Prompt: “Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Word Count: 1089
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Sometime after Aoba Johsai’s loss to Karasuno, Oikawa joins a rock band.
“Is this a ploy to get more girls to like you?”
Oikawa looks up to where Iwaizumi is staring at him, leaning against the door frame of the entrance to the music room. His arms are crossed, and there’s a judgment so visceral in his pose that makes Oikawa kind of jealous.
“What do you mean, Iwa-chan?” Oikawa says, innocently, scrolling through his phone for a tuning app. He’d been trying to play some basic chord progressions that one of the members of the band had tried to show him, but there was something off-sounding every time Oikawa strummed the guitar. “I would never engage in a ploy. My intentions are always straightforward and pure.”
“I thought I already told you that straightforward and pure coming from you makes everything else you say impure.”
Oikawa humphs. “This time I’m being serious.” He plays a low E on the tuning app, and then tries to make his guitar sound the same. After a few strums, he decides it sounds the same and moves on to the next string. It’s only a few moments that later that Iwaizumi snaps and walks forward, grabbing the guitar out of Oikawa’s hands. Oikawa watches as Iwaizumi deftly tunes the guitar to perfect pitch. “And besides,” Oikawa continues. “I think you’ve got something wrong. I don’t need to join a rock band to get more girls to like me. That just happens on its own.”
It’s not really a surprise when Iwaizumi shoves the guitar to Oikawa’s chest and stomps out of the room, muttering curses under his breath.
Despite Iwaizumi’s complaints, he’s front row and centre when the band finally lets Oikawa play.
It’s a small crowd, but it’s filled with familiar faces — somehow word had gotten around and nearly all of Oikawa’s fanbase had come to watch. Iwaizumi stands out, tall and stoic, in the midst of the crowd that's comprised of 75% of high school girls. In the far back, Oikawa spots Hanamaki and Matsukawa, laughing and taking photos of how Iwaizumi stands nearly a head taller than everyone else.
“Wow,” Shinji, the bassist, says, peering through the curtain with Oikawa, as they’re waiting backstage for their cue to come on. “That’s a lot more girls than we’re used to.”
“It’s because of this guy,” Ryuuchi says, pointing a finger at Oikawa as he walks past to peek through the curtains too.
Oikawa doesn’t even stop himself from preening. He gets a flick on the forehead for his efforts.
The show itself is an experience in its own right. There’s a difference between the exhilaration Oikawa feels when he’s on the court and the rush he feels when he’s up there performing. He was only given a simple part to perform, a repeating rhythm of four chords, but it matches the song and Oikawa can’t help but feel lost in the moment. They’re all doing their individual parts but it comes together in a disjointed but intriguing wave.
Oikawa catches Iwaizumi’s eyes in the middle of the performance, and then can’t help but keep meeting them afterward.
Later, after they pack up, Iwaizumi’s waiting outside for him.
It’s a surprise to say the least, and Oikawa waves the rest of his band off as he rushes to where Iwaizumi is.
“This is a surprise, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa says, bumping his shoulder into Iwaizumi’s own. Oikawa gets a bump back, harder and more forceful, but when it makes him sway, Iwaizumi balances him, before taking one of the bags of equipment Oikawa’s carrying in his hands. He tries to snatch it back, but Iwaizumi keeps it out of reach and then just strides forward.
“Didn’t know if your band members knew how to deal with your ego,” Iwaizumi says in return. “Needed to make sure that your head isn’t off in the clouds.”
“Always keeping me grounded,” Oikawa says, smiling. “What would I do without you?”
The walk home is silent, with nothing but the quiet chirp of crickets to accompany them. There’s a question, hidden somewhere in there, and Oikawa waits until Iwaizumi is ready to ask it.
“Are you ready to tell me why you decided to join a band?”
And there it is. Oikawa would say he’s surprised, but he really isn’t, especially with the way that Iwaizumi had been giving him looks every time Oikawa said he was off to band practice.
“Would it be weird to say that it’s because of you?” Oikawa says, truthfully, in the way he can only be truthful when night falls and there are only the stars out to judge. Truthfully, like the way he finally let himself cry on the way back home, tired and defeated after their match from Karasuno, because all his hard work was still no match for Kageyama’s talent.
“I don’t understand,” Iwaizumi says finally, after a few moments of silence.
Oikawa sighs. “Should I even try to explain to someone with a small a brain as you, Iwa-chan?” He gets a glare in return, so he answers seriously. “Our high school volleyball career is over, Iwa-chan. How else can I connect with you if not through something you know and love?”
Oikawa’s watched Iwaizumi’s talent for guitar grow for years, from the first time cautiously picked up a guitar at ten years old, to the way his hand now curves comfortably against the neck of his acoustic (which Oikawa knows Iwaizumi has named Chi-chan). There was a niggling doubt in the back of his band, weeks after they stopped going to volleyball practices and Oikawa saw Iwaizumi less and less. There are only a few people who know Oikawa, no one who knows Oikawa as much as Iwaizumi knows him, and Oikawa wants to try his best to keep them in his life.
There’s a lot unsaid, but like always, Iwaizumi manages to read it all. “Idiot,” Iwaizumi says, walking on like Oikawa hadn’t said anything. There’s a flush on his cheeks that betrays his nonchalance. “We may not be on the volleyball team any more, but there’s no way we’re ever separating. We’re stuck together. Got that?”
After he says it, Iwaizumi starts to walk faster, leaving Oikawa standing there in the middle of the street. It takes a moment to sink in, but as it does, Oikawa laughs, running to catch up to Iwaizumi.
Maybe Iwaizumi’s right. He’s been the voice of reason for Oikawa for so long, it seems natural the way his words seem to calm the storm brewing in Oikawa’s heart.
The attacks of before had been child’s play, mere skirmishes compared to this one, which could only be termed a full-scale invasion. The outer walls had fallen like paper; the inner walls weren’t going to last much longer. Hand in hand, leaping over fallen people and sliding under fallen debris, Fudou and Sakuma ran, past a bleeding Kidou and a tottering, swaying Haizaki, into the innermost corridors of the HQ.
They reached the end and Fudou slammed one hand on the button that opened the lab doors. He thought he heard an echoing slump from Haizaki’s direction, but there was no time to make sure, and it was so loud, surely it was anything else?
There was no time to waste. All thoughts of Kidou and Haizaki left his mind as the doors finally widened enough for him and Sakuma to slip through, and they were running again, racing down the familiar route to what had practically been their second home these past few sleepless months.
The moment they entered the lab room, Fudou wrenched the satchel with the mission supplies they had prepared just two days prior from the wall. Sakuma tore open the control panel and typed in the initiation commands with shaking hands, and Fudou flung open the door to the pod. No time for subtlety. It was the day they had always known would come.
He cast a furtive glance at Sakuma, whose hands were still running along the keyboard like a river gushing on rock. Then he looked back at the pod.
This would work. He’d make it work.
“Sakuma,” Fudou called, then yelled again, realising his voice had become hoarse sometime during the carnage. “Get in!”
Sakuma turned, expression frantic but focused, mouth opening as if about to reply. Come on, move, I can do all the adjustments from inside! Fudou’s brain screamed, but before the words could reach his mouth, the laboratory doors opened to reveal rows and rows of Ares children and their golden glowing eyes.
Sakuma’s eyes cooled. His gaze sharpened. Fudou’s heart sunk.
“IN!” Sakuma yelled. In one controlled, explosive motion, he swept one arm out towards the pod and swung his other arm and clenched fist behind him, towards the key that would initiate the string of commands he had just typed. Fudou’s feet moved to obey even before his brain finished processing the words. The doors to the pod started to slide shut, and just before they closed the very last thing Fudou saw before he was wrenched across time was bright, bright light –
If you’d told Fudou six years ago that the world would turn into this, he’d have laughed. At you.
Up until high school, he had led an unremarkable, if tough life in Ehime Prefecture, a life of cutting coupons out of magazines from the trash and trying to make every pair of socks and shoes last, even if they got a little tight or frayed, because every yen counted. Then a scout had approached him and asked if he would be interested in a football scholarship at a Tokyo high school. It had been a no-brainer, of course. An all-expenses-paid ride out of his shitty provincial town? Two birds with one stone. Fudou wouldn’t have said no to any school, much less the Teikoku Academy.
Scratch that. If you’d told Fudou just a year ago that the world would turn into this, he’d have – well, by then he’d grown beyond laughing directly in people’s faces. It was a natural consequence of dating Sakuma Jirou in high school (the highlight of an otherwise mediocre experience) and then following him to university. As Fudou learned well, Sakuma was prickly by nature, and any direct ridicule, even in the form of affectionate banter, was liable to get you the cold shoulder for days. But he had a lovely side that Fudou adored from the bottom of his heart and had even thought he’d grow old (and rich) with.
Fudou still remembered that one summer during their first year of university when Sakuma had come to visit Ehime. They’d gone to Iyo, a neighbouring city famous for its castle. Fudou would never forget the wide-eyed wonder with which Sakuma had traversed the castle grounds, from its elegant courtyards to the top of its fortified turrets. He had something to say about every artefact on display and had ended up giving Fudou, the actual Ehime local, a comprehensive history lesson. What a damn nerd. Fudou had laughed then, loud and hearty, and Sakuma’s only retaliation had been a warm smile.
Then during the train ride home, Nosaka Yuuma, the inhumanly skilled football star Fudou only vaguely remembered playing against in high school, lost his equilibrium and entered homeostatic breakdown. He was a Vissel Kobe player now, based in Kobe, but they felt the shockwave even in Ehime. Their train derailed. Some people flew out the windows. Others lay unmoving on the floor, or draped along the train seats. There was some blood.
Miraculously, Fudou and Sakuma only had the wind knocked out of them. The first thing they thought to do was get out of the train and call for help. But neither of them, nor any of the other survivors, could get any cell reception. As they waited for help in the Ehime countryside, distant screeches like missile fire cut through the otherwise quiet day, and the sky was periodically bathed in a golden glow, each instance coming from a different direction. When night fell, still with no rescuer in sight, Fudou wasn’t laughing anymore.
Even when his surroundings settled and everything felt like it had stopped moving, it was all Fudou could do to open his eyes. The room was only faintly lit, which helped the pain in his head somewhat. He felt like he had been sucker punched in the gut with nausea.
If everything had gone according to plan, he was in one of the basement rooms of the Kidou Corporation HQ. According to Kidou six years later, it had once been one of Kidou Corp’s unused safe rooms, except it clearly wasn’t. Around him, rows of cabinets stretched almost to the ceiling and probably covered the entire room. Back when they were building the time machine, Fudou and the others had racked their brains to think of somewhere that had been continuously empty over the entire period they were planning to travel through. They’d thought it was a condition required to successfully time travel, and Kidou had confirmed a hundred times that this particular safe room qualified. So much for that! Fudou had only just got here, and already he had made a lucky escape.
A spasm racked through his body. Fudou retched, though it was dry, and fought to stop his body from heaving. It was more difficult than normal. His frame felt too small, too light. He raked a hand through his hair, and the bushy mohawk confirmed his suspicions: he was back to his fourteen-year-old body.
Okay. Sure. There was no point in asking why, as long as he knew what was. And really, didn’t this just make his mission easier?
Finally, Fudou had the presence of mind to take cover near the cabinets closest to him. This room was clearly in use and Kidou Corp security could enter at any moment. And while Fudou was intimately familiar with everything about this HQ five years later, this HQ now felt like somewhere he had never been before. No one here was farming, fighting the Ares soldiers, maintaining the barricades, or madly researching how to alter history and fix things before it became too late. (Wow, when you laid out the ATHENA base this way, it really was a wonder that Kidou had let him and Sakuma do what they wanted all this time.) Right now, everyone in the building was a paper-pusher, a salaryman (or woman) working to fuel their lifestyle or feed their family. The sounds most people would associate with this building were grids of employees typing away at their computers, or polite discussion during meetings, or the network servers humming away. Not distant, but constant bursts of gunfire, booming explosions, and the intermittent eerie rings in the distance that signalled the end of yet another Ares child. Was this really what it had been like during Homeostasis? So much had changed that Fudou could barely reconcile the Kidou Corp HQ of now and the future. And yet, why did it feel like the biggest change had been in himself?
He was at April 11 of his fifteenth year of life. Fudou knew this like he knew that the Earth was round. Sakuma had calculated and cross-checked the dates and geographical coordinates time and time again, and Fudou had no doubt that he had sent him successfully to his destination. He trusted Sakuma with his life. Kidou’s uncertain recollections of his office layout… not so much.
A creak from the far end of the room caught his attention, and he ducked and pressed his body against the cabinet. Slowly, the door swung open and light bloomed in.
A more focused beam that was probably a torchlight slid along the walls. Fudou figured he was probably in its blind spot, and he wasn’t about to risk leaving it to check. He tried to stay as motionless as possible despite the cramp building up in his thighs. As long as the guard didn’t get near his side of the room, he wouldn’t even know Fudou was here, though that knowledge didn’t ease the pounding of his heart. So much for always empty. This was the last time he was trusting a CEO to know the minute details of his own company!
But at least he knew where the exit was now.
When Fudou was sure the guard had gone, he slipped out of the door and exited the HQ as quickly as he could. No doubt he’d be picked up by the security cameras, but who was going to recognise a scruffy mohawked boy from the other side of Japan?
Once he reached street level, it was relatively easy to orient himself in this new, but familiar world. Staking out Teikoku was easy enough, and with the money in his satchel he managed to rent a room that was in the area for the next few days.
And after that, as the diverge point hurtled closer towards him in time, all Fudou could do was wait.
They had combed their collective memories obsessively for the diverge point. It wasn’t just Kidou, Sakuma, and Fudou who had been filled with demons and regrets in the months following homeostatic breakdown – Haizaki had too, perhaps the most out of all of them. He had been the one pitted against the Ares program, even if he hadn’t known it at the time. The main component of the program had been named the Balance of Ares after its creator’s dream to even the scales between pure talent and hard work. It had served its purpose too well.
The first Ares subject had been an unremarkable middle school boy with only a love for football. No one had thought much of it at the time, but when Nosaka Yuuma displayed the speed and analytical precision of a machine to rout Haizaki Ryouhei, the ultimate bastion of middle school talent, Japan and the rest of the world started to pay attention. Nosaka had been the catalyst that powered the Ares program to success, and governments and private corporations invested in (or stole) the technology to create soldiers of their own. The Balance of Ares was championed worldwide and heralded as the path to true equality.
A mere five years later, Nosaka Yuuma imploded, generating a three-hundred-kilometre shockwave that decimated everything in its epicentre. Governments and corporations realised that what they had were not soldiers but ticking time bombs. Like dominoes falling all over themselves, they dug out adverse event protocols from deep inside their vaults and executed their risk management procedures against their Ares charges. And like a chain reaction, the Ares children banded together to defend themselves against the world that now wanted them gone. You were either with them or against them. Within a few days it was war.
It was a month after the train accident when Fudou and Sakuma finally straggled up to the gates of Kidou Corp HQ, one of the last remaining ATHENA strongholds in Japan. Haizaki had tried to kill them on sight; they’d been lucky that Kidou had been nearby. But when the Ares children attacked the next day, it was also Haizaki who fought tirelessly and fired the final shot that scared them away. It was guilt, Kidou explained to them well out of his earshot. Haizaki was convinced that this could all never have happened if only, in middle school, he had taken Nosaka Yuuma more seriously.
So that was the most obvious place to start when looking for the diverge point. After all, Haizaki had been the one who’d had the most contact with Nosaka before homeostatic breakdown. Whatever he thought was the problem was probably as good as they were going to get.
But Haizaki wasn’t the one time travelling. What was their own diverge point?
“You know,” Sakuma said to Fudou one day during lunch (entirely hydroponically grown salad and grains, which was, of course, disgusting), “did I ever tell you that Haizaki thrashed us our last year of middle school?”
“As a first-year?” Fudou replied, sceptical. “You were that bad?”
“It was me. Middle school me was a brat. You know how in high school I was still hung up over Kidou transferring out in middle school? It was worse the very first year after he left. I just couldn’t get over him. I think I needed someone to call me out and tell me to stop being so stupid,” Sakuma said bluntly. “And we had problems with our coach, too. They were justified. We’d sacked him the year before for being evil. Long story. But…” His lips tightened and his brows furrowed. “If we’d listened to him, I wonder if we could have defeated Haizaki and showed him that he wasn’t unstoppable.”
Fudou squinted at Sakuma. His bangs hung over his one visible eye, making him look almost defeated. It wasn’t a look that suited the man he had once seen take out an entire squad of enemies with just a well-timed hand grenade and a pistol.
“So is that our diverge point, then?” he asked. “Make sure the team listens to your evil coach and beats the crap out of Haizaki?”
One side of Sakuma’s lips drew down in a grimace. But he nodded.
The days passed quicker than expected, though what was fast to someone who had gone back years in the space of a few moments?
Fudou had spent some of his newfound time reliving his old pleasures, like going to the arcade. He’d spent some funds on new pleasures too, like all-you-can-eat sushi. But most of his time was spent lurking near Teikoku, watching the members of the football team and getting an idea of what he would have to work with.
On the day of the diverge point, Fudou arrived at the auditorium early and made himself comfortable in one of the plush seats in the front row. He turned his head back when the members of the Teikoku football team started to file in, but surprisingly, Sakuma wasn’t among them. Fudou regarded them, recognising some of them from high school, and the team stared back curiously, though none of them did a thing. A haughty, confident nod was all Fudou gave them before he turned back to the front and closed his eyes.
It was fifteen minutes later when the door opened again. Fudou turned, more discreetly this time, to see two more Teikoku players descend the stairs to the front, fielding high-fives and greetings along the way.
It was Sakuma and Genda, of course, though younger than he had ever seen them. Something twinged faintly in Fudou’s heart when he took in Genda’s lion’s mane and his tall, solid frame, faithfully in step behind Sakuma. Genda had been one of his closest friends in high school, and yet Fudou had never learned whether he had survived the homeostatic breakdown.
But if he accomplished what he had come here to do, he never would have to.
Fudou snapped out of his reverie and caught the tail end of Teikoku finally demanding to know just who he was. He barely had enough time to close his eyes and compose himself before Sakuma and Genda stepped down in front of him.
“Who are you?” fourteen-year-old Sakuma asked, and his voice was so measured, so detached, and above all so young that he might as well have been a totally different person.
“Who knows?” Fudou replied. And who really did, anymore?
“Hey,” one of the team members interjected, “don’t be rude to our captain!”
That was right. Sakuma, for all the criticisms future him would spout about his middle school self, had been captain.
“Captain?” Fudou repeated, finally opening his eyes to look at his fourteen-year-old, not-yet best friends. Genda looked pretty much as expected: tall, feet and shoulders squared up towards him, expression uncompromising and stern. The face paint he liked to wear made him look like a young warrior.
But Sakuma was different. Though Fudou could see the impression of the man he had grown to love, fourteen-year-old Sakuma… was just a child. Irritation was visibly forming on his face and his fists were tightly clenched. Fudou looked at him, really looked at him, his gaze moving up and down, and Sakuma’s shoulders drew back in uncertainty. The Sakuma in front of him was a meek little lamb. He did not resemble the fierce, confident fighter Fudou knew and loved at all.
For a moment, Fudou couldn’t speak. But he recovered quickly, the gears in his brain spinning on autopilot, powered by wistful memories. Sakuma had once said that middle school him had needed a good talking to, to shock his system and help him past his mental block. It was the first and only time he had given Fudou approval to yell at him, and Fudou would be more than happy to oblige.
Because this world was soft and unprepared. The populace was dormant, going about their daily lives with such routine that they might as well be ants. They had no idea what was coming to destroy them.
Not that he could talk. They had failed, and his world was gone. His heart twinged at that. Everyone he knew – and the light twinge grew now into a sharp pang, and for a moment, all he could see was that bright, warm smile at Iyo castle – was probably dead.
But he wasn’t the only relic left from the future they had all ruined together. There was one more thing, though it was no longer perfectly laid out on paper. Just bits of it in his head. But it would have to do.
They had never formally named it, but Fudou had always called it O.P. CATALYST.
Operation: Poison Catalyst.
Nosaka Yuuma had been the catalyst for the homeostatic breakdown.
And Fudou was going to deactivate him.
Fudou slung the satchel newly filled with mission supplies over his shoulder and swiped into the time travel lab. Sakuma was there, as expected, and so were the other scientists, but there were two unexpected faces: Kidou, and his guardian lapdog Haizaki. All of them had frowny faces and turned towards him as he walked in. Fudou was used to attracting attention at the worst of times, but the combined silence and intensity of their expressions unnerved even him.
“What?” he said. “Before you get any ideas, the money in this bag’s all useless. You think anyone takes yen nowadays?”
Nobody acknowledged his quip. “Fudou,” Sakuma said instead, tone thoughtful, “where were you in middle school?”
“Ehime,” Fudou said, “rotting away. As you know. Why?”
“Ehime,” Kidou said, as if it were the name of an exotic fruit and not the boring shithole Fudou had only been too glad to leave. “And you said you’d never been to Tokyo before that?”
“You know my history, Kidou-kun,” Fudou drawled. “Never left my prefecture before I moved to Tokyo for high school.”
“Well, none of us can go back,” Sakuma said with a frown. In this lab, next to this machine, there was only one place he could have meant. “We’d crash into each other. Our past selves. It’d ruin everything.”
“What are you saying?” Fudou said, but it was just a jerk move to make Kidou have to be the one to explain it. And actually, now was not the time. “You bastards. You’re not seriously putting the fate of the world on my shoulders? You do know who you’re standing in front of, don’t you?”
Kidou inclined his head, a typically uber-serious, apologetic expression already on his face. Trust him to feel intense personal responsibility for everything, even in the apocalypse. “I wouldn’t have wanted to put all the pressure on you,” he said, his tone heavy. “If there was a different way, believe me…”
But Fudou had already stopped listening. Instead, he looked at all the other people in the room, at their alternating expressions of resignation and hope and everything in between.
In reality, he had read about self-collision and spatial collision just the day before and had independently come to the same conclusion. After all, out of all of them, he was the only one who hadn’t been anywhere near the designated spatial location (Greater Tokyo) during the diverge period.
He hadn’t wanted to say it.
But he had already known that he would have to go alone.
Notes: Tenses in time travel fiction is hard. Also, I want to thank my beta readers very, very much. And also the guy who made the Eminem/Eurythmics Sweet Dreams Without Me mashup. Finally, thank you for reading.
Title: Limelda's Personal Aim
Prompt: "The future rewards those who press on. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to complain. I'm going to press on."
- Barack Obama
Word Count: 3480
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Limelda Jorg’s reflects on her personal unrelenting obsession with Madlax and how that obsession has changed over time.
"The future rewards those who press on, I can't feel sorry myself. I can kill her, I can defeat her". I said again and again when I wanted to kill and defeat my rival Madlax.
But she always one step ahead.
