“C’mon puppy, we’re burning daylight.”
Shuck snarls at him just like the dog he’s not and gets back to hacking away at the armoured chassis of a wrecked gravcycle. Romer laughs, he’s the one who can actually hotwire it, this is just to give him easier access. It’s an old luxury model, obtuse anti-theft hardware and their only way out of here. His own had been shot down saving Shucks’ sorry ass, his vehicle burnt up by his trademark overconfidence. So they’re here, dozens of kilometres away from the inhabited city they’d been scavenging for the Cloud, digging up the broken toy of some rich kid who didn’t know what was in their hands.
The sound of metal pried apart with a trepan dagger shouldn’t be soothing to someone made of metal with a very delicate inside. But it’s Shuck, it couldn’t be anything else. There’s no imminent danger it’s a lovely day in the wasteland, the sun setting. His partner in, everything really, is as ever cutting a path clear for them. Romer daydreams until a sheet of metal clanks against his chest.
“Well? Are you going to get to it?”
He pushes the steel plate up with a finger and it’s moved away easy as a feather. He cracks his fingers for show and leans into the engine across the hood.
“Step back and watch a master at work, or just keep watch in general. Don’t want something sneaking up on me after all.”
“If you weren’t such a pathetic fighter you wouldn’t be worried about whatever calls this, place, home.”
“That’s what I’ve got you for, can’t do anything but help out of the goodness of your heart, so be good and fetch us a battery from that toll post.”
It’s funny because they’re both heartless, because there’s no one else he listens to. Not like this.
He prowls off, feigning anger but incapable of stomping when exposed like this and throws the sheet metal with a neat wrist flick like a discus clean through the anti-shatter window hard enough he can just brush the wire and shards aside. Romer eyes him for a moment appreciative and stares just as lovingly at the engine he’s about to maul. The little parking lot is by a mountain underpass, he can just see the straight shot out after a few turns.
Shuck returns with a battery, he sends him for wires. He returns with the wires. He sends him to scout the perimeter again. They’re all useful things, and keeping him from looming like a overly protective great grumpy bat is always a net positive.
He returns when Romer calls triumphant, unafraid of the rival scavengers he knows will come if he’s heard. He’s got the additional advantage of under two seconds zero to ramming speed on his side now, not just his guard dog.
The sunset is fantastic, pyrotechnic oranges and purples. Shuck always looks halfway to otherworldly- not just his biased opinion. The bias is in the appeal of it, he’d commented on it once and received only a “Shoal you’re cracked” for the trouble. Pity he won’t listen ‘cause the light has cast him fully to otherside of that boundary, a phantom in their machine graveyard. His own personal hell hound, the catch of sun on glossy black, the red lights imbedded for show make him look ablaze.
Distracted he shocks himself and jolts back.
Shuck laughs, cruel and amused.
“Loosing your touch? Overconfidence back to bite you?”
It’s a fancy trick to sneer without a proper face but he aims to impress as always.
Romer gives him a much easier to pull off blank stare and blindly slots the last wire into place, engine whirring to life.
“I think I’m doing just fine.”
He doesn’t strut, but he’s smug in the cadence of his pace nonetheless. After he swings into the seat smooth and kicks the bike up he brushes his thighs off of imaginary dirt, pushing into into motion with the tilt of his weight and legs alone in an insufferable show-off move. Coasting the hairbreadth to Shuck and offering a hand up. He looks unimpressed but takes it anyways, hopping over the engine and settling behind him.
It feels like a prelude to joyriding, suddenly nostalgic for warm arms of his partner at the time. Girlfriends, boyfriends and just friends wrapped tightly around him when he hit accelerate. Daring stunts just for the adrenaline rush, which isn’t the same anymore. He can’t feel warmth, or cold really either. Pressure of every sort means less. It’s not numb, not nothing, just distant.
Shuck doesn’t slip back where the bulk of the vehicle would shelter him from potential fire. He grabs narrow waist hydraulics, left wrist lazy above the valley of his hip. Prototype armour plates, edges just pointed enough to catch his leather jacket fold over him. He’s an accomplished pilot in his own right, not as good mind, but not the sort to worry about falling off the back. Romer lets himself be adjusted to his liking while making the careful pull out of the mess and into the freeway.
There’s nothing to see by but their own night vision, the road seems endless eerie green in how the horizon cuts off so much sooner like this. Quiet air isn’t ruffled by breeze or birdsong, only the gravcycle’s low static whine can be heard. He kicks the speed up higher and higher still as soon as he’s comfortable enough, which is to say as soon as he’s sure the engine won’t blow. They’re whirling down the highway and he laughs breathless, he’s got no lungs, the air would be stolen from his mouth if he had one.
He hits that razor edge rhythm of racing. Can hardly see the road and debris passes underneath he barely has time to calibrate what to dodge above and it’s all instinct just following the curve of the road. Shuck keeps his grip steady and even, leans over him un-obliging of the slipstream silhouette. He’s bracketing him like armour, like his plating is an extension of Romer too.
He wants to laugh again, he’s playing guard dog still again always. Paranoid bastard, if they crash- they won’t crash but if they did he’d take the impact. Same if a natural sniper spots them somehow, things that have happened to their scouts. The scouts just aren’t as good as him, no one is. They didn’t have backup like his either.
He feels like he needs to be doing something reckless he’s just so stupidly thoughtful. Cautiously slowly he lifts one hand off the controls and reaches over his shoulder, fingertips catching in Shuck’s collar. He spins the cycle round a sharp mountain bend, turns around all in the moment he tugs him forward, head to head, sharp crest of his faces scratching just below his eyeholes.
Shuck’s indignant panic does finally make him laugh out loud at last, glee echoing down the vale. He can’t properly kiss him but the chipped paint is as good as any lipstick stain.