Promised Prompt Post

Here be prompts! Leave a prompt in the comments! Fill a prompt! Leave as many as you like, fill as many as you like, even if someone’s already filled one.

You can prompt original, any fandom, or a specific fandom I know. Format examples are:

  • any, any, alone again
  • Bungou Stray Dogs, Kyouka+/Atsushi, falling asleep on each other
  • original, any/any, we were happy, right?

You can also throw in image, lyric, other format type prompts. Whatever works.

Post stays open until it slows down. If I don’t fill any right away, I’m working on an exchange fic due, but I’ll be in and out I promise.

You can also prompt poetry.

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651 thoughts on “Promised Prompt Post”

    1. Um… This is… an unpleasant little character study into a story I may not even write, but it seemed somehow fitting for this prompt, so… I… I’m sorry.

      What a disappointment you must be.”

      Aldrick snorted, almost laughing. To whom, exactly? His parents were long dead, so they could hardly hold him to any kind of standard. Being an orphan of no consequence to anyone, he had no one to fail, no one to impress.

      (He had the sight burned forever into his memory of his father’s face, forever etched in an expression of horror as Aldrick failed to defend himself, his weak efforts no match for the man who had already slaughtered his entire family. That accusing stare lingered, ever present in his mind.)

      You don’t even look like much of fighter.”

      That almost made Aldrick smile. He’s used to being underestimated. The years following the loss of his family left him malnourished and underdeveloped. Still, he’d found himself with a strange amount of admirers, all of whom seemed willing to overlook any lack of brawn for his supposed beauty. He had a pleasing appearance, he was told, and not one suitable only for the battlefield.

      (It infuriated him to be small and weak, and once he’d gotten old enough to fight back, he’d done so, harder and more merciless than the mercenaries around him. He had no interest in sparing anyone who had already spent the blood money paid out to end his family, so he made sure he was not only strong enough to end anyone—he was quick and efficient, too.)

      (Revenge was rather motivating.)

      (Until it wasn’t, and all the enemies he knew were dead.)

      If you like, you can test that theory.”

      The other man laughed. Some comment about his axe being larger than Aldrick was no doubt coming, but honestly, it just bored him now.

      You’re braver than you look, too.”

      Bravery wasn’t hard when he was dead inside and had been that way for the part of his life he still remembered. His childhood ended in blood and death, and he had little memory of before that day. None, most of the time, save a single, terrible word that still repeated in his head, giving voice to a man long since dead.

      (He woke often in the night, screaming in panic. He curled up and wept like the child he’d been in the dreams he’d only just escaped. He was weak and pathetic and so incredibly scared, reliving the darkest moments of his life over and over again. He couldn’t run far enough away from the memories. He couldn’t find the strength to end his own torment. He was stuck here, in a living form of hell.)

      Tell me,” the voice came in a low whisper, too soft for most to hear but this new speaker knew him well enough to be certain he’d hear it even at a distance in such quiet. “Do you always have to toy with your prey like this?”

      The man taunting Aldrick wasn’t worth being called prey, and he wasn’t any kind of hunter. He was the worst sort of twisted, having become exactly what he feared from childhood on—a mercenary. He fought and even killed for money, just like the men who’d taken everything from him.

      And is there any particular reason you hold back your shot when your bow could easily have felled him by now?”

      The other man frowned, looking around in disbelief before shaking his head. “Is that the best you can do? Pretend you have someone backing you? You’re alone. I know it.”

      Aldrick was. He had no companions in any true sense. His family was dead, and he had no friends.

      Still, her laughter gave her away just before her arrow took the tip of the man’s ear out of sheer spite. She could have hit him easily enough, she was that skilled. He didn’t know why she hesitated.

      (Except he did, since a bit too much too drink made her admit to things that would shame any mercenary worth anything—she didn’t ever want to kill.)

      (He’d been just as bad, telling her that he understood and not lying for a second. He didn’t recognize that former self that had been capable of it. If he passed a mirror, a glass, anything with a reflection, he only ever saw one thing—the frightened child he’d always been.)

      You can still run,” Aldrick said, though that was a lie. They weren’t here to be merciful.

      Mercy had left him long ago.

      (He should have died. He begged for it then, still found himself wishing for it now. There was no mercy in being alive after that.)

      (And yet a part of him still hopes the man will run and escape them.)

