Ace was awakened by the sound of something knocking on his window. He opened his tired eyes, muscle still sore from the rescue mission. The knocking didn’t stop so he kicked his blanket and walked toward the window. There was someone standing on the street below. A familiar blue hair.
“Deuce?” Ace squinted his eyes. The guy still throwing pebbles toward his window, so Ace pulled the curtains and opened it, stopping him – yep, it’s Deuce with his magical wheel – from throwing another pebble.
The blunette waved his hands. “Hey, there.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well...” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Are you free currently?”
Ace gave him a deadpan stare. “I just woke up.”
“Oh, great.” Deuce nodded. “Do you want to go somewhere? I know a good place to spend this morning.”
“Aren’t you busy before Wassailia?”
“Probably. That’s why we can go now. At least we can spend a small moment before the celebration.”
Ace wanted to retort but seeing that small, stupid, smile on Deuce’s face made him sigh. “Fine. Let me grab my jacket.”
The ginger changed out his pajamas to a comfortable sweater, trousers, and a scarf. Walking out of his room and climbed down the stairs, he found his mother was cooking breakfast with grandma. From the smell, it seemed to be grandma’s famous porridge and berry compote.
“Ace?” His mother looked at him, wiping her hands with a napkin. “Well, you’re wide awake.”
“A friend asked me to go with them.”
“They’re an idiot.”
“Is it the blue-haired cutie that brings you home?” There was a teasing smile on his mother's face as Ace’s cheeks turned red.
“Just kidding, just kidding.” She waved her hand. “Just make sure they return you unscratched and before breakfast.”
“Okay.” After he wore his boots, he walked out the door and toward Deuce who was waiting.
“Here.” Deuce threw a helmet at him, the same turtle shell-pattern helmet he wore during the rescue mission. Ace wore it wordlessly as he climbed behind Deuce who started his magical wheel. “Hold on tight, yeah?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Ace slid his arms around Deuce’s torso, feeling less awkward than during the rescue mission aftermath. Riding a magical wheel with Deuce, minus the panic, was nice. Ace likes it.
They rose in silence through the early morning street of Rose Kingdom. Deuce took them out of the residential area, down to the lower road, and then back up a hill, finally stopping smoothly on a small hill with railing on the edge, the Rose Kingdom spreads below them. The mist hung low, clinging to the red castle towers and houses. “We’re here,” Deuce said as Ace climbed down the magical wheel, “This is a good place to watch the sunrise.”
Ace put the helmet at the backseat and he walked toward the railing, crossing over and sat on it. It was chilly this dawn. Ace pulled the scarf closer to his nose. “You woke me up before my alarm to watch the sunrise...” he grumbled. He glanced at Deuce who also crossed the railing to sat beside him.
Ace sighed, “You’re an idiot.”
Deuce was taken back, smacking Ace’s shoulder. “Hey!” Ace grinned. Deuce sighed, looking toward the kingdom again. “I often came here just to think about stuff. It’s...peaceful.”
Ace also looked forward, breathing in the fresh morning air. “It really is.”
They paused for a moment before Deuce asked, “Did you get in trouble in the end? Or at least get grounded?”
Ace turned to him, raising an eyebrow. “Why are you wishing me harm?”
“It’s not that! I was expecting something from someone who left without even leaving a letter.”
“I was in a panic, okay? You try to think after getting Grim’s call.”
“Oh right. He called you.”
“Yeah. And then the headmaster appeared.”
“And you jumped out the window.” Deuce sighed. Ace couldn’t blame him. Jumping off the window, still in his pajamas but with an additional coat, scarf, beanie, boots, and an overstuffed backpack wasn’t something you’d seen every day. “You’re just like an idiot as I am.”
“So you admit that you’re an idiot?”
“You know what I mean!”
Ace laughed. “My parents were...surprisingly chill about it after that. So in grandma. Hook in the other hand...” He let out a long ‘ehh’ as he rolled his wrist in a circle, trying to point it out. “You’ve seen him.”
“YOU IDIOT! HOW CAN YOU JUST LEAVE WITHOUT NOTICING YOUR FAMILY!”
“IT WAS A DESPERATE TIME, HOOK! YOU’RE EXAGGERATING TOO MUCH!”
“ME?! EXAGGERATING?! WHO’S THE IDIOT WHO DIDN’T EVEN THINK TO LEAVE A NOTE?! STUPID BROTHER!”