From the beginning she injured my pride as the army's top sniper. I clearly remember the day she assassinated General Gwen McNicol. I stared in amazement at the position from the rooftop where she fired her bullet, it was an angle I never asked men to cover since I thought it was impossible. The audacity was shocking enough but to execute it successfully hit me with envy, admiration, fear and humiliation. I managed to catch a glimpse of the assassin on my scope. Soon it dawned on me the
assassin was the young innocent looking girl with luscious dirty blonde hair I met a few days ago, posing as a Nafrecan tourist. I remembered that youthful look and carefree expression made defeat even worse as if this was not a difficult thing to achieve. Sometimes I wished she aimed the bullet at me.
But I didn't have time to feel sorry for myself, I'm going to press on, kill her and get my reward. The reward of satisfaction and being number one again was too hard to resist.
Finally there was an opponent that was worthy of my focus. I practised my PSG-1 sniper rifle daily, shooting targets at dawn and firing pistols on the run. Apart from shooting, I practiced flanking manoeuvres and heightening my senses for the faintest breath, sound or murmur an opponent might give me. After my failure, I was assigned as the personal bodyguard to the VIP, Carrossea Doon. He gave me plenty of time to hone new tactics and ideas, especially when he flew to Nafrece alone on business trips. So I had a lot of time alone and although he seduced me away from combat, it was the chance to practice, study and improve everything that I learned before. I was also glad the extra pay meant I can buy more advanced equipment and more ammunition for practice.
Just to hunt down one extraordinary girl. The future rewards those who pressed on to continuously improve and never complain.
There were times where I felt victory was in my grasp. One time, Carrossea told me that Madlax wasn't who she was and she'll never be again. I remember Madlax acting like a clueless child wandering down the street not knowing how to protect herself, nearly floating on her bare feet. She seemed to be under a trance and later I understood she was under magical words. That didn't deter me, I aimed my gun at her but her friend Vanessa got in the way. Deep inside I knew it would have been a hollow victory, but a reward was a reward and my pride needed it. Madlax cowered like a frightened child behind her, while she pathetically aimed her gun at me shakily like a person who never fired a gun before. Her actions irritated me and I was going to shoot her as well to get to my Madlax trophy. But Vanessa's posing combined with my doubts just held me long enough, before Madlax brushed me aside and became her normal self. Again she defeated me and spared me, it was getting incredibly unbearable that I cannot beat her fair and square.
"I cannot feel sorry for myself, I don't have time to complain and I'm going to press on. Even in defeat and discouragement." I told myself.
I just need to kill her once victoriously, just once. Not a respectable guns pointing at each other draw, but a victory with her dying in the glow of my superiority. This obsession was becoming who I was, I no longer cared about serving my country or really bothered about the nation's civil war. Even protecting my VIP and lover Carrossea Doon had become tiresome. But I didn't truly know it yet till I fought Madlax again. This time I followed her through the army radio after she fought off Gazth-Sonika's soldiers. Her friend and client Vanessa was a burden and to my shock horror Madlax was held at gunpoint, there the realisation occurred to me.
"I must kill her! Nobody else can! Those who get in the way must die!" my inner voice screamed and in a fit of controlled rage as I fired my sniper rifle rapidly, executing soldiers from my own army. When I disposed of those pests, I aimed my PSG-1 at Madlax feeling victory once again albeit unfairly. I wanted badly for her to fight me without her annoying hanger-on Vanessa. The temptation arose in me again to off her but Madlax covered herself in front of Vanessa and told me this war I've been fighting was false. She also offered me the secret files to the civil war and suckered me in by questioning my courage to know the truth. The conviction in that young woman's eyes tempted me to take her offer. My superior said I was always a sucker to follow things to the end but that was what me the ultimate consummate professional. I accepted knowing it could be a trick but there's something so genuine and 'truthful' about Madlax.
In comparison this war seemed false, just like the rest of my life. When I let them go, I got scared and doubted whether I want to look at the truth. But I don't have time to complain, be sorry or scared, I must press on especially those who have the courage to face the truth.
I actually knew from the moment I pulled the trigger on my own country, that was the end of my career in the army. All the titles, adulation, medals and wealth that went with it didn't really bother me. The fellow soldiers I killed can be hidden away, the problem was I was no longer believed in my duty or my country. The data Madlax gave me was true, this entire war was a fabrication. A futile exercise where I actually fought for foreign corporations, the secret society Enfant and not to protect or care about anyone. What was worse was my superiors in the elite guard knew and lived by this day after day. In retrospect I should have known when they assigned me to protect Carrossea, Enfant agent and foreign VIP from Bookwald Corporation.
But I must press on, I didn't have time to complain. I didn't have time to feel sorry for myself. My reward would be vengeance.
My set vengeance at 1700 hours, I turned on all my fellow soldiers in the elite guard. My superior skills allowed me to crush them without much difficulty; my anger just motivated me further. I might have regretted at disposing a few of my colleagues but I had no remorse against my commanding officer. Like Carrossea he thought I was a fool, but I'm not smart enough to live happily in a lie like those smart men. I'm too honest and simple a woman for that. My officer wasn't a true soldier, if he was one he clearly became a political animal by then. When I pulled the trigger on him, my victory felt slightly satisfying but the lie lingered loudly in my heart. "How fake everything was" I berated myself. I spent so many years of my life on lie after lie trying to fill the void after I lost my family, looking for revenge, believing somehow my patriotic service will soothe the emptiness and avenge the Galza rebels whom I thought was responsible for my father's death. The truth told me this was all an illusion, just like the city and people I served. The vengeance too was an illusion, a fake reward which soothed my failure at my one truth. The only truth left in me.
That was Madlax! And my undying obsession to press on and defeat and kill her in combat. I had no time to feel sorry for myself. Rewards beckon those who knew their true goals.
By the time I found Madlax again, she was in a tropical valley where lies a remote mystical village. The more I thought about her and the false life Ieft behind, the obsession become a type of love and admiration. Her instincts in combat were so natural and pure, she can instinctively sense anyone's presence and has the most uncanny ability to get out of the tightest situations. I love how this inspired me and confirmed my existence in this otherwise false world. Killing her would have confirmed my existence and reason for living I thought, the only reward left to aim for me.
When I got close enough I saw the hut of a mystical woman who I later learned was Quanzitta and inside I saw Madlax and put my sight on her. But I didn't want to kill her without her knowing I was there, so I shot away her shrine candles to get Madlax's attention. I remember clearly having many seconds to shoot her but I wanted her to acknowledge me first before I pulled the trigger. Madlax walked straight at me in tears not caring about her life but her acknowledgement was enough. But every time I wanted to kill her when she wasn't herself, there was always someone there to save her. Nakhl came to her rescue and saved her from my shot. I don't know what she said to her but I am thankful for it now. She became her old self, creating a fake decoy and running away from my sniper fire and shooting back. That's the Madlax I love!
After using all my bullets with the sniper rifle, I switched to my pistols and faced her off in a duel. Similar to a previous encounter I cannot pinpoint where she is but I can feel how close Madlax is. She had her gun aimed at me from behind, but I gave her a roundhouse kick which she evaded and my secondary kicks were expertly dodged as well. It was a point blank range gunfight, she pushed my gun aside with her gun to deflect my shot with me mirroring her move. In a split second we aimed our guns at each other again, just like one time in the backstreets of the capital. We felt synchronised like we were joined at the hip, although I can't help but think she went easy on me. I remember the conversation, she asked me about the data and asked why I would continue to hunt her down despite knowing the false war and I said I had my reason. I fought for myself, my own existence and killing her gave me meaning and destiny. That was my reward for pressing on and never giving up. If I did that I could finally forgive myself for failure and living a lie. But she told me this
"We could have become friends and been close"
Those words shocked me so much at the time I told her "If that's so, then kill me" but I didn't have time to complain because Vanessa came around and tried to shoot me. My urges instinctively pressed on and used this moment to shoot Madlax who was distracted by Vanessa. I finally managed to hit Madlax though she was only wounded. Vanessa returned fire at me and grazed my arm and though I could have fought Vanessa I retreated away, knowing I didn't beat Madlax in a fair fight. I could feel I wasn't sure what reward I wanted more at the time especially after her words. Did I really want to kill her or just to shoot at her? A kindred spirit? Or was it something else? I felt I just wanted to dance with her with bullets.
Well I don't what the future rewards were but I pressed on and didn't complain. I needed to heal and shoot at her again to find out.
After a day or two, I was really surprised she was back to health so quickly when I heard of this super girl creating havoc on army positions through the radio. My fairly superficial wound recovered in the same time as my shot that got her a few inches in the stomach. This time I brought an assault rifle with me as I ran out of bullets for everything else. Despite my conflicting desires, I still wanted to shoot at Madlax. It was absurd. I wanted to kill her and I also didn't want to. During that incident, I felt the better I got, the more invincible she became. I utterly tried my absolute best, using assault rifle cartridge after cartridge. But she evaded every bullet, intuitively dancing away carefree under fog. I can hear her voice in my heart, speaking to me like a close friend. That voice said she understood her existence as something unreal and therefore invulnerable, suggesting she was just as unreal as a figment of my imagination. I prayed she wouldn't leave me, I had to chase her otherwise I had nothing. But she did exist, she shot at me just once. My assault rifle was instantly knocked away from my hand. I remember kneeling and waiting to be killed as I lay holding my elbow. I closed my eyes with a fatalistic smile as if this was all a dream. I knew now no matter how hard I tried I can never reach her level and was glad I would die at the hands of a superior opponent. But she just said "I won't kill you" and disappeared.
Even after acknowledging I could never be as good as her ever and the possibility she will disappear, "I can't feel sorry myself, I don't have time to complain. I'm going to press on." I told myself once again
After that experience, I accepted killing her wasn't the point. It wasn't even feasible, Madlax was a woman who couldn't die. But my urge to shoot at her in this dance of guns, shooting at her with everything was insatiable. Soon I had another chance from afar where a mysterious masked man stood between us. I fired but her meddling friend Vanessa got in the way of my bullet and returned a shot, knocking me off my perch. The fall was great but I knew my pain was nothing compared to Madlax's. I had killed Vanessa, a good friend of hers just for my own personal reward. She was a woman who gave up her life to protect Madlax, while I nearly gave up my life to kill Madlax. It was only Vanessa's relationship with Madlax that made me realise my selfishness. Until her death, I never recognised the price of my selfish pressing on.
Although selfish, what matters now is I keep shooting at her even if I'm not sure what the reward or point of that is. But Madlax knew what the reward was because clearly she wanted to dance with guns with me. I complain that this way of life doesn't make sense, but I must press on, because that's the only thing left that motivates me to live. She was all that my life became and clung onto.
After another few days, Madlax had become even more supernatural. I was hearing an entire battalion was destroyed by her single-handedly. She didn't just defeat soldiers but expensive army helicopters and armoured vehicles as well. Making such a scene made it very easy for me to pinpoint her. I found Madlax on the top of a small hill and approached her. It was very clear we both instinctively knew what we wanted to do. We handed over each other's guns and there in my hand lay the infamous SIG P210 she has killed with countless times. I fired her gun at her, shooting away bits of her hair like a razor but with the feeling of a soft tender breeze. She replied with an even closer shot, peeling my uniform away but never damaging even the most minute part of skin. We kept doing this for half an hour; the closer we missed injury, the more exhilarating it became. I experienced great pleasure at this and gave her more bullets. We smiled and danced but I felt I was just her inferior shadow and the point of this shooting seemed so meaningless. Why is she letting me live? It was a game of immense pleasure but it made no sense. Did she pity me? I didn't want to press on, I wanted to complain, I didn't know what rewards there was with such a thing.
"Kill me, kill me" I pleaded.
"I have a request" she replied
She told me she wants me to watch her till the end. She asked me to remember the existence that was her, Madlax. Madlax told me not to forget her and let her be in me. She thanked me sincerely and said goodbye like I'll never see her again. Her acknowledgement of me and my battles with her was like a declaration of love. At first I was a little confused what all this meant. But I can't feel sorry for myself, nor can I complain. I pressed on for Madlax and my memory of her. So I tried to "Watch her to the end" as I pressed on this time with no control except control over my faith.
My faith was severely tested when I saw a young girl named Margaret Burton shoot Madlax until she laid as dead as Margaret's maid on the flower field. I wanted to intervene but the mystical girl from the village, Nakhl told me not to get involved as that was holy ground and only those with the Gift could enter. She told me to just "watch to the end." like Madlax did but I would have ignored her. But then I could hear Madlax's voice inside of me saying "watch me to the end". The feeling was strange but it was truly supernatural and I trusted that voice. It was hard to believe "Is this what you really wanted?" I asked Madlax even though she couldn't hear me and Nakhl replied "This is not the end". I really hoped that was not the end of Madlax.
So I, Limelda Jorg. The woman who originally wished for the future reward of a dead Madlax, wanted to be rewarded with her alive. I pressed on, living to witness that moment. Watching and hoping to the end.
What happened next was difficult to comprehend and without Nakhl's help I would not have understood it all. There were three magical phrases "Elda Taluta", "Sarks Sark" and "Ark Arks". When those words were spoken I felt an uncontrollable desire in me, something hidden, something primal. Unlike Nakhl's description, I didn't want to kill someone. For me I felt an essence of why I wanted to chase Madlax, shoot at her and dance with her. My essence and drive was perfection, a love of shooting and hitting what I wanted to hit. Being a great sniper and chasing Madlax was the result of such a soul. But what Madlax taught me in the dance was something infinitely more complicated. To kill a target was easy, finding ways to miss someone by the narrowest of margins required incredible skill and creativity. Deep inside me I wanted shared this love of shooting as much as I did. Madlax is the only woman who fulfilled that desire. But Madlax’s desire was beyond that, she wanted me to acknowledge her in my memory. I understood from Nakhl that Madlax was different, she was an entity that didn’t belong in this world. What she wanted most was to exist in this world and our shooting and memory was proof of that. Now that is what I want as well.
Despite those magical phrases trying to destroy me and my sanity, I had to press on in living and believing in what I wanted. Most of all I had to press on believing in those who want and believing in me. Like how she pressed on, believing in me.
"Yes? Madlax?" I asked
"Keep your eyes on the road. You’re driving." Madlax said cheekily.
"Only if I get to shoot at you again" I joked
"You can, if you cook the pasta tonight" Madlax answered smugly.
"What were you thinking about?" Madlax asked
"You, Madlax. You. I can't stop thinking about you" I answered.
"That's stupid" Madlax said with a smile in her usual confident voice.
Yes I am stupid, but I didn't have time to complain or feel sorry for myself. I pressed on and got my future reward.
But that's because,
I finally understood what I was aiming at.
Word Count: 1564
Summary: What if, during the events at the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a magical item created by unspeakables caused a mysterious event to occur? This item caused Harry Potter to suddenly appear in front of a five-year-old Izuki Midoriya. The consequences will not be dramatic but rather subtle and discrete. How would a meeting between these two protagonists occur?
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
An ‘ordinary’ child named Harry Potter lived with the Dursleys at 4 Privet Drive. His relatives thought themselves to be very normal, thank you very much. Harry had no opinion on the matter. At the moment, he was more focused on trying to quench the rush of tears flooding out of his eyes. He had already taken off his spectacles and placed them on the dust-covered floor that he was sitting on. Harry was crouched into a little ball, trying to silence his sobs and rubbing his shut eyes. His arms, thin as a string, shook and his gnawingly hungry stomach shuddered with every intensely deep breath.
He was somewhat glad that the Dursleys were asleep. No dust would fall off the top of his cupboard onto the top of his head, appearing like dandruff on his black hair. Inside, he was mortified that he was acting in such as ‘freakishly’ girlish manner. Dudley would boisterously ridicule him if he knew what he was doing now. Harry slowed down his breathing, tear tracks on his face. His eyes were as red as a rose.
He hummed a little tune that he remembered from a dream. His heart calmed down. His mind was driven away from his worries about the Dursleys, his freakish self, school and other things. For now, he was just a nine-year-old boy living in the moment. The ache in his soul was smoothed over by the power of music.
With a vivid intensity, he recalled a woman with bright green eyes, the colour of a green forest, singing this tune to him. In his dream, he could see the woman wordlessly move her red lips. There was a lively wallpaper behind her which had ducks that quacked and waddled all over the wall. A beautiful mobile that spoke to Harry’s inner child made him gurgle in happiness whenever he saw the device.
The woman’s hug felt to him like the summer warmth melting away the icicles and remaining snow in the world. To him, she was safety and happiness. Harry’s lips curled into a smile as he swayed himself to sleep in his cupboard. His thoughts were at peace.
Harry used a knife to chop some ugly root which had hairs growing out of it. He made sure that they cut in the size that the potions textbook told him to. Beside him, Ron was barely stirring the cauldron. His eyes were blankly staring in front of him. Harry did not notice that Ron was ignoring the potion that they were preparing. Instead, Harry was overjoyed about his new life at Hogwarts. He was unwittingly humming his secret song and swayed slightly to the rhythm.
Like a vicious bat, a dark figure loomed behind the two dunderheads. Narrowing his pitch-black eyes, Snape drawled out, “Weasley, I understand that what I am saying might be beyond your understanding. The cauldron must be watched at all times! Potter, why didn’t you watch Weasley! 15 points from Gryffindor!” Snape’s lips were pursed in distaste at the two of them.
Ron jumped out in terror and spilled some of their potion onto their table. His body froze in surprise and his heart sputtered to a temporary stop. Then, Harry snapped his head behind him and glared at Snape. He vaguely noted that Snape’s voice had an indistinguishable feeling underneath his words today. He briefly wondered why before his mind was taken over by how he needed to fix their potion. He did not want to fail potions and get as many detentions as he received last year.
The gentle lapping of the Great Lake was unable to quell Ginny’s turbulent thoughts. Ginny mutely watched the tentacles of the Giant Squid break the surface of the Lake. The sunlight seemed to awaken a previously sleeping world. Her peers groaned awake while other animals clumsily started to forage for breakfast. The black and grey world did not appeal to Ginny. She looked down at her freckled skin which appeared to her like the honest sky filled with stars.
Ginny flinched when she heard someone plop next to her. She peeked at the corner of her eye. It was Harry. He was staring up at the unadulterated blue sky with a rare content smile on his face. She was drawn to his eyes. His eyes shone with a bright ferocity and weathered life. Their green intensity stood out from the rest, especially after that incident. Ginny hurriedly looked away; determined to not appear as such a weirdo.
Harry’s gaze flicked down to Ginny, noting her depressed demeanor and appearance. Her pale complexion and almost anorexic limbs caused a wave of concern to flood through him. Harry glanced around. Then, he started to tell her a hypothetical story about a boy in a cupboard. This little boy had a special tune which calmed him down in times of crisis.
Harry sprinted down the dimly-lit corridor which threatened to consume him. His calves were burning with pain and his clammy hands gripped tightly onto his precious wand. A bead of sweat irritatingly dripped down the back of his neck. Harry fought the urge to wipe off the sweat on his neck. He focused on escaping the grasp of the Death Eaters eagerly pursuing him. He could hear the insane cat-calling of Bellatrix LeStrange and her deranged laughter which ominously echoed on the walls around him.
Harry’s intense desire to escape prevented him from noticing the presence of a mark on the ministry’s floor which glowed when he briefly stepped on the symbol. A yellow glow was emitted from the mark which encased him in a scalding light. Harry instinctively covered his face with his arms.
When Harry warily lowered his arms, he noticed that he was in some unknown place. There was only white surrounding him. Harry pivoted on his feet and glanced around. His heart was beating fast and blood quickly flowed through his veins. Suspicious instantly flooded his mind. Past experiences told him to be wary of his surroundings. He needed to find a way to escape and discover why he was here.
Suddenly, the horrid sounds of a young child crying reached Harry’s ears. His soul was drawn to help that poor child. His eyes laid on the sight of a boy crouching some distance away. Something in Harry’s gut drew him to help the boy. Memories flickered behind his closed eyelids and reminded him of a boy from a cupboard who was ignored by those around him. His stomach would feel dead if he ignored someone who needed help. With trepidation, Harry walked to the boy. Harry's footsteps echoed in the empty space that they were in. On a closer inspection, the boy surprisingly had vibrant green hair. Harry liked the unique colour of the boy's hair. Harry gently smiled at the boy. He kneeled on the floor and without being condescending, softly spoke to him, “Hey. Are you okay?”
The boy hiccupped and sobbed, “I am fine. It's okay. Kacchan is just being mean again.” Harry noted that his fragile hands were trembling slightly.
Harry frowned. He still remembered his own ‘Harry hunting' days. “You shouldn’t let him be mean to you. You should stand up to him.” Harry was very aware that he was being somewhat hypocritical. However, he also recalled the satisfaction that he felt every time he fought against Malfoy.
The boy instantly shook his head. A silence endured before the boy snapped his head up and grinned at Harry. The boy's cheeks were stained with salty water and his turquoise eyes were dim with despair. The boy’s voice cracked when he spoke, “Mister, thanks for worrying after me. My name’s Midoriya. What’s yours?”
In shock, Harry choked, “Potter.” Harry noticed that the - Midoriya had a strong poker face. He was sadly reminded of himself as a child. Harry glanced at his feet. He shuffled awkwardly before he sighed and whispered, “Do you want to learn something magical?”
Midoriya gasped in awe and his eyes sparkled. He leaned closer to Harry and enthusiastically nodded his head, his hair bobbed with his movements. Harry ruffled Midoriya's curls and taught him his favourite tune in the entire world. The room became alive with music and calmed the souls of two hurt individuals.
Midoriya was sweating in nervousness. His eyes were torn apart in trepidation. He bit his lip as the building of U.A. loomed over him. He ignored his flinch when he felt and saw Kacchan’s glare at him. He placed his hand on his chest which slightly comforted him and hummed a little tune from long ago.
“Dad,” whined Albus Severus. “Why are you always humming that tune?” With wide-eyes that were innocent to the world, Albus glanced at the hero of the wizarding world. His dad was swinging his feet and sitting down on the porch that overlooked their backyard. He had a peaceful smile on his lips. Slowly, his dad glanced at him and mischievously kept silent. Albus Severus tugged on his dad's arm and pleaded with him to tell him the answer. All he got was his hair being ruffled and asked whether he would like to learn the notes of his special song.
Class 1-A was restless. There was a tension in the air. Izuku shifted nervously and fitfully glanced around him. He hummed in an attempt to slow his palpitating heart. Urakawa unexpectedly popped beside him and asked where he had learned that tune. Izuku yelped in surprise and jolted out of his chair. He peeked at Uraraka joyful face, fiddled with his hands before he muttered that he had “learned it from a hero.”
Title: Host Club Demigods?
Prompt: ‘A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.’
-George Bernard Shaw, Advice to a Young Critic
Fandom/Series: Ouran High School Host Club, Percy Jackson And The Olympians
Word count: 2624 words. Short Story.
Disclaimer; I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters and ideas belong to the original creators.
Summary: Demigods are the heroes of every time, mortals with the blood of the gods. The Ouran Highschool Host Club? They really aren’t significant, right?
Soon after Haruhi first met the host club a new world met their eyes, centaur, satyr and demigods in a camp, its not possible!
