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[Guilty Gear] Field Study

Split in half because LJ character limit happened. DX

Title: Field Study>
Fandom: Guilty Gear
Characters: Sol/Ky, Sin
Parts: 2 (one, two)
Rating: PG-13
Contains: humor, alternate timeline, horrible 80s fashion, non-Overture-compliance because why
Notes: Born from a runaway joke about the Kiske-Badguy School of Parenting: everything can be solved with patience, understanding, and a sword to the face.



Field Study


Great passions, it is said, can elevate the soul to great things.

Passions were what had driven humans to build the pyramids, circumnavigate the globe, and launch other humans into space. (On the flip side, they were responsible for kicking the collective butt of civilization back into the Dark Ages several times over. Hey, nobody ever said passions were strictly a good thing).

Sin did not know that people had once floundered around in outer space. He also hadn't seen what-remained-of-the-Great-Pyramids, since his parents had yet to schedule a villainous evildoer hunt at an Ancient Egyptian burial site. What he knew of circumnavigatory efforts mostly amounted to a firm belief that ancient sailors had been able to see the future (sea serpents? check. multi-headed man-eating fish? check. monster krakens? delicious, succulent check).

He did, however, have a passion that could accomplish the great feat of keeping him out of trouble, at least for the amount of time it compelled him to spend with his nose stuck in a book.

When he chose to open his mouth, though, Sin's passion could lead to a spectacular amount of trouble. This was because he was all of three-and-a-half years old, and his passion were words.

He loved and hoarded words the way other people love and hoard gold coins, though the fascination of the yellow metal pieces continued to elude him. Mostly, they smelled of whatever place they'd been in last, which often happened to be a questionably laundered back pocket, and the only thing you could do with them was exchange them for some things that actually smelled good. (The trade always seemed rather unfair in Sin's opinion, even when his parents insisted that the item he was getting in return was a rip-off). All in all, Sin felt that whoever was trying to collect the most coins was pursuing a rather sad and limited activity compared to him, a collector of the immeasurable wealth of language.

A good word, immeasurable.

They'd run out of coins long before he would ever run out of words.

Nobody seemed to know quite how many words there were in the world, not even his parents, and Sin was confident that between the two of them, they knew almost everything there was to know, so it would be his job to take care of the word count.

He'd started out rather modestly with a dictionary of the English language, bound in blue leather with a delicate leaf pattern snaking along the spine. It had been a gift from Parent A (Mom) for his first birthday, or at least, for the day they'd all agreed Sin's birth – a very loosely defined word, birth – might have occurred.

It was easily the best gift ever, and a good reason to ensure that his traveling bag was always clean, dry, and devoid of old socks, candy apples or the drippy bits of monster loot. Sin wasn't sure if Parent A had anticipated such an outcome (Mom could be sneaky like that), but he was plenty sure that concern over the future of his communication skills might have been something of a factor in the choice of gift, if Parent A's vindicated looks to Parent B were any indication.

Since then, the dictionary had been joined by several more word collections of Sin's own creation, scribbled on simple paper notepads but no less valuable for their contents.

There was a dictionary of military terms, also known as the dictionary-on-how-to-stealth-swear, containing nuggets of wisdom such as "snafu", "fubar" and "bohica." There was also a dictionary of "you're not making a lick of sense" terms that was growing rapidly with every passing day, mostly thanks to Parent B (Dad) and his use of arcane, mystifying terms such as "lightsaber," "twinkie" and "jeggings." There was even a growing Parent A-to-Parent B dictionary, because 'rentspeak was one of the most evolved languages in the history of the planet.

It was so evolved, in fact, that the 'rents didn't even need to talk out loud half the time, and instead resorted to passing looks back and forth in a sort of psychic ping-pong match that tended to leave Sin feeling confused and not a little left out.

He consoled himself with the thought that the spoken vocabulary was already plenty difficult to decipher. Not only did it include a healthy mix of words from the dictionary of military terms and the dictionary of "you're not making a lick of sense," it also included rules that said insults could work equally well as terms of endearment and arcane conditions that governed when it was appropriate to switch to psychic staring matches because the 'rents had to discuss things out of the range of Sin's delicate young ears (hah!).