Ace rubbed the back of his head, hissing from the pain. Hook was doing the same thing. Puny older brother he is. But Deuce, who sat across him was trying his best not to snicker. Behind the couch, his grandma was holding a rolled-up newspaper, waving it in front of her two grandsons' faces. “Calm down, you two,” she said, there was no heat in her scolding, “you’re scaring the guests.”
“Yes...” the headmaster, who sat next to Deuce, cleared his throat. “I have to sincerely apologize for dragging your son into this.” He bowed slightly toward Ace’s mother who sat on Ace’s left. “But Mister Trappola and Mister Spade here are the only two I can trust with this matter.”
“Trust is a rather precious thing in our family, headmaster.” His mother’s arm found itself around his shoulder, squeezing it gently, protective but never harsh. “There are only a few who can gain our complete trust.”
“We only want the best for Ace, that includes the friends that he made in school. If Ace trusts those who become a bad influence toward him, we certainly can’t have that, can we?”
“So, who is this child you’re desperate enough to save that you need Ace’s help?”
Ace turned to his mother. He had told her about the friends he had made during his call. Surely, they know about Jonah, Grim, and Deuce, for they are the subject he mostly talks about. But he could saw it in her eyes. The way her eyes tremored a bit. It was strange, but the Trappolas had their fair share of unique tic when they are thinking. Ace would grumbles without sound when analyzing while his mother’s eyes would dart everywhere for answers. She was doing it right now, looking at the headmaster's calm demeanor for a crack of lies. It was amazing how he could stay still under his mother’s almost paranoid analytic gaze.
All heads turned to Deuce. He clammed his mouth shut almost immediately, but his father gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, Son. You can go on.”
Deuce relaxed a bit. “Right.” He straightened up in his seat as if he was presenting a speech. “Our friend we were asked to help is Jonah Argentum and Grim and they’re the best friends we could’ve ever have. We’ve been together through thick and thin since the beginning of the year. Jonah had saved us numerous times from the trouble and when they got in trouble when the headmaster visited me to ask for help, I didn’t hesitate. He saved me, so it was my turn to save him.” He turned to Ace. “You feel that way, right, Ace?”
“Deuce...” It took Ace for a surprise, for he had never heard Deuce so sure of himself before. But every word he said struck him deep. Ace smiled and nodded. “Yes. I do feel that way.” He looked at his family one by one as he spoke, “I caused a lot of trouble in school, but it was on me. Deuce or Jonah didn’t provoke me, I was usually the one provoking them. Deuce is a good kid. He always tries to be a good model student. Jonah is great too, like Deuce said, he saved our butts many times. Grim is annoying and eats too much, but he’s the coolest cat around.” He let out a light chuckle. He looked back at Deuce, red eyes met with teal in a serious manner. “If either the three of them found themselves in danger, I will do anything to save him. They’re the greatest thing that I could ever have in my entire life. You can’t take me away from them.”
He could see Deuce took a silent gasp, a light pink dusted his cheeks that Ace was sure he would tease him for decades beyond. He turned to his mother again who was staring at him with the same trembling eyes.
“You trust them so much, don’t you?” she asked.
Ace didn’t have any fear when he answered. “With all my life.”
“Be careful with what you’re saying, Ace.”
“I mean every word I’ve said.”
His mother stared at him even more, but Ace was used to it. It was like a game of ‘two truths, one lie’, but there was the only truth that Ace holds. Then, the tremors stopped and she closed her eyes. A smile grazed her lips. He knew he had won this game.
She turned to the headmaster again. “Headmaster. I would like to thank you for bringing Ace back home safe and sound.”
Crowley nodded. “You are very welcome, Ma’am Trappola.”
She then turned to Deuce. “And Deuce, right?”
“Y-Yes,” Deuce squeaked and Ace had to hold back a laugh.
His mother did giggle though. “Thank you for being my hopeless son’s best friend.”
Deuce’s smile was wider and his nod was filled with confidence. His mother turned to the headmaster again. “You might face some harsh criticism for a while, Headmaster, but you’ve gained our trust and will leave our Ace to you.” A hand pat Ace’s head, ruffling his hair the way he always loved. “Right?”
“Thank you very much.” Crowley tipped his tophat at her, at Ace’s entire family, in respect. “On behalf of Night Raven College, I swear to never betray your trust. We will take care of Young Ace Trappola until he graduates as a great magician.”
“What you said back then.” Ace stole a glance at Deuce. He looked to the kingdom below them, feet swinging back and forth unsure. “Do you really mean it?”
