“Look, officer, I can explain—”
“Can it,” Chief Beifong said, and Shaozu cringed. “You're in a whole lot of trouble.”
“I am very sorry, and I can absolutely, completely, one hundred percent explain.”
“I am not letting you off the hook just because you're a celebrity,” Beifong said. She glanced down at him briefly from her notepad and then went back to writing. “Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've had to personally write and issue any kind of driving ticket?”
Shaozu gave her a withering look, then over to her police mobile that he had just barely managed to avoid crashing into, then back to her. “Long enough to illustrate your years of dutiful service, I am very very sure, but please—”
“Is this your only vehicle?” she interrupted, motioning to his motorcycle.
Shaozu exhaled in a long huff and his breath rose in a ghost-like vapour in the chilly spring air. “The only one I own personally.”
“What other vehicles do you drive?” Beifong asked.
“Two cars—Satomobiles, sometimes,” Shaozu said. When Beifong raised an expectant eyebrow at him he continued, “They belong to my—team mates.”
“Your team mates,” Beifong intoned dryly.
“Yes.” Shaozu adjusted the kickstand of his motorcycle and rubbed his hands together, cold even through his gloves, glancing back at his luggage rack. “They always know when I’m out with them, I always ask first, and always return their keys after.”
Beifong was silent while she gave him a long, sardonic look before shaking her head with a sigh and tearing off the sheet of paper with his ticket. “If they had a lick of sense they'd keep you away from the driver's seat,” she said. She handed him the ticket and Shaozu took it without complaint. “The rest of the paperwork will be mailed to you. You have a week to pay the fine before it doubles, in which case your license will be suspended until you do pay.”
“Yes Ma'am,” Shaozu said.
He watched Beifong drive away in her cruiser until she was out of sight, then slumped forward over the handlebar and pressed the heels of both hands into his eyes, hard enough and long enough that he started to see spots. He let himself stay like that for a quick minute and then, checking the bag tied to the removable luggage rack again to make sure it was still fine, kicked up the kickstand and headed off.
“You got a ticket,” Tahno said, “for almost crashing into Chief of Police Lin Beifong?”
“I know, I know, I know!” Shaozu said. He downed his glass of soju and then reached for the bottle on the table to pour another. “I told you you wouldn't believe it.”
“I don't believe it,” Tahno agreed, sitting on the couch beside him. “Let me see it.”
Shaozu switched his glass to his other hand and rummaged in his pocket to pull it out. He gave it a despairing look before handing it to Tahno. “Two hundred yuans.”
“That's not the worst it could’ve been,” Tahno said, but he took the ticket and read it over.
Shaozu poured himself another shot (or three), closed his eyes, and let himself sink into the couch until he heard Ming's footsteps coming back. He looked up as Ming walked around the couch and chairs to place a glass vase with the bouquet of flowers he’d brought on the table. Tahno abandoned the ticket to admire the vase and flowers, a mix of red roses, white lilies, and irises, arranging them how he liked. Ming deftly snatched up the soju, peering into the nearly empty bottle, then shook his head and sat down on Shaozu's other side, bottle in hand, and said, “Coping?”
“Barely,” Shaozu said. “I think I'm still in shock.”
Tahno snorted and picked out a single rose to smell it. “From her iron will and steel beauty?”
Shaozu rolled his eyes and, ignoring him, continued, “Like, fuck, of all the people it could have been, even—even of all the officers, fucking, fucking Lin Beifong.” He waved his glass around and soju spilled over onto his hand and Ming shook his head again. “Like—I need another drink. I don’t think any of this is real right now. I can’t believe I survived that.”
Tahno laughed and snickered at him while Ming said, “Knowing the way you drive, you probably should have got a ticket years ago.”
Shaozu gave him a withering glare. “Not really helping.”
Ming's lips quirked up at the corners and he picked up the ticket from the table with his free hand. He squinted at it then asked, “Two hundred yuans?”
“Two hundred yuans,” Shaozu confirmed, for the second time, and then kneed Tahno’s hip when he started to laugh again. “I can pay it off tomorrow.”
“Hmm.” Ming turned the ticket around. “Not the worst it could have been.”
“Exactly what I said,” Tahno drawled.
Shaozu kneed him again. “Can we get disqualified for this? I feel like we can get disqualified for this.”
“No,” Ming said, turning the ticket over again before reaching over to his own glass on the table and pouring the remainder of the soju for himself (most likely, all things considered, to keep Shaozu from finishing it). “A team can only be disqualified for major criminal charges. One ticket for speeding or reckless driving isn’t severe enough. We’ll be fine.”
Shaozu pursed his lips. “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Ming said.
“What if a reporter saw it happen?” Tahno asked, half-smirking. “Imagine the headlines.”
Shaozu grimaced. “No. I don't want to.”
“The tabloids would eat it up,” Tahno continued. “‘Wolfbat Has Fateful Run-In With the Law’ or ‘Chief of Police Trumps Wolfbat Outside the Arena, Rival Teams Demand to Know Her Secret’.”
“Please don't,” Shaozu said, reaching over to take the ticket out of Ming's hand and put it firmly back on the table. “I will go to the station and get it paid tomorrow and then everything will be fine but right now I really do not, like, at all want to think about it.”
“I know, I'm sorry,” Tahno said. He finally left the flowers alone and sat back from the cocktail table, leaning into Shaozu's shoulder with one arm on the back of the couch propping his head up. The bouquet looked completely different after his rearranging, balancing out the intricate design of the vase. It looked, Shaozu thought, much better than what the florist had done. “It's a funny birthday gift. I like it almost as much as the flowers.”
“You’re welcome.” Shaozu finished the last of his soju and raked a hand through his hair. “Next year I won’t be late with picking them up.”
Tahno laughed and kissed him, finally, and the tension from the near-crash at last began to ease from his body.