Haruhi hadn’t been having the best day already, beginning at a new school where everyone wore puffy banana dresses or blue suits and being unable to fit in even if she had wanted. If you had asked her what pushed this day over the edge, into the top 10 worst days she’d ever have she’d probably say knocking over that single vase, that stupidly expensive vase that wasn’t even broken because of her, it was that creepy blonde’s fault.
Then again she was happy that their first official meeting had been disrupted. Though she would have liked it more if it wasn’t one of the staff members, with an evil scowl across their lips promising to kill the gods as they held up sharp clawed bat hands that had been attached to the massive wings on her back..
There was no need to say that was weird, she found it even more alarming when a girl wearing one of those banana dresses, hair neatly placed, and massive goat legs ran into the room grabbing the hands of two people at a time and throwing them out the window carefully, she had now began to really, really hope this entire day was a dream. She’d hope she would wake up in her bed, wave goodbye to her father and run off to her first day at school. But as the girl guided them deeper and deeper into the forest that hope became lost within the hundreds of trees that were beside the school. Haruhi followed her, and the rest of the club who stumbled occasionally as they ran beneath the bat teacher until they’d lost all sight of its horrific shadow, found a massive gate reading ‘CAMP HALF-BLOOD’ and began to whine about their feet, at least Honey and Tamaki had.
“My name is Renge, welcome to Camp Half-Blood!”She grinned a tooth grin
Behind that arch sat hundreds and hundreds of people ages variating from single to double digits, all wearing the same stand out orange shirts with the camps initials sprawled across them. They held swords, shields, bows, they climbed walls, picked strawberries and helped other campers out.
“Indeed welcome to Camp Half-Blood! Camp of the demigods!” A man yelled
His beard was grown out, naturally messy and his hair matched, his eyes were warm with welcome and as he smiled, as he smiled Haruhi saw the white stallion half of him...
Kyoya couldn’t help it but be furious, that guy was a centaur and he called them demigods, he had to have been dreaming, demigods, sons and daughters of mortals and gods. He had been dreaming the whole day, from the cross dressing girl beside him, to his maths teacher becoming a bat monster and the goat girl who now looked at his with admiring eyes as the centaur babbled on.
“My name is Chiron, I’m the head of camp here. I’m sure your wondering who your parents are but that will have to wait till your claimed-“
Chiron, the centaur of legend.
“This is all insane, demigods aren’t real, centaur’s aren’t real, and Satyr are not real.”Kyoya found himself interrupting
That woman had destroyed his folder, he couldn’t check out information on these pranksters or even hit himself to wake from this idiotic dream.
“I have to apologise son but everything your currently facing is real-“Chiron smiled only for it to fade off with his voice as fire began to dance behind tree’s and tree’s, a roar echoing through the forest
“Renge please take them to the Hermes cabin, Leo must have failed at upgrading Festus again........That boy has no cares” And with those words ‘Chiron’ galloped of into the forest
Hikaru could get used to the Hermes cabin, the cabin’s design was underwhelming, marble carved to showcase the infamous winged shoes, a bent mailbox and messy shrubbery. The whole run down house of grots vibe waved from the cabins outer design, but its inner walls held tonnes of stolen candy, HD screens, cool looking consoles and epic games, pranking supplies sat heaped in cupboards and the packed cabin was tonnes bigger than its outer walls let on.
“Welcome to the best cabin at camp-“A boy with curled brown air grinned a mischievous grin with blue eyes tinted with hope as he gestured around a room
“The Hermes Cabin! I’m Connor, that’s Travis we’re the cabin councillors, all the professional sounding words and phrases have been stated, welcome to Camp Half-Blood!” Connor smiled, he was identical to the other boy, only shorter
“Are you two twins? I hear you ask and the answer is no! Though were not sure if the old Centaur knows that so don’t say anything” Travis grinned as his hand rubbed the back of his neck
“This is insane! Your sons of the messenger god? Whatever!”Kyoya complained
Hikaru couldn’t not snicker, the cool type was loosing his chill, right in front of these people!
“Yeah I know what your thinking, it doesn’t make sense blah blah” Connor mumbled as he opened the cupboard scanning its contents
“Your not the first one to feel that way is what his saying. But yeah this, this is real” Travis chuckled reaching up
That single cupboard held the ingredients of a friendly war, smelly goo, fake spiders, thick paint, glitter and tonnes and tonnes of props, the two boys pulled a box down, full of massive and small black spiders. They grabbed a handful each looking around the group, and shoving spiders into Kaoru’s and my own hands.
“We needed more pranksters in this cabin- especially when it comes to the Athena cabin” Connor winked as he jerked his head, a symbol telling us to follow him
That’s just what we did.
“This is all crazy” Kyoya pushed his forehead to his palm as his glasses fogged
It had only been moments since the twins had been pulled off but he couldn’t believe it, then again complaining couldn’t wake him up, and if this weren’t a dream he’d have made a fool of himself. He just couldn’t accept it, normal teenagers hid away in the woods only because of the smell their blood let off, only to train them to fight, and to protect them from monsters thousands of years old. He couldn’t accept that that mans bottom half was that of a white stallion, or that Renge ‘s hair covered goat legs were not fake. It just didn’t make sense, Kyoya knew that the pieces fit to make sense, but every fibre in his body was keeping him waiting for his eyes to open to his ceiling. The cabin’s roomies weren’t helping him straighten the whole experience out either, with their loud laughter and constant chatter, though a single boy sat silent looking out the window as if what he needed was miles away, unreachable no matter what he did. His own body was the only silence within the room, even Mori and Honey had began to talk about cakes, and Tamaki had began to talk to the beautiful girls residing on the comfy couches.
“Hey what’s wrong?” Tamaki’s voice echoed lightly
“Buzz off flower boy”The boy at the window glared
“Shiro! We just wanted him to find out why your not talking!” A girl glared
“Takaoji stop being rude” Another sighed
“You could have asked me, his just pissed off that his crush is going on her first quest and all, his worried she wont come back and he wont be able to be with her.”A boy sighed rubbing his hand through messy hair
Tamaki’s eyes lit up as a grin spread across his lips, easy! If the kid was upset that this girl was leaving and that he couldn’t confess, all he had to do was get them together! Tamaki knew exactly what was needed, I mean all princes should know how to matchmake right?
He passed the boy a rose, red as blood but centred with a warm pink, the cold exterior resembled to Shiro, and the pink, his soft spot for this girl.
“Give this to her and admit that you like her!”Tamaki grinned
“That’s never going to work! He has to act bad, lure her in with bad boy charm, she’s got to love that!”Renge sighed staring off
“No he has to confess with a heart felt poem!” Tamaki growled
“Bandage yourself up! Wear a scowl and curse!”Renge’s eyes list up as she fist pumped the air
“Renge right? The boy needs the help of a handsome prince! Not a goat girl!”Tamaki grinned as if red roses were floating around his face
Haruhi let out a sigh, they were both being oblivious idiots, she was already sick of them and they’d only known each other for a short time.
“You need to be the best bad boy supreme to get the girls!”Renge swooned
Kyoya had stayed silent for a while, and Haruhi’s best guess as to what was happening in his head was that he was straightening out the whole thing. Though Honey and Mori had immediately asked for sweets, resulting in sketchy behaviour as they were snuck cupcakes and wrapped lollies by the girls that had before sat in bunk-bed holding rooms.
“Your all idiots. Shiro, who is this girl?”Kyoya pushed his glasses up
“S-She’s a daughter of Aphrodite..” Shiro mumbled with pink cheeks only to rage out moments later
“Of course, the goddess of love and beauty! My plan will be perfect!!” Tamaki grinned
“Name?” Kyoya pushed
“Hina Kamashiro!”Shiro growled
The boy seemed incredibly nervous, his eyes shifted with a feeling of unease and he seemed to stumble in his spot anxiously, Haruhi looked up to Kyoya.
“You’re a girl Haruhi, I request that you get miss Hina”Kyoya instructed
She nodded, at least she’s escape Tamaki and half his host club. Her hand grasped the handle and she stepped out into the box arranged cabin’s, the area was filled with constantly moving campers and it only took moments to locate the Aphrodite cabin. The stench of perfume was overly present, it made her gag lightly as her thumb brushed a fine layer from atop the cursive silver that read ‘Aphrodite Cabin’, she knocked quickly. If they had needed more time to plan this confession they’d have enough. A girl answered the door with a small smile.
“Is it time for the quest to begin?”She asked
“Good, your name is Hina Kamashiro right?”Haruhi smiled sweetly
“Oh. Um yes... is Drew looking for me or am I needed in the big house?”The girl asked
“No, don’t worry about it, someone just wanted to talk to you in the Hermes cabin”Haruhi answered
“Phew I was afraid I was in trouble”She exhaled
Haruhi only smiled holding her hand out, Hina took it and followed her to the Hermes cabin. Haruhi knocked before entering and Hina seemed to be confused still as to what she was wanted for. Shiro nervously held out a rose with a faltering smile.
“Hina Kamashiro! Daughter of Aphrodite I like you!” He kept his eyes closed pushing forward the single rose
“Huh..Shiro?”Hina seemed to gasp
“I was told that um..well you see. ‘A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.’”Shiro opened a single eye looking to Kyoya
“You did a good job remembering it all”Kyoya nodded
“Continue!”Tamaki pushed with a grin
“Please don’t name me a fool and laugh at my foolery, take- take my hand and join me as we stagger to our greatness. Or um something else?”Shiro winced
“I’d love to learn to skate. Shiro you’ll have to help me learn one day!”Hina grinned
“So you’ll be my uh- partner?”Shiro questioned earning a nod
Tamaki seemed to carefully applaud as they hugged and he passed the flower. The door swung open and closed in seconds, the twins and Hermes councillors hit the walls, hands empty.
“BURN IT WITH FIRE!”A girl’s voice echoed
“Spiders. In our cabin. Again”A boys voice
“Pacer test what do we do?!”A person screamed
Haruhi looked out the window to see a blonde haired girl push a elf eared boy to the cabin, fire left his arm lighting up the cabin, only for water to put it out luckily moments later.
“That would be Annabeth”Travis heaved
“STOLL’S OH YOU ARE SO DEAD!!”The girl raged as she approached the cabin
The Hermes cabin campers either sighed or snickered as the door slammed open hitting the two boys. Behind the raging female was a nervous boy who’s pants were held by duct tape, his eyes hid behind glasses as he met Hina’s eyes nodding once.
“Hina come on lets get out of here before Annabeth beats those boys. You’ll do well on your first quest I know you will”He smiled
Hina kissed Shiro’s cheek before leaving, leaving the boy smitten and happy. Leaving Annabeth holding her dagger by her side as she began to enter the room looking for the boys behind the door, she stepped forward checking a room and the two ran, the twins recovered their lungs air in time for her to turn around and scan over the room. She did find them, and they didn’t leave their rooms for months. The host club had been claimed too, first were Kaoru and Hikaru who had ran from the glowing symbol above their heads before running from Annabeth, Connor and Travis had a good laugh over it or so Haruhi heard someone saying. Kyoya was next, Athena easily, he fit in like a puzzle piece, under Annabeth’s cabin guidance he became even more robotic, only in his first week they had him working like a walking Wikipedia. Of course Tamaki was next, just before we were put on our first mission too, one dinner night about two weeks in he’d been put into a fancy suit, his hair groomed to perfection and it wouldn’t go back, that was Aphrodite’s claim. Honey and Mori were put in the Ares cabin after Ares claimed them, they’d absolutely smashed a few campers with some judo kicks and moves. A month after arriving I was claimed, daughter of Athena, they had thought so, and I had joined the cabin as one of its short numbered honour students. Turns out a lot of them were unable to go to school and were all year rounders. If your asking about me, having a partner, your answer is that after staggering over ten or so quests Tamaki, Kyoya and I had faced a burrito throwing, sombrero wearing crocodile, yeah weird to say the least, but oddly enough I had almost died and Tamaki asked me out after I awoke from my week long coma.
Now its been about two years, we wear those camp shirts and our camp necklaces have two beads. The camp had been pretty welcoming and easy to adjust too, I write to dad and visit occasionally, like most campers. I’m sure if your able to read this then you’re a demigod (it IS written in ancient greek) and you heard the commotion of the titan war, I’d tell you about that, all the funny moments and honourable deaths but I wouldn’t be able to remember it all, and there weren’t any burrito bombs, no bread stick swords. That’s what your interested in? Yeah well a lot of this wouldn’t have interested you considering that no one had a death battle using éclair’s did they. I’m getting of topic, is this why Haruhi didn’t want me to write the ending? Well whatever, good luck demigods, live long, party hard and remember these last words. Hikaru and Kaoru Hittachin were here, 2017!
Prompt: Terror made me cruel.
Fandom: Fire Emblem Fates
Word Count: 3894
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
After the war Nina and her boyfriend, Kana decide to help maintain peace and rid the world of corruption. This time they are after a despicable man that Nina had come across many years ago. Will the ghost leopard be able to bring about retribution?
Using quick work of her feet Nina, Daughter of Niles and self-proclaimed Noble Thief dashed through the bustling market square. The sun had just woken, painting the sky with an amber glow. But many villagers were already lining up for the first batch. Eagerly anticipating their first meal of the day. She smelled the sweet scent of cinnamon and hot apple as she passed the town bakery. She could already taste the flaky crust mingled with the sweet caramelisation of perfectly hot apples. Her mouth drooling at the thought. Weaving through the upper district she glimpsed the golden glint off a nobleman's trinket. Lucky, lucky, lucky - the nobleman was very lucky today as on any other day that trinket would have been hers. But today Nina had other things to worry about. She could hear the heavy tramping from behind her. Her pursuer too agitated to mask his frustration.
Nina continued to pump her legs. She was almost there. Turning swiftly into an alleyway she grasped her hood as it risked being blown off her head by an uncanny rush of air. Nina passed a few buildings running in between randomly disposed crates before finding her path obstructed by a dusty cemented wall. She slowly turned around. Her pursuer was striding toward her. Gloating with his eyes. As if he believed that he had truly caught her. The man was close now. And she could see his all too familiar features. His leather tunic bulging at the seams too tight for his over abundant mass. On a normal occasion she would have fawned over him. But this was not a normal situation neither was he just a normal man.
"What seems to be the problem, Sir Knight?" She started before taking a bite out of a bright red fruit that she had bought from her favourite vendor. Not taking her eyes off the man that stood before her she began chewing the delicacy. Its subtle sweet juices seeping from the sides of her mouth as she crunched through its crust and into its soft interior. "I believe this is rightfully mine." she continued as she uncurled her arm to show the man the fruit in her hand.
The man sauntered over to Nina. Flinging his arm to bat her hand away causing her to lose her grip on the fruit. She pulled her arm back. Taking a backwards step she quickly accessed her situation. The man was nearly in her face. The buildings on her left and right were too close for comfort. The wall was too high for her to reach. There was no escape. But that was exactly what she wanted. She made to slap the man on his cheek but was too slow. He caught her by the wrist and pinned her against the wall. The impact flinging her hood off her face. Exposing her platinum braids that loosely hung to her hip.
"I want that ring back." he growled as he towered over her. Nina looked into his eyes. They reminded her of that night. The night where everything changed. When a poor man's shed was engulfed in flames. The flames that shattered a family. The family whose days of gruelling labour had become pointless. A now wasted effort. Hate. That was all she felt as she looked into this man's dark eyes. Hate and an obsessive compulsion to inflict a certain degree of pain. "But first." The man smiled with his overly barbaric handsome face. "I'll have my way with you." The man boasted as he went to remove the mask that she had fitted on her face.
But before he could take it off her she jabbed him in the middle of his torso with her free hand. Though it did nothing but keep his angered attention on her. Away from the sneaky shadows that were slowly creeping closer. The man snatched her free hand twisting it and forcing her muscles to obey his direction. He clasped both her hands above her head and covered her mouth with his other hand. His hand was rough. Callouses rubbed against her skin. Irritating her smooth pores. She tried to wiggle free. Tried to scream out but her voice was muffled by his overbearing hand. But she kept his attention on her. He pushed her harder using his weight to pin her against the wall.
"I'd stay quiet if I were you." He threatened with a smirk. Nina could feel him scanning her body. Analysing her curves and lingering for way too long on her assets. But that was what she wanted. For before the man could act out his vile thoughts a figure from the shadows rushed in from behind. Swinging a wooden club at his legs. The man seemed to cave in with that blow. But then the figure swung again. The man was now on all fours. Reacting instantly to the situation Nina grasped a syringe that was in her waist pouch and jabbed it into the man’s shoulder releasing its contents into his body. She then jumped onto the man’s back and pulled his arms from under him. The man tried to wriggle his way free. Jostling and jolting. Squabbling for some room. But with her knees on either side of his body and his arms behind his back. Nina had the advantage.
“What did you do to me, bitch?” he growled.
“Rope!” She gritted through her teeth. As she ignored the man and put more weight into her hold to keep him at bay. “Now!”
Hiding amongst the leaves of a nearby red cedar Nina watched the feverish action below. After having caught and tied the knight from this morning and handing him over to Kana, her delightful boyfriend, Nina had taken off with a wink to one of her favourite research posts. Though she wouldn’t admit it openly the knight commander they captured had intimidated her with his irresponsible touching and bulk but she felt relieved to have Kana there as back up.
Nina continued to jot down her fantasies. Watching as the two men below nonchalantly chatted away. Her vantage point on the branch gave her full view of their well-toned bodies. The veins that popped out from the morning’s hard work as blood continued to flow through their body. Their long hair and careless beards defining there masculinity. As she continued with her “hobby’ as she liked to call it Nina could smell the heat from the steam that lifted into the air obscuring her from the sight of those beneath her. Relaxing like this would allow her mind to be ready for tonight’s agenda.
Walking through the hard-wooden hallway Kana couldn’t believe his girlfriend. Nina had effectively left him there with a raging knight commander. Forcing him to wait alone in an alleyway as the drug took effect. Twenty-six minutes. Kana had to wait almost half an hour for the bulk of the man to fall into a slumber. And then shift his arms into dragon claws to allow him to haul the heavy man into the cart without suspicion before bringing the knight to headquarters for interrogation. And now he was playing errand boy. Kana, son of Corrin, Queen of Valla could not believe his luck.
Pulling the curtain to the side Kana could see the natural beauty that accompanied the hot spring. The magical presence of the trees as they ceremoniously danced with the wind created a fantastical atmosphere. The chirping of nearby cicadas was a pleasantry for the coming of summer. Letting himself in Kana buzzed with pleasure as the hot air warmed his cold skin. But he couldn’t stay there for long as he had a mission to finish. Looking above Kana scanned the canopies watching for any subtle differences. He found it when he saw a shade of crimson amongst blood orange flowers. Slowly stalking towards the tree Kana grinned as he gazed at a hooded figure intensely writing into a book. Grabbing a loose pebble from the ground Kana threw it at his girlfriend. A resounding yelp let him know he got her attention.
“Hey GL!” He beamed as he put on his cheekiest grin to continue. “What you doin’?”
“N-Nothing!” Nina spluttered as she scrambled to the ground dragging her boyfriend to get away from the horrified men in the bathing inn. “And I told you just because I have platinum blonde locks and a thing for sneaking does not mean I am a ghost leopard.”
“Yes it does.” Kana countered as he strode beside Nina. “You have this feline roar about you and you’re sneaky and absolutely mystical. Just like a ghost leopard. Beautiful and powerful.”
“I know that already.” Nina gloated as she pulled down her hood to whip her hair in a sexual fashion. “Beauty and strength are my specialty.”
Hugging his girlfriend from behind Kana whispered in her hear. “And that’s why you’re my GL.”
“Fine.” Nina groaned as she leapt out of his hold and sauntered towards there cart. “But, you’re steering the horses.”
Peering inside the cart Nina found her specially designed assassin dress. The uniqueness of this clothing piece was that it looked like a burgundy halter dress but with the accompanying matte black drape cloak it turned her into a walking armoury. Throwing knives, poison-tipped darts, hidden blades for easy kills and an extra knife in each leather boot. Nina was totally ready. As she got dressed Kana briefed her on the information they had gleaned from the knight commander.
“Everything is as we thought.” Kana continued as Nina unzipped the side of her leather boot to slide her foot in. “The Baron was the man responsible for the loss of property for many families during the war while my Mama was helping with the war effort. And thanks to Midori’s truth serum we were able to pinpoint the locations for the barrels of mead and his most valuable possessions. The commander also told us that the Baron would indeed be there in person.”
This was valuable information for Nina. Just the mention of his title made her sick. The man that they were after today pillaged many homes and disgraced many families. He wrecked villages for his own greed. Nina had felt his wrath in person. She was powerless back then. But this time she would show him.
“Oh, by the way GL.” Kana added. “We’re almost there so let me get changed.”
“Making a woman do such a task how unchivalrous.” Nina gasped with shock horror on her face.
Finding no strength to counter her teasing Kana sighed and handed her the ropes. Taking the reins Nina watched the green scenery pass-by before spotting the large manor in the distance. As they got closer she could see it red tile roofing, a luxury in these parts. It had a white exterior made of timber she could see many windows and a large balcony. Once he had finished Kana swapped positions with Nina and let her watch the scenery. She was in awe. But she felt sick knowing that a despicable man like the Baron was able to live in such nobility.
Their cart passed through the main entrance. Its large metal gates held by two brick columns. It was fine craftsmanship by the mason but what astounded her the most was the bountiful garden that surrounded the property. Violet, azure and yellow dotted the greenery. Flowers of all shapes and sizes. It was a show of wealth. A sickening but delightful show of wealth by the man who bullied his way to the top. With many carts in front and behind them it would take a while before they could get inside the Baron’s manor.
Nearing the main walkway Nina could see many luxurious ball gowns and nobility from all over the continent. She could see servers walking around with platters of food and glasses to drink. As their cart halted Kana hopped off and offered his hand to her. Nina gladly accepted. But before she could take another step onto the walkway she was stopped. Kana spun her around with that all too knowing grin. Nina scanned her boyfriend’s attire. Leather and steel woven together to create a magnificent outfit that clung to his body defining his abs and chest. Thankfully, to Nina’s amusement the man had had the common sense to wear matching boots instead of going barefooted like his mother.
Curling her fingers around his cheek Nina whispered into his ear. “You’re looking very handsome, handsome.”
Nina could see her boyfriend blush at the compliment. “Uh, thank you I guess. You’re looking good yourself GL.” Nina grinned at him. “Pretty good.” He stammered. “Not handsome good. Yeah definitely pretty good.” Nina couldn’t hide her enjoyment, chuckling as she watched his cute face cringe with embarrassment. ‘Um, anyway. How do I say this?” He continued as his cheeks flushed with heat. “May I kiss you?”
This put Nina off guard. But only for a second. She was used to him asking her for things that he thought could be uncomfortable for her. And she truly treasured this. “Of course.” She purred. Before lightly bringing their lips together. It wasn’t a passionate kiss but it wasn’t a peck either. It was a kiss for good luck. A kiss to help them with the mission ahead. As they parted lips Nina brushed herself before looking back. “Well, then.” She hummed before offering her hand. “Let’s get going.”