“About you being my friend is the greatest thing I’ve ever have in my life?” Deuce nodded a little and Ace was taken back to every moment he had been with Deuce. The annoyance when they first met. The shock when he saw his bad boy side for the first time. The fear when he nearly died from his magic being stolen. The relief when he woke up the next morning. Every moment Deuce smiled, angered, confused, every expression he could think of.
All of them...are wonderful.
Deuce let out a relieved sigh, a smile stretched across his lips. “I’m glad.” He turned toward Ace. His expression was soft and his eyes were teary. Another wonderful expression. “Having you as my best friend is also the greatest thing that could’ve ever happen to me.”
Ace could felt his cheeks heated up, but he assured (or lied) himself that it was from the early morning coldness. He grinned at Deuce, feeling the overflowing gratitude. They looked back to the sunrise, coloring the kingdom in a beautiful hue.
He felt Deuce’s pinkie accidentally brushed with his, but the blunette didn’t seem to realize it. In response, Ace took his hand. Deuce let out a gasp, but Ace didn’t turn to him, just kept holding it and giving it a little squeeze. Deuce huffed and he scooted closer to Ace. Their shoulder touched and both of their head leaned at each other as the sun rose even higher.
If he came home and Hook questions (also screaming for nearly disappearing again) why he was so red and jolly, he would say (or still lied) that it was the early morning coldness.
Riddle's phone buzzed in the middle of the royal ball. He was lucky for once his parents aren't close to him, too busy talking with the other nobles, thus making it easy for him to slipped into an empty snowy balcony and took out his phone from his tuxedo coat. When he saw the number on the screen, he didn't hesitate to answer it. "Jonah Argentum, you better have a damn good reason for only calling me now."
["Hello to you too, Senior Riddle."] There was the familiar chuckle in the end and Riddle could finally breathe in relief. ["Yeah. That was my fault on my end. We had some troubles in Scarabia that the signal was lost."]
["Eh, the usual."]
"You need to be more specific than that."
["Geez. You're such a mother hen."] There was a pause for a second before Jonah answered again with a lower tone. ["Senior Viper overblotted."]
Riddle felt like he was going to collapse. He held onto the stone railing of the balcony. "How did he-"
Jonah cut him off almost immediately. ["It was a very long story, trust me. I don't want to get into depth with it."]
"I think I have the right to know regarding your safety," Riddle gritted his teeth.
["Look. I don't want to keep secret either, but this is between Senior Viper and Kalim."] He sighed. ["I can't talk about it right now."]
"And why is that?"
Riddle could hear a soft groan of annoyance at the other hand. ["I have people breathing down my neck right now and they will interrogate if I made a slip-up."]
If only there was a bench nearby Riddle could collapse onto. He leaned against the railing, elbows on the surface and a palm on his forehead with eyes screwed shut from the sudden migraine. "What did you get yourself into now?!" He nearly growled, voice tired. "Where are you? Did the headmaster know where you are?"
["The headmaster knows. He's just a phone call away."] There was a sigh and shuffling before a small *thud* as if Jonah was sitting on a wooden floor. ["I'm so tired, Senior Riddle."]
Riddle sighed. A pang of guilt blossomed in his chest for some reason. "You can talk to me, you know?"
["I know, Your Majesty."] Jonah chuckled again. ["It's like we switch position, huh?"]
Riddle chuckled. "Yeah." He still remembered it clearly of those early days, back when things were less dangerous. Those two days of rest with chocolate fondue and constant reassurance, leading to the short-lived but fun paint war. Back when Jonah’s voice was less tired and his eye wasn't clouded with trauma. Riddle would pay anything to go back to the beginning of the semester.
["How's your mother?"] Jonah asked.
"Oh. She's..." Riddle clicked his tongue, "...weird."
["Your talk didn't go well?"]
"Welcome home, Riddle." Riddle could feel his chest tightened when he entered his house. His mother walked down the stairs of the main foyer. "You are rather late."
"Forgive me, Mother," he said as he opened his suitcase, taking out a brown folder of his report card, "the Dark Mirror waiting line was longer than I expected."
"Well, if you arrived early, there wouldn't be a line." Riddle held back his tongue, not wanting to lash at her. At least not yet. She opened her palm and Riddle gave the folder. She did a quick read and Riddle took his time to observe her. She was still beautiful despite the simplicity, dressed in a comfortable everyday dress, hair tied in a neat bun, but less make-up than usual, meaning that she didn't go to the clinic today. Her posture was relaxed, no tapping foot, no drumming fingers, not even trace of anger. She didn't bring anything, not even her usual heart-shaped fan.