      1
        1. I admit I’m kind of surprised… My brain keeps saying I can’t write at all these days, and I was very close to asking to delete this one, too. It’s… Well, my obsession with dark back stories hasn’t gone anywhere, which is part of it, but then recent media consumption made me want to write something similar and this happened, but it didn’t feel like it was right, either. The format was definitely different, but it seemed like the only way to write it.

           

          1. I’m a fan of nonlinear writing (as my own probably indicates). I like it. My obsession with dark backstories hasn’t gone anywhere either for sure.

        2. any. any. “When my time comes
          Forget the wrong that I’ve done
          Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed
          And don’t resent me
          And when you’re feeling empty
          Keep me in your memory
          Leave out all the rest.”

          ~Linkin Park, Leave Out all the Rest

    2. any. any. “Do not waste your breath with some nonsense about how I should… move on with my life for their sake. That is merely the logic of the living. It is meaningless.” ~Dmitri, Fire Emblem Three Houses
      1. Looking back, there was a lot of sake after Oda died. Days passed in a blur. The command to be good, to be on the side that saved people, couldn’t be implemented right away simply because Dazai was that much of a monster, which meant he couldn’t move forward, couldn’t move on, and the truth was he didn’t want to.

        He’d had friends. Somehow, his coldhearted emptiness had found an echo of warmth in Ango and Oda, and one had betrayed them all and the other was dead now at the hands of Mimic—and the Port Mafia that had once sheltered them all. He’d had friends and now he had nothing.

        For two years, he drowned himself and his memories in sake, wondering if he could drink enough to poison his liver and die, but not quite willing to experiment because in Oda’s dying moments he asked him to live, to be good, to be on the side that saved people. So for two years, he lived without living, without moving, and never mind anyone that told him he should do otherwise.

        Dazai had never abided by the logic of the living. Somewhere beyond life, there was the taste of death, of a dream upon his heart—oblivion.

          1. Bungou Stray Dogs, Dazai Osamu (main character in my opinion but not protag)

            Bungou means Literary and they’re all named after authors with various traits and abilities based on the stories they wrote.

            1. Oh. I think I did kind of look into that show before, but I never saw any of it.

              Having abilities and personalities like fictional worlds/books would be interesting.

    3. This is that scene, which put me into panic mode and resulted in the email. It… It’s why… but… Feel free to delete it… I just… This is why…

      Ruby cradled her arm against her body, shuddering as she leaned against the wall. She hurt all over, though her arm was the worst right now. The weather would have had it throbbing anyway, but her father had twisted it again when she tried to get away from him, and she’d sworn he was going to break it again like he had before, the first time he’d turned on her.

      She hadn’t ever thought she’d want to go back to when he forgot all about her, but she did. She used to think being alone was the worst thing, missing her mom and stuck away from her friends when she had to be with her dad, but he’d quickly proved that wasn’t true. She ran her hand over her arm, tracing the marks from the cuts he’d made when he finally broke it again to set it more like it should be. He kept calling it disgusting every time he saw how badly it healed, but he hadn’t let her see a doctor even then.

      She reached up with her other hand and wiped at the tears, shaking her head at herself. She could have avoided all this. No, she couldn’t have known her mother would die in a car accident, but she wouldn’t be here with him if she’d told the truth about what he’d done to that student. She’d seen him hurting Grahame, but when the police asked her, she’d said she hadn’t, that she hadn’t heard or seen anything that day.

      She hadn’t even liked her father much then—not like she hated him now, but she’d had no reason to lie for him. She’d just been scared, and she wasn’t wrong to be scared—look at where she was, at what he’d done to her, what he’d keep doing as long as she was alive.

      Something touched her arm and she screamed, hitting the door in fear. She shook all over again, cursing her stupidity. That was just the baby moving again. She was fine.

      Well, as fine as she ever was anymore.

      I know. We’re going to get out of this, you know. I’m getting you out of here.” She put her hand back where he’d kicked and closed her eyes. “I promised, right? I won’t let him hurt you.”

      The baby kicked again as if in agreement, and she tried and failed not to shudder.

      Something was touching her, and she screamed as she jerked awake, opening her eyes to Luka staring at her in confusion. She shuddered and scooted back away from him. He never laughed at her when she did this. That wasn’t funny lady stuff, no, not like dropping things or how she looked if he tugged her hair or even when she couldn’t lift his car seat with him in it because he was too heavy.