The most consistently baffling and dangerous thing about 'rentspeak was that a minuscule change in inflection could mark the difference between "One more word and you've earned yourself a blade to the face," and "I'm two seconds away from snogging your tonsils out." For Sin, it marked the difference between staying around to admire the fireworks and running for the hills to escape their besotted cooing.

While the discovery of unusual words was very enlightening and could afford hours of entertainment – particularly in the form of arguments with Parent B over whether or not "hippopotomonstrosesquipealian" was really a word or not (it was) – Sin also held a secret appreciation for the simple words, all those small chunks that made up everyday conversation.

Out of those simple words, he liked adjectives the best because they were the chocolate sprinkles of language. Not necessary, strictly speaking, in the same way a decent fight didn't need magic, or the 'rents didn't really need his back-up to bring down a flock of carnivorous butterflies, but damn if adding any of these things didn't bring color and excitement to the world. Put him in a snappy coat, or an adverb in front of an adjective, and watch their awesomeness multiply tenfold.

Every once in a while, Sin would flip back the metaphorical lid on his impressive collection of adjectives, pick one out and roll it around in his mind until he was sure he understood what it meant.

Usually, this involved applying the word to every concept he knew until he figured out exactly where it belonged, and with whom. Some words belonged mostly with Gears, like "odoriferous" and "rampaging" and "really very pissed." Others belonged only with food, like "crispy" and "crunchy" and "meant-to-be-eaten-with-a-fork-so-use-it." Still others mainly belonged in the company of girls, like "cute" or "lovely" or "free pie." Granted, the last one was a bit of a generous inclusion, but Sin maintained that adding "pie" as a descriptor could instantly improve pretty much any subject in existence, even if it could earn him the occasional scalding critique from Parent B.

And then there were those words that didn't seem to belong anywhere in particular.

Sin didn't like those because they tended to get lodged in his brain like a lexical fishbone, nagging him to figure them out. Usually, he managed to wrestle them into submission on his own after plenty of thinking, and if all else failed, he could always go ask Parent A, who was good at explaining tricky stuff like "good" and "evil" or "right" and "wrong" (mostly by pointing out all the things dictionaries couldn't really talk about, like pirate ethics and ethics for pirates' good friends who occasionally stop by for visits).

In general, though, Sin felt that a word earned by doing the heavy lifting himself was better than a word explained by someone else.

The mot du jour was of this infuriatingly nebulous variety, and it was a really, really tough customer. It had been stuck in his head for the better part of two weeks now, and he wasn't any closer to figuring out where to put it. This, he was beginning to suspect, was mainly because he was sorely lacking in observable matter.

The word in question was "normal."


The dictionary had the following to offer on the word "normal":




1: perpendicular, especially: perpendicular to a tangent at a point of tangency
2 a: according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule or principle
b: conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern
3: occurring naturally
4: free from mental disorder: sane



Sin found this information to be supremely unhelpful.

He had given himself a whole day for doing some intense thinking about the subject, and could now see he was going to need it.

Investigating the perpendicularity of "normal" seemed like a waste of time. Most humans, as well as most Gears, spent a good chunk of their time in an upright position relative to the ground, unless they were either directionally challenged or Parent B.

This put the starting point of his investigation at “norms, rules and principles.”

With his index finger stabbing the fine print of the dictionary, Sin sat still for a while, puffing up his cheeks. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as they say, but he couldn’t even get his foot out the front door without landing on the ground in a graceless heap.

He didn't even need to look as far as his friends in the cargo acquisition and reallocation business to get confused, all he needed to do was look at the 'rents.

Parent A appreciated rules, insofar as they didn't get in the way of his sense of justice. If they did, he had a very intricate system in place that determined whether he bent the unpalatable rules, tried to fix them, or descended upon the situation with a fury worthy of all God's archangels and a flaming (metaphorically speaking) sword.

