the tunnel walls; the circular hollow tubes stare right back at him, through their narrow barrels, in thinly-viced threat.
He knows they face no threat here, because the newly-glowing patch on the left-bias of his chest is suddenly warm, even through the layers of his carbon-integrated uniform.
There are infrared guns dispersed in-between the regular ones, impossible to discern from one another, and if Ajax wasn’t present, if he did not have the luminescent tag on his chestplate, and if the scanners, at any point, identified an error in it, this car would never have made it across the enclosed shaft. The thick insulation from the depth of the underground tunnel would ensure that the public above and outside would be blissfully unaware of the tragedy burning right below their feet. It would never be televised either, and Ajax wouldn't have to worry about the consequences, because the most integral parts of him are still human and therefore, entirely fallible.
Despite that, and the presence of an inferno brewing in their only proper course inside, Ajax knows, watching the blur of silver and black whizzing past them, that they face no threat here. This is the place Ajax has called home during the most influential years of his life; it was made around him, like how he was made by it. But this is only his third time entering the compound from the front, so he’s still wary of the barrels lining the edges of the ceiling, an endless lace of black, all aimed right for their heads.
If nothing goes awry, today should be his third time time leaving the Protective Echelon compound through this route too.
As the tunnel finally ends, the windows are repainted over once more, but this time, for not nearly as long; Ajax pushes the car door open with this entire weight, though it doesn’t make it open any faster, the moment the familiar hum under him ceases, allowing the artificial white light in. With a quick survey of their surroundings, he knows they’re in the topmost parking space of the P.E. compound.
He jogs around the car, standing beside Laurent’s already-open door, and offers his left hand to help the Prince out, the black prosthetic folded behind his back, out of view. He offered his hand with the expectation of the Prince taking it, but the first touch of cool skin on his fingertips makes his arm physically tremour. Ajax is right-handed, after all.
He retracts it once the Prince is on his feet, waving it behind him to signal the door shut. When he turns around, a soldier is already standing behind them, in the same minimalistic uniform Ajax adorns, and no question, sent by Central Hub to check on the—until specified otherwise—intruders, even if the plaque on Ajax's breastplate sifts the unexpendable from the undesirables in the first place. The security is efficient here like that. Ajax can at least appreciate that much, even if he believes they could could have sent someone more…
Mutt, Ajax sneers at him, and watches the man’s lip curl upward from one corner, baring his canines. Ajax clears his throat immediately, announcing slightly louder than necessary, but still with a cool composure, to bring attention to the formal company they’re in: “Good, you’re already here. You’re to escort our Prince.” To Ajax’s previous living quarters, temporarily.
The compound was never designed to accommodate outside visitors. There are no waiting areas or sitting rooms, what he remembers of the Palace from his childhood. They have conference and tactical war rooms, neither of which he’d deem worthy even for a formal tour of the place, if those were allowed. He’s heard of—seen the letters piled on Nova’s desk—the ambassadors and embassy officials requesting a guided one. The Supreme never sanctions them, and now, the requests are discarded of without being brought to his knowledge; they're either shredded or, if they start to pile up, incinerated below the basements. It’s not the most favoured task among the soldiers, and it’s not assigned to just anyone. The alloy in their limbs can withstand the heat in the enclosed, insulated space, but the natural, fleshy parts of their body, as it turns out, cannot.
“Maden,” Ajax gestures to the sinewy trooper standing behind Laurent. He's shorter than Ajax, but his build is stockier, and his orange accent lights are a deeper orange. He wears an expression more stern and austere than Ajax's, and if he didn’t know him any better, if they hadn’t been raised together these past seven years, Ajax would have been swayed by it.
“You can rely on him. I will…” He takes a deep breath, bracing himself for the words he’s about to vow, and the fate he’s cutting for himself. He holds his gaze steady with Maden’s, glaring hard at the man. It’s not seen as noble to pull rank over your comrades in the barrack, especially not when you’re part of the same legion, but Ajax hopes he conveys his intentions through the slight constriction of his prosthetic eye. Ajax takes a steady inhale, letting it air out some of the perpetual heat inside his motor-meets-man body. “I will take personal accountability for any missteps on his part.”
He’s the one handing over Laurent’s responsibility to someone other than himself. The P.E. unit might harbour exceptional loyalty to the royal family—none of his brothers would voluntarily sabotage his mission from personal spite, if they value their own head—but having specific assigned responsibility is a different level of personal concern than a general sense of duty to the crown. Which is why he promises, “He will return me to you.”
The narrow of Maden’s eyes on him divulge the specifics: he understood what Ajax meant to convey, layered beneath the general instruction.
His sight slips lower to the new addition on Maden’s uniform: the rectangular glowing patch on his left breast. When he looks up, Maden is already staring at him. In fact, he hasn’t taken his eyes off Ajax, like a target, almost entirely unnerved by the Prince sandwiched between them.