If the garden and the courtyard had her in awe then the interior of the manor was a different kind of wonder. Concrete columns, paintings of various landscapes and red velvet carpet. This was a home fit for royalty and Nina had lived it. As the lover of the Prince of Valla she had lived in the newly built castle. Its Nohrian and Hoshidan style a true spectacle for a new world order of peace between the kingdoms. But this. This manor resonated with an ancient luxury. It was Nohrian in style with columns and expert masonry. But the intricate layering of art within the columns and walls truly made it astounding. Marble tiling ran up the stairs that led to the upper floor.
Nobility filled the manor with their high profile gowns and dresses, drapes and suits. Scattering amongst themselves. Boasting about their newest achievements in wealth or maybe business. Servers scurried around with platters of cheese and ham or glasses of wine. And as one server approached them to offer a glass Kana was about to oblige when Nina interrupted. “Sorry, but we won’t be drinking tonight.” Looking confused Nina waited to remind her absent-minded boyfriend. ‘Remember we’ve got some of their barrels laced last night with Midori’s sleeping concoction.” Yes. Some of the servers inside the manor were in fact part of their spy network and had infiltrated the cellars late last night to use one of Midori’s drugs. Midori being the continent’s best herbalist was one of their best healers during the war.
Continuing through the crowds with Kana Nina spotted a familiar face and sauntered over toward a server in the mandatory black frilly dress. “May I have a cheese twinkle?” she asked with a grin. The girl with the platter of food twirled around.
“Oh, Lady Nina.” The girl addressed. “Yes you may. Was there anything that I could do for you?”
Placing the small cube of cheese in her mouth Nina responded once she had finished. “Yes there is actually. Are these the only guards around here?”
“No.” the server replied. “There are three down in the basement. And all the others that aren’t in here are probably dead drunk in the guard’s quarters from an early mead.”
Nina was glad that she found this young teenage girl. See this girl in front of her was one of the few servers that were part of their spy network trained for subterfuge by yours truly. Although this girl was not human. In fact she was a kitsune a shapeshifting fox. Her ears however, were being hidden by a hat and her tail was twirled around under her dress to look part of it.
“What about the treasure room? Where is it? I heard the Baron has some interesting gems.” Nina inquired.
“Ah, if you want to go to the treasure room it’s just up the stairs and the last room on your right. However, if you want to see inside. Then I have to say it’s locked. I don’t know how to open it though.” The girl tapped her chin to imitate a thinking pose. “But I have heard rumours that the Baron himself holds the key to the room in his key ring he holds on his waist.” Nina thanked the kitsune before walking away and upstairs toward the balcony.
“So, how are we going to get in?” Kana asked.
“Yes, this is a small problem.” Nina replied. The treasure was supposedly home to many stolen artefacts and jewels plus the Baron had messed with her in the past. “But it’s easy we’re going to get the key off him.”
As they walked back inside and were about to walk back down the stairs to find the Baron a loud greeting boomed from behind them. “If it isn’t the Prince and his confidante.” Turning around Nina saw the all too familiar face of the Baron. She remembered the large chubby figure. Remembered him and the knight commander set fire to the barn of her caretaker. She could feel the rage. The hate boiling over. But she had to hide it. Had to keep it restrained.
“Your lordship, Lord Forn, Baron of the Alps. Thank you for your hospitality” Nina formally addressed as she curtsied Kana bowing next to her in retrospect.
“Ah, yes. How have you liked it?” The Baron asked.
Nina was about to say how nice it was when another voice appeared with running footsteps. “Daddy, daddy? Look at what I drew.” Running towards the Baron was a small girl with a cute dress and tiny shoes. But what came next shocked her. The baron leaned over and swatted the girl in the cheek with his right hand but not so hard to be heard by the guests. The girl stood there obviously hurt and ready to tear up.
“What have I told you about interrupting my conversations?” He scolded. “Woman!” He pointed at the lady walking behind the girl timidly. “Bring her to her room and don’t let her out!”
“Yes, husband.” The woman said in a low voice as she picked up the weeping girl and walked away. Nina couldn’t believe it. What kind of father would hurt his own daughter? And what kind of husband would resort to calling his wife “Woman” like she was just an object?
“I’m very sorry for that.” The baron bowed with his overbearing mask of politeness. “Now where were we?” he continued.
But before Nina could answer she was again interrupted. But this time she felt something push her towards the Baron nearly slipping before crashing into his chest. Her face centimetres from his ugly double chin. Instinctively she regained her balanced and bowed apologetically. “I’m sorry. Your lordship.”
“It is fine. Lady Nina.” The baron said as he waved her off. “But what is this? I don’t remember hiring a filthy kitsune.” He said pointing to the girl that had given Nina her information. The kitsune was sprawled on the ground from the fall. Her hat missing and showcasing her fox-like ears.
“Take her to the basement show her what we do to intruders.” Turning around the Baron bowed. “I am very sorry for the early conclusion of our conversation but I must deal with this. My Prince.”
When he was out of earshot Kana whispered into her ear. “What are we gonna do? He’s got one of our spies and the key.”
“Yeah this is going to be bad. We need to get her out as soon as possible. But the key is right here.” Nina grinned as she held the key ring in her hands.
The night moved on and Nina couldn’t stop fretting. Yes she had the key but it costed one of their spies who had pushed Nina into the Baron. Enabling her sneaky hands access to his waist and the keys. Most of the guests were gone and those that remained including the soldiers were fast asleep from Midori’s sleeping potion. All the servers except for those part of their spy network had also left for home. Nina and Kana with entourage sneaked into the basement. But they couldn’t hear a sound. But as soon as they walked down the stairs they understood why. This place was a dungeon.
Many corridors jutted in and out of the stone work. But from the information from one of her subordinates they moved toward the most likely position. Before long they could hear the conversation in the room ahead. Nina gestured everyone to stop and stay quiet.
“I couldn’t believe she passed out so easily.” A voice could be heard.
“For a kitsune that was really pathetic.” Another could be heard.
But at the word kitsune Nina was done. She peeked in and saw three men. One leaning on the wall. And the other two playing cards on a table. Relaying her information to Kana and the others she made for a silent signal. Immediately, Nina threw three throwing knives. Each hitting the man leaning against the wall in vital organs. Kana took down one card playing card with a dagger while one of their entourage did the same to the other.
“I don’t like the sound of what I just heard.” Nina breathed as she frantically tried every key to the lock of the door. Finally, about halfway through the keys in the key ring she felt the lock click and frantically pushed the door open. What Nina saw paralysed her. The kitsune girl was unconscious her arms restrained to arm shackles on the wall her legs barely able to move. Cuts and burns dotted her body.
Nina could not restrain herself any longer. The memories of the burning barn. The pain that she had from the beating that the knight commander gave her when she tried to defy the Baron. The days of eating rotten fruit they found under the trees that were no longer in season. The days of working non-stop all for nought. Now, a scene so horrific it could not have been real yet. It was shown along the body of this girl. Nina had had enough.
“Kana, bring him!” She pointed at one of the spies as she ordered. “And fetch me the Baron, alive.” Kana obliged seeing the wrath in her eyes and left with the spy. Looking at the others. “The rest of you bring her back to headquarters.” They looked at her dumbstruck. A small fear creeping through their faces. “Now!”
As the others worked to unbind the shackles Nina set up her station. Dagger. To slice into him. Darts. To slowly drain him of blood. Pain. That was exactly what the Baron would feel. Nina was ready for some enjoyment. She didn’t care about the treasure or the jewels any longer. Nina wanted retribution. A ghost leopard’s retribution.
Title: Snow Dreams
Prompt: "The future rewards those who press on. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to complain. I'm going to press on." -Barack Obama
"Allen!" Mana called, chasing after an auburn-haired boy.
How long had it been since the day we left the circus?
I paused in the middle of a wheat field and looked up at the sky.
"Don't run off like that. I'm getting old, rascal!" The clown puffed, trying to regain breath.
I reached a hand out and caught a speck of white. "Mana, is this snow?"
Speck after speck, the fields gradually turned a pure, untainted white.
"How ironic." Was the first thing Allen said that morning, after blinking away the haze in his eyes. Whilst trying to remember when and if that dream ever happened, he changed into the standard exorcist uniform and headed for the cafeteria, Timcampy leading the way. Before he arrived at the cafeteria though, there was a familiar whirring and dull pain in his left eye. Allen ran towards where the tortured souls congregated.
'You won't be able to take those level 4 without your Innocence, y'know.' A voice mused.
'So you finally decided to show up. What took you so long, Neah?'
'You of all people should know how stubborn Innocence is, dear nephew of mine.'
'You made sure that Crowned Clown agreed to share, right?'
'Oh, how you wound me. I wouldn't be here otherwise~'
'I'll trust you on this then.'
Silence reigned over them throughout the entire ordeal. The only words cutting the silence being:
"Holy cross that dwells within me, grant me the power to bring Salvation."
with the intermingling sound of explosions and inhuman screams.
"Oi, Moyashi! Why didn't you tell us there were Akuma here?" Kanda yelled as he approached from the rubble.
"There aren't any Akuma left in the building or the area surrounding headquarters. I'll go report this breach to Komui." Allen shrugged, completely ignoring the question. That was what he had planned to do at least.
"Answer me, Beansprout." He demanded once again, settling Mugen comfortably on the back of Allen's neck. He kept his silence and kept walking forwards, even when Kanda didn't follow. Having already recorded what was said, Lavi limped over to Kanda and shook his head.
"You know how stubborn that guy is. If it's something he doesn't want to tell us then he'll take that secret with him to the grave. 'I'll keep on walking as long as I live', was it? There's no need to worry 'bout him." Lavi offered a half-assed smile.
"He's changed though, hasn't he?" Lenalee pointed out, cursing herself for being two steps behind once again.
"Why did you.. Let us.. Self-destruct..?"
"Weren't you meant to save us!?"
"You traitor! Noah scum!"
"Allen... HoW DarE yOU Turn ME InTO An Akuma..."
"I Curse you... I curse you ALLEN WALKER!"
Jerking awake, Allen sat up, completely dazed and confused. Figuring it was probably just another nightmare, he skipped breakfast and instead headed towards the training room.
And just when Allen thought he was free. Of all the people he could've caught the attention of, it had to be this guy. With the exact same monotonous tone and straight face, Allen turned around and faced his... Whatever he was. Acknowledging their presence with a, not at all sarcastic or insulting;
"Do not call me that, Walker. You have another mission and I am to accompany you before, during and after it is completed."
'Do we have to deal with the Watch Dog again? Can't we just lose him somewhere in Zimbabwe?'
'Don't whine like a 5-year-old please, Neah. You've long since outgrown that stage.' Allen retorts, deciding to block out his Uncle's incessant whining. "Do you have the information in regards to this mission, Link?"
"The train that has been arranged will be leaving shortly. No luggage will be required." Link starts walking. "You are to dispose of the Akuma in Nafplio, Greece."
"Understood. When are we expected to return?"
"In no more than four nights." Link glanced over at his somewhat-temporary team member.
"Four nights... I see." Allen almost twitched in irritation when he heard the scratching of Link's pen on his notebook. If Allen and Neah aren't careful, their connection could be found out. They'd come too far to even consider backing down to anyone. The Vatican included.
Scattered rubble, bits of glass and chunks of concrete littered every inch of town square by the end of the third day in Nafplio. They had 24 hours left to dispose of the stragglers.
'It's odd though... Why were the Akuma here if there wasn't any Innocence?'
'They felt like taking a vacation from working under vindictive, murderous psychopaths?'
'If only they had the choice.' Neah hummed, humoring himself with the mass of memories stored inside Allen when he suddenly sensed a spike in Dark Matter.
"Link! I'm going to check the Forest!" Allen called out to roughly where Link should've been.
'Allen... There's a Noah here. We need to go. Right n-!'
When you close your eyes and think about the world, What do you see?
I used to wish that one day, I would wake up and find that everything was just a dream.
That it was all just a terrible dream. But.
I've made my own Oaths. To myself, that I would destroy all the Akuma.
To my friends, that I would fight side by side with them.
To this world, that I would save it.
This is the only path I have left, to know that I am truly alive.
I will forge on, I won't stop no matter what.
If I can't be a Saviour then I'll be a Destroyer who Saves.
'Why do walls have to be so white...?' I grimaced as I tried to open my eyes. 'Neah, are you there?'
'Yeesh that hurt... At least you didn't die on me.' Neah joked. 'Open your eyes, Allen.'
I was too tired to question why, so I did as Neah said and let them adjust to the light.
"L-Lenalee! Allen's awake!" Miranda shook the sleeping girl awake.
"Allen-kun? You're alright! Thank goodness, we were so worried! Do you hurt anywhere? Are you comfortable?" As soon as Lenalee started fretting, Komui cleared his throat and pulled his 'preciously innocent' little sister a 'safe distance' away from the other humans in the room. I glanced outside the window and to my astonishment, there was snow piled on the window sill. Just like all those years ago.
"Komui, how long have I been out of it?" I cautiously asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
"Roughly for about a fortnight. Your nerves were damaged and several muscles were cut clean in half. We suspect that it was a Noah's doing since there were no traces of Dark Matter left on your person." Komui gave me an apologetic look. "If I had known that there was a Noah, I wouldn't have sent you to Greece alone. You have my sincerest apologies."
I weakly reached out my left arm towards the window. "It's snowing outside, isn't it," I muttered, a little dejectedly. In my state, I could hardly lift an arm, let alone go outside, which was why I merely stared as I was lifted onto a wheelchair.
"You want to go outside, don't you?" Lavi grinned. I hadn't noticed him there at all... Must still be drowsy, though I still nodded appreciatively at Lavi.
Once we had gotten outside, Lenalee covered me with a blanket. I pouted at this but couldn't do much against it. Reaching out, I watched in childish fascination as snowflakes melted almost instantly when they landed on my hand.
Komui watched on with a smile.
"Welcome home, Beansprout!" Lavi cheered as he pranced around in the snow, looking very much like a rabbit.
'You're meant to say, I'm home, y'know.' Neah teased.
'I know that!'
Putting on the brightest smile I could manage, I shouted:
Title: Dragon Training
Prompt: "A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself." - George Bernard Shaw, Advice to a Young Critic
Fandom/Series: Fairy Tail
Word Count: 2,473
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s)
Summary: Natsu recalls his early training with Igneel, and details the events of one day where he made a complete fool of himself; Igneel watches as Natsu tries to figure out something for himself, rather than wait for Igneel to teach him.
Natsu stretched, feeling perfectly content. He hadn’t been sure at first when Fairy Tail had been rebuilt, but the new building was growing on him – kind of like mold. He smirked to himself as Gray and Gajeel started butting heads – literally – for about the hundredth time today alone. It seemed odd to him that Gajeel seemed to have found a home in Fairy Tail, especially since it was because of him that they’d needed to rebuild it. The guild had really begun to prosper in the last few years. They’d gained new members with fascinating new abilities – and even a few more kids. He smiled fondly as he watched them; they reminded him of himself, Gray, and Erza when they had been kids. This new group of kids was just as energetic and boisterous as he and the old gang were back then. Just thinking about it brought a smile to his face.
One of the children glanced over and noticed him smiling at them, “What are you staring at, old man?”
Natsu’s eye twitched, “Old man!? Who are you calling old? Why don’t you come over here and call me that to my face? Little twerp.”
The boy glared back at Natsu, “You think you’re so tough, old man? Fine! I’ll kick your butt!” The boy approached Natsu, his little hands balled up into fists.
The boy’s friends noticed him stomping towards Natsu and sprang forward to hold him back, “Hey, don’t go picking fights already!” Shouted one.
“You do know who that is, don’t you?” queried another.
“He’ll roast you alive,” whispered a third.
Natsu glared at them, “Hey, pipsqueaks. He wants to fight me so bad, let him!”
Just then, Lucy and Gray stepped in. Gray grabbed Natsu from behind while Lucy stood in front of him with her arms outstretched, blocking his path. “Leave the boy alone, Natsu. He’s just a kid.”
Natsu glared at her, “Well then why doesn’t he pick a fight with another stupid kid, instead of me?”
The boy’s eyes narrowed as he struggled against his friends’ restraining arms, “Who do you think you’re calling stupid!? You’re not too smart yourself, old man!”
Natsu growled at the boy, “Okay, that’s it! Come here, pipsqueak! I’m gonna rip your head off.”
Gray tightened his grip, “Knock it off, Natsu! You could really hurt him.”
“Sure he could,” the boy taunted, “If he’d had an actual dad to teach him how to fight. But from what I hear, he’s just another pathetic orphan.”
Gray and Lucy froze as Natsu’s face paled and he began to shake. “Gray. Let go of me,” he said very, very quietly.
Gray glanced at Lucy, who nodded slightly and got out of the way. “That was way out of line, man.” Whispered one of the boy’s friends. “You pushed him too far, I think.”
The boy smirked, “That suits me just fine. I wanna see what this little chicken can do.”
Natsu cracked his neck menacingly, “You sure about that, kid? I’ve taken out guys way scarier than you.” As if to emphasize his point, Gajeel chuckled from behind him and cracked his knuckles with a nasty smile on his face.
The boy looked Gajeel over quickly and shrugged, “Eh, he doesn’t look so tough.”
The smile slid off of Gajeel’s face as he stood and growled, “Then why don’t you come take me on yourself, boy?”
Natsu whirled and snarled at Gajeel, “You can have him when I’m finished with him. If there’s anything left.” Natsu turned and rolled his shoulders. Immediately, the air and ground around him burst into flames. “You ready, kid?”
The boy’s face fell slightly before he smirked arrogantly again, “Ah, that’s nothing,” he said as he clenched his fists. He frowned for a moment, then laughed triumphantly as flames skittered fitfully over the surface of his skin. “See? You’re not the only one who can play with fire. It’s not such a special power.”
Natsu cocked his head curiously at the boy and shook his head, “Well, kid…You might be able to play with fire, but can you control it? That’s the difference between you and me, kid. My fire does whatever I tell it to. Can you say the same?”
The boy shifted nervously before glaring defiantly at Natsu, “I’ll show you what I can do. Don’t worry about that.”
Without hesitation, the boy sent a jet of flames directly at Natsu, who stood perfectly still, smiling at the boy. The moment the boy’s flames reached Natsu, he inhaled deeply, devouring the boy’s flames and swallowing with a satisfied expression, “Mmm. Not bad, kid. Those tasted pretty good.” With a smirk of his own, Natsu raised a finger, sending a geyser of flames out of the ground at the boy’s feet, sending him flying. Just as the boy was about to slam into a massive stone pillar, Natsu appeared behind the boy and caught him easily. Setting the boy easily on his feet, Natsu rested his hands on his hips and shot the boy a massive grin, “You’re gonna be pretty good someday, kid; maybe even enough to give me a run for my money one day.”
The moment his feet hit the ground, the boy shoved roughly away from Natsu, where he continued to glare for a long moment before he grudgingly returned Natsu’s smile, “Yeah, I gotta admit old man. You’re pretty good. Never been taken out with one shot like that before. Just out of curiosity…How did you get so good, anyway? Who trained you? Or were you just always this good?”
Natsu crossed his arms over his chest and laughed heartily, “No, kid. I wasn’t always this good. When I was a kid, I was actually pretty awful. As for who trained me…That’d be Igneel. He’s the fire dragon, and he sort of raised me. Sit down; there’s this one story I think you’ll like.”
Natsu glared up at the imposing dragon above him, “You think you’re so great? Why don’t you show me how to do this, then?”
Igneel sighed and lifted his massive head off the ground. Pointing his snout away from Natsu, he lazily snorted flames out first his left nostril, then his right. “See? It’s simple,” Igneel rumbled. “If you would stop your grumbling for one minute, maybe you’d get somewhere.”
In a fit of temper, Natsu stomped his feet and growled and snorted in frustration. All of a sudden, flames shot out Natsu’s nose, startling him and making him skitter backwards nervously. In an attempt to regain his shattered dignity, Natsu laughed and rubbed a hand on the back of his head, “See? Nothing to it!”
Igneel glared down his long snout at his protegee and shook his massive head, “You will never get anywhere in my training if you have that attitude. It was, in fact, a challenge for you. And until you learn to not only accept the challenges in life, but to enjoy them, you will never get anywhere. Because I will tell you something, Natsu Dragneel,” the dragon drew himself as close to the young boy as he possibly could without burning the child with the heat of his scorching breath, “the training I have to offer you from this point on will grow exponentially more difficult. If you think this was difficult, just wait until I teach you how to fly. Yes, young Natsu. Fly. With your strength, the power of flight will come easily to you, someday. You will streak as effortlessly through the skies as I do, but it is not this day. Because before that day comes, you will make a complete idiot of yourself. There will be days when you want to quit, when you want to give everything up – but you can’t, or you’ll never learn. I was flying over a human city during the cold days once – what you call winter – and I saw humans dancing on the ice. I later discovered that this was called ‘ice skating’. I saw young children of your kind learning to do this, and I found that for your kind, it is very like flying. You will fall down and make a complete fool of yourself, but unless you stand again and try, you will never master it. Do you understand, Natsu?”
Natsu watched his Master for a long, quiet moment before he smiled self-consciously, “Yes, Igneel. I understand. I’m just starting out; I shouldn’t get arrogant. Even so…That was pretty awesome, don’t you think? I mean, both nostrils at once! It was supposed to just be the one! I mean, I doubt even you started out so…”
Natsu rambled on and on until at last, Igneel had had enough. His long, powerful tail swept around and connected soundly with Natsu’s chest. “ENOUGH,” he bellowed. “I am a dragon, Natsu. I was born breathing fire from my nostrils. I could do that by the time I was three months old. Doing so now at your age actually puts you behind me at your age. By the time I was your age, I was flying already and setting entire forests on fire. It is nothing to be proud of, this little parlor trick you’ve learned. You are still a child, Natsu. It is time that you realized that. And until you do…I have nothing further to teach you.” True to his word, Igneel turned and walked away.
Natsu nodded at the gasps of indignation around him, “No, really!” He said, “Igneel left me there in his cave for days. Lucky for me, there was plenty of food – and besides, if I got really hungry, there was always a fire burning somewhere that I could eat. But he didn’t stay gone for too long. You see, soon enough I realized that he’d been right, and I was just some punk kid that he’d taken in. I was lucky to have someone who cared at all, really…”
Natsu laid on his back, watching wisps of cloud wondering just how long Igneel was planning on staying away this time. It wasn’t the first time that Natsu had irritated Igneel so much that the dragon threw up his figurative hands and walked away, but this was the first time that Igneel had stayed away for days at a time. “Wow, he really must be mad,” Natsu said out loud to himself. “I guess he kinda had a point, though. Wonder what I have to do to get the old grump to come back?” Natsu groaned and stood, “I wonder if I could figure out how to fly on my own?”