She let out a hum of satisfaction, Riddle guessed from knowing that he was the 1st rank student of the second year, despite the amount of cheating this year (he pushed the thought of Jonah drowning and signing his Golden Contract to the deepest part of his mind for now). "Well done." Riddle's chest filled with pride as his mother closed the folder, a small smile grace on her lips. "I'm proud of you, Riddle."
"Thank you, Mother." This mother walked toward him and gave a pat on his head. Riddle found himself leaning against the touch and whine a bit when the hand moved too quickly.
"Now, Go wash yourself. I'll call you down for dinner." Riddle nodded again and walked past her. However, he paused.
Something is not right.
He knew what was off, but he didn't want to acknowledge it. He wanted to run to his room and hide like a cowardly child, but he knew he had to confront the worse. He gulped. "M-Mother?"
He turned around. His mother was still standing there, an eyebrow raised with confusion. "What is it, Riddle?"
He let out a breath from his mouth. "W-Well, there's something-"
"Speak up, Riddle." Riddle found himself straightening up. "Back straight, mouth open wide."
Swallowing his fear, Riddle asked, "Have you heard of any news about Night Raven College?"
His mother frowned. "Was this about the Magical Shift Tournament incident?"
Riddle blinked in confusion. Why was that the first thing that she points out? "Yes," Riddle squeaked, before clearing his throat for a clearer voice, "were you there?"
His mother nodded. "They needed extra hands for the casualties."
Riddle nodded, making a mental note to informed Leona about this. Though the upperclassman would probably just accept the blame knowing that he did that purposely.
"Your mother is a strong woman, Riddle," she said with a smirk and Riddle believed her, "there's no need to worry about me."
"Of course, Mother."
"But, yes. That's all I've heard." Her eyes squinted at him and Riddle suddenly felt small again. "Is there anything else?"
"No," he said almost immediately, "nothing else."
His mother hummed. Riddle took that as a cue to run. He ran to his bedroom, closing the door almost too loudly. He let out a shaky breath as he pressed his back against the door. Suddenly all the strength that he had was drained out, leaving him crumbling to the floor. He hugged his legs and pressed his forehead on his knees. His breath was shaky but nothing his usual breathing exercise couldn't handle.
Riddle wanted to smack himself. Why didn't he say it? Why did he avoid it? This only made the burden even harder to carry. Anxiety and dread filled him, knowing that there was a possibility of him keeping the secret of him overblotting and losing his unique magic from his mother until he dies. There was a small part of himself that would willing to bring these secrets to his grave if it could save him from his mother's wrath.
Riddle Rosehearts fear no one. But his mother, Mira Rosehearts, is the only one in his life who can make him cowers in fear.
["That was...weird."] Riddle hummed in agreement. ["It was one thing for Columbus to be shocked, but your own mother not knowing it? Even if the headmaster decided not to tell her, there should be rumors, right?"]
Riddle sighed, massaging his eyes. "I don't know if I should be grateful or not. I know I have to tell her sooner or later but..."
["It's hard, isn't it?"]
"How did you do it?" Riddle sighed. "How did you pull us into talking?"
There was silence at the other end, but Riddle could vaguely hear Jonah's breathing. Riddle looked up to the sky. White snow started to fall once again.
["I'll be honest, Senior Riddle. I don't know."] Riddle hummed once again. He was hoping for an answer and was slightly disappointed. But it's fair. Jonah always made every interaction seems easy. Sometimes Riddle couldn't keep up his pace and openness.
["Maybe you can find your own ways of talking about it."]
Riddle smiled. How could he not answer one problem but offer a solution for another? "You're strange, Jonah Argentum."
["But that's a good thing, right?"]
Riddle hummed with a smile. "Definitely."
Jonah giggled. ["I'm glad."] He sighed. ["It's nice listening to you again."]
Riddle could feel his chest warmed up. He let out a chuckle. "I'm just glad you're at least safe now."
["Safe but confused."] He chuckled. ["But I'll figure it out."]
Riddle rolled his eyes fondly. "Sure, you will, Captain."
["Hey! Don't underestimate my skill, Mister Rosehearts!"]
Riddle laughed. It felt good. It always felt good talking to him. He cherished these mundane talks, never wanting any conflict between them again.
["I think I have to go. I've been called."]
"Okay." Riddle would be lying if he said he didn't feel a slight disappointment, but it was understandable. He also didn't know how long he had disappeared from the ball. His mother was probably looking for him. "I'll talk to you soon."