      His face almost seemed like condemnation, and she shook her head. She tried. She did, but sometimes it was too much. He was too much. And if she remembered…

      She pushed the thought out of her head and rose, making sure the pillow was in place to keep him from falling off the bed before she went to the bathroom. Splashing water on her face, she tried to calm down again. She just had a bad night, that was all. She shouldn’t have been surprised by that. Running into Grahame brought so much back up to the surface, and she had a hard time sleeping anyway. All these different towns, strange rooms, and unfamiliar beds made sleep difficult enough, but she had years of bad memories that would keep her company against her will.

      She cleaned herself off, brushing the mark on her arm again before she rolled her sleeve back down over it. She didn’t ever want to see that one.

      She walked back out and to the bed, sitting down next to Luka, who blinked up at her and made her want to cry all over again.

      I’m sorry. I…” There weren’t words for the conflict in her. She loved him, she did, but sometimes she almost couldn’t bear to look at him. “I just need a minute, okay? We can get going again soon. I… I have to go talk to him again. I… Stop looking at me like that. I can’t stand it.”

      She rose and went to her bag, pulling out a change of clothes and fighting tears. It wasn’t Luka’s fault. None of this was.

      I know you don’t understand. A part of me thinks you should never understand. I just… It’s hard. When you look at me like that, like… Like… you are a living, breathing reminder of all of my guilt… and I… I don’t want that for you. I don’t. You aren’t to blame. You… Just… don’t look at me for a while. Please.”

      She’d pull herself together in a minute. She would. She just needed a bit longer today than usual.

      It’s not like I don’t owe you. I do. I… I got out because of you. We’re both free… because of you. I couldn’t do it for myself, but for you…” She lowered her head. She knew he was safer with her. He Even on the run, he was, since he’d gotten his uncommon eyes from her, and if she had given Luka up, her father could have found him by those eyes alone. She couldn’t abandon him, even if someone else could give him a better life. She couldn’t risk that.

      And she knew Luka had saved her when she wasn’t able to save herself, but that sometimes wasn’t enough. Sometimes it was all too much, and she couldn’t face it. If she didn’t have Luka, she’d already have given up.

      As it was, she started changing her clothes and getting ready to go.

      Luka needed her, after all.

        1. Yes… I find her inner conflict fascinating. Ruby is a mixture of self-loathing, guilt, and so much strength she doesn’t know she has. She’s convinced she did so much wrong that the abuse is what she deserved, but she doesn’t believe that it is for Luka, so despite everything, she found a way to free them and get away from her father (also writing letters to the press to expose what her father did to her and Grahame and others.) She’ll do almost anything for Luka, but she doesn’t see her own worth and even hates herself for when she has moments of doubt and is tired like any parent and a bit wanting to give up because she is worn down right now and in a pretty bad place until she stops running and has help to stabilize their situation.

          (And I swore I posted this as a response to the scars prompt, but… I guess not. It can be very hard to be sure replies are going where they should.)

          1. Sorry about the commenting difficulty. I admit to sharing the difficulty when I’m using the front end on WP, regardless of theme. I tend to use the backend.

            I feel like it definitely shows the mixed joys and difficulties of parenting. I like her a lot.

    4. I… apparently came up with another awful new idea, so…

      She didn’t remember him.

      Sennet shut the door behind him, leaning against it as he tried to understand the overwhelming rush of emotions that followed their encounter. He was relieved, that seemed clear enough, and yet that was not all, not nearly everything that he felt. The conflict within him was so strong he did not know how he had even managed to walk as far as he had.

      She did not remember him. That should be a welcome idea, since it would spare them no end of unpleasantness and awkwardness. She had been witness to his humiliation—by his own actions and words, no one else was to blame—but she had done what he could not—she’d forgotten.

      Perhaps to her that moment was a mere footnote. He was aware that he’d had no understanding of what he’d actually done, not just in their conversation but in how it could be twisted against him. That had come after, that threat that had nearly cost him everything.

      He almost laughed. In a way, she’d destroyed his life, though she had no idea she’d been any part of that. Not that she was to blame, no, he’d said things he didn’t understand, not knowing how offensive they’d be or how inappropriate his request was. He’d been a confused teenage boy who thought he’d found a perfect solution to his confusing situation. Her shocked reaction, her anger, all of that was only clear in hindsight. He knew now why his request—which to him had seemed logical, made in earnest with no intentions that were in any way dishonorable—had been so upsetting to her. At the time, though, he did not know why she’d been angry, and when he’d asked someone else about it…

      That man had abused his authority in every way possible, forever sealing Sennet’s fate. He’d made sure that not only would Sennet never see any recognition for the work that he’d done—monetary or otherwise—he’d forced him far from his chosen career path and barred him from ever reentering the field he’d intended to pursue for the rest of his days.