Sin hadn't been around to witness that one, but Parent B had enough anecdotes about what he called the "I'm Ky-fucking-Kiske. You and what army?"-mode to paint some fairly vivid pictures and make Sin feel a tad sorry for the poor sod on the receiving end who really had no one but himself to blame.

In general, though, Parent A was the go-to person for the upholding of rules, some of which Sin understood (don't eat anything that talks) and some of which he didn't (it's rude to stare even when a girl really, really wants you to stare).

Parent B, for his part, thought rules were made to be broken – or punched, or set on fire, or launched into orbit – yet he didn't appreciate it when Sin tried to disregard the rules of logic or basic math. (Sin was totally down with the whole "one plus one makes two" thing, unless it was about pie, in which case the only viable solution was "zero").

Parent B also liked to point out – and often to Parent A's face – that Parent A was violating some cosmic law of probability simply by existing, so there definitely was a kind of obscure set of rules that applied to his corner of the universe, as well.

Sin noisily let the air out of his cheeks and decided to move on to the next line, which dealt with standards and regularities.

Being awesome kind of precluded being average, and in Sin's wholly unbiased opinion, the 'rents were easily the most awesomest 'rents in the history of forever, no contest. It followed, then, that as the product of shady mad murderbot science designed to get back at them their love, this made Sin doubly awesome by proxy.

If he needed to support these claims (he didn't), all he had to do was open a history book.

Granted, the exploits found therein were mostly Parent A's, on account of Parent B's exploits usually requiring a cover-up, profuse apologies or frantic repudiations. However, Parent A's neat handwriting in the margins ensured that credit was given where credit was due ("That time your father went full-on Gear in the middle of an air battle and I had to keep the gunners from splattering his benighted ass him all over Belgium" or "Got sick for a week, your father took over the army. God knows what he actually did while I was in delirium, but it did win us back Prague and I was warm," though that one meant Sin had to take a break from the history lesson to go scrub the idea of parents being affectionate from his mind.)

And then there were those books that desperately tried to find ways to make Parent A even more awesome (or something) by inventing stories that made the 'rents alternately groan or chuckle ("No, I'm pretty sure I was not sent to Earth via a bolt of divine lightning," or "Why is this talking about chest binding– oh it's one of those. Sol, kindly stop laughing and burn it.")

Sin was starting to think that whoever had written that proverb on journeys had been rather foolishly optimistic about them.

He rubbed the spot on his forehead that was starting to feel rather dented from smacking into all these invisible roadblocks, and tried to move on to the matter of natural occurrence.

Unfortunately, being the product of shady mad murderbot science kind of got in the way of using himself as a test subject. Then there was that whole confusing mess with Parent B that Sin still didn't get, only that it involved a lot of things burning for a really long time and that asking about it usually made Dad go stone-cold quiet and then leave for a week to go punch big angry things back to a mono-cellular level.

Granted, this was just what Sin surmised from the fact that Parent B came back one part gore-streaked, one part charbroiled and three parts completely exhausted, and from how it usually took him another week to stop having awkward psychic 'rentspeak conversations with Mom and grudgingly start using real words again.

Parent A was a bit more forthcoming on the subject and didn't really believe in punching big angry things (unless it was absolutely necessary or they happened to be Parent B), though Sin held no delusions that this was due to anything other than his solemn commitment to full disclosure. He could totally see Mom’s brain-to-mouth filters working every time to pick out all the details Sin wasn’t supposed to know and that irked him to no end.

Bottom line, though, was that Dad might have kind of not been a Gear once upon a time (and wasn't that a weird thought), and that nobody was quite sure how things had moved from him kind of maybe not being a Gear to the world being on fire for way, way longer than mostly anybody had been alive.

All that left him with, then, was Parent A, who seemed to be the closest to a natural occurrence out of the three of them.

To Sin’s vague knowledge on the subject and the chagrin of ecclesiastical scholars everywhere, Parent A had been born human to human parents the human way – another weird thought for somebody who could still hazily sort of recall feeling very bored inside a glass tube.