["We will. Merry early Wassailia, Your Majesty."]
Riddle laughed. "Merry early Wassailia to you too, Captain Argentum." With that, the line was cut and Riddle put back the phone into his tuxedo coat pocket. He felt a small weight being lifted off his shoulders. When Jonah didn't join the group call, he was worried that something happened during the training camp. He had called Ace and Deuce, but those two didn't answer. Losing the connection with the Golden Trio really drove him to the edge. Now, knowing that one of them is okay, Riddle could finally relax just a bit. He made a mental note to call Ace and Deuce later, scolding them for not answering him.
As he turned his heel to head back to the ballroom, he froze on his spot. There was someone leaning at the door with her arm crossed in front of her chest, looking very cheeky.
"Hello, my little Strawberry Twink."
The girl, slightly taller than Riddle, had silver hair that she tied into buns and twintails, fair skin, and red eyes gleamed mischievously. She wore a dark pink collar dress with red lining around each sleeve and heart-shaped buttons with a heart pattern embroidered on the rim. A small black top hat with a red ribbon rested on the side of her head. She wore white tights and wears red mary-jane shoes with white lacing. In addition, she wore a coat striped with black and white coloring that reached her knees. Riddle winched at the bizarre fashion state, but he knew he couldn't say anything about it.
But he didn't know why his first words were, "How much did you hear?"
She giggled. "Aw, don't be like that. Is that really the first thing you say to your future wife?" She walked toward him. Riddle held his ground. The girl isn't as menacing as his mother, but there was a certain aura of authority above her as much as it ticked him off. She sat on the railing beside Riddle. He didn't even turn toward him. "So," she trailed, elbows on her knee and cupping her cheeks, "who are they?"
"None of your business, Madison," Riddle spat.
She giggled. "I think I deserve to know as well." She was smiling far too wide. He didn't know what she was planning to do if he denies her, but he couldn't risk it.
"It's just a friend from school," he sighed, "there's nothing you should be worried about."
"Oh, I think I should be worry," she giggled, "I just saw you blushing."
Riddle curled his fingers into a fist, stopping himself from touching his cheeks. "It's from the cold."
"I think not." She giggled again. "You sounded so happy during that phone call. I still can't believe that someone as scary as you can make friends."
This time, Riddle did turn to her and Madison beamed. "What is your problem, Madison?" he said through his gritted teeth.
"Just curious, my little Strawberry Twink." She stood up and leaned closer to Riddle, resting a finger on his chest. Both of them could felt how Riddle’s heart was beating fast. "Who in the world could thaw the little Queen of Hearts' frozen heart?" Madison’s index and middle fingers walked until it reached his collarbone before her hand slid up to his chin and squeezing his cheeks. She grinned, showing all her pearly white teeth despite the sweets and boba she consumed. "I would like to meet them."
Riddle glared at her, a growl escaped between his gritted teeth. "You spill one word about them I'll-"
"You'll what?" She squeezed his cheeks harder, her grin never left her face. "I dare you, Riddle. What will you do?"
That was the thing: Riddle couldn’t do anything. He wasn’t in NRC, his dominion. In the Rose Kingdom, he was merely an underling, his mother’s golden child who she could push to favor his family, even know his family name had died the moment he was born (for when you are married, you will follow the wife’s surname instead of the husband). No matter how annoying this girl might be, the noblewoman Madison Hathaway stands on a higher pedestal than commoner boy Riddle Rosehearts.
Nonetheless, Riddle smacked the hand away. Madison stepped back, letting out a giggle. “They must’ve been a very interesting person for little Riddle Rosehearts to become protective like this.”
Riddle didn’t say anything, still glaring at Madison. The girl shook her head before stepping back. “It seemed like we’ve disappeared for quite a while, haven’t we? Shall we return to the ballroom for our Wassailia Night dance?”
A hand was offered toward him waiting to be taken. Riddle stared at the hand before looking back up to the smiling girl. He didn’t know what she was planning, what mischief she would unleash. But she has the blackmail material and she could use it whenever she wanted. If his mother knows about Jonah and the overblots...Riddle knows he wouldn’t survive that.
He’s back in his homeland, but he always feels powerless here.
Riddle uncurled his fist before sighing. He took Madison’s hand before giving a light kiss on the back. “Yes,” he said, keeping his voice steady, “we shall.” They walked hand in hand, just in time for the waltz.
For now, he shall be a good boy like how he was raised.
Make his mother proud a little bit longer for now.