"Post o' nine-hundred,” Ajax adds, addressing the Prince and hoping the hostility goes unnoticed by him, “I am at your disposal. For your…” He looks to Maden again. Announcing doctor’s visit out loud feels as though he’s breaking trust over something told to him in confidence.
So instead, he simply nods at the other man, “You know where to find me.” Maden tips his chin back at Ajax. He doesn’t repeat the words to the Prince.
He has barely-healed incisions lining the length of his vertebral column, so the extra prongs of the metal chip on his neck, over the topmost protrusion of his spine, isn’t an unwelcome or even uncomfortable feeling, but it is a foreign one. He doesn’t know where it’s connected to Laurent’s person: his tablet? His smartwatch? His sunglasses? It doesn’t particularly matter to him; what’s important is that Laurent is aware of his live location at all times. Despite this, you know where to find me aren’t the exact words he’d direct to the Prince. He’d reiterate them: you know how to summon me if you require my immediate services.
The chip, embedded under his skin, undulates with the muscle with every angle of Ajax's head, and works as a call button too. Genji wasn’t legally or ethically required to bring any of it to his knowledge, but she had; feeling a sympathetic obligation or perhaps, as a result of their cordial camaraderie. Either way, he wouldn’t have been any less grateful.
If the disregard offered by Ajax is processed by Loren, the Prince gives no indication, his attention all but consumed by the world outside of the protective carapace of the vehicle. Even in the face of the opaque glass, he stares at his cloudy reflection, bathed in blue and highlighted by severe shadows. Had Laurent been of paranoid stock, the sudden awareness of Ajax would have been more than adequate in raising his concerns. He wasn't. Composure and collection had been beaten, more or less, into every fiber of his existence. The blond would save face if it were the last thing he'd be capable of doing if only to be spared the temporary wrath of his Father.
He's far too engrossed on the scene before the windows to properly notice the alertness his guard acts with. The dissolving of the protective cover into exposing clarity has Loren further pressing against his door if only to allow himself a wider visual range.
There is not necessarily a sense of fear but more so vast intrigue as the Prince watches the shiny cylinders embedded into the wall blur by. His eyes, as well as his sensory processing, is not nearly as efficient as that of Ajax's, but he's able to perceive enough and root through his storeroom of knowledge to infer what exactly he's looking at. Loren would argue the showy array was perhaps a bit overkill for a facility that specialized in protection, yet he's fascinated all the same. The windows smoke over before he can truly begin to appreciate the lethality of the craftsmanship.
He settles back into the plush leather, almost begrudgingly, internal excitement brimming as if the windows will reveal themselves once more just to allow another glimpse of the automated defense systems. His attention is not normally aloof nor is he particularly absent-minded, but the Prince has always been captivated by the mechanics of how things work and just how well they do. It was just unfortunate, the disdain he harbored for cyborgs.
It is not until the undulating system of tunnels yields to open into an underground cavern that Laurent realizes their destination. This is not an entrance he is necessarily familiar with. Of the two times he has ventured to the compound, he'd been accompanied both with the presence of his father and his father's accompanying entourage.
Of the two scarce occasions, they had entered via airship, a direct entrance for the benefit of non-modified humans. Like particularly members of the Royal Family, some foreign ambassadors preferred to avoid humanoids when applicable. The entrance was also desirable for those, like Loren, who refused to have an implant for security clearance. He had devices displaying his status and just who he was, naturally, but such technology was not nearly as efficient as embedded chips, a necessity for more backroom entrances.
The Protective Echelon Compound may have been constructed solely for bionics and biometric advancement, though it was still a facility run and owned by purebloods.
The societal divide by class and composition was more severe in The Supreme's state, ironic as to the sheer ratio imbalance of bionic to blood, yet it was still a general sentiment shared by neighboring sovereignties.
The first time had been at the early stages of construction, within the first six months of The Supreme's newfound position. The natural cavity boring into strata had only just been discovered and excavation had been spearheaded in secrecy from the public. It was evident, with the billions of cubic meters that had been dug into the earth to accommodate the massive complex, that construction had been more than successful.
The second visit had occurred years later, at the official unveiling, though it was hardly an institution that had been open to the public. More so it had been another event disclosed for the elite echelon if only to further solidify the fear they should harbor for the newfound premier of the nation. Back then, the illusion of a democratic government had gradually eroded into the play of smoke and mirrors that had been cast. It was fascinating; how humanity worked. By the time something amiss was noticed by the particularly perceptive members of society, it was far too late to truly do something about it.
Naturally, there were circulating rumors and word on the derelict streets of a new breed of supersoldier, far more modded and meched than federal law ordained. It was impossible to avoid the occasional whistleblower in a regime such as the Supreme's, and no matter how efficient covert groups may have been at eliminating anarchist organizations, people slipped through the cracks. Words were said and documents leaked. It happened. As it was now, in present times, it wasn't like disgruntled civilians could do anything or get anywhere with the information they possessed.