      Perhaps that was why she did not seem to realize he was the same person who had blundered so badly before her years ago. He wanted to be relieved by that, but he was not. He had to continue to live with his shame, and while he supposed she likely no longer felt such strong emotions towards him as she’d expressed that day, if she ever remembered… it would start all over again.

      If she chose to report him…

      His life would be ruined all over again.

      He had no choice then, but to act like he did not remember her, either, to pretend he was unaware of any shared past. He would have to seem as though none of it meant anything at all.

      That was not true, and he had never been terribly good at pretending.

      Worse still, his confusion from before was painfully clear to him now. As a boy, he’d loved her, and while he was grateful she did not remember the awful way he’d admitted to his feelings, once again she’d made it clear that he was not and never had been anything at all to her.

      1. Methinks he’s reading a lot into things that could actually mean a lot of different things in reality. But interesting, intriguing.

        1. He is making a few assumptions, though he shouldn’t be. (He’s still bad with people, though slightly less so than when they were teenagers.)

          I mean, in his defense… This story had its basis in the idea of him, the overly logical type being confused by his feelings and suggesting to her that they date as an experiment. (This, naturally, did not go over very well with her, she was quite offended and said some things in the heat of the moment to make him think that she hated him and she intended to press charges for sexual harassment/stalking, which his professor used to manipulate him into giving up his thesis/invention and bar him from research in that same field so that he couldn’t later prove he’d created it.)

          I am still kind of working on the details of things for this (was actually looking for a bit of a prompt to focus her introduction since I’m still not sure of much) so I was going back and forth as to whether or not she actually does remember him and the exact implications of that…  I have conflicting ideas myself… hmm…

          1. Hmmm… It’d be interesting either way, but probably her trying to mercifully not bring it up if she does remember and realized later he was being horribly awkward, not sexually harrassing.

            1. I kind of lean toward that, though admittedly am torn because I can’t seem to pin down if she liked him back or not. Like, if she did, then part of her over the top reaction was being offended that he only wanted to date her as an experiment when she had genuine feelings for him, but then it’s… I don’t know.

              I thought this was my new project, but after trying to give it any kind of direction… I don’t think it is… I don’t have a plot, can’t figure out any of the characters…  I have too much baggage with a lot of the other stories, but no direction for any new ideas. *sigh*

    5. This one is admittedly all over the place, but… it had the general thought in mind…

      ******

      Judas followed her into the house, unable to stop her stubborn behavior yet again. The doctor had told her to stay off that foot as much as possible for the next few days, and she was fortunate it wasn’t broken, but she would likely reinjure herself with this sort of willful disregard for sense.

      And dislike for him, which was another matter entirely.

      She sat down on the chair, adjusting the pillow against the armrest and lifting her feet up onto the couch as well. “There. I’m home. You can go.”

      I realize you see this as a nuisance,” he told her, picking up the other pillow. “However, it was necessary that a doctor examine your foot, and you now know what to do for the next few days. I don’t expect you to listen, but that is an entirely separate matter.”

      He pushed the pillow under her shoe only to have her shriek and back up against the armrest. “Don’t do that.”

      It’s supposed to be elevated.”

      She put a hand to her head, frustrated again. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?”

      He shook his head. This was ridiculous. “I was only helping you to sit and elevate your ankle as the doctor prescribed. There was nothing untoward about my actions.”

      You could at least have asked me first. You don’t just go grabbing a woman’s foot and—”

      I never touched you,” he almost snapped, since he’d been careful not to touch her, only the pillow he was nudging under her foot on the couch. She was being absurd. “I moved a pillow. That is not a crime.”

      She swallowed. “I… I didn’t expect it. I… I’m sorry. I still feel so strange after that will reading, and I…”

      He supposed it had been a rather understandable upset. He watched her play with the button on her blouse for a moment before he spoke, the words coming from his mouth surprising even him. “She did not, in fact.”

      What?”

      My mother. I never knew her, therefore she never taught me manners.”

      Oh.”

