dragon challenge header

not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment


by Chalcopyrite

JC hadn't had coffee yet, and he had just been thinking it had been a while since he talked to Lance, so when his phone rang he answered it and said "Lance?" without thinking.

"It's Chris, you weird fucker. Why would it be Lance?"

"I just -- never mind." JC waved his train of thought away with one hand. If he tried to explain, especially to Chris, he'd just get more confused. "What's up, man?"

Chris cackled. "Oh, yeah. So if J calls you, tell him absolutely not the princess cut, he should go for the marquise."

"Okay?" This sounded like one of those Chris conversations where you just tried to keep up until you found a place to grab on. "Is something wrong with the princess cut?"

"Nah, just that's the one I said was perfect. What does he expect when he calls me with a diamond crisis? Who the fuck has a diamond crisis anyway?" Chris sighed. "Except Timberlake, obviously. What's up with you?"

"Not much. Except --" JC peered out the kitchen window and frowned. "I think they're digging a hole in my back yard."

"They're -- wait, is this some random hole-digger, or someone you asked to come dig holes?"

"I think it's the landscapers," JC said. "But I'm pretty sure I would have remembered if we'd talked about giant holes."

"You're sure you didn't ask them to, like, dig a pool? A mermaid pond or something?"

"Why would I -- nevermind," JC said. "Um, I think I'd better get out there and check, it looks kind of serious."

"Dude, if they hit a pipe, get pictures," Chris said. "And remember to tell J not the princess cut."

"Sure," JC said. As he hung up, he thought he heard Chris hollering something like "Domination will be mine!" but he wasn't going to call back and check.

The serious hole started looking more and more serious the closer he got to it. It wasn't immensely deep yet, only a few feet, but it was wide, and it was there. JC was nearly certain that "Make my yard more interesting" didn't mean "Replace it with a large pit."

"Hey," he said, when he drew level with the landscaper guy, who was standing to one side, supervising the small digger (purple! JC hadn't known they came in purple!) pulling bucketloads of earth out of the hole that was, JC saw now, a good four or five feet deep. "Was this part of the plan?"

The landscaper guy (Thane or Dane or something like that; JC was sure he'd said but he couldn't remember -- and had he always been this short? JC couldn't think of a polite way to ask that one) nodded solemnly without looking away from the hole. "It's a preliminary step. We have to destratify the internal horizons to stabilize the matrices."

"Yes?" JC said.

The landscaper guy looked up at him with intense, dark eyes. "It's to implement the critical distribution," he said.

"Oh," JC said. "Okay." He stood and watched the digger make the hole a little deeper while he hoped there was more explanation coming, maybe in English, then nodded in what he hoped was an informed sort of way and went back inside.

He checked from the kitchen window again. Dane-or-maybe-Thane was standing across from the paused digger, peering down into the hole. After a moment or two, he stepped back and waved at the guy in the digger to continue. JC really hoped they hadn't hit a pipe or something; that sounded like it would be complicated, even if Chris did want a picture.

JC took out his phone again and drummed his fingers on the case. Joey would know about this sort of thing. He scrolled through to Joey's number and hit send. It went straight to voicemail, and JC smiled when he heard Joey's voice.

Hey, it's a gorgeous day, so we're out setting things on fire. If I don't melt my phone, I'll call you back.

JC waited for the beep, then said, "Hey, it's me, I just wanted to ask about a house sort of thing, and just say hi, it's been a while I guess? But, yeah. Call me back whenever, man." He hung up and poked idly at the phone for a bit, thinking about buttons and hotbuttons and music and pushing, then kept poking while he walked to his studio, because he had a little noodly bit of music floating around his head now and he thought it needed handclaps.


By the time JC made it out of the studio again, it was starting to get dark, sundown fighting with streetlights and any stars lost somewhere up there in the glare. Oh, hey, that could be a good line. JC hummed to himself and peered out into the back yard. The landscaper guys had left, though the digger was still there, crouched next to the edge of the hole. He turned on the porch lights and went to see.