That being said, maintaining order was a necessity for any institute of power. That had been the entire purpose of the Protective Echelon. To cultivate and preserve the power the Supreme held. Money and influence only got one so far; it was fear and authority that kept the peons and peasants in order.
An Edifice of Excellence.
It was how his father tended to refer to the P.E., when he bragged to plenipotentiaries and emissaries who ventured onto the private grounds. It was a fair assessment, that much was evident. Throughout the years the complex operated, it was efficient beyond all measures. For the gargantuan amount of space the construct of epoxy and titanium consumed, the yield of soldiers was perhaps less than one may have expected. Rather than the millions the barracks had space for, the yield instead hovered closer to the hundreds of thousands.
The training was brutal. The process of meeting mandated recruitment minimums, let alone actually making it into the Protective Echelon, was more than the vast majority of the population could handle. Vigorous conditioning was perhaps the easiest component of the compound, and it was there where most applicants were cut. Further yet, very few bodies could handle the operations that converted men into machines, and even fewer minds could withstand the mental anguish the procedures demanded. The standards were stringent, and even prodigies took years to endure the entirety that the Protective Echelon had to offer.
It was the exacting brutality that made the militant prowess of the Supreme so renowned, why there had yet been an invasion on home soil or retribution for breaching aggressions. As it was, no government, foreign or otherwise, was prepared or willing to face the wrath of the enhanced humanoid army the Supreme commanded.
A look at any one graduate was evidencing enough of the physical transformation that occurred, bones cut of alloy and muscles packed with synthetic protein; nerves patched with filament and fibers, and cognitive cortexes suited with transmitters. However, the greatest transfiguration was the one that occurred to the mind and mental processes of the P.E. candidate.
When Loren had been a child, no more than ten, his father had instructed him to read Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals. He saw no purpose in reading literature over hundreds of years old, but he'd indulge the request of his father if only to get a reprieve from the arduous command of his studies. As it was, Laurent's father had yet to rise to his current status. As one may expect, the diction was archaic, and the jargon confusing. At the time, be it that he was still young or merely read for the sole outcome of parental satisfaction, the words hardly posed any picture or raised any impact on the boy. The sole concept Loren could comprehend from his reading, even at his young age, was that within society, those with the most influence and power determined the standards of that society, and what was considered good and moral.
It wasn't until Loren first ventured into the P.E. Compound and heard of its purpose that the words of Nietzsche resonated with something consequential within the blond. It was told that conscience was formed- trained by humans into development so guilt would be felt should a promise be broken, and therefore humans would be more inclined to keep said promise. A fault of humanity, as far as his Father was concerned. With a conscience came regret and hesitation, something that made a poor soldier and an even worse protector.
So they broke the conscience of incoming candidates.
Nietzsche claimed that humanity was happier when its populace was not ashamed and contrite of its basic instincts. That humanity derived satisfaction from being cruel.
So they reverted soldiers back to basic instinct. Let them brawl, bathe in blood and sinew, and rewarded the outcome.
And when they had maddened minds and hardened hearts, they imposed the ideal of ascetics onto malleable metallic. It was this entire notion that allowed Loren, as well as numerous other elites, to put their lives in the hands of bionic modification. Even though it went against the very fabric of their nature, without fail soldiers would sacrifice themselves for the betterment of their charges. The severe self-discipline of those of the Protective Echelon was far more damning than any punishment imposed unto them by others, should a mistake be made.
Punishment was still a favorite tactic employed in training, naturally.
Loren is pulled from his internal musings with the termination of tires spinning. The smooth mechanism of the rear door opening only serves to further draw Loren's attention, though he is admittedly a bit taken aback with a pause at the sudden outstretch of a palm. Manners are not necessarily something super-soldiers are trained for, even the ones who are assigned to be in close connect with regal diplomats and aristocrats. He's ready to berate Ajax with vile, because he knows how much Loren fucking detests the man's mechanics, but his irritation simmers upon further inspection and the dawning realization that the outstretched fingers are bone and flesh, not alloy and synthetic polymer.
It is still with considerable disgust that he takes the hand, if only to set expectations. He's of royal heritage; he should be treated as such.
The hand he touches is flesh, otherwise he would have avoided the offer, yet even the man's flesh is feverish. Loren does not run particularly hot, his temperature like most things is on the low side, yet even still the contact is hotter than he's really prefer. A side-effect of internal processors and computers and conductive material; cyborgs always run hot, even those with minimal implants and modifications. The ones created in the Protective Echelon are typically modded to the nines- he can only imagine just how high their internal temperature soars.