Curious, Natsu paced in a circle, “Well, it seems like I’d have to gather heat around me somehow. Maybe under my feet? But how? Wonder if it’s anything like breathing fire through my nose?” Intrigued, Natsu started to attempt gathering fire in localized areas. At first, all he succeeded in doing was setting himself on fire. After his third attempt, Natsu glared at the flames that danced along him skin, “You just like seeing me fail, don’t you?” he accused the flames, “Well, just you watch. I’m going to be the most powerful Dragon Hunter ever. Let’s see. So, I think just one hand?” Natsu glared at the space above his palm for a long minute before smiling in triumph as a small, fitful flame hovered over his palm. “YES!!!” Natsu bellowed, dancing in circles while punching his fists in the air. “Now for the feet,” he said grinning in anticipation.
Frowning with concentration, Natsu closed his eyes and focused as hard as possible on his feet. His eyes flew open on a whoop of success as he felt heat gathering under his feet – but his celebration came a bit too soon. As the heat gathered under his feet – far faster than he’d anticipated – Natsu’s grin of accomplishment suddenly vanished as flames larger than anything he’d been able to produce previously sprouted from his feet. The flames lifted him off his feet and hurtled him end-over-end through the air to land with the most ungraceful of “umphs” and a spectacular crash as he slid head-first into a column of rock.
Dazed, Natsu laid still until his vision cleared. Groaning, he pushed himself slowly up until he was sitting upright. “Ouch,” he said quietly as he rubbed the top of his throbbing head, “I am so glad that Igneel wasn’t here to see that.”
“Wasn’t I, though?” came the drawling voice of the dragon himself, followed by a sound that almost sounded like the rumbling of a volcano as he laughed, “Oh, I saw the whole thing, young Dragon Hunter. I didn’t know a human made that sort of noise! OH, you should have seen the way you somersaulted through the air…” The dragon snorted flames as he chortled, “I was really hoping that you’d try to fly when you thought I wasn’t around. Did you really think I’d leave some idiot hatchling like you alone for that long?”
Natsu glared at the dragon, “Well, did you have to lurk around and watch me make a fool of myself?”
Igneel looked down his long snout at the boy, “No, but it was hilarious. Although, I’d wager you learned something, didn’t you?”
Natsu opened his mouth for a moment to something that was sure to have been rude, but thought better of it and snapped his mouth shut again, thinking. At last, he answered, “Yes. I think I’ve learned not to let my pride get the better of me. Also, I’ve learned that I don’t know my powers nearly as well as I thought I did, and they’re not as easy to use as I figured.”
Igneel nodded his enormous head serenely, “Yes. And I learned something, as well.”
Natsu grinned, “Oh, yeah? What’d you learn?”
“Humans bounce,” replied Igneel with a toothy grin.
By the time Natsu’s story finished, a sizeable crowd had gathered, each person listening with varying degrees of incredulity. At last, Gray broke the silence, “I always wondered how he got brain damage.”
Natsu whirled on his friend, “Right, like you’ve never done anything stupid! Remember the time you tried to take on that demon and…” Without warning, a pillar of ice shot up and smashed into Natsu’s face.
“Uh-oh,” Lucy said quietly to Happy, “Better go tell people to get their pints off the table, or there’s going to be a lot of wasted beer…” Happy nodded hastily and rushed off, just as a ball of flame hit Gray in the chest. The two broke off, growling at each other for a moment before shooting more fire and ice at each other. “Well,” Lucy said quietly to herself, “At least Natsu knows where he belongs now. And he’s definitely not afraid to make a fool of himself anymore.
Prompt: Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.
Fandom/Series: Ensemble Stars!
Word Count: 1652
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: The sunset brings forth memories of darkness and defeat amidst the fleeting endeavours of youth.
A dependable king was all he wanted to be.
Someone reliable, unwavering and prideful with a heart so wide that it could engulf everything that encountered them. Someone who could lead his knights to victory with passion and undying charisma, never fearing what the outcome may be. Someone who you could fall back on when times were tough. Someone who could reignite that spark of hope within you just before you're about to give up.
All he wanted to be was someone you could love.
It's a shame how one moment in your life could ruin everything. When days had initially passed fruitfully and as sweet as youth should've been, that one moment can and will negate anything you had deemed wondrous in your life, leaving you to submerge yourself in a pit of darkness with no end.
This was why Tsukinaga Leo disliked reminiscing.
Leo tapped the end of his pencil against the tip of his nose, lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed in concentration while he stared intently at the musical score he was working on. Coming up with a new composition proved to be quite a difficult feat when the time wasn't right, even for a genius like him, and he cursed himself for not putting pen to paper when inspiration had struck him. Seated in the empty 3rd year classroom, Leo slammed the pencil down onto the table in frustration before running a hand through his ginger hair.
"Ahh!! My melody is disappearing..."
He pouted for a short moment before he turned towards the window beside him, taking notice of the beauty the vibrant sunset held. Leo's emerald eyes shone in reflection to the orange tinted sky before his eyes widened as if something had suddenly overcome him but he pushed this thought away and continued on.
"It's so beautiful. I wish I could show Sena this!"
Leo chimed on before that same wave of what could probably be described as déjà vu engulfed him again.
"Hang on a minute..."
He realised that this exact scene was before his eyes just a year ago. He was with Sena Izumi, a fellow unit mate and close friend, at a windowsill, gazing upon the exact same sunrise with beauty that could not be described with words.
Leo racked his brains for a minute to see if he could recall anything from that time since he never really thought that Sena was someone who would watch sunsets with other people. He shut his eyes tight in an attempt to try and visualise what had happened before.
"You're just as beautiful as this sunset, King."
Leo smiled at that fond memory before he realised there was something else Izumi had said.
"So please, those tears don't belong on you. Stay smiling, like the shining sun."
"We can learn from our losses. Let's win next time together."
The "war" between all idol units of Yumenosaki Academy happened a year ago, where dreams were crushed by the bare hands of the "Emperor" which prompted the flourish of the unjust hierarchical microsociety created by the same man.
Leo slid down his chair onto the floor and laughed wryly before scrunching his hands in his hair. His breath hastened as he stared at the ground, bombarded with a rush of memories he had initially locked away deep within his heart. He shivers at the thought that remembering something heart-warming like Sena's sweet words could lead to something traumatic resurfacing. Leo tried his best to suppress the memories that were coming back and felt himself break out in a cold sweat. He realised it was futile to resist. Leo held himself in his arms and shut his eyes weakly as he let himself be engulfed by scenes from what he deemed to be the dark era of his life.
"I'll make the best songs as our weapons to lead my perfect knights to victory!"
A burst of sunshine filled the music room with 3 members seated together around a piano. The orange haired teen hummed happily as he scribbled whatever melodies came to mind on sheets of paper, already scattering the floor with paper beneath the piano they sat at.
"I like King's songs the best~ They make me feel loved when I sing and play them."
A black haired boy drawled on before rubbing his cheek affectionately against the shoulder of his king. Leo paused writing to stroke the boy's hair and laughed.
"I love you Ritsu!"
The silver haired boy scoffed and folded his arms.
"What are you two being so chummy for? It's so annoying, though?"
Leo and Ritsu threw themselves onto the seemingly sour man for a group hug, laughing at the latter who was scowling.
"I love you too, Sena!"
"Secchan is nice to hug~"
A light blush made its way onto Sena's face and the knights continued to chatter happily about their new songs and performance opportunities. In the midst of writing, Leo mumbled softly, only audible for himself to hear.
"Thank you for being my knights."
"That Emperor... He's been trampling all over the other units in our school."
Sena frowned as he spoke and knew that his precious knights were also possible victims-to-be in the Emperor, and unit Fine's leader, Tenshouin Eichi's conquest for whole school dominance. Ritsu made a noise that seemed similar to a growl in reply, slightly disgruntled at the fact that units were being crushed.
"Tenshouin... I don't like that guy."
The two exchanged nods when they came to an agreement that something had to be done before they turned to their leader who was still nonchalantly scribbling away at his music scores.
"Hey King. What are we going to do?"
Said man's hair tilted up and he smiled the way he usually did, emerald eyes glistening with hope and radiance.
"Do you even have to ask? No matter what happens, we'll always win if we're together."
His smile was infectious and the other two boys returned the same genuine smiles, thankful for their leader's positivity and confidence. The knights were at a peak, and they knew that they could go further and further, conquering whatever awaited them.
"Fine! Fine! Fine!"
"Eichi-sama is the best!"
The clatter from when the knights dropped their swords was barely audible amidst the echoes of cheers for the Emperor at their long awaited battlefield. Leo feels the darkness creep into him as he fell on his knees at the very feet of the Emperor, eyes wide in shock. What had he done wrong? Was his music not good enough? These thoughts ravaged his mind before his gaze shifted upwards, to where Tenshouin Eichi's face was.
"I guess it’s my win, Tsukinaga-kun."
The Emperor smiled sweetly before flashing a momentary derisive expression and kneeled down, bringing his face closer to Leo's distraught-stricken face. He placed two fingers on Leo's chin to turn his head sideways and whispered close into his ear.
Leo cursed himself for being weak. He hated that something from as long as a year ago still had such an effect on him. Unable to control the tears that had welled in his eyes, he let them out and sobbed quietly. Deep inside, he really did know that he wasn't that much of a genius as he made himself to be. Sure, he could make songs regularly that seemed to be liked by many and was already working professionally despite still being in high school, it didn't mean he was a genius.
How could he be a genius if he couldn't even win against the Emperor?
Leo hated reminiscing. Every single time he thought he'd remember something genuinely happy, it would be overpowered by all the things he hated and did not want to remember ever again. He didn't like feeling weak every now and then because of this trauma but there was no helping it; the Emperor broke him and his fragile, cowardly heart. Does he still have the right to be called a king? Leo doesn't know but he stops thinking for a moment and rushes to wipe his tears as he hears footsteps approaching the room.
"Leader, are you here?"
"Stupid King. We had to look for you everywhere. Soo annoying."
Four men stepped in and they all looked surprised when they say Leo sitting cuddled up on the floor. The taller blonde, Narukami Arashi stepped forward first and exclaimed in shock.
"Oh, King! What happened? Your eyes are all red and puffy!"
Leo burrowed his head into his arms and ignored his junior but felt guilty since he could hear the concern in his voice. He heard another set of footsteps approach him.
"Leader, is anything the matter?"
The youngest, Suou Tsukasa, prodded gently but there was no reply again. After a moment, someone clicked their tongue and muttered something along the lines of 'it can't be helped then' and stepped forwards, stopping right in front of Leo and kneeled down. He placed his hands onto Leo's arms and pried them open, revealing a teary eyed king staring right at Sena. The rays of the setting sun tinted his emerald eyes with a slight yellow but it made Sena glow with ethereal beauty.
"Do you remember what I told you before, King?"
Leo wasn't really sure what to expect but kept his gaze right at Sena's sky blue eyes and noticed that the rest of Knights had huddled beside him as well, showing warm smiles on their faces. Ritsu hugged Leo first before all the other members followed suit. His knights shone like gold under the golden sky and Leo was glad to have knights like them. He tried to smile but a few more tears escaped the corners of his eyes which prompted Sena to continue on from before.
"Those tears don't belong on you. Stay smiling, like the shining sun. We love you, our one and only King."
It’s time to live in the present.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
Riza Hawkeye had her reasons for hating the rain.
Amestris's inclement weather had been no small inconvenience serving under the Colonel. He relied on his flames so much that they had inadvertently become his crutch. The rain took away his alchemy, swiping the crutch out from under him, which more often than not ended with the Colonel quite literally falling flat on his backside in the mud.
Lieutenant Hawkeye disliked the rain because, at one point in her life, it made her already strenuous job ten times more so. She hated wet weather because she hated seeing the Colonel compromised. A useless Roy Mustang was too close to a dead Roy Mustang, so far as she was concerned.
Even after Bradley upset the proverbial applecart, and the Colonel's failings in damp weather were no longer her responsibility, Riza began to find her own reasons for hating the rain.
Perhaps cultivating that irrational enmity was an attempt to fill in the gaps where her comrades used to be, four people-shaped tears in the world. Maybe she hated the rain because the hatred was something tantalisingly familiar, so much so that she could almost fool herself into thinking nothing had changed. That there weren't sharp absences all over her life.
The heavens would open up, and the thick wool of her uniform would grow sodden and heavy on her shoulders, and she would miss him desperately.
She hated the rain because she hated knowing he was alone.
But that was going to change.
On that night, she had all new reasons for hating heavy rain. As Riza left Central Command — knowing her next return would be as prisoner of the state or as adjutant of a new führer — she noted how the rain inhibited her ability to sense proximity. The cadence of raindrops drowned out the background noise of the world. Anyone with half an inclination would have the advantage in taking her by surprise. Hawkeye scanned every passing face, searching for an eyepatch. She peered into every dim corner and dark door jamb.
Fortunately, the streets were empty. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed for the night. The few passerby kept their heads bowed against their chests and their hats tucked into the wind. They passed Lieutenant Hawkeye without sparing a glance, keen to get home.
The one benefit of living in a military state, Hawkeye admitted grudgingly, was the invisibility afforded by her uniform.
When she passed two military police on their rounds, they greeted her by rank, stepping to the side of the pavement to let her pass. To them, she was more than a first lieutenant. She was the attache to the leader of Amestris, the woman with the Führer's ear. His right-hand man.
The thought made Hawkeye grimace.
Bradley wore his face well; he was a ruthless commander — Ishval had left little doubt of that, even before Riza had known him by his true identity, the homunculus Wrath. But he tempered his pitilessness with a kind, jovial exterior. He commanded respect while exuding concern and compassion for his people. He was feared, but he was also loved. He was, in Hawkeye's reluctant opinion, the perfect leader.
But she had seen behind the face, in the quiet hours after the reporters had been dismissed, and all the military officials had taken their leave. When there was only Hawkeye and the Führer, when his single eye would track her slowly around the room when he thought she wasn't paying attention. Wrath’s presence had felt volatile, like something about to explode. She could sense the anger wafting from him, making the small hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. To Wrath, she was the Colonel's pet dog, Mustang's loyalist subordinate, the Flame Alchemist's weakness.
But Riza also prided herself on being disciplined and extremely composed under pressure. She was a model soldier, fiercely loyal to her commanding officer, and Bradley hated her for it.
No matter, Riza thought grimly. He wouldn't have to put up with it any longer.
Early the next morning, Führer King Bradley would arrive on a train from East City, returning from a training exercise proctored by General Grumman. And Lieutenant Hawkeye would not be at the station to receive him.
Deserting the military is no small matter even under the most favourable circumstances. Hawkeye wasn't the sort of person predisposed to deceiving herself with false optimism. In deserting, she had made herself a security breach. And the Homunculi were not known for their magnanimity in dealing with security breaches. Hawkeye felt a twinge of that old, biting grief as she remembered a phone-booth covered in blood…
She shook her head. She could not afford to get caught. For the Colonel's sake, she could not afford to die.
The slums were completely deserted. Most of the residents were Ishvalan, and there was no love lost between the desert-dwelling people and wet weather. Hawkeye relished the solitude, though cursed the rain. The streets had turned into sloppy currents of mud. The wet seeped into every surface, giving the slums a stooped, sagging appearance. The distant glow of the city centre was dim and deliquesced, the cracks in the buildings were filled with battered lamplight. The shadows were long and thick, pooling in the crags and crevices of the world like the rainwater. Like something you could drown in.
Hawkeye took an abrupt turn into a narrow alleyway. In the darkness, she stripped down to her turtleneck, quickly discarding her uniform jacket, the pips on her collar clinking against bottles and broken glass. The blue trousers and gold-trimmed train found similar resting places, twisted in the mud. She changed into black combat trousers and a coat pulled from her satchel. Then she threw the satchel away, along with any remnants of Bradley's paperwork.
She kept her government-issued sidearms, and the bolt-action rifle was a welcome, familiar weight slung across her back.
Locating the predetermined storm drain, Hawkeye climbed down a short ladder, the rungs leaving rusty stains on her palms. She took stock of her surroundings as she loaded her weapons, slipping the cylinders of her sidearms into place. The tunnel was lit intermittently by naked bulbs, dangling from alcoves above her head. She heard the electric hum, like fly wings, as she passed underneath them. The lights threw long shadows along the tunnel, the shapes rippling and distorted as they danced across the tepid water pooling between the bricks. Hawkeye bit down on the impulse to jump at every small movement.
The shadows were her enemies. The darkness had eyes.
It occurred to her then that the Homunculi wanted her to be afraid, to reduce her to some simpering prey animal, scuttling along the periphery of the lamplight, jumping at shadows. Held captive by some base, primordial fear of the dark.
Hawkeye almost smiled. She was a person well accustomed to living in the shadows. She had long been acquainted with the night; to pass unobserved was the hallmark of her duty as a sniper, to be ill at ease and alert essential in keeping the Colonel safe. The Homunculi wanted her to be afraid, and she was afraid. She had been afraid since Ishval, even before, cowering from her father as a fifteen year old girl, her back still stinging. Fear had kept her eyes sharp and her instincts keen. Fear had kept her alive, and had protected the people she loved.
She almost pitied Homunculi for making her afraid.
She rounded a bend in the tunnel, passing around the westernmost edge of the slums, drawing closer to a more louche part of town. Less than a mile away from a particular bar owned by a woman of questionable repute. A bar that was, so they said, the familiar haunt of a dark-haired, handsome military officer who was never without a beautiful woman on his arm.
At least, so the rumours went.
Hawkeye paused. Ahead of her, the tunnel cut at a right angle, moving around a blind corner. Above her at street level, the rain had stopped. The torrents pouring into the storm drains had quieted to a steady trickle. The world seemed stiller, quieter. She could hear the drip-drop of distant mildew pooling in crags on the floor, forcing her heart to follow the same rhythm.
The smell was stronger: less like rotten food and waste and more like oxidised iron, the rusty grit of old pipes. It was an older section of the sewers; the ceiling was lower. Lights were fewer and further between; most electrical systems hadn't been maintained that far outside the heart of Central. Such was Amestrian civic bureaucracy, but since Scar's convalescence in the sewers, no one had seemed especially keen on changing the existing state of affairs. Not that Hawkeye could blame them for it.
The Lieutenant felt her socks growing wet and she grimaced. The shallow water was thick and viscous, sloughing thickly around her ankles. The walls curved above her head, almost brushing her shoulders. Someone like Vato Falman would have had to crouch.
Riza stepped out of the runoff, her boots angled awkwardly along the base of the wall. She was careful to keep quiet, synchronising her steps with the trickle of the raindrops in the storm drains. She held one of her sidearms to her shoulder. She sidled, keeping her back to the curve of the tunnel. The smell grew worse as the light dimmed: rust and sewage and something vaguely metallic, coppery like burnt wire.
She could feel it on her tongue, settling on her skin, making her flesh itch. Riza almost gagged. She wondered if something had drowned further ahead in the sewers, if it had died--
Then she heard it.
The sound came from the far end of the tunnel, where the lights had gone out, leaving only a wall of soupy darkness so black even Pride would not have been able to cast his shadows.
The sound of humming.
Riza Hawkeye clapped a hand over her mouth and pressed herself hard against the wall, hiding behind one of the seams of the tunnel. Her heart was pounding hard enough for her head to throb. Her breath came in short, ragged gasps, which she tried to smother in the palm of her hand. She raised her pistol to the space near her ear. Her bolt-action rifle dug into her spine painfully, but she didn't care.
Suddenly, Riza realised the stench had resolved itself into something intimately familiar.
Blood. Blood and sewage. The smell of decay and despair and death.
The tunnel distorted the sound of the humming. Riza couldn't tell if it was getting closer or moving further away. The air was thick with the humid miasma of rot; the music sounded damp and distant in her ears.
Riza wanted to kick herself but she didn't dare move. He had perfect pitch; he would hear her.
She closed her eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She had been careless. She hadn’t prepared, she hadn’t been ready, she hadn’t…
Riza saw the shadows stirring in the tepid water. The last lightbulb above her head flickered, and the sound of music suffused through the tunnel.
"I can hear you."
Hawkeye stifled a gasp.
She was facing away from the dark end of the sewers, her back pressed into the notch between the wall and the tunnel seam. Even so, she could see the sudden flash of red lightning, flickering in her peripheries, throwing terrifyingly vivid silhouettes across the brick. She heard a small, muffled scream that was quickly choked off. The noxious stink of ozone briefly overpowered the smell of blood.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” said the voice sniffily -- addressing the person who had screamed, Riza realised, a rod of ice driving through her chest.
The only people in the slums were displaced Ishvalan refugees, peaceful craftsmen and farmers living quiet lives in the fringes of Amestrian society. He must have been luring them into the sewers and murdering them, picking them off one by one. And he had been at it for hours, if the overwhelming smell of blood was anything indication.
There was no reason to it. There never had to be with him. There was no goal, no agenda. He hadn’t been ordered into the tunnels by the Homunculi. He just had to satisfy his sick, insatiable curiosity, like a child torturing small animals, plucking the wings off flies and skinning squirrels, just to see how long they could endure the pain before they died. He was systematic in his cruelty, as methodised and precise as a scientist and as sadistic as only he knew how to be. In truth, even if she had an imperfect insight into their methods –– the Colonel nonewithstanding –– Hawkeye mistrusted soldiers who were also assured, accomplished alchemists; it made her suspect they favoured the calculations and the equations and the system over the world they described, and the people’s lives they controlled. Such men were liable to romanticise the solecism of equating alchemical style with morality.
The man at the end of the tunnel knew no morality. The world existed solely as alchemical opposites, unified diametrics: construction and deconstruction, fire and water, life and death. Power, and those too weak to seek it.
There was a monster stalking the tunnels under Central City.
“There’s someone new.”
Hawkeye imagined her mind going blank. She focused on the uneven surface of the brick wall and thought not of the Colonel or deserting the military or the Promised Day; he always did have a way of pressing his fingers into her brain, assessing and inferring her thoughts from the tiniest inflections in her features. Even in the darkness, when he couldn’t see her, Riza was struck with the irrational fear that he could read her mind.
“I can hear your breath. It’s a little bit fast, have you noticed? I imagine you have. An increased respiratory rate. Rapid, shallow breathing, also called tachypnea, occurs when one takes more breaths than normal in a given minute. It's sometimes known as hyperventilation.”
He was drawing nearer. Hawkeye could hear his shoes sloughing through the muck at the bottom of the tunnel. She continued to stare ahead, breathing into the palm of her hand. Her heart thundered in her ears; she feared he could hear that, too, her pulse reverberating through the underground. But she couldn’t run. Her steel-toed combat boots would echo noisily against the brick. Then he would find her. Then he would hurt her.
“I always found it peculiar how humans never notice the cadence of their breathing… Of course, we notice when we are meditating, exercising, singing, perhaps while going to sleep… or hiding.”
Hawkeye forced herself to breathe. If she passed out, she was lost.
“But what if we noticed our breath at all times? Just to codify it consciously, not to change or perfect our way of breathing, per se, which is of course different for all of us at different times. Do you breathe in fully? I can hear that you do not. To your stomach or to your shoulders? Just to your shoulders. Is your in-breath or out-breath longer? Your in-breath, since you are afraid to let it back into the world lest I hear it. Too late for that, I’m afraid.