      You need not say it, either. The obligatory ‘sorry.’ It is nothing to me whether I did or did not know her. At this point, it is irrelevant.” Judas adjusted his glasses. “Have you actually—”

      I used to hate it, too,” she said, and he found himself staring at her. “The false pity everyone gives you when they know your parents are dead. If anyone heard that Benny and I were orphans, they were always saying that. Only they didn’t know. And they wouldn’t. I don’t know if my parents were good people. I don’t remember them at all. Grandma didn’t speak much about them, and I don’t know why, but I know that I never felt like… in some ways it wasn’t like they were missing at all. Grandma was Grandma, and Grandpa was Grandpa, and he could be strict, but they were good people. Good parents. We were fine. And even if we hadn’t had them, I had Benny. I know that sounds foolish, he’s not someone people think of when think think responsible, but he is. He’s loyal and protective. He never forced me out of his games even if they weren’t ‘lady-like.’ He never made me feel alone. I had him. I was loved.”

      She bit her lip, and Judas watched her, having already determined this was something she did when she wanted to say more.

      Then I think about this war, how any day they might come or send a telegram to tell me he’s dead, and how I already lost Grandma… If my parents were here, I wouldn’t be alone. If my parents were alive, losing my grandparents wouldn’t be so hard. Not that I… Well, I was so young and always irritated with Grandpa, so I was actually relieved when he died. I didn’t understand that death meant he was never coming back, not at first. By the time I did, I was numb to it, used to life without him in it.”

      He waited, wanting to ascertain if there was an actual point to this conversation.

      I guess it’s true that you don’t miss things you never had,” she closed her eyes, and her lips seemed to move again, though whatever she whispered was lost to him. “I never lacked for anything growing up. I didn’t. We had this nice home and people who looked after us, and yet as soon as I met anyone, it was always, ‘oh, you poor little thing’ as if losing my parents determined my whole life for me and I was already doomed.”

      He leaned against the other chair. “I believe it is society’s bias to feel that one cannot have a proper start in life without two married parents, the more affluent the better, though I disagree that it is true. Money’s advantages cannot be denied, but those who work for what they have know the value of their time and seldom squander it. Even your brother, as irresponsible as everyone perceives him to be, is much more cognizant of the value of his time. Also, some still hold that the parents are the ones who should make decisions about a child’s future, be it their occupation or their future spouse. I see no disadvantage to having settled my own path and as I have no desire to marry, I need not worry over such foolish things as occupy far too many people.”

      She nodded. “I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about it, either. Not that I wanted Grandmother to die, but since I knew she was going to leave the house to me or Benny, I knew I had a place to live. Benny would never have turned me out if he owned it, he’s not that way, and I could work again and maybe find someone. Maybe not. Now, though…”

      He took a breath and let it out, hoping she would not cry again. “We will speak to a different lawyer about it tomorrow. For now, I believe it best you rest. Perhaps you should even sleep there if you can manage it, and avoid the stairs. Do you have a blanket nearby? There might even be need for additional pillows or—”

      I’ll be fine. You don’t have to stay.” She sat up again. “I think I’ll just lie down upstairs. So you don’t need to worry. Aside from a few… necessary trips, I won’t move around much. You can leave and not trouble yourself a bit because I’ll be fine. Safe and good and obeying doctor’s orders.”

      I see.”

      She gave him a bright smile, and he felt sick at seeing it. This duty of his was unpleasant, made ever more so with each reminder he got of his inability to perform it and her barely concealed hatred for his presence.

      Have you eaten today?”

      She stared at him, and he sighed, having figured that was the case.

      Do you remember the last time you did eat?”

      Her eyes fell to her hands. She didn’t seem to want to answer. “I… I don’t know. I… It’s all been such a blur since Grandma died. I’m sure I… Oh. I did cook breakfast before the funeral, and I was going to eat it, I remember taking it to the table, but as soon as I sat down… I felt sick and I… Oh, I think I left it sitting on the table when I went to the funeral and—My car. I just left my car there. I didn’t even think to—”

      I called to have it towed. A local mechanic is examining it to see if anything can be done.”

      Oh.” She sighed. “I am… Thank you. I haven’t done that once, not yet, but I should have. Thank you for… for everything.”

      You may not thank me in a minute.”

      Hmm?”

      I am going to make certain you eat, and since you should not stand to do it, you will have my cooking to endure.”

      She actually seemed to smile. “You know how to cook? Benny never learned despite my attempts to teach him, so… That’s quite nice, I think, that you can.”

      He shook his head. “I live alone, have done so for many years, and have no desire to eat out all night or have my landlady do it. I learned because it was practical. That is all.”

      My grandfather would have starved if my grandmother didn’t cook for him. Benny’s the same. A lot more men are like that than you think. All of the ones at the diner were. I do think it’s nice that you know. I’m even looking forward to trying some.”

      I did say you would ‘endure’ it, didn’t I?”