Uncharacteristic of the blond, though as of now his hair is two-toned, is his silence. It is not out of courtesy for the exchanges made between the two, certainly not. He hardly seems aware of the two humanoids presence, quite frankly. His blue eyes roam the cavernous yet meticulous space, taking stock of the scarce other vehicles parked. His blueprint knowledge of the compound is shoddy at best, but he's aware their location is a mere blimp on the sprawling compound grounds.
It's only when the words the taller of the two utters process within his frontal lobe that his eyes abandon their roam to settle on orange that is far more burnt and simmering than he has become accustomed to. He turns to properly level a glance, near in line with Ajax now, however cursory, unto the other soldier, before the frost of his eyes slide to resume their stock of the parking deck.
"Lieutenant-"Maden is forgone. Names are not an honorific Loren feels particularly inclined to offer to cyborgs, too human for something so utterly not. And while the Prince may lack experience, field and otherwise, he's still educated to levels higher than one would expect, even of his status. He's aware of the insignia emblazoned on Maden's chest and what it pertains to, just as he knows the crest embellished in high relief on Ajax's breast relays just how significant this particular visit is.
Its as if he didn't bother to listen to any of the chatter to have left Ajax's mouth, which is not really that unbelievable.
"Consider yourself dismissed. Your services are not needed at this particular time." If only for the dramatics, Laurent pauses in his scald, his eyes returning to assess Maden with a far more detailed look-over and his posture composes into something more fitting to someone of his standing. "Perhaps you should have been assigned to my detail instead, as it seems my sentry has forgotten his place." As human as Loren was, he seemed to have a talent of appearing inhumanly stoic, if the manner of his speaking and the utterly blank look on his face was indication enough. There was a chill in the blue of his eyes however, that managed to fester with fire despite the severe lack of any one particular emotion.
For the first time since his disembarkment of the vehicle, his eyes cut over to Ajax, and the familiar seething aggravation is back. "Let's go." A command, no doubt, and despite not knowing where their destination is, the blond turns sharply on a booted heel to advance towards the only corridor he can see. Its an action reminiscent of a handler calling it's hound to heel, a critical imbalance of power that orders compliance and obedience lest severe discipline is desired.
It's not out of politeness or respect that Laurent waits until his guard is adjacent to his form that he snarls, but more so to spare himself from having to yell. "Mind yourself, soldier. Know your place. You are to stay by my side and heed my commands. That is your purpose and your only purpose. This is your warning. Understand?"
There is a distinct lack of grace in the manner of which he speaks; he sounds more like a General than a spoiled heir. There's an abundance of malice wound tight within his lean body, the only emotion which constantly betrays his human nature. He's quick to break his anger in for composure however, a sharp intake straightening his shoulders and a jut to his chin as he yields to allow Ajax to take the lead by a step.
He is, after all, unfamiliar with where they are heading.
Your side and your command, but my trust and my judgement, he wants to argue. He wants to argue, but there is succinct finality in the Prince’s tone that leaves nothing left to be further discussed.
The metallic ligaments, and the fine conduction wires in each one, stress taut in his jaw when he bites his strong molars into the thicker side of his tongue. He refuses to meet the Prince’s eye—Maden still in view, the dog still rooted in his empty place in the parking platform—when he grits out, “…Understood.” Maden wears an open smirk now; one Ajax longs to lunge for, claws out, to remind his junior of the last time he’d directed that smirk at Ajax. They’d taken the fingers he’d used to take out his eye, but he was never on the receiving end of Maden’s arrogance again.
He knows what Maden is going to go back to spread now: Ajax’s grown an ego, he’ll babble with his ugly laugh, relishing in his upper hand, Ajax can’t even follow basic instructions. He knows what they’ll say in the barracks and whisper around the training halls. The mere thought of it has his feet skid, riveting on his heel, the tip of his left boot pointing and poised to sprint, consequences be damned. Laurent had threatened to take his good eye over breakfast this morning; maybe Ajax can draw inspiration from his new life experiences. Maybe he’ll pay with his left hand this time.
His body freezes before he can take the first step to his demise, chest still stewing in the heat of his hiking rage. He freezes because his ears register a sound, and the legs of the artificial spine crawling up his back seize, digging deeper into his flesh, steering his body before his mind can catch up. There’s nothing he sees in his viewport—no flashes, no jagged disruptions in some sinusoidal wave of brain waves—but there’s a tug in his chest, like an abrupt spike in a seismograph that turns everyone’s heads; the look that passes through the geologists. The surprise from it is what reigns Ajax first, and then he seems to process that the sound he just heard was of the Prince’s shoes tap, tap, tap-ing behind him.
Maden is forgotten in an instant.
Ajax focuses on the rhythmic beats of his own steps, taking the lead ahead.