They'd been really busy while he wasn't paying attention; the hole was deep enough now that he couldn't make out the bottom, at least ten or twelve feet down. It got a little narrower towards the bottom, and JC thought he could see some big rocks down there, but he wasn't sure. The rocks must have really trapped the heat; he could feel warm air rising from the bottom of the hole, like it had been sitting out in the midday sun, rather than way down there. He was trying to see if he could make anything out when there was a scraping sound from the bottom and he jerked back. Nothing else happened -- maybe one of the rocks had shifted -- but he still eyed the pile of soil warily and hurried back inside. He looked again from behind the safety of the window, but there didn't seem to be anything happening, so he turned off the outside lights and shut the curtains for good measure.

He dialed Joey again, and this time it rang.

"JC! I was just gonna call you back. How you doing?"

"I'm good," JC said. "Have fun setting things on fire?"

Joey laughed. "Oh, it was a blast. Wish you'd been here." He talked about the beach some, and his projects, and JC talked about his noodly button-pushing music and handclaps and he thought it really might go somewhere, and then he said, "So hey. I thought you might know -- my landscaper guy is digging a really big hole in my back yard."

Joey didn't say anything for a minute, and then he said, "Did you ask him to?"

JC huffed in annoyance. "Why does -- I'm not that flaky! We talked about doing some stuff back there, and I'm pretty sure no one ever said 'Hey, and we're going to make a giant pit in your backyard, just for fun,' but when I asked, he seemed really certain about it."

"Huh," Joey said. "Who are these guys, anyway? Where did you find them?"

JC looked out the front, but of course the truck was gone, they'd left for the day. "Hang on, I have a card somewhere," he said. "Right, B. A. Lin & Co., landscaping services. I don't know, they were doing some work around here, and asked if there was anything I wanted done, and I'd been thinking about it so I called them."

Joey made a thinking sort of noise. "Weird. How deep is this hole? I mean, are we talking three feet, or ten?"

"More than that, but I'm not sure," JC said. "Like twelve feet? I mean, it's really a hole. I don't know what they're looking for, but they seem to think it's important."

"Huh," Joey said. "I hope they don't go too deep."

"Why?" JC asked.

"Hey, I gotta go -- work on my scales, you know," Joey said over the top of him. "So I'll talk to you soon."

"Bye?" JC said, but he was already talking to the dial tone.


JC's phone rang way too early in the morning, and he answered without even looking at the number.


"Hey JC, it's Joey. You got room for a visitor?"

"Joey! Sure, you coming out here?"

"Yeah, I thought maybe I could help supervise this hole problem," Joey said.

"Sure!" JC said again. "So when are you getting here?"

"Um. Can you come let me in?" Joey asked. "I was sure I had your key, but it's not working."

"Oh!" JC tumbled out of bed and pulled on some shorts as he hopped to the door, hopped back to pick his phone up again and say "Stop laughing, ass," and made it down the stairs without mishap to open the door for Joey.

Joey hung up his own phone (he was totally laughing, the ass), and scooped JC up in a big hug, warm and rough and smelling a little like charcoal smoke. JC took a deep, appreciative breath, until he could feel his ribs creaking against Joey's hold. Then he let go and stepped back.

"Nice to see you too," Joey said, but his eyes were all crinkly at the edges. "Can I come in now?"

"Oh, yes, right," JC said, and stepped aside so Joey could come in. Joey put his bag down in the hallway and continued straight back to the sliding glass door overlooking the back yard.

"That's the hole you were talking about?" Joey asked, and JC nodded. The landscaper guys --three of them now -- had already arrived and were standing around the hole looking down into it with serious expressions. JC's yard must be bigger than he thought, because from here, they looked tiny. Or maybe the pile of dirt next to them was just that big.

"I'm gonna go see what's up," Joey said, and slid the door open. JC started to follow -- it was his yard, after all, he should Show An Interest -- then remembered he wasn't wearing a shirt, or actual pants for that matter, and showing interest was all very well, but he didn't feel like flashing the tiny landscapers. He went upstairs to get real clothes, and by the time he came down again, Joey was already coming back inside. He had a serious-thinking face on, but it cleared up when he saw JC.