“How we breathe is how we handle situations and how we direct an outcome to a place we desire. Not breathing out completely, my dear, will get you to a place you will later wonder how you got to. Of course, your autonomic nervous system will get the job done, but autopilot can only get you to the destination it is instructed. You must be more versatile if you are to move tangentially. After all,” there was a soft chuckle; too close, thought Riza, “who has ever heard of running away in a straight line?”
He couldn’t have been more than a hundred feet behind the seam in the tunnel, moving towards Hawkeye’s hiding place.
Hawkeye prayed to a god she didn’t believe in that he would move on, return to whatever bloody slaughter he had been amusing himself with. Gunfire would draw unwanted attention, and there was no telling how much damage he could do with his alchemy, if he started collapsing the tunnels around them. He had never been known for his subtlety. Hawkeye did not want to jeopardise the Colonel’s position, or Breda and Fuery’s safety. She did not want to fight.
But she also did not want to die. Riza gripped her sidearm. Despite her spring-taut body, her hand stayed steady.
Suddenly, the footsteps stopped. She heard the rustle of fabric, dry skin against cloth. He had put his hands in his pockets.
“You’ve grown calmer,” he said quietly. “Your breathing is more disciplined. Have you overcome your fear, or merely governed it? I have a body count of ten individuals further along this tunnel, so I commend you for your composure.
“But you always were so composed, weren’t you, Miss Sniper?”
Hawkeye's heart nearly stopped.
“Sound carries well in these tunnels. Smell rather less so, for which the blame falls squarely on my shoulders. Corpses are such messy things. Even so, the polymerised natural oil of your rifle stock is unmistakable. A good marksmen looks after her weapons, and you, my dear, are the best there is.”
Her finger was on the trigger. He must have moved into the feeble circle of light by then. His voice was tantalisingly close; Hawkeye hated aiming over the shoulder, but if she was going to escape, she was going to have to move quickly.
“Out of the peak’s black angularity of shadow, riding the last tumultuous avalanche of light above pines and the guttural gorge,” sang Solf J. Kimblee, his words like honey-laced poison, “The Hawk comes…”
Riza exploded out of her hiding place. She saw a flash of white in the corner of her eye and then she was running, her sidearm slung over her shoulder, shooting blindly back into the tunnel. She heard the bullets ricochet off the walls; she didn’t give herself time to think about it. She had to reach the surface.
There was a cutting laugh like razorblades on stone. Riza fought the urge to vomit.
“She knows neither time nor error, and under whose Eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings into shadow!”
The smell of ozone and fried circuitry flooded the tunnel before red forks of lightning overtook Riza along the walls. She skidded to a halt hairbreadths before the brick combusted and the ceiling collapsed in front of her, huge slabs of concrete blocking her way. Hawkeye waved away the dust, clambering over the lowermost stones, but the ceiling was sealed shut. There was no access to the street above; the Crimson Alchemist must have brought one of the tenements down along with most of the tunnel, plugging the hole like a cork. There was nowhere left to go…
Hawkeye drew her other sidearm, one gun in each hand, and pressed her back to the cave-in. She spotted him instantly, like a ghost haloed against the shadows: that strange white suit, marred from where the cuffs of his trousers had been stained by sewage and blood. Not a follicle of black hair out of place. He hadn’t even lost his hat. His pale, lupine eyes leered at her hungrily.
She didn’t hesitate. She fired one sidearm after the other, but Kimblee moved too quickly. Impossibly quickly, bouncing from the walls and evading her bullets with an alacrity Hawkeye had only ever seen before in the Homunculi. His bone-white smirk never left his face as he dodged, grinning at her from the darkness.
Her magazine soon clicked empty and Riza tossed her sidearms aside, pulling the bolt action rifle from her back. She fired indiscriminately. But the intervals unloading and reloading the chamber were too great, and Kimblee managed to get one of his tattooed palms on the wall. Riza felt the cement collapse at her back; as she tried to push away an amorphous arm of liquid rock elongated around her midsection, resolidifying almost instantly and holding her fast, securing her to the pile of debris. Kimblee wove between a few ill-aimed bullets and snatched Hawkeye’s wrists, forcing her finger away from the trigger, pinning her hands above her head.
“Drop it,” hissed Kimblee. His fingernails dug into the soft underside of her wrist and Riza’s arm spasmed, an electric jolt running down to her elbow. The transmutation arrays on his palms felt hot on her skin. “Drop it.”
Agonisingly slowly, Hawkeye’s fingers uncurled, and her rifle clattered to the ground.
Kimblee deftly moved her wrists to one hand and touched his palm to a concrete slab, alchemizing the broken cement and gravel into restraints. He fixed her arms above her head, until the joints in her shoulders began to ache. Hawkeye struggled, but the stone stayed fixed. The Crimson Alchemist stepped back to admire his handiwork.
“You didn’t touch your palms together,” said Riza through gritted teeth. She kept her expression schooled, not betraying her incredible fear; so long as she could keep him talking, he wouldn't hurt her. “Tell me, does that mean you’re alchemizing without completing your transmutation circle?”
“Perceptive of you, Lieutenant.”
“Are you in possession of a Philosopher’s Stone?”
If it was possible, Kimblee’s grin grew even wider, toothy and predatory. “Isn’t it marvellous? It enables me to bypass the absolute law of equivalent exchange, amplifying my alchemy well beyond the usual curtailments. My partners were so magnanimous in giving me one, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Your partners… you mean the ones who released you, your holders… the Homunculi.”
“Now, don’t be unkind, Lieutenant. Perhaps the estimable Pride -- already of your acquaintance, as I understand -- may require a bit of poking and prodding so far as his motivation is concerned, but I’m here on commission."
“You’re murdering your own kind. Murdering human beings.”
He tutted. “Hypocrisy never suited you in the past, Hawkeye, and it doesn’t suit you now. You are a soldier, my dear, and as such taking life is rather more than a small part of the job description.” He leaned in closer, until his rising and falling chest brushed against the concrete restraints. Hawkeye tried to gap the distance but there was nowhere for her to go. “Ishval stained our souls, Lieutenant. The blemishes don’t disappear just because you put on a different coat and go about your merry way.”
She glared at him. “After Ishval, I swore an oath to never take life unnecessarily, to follow a path where I would never have to obey such orders again.”
“I see. Well, I suppose such a conviction is just as valid as its opposite. As for me, I’m merely interested in watching how the axis of world tilts when two indomitable wills –– humans and homunculi –– are pitted against each other. Two alchemical diametrics, aligned oppositions, forced to clash. The greatest of combustions, Lieutenant, have always come from an intermingling of opposites. This is an impact event, and the sound and colour and spectacle ought to be glorious. After all,” if he were a less sensible, less refined person he would have winked at her, as though he was disclosing a deep secret, “my private lust has always ever been one for aesthetic gratification, wouldn’t you agree? The music, the symphony of destruction. Beautiful in its refinement, and beautiful in its fury.”
Hawkeye suppressed a shudder, but she bit out a bitter, “You’re betraying humanity, Kimblee.”
He gave a small shrug. “At the risk of sounding grossly cliché, it’s nothing personal. I have chosen the side of the Homunculi as opposed to the alternative simply because they allow me to use my rather unique talents to their fullest. I see it predominantly as an opportunity for aggressive personal expansion.”
“You’re insane,” she stated cooly. “You always were.”
"I've never denied it. But one could say a woman hovering in the shadow of the man who used her father's research to mutilate her body, subsequently choosing to serve as his second, to follow him in his mad scramble for the top, to love him, even, is rather insane as well. It's all a matter of perspective."
"We should have killed you years ago. We should never have forgotten about you."
He barked a laugh. "So much for your pontificating. You can't expect me to take your pacifistic convictions very seriously if they waver under the slightest opposing nudge. And for the record, I did warn you, Hawkeye. I warned you to never forget your enemies, because they certainly won’t forget you.” His bright eyes glittered. “And I can’t say I have. You’re rather memorable.”
She squirmed; he had drawn too close, she could smell the blood on his clothes, something spicy on his breath. He ran one long finger along her chin, near the junction of her neck, and Hawkeye recoiled so quickly she nearly hit her head on the stone.
“I rather like you trussed up there, Lieutenant,” he said softly.
“What are you going to do to me?”
He arched an eyebrow. "Now who's being cliché..."
"It's a reasonable question."
He withdrew, and Riza took a deep breath, no longer inhaling the scent of him. There was a small gagging sound before Kimblee hiccuped, regurgitating something small and round into his palm. He took the blood-red orb, the size and shape of a marble, between two fingers and held it up to her face.
“I trust you know what this is, Miss Hawkeye.”
Riza’s eyes widened. For as long as she had served under the Colonel, for as long as she had known the Elrics, she had always been curious about the exalted Philosopher’s Stone… and had hated herself for it. Hated herself for wishing she could get her hands on one, so Jean Havoc could use his legs again, so Edward and Alphonse could get their original bodies back. The stone was death incarnate, a culmination of suffering. A symbol of everything she despised about the country, the military… herself.
And Solf J. Kimblee was holding it mere inches in front of her face.
He explained, “The Stone given to me in Ishval was a crude simulacrum, satisfactory in serving its purpose as an accelerant but lacking any stylised design. This,” he held up the orb reverently, “was made by the Homunculi themselves, purified by the being they call Father. The power of the Philosopher's Stone allows one to perform feats greater than what one could do naturally, but the stone gets weaker every time it's used because that power comes from souls, which get consumed in these transmutations. When all the souls have been destroyed, the stone ceases to exist.”
“It’s abhorrent. So many lives…”
“And that is where you come in, Lieutenant.”
She shrunk back from Kimblee. “What are you––“
“The Stone is a receptacle. It stores a fragment of each soul’s essence, after a fashion. While I imagine it's quite difficult to anchor oneself to one's individuality amongst the maelstrom of other lives and other selves, there are the occasional murmurs wafting from the deep places. You see, I like to speak to them, sometimes, the souls inside my Stone.” His bright, insane eyes gripped her amber ones and froze her, holding her fixed to the spot. “I’d very much like you to join them, Riza.”
Blood pounded in Hawkeye's ears. A cold sweat broke out on her brow. “No…”
“Your soul would exist for an eternity inside my Stone. Never fading. Never dying. You needn’t worry; I would not exhaust you as I do the others. I may be a gluten for self-gratification in my alchemy, but I am not without discipline.”
“I would rather die,” she said simply. "I would rather you kill me."
“And I would rather not,” he countered. He stuck his Philosopher’s Stone in his breast pocket and rested his palms on either side of her neck, feathering his touch so he didn’t hurt her. His thumbs traced circles over throat. Hawkeye recoiled, revulsion churning her stomach. She could feel her pulse fluttering under his fingers and she cursed herself for feeling so incredibly frightened. “I confess to a twinge of jealousy towards the good and honourable Roy Mustang. In our world of push and pull, exchange and equivalency thereof, I never thought of him as deserving of as fine an officer as you. He has done little to earn your devotion. Circumstances being what they are, incarcerated alchemists don’t experience a great market demand for military adjutants, so I was denied any say in the matter. But if I had remained an officer, I would have had you by my side, and I suspect our Führer would have been more than willing to oblige. Consider this making up for lost time.”
She struggled to find the words. “Why…”
“Because I'm terribly fond of you, Riza Hawkeye.”
He kissed her then, with impossible gentleness, his eyes closed, cupping her face reverently in his hands. He tasted of good wine and thunderstorms.
Hawkeye butt her head forward and Kimblee backed away just in time, narrowly avoiding a broken nose.
“Touch me again and I’ll kill you.”
An indulgent smile. “I expect nothing less from a woman of your caliber. Though to kill me in your present state would be quite a feat.”
“I would not task you to try.”
“Was it so awful?”
Riza spit on him.
Kimblee stood stunned for a moment as the wet trickled down the side of his face. His pale skin sank into the hollow of his cheeks like ash pressed into the depressions of the world. Hawkeye stared at him, willing him to clap his hands together, daring him to end her like he’d ended the lives of so many other people. Death was infinitely preferable to spending an eternity as his possession, trapped in the screaming tumult of the Stone.
He thumbed the spittle away. His bright eyes flashed dangerously.
The Crimson Alchemist uncoiled like a snake, snatching her chin, forcing her to face him. His fingernails left red crescents in her skin. Hawkeye recognised none of his philosophising, gentlemanly mannerisms. The window of his eyes had splintered, and something wild and mad had begun to stir in the empty spaces behind the cracks. “You’re a stubborn one,” he whispered hoarsely.
Riza felt the corners of her mouth tug upward in what was almost an insolent smile. “That’s something you’ve always known, sir.”
Kimblee sneered. “Then this next part ought to be infinitely more gratifying.”
He took a stick of chalk from his pocket and began to etch a circle into the concrete slab, circumscribing Riza’s arms and legs within the array. A thrill of panic raced up her spine and Hawkeye began to thrash, trying to loose her wrists from the handholds. Kimblee continued as though she wasn’t there, chalking the Latin runes into the stone with a steady, practiced hand.
“I am partial to the beauty of transmutation arrays,” Kimblee murmured as he worked, speaking more to himself than to Hawkeye, “of circles and recurrence. If one turns right and keeps turning right, or if one turns left and keep turning left, one ends up back where one turned for the first time. As though a man has walked around the world, ending where he began, finishing where the story started. History as a convergence. I don’t believe in prescience, Lieutenant. I don’t believe in destiny. Fate is just a wheel, and us humans, just spokes, and we keep spinning, retracing the patterns of lives. And circles do not have a start or an end, though one always seems to have good expectancy to grope after one. They have closures, instead.”
Kimblee finished the array, completing the circle. The hexagram inscribed eight multi-directional triangles, representing all four classical elements. Riza had seen it twice before: in the White Room under the 3rd Laboratory; burned into the floorboards of a farmhouse in the countryside. Kimblee’s simulacrum was rougher, cruder, scratched into the collapsed detritus of the tunnel, but she recognised the same esoteric symbols.
It was the transmutation circle needed to turn human beings into Philosopher’s Stones.
As the Crimson Alchemist pocketed the chalk, trading it for his livid red Stone, Riza remembered her confrontation with Pride several months before…
“The Homunculi said they need me,” she intoned steadily, “to keep the Colonel in line… to make him behave. They will be angry when they discover you’ve turned their most valuable hostage into a Philosopher’s Stone.”
“I beg to differ, Lieutenant,” purred Kimblee. “All your precious superior requires is hope. Your physical wellbeing is neither here nor there; all Mustang needs is faith in the possibility of saving you. So long as the Homunculi are able to invoke your name, so long as the Flame Alchemist believes he can keep his subordinates safe, the possibility is as good as real, and our control of him is as good as absolute.”
"Your logic is misguided, Crimson Alchemist."
"Indeed? It so rarely is."
"If Roy Mustang must choose between saving the life of his subordinates, and saving this country, he will chose this country. Every time."
"Do you believe that, Lieutenant Hawkeye?"
"I have to. I swore to keep him on the righteous path. I will not tolerate any less."
Kimblee passed the Stone from finger to finger, twirling it between his knuckles. He stared into the opaque red surface as he confessed, "I am, as always, astounded by your loyalty... your love for your superior." He snapped his hand closed, palming the Stone, holding it close to his chest. "Such a shame I hold neither love nor loyalty in any particularly high regard."
"Nor life," she said quietly. "Nor mercy."
"Take my word, Miss Hawkeye, this is preferable to the alternative. You do not want to be here come the Promised Day. If this is all the mercy of which I am capable, then I am merciful."
He pressed a palm against her forehead. The transmutation circle felt like a brand on her skin, searing the pentacles and alchemic symbols into her flesh. She caught a whiff of burning hair. Her body shuddered with a sudden burst of static. The hairs on her arms stood on end.
For a moment, Hawkeye’s unflappable exterior cracked. She remembered the ruins of Ishval, the crimson lightning dancing in the peripheries of enormous explosions… a livid white scar bisecting the forehead of an Ishvalan alchemist killer and she felt a sudden blind, burning fear flaring into an inferno inside her chest, trapping her breath deep in her throat.
Kimblee tilted his head, like a curious child, his grin faltering. Then his grip on her skull tightened.
A sound like a freight train roared in Riza’s ears––
Something cut the air in front of the Lieutenant’s face. Kimblee leapt backward, muttering obscenities under his breath, barring his teeth in a snarl.
The attackers didn’t give the Crimson Alchemist time to recover. Emerging from the tunnel, Heymans Breda and Kain Fuery levelled their sidearms at Kimblee’s chest, releasing a barrage of bullets. Taken by surprise, Kimblee was not as nimble as before, even with the aid of his Stone. He swept awkwardly under their attacks, moving around the 2nd Lieutenant and the Sergeant as he retreated back into the shadows of the sewers. He vanished into the darkness, a deep, bestial growl hanging low over the ground. Breda and Fuery didn’t stop shooting until both of their magazines were empty. The empty clicks echoed in the tunnel, even as the sound of Kimblee’s footsteps faded into silence.
Hawkeye dug her fingernails into her palm, stifling her tremor. She didn’t hear what her subordinates said to her through the blood roaring in her head…
“What?” she asked blearily.
“Riza, did he hurt you?”
Breda had recovered first, holstering his weapon and going straight to work on her restraints. Kain Fuery continued to aim at the tunnel, sucking in desperate gulps of air, trying to reign in his own fear. His small frame trembled with adrenaline.
“Lieutenant?” prodded Breda.
Hawkeye shook her head and her vision slowly swam back into focus. Breda’s close-cropped copper hair and plain, unassuming face made Riza want to weep. He arched an eyebrow at her brittle, vacant expression but didn’t press further.
Using the butt of his rifle, the Second Lieutenant made quick work of the concrete holding Hawkeye to the stone, the material weakened from Kimblee’s transmutations. Breda kept a steady grip on her arm as feeling returned to her legs and the screaming pain in her back and shoulders subsided. Hawkeye rubbed her wrists, the skin tender.
Fuery hurried back to flank her. His left arm hovered uncertainly at his side, as though he couldn’t decide whether to lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder or give her a hug. Under different circumstances, Riza would have found it amusing.
“How did that sicko get all the way back here without no one noticing…” Breda wondered aloud. His words were clipped, tinged with malice. He knew Solf J. Kimblee well enough by reputation to know how dangerous he was.
Fuery pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “If he’s working with the Führer, then there’s no telling the limit of his resources. Say, 2nd Lieutenant,” Kain looked up at his superior hesitantly, “we didn’t just chase Major Kimblee away from Hawkeye just to hurt someone else, did we?”
“Probably,” replied Breda bluntly. At Fuery's pursed, worried expression, Breda amended, “Doesn’t matter. We have the Lieutenant, and now we have to reach the Colonel.”
Breda and Fuery snapped to attention at the sound of Riza’s voice, a consequence of time and habit and more than a little fear. She cleared her throat, which had gone very dry, abrasive like sandpaper.
“The plan hasn’t changed, and we've lost enough time already. It's likely the destruction of the sewers will draw the authorities to this location. We have to move quickly.”
Fuery opened his mouth to say something, but Breda held up a placating hand. His eyes met Riza’s: “Yes, sir.”
Hawkeye nodded. She picked up her sidearms from the floor, holstering them at her waist. She reloaded her bolt-action rifle and slung it across her back. The movements felt strangely procedural, almost ceremonial, like the ritualistic worship of a long-forgotten god. Hawkeye felt detached from the actions, hovering above the slow, lethargic movements of her body, as though observing herself from a great distance. She chastised herself; she had to stay focused. She had to stay sharp, and alert, battle-ready…
Riza Hawkeye suppressed a sob. Neither Breda or Fuery noticed.
“We'll make towards Madame Christmas’s bar,” she said, her words level and evenly-spaced, ripples on calm water obscuring the murk under the surface, “if the Colonel is abiding by the timeline, he should meet us soon before daybreak.”
“You got it, boss.”
Fuery jogged ahead, his rifle barred across his chest, scouting ahead in the tunnels. Breda and Hawkeye walked together in silence. She could feel the broader man's stare on the side of her head. She also found that she was acutely aware of her subordinate’s breathing, the regular cadence of it, like music. Riza wasn’t surprised when the rhythm changed and he spoke:
“What did he mean, Hawkeye, when Kimblee said the Homunculi could control the Boss using his subordinates.”
Her brows disappeared under her hairline. “You heard that?”
“I scouted ahead of Fuery. Followed the echoes down the tunnel.”
She looked over at him. Breda was perceptive. Moreover, he was sharp. There wasn’t much that passed by him unnoticed. “I imagine he meant what he said. We’re just leverage to them, Heymans. We’re just pawns.”
“That wasn’t what I was asking.”
“Speak plainly, then.”
Breda grunted. “I mean, Hawkeye, what happens when the Homunculi try to use us to influence the Colonel’s decision-making? Our lives are on the line here.”
"Just as they have been for the past several months?"
"This is different, Riza, and you know it. Bradley didn't send you away like the rest of us. He kept you around for a reason. And now Major Kimblee––"
"––is no longer our concern."
"Maybe not, but his words sure as hell are. What do you reckon'll happen when the Colonel realises they plan to kill us if he doesn't do what the Homunculi ask of him?"
Riza sighed. “He will do what he always does: he will protect the people he cares about.”
“And by that you’re saying––“
“He’ll order us to stay behind. To stay hidden, and safe.”
Breda grunted again. "Perfect. He'll go careening in there alone with only a couple glorified parade gloves and an ego the size of a planet."
It wasn't quite in line with Hawkeye's assessment, but she conceded the point. "Essentially."
"So what do we do, Boss?"
“That’s simple,” she said softly; she stopped walking, forcing Breda to stop alongside her. “We’re not going to tell the Colonel. About Kimblee, or my capture, or anything disclosed in the tunnel this evening.”
Breda crossed his arms, hazel eyes narrowed. His mouth was pursed in a thin, grim line, but after a moment he gave a curt nod. His said more with his silence than he ever could with words. Riza knew his meaning well enough.
“He always feels the need to protect us, Heymans…” She smiled a small, sad smile. “But this is an alchemist’s world, a world of reciprocity. If he is to save the people he cares about, then we must be there to save him first.”
“Even if it means dyin’?”
“Even if it means dying.” She stared into the darkness at the end of the tunnel. “Sometimes, death is a mercy, when faced with the possible alternatives.”
The Second Lieutenant shrugged. “If that’s the word, Riza, I’ll follow it.”
Hawkeye nodded. There was nothing more to be said, and they had a job to do.
They ran to catch up to Fuery. As they navigated the darkness, the smell of blood grew thinner in the air, and the floor rose out of the sloughing runoff to level off into a narrow brick walkway. Through the cracks in the storm drains, dawn was fast approaching.
Riza thought of the shadow moving unseen through the intestines of the city, darker than the starless sky, an outline of the night dressed in a white suit. Moving in dimensions she could not perceive. She had lived these past months with the weak reassurance that the one place the Homunculi could not go, at least, was inside her mind.
But the Crimson Alchemist had burrowed there like an insect. An echo of him would always remain. A stain on her soul.
Hawkeye looked around. The passageways seemed to form the base of an oubliette, the walls curving over her head, capped by the ceiling and the streets and the city and the stars. Boundless space bound inside the tunnels. A universe inverted.