When the mechanics inside him were still new and adjusting, he’d focus on the whir of motors that pounded inside his abdomen; or rest his head to the side, on his shoulder, to hear the crackle of current right underneath. He doesn’t hear either of them anymore, and it makes him wonder if he’s simply gotten used to it over the years, maybe it’s become such an intrinsic part of his being that he's adapted to overlook the background noises entirely, deeming them distractious, or maybe it has to do with the countless rounds to the clinic that he doesn’t remember. The few cherry-picked ones he was drugged unconscious for.
He can’t remember the prosthetics he wore after the first accident orchestrated at the seaside house, during the first and only attempt to retrieve Laurent. but those limb-aids couldn’t have grown with him to accommodate his size.
The hallways are silver and empty. No one passes them; none of his brothers, none of the sentries. Ajax doesn’t pick up on any distant shuffling, scruffing, or sliding, either. This would worry him, if they weren’t inside the P.E. compound. If this wasn’t the most secure place in the country—a foreboding, impenetrable fortress—Ajax would’ve worried. He would’ve pushed Loren to the wall, and inched forward to inspect the forked path himself first; but Ajax is not worried, so he continues onwards in wide strides, eyes level with the horizon line. There’s dark indents in the walls they pass, the only indication of a room behind, but none are ornate with name plaques. No indication of what lies behind each. Yet, Ajax stops with padded feet right in front of one, and doesn’t pause to double-guess. His judgments are never lacking. He can't allow them lack, because what else defines him but his quick-calls and impetuous evaluations?
He swipes his bionic arm above the door, and hears the faint sounds from within; watches as it pulls in and slides into the wall cavity.
Ajax steps aside to let the Prince through first, but is quick to follow after him, waiting like a barrier between him and the doorway until it slides to lock back into place. Only then does Ajax pass by his shoulders, walking deeper into the silver-toned office, smooth colours from the hallway seeping inside like a continuous branch. Though inside, the light panes in the ceiling are paler, shrouding the room in darker, more stormcloud tones.
He’s not trying to evade the inevitable, he tells himself. He’s not here to try and pass the Prince’s baton to someone else again; he planned to stop by Nova’s, he’d planned to do so before he’d woken the Prince in the morning. He’s required to check in with his squadron leader after out-field operations. This isn’t exactly that, but it would qualify under the same category! The keynote of his pitstop has nothing to do with the suited blond on his tail; but if Nova were to offer, Ajax would not intervene.
Almost on cue, a feminine voice breaks from the corner of the room: “Ajax?” It’s muffled, fluffed in the air, and comes from behind the divider wall to their left. Ajax takes one step closer to the table. Nova is his superior; everything he knows and is yet to learn, trickles from her. Ajax can’t recognise people by the sound and weight and tempo of their steps alone, but Nova can. Her record in the stealth simulators remains unbroken to this day.
He hears her release a breath through her lips. “Thank you for saving me the trouble of fetching for you. Belated congrats on your promotion,” she huffs a breathy chuckle and Ajax steals a quick glance at Prince. “I realised I never did that last time… But now that you’ve a had this month to honeymoon around, we need to discuss your additional responsibili– Oh.”
A woman appears in the clearing, from behind the partition wall. A dark-skinned woman in the same black uniform Ajax dons, with her circuits lit star-white, where Ajax's are fiery orange. Her biomimetics are of an older model. Or so he's assumed thus far, because the top half of her head, above the slope of her nose, is replaced with a clunkier helmet of thick metal; her right arm blocky; and where her fingers should be, is empty, cubic opening. A built-in laser gun. Thick cords of wire extend from both, her skull and her arm, feeding somewhere into the back of her uniform, probably hosing into her spine too. Even the newer robotic sentries have smoother, sleeker surfaces, which is why Ajax has inferred she belonged to a more exclusive project. He's yet to meet anyone else with an interface like hers.
“My Prince,” she bows her head, thumping her gun-arm over her chest, on the medal pinned over her heart. “Captain Nova," she greets, or perhaps, reminds.
He has no first-hand experience in the matter, but he’s heard; baseless rumours, once more. It's how idle minds occupy themselves once even the routines of training are ingrained in your muscles like reflex, like breathing. He’s heard the upper ranks are held by purebloods, and Nova… Ajax observes the plain silver medal affixed onto the breast of her uniform, where Ajax’s own dimly-lit orange one sits. Nova is one of their captains, and the highest rank the soldiers have had direct interaction with. He's unaware what rank and level the Prince's interactions must start and end.
"My apologies. I wasn’t aware our Ajax was engaged.”
I’m always engaged. She's just always enjoyed slaving him around.
“Has Father Supreme arrived already?” Her tone shifts to rapid concern, creases appearing by her mouth, as if truly realising that instant that the Prince stands in her office. She scutters to her desk, using her left hand—albeit crooked and scarred, fully intact—to fly over the illuminated buttons. “Why wasn’t I informed?”