Yet, nobody else seemed to feel like considering it very much, least of all Dad, who would get this weird, suckerpunched look at times for reasons Sin had the sneaking suspicion he would have to be an adult to understand.

Since that was still a few lightyears down the road (Dad’s estimate) and Sin didn’t really feel like venturing into philosophy (“if nobody else thinks you’re normal, does it still mean you are?”), he decided to skip to the last point, sanity.

His family had a lot of discussions about sanity, particularly when it came to battle plans, food, or the incineration of tithes collectors. Sanity also had a special place in the dictionary of ‘rentspeak, where Sin had rather decisively filed it under “BLERGH” (a category that would, a few lightyears down the road, reluctantly be amended to read “Putting up with All Your Stupid Crap Because Snuggles”).

Outside of that, though, sanity roulette was a pretty fun family activity.

Parent A often found Parent B's sanity open to debate (sometimes with pyrotechnic support), while Parent B found Parent A's sanity open to debate (sometimes with pyrotechnic support). Sometimes, Sin found both their sanity open to debate (mostly when it came to pie and girls, though he would never say so out loud for fear of having his outfit meet an untimely end).

And then there were all the occasions where both the 'rents found Sin's sanity open to debate (without pyrotechnic support because "Nobody ever understood basic morality from a boot to the head"), though that often ended up coming down to the questionable sanity of either Parent A or B.

With a snap, Sin shut the dictionary and flopped backwards into the grass, his perpendicularity quota exhausted for the day.

He’d never known field research could be this exhausting, though he was starting to suspect that he wasn’t making progress because he was lacking observable matter to begin with.

What he really needed was some good reference material.


On account of the whole "things burning for way, way longer than mostly anybody had been alive" issue, there wasn’t a lot of reference material on Gears.

What little there existed, the ‘rents liked to use for teaching him how not to think about Gears, although they occasionally disagreed whether "abyssal hellspawn" wasn’t a scientifically accurate term after all.

There were no books of any kind on half-Gears, given that, for all anyone knew, there were only two of them in the entire world (a fact that tended to make Dizzy do the disappointed wing-droop thing, which in turn made Sin do the disappointed wing-droop thing, at least for as long as it took for somebody to locate a pie).

There were, however, a ton of books written on humans and their day-to-day activities, so Sin thought it would be a good idea to start there. At least, he could half-trust their wisdom to half-apply to him, too.

Given the vaguely pear-shaped state of the world and the general preoccupation with building new things and keeping them Gear-free (something that amused Sin to no end whenever he took on a pest-control job), his best bet were the back-alley sometimes-black-sometimes-gray markets in the lower tiers of Zepp.

The 'rents had a rule against unsupervised wandering in Zepp, but all he really had to do was wait for a trip where they were busy doing secret 'rent things (such as meeting informants that weren't supposed to know Sin existed) so he could quietly slip away for a bit. After all, what the 'rents didn't know wouldn't kill him.

The back-alley markets of the sky city were a grotesque wonderland of sights, sounds and shady business deals. Contrary to ground-bound markets, which had things such as cute little stalls, neat displays of their wares and vendors hollering their prices into the morning air, this was a market where every inch of space spent on decoration and flair was an inch that could have gone to another box of scrap metal.

Nobody bothered to shout much, partly because they assumed that anybody roaming the alleys already knew what they were looking for and partly because their wares were nothing so much as an immense collection of Stuff of Uncertain Uses.

Parent B likely could have named the things piling up at every corner, though he rarely bothered to do so, and when he did, it was safely out of earshot and Zeppian airspace. On some visits, he would even disappear for a while and return with a bulky sack whose contents met their end in some deserted wasteland ideally suited for a spectacular explosion.

"If you find anything that has buttons on it, for fuck's sake don't press them," had been one of Sin's first lessons on how to explore abandoned ruins and evil underground laboratories, and Zepp was full of people whose life's mission it was to press all the buttons everywhere and maybe leave a rock on them just to see what would happen.