"That's a big hole, all right," he said. "Hey, how do you feel about going out for breakfast? Or lunch, I guess," he added, looking at his watch. "I flew all the way from Orlando, and I want waffles."

"Okay," JC said. "I just -- lemme shower first, I stink."

"No, come on, you're fine," Joey said, catching his arm as he started to turn away. "Just find your shoes and let's get out of here."

"I need my wallet," JC said, patting his pockets. He knew he'd had it somewhere recently.

"I love you so much, I will even buy you waffles," Joey said. "And I'll drive. Come on, hot stuff, I'm hungry."

JC was quiet in the car, still waking up, but by the time they'd been seated and their waiter had brought coffee, he felt a little sharper. Or that could have been the coffee, of course.

"So not that I'm not happy to see you, but what brought this visit on?" he asked, leaning forward a little over the small table.

Joey grinned at him over the top of his menu. "What, I need an excuse to come see one of my best friends?"

JC just waited, and Joey sighed and put the menu down. "Really. Kelly's been feeling a little broody lately, so I was wondering if I should give her some space, and then, well, you called. I'm just taking the opportunity to come bug you."

JC studied his smile and the corners of his eyes. "Okay. You guys are good, though?"

Joey nodded. "We're good. Don't worry about it." He picked up his menu again. "So tell me about these landscapers of yours. When'd they show up?"

"Like a couple of days ago? And like I said, I'm sure we didn't talk about giant holes being part of the -- whatever."

"You said they were looking for something?" Joey asked.

JC waved a hand. "Figure of speech. I asked, and the guy said something about stabilizing the matrix and critical distribution, I think, or maybe I'm making that up."

"Huh," Joey said. He slid to the edge of the booth. "I need to make a phone call. Order for me? The blueberry waffles, and if you think you're just having fruit salad or something, get me bacon, too. Be right back." He stood up and went outside. JC could see him through the front windows, head down, talking on his cell phone with the same serious expression he'd had earlier.

By the time he came back inside, though, he was all cheer again, which might have been because he arrived at the table at the same time as his waffle. Then he told JC about recording and filming and what the kids and Kelly were up to, and JC told him more about the noodly music and when he'd last caught up with his family, and Joey pouted at him until he ate two of Joey's pieces of bacon, and when JC next looked around, they'd been there for almost three hours.

"Hey, should we head back?" he asked, and Joey looked up too.

"Yeah, I guess we've been here long enough," he agreed. JC stood and shuffled while Joey put down enough money to cover the bill and a tip for sitting there taking up space for hours, then they both headed out.

The landscapers' truck was still parked by JC's house, but when he looked into the back yard, there was no one there. The giant pile of dirt was gone, and so was the digger, and the whole thing looked pretty much like it had a week earlier, apart from how it was all churned-up earth instead of grass. Behind him, Joey made a satisfied sort of noise.

JC cocked his head. "Should I be worried that my landscapers disappeared?" he said. "... On foot?"

"They sounded like a pretty crafty bunch," Joey said. "You hadn't paid them or anything, right?" JC shook his head. "Then I wouldn't worry about it."

"It's just.... kind of weird," JC said.

Joey scritched his nails gently over JC's shoulders. "Let it go. Hey, I bet we can find you some landscapers that don't try to dig mines in your back yard."

"Do you think that's what they were trying to do?"

Joey just smiled, loose and easy. "Who knows? They're gone now."

"I'm very confused," JC said. Over Joey's shoulder, through the window, he saw a black car with tinted windows pull up. A man got out of the passenger side, walked to the landscapers' truck and got in, and then both vehicles pulled away.

Joey chuckled, a warm, smoky sound. "It's okay, C," he said. "Do not meddle in the affairs of landscapers, and all that." He wrapped an arm around JC's shoulders and turned him towards the studio. "C'mon, I want to hear this noodly thing you've been telling me about."

"I'm very confused," JC said again. Joey just patted him.

"Music," he said. "Hey, maybe later we can fire up the grill. I'll burn you some meat."

"Cool," JC said happily, and led the way into the studio.


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