“No,” Ajax interjects sharply. He's uninformed if The Supreme's had planned to make rounds today, or he'd scheduled them after the Prince and Ajax departed, but that's not his concern. “No, I’m here to… I am the Prince’s personal security.” You know this. She’s the one who'd relayed it to him, and had laughed at his subsequent silence, had patted his back and ruffled his hair when he’d crumpled over her desk, head burrowed in the crook of his elbow. If the orange glow the accents of his prosthetics had a practical use, it would be to bleed into the natural red that blooms over one’s face; out of exhaustion, and anger, and…
Nova nods slowly. If she’d appeared later into the project, perhaps she’d have eye implants like Ajax and Maden’s; if she did, he’d bet her eyes would’ve physically shifted between the Prince and him, computing the situation at hand. Without them, it still doesn’t take her long to weigh in: “Perhaps,” she offers with a voice that crackles like honeycomb, “my Prince would like to wait in my office while Ajax tends to his business? Or if the General’s company would be preferred, access to the upper levels can be authorised.” It never occurred to him that Laurent’s father might not have sanctioned direct access to every part of the compound. “Ajax was summoned in the Basilica.”
It’s name is garnered not from any physical resemblance to the architecture standing in Rome, but from the majesty its local associates have acquired. They are The Supreme’s personal guard, after all. In the P.E. compound, you are either Bas or non-Bas, and then there are internal rankings among the non-Bas for professional benefits, and honorary ones. Ajax has held the highest internal rankings in his legion, for the past four years, but that still doesn’t explain why he would’ve been called to the Basilica.
“My cybernetics,” he starts slowly. It seems Nova is misunderstanding him. “Are underused.”
Nova watches her audience with a widespread berth, giving nothing away, but Ajax knows he stands under the laser of her gaze.
Microexpressions: you read the person’s eyes, you record that twitch in their temple, the jerk of their brow. Ajax has always known how to read a man with eyes. It’s what kids do: they pick strangers from a crowd and analyse their ticks, their appearance, and their mannerisms to construct fantastical, exaggerated stories. Ajax doesn’t live in such fantasies anymore, but his skills proved themselves useful in the future too.
He never thought he’d have to adapt to an entirely different code to read Nova’s microexpressions, but he had: you were not informed? The current weight of her pinned gaze on him asks.
Ajax turns his head to the right, towards the Prince, in an inconspicuous half-movement, No.
Nova drags a finger over the raised platform of her personal info-screen. She pauses, hand hanging in the air, then straightens behind her desk immediately. “Utmost apologies, my Prince. It seems they required our Ae-rin, and not our A-jax.”
She airs a hand over the narrow shutters in her headgear, broad and extending back, over her skull, or where it would be. Ajax has oftentimes wondered how she sees, or more, what she sees; but she’s never shared, and so, he’s never asked. There are no lights that blink through the thin, angled blinds; nothing to signal the outsider that she acknowledges and detects their movement. She smiles; a kind Ajax has been unsuccessful in consistently decoding.
“Perhaps, a visit to Genji’s is underway,” she muses, more to herself. Contrary to how she communicates with Ajax, she bodily turns to the Prince when she speaks to him, “Ajax’s nature requires him to take regular spins around the Trench.” Like how the human body needs motion to stay in shape, people like Ajax and Nova—and even Maden—require intensive motion to keep up with the maintenance requirements built into their electronics, to keep their blood pumping away from the prosthetics and its injected tailpieces in the flesh mass of their muscles. “It’s our training den. Our gym, as you may say,” she establishes with more confidence, because the Trench is what the soliders informally refer to it as.
And it certainly is not any place fit for a prince, reads the amiable stretch of her lips, arms folded behind her. The Supreme himself has never made rounds to that corner; not once since the compound was inaugurated.
Her previous offer for the Prince to wait in a more comfortable setting still stands, but it’s nothing more than a suggestion; a light nudge from Nova, as part of the unspoken rules of etiquette when dealing with non-P.E. personnel.
The exterior of the Protective Echelon compound sets expectations immediately. It's a direct reflection of the rigidity of the nation itself; the margin for error is nonexistent and the explicit standards leave no room for mistakes. The facility is just as efficient at results as it is presumptions. There is no being misled as to what to anticipate upon entry, no wonder as to whether or not opinions can be formed on looks alone. The interior is just as unforgiving and formidable as the exterior leads you to believe.
Cosentino wire and concrete make up the scaling fortress just as steel and silver compose the hallways.
The looming walls of silver are as spotless and polished as Laurent remembers upon the compound's inception. There's a familiar inspiration of a supermax penitentiary; the utter hopelessness of ever seeing the sky and feeling the warmth of the sun. If the spiraling halls are reminiscent of tunnels, then the recessed doors suggest the maw of a subterranean abomination. It's funny what simple architecture can motivate.