Given the overabundance of things with buttons on them that he wasn't supposed to press, finding a place with a decent variety of reference material was a lot harder than it should have been.

Granted, what Zeppians considered reference material was a bit of a broad term to begin with. They considered everything to be “historical artifacts,” even if it resembled nothing so much as a big pile of not-touching-that-with-a-barge-pole-because-ew, which meant Sin had to go digging through the world’s biggest scrap paper dump.

After working his way through a shipping container’s worth of faded love letters, little books with flimsy locks and vague approximations of ponies on them, paper napkins with nonsensical number sequences, and weird leather-bound booklets that told him people of the past had used lunchtime for anything other than lunch, Sin found himself wishing for just one person who shared Mom’s fondness for color-coded and alphabetized things. He was also wishing he didn’t have to use both hands to keep a paper avalanche at bay, just so he could do something about the persistent itch in his nose.

His eyes were starting to glaze over – something that not even the sight of a man fighting crime in a pair of red underpants on the outside could fix (bad idea if he ever saw one) – and he’d have to head back soon, anyway. It would mean having the stupid word nagging him for another couple of months, until whenever the ‘rents felt another trip to Zepp was in order, but what could he do.

Sighing, Sin steeled himself against the prospect and was just about to surface, when something caught his eye in the musty, papery depths. He couldn’t even say what it was in that moment, but that didn’t matter much to his arm, which shot out to grab it before the thing could be swallowed up by the encroaching flood.

He emerged from the crate with a mighty sneeze and spent the next few minutes shaking himself off, much to the irritation of the vendor, who soon found himself covered in a good inch of yellow dust.

The shakedown didn’t work so well for his find, though, which started to crackle and flake, very nearly dissolving the thing that had drawn Sin’s attention in the first place.

There was a girl on the cover.

Girls had the magical ability to get Sin to stop whatever he was doing and look, though he’d ended up walking through a couple of walls as a result. This girl made him really look, to the point where he completely forgot about paying attention to the vendor, who knew when he’d landed a customer and was eagerly swapping out his price lists. But who could blame him, when she was wearing the singularly most fantastic outfit he’d ever seen – lace-up jeans? fringe jacket? awesome lightning print? why hadn’t he thought about that?

Unfortunately, some of the finer details were obscured by bulky, well-I-guess-it-used-to-be-pink-once-upon-a-time text that was plastered haphazardly all over the page, advertising things like “Five Best Ways to Deal With Break-ups!!!”, “Meet Duran Duran!!!” and “77 Looks For Every Body and Budget!!!”, all with copious exclamation marks.

And squashed into the bottom right corner:

"But That’s Normal!!! A Guide to Surviving the Teen Years in 23 Easy Steps."

Sin’s whoop for joy startled the vendor into losing at least three layers of dust, but he couldn’t quite find it in himself to apologize when he was staring right at the first solid lead in his quest.

After a brief internal debate on what exactly constituted "teenage" and whether or not it applied to almost-four-years-old half-Gears (it did, because Sin was flexible when it came to his own age, smoothly alternating between, "But I'm not even four!" and "Come on, I'm almost four!" depending on the nature of the argument), Sin left the back alley market with a considerably lighter wallet, a spring to his step and a hundred-year-old magazine in his bag, unaware of the tribulations yet to come.


A few days later, Sin's horizons had expanded considerably. He now knew how to give himself French nails, that high-low hems were totally taboo, and could tell at a glance whether someone was a winter or a spring. He also really, really needed to beef up his sewing kit to try out all the amazing things that could be done with pleats, plaids, prints and plastic (whatever that was). Best of all, he now felt he had a fairly good grasp on what "normal" meant for his kind-of-sort-of-if-you-squint teenage self, and that the 'rents were grievously endangering the results of his field experiment by not doing a single thing the Teen Survival Guide said was integral to the parent-teen relationship.

"…You want me to give you a what?"