Caught in the liminal spaces of aligned oppositions, between the unbroken and the broken, the now and the then, the living and the dead, stretched out in its near infinite repetition.
Further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.I have been one
Title: A Sin's Pain
Prompt: "Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart." - Haruki Murakami
Fandom/Series: Seven Deadly Sins
Word Count: 3,650
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s)
Summary: Meliodas beings to remember his past with Liz, and Gowther becomes curious about how losing someone you love would feel for a human. To find out, Gowther puts Meliodas under his spell and leads the Captain through a series of twisted dreams and memories.
Melidoas woke suddenly with a gasp, his startlingly green eyes wet with tears. Sitting up, he drew a shaking hand across his sweaty face. It was a dream he’d had many times before – often when he was still awake – but still. It never ceased to pain him. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get her final image out of his head: Liz. No matter how hard he tried, he always saw her leaning against a wall, covered in blood both her own and that of others as she took her last breath. The gaping hole that her passing caused him was one that seemed unlikely to fade anytime soon, though it had been over ten years at this point. His time with Liz was one of those things that, though painful beyond reckoning to recall, Meliodas would never choose to forget if he lived another three thousand years. Even now, when he thought of her – her smile, her laugh, the way they fought – his heart spasmed painfully in his chest. Why did you have to die like that, Meliodas thought to himself. Truth is, if she’d never met me she would have been far better off. Sometimes I wish we’d never had.
Meliodas sighed as he swung his legs out of bed, standing barefooted on the cold wooden floor. Crossing to the other side of the room, he stared at his reflection in the mirror. For the life of him, he still couldn’t figure out what the daft woman had seen in him. On the other hand…it was painfully obvious what he had seen in her. She had been stunning in her beauty and – of course, Meliodas had a weakness for full-figured women. Smiling sadly, he glanced at the sword that leaned against the wall beside his bed. It had been a gift from Liz; in his arrogance, he had turned the gift down, saying only that he didn’t want to kill anyone. It had taken someone else to make him realize that she had never wanted him to kill at all – only to live. What a fool, he thought. It was his fault she had died; it was him that she had been following, after all. She had been quite a bit less powerful than him, but even so, her strength had always awed him. To see her armor rent and her smile vanished…even now, his heart ached. He’d never understood before what humans meant when they said that losing someone you loved was a wound that never healed. He’d always thought that he was above such things. Oh, how wrong he had been. The moment her eyes had gone blank and lost the laugh that was always lingering there, it felt like he was being torn limb from limb. He’d nearly lost consciousness, the pain was so bone-deep.
Raising a hand to his face, Meliodas wiped a tear from his cheek and he sank slowly to the floor, trembling with emotion. Ban would never let him hear the end of it if he could see his Captain now. Even so, memories he couldn’t hold back flooded his head; the way she looked in the early morning light, her laugh, the way it had felt when she slept beside him, the way her short hair would get tousled by the wind, her sword glinting in the sun when she would fight beside him…He felt like he was being torn asunder. Meliodas groaned into his hands, tears he never wanted to shed again soaking into his cheeks.
“Why?” He whispered, “Why did you have to be so foolish? You swore you’d be by my side forever, but you’re not here now. So, what am I supposed to do, Liz? What am I supposed to do?”
As if his memories were trying to supply him with an answer, another face flooded his mind – a face that was similar to Liz’s, but belonging to someone else entirely. Elizabeth. Her name alone was like a soothing balm against a burn. Closing his eyes, Meliodas smiled again as an entirely different set of memories flooded his mind. If it hadn’t been for Elizabeth, he probably would never have been reunited with his fellow Sins. Her bravery – not to mention her full figure – had enticed the disgraced Captain to follow her back to the kingdom that had betrayed him and his compatriots in the first place, reuniting with the other Seven Deadly Sins on the way. If not for her, they would never have been able to prove their innocence and regain their reputations.
In fact, it had been Elizabeth who had returned his sword to him. She had taught him the meaning behind Liz’s gift, and shone a new light on an otherwise-painful memory. She had brought him through so much pain and suffering already and reminded him of the duty he had long ago forced himself to forget. But more than that, she had given him a purpose in life; something he hadn’t had in a very long time. She’d given him someone that he had to protect with his very life. He had promised her that no matter what, he would protect her and make sure that she was safe. Maybe that was why he’d all but abducted her on this quest of his. Lord knew she had absolutely nothing to do with it, but she had come along all the same, seeming to be happy just to be with him and the other Sins. Huh, he thought. She seemed to be pretty happy when it was just the two of us and Hawk, too. Meliodas smiled to himself, You just can’t help yourself can you? Pretty eyes and a full chest, that’s all you see, isn’t it? Never mind that she’s a Princess, never mind that your face looks like that of a twelve-year-old. You clapped eyes on her, and decided. You didn’t ask her, you just decided, all on your own. She’s just going to get in the way, or get herself hurt – or worse. You never thought of any of that, did you? No, you just knew you didn’t want to be apart from her and brought her along on this crazy journey of yours. You’re as bad as Ban is when it comes to that Fairy of his, Elaine. Although…The look on the King’s face was well worth it. Not to mention the insane joy that was in Elizabeth’s face when she said that she would come. Although “said” might be the wrong word…It was more that she threw herself out of the window into your arms.
Every now and then, the Princess reminded him of his lost Liz. Even her name was similar, for pity’s sake. Liz and Elizabeth were so similar in some ways that it cut him to the quick. They were both strong, capable women who faced the world with a smile and a spine of steel. But where Liz had been a fighter, Elizabeth was a healer. Where Liz would scream at him for “public displays of affection”, as he referred to them, Elizabeth would just blush and squeal. Even trying to reconcile the two made his heart ache. He almost felt like he was betraying his beloved Liz, feeling this way about someone else. Sighing. Meliodas allowed himself to fall backwards onto his back; the cool floor felt soothing on his bare back. Some days, it seemed like the two women would be the death of him. He didn’t know what hurt more – losing Liz, or moving on from her. A cool, refreshing breeze toyed playfully with his long, blonde hair when it danced in his open window and across his bare chest. Glancing again at the sword that laid across his legs, he grimaced slightly; it had seen far more action than he was comfortable with in recent battles – many of which had been fought to defend Elizabeth. It was like the woman invited danger.
Meliodas flinched, How very like Liz, he thought. Sometimes I look at her and I swear they’re the same person. Ugh. You aren’t doing yourself any favors here. Liz is Liz, and Elizabeth is Elizabeth. Two totally different people. Besides, how much would this hurt Elizabeth if she knew what you were thinking about? Groaning, Meliodas placed his palms flat against the floor and flipped onto his feet. Well, the sun’s coming up anyway. He shook his head viciously as yet another image of Liz’s final moment popped unbidden into his mind. Shrugging into his favorite white button-up shirt and black vest, matching white pants and his most comfortable black half-boots. Glancing in the mirror before he left his bedroom, Meliodas ran a hand through his hair and shrugged, “I guess that’ll just have to do,” he said to his reflection.
Meliodas forced his usual happy expression onto his face and opened the door, making a sharp turn left and heading down the stairs to the tavern, where he could already hear someone moving around. Three guesses and the first two don’t count, he thought to himself. Sure enough, as his foot touched the final stair she sailed into view, scrubbing the floor with mop and bucket in tow. Caught off guard, Meliodas just paused where he was to lean against the wall of the stairwell with a dopey grin on his face. Somehow, the woman managed to take his breath away. She had stood through so much with him already, and was ready to do it again; he couldn’t believe how fortunate he was. And the way she moved…She didn’t walk, she floated. He’d always been content to run his tavern his way, on his terms, with no one to help him but Hawk. The minute she’d walked into his tavern, though – it was like an energy had filled the place that Meliodas hadn’t known had been missing until it had suddenly appeared. The thought made him smile. He didn’t know how the woman did it, but just watching her clean the tavern made his heart pound.
Just then, he sensed someone behind him. “Good morning, Captain,” came the cold voice of Gowther, “Are you watching Elizabeth? Is she doing something interesting?”
Meliodas chuckled nervously as Elizabeth turned and brushed her hair out of her right eye, smiling hugely over her shoulder at him, “Good morning, Sir Meliodas! Did you sleep well? Are you hungry? I could make you something.”
Meliodas smiled even wider and bounced off the last stair towards his favorite waitress, reaching around and grasping her tightly in his usual “welcome”. Elizabeth squealed and dropped the mop, blushing furiously. The sound of more footsteps on the stairs alerted them to the presence of the others as a dark, gravely female voice taunted, “What? You’re at it already, Captain? Give the poor girl a break. It’s too early for your lecherous behavior, don’t you think?”
Meliodas released Elizabeth and turned, smiling massively, “Nope!” he answered happily. “Although, we should really send someone out to go hunting.”
Without missing a beat, Dianne piped up happily, “I’ll go, Captain!” Without another word, Dianne turned to the front door of the tavern, wrenched it open, and leapt.
“Dianne! Wait for me,” cried King frantically as he dove after her on his Chaistefoil.
Meliodas frowned after them, “Well, she could have waited for me to tell Hawk’s mom to stop, at least,” he pouted to himself. Suddenly his expression cleared and he smiled again, clasping his hands behind his head and sighing happily, “Well, this seems like as good a spot as any to set down for a while! Elizabeth, why don’t you, Merlin, and Hawk go into town and do some advertising for the tavern? Gowther and I can stay here and make sure that everything is ready.”
Elizabeth glanced apprehensively at Gowther and Meliodas, “O…Okay…Just don’t do any cooking, okay Sir Meliodas?”
Meliodas laughed, “No worries! I’ll stay out of the kitchen!” Gowther had stayed silent through the entire exchange, as was his norm, and yet…Meliodas felt that there was something on the man’s mind. Glancing over his shoulder, Meliodas cocked his head at Gowther but when the man remained silent, Meliodas shrugged and crossed to the bar to take inventory of their supplies. Gowther followed him silently, still staring at his Captain with a curious expression. Meliodas shook his head, Well, whatever it is that’s on his mind, I’m sure Gowther will bring it up when he’s ready. Biding his time, Meliodas completed his inventory and began to scrub down the counters as Gowther watched.
At last, Gowther shifted and made a small noise in the back of his throat, “Ah, Captain?”
Meliodas smiled and looked up, leaning on the bar, “I thought there was something on your mind. What is it, Gowther?”
Gowther shifted his feet uncomfortably, “Well, I couldn’t help but get a sense of what you were thinking about this morning. I…I have something of an odd request and I’m not sure how you’ll react to it.”
Meliodas cocked his head, “You? An odd request? That’s the only kind of request you know how to make, Gowther. Go ahead.”
Gowther smiled awkwardly, “I…I was wondering if you might let me experience your memories. These types of emotions are so foreign to me…I’d like to see what it feels like through the eyes of someone that I know well.”
Meliodas’ eyebrows shot up, “Well, that’s definitely not what I was expecting. Huh. So, what? You want to put me in that sort of waking dream that you use on people?”
Gowther smiled and nodded, “Uh-huh. It allows me to experience the emotions of whoever it is that’s under my influence at the time.”
“Huh. That sounds…interesting. What does it do to me?”
Gowther frowned, “Hm. I’m not really sure. I know that I can’t control what happens once you’re in the dream, but I think your train of thought dictates what you see.”
“Huh.” Meliodas thought about it for a moment, “Oh, why not? It seems like it might be interesting, at least. Sounds like a new experience – those are rare for me. I’m actually looking forward to this; you’ve never used your powers on me before.”
Gowther nodded, “Okay, then. I’m going to put my hand on your forehead, and then you’ll be in the dream.” Meliodas nodded and settled into a comfortable chair as Gowther approached him. He closed his eyes as Gowther raised his hand and laid it on Meliodas’ forehead. All at once, the bar dissolved around him.
At first, Meliodas didn’t know where he was. Then, he heard someone behind him say, “There you are. I was wondering where you’d gotten to so early this morning; you weren’t there when I woke up, so I was worried.”
Meliodas froze. That sounded like…But it couldn’t be. Slowly, he turned around and there she was. Liz. His Liz. She was standing in front of him, just like she used to with that smile on her face that she saved just for him wearing a dress of palest green that flowed easily around her ankles. Meliodas felt his heart lurch painfully in his chest as her eyes sparkled with a laugh that was always ready to bubble out at any moment. He blinked hard, but she didn’t fade away like she did in his dreams. “Liz?” He said, hardly able to believe that she was standing in front of him, “What…What’s going on?”
Liz laughed at him as she reached for him, bending low to kiss him, “Oh, nothing. Why would you think something was happening? I just wanted to say good morning for the last time.” She sailed past him, clearly unaware that she had twisted a dagger in his heart.
“What do you mean, for the last time?”
Liz turned and smiled at him with an oddly vacant expression. Suddenly, Meliodas realized that the light just wasn’t quite right; it was the vivid orange of flames, rather than the soft morning light it had been a moment ago. All at once, the acrid smell of smoke and other unmentionable odors rose to fill his nostrils, gagging him. Where one moment she had been wearing a pale green dress, she was now wearing her armor and clutching her sword in her right hand. Meliodas watched in horror as blood trickled down her forehead and dripped off the end of her nose, “I died, don’t you remember? It might as well have been you that killed me. If it hadn’t been for you, I would still be alive.” The vacant smile slid from Liz’s face as she collapsed to the ground, motionless.
Meliodas lunged towards her, his body heavy with armor he couldn’t remember putting on. He fell to his knees beside her, gathering her limp form in his arms. “Liz, no!” But the face that lolled in his arms wasn’t Liz – but rather Elizabeth.
Her blue eyes opened and she smiled up at him, “You always make me feel so safe, Sir Meliodas.”
Meliodas shook his head, “How can you feel safe in the middle of all this?” He gestured a hand at the devastation around him, “How can you feel safe, knowing that you can die at any moment while you’re by my side?”
Elizabeth sighed, “It’s because I’m by your side,” she said softly, “I don’t feel like I have to be afraid when I’m with you. I know that no matter what happens, you’ll take care of me and of our friends. That’s why I’m happy to be near you, why I’m happy to love you.”
Meliodas’ eyes went wide, “Love me? What do you mean?”
Elizabeth giggled, “I mean I love you, Sir Meliodas,” she repeated.
“But…” he began to argue, but when he looked up the scene had changed again. He was once again in the Boar’s Hat, leaning against the bar as he watched Elizabeth clean the tables before their next rush. His heart fluttered as he watched her all but dance as she did her job, a look of deepest contentment on her face. As she turned, Meliodas was stunned to see a baby on her back – a baby with his blond hair. He smiled to himself as he crossed to her and kissed first her, then the baby.
“What was that for?” She asked him.
Meliodas smiled, “Oh, nothing. I’m just reminding myself what I have to be happy about.” An explosion suddenly door the front of the Boar’s Hat apart, sending shrapnel and bits of wood everywhere. Looking around the remains of the tavern in a panic, Meliodas found Elizabeth lying under a table, blood slowly seeping across the floor she had so proudly kept so perfectly clean. He didn’t want to shove the table off of her and the child strapped to her back – he knew what he would find. Meliodas’ eyes narrowed, “That’s enough. That’s enough, Gowther. I’ve seen enough.”
“I said that’s enough,” Meliodas said more firmly as his eyes flew open and a tear trickled down his cheek.
Gowther stumbled back, stunned. He raised a trembling hand to his cheek, staring in awe at the dampness that was on his fingertips, “I…I think I’ve sprung a leak. Is there something wrong with me?”
Meliodas chuckled as he wiped his face, “No, Gowther. Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re crying. So; did that satisfy your curiosity?”
Gowther nodded, frowning, “Yes. It didn’t feel nice at all. Why do you feel love? If it’s so easy to lose, why do you feel it at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to not feel at all, instead of risk that kind of pain?”
Meliodas smiled patiently at his companion, “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But the truth is, even though some of my memories tear me apart, there are others that warm me from the inside every time I think about them. I’ll take a thousand painful memories for one happy one with the people I love any day.”
Just then, the door of the Boar’s Hat was flung open and the others came filing in, all chattering and laughing happily among themselves. Gowther watched the scene with an almost tender look in his usually-cold eyes, “I’m sorry, Captain.”
Meliodas glanced at him in confusion, “What for?”
“I didn’t mean to upset you, Captain. I’m sorry. I should have kept my curiosity to myself. It’s not my place to play with human emotions.”
Meliodas chuckled, “Don’t be ridiculous. You didn’t play with anything. All you did was remind me just what it is that I have – and what I may possibly have in the future. You showed me how easy it is to lose everything I have, and reminded me how hard I need to fight in the future to defend what is precious to me. I’m not upset, Gowther. In fact, I’m more determined than ever to protect the people I love.” Meliodas patted Gowther on the shoulder and crossed the tavern to join in the fun.
Gowther stayed by the bar, watching the lively group while his thoughts chased each other around in his head, “I guess I learned something, too. It’s good to be with friends,” he said quietly to himself.
“Gowther, why don’t you come help? The girls have a lot of supplies; they could probably use the help!”
Gowther half-smiled, “Sure,” he called back. I guess humans are even more complicated than I thought. Even so…I think I understand the Captain a bit better now than I did before.
Meliodas watched Gowther approach them with a small smile on his face. I never thought I’d be grateful to be reminded of the past, he thought as he gazed fondly at Elizabeth. But then, the present seems to be trying to repair the past…I have no idea where this is going – but I can’t wait to find out.
Prompt: "Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart." - Haruki Murakami
Fandom/Series: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Word Count: 3,081
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Vato Falman is a simple man.
As his fellow soldiers and friends are reassigned across the nation, Falman reflects on just how much they have sacrificed, and how much they all still risk to lose.Cast off and desperate for a friend, trapped in the cold and the quiet of Briggs, the Warrant Officer finds solace in his memories. And on the eve of war, he finally understands the sheer tragedy of following a man who loves far too much, and cares far too little.
“A Bishop of Ill-Begotten Faith”
Vato Falman was a simple man.
The people who were close to him soon learned that he didn't have much to say. Ashen-faced and rail-thin, his premature silver hair giving him the appearance of a much older man, he was a quiet, dignified person –– a presence more comfortable ghosting the peripheries of the room than taking an active participation in the center of it. A man consistently content with his place at the edge of conversation.
He was an awkward presence in Amestrian blue. His uniform fit him poorly, both in body –– the cuffs of his sleeves barely reached his wrists –– and in spirit. Vato Falman was no fighter. He didn’t relish assignment that took him outside the archive room or, god forbid, out into the field. What he lacked in pleasure for combat, however, the solemn Warrant Officer made up for in sheer brainpower.
Falman knew an eidetic memory was a good trait to have as an intelligence officer. Some of the men had taken to referring to him as a walking encyclopedia, and though the moniker felt acutely dehumanizing, Falman could not deny its truth. He had memorized hundreds of addresses and phone numbers and names during his stint in the military; he had cataloged every honorific and appellation and serial number he had ever filed, and was able to summon the information with the ease of perusing an index. He knew a bitter enemy from a forgotten ally long before an introduction hung unbroken in the air.
He knew he had little right to feel as lonely as he did, with the company of so many remembered faces. He knew he should feel beholden to the Amestrian military for giving him a livelihood, for taking a disorderly son of a bookkeeper and turning him into a soldier. Instead, he lay awake at night dreading the day circumstance would wrench him away from his reports and force him to shoot a gun. To take the life of another person.
He knew that killing was not for him. He knew fate had consigned to deny him a choice in the matter.
Falman knew a great many things. Not all of them, he realized, as useful, or as welcome, as a serial number. Sometimes the memories ran too deep. Sometimes he knew too much.
Falman knew Kain Fuery was afraid of the dark. The Sergeant Major had made a name for himself fighting in the border skirmishes with Creta. According to the official report of an incident shortly after the young man’s induction, following a nighttime perimeter sweep, Fuery had lost his phosphor flares; his radio had gone quiet. He wandered for hours through the craters and calderas of a battlefield without a name. When he found his regiment, he begged them to hang a lantern from the lintel of the barracks, to chase away the shadows.
Falman knew Heymans Breda was one of the most intelligent men in the military. He remembered Breda from the military academy, back when Falman was a sickly cadet already going gray at the temples. He remembered how Officer Cadet Breda said it wasn't due to stress, or a bad hand in the genetic crapshoot. 'You think too much,' Breda had affirmed in that blunt, brusque manner of his. Falman knew the Second Lieutenant had the mind of a philosopher and the wisdom of an academic. Instead, he had elected to become a soldier. Falman believed it said less about Breda's intelligence and far more about his heart.
He knew Jean Havoc smoked cigarettes because he was a brave man. And the Warrant Officer knew bravery was being the only person to know how frightened one truly is. The acrid smoke, the miasma of nicotine and aftershave, hid far more than the blonde man's crooked grin. When Havoc lost his legs, some of the smoke blew thin on the wind. The veneer splintered, and Falman knew the Second Lieutenant had lost something he could never bargain or threaten or charm his way into getting back.
Falman knew the Colonel was in love with his adjutant.
If Vato were more like Major Armstrong, a man predisposed to sentiment, he would have bemoaned the tragedy of it. The fraternization policies were in place to avoid any adverse impact on discipline, authority, and morale, to ensure the ability of command to accomplish its mission. Falman respected the Colonel and the Lieutenant far too much to believe they would ever entertain toeing the line. They were officers before they were man and woman. Like Falman, they had sacrificed their humanity for the monikers of their duty. What was unsaid had to remain unsaid, diffusing between glances that somehow trapped a whole universe of meaning within the silence.
Falman knew the Colonel and the Lieutenant shared a past; it had not been difficult for him to trace the tangled history of the Hero of Ishval and the progeny of a disgraced alchemist from the East. But the precise extent of their story remained stubbornly elusive, even to someone as intuitive as Falman. Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye never spoke of the time before Ishval, and their wonted, almost martial silence on the matter provoked defamatory tittle-tattle from Eastern Headquarters all the way to Central. There was plenty of rumor and hearsay, which Falman took pains to avoid, or outright slander, which Falman despised, even as some of the brass in the Amestrian military reveled in it, keen to knock the cocky, ambitious Colonel down a few pegs.
Colonel Mustang, for all his heresies, never acknowledged the whispers. Neither did Hawkeye.
And though he had unprecedented insight into the relationship between his superiors, Warrant Officer Falman was a simple man, and simple men do not meditate on the nature of tragedy.
Because Vato Falman was in love with the Colonel's adjutant, too.
"Officer Cadet Falman!"
Vato stepped forward. The rainwater had pooled in his boots. Mud crusted the hem of his trousers. The sleet was bitterly cold; he could barely move his fingers, and he had long ago lost feeling in his feet. When the Sergeant pressed a pistol into his hands, Vato nearly dropped it. The metal smarted on his palm, florets of ice crusted across the grip.
"Torso, center target," the man barked, shouting to be heard over the deluge. "You're surrounded by Ishvalan hostiles and you're the only one with a full magazine."