In fact, the entire facility is far more kafkaesque than he can think to recall.
As direct as Ajax is in his ministrations of reaching their destination, Loren is far more reserved. He'd much rather inspect every crevice within the rivets of steel soldered together than proceed in a timely manner. The sheer conformed uniformity of the entire institution has yet to bore blue eyes, rapid in their assessments.
The mundane setting of an office upon their entry is offset by the same brushstrokes of metal and monotonous gray. As barren as it is, however, it fits. There is no room for individuality in a nation such as theirs. Such luxury is designed to fall into the hands of those who hold the reigns.
It is from behind the divider that the voice originally permeates the air, but the Prince is still studying the way the darkened film plastered over the light fixtures cast the entirety of the room in a haze of gray.
It's the offhanded mention that pertains to Laurent that has the boy averting his attention to something non-stationary, his posture conforming to a pose of command and regality. It is through his peripherals Loren can see the tail-end of the glance offered by his protective detail, but he spares no gaze in return. His attention, undivided for the most part, is collectively held by the cyborg now standing before them.
He's not so much as offended by the rather backhanded broaching of Ajax's new assignment; he's heard worse frankly. No, he is, at the moment, a bit too stunned to offer a comment of equal magnitude. He's not quite comfortable around cyborgs in general, there is an uncanny valley he would prefer not to engage with surrounding the semantics of robotics and flesh. That being said, there is typically a morsel of humanity within eyes and irises, even those of the manufactured sort.
This creation, however, is devoid of such windows.
There is no distraught within the poised lines of the blond's body, but rather a budding sense of intrigue. Captain Nova. The name is far more familiar than the visage before him, but it does not take long for his memory to jog. If his vague collection of memory suits him properly, she is an early Phase of soldier, more efficient if the blazoned biotechnology serves right. His father has no doubt introduced him to all officers holding a council seat, again for face value, but the colonels and General hold a higher standard to the blond than the handful of captains.
The colonels and General are, after all, human.
He's far more cordial with a commissioned officer, but he's far from friendly. "At ease, Captain. Do not let my presence disturb your conversation." The words border a command more so than a suggestion, but there's a distinct lack of force to his honeyed words. Cyborg or not, the fact that the female has been able to garner such a rank speaks volumes enough as to her capabilities and presumed worth by the council; if respect has been earned, Laurent is willing to part with some transgression. Some.
He's not keen to discuss his father at the moment, so it's fortunate Ajax is quick to speak as to the Supreme's whereabouts, or rather, lack of. He's running late, because he can be. Loren had been made aware of his father's schedule, not that he had asked in the first place, but it was not information he was eager to divulge. The Supreme, who had initially intended to pay a visit to the P.E. Compound, found himself rather occupied at the moment with an unforeseen female company.
Nonetheless, Ajax's rather limp explanation of their current situation has the Prince's left eye twinging in high annoyance. Personal security makes it seem as if he's incapable of protecting himself. He's not. Loren is convinced it's more out of convenience for his father, to keep tabs on his sole son, rather than being born out of concern.
Even if the blond's never taken a course in personal protection in his life.
The incessant protective details are just as likely born out of a necessity to soothe and assuage any public ire- of which there is a lot.
Laurent is a rather permanent fixture of the social eye, prominent in every sense his father would prefer for him not to be. Though it is really not to the surprise of anyone, the relationship between son and sire is a tumultuous one at best, even if The Supreme would favor a narrative of harmonious familial relations. The tabloids have since been censored from releasing anything that would cast the Royal Family in an unsavory light, but there were ways to paint a picture with different colors.
Whereas The Supreme would prefer articles ran about his son's diplomatic achievements and philanthropic pursuits, the opposite was instead offered as a torched olive branch. Loren was a diplomat; but not diplomatic. Affluent; but not charitable. It was unlikely he'd be anything but a carbon copy of his father, after all. A wicked tree cannot bear malevolent fruit.
Loren's political studies had revolved around atomic- not civil- diplomacy. He may have had access to the best scholars and tutors both abroad and domestically, but his father still held the core of his influence. Even if he had been schooled in amicable tactics and merciful maneuvers - which he hadn't - any short duration shadowing his father would have overtaken any and all retained information. As a direct result of this, the blond's engagement with foreign consuls was less than favorable. There was a reason Laurent's political 'career' had been on hiatus.
His father has, offhandedly a multitude of times, mentioned that a bulk of the trouble Loren gets into stems from his inability to read the room. To know what to refrain from saying or doing. Loren would argue the opposite; he gets in trouble because he can read the room. He could abstain from making a statement that would earn the ire of occupants, but why would he want to. There was no entertainment for playing nice with other in the eye of the Prince.