Internally, Sin heaved a sigh, both because he was getting pretty good at 'rentspeak and knew when a question served to determine whether or not he was suffering from a debilitating brain injury, and because he was starting to see what the Teen Survival Guide had been talking about. The 'rents simply had no idea how to handle teenagers. Zero sensitivity to his plight right there.

"Curfew, mom," Sin repeated, with that extra overtone that denied the presence of brain injuries. "I'd like you to give me a curfew."

Parent A blinked, apparently unconvinced, but shook a chair free from the maps he'd been poring over in a tactful offer for some life counseling and/or first aid. "Sin, what's the matter? If this is about going out on your own, it's fine as long as you let the team know, remember?"

The team. Under different circumstances, being counted as a full-fledged member of what he'd always thought of as the parental tag-team would have given Sin the warmfuzzies. Well, alright, he was definitely experiencing a major case of the warmfuzzies, but it was screwing up his attempts at experiencing the meaning of normality. Normality, according to the Teen Survival Guide, meant things like curfew and no visitors to his room (or tent, or big wide starry sky) and getting nagged to death about his hair and his clothes and his friends. Parent A, beacon of patience and tolerance that he was, had to be started off slowly.

"But these are my formative years! If you don't start laying into me now, I might turn out like dad! So give me a curfew, pretty please?"

A once-over and a small, amused smile told him that they both knew it could never happen, but Parent A finally relented, shaking his head. "Okay. I'm not sure I get it, but if it's so important to you… from today on, you have to be back and in bed by eleven– "

"Moooom."

"…Ten thirty?"

"Mom."

"Alright, ten."

This time, Sin did sigh out loud. "Come on, mom. Ten isn't exactly draconian."

"And you want me to be… draconian," Parent A said, clearly unable to see the point of the exercise and wondering whether debilitating brain injuries could take on such strangely specific forms. Sin, in turn, was wondering whether he'd misunderstood the role of a Supreme Commander of the Army of the World as a supreme rule-thumping hard-ass.

Apparently, he'd said that out loud, because Parent A pursed his lips in displeasure. "Leadership isn't just about enforcing rules. Especially if these rules serve no purpose. It's also about– "

"Moooom."

"Very well. Sin Kiske, you're under strict orders to be back and in bed by nine o'clock on the dot, and that's my last word on the matter."

Alllright, judging from the way his heels wanted to snap together, he'd definitely underestimated those hard-ass capabilities. The tiny smirk on Parent A's face spared him the embarrassment of an instinctual "yessir! thank you, sir!", though not the certainty that they both knew he'd been this close to blurting it out. Shaking the surprise tension from his shoulders, Sin mustered a grin, spun around, and set out to put the next part of the experiment in motion.

"Awesome, thanks a bunch!"

"You're welcome, I guess." Still slightly bemused, Parent A reached for the maps again and added idly, "And tomorrow, we're going to have an in-depth discussion about the meaning of leadership. Don't be late."

"Eheh."

Gulping, Sin decided on the spot that the experiment would not extend to motherly lessons, ever. He liked his eyebrows where they were, thank you very much.


After a week, Sin was beginning to doubt the 'rents' commitment to sparklemotion.

He'd been deliberately breaking curfew, first in smaller, then bolder and bolder ways, but the 'rents hadn't said anything. He held out for another couple of days on the vague hope that maybe they were just storing up all their parental outrage for a truly awe-inspiring lecture on trust and responsibility and time-keeping skills, but the 'rents didn't seem at all concerned about his lack of discipline in the matter. At least, Sin supposed, this counted as being misunderstood, even if it didn't seem to be the kind of misunderstood that merited a letter to Deirdre's Advice Column on page seven.

Sullenly, Sin poked at the flames with his flagpole.

They were camped out in a small grove about two days away from the ruins of what had once been called Rome, and which, according to Parent A, used to be quite important because lots of old people with hats used to live there a while back but not anymore (okay, so maybe that wasn't exactly what he'd said, but Sin still didn't really understand religion or why you needed a big hat for it, and apparently if you wore a big hat you weren't allowed to like girls and that just seemed totally stupid). Parent B summarized the importance of Rome in varying combinations of expletives together with cougars, though Sin had yet to see any big cats and didn't get why they were such a problem, either.