Vato tried to blow his hair out of his eyes, but the rain plastered it to his forehead. He held the pistol loosely in his hand, unable to curl his fingers around the grip. He extended his arms out in front of him and squinted at the target with his dominant eye... trying, in what he considered to be a truly herculean effort, to peer through the rain and sleet. He tried to blink the soft straw dummies into focus. Behind him, he heard Officer Cadet Havoc murmuring some words of half-crafted encouragement. Officer Cadet Breda just grunted. He doubted either one envied him.
"Hurry it up, Cadet! It's raining like a pissing cow out here."
Vato brought the pistol to bear. He swallowed. He fired a single shot, the recoil jarring his arm in its socket, sending a sharp of pain from his fingertips to his elbow. He heard wood splinter as the bullet buried in the fence behind the line of targets. Some of the recruits snickered. Breda grunted again.
The Sergeant shook his head, throwing damp in all directions. The weather had turned him irritable, and Vato Falman was a far easier target than a cadre of straw dummies several hundred yards away, half-obscured by rain. "That was embarrassing, Cadet. You're a bloody disgrace; the impact was at least half a meter right and back of your target."
"It's raining quite heavily, Sergeant," said Vato quietly. He fought the urge to look down at the mud. "There is a refraction index I failed to take into account when I took the shot, sir. The ratio of the velocity of light on a normal day to its velocity in a specified medium, particularly this rain––"
"I didn't ask for an explanation, Cadet! Even with your squinty eyes you should be able to tell the difference between a bloody fence and a human-shaped dummy! You ought to know, Falman, you see one every time you look in the damn mirror! HAWKEYE."
Vato inclined his head, the rain running like teardrops down his high cheekbones. He took an interest in his patched boots as a petite woman pushed through the crowd of assembled trainees. Vato looked up as she stood at his shoulder. He couldn't see her face beneath the hood of her cloak, but he knew that somewhere under there was a thin, joyless face and a pair of hard eyes.
Her eyes had always reminded Vato of burnished glass, or butterscotch.
"Hawkeye, show everyone how it's done. Take aim!"
Instead, the woman turned to her peer. Vato squirmed, unused to and uncomfortable with being the sole focus of her bright amber eyes. She made him feel at once immeasurably important… and very, very small. Like a marble statue ready eroded to dust.
"Cadet," she said, her voice low and soft, "assume a proper shooting position with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Don't lock out your knees and don't flex your leg muscles. Establish a grounded base with the lower half of your body."
The Sergeant crossed his arms. His mustache bristled. "I gave you an order, Hawkeye. We don't have time for this. If Cadet Falman knows what's good for him, he'll drag himself through this training and then go hide behind a desk in Central for the rest of his life."
Hawkeye didn't seem to hear her commanding officer. Or, more likely, she elected to ignore him. She kept her attention on Vato: "You were blading your body sideways, Cadet. Square your shoulders towards the target. Your arms should be extended but not locked."
"Hawkeye!" shouted the Sergeant. Vato knew it was only because of her exceptional reputation he didn't haul Hawkeye away by the scruff of the collar. "Shoot the damn gun or shut the hell up."
She moved closer to him. Her words feathered across his cheek. She must have been pressed up on her toes… "Don't anticipate the shot. Instead, focus on your aim and technique. Press the trigger in a controlled manner and focus on your front sight."
"Woman, I swear––"
Vato Falman took another shot. The bullet didn't hit the center of the target.
But it did hit the target.
He could almost imagine Riza Hawkeye's smile.
Later, as they filtered back inside to shelter from the rain, Vato found her in the mess hall.
"May I sit with you?"
A curt nod. "Of course."
Vato took a seat, his back ramrod straight, easily one of the tallest recruits in the mess. The younger soldier sat hunched over her meal, her shoulders bunched. She looked, Vato decided, blatantly exhausted and thoroughly miserable. She seemed to radiate an aura that precluded anything but the utmost solemnity.
"Why did you help me?" Vato asked after a moment of pregnant silence.
Cadet Hawkeye stopped pushing her food around her plate and looked up at him through her winged bangs. She continued to stare, unblinking, and Vato cleared his throat.
"In this sort of cutthroat environment, selflessness is a rare thing. I only regret that I have nothing with which to repay you for your kindness."
Her words were cold and clipped when she said, "I taught you how to be a better killer; that is no kindness."
Her answer surprised him. The reputation of the Hawk's Eye was well-established: a young sniper who had been propelled through the curriculum, her training regiment accelerated until she surpassed cadets much older than her, including Vato himself. But… a gunsmith and weapons expert, a tactical genius, who abhorred killing. Rather than baffling, Vato found the contradiction intriguing.
Here was a person who found as little joy in combat as he did.
"I have no desire to kill," he said gently.
"Well, certainly, there are individuals who take pride in their skills and seek the glory of fighting in war… there's that Major Kimblee fellow, you know…"
Vato didn't realize her question was rhetorical until she gave him a funny look, quirking her eyebrows and pursing her mouth into a thin line. He trailed off, throughly embarrassed.
Still, her expression almost made it worth it. She seemed so much softer and kinder when she wasn't peering down a proverbial crosshair.
"You're very… unembroidered, Cadet," she noted wryly.
Vato felt the tips of his ears burning. He prayed to a god he didn't believe in that he wasn't blushing. "I suppose I just like to answer questions."
"What is Major Kimblee's serial number?"
"O-513190," intoned Vato without decoration.
"Hmm." Cadet Hawkeye stabbed an amorphous pile of something akin to spinach, but she didn't eat it. "Do you have all our serial numbers memorized?"
He shrugged. "Not by conscious effort, no. I just happened to see the Major's dossier in passing."
"Do you know my serial number, Officer Cadet Falman?"
"Ah," he shifted, "I do not. Information about you is not readily available. If you don't mind my saying so, Cadet, you're something of an enigma around here."
"I am a soldier," she said quietly. The barriers went back up and she receded to a place Vato wasn't welcome, somewhere lead-lined and dark. "And soldiers are very simple people."
But she was not a soldier, Vato realized, though he didn't say it aloud. She placed no stock in promotion and glory like some of the military brass. She took no pleasure in killing. She was not a simple person because she shirked the reputation that had bestowed upon her so much respect and renown.
He wondered, then, what had brought her to the battlefield. It was not the Führer's empty propaganda; the man's words dripped with so much sticky rhetoric it was a small wonder his mouth didn't glue shut. It wasn't for King and country, like Havoc and Breda, or to dredge up an inkling of a purpose, like himself. No… Riza Hawkeye had found her calling a long time ago, and it, whatever it was, had lead her to the doorstep of war and bloodshed. The military was not the cause, merely a consequence.
"They're sending to Ishval tomorrow. The Daliha District."
Vato's blood ran like ice water. "I'm… I'm so sorry… forgive me, I didn't know…"
He understood now why the Sergeant had neglected to punish Hawkeye for her insubordination. It would seem more than a little redundant to discipline a woman about to be shipped to the front lines of hell.
She peered at him with her beautiful, terrifying amber eyes. "It is not you who should be begging my forgiveness, Vato. We simple people have forfeited the right to contrition."
"But not regret," he countered. "There is nothing more human than ruminating on what could have been."
"Speculating on the past does nothing to change the present," she said bitterly. "It only brings more pain."
"Good," affirmed Vato, uncharacteristically unyielding. "Pain reminds us that there is a world beyond the battlefield. Pain means you still care."
She flashed a small, sad smile that nearly broke his heart. "But I don't care, Vato. I don't care about Amestris, or the Führer, or the military. I care about one man, and if I see him on the battlefield, we will greet each other with the blindness of strangers.
"Because the world has changed us. Because its destruction is our shared truth, and our collective shame."
When the Führer reassigned Falman to the North, the Warrant Officer accepted his new orders with grace.
When Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes bled to death in a phone booth, when Lust shredded Lieutenant Havoc's spine, Falman swallowed his grief, crushed it into a singularity within his chest, and endured.
When Roy Mustang chose a prodigious sniper as his adjutant, long ago, and when Bradley stripped her from the Colonel's side, Falman said nothing; a suspicion had crystallized into a certainty, and he merely accepted what he had always supposed to be true.
He knew there was little room for kindness and mercy in the world. As soldiers, they could ill-afford the luxury of tenderness. A bleeding heart tended to summon the sharks. Falman's commanding officer had his ambitions, and Roy Mustang did not allow his pain to stand in his way. If the Colonel began to regret, even for an instant, the future would recede back into that infinite distance.
But when Bradley took away the Flame Alchemist's shadow, Mustang had inadvertently revealed that he was a selfless man in a selfish world. That he loved far too much, and cared far too little. That in protecting his back, Riza Hawkeye had become his biggest blind spot.
A tragedy indeed.
Of course, Falman understood that every soldier is prepared to die from the moment they don the uniform. But Hawkeye had shown him that not every military officer was a cold, unfeeling fixture of the system. They had names and families. They lived and loved. The scarce fissures and cracks that existed were still plenty wide enough for something devestatingly tender to find its way out.
They were human.
And Hawkeye had shown Falman a human who had adopted two lonely, lost little boys from Resembool, who cried at funerals, who raged at the death of his beloved friend. Who buried his grief. Buried it, and salted the earth, because it hurt so much.
And no matter what was to come, irregardless of her own well-being, Riza Hawkeye was ready to die to fulfill the duty of her superior, to stitch the Colonel's humanity back together when heartbreak threatened to tear it apart.
And Falman loved her for it.
But the words were not for him. Vato Falman knew his place. He would follow his orders. He would carry his commanding officer's paperwork to and from the archives. He would nod when he needed to nod. He would salute when he needed to salute. He would deliver the mail, sign on the dotted line, stay quiet, said his "Yes, sirs" and "No, sirs", make himself readily available while remaining entirely invisible.
Because Vato Falman was a simple man. And simple men are not made for glory
Prompt: "Terror made me cruel" - Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Fandom/Series: Yuri On Ice
Word Count: 1912
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Terror was intrinsic to a skater; it was there from the first step onto the ice to the practice of a well known routine, the first competition to the last. “Yes, terror was intrinsic to a skater. But to Yuri Plisetsky more so than most.”
Note: This fic contains a few Russian words (mainly terms of endearment) for a translation see the end of the story.
. . .
Terror. It was as intrinsic to a skater as pain to a ballerina, or water to a swimmer.
It was standing in front of the crowd, primped and primed as they eagerly waited to watch you fly… Watch you fall.
It was the moment before the jump; that split second decision, ‘Can I really do this?’
It was the feeling of freedom, flying through the air. The knowledge that you’ve over rotated, under rotated, that your positioning was all wrong - and, that gravity is calling.
Terror was feeling the ice, solid and unforgiving under your skates, under the palms of your hands, under your prone body. It compounded every win, every loss. Every medal and every bruise.
Yes, terror was intrinsic to a skater. But to Yuri Plisetsky more so than most.
. . .
“No more tears you stupid boy.”
“Men don’t cry Yuri.”
. . .
Yuri’s first real memory of terror was when he met his dedushka.
Nikolai Plisetsky was a broad man, tall when compared to any child and overwhelmingly strange. With his two-toned hair and blue-green eyes he looked nothing like Yuri’s mamochka or otets. Scruffy, unkempt clothes, reddened eyes and a semi-permanent scowl only augmented his differences.
“Yuri, this man is your grandfather. He will be looking after you from now on.”
The young boy shook, not with excitement, nor with fear but with something much deeper, something much stronger. He knew not to cry, not any more, not ever again. Not when his father’s last words became a reprimand. He knew not to run either, not when that would only get him in much more trouble. He knew all this.
So, little Yuri. Small, pale, shaking, little Yuri. He did the only other thing he knew how - he yelled. He screamed, he shouted, he raged. Anything and everything to hide the mounting terror.
He tore into his newly found grandfather, scorning those battered clothes, that tattered soul. Purposely seeking out every bruise, every weakness, locking on and attacking.
Terror makes everyone cruel. But the terror of a child, when children are already so cruel to begin with? Terror made him brutal.
. . .
The first step onto the ice, out onto that vast sea of crystalline white with its unbroken purity. That first time puts different emotions into the hearts of many. Awe, wonder, shock, happiness… And perhaps a little bit of fear.
For Yuri, that little bit of fear was anything but small. It was a writhing ball of terror. No, Yuri was not afraid of falling, of floundering or even of failing. Yuri was not afraid of any of those little, inconsequential things that so many children feared.
At that point Yuri was afraid of only one thing. Of leaving his dedushka. Of his dedushka leaving him. Packing up and wiping his hands of Yuri, of that little boy who expressed far more in yells, sullen silences and little grins than in wide-eyed smiles.
“Go on Yurochka, I’m here.”
With that reassurance, keeping his gaze locked on his dedushka the whole time, Yuri took that first step. And it was wonderful. Even with the uncertainty, those little wobbles and slides, skating was amazing. It was freedom, it was mesmerizing. Little Yuri got lost in it.
He looked up, away from the charming patterns in the ice, to find his dedushka missing. Standing on a sea of white, surrounded by a crush of bodies he was lost, hopelessly, endlessly.
He spun around, pushing and shoving past shocked onlookers, seeking and searching. But still he found nothing. Then he fell. Disoriented and shaken he lay on the ice, cold seeping into him.
“Are you okay kotenok?”
Yuri looked up to find his vision encompassed by a worried face and spools of grey hair.
“Come on rebonok, let’s get you off this rink.”
A kind smile lit up the stranger's face as the ice cleared in front of them like the parting of the red sea.
Now Yuri could see it! That little gate leading to freedom, to his dedushka.
“Stay away from me! I don’t need your help!”
He pushed the stranger aside roughly, gliding quickly to the exit and running into dedushki waiting arms.
. . .
Competitions always come with a hint of uncertainty, that worry that you may fall and lose your place. Fall and not be able to get back up. Yuri’s first competition was a little different than most.
The competition, if it could even be called that, was between him and an older girl called Mila. They were showing off childish routines to trener Yakov, something completely typical of the pair.
What was atypical, however, was the presence of Yuri’s dedushka. While he normally worked long hours to support the expensive profession, Nikolai had taken leave to spend some time with Yuri. This meant watching Yuri skate. Watching his pseudo competition.
While spectators would usually motivate Yuri to smash the competition, this one in particular held far more significance. With dedushka Yuri had far more to prove. He had to show Nikolai that all the money he had spent was worth it. That Yuri’s passion was worth it. He had to!
These ‘competitions’ with Mila were usually just short 30-second routines, made up that morning, practiced and refined for the next few hours then performed in front Yakov and the other skaters for critic.
At this point their win count was about even. As, while Mila was older, her experience lay in powerful jumps whereas Yuri focused on step-sequences and spins.
Today, however, was different. Yakov decided to put both of them out of their comfort zones, giving them a week to learn the same one minute routine to actual music, with a combination of expert step sequences, spins and a spattering of jumps.
Mila’s showing had been lyrical. She had taken that extra week to work on the performance elements that normally eluded her, and with already practiced jumps she had the advantage.
Yuri would not let that defeat him. He embraced the fear, the worry, and the terror. He wanted to be unique, to make a mark. But in practice Yuri had gone in the opposite direction, taking that extra week to practise those perfect jumps made his performance cold and mechanical, lacking his normal emotive state. Yuri had lost. And he knew it.
He practically ran off the ice, foregoing skate guards to tear across the room. He ignored his dedushka. He had known this wouldn’t end well.
In the end it was Mila who found him, curled up in a tiny ball as if to minimise the target. He wasn’t crying, just sitting there, silent and cold.
“Come on Yura, it wasn’t that bad. Your ded loved seeing you jump like that!”
A fire bubbled in the young boy as terror became rage.
“Of course you would think my performance was good! It’s practically what you do week-after-week and look where that’s gotten you. You haven’t even reached the podium yet, doomed to be forever fourth-place. You should just give up already!”
Yuri did not apologise.
Mila did not speak to him for a month.
. . .
When one attempted to fly, they always had to fall and in skating, the fall was everything. From the first attempted jump to the 50th perfect one, jumping always came with an innate terror.
Skaters would be judged on what position they jumped in, ‘Was that leg in the right angle? The arm?’ Skaters would be judged on what happened in the air, ‘How tight was that spin? What about the height?’ Skaters would be judged on their arrival back to the ground, ‘Did they stumble or fall? Did they get back up again?’
Yuri had been jumping, falling for years and was used to this judgment. But this jump, this one jump in particular had always eluded him in competition. It was the cause of great conflict between him and Yakov.
“Yuri! At your age you cannot be jumping like that! Your knees will be ruined before you’re out of your teens!”
“Che, Yakov. Those quads give me an advantage over the competition.”
“ Yuri! Don’t you dare!”
While he performed a great deal of triples, Yuri’s quads were his true pride. A pride that Yakov would not let him show! The quadruple salchow was ready, Yuri just knew it! So against his coach’s gentle advice, Yuri kept the quad.
He spun, paused and leaped. That split second weightless, when gravity lost its hold was what he lived for in these jumps. And then he fell, the terror consuming him. But what a fall. For the first time in competition he had landed a perfect salchow. Take that Yakov!
“You dumb brat!”
“It worked didn’t it, old geezer!”
. . .
The transition from Junior to Senior division is always awkward, no matter the sport. But in skating especially, this transition means more rules, more ‘must includes’, more competition and more worry.
Skaters plan their transition into Seniors for years, many competing in a number of Senior competitions while they compete in the Junior Grand Prix as a back up until they make the final leap.
Yuri disregarded this. He ignored Yakov’s careful months of planning to bulldoze his was into the Senior circuit. He was bored of domination over the Junior Circuit and with his two-time consecutive wins over the Junior World’s and Grand Prix Final he felt he was readily qualified.
This lack of planning meant taking on all the stress of joining the Senior circuit all at once, his Senior debut and first Senior Grand Prix competition. All at once. It was terrifying.
. . .
In the led up to the Grand Prix Final, Yuri was even more snappish than usual, lashing out to his rink mates, his coaches and on one memorable occasion, his dedushka.
“Yura, you need to take it easy, you’re still growing and need days to rest.”
“I’m fine dedushka. I need to practice my jumps.”
The stare was penetrating
“What would you know about hard work anyways?”
“I’m sorry dedushka.”
. . .
Yuri’s free skate was appallingly amazing. It grotesquely caught the gaze of everyone present and trapped them. It was horrifying. It was stunning.
Standing at the top of the podium Yuri knew it was worth it, all the pain, and all the terror. It was worth it to see that proud smile on his dedushki face.
For the first time in years, Yuri cried.
. . .
Some call Yuri Plisetsky a ‘beautiful monster’, others a friend or rival. Yakov calls him a constant pain and Mila, a little brother. Nikolai Plisetsky calls him ‘son’. All of these people have one thing in common. They think him to be terrifying.
Yuri Plisetsky lived a life of terror. It shaped him and changed him. It made him cruel and callous and loud and rude. It made him forsake wide-eyed grins and laughter for smirks and cruel remarks. It made those little grins of him all the more wondrous.
Yes, Yuri Plisetsky lived a life of terror. And he loved every moment of it.
. . .
Ded - Grandfather
Dedushka – Grandpa
Dedushki – Grandpa’s
Mamochka – Mummy
Kotenok - Kitten
Otets – Father
Rebonok - Child
Trener – Trainer/coach
Prompt: “A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.” – George Bernard Shaw, Advice to a Young Critic
Fandom/Series: Yuri On Ice
Word Count: 755
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: As a child Katsuki Yuuri was a fool, unashamedly, unabashedly, unrepentantly. When the stress of competitions becomes too much and he looses interest in both skating and ballet Yuuri must again realise that “being a fool was the best thing to ever happen to him!”
. . .
When it was discovered that Katsuki Yuuri partook in ballet, he was made a laughing stock at school. He was teased and bullied, no one understood. No one but Yuuko and Takeshi… Well Takeshi understood it to a degree.
Yuuko was Yuri’s closest friend, and even though she was older they had been taking ballet lessons together for years. She always said ‘If I want to be a professional figure skater, I have to be flexible.’
Even at such a young age, Yuuri had his whole life planned out. Sort of… It included becoming an accomplished danseur and being friends with Yuuko forever, Takeshi too he guessed.
. . .
And then it happened. One day, one single innocuous spring day Yuuri’s life changed forever. He let Yuuko, Takeshi and Minako-Sensi cajole him into a pair of skates. He let them talk him onto the rink and into take his first step.
Oh it was wonderful, he felt like he was flying. It was better than even ballet! It was so peaceful! Or as least it was, until the fall. In those first few months, even with his ballet experience, Yuuri fell a lot; he made a complete and utter fool of himself, staggering around the rink with his hands outstretched, palms reaching like a beggar. But he got better. Much better.
. . .
And when the kids at school found out this time, he was prepared. Yuuri had his idol to look up to, and his previous experience to guide him. He had his friends, family and Minako-Sensi. This time Yuuri was ready.
As the years passed and Yuuri grew older this pattern didn’t really change. Yuuri would learn something new, and put all his effort into it. He often looked foolish but by that point he didn’t really care. For him foolishness was just another way of learning, just another way of life. His way of life to be precise.
There was only one area where he could not make a fool of himself; Ice-skating competitions. Whenever he looked as that foreign ice he just froze up. Ice-skating was all about poise and attitude, yes some of it was the skating but a lot of it was the sponsor, and sponsors wanted perfect. Yuuri was nowhere near their definitions of perfect.
Slowly Yuuri’s attitude towards skating began to change, it was no longer somewhere he could fool around, but a place to practice perfection. He should’ve known by then that perfection is impossible.
Ballet became his refuge, his place to hide and express himself. There were no expectations at Minako-Sensi’s studio, just him and the music. Sometimes Minako would even join in, and they would compose dances to childish Ghibli songs. It was wonderful.
Then skating began to overtake ballet too. It was all ‘practice this spin so your y-spiral is perfect,’ and ‘Jump higher Yuuri, you need to build up your leg strength.” Yuuri had no refuge anymore.
So it wasn’t a hard decision when he left for America. He needed a new pace, a new way of life.
. . .
America, especially Phichit helped him regain some of his old ‘foolishness’ as they played tag around the rink, and tried their hand at pair skating once or twice. His love for ballet was rekindled as they danced together to The King and The Skater, sheets draped around them like gowns.
And then the Grand Prix Final happened. And then Yuuri fell again. His fool’s nature abandoned him for what seemed like forever. Ballet and skating became a chore again, and America became a place of disappointment and lost dreams.
. . .
Yuuri retreated back to Japan; tail between legs, ready to call it quits. Minako-Sensi cheered him up a bit, but he was in such a big slump that it was no use. His foolishness took over and he decided to have one last hurrah. To skate the Viktor Nikiforov’s Stay Close to Me.
And so, on another innocuous spring day Yuuri’s life changed for the better. Viktor’s happy-go-lucky attitude brought the fun in Yuuri even more than Phichit’s carefree selfies did.
While competitions still plagued him, the ice itself, and the Barre, welcomed Yuuri back as old friends did. He remembered how wonderful those first few steps were; he remembered the fall and what came after. Yuuri remembered that becoming a fool was the best thing that ever happened to him.
After all, learning was much more enjoyable when you didn’t care about others opinions of you.