Loren was volatile, vile and negligent in his interactions. He had precisely no fucks to give how his social image was perceived simply because he could afford not to. It was easy to speak your mind; to share exactly just what you thought about someone when it was your family occupying the throne. Not exactly the most desirable mentality when the aversion of global conflict called for composure and not chloer.
Regardless, The Supreme still demanded his presence at international galas and backroom dealings, if only for publicity and to maintain appearances, but Laurent had been dissuaded from overseeing anything of the political nature, let alone conversing on the forefront of negotiations. Though negotiating was not something his father would ever partake in; the country was run very much so in the fashion of His way or no way.
It was a burdensome yoke to be saddled with, the incessant comparison and ridicule. And while Loren was never one to appreciate the heavy hand of oversight, he was a constant customer of getting off easy, or better yet, not even being held to the same standards. As a whole, the son had a free pass to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and how he pleased.
His name was enough to be allowed undisclosed access.
His appearance enough to cow any contest of entry.
His utter refusal to be fitted for implanted biometrics is another story.
As per supreme law, for those of status and capacity to be allowed unsupervised access into restricted zones, a electronic microprocessor containing relevant and information is required. It was a matter of security as well as precedent. If you desired access to the Supreme's facilities, you abided by the Supreme's mandates. No chip, no entry. No exceptions. Something his Father refused to grant, and something Laurent refused to yield to.
Granted, Loren was still permitted access all the same. He could come and go most places as he pleased without so much as a fuss. He could even venture onto Zone 7 Security Clearance grounds if he so desired, but anything above Zone 5 required a chaperon.
A difference of opinions that the blond still heard the repercussions of to this day. It was an inconvenience, most definitely. An extra step to be taken. The extent of integrated circuits to bypass the bulk of security measures and registers is so infinitesimally minor as to not even tarnish his revered status of pureblood, yet his will was ironclad. The Supreme found the whole thing to be absurd, really. To have the opportunity to even be considered for an access chip is an honor of the highest consideration; they are not handed out to anyone. He's yet to go that step to force Laurent to comply, however.
The Prince is utterly unmoved by the convincing lilt of Captain Nova's modified tone, and the blank, bland expression softening his features is sufficient in preluding the words that leave his tongue. Or, the words that are about to leave his tongue. It is the almost off-handed mention of a certain regime that has the blond more lively than he's been all morning.
It is Laurent's turn now to level a gaze, though accusatory glare is far more applicable, at Ajax. Betrayal might be a strong word, but it suits the sudden foul taste in the boy's mouth. The uninterest that had fallen over blue is exchanged for alit resentment, his pupil's snake-like in the way they constrict.
It's not that he doesn't like the Basilica. That's not it. He fucking hates them. If anyone is to give him flak or disapprobation, before his father its his Basilica dogs. They never cease to consistently breathe down his damn neck at every twist and turn. Worse than the media, that lot is. Before the assignment of Ajax, it was the elite eye of the Basilica that monitored Laurent. He couldn't so much as cough without his father hearing about it.
The two-toned blond clicks his teeth, his tongue brief in it's sweeping over white dentition. The movement is followed by a smile, though it falls flat in any attempt at warmth and affection. The grin plastered on Laurent's face is sly, seasoned three-quarters to mean and all the worse for it. The grin worn by one content to watch the world as well as themselves reduce to ashes in an internal inferno.
It is with such a display that a gleam of paragon reveals itself, embedded deep into the Prince's left canine. Loren, as bitter and scornful as one could be, had developed a subconscious predilection to not smiling. Scowls, sneers and simpers are regular occurrences to dawn upon Laurent's face, but not smiles. It is due to this that the diamond bore into bone hardly draws mention or notice.
He is unphased by the backtracking of Captain Nova, though he has yet to decipher if it was a true misstep or an incidental slip of the tongue. He's not prepared to let his mandatory protection rub shoulders with Basilica soldiers; certainly not without his presence. The short, curt mmhhm relays just how convinced Laurent is all the same.
"General Savik is at the compound, you say?" His attention is slow to sway from Ajax, but he addresses the Captain all the same. Savik is a busy man, no doubt. With all the shit he either has to carry out or cover up. Regardless, of his status he is Loren's favorite. If only because of his intense desire to please the Family and his human nature. "Do send him my regards." The unsaid however hangs in the air like a noose.
"I will accompany Ajax." He had, if only for a brief moment, been of the mindset to ditch his detail and pick Savik's brain for the latest information and rumors circulating the compound, but he's since changed as well as set his mind. "The Trench sounds wonderful; I can't wait to see it." Another sharp grins pairs his words, as does the viscous spite curling his tongue. If the intention had been to warn Laurent from the training grounds, then such efforts were a flop. He'd been keen to oversee any location Ajax visited, though now his spite is saddled with an innate interest.
He's curious as to see the measures required to produce such a specimen as Ajax.