At the moment, he wasn't really interested in either mystery, or even what the 'rents were going to do once they got there. All that mattered was that he'd been away until almost midnight yesterday chasing fireflies through the hills (nothing more interesting to be done in the middle of nowhere), and his long-desired scolding still wasn't happening. How was he supposed to become a strong and independent individual without a united front of parental oppression to guide him there?

"This sucks," he declared eventually, kicking dust at the fire to watch it crackle and spark. "You guys could at least try to work with me here."

Across the fire, Parent B glanced up from where he was definitely-not-modding-Parent-A's-sword-into-a-flowery-pastry-destroyer-or-so-God-help-me, and decided that if he didn't ask, Sin would just sulk some more and then go ahead and tell him anyway, so he might as well get on with the inevitable. "What's that now?"

"What's the point of a curfew if you aren't enforcing it?"

"Because we trust you to stick to agreements and act according to the situation," Parent A said while Parent B was still busy dusting off his speech module.

"But I'm a teenager! You aren't supposed to trust me with anything!"

"Seconded," Parent B said, though he'd told Sin on more than one occasion that he trusted him as far as he could throw him, which Sin knew to be very, very far indeed.

"Where did you get that idea?" Mom said, favoring Dad with a warning look.

"All the books say so," Sin proclaimed, well aware that he was being a little generous with the definitions of "all" and "books" but willing to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of making his point. "I'm trying to develop my personality here. Your job is to keep me from doing that. Kind of like art from adversity, and stuff!"

"Hah!"

There was the muffled sound of an elbow hitting a painful place, before Parent A said gently, "I'm pretty sure those books have got it wrong, Sin."

"Well, uh." Sin paused, wrinkling his brow in thought. "…Well, maybe so, but… they say that's normal."

Parent B's scowl was clearly asking, "Your point being?"

"My point being, if I don't figure out what normal is like, then I'll… I'll… I'll be grievously deprived in my development and my vocabulary! You don't wanna stunt the growth of my vocabulary, right?"

"Ye– ow."

"Of course not," Parent A said, and though he hadn't moved, Sin was pretty sure he'd just zapped Dad in the 'nads. "But…"

"But can't we try it out?" Sin was pretty sure all those teens writing to Deirdre's Advice Column had never had such difficulty getting grounded. "Just for a little bit? Until I figure it out?"

"Alright, if it makes you happy, we'll do our best to support you," Parent A said, though Sin was pretty sure the look he was sending Parent B said, "You're not allowed to whack him over the head ever again because look what happens when you do."

"Great!" Sin clapped his hands, which made the flagpole stir up a cloud of celebratory sparks that were well-deserved at this point. "So how about we catch up on yesterday now?"

"I'm… not entirely sure what you mean."

"Punishment, guys. I was three hours late getting back. That's gotta be worth something."

The 'rents shared yet another look, the Dad end of which said the asskick factory was closed until tomorrow and the Mom end of which said that he'd never really gotten any further than a stern talking-to with any of his soldiers, and how did one respond to one's son practically pleading to get yelled at, anyway?

Eventually, the discussion ended with a pointed stare that loosely translated to, "Whatever he just did, I'm one hundred percent convinced it's the result of your Frenchness," before Parent B returned to fiddling with the sword. At least, he was pretending to do so. Sin had gotten pretty good at telling when Dad was genuinely not paying attention to things – which, on account of being a Gear, was almost never – and when he was just hanging back to watch whatever mayhem was threatening to unfold.

After a long silence, Parent A finally retired the death glares and turned his attention to Sin. After an even longer silence, he cleared his throat, drew his eyebrows together and, like sampling a language thrice removed from reality, very carefully enunciated, "Um. Go… to… your room?"

With a loud sigh, Sin buried his head in his hands.

The 'rents, it seemed, were going to need all the help they could get. It was time for a full-on rebellion.