      She giggled. “Yes, but you’ve been eating it for years and you’re still alive, so you can’t be that bad, not as bad as you’re implying. And if need be, I’ll even help, ankle or no ankle.”

      That will not be necessary.”

      For some reason, that only made her laugh harder.

    1. I don’t know if this means anything, but I made myself cry with this, so…

      Why?” Lowering his head, Oz fought against panic and fear and everything else at war inside him. This wasn’t happening. Not again. Not now. Not when everything was finally going right. Okay, sure, between the four of them they had more good days than bad, since they had both brilliance and ability on their side. Caton might have been the smartest, but that didn’t make any of them dumb. Maybe Hart, not that he’d admit it, but if anyone was, it was Hart. Warner was the scary quiet type, intelligent and deadly, and Marshall was as skilled with a handgun as he was the law. Oz wasn’t a fool, he knew most people considered him the idiot since he acted far more carefree and libertine than he was, but he wasn’t their accountant because math was easy. He also knew how to fight if he had to, so yeah, they came out ahead more often than not.

      Still, it looked like they had finally reached that time when they were actually moving past their shared childhood trauma. Caton admitted he had feelings for Careen. Oz had gotten Sunnie to go out with him—he’d already picked out the ring, it was just a matter of proving he meant everything that was going to symbolize. Marshall’s head had come out of the law books to have his heart claimed by Justine. Even Warner had made an effort, giving Annora flowers, and since she was already his for the taking, he really just had to ask.

      They were all healing, finally, taking steps to open up to others outside their small circle, and it was good, and then this.

      You knew. You knew he was going to come after you again. You knew he wanted to finish what he started, and you still went around me and Warner… Cat, why? Why would you do that? You knew you were in danger.”

      Yes. Yet it seemed simpler to let him achieve that end rather than kill his way through the rest of you to get to me.”

      You idiot. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that you’re logical to a fault?”

      Caton nodded weakly. “Yes. You, several times, in fact.”

      Oz felt himself shake. Frustration and fear had hold of him now. “Damn it. None of us wanted this. You know we didn’t. You know that we—we just wanted you safe.”

      Caton lifted his fingers from the wound, and neither of them was kidding themselves about how bad it was. “You can put a sentimental tone on it if you like… I did not want that safety at the cost of the rest of you. Of her. I… It was far easier to prevent that by giving him what he wanted.”

      No. Damn it. You—no. You don’t die here, you hear me? You are not doing this to me. To us. To her. You… You have to live.”

      That… is extremely unlikely.”

      Stop it,” Oz said, clinging to him and giving into tears for the first time since the day he’d been adopted. “Just… no. You can’t be logical about this.”

      Caton reached up with his other hand, ruffling Oz’ hair so lightly—weakly—he barely felt it. “No. That logic… it is a comfort now. I… I did what needed to be done. I… I would have liked to have read Careen’s new book, but other than that… I have few regrets…”

      You bastard. Don’t say that. You don’t mean it. You’re supposed to be going on to cure cancer and have a bunch of adorable little geniuses because of your idea of love being only a chemical reaction created to fool the body into fulfilling reproductive imperatives and—”

      Oswin.”

      Please—”

      I chose to save you then. I choose to save you now,” Caton said, forcing a smile that seemed more like a grimace because of his obvious pain. He closed his eyes, voice getting quieter as he struggled to finish speaking.

      You are… and always were… worth saving.”

        1. Well, he did get one part of it right… he did manage to stop the threat, but… yeah.

          He shouldn’t have gone alone. Caton is, however, just as protective of the others as they are of him, and he also can apply logic really badly.

          I… I do have some ideas for a scene at the hospital… with them arguing over who has his medical power of attorney and Careen speaking up to say that’s actually her as his wife… so there is that much…

    2. And then this is… I don’t know…

      ******

      I don’t know how you’re so calm,” she said, sniffling and wiping at her face again. Tears? That seemed unlikely after what he’d just told her, since he would have expected relief on her part. She’d made no effort to hide her distaste for his presence even when she needed his assistance. She had thanked him, but he knew that was because of her good manners and desire not to be indebted to him. “Here I am a mess again, and you are… so calm.”

      You do feel things rather strongly.”

      She nodded. “Yes, I know. I’m a stupidly emotional female. I overreact to everything. That’s how you see me, isn’t it?”

      Judas frowned. “This may be an example of you overreacting, if you choose to see it that way. You do seem to be attempting a provocation now. I am not here to fight with you. I came because I had given my word that I would, and I do not give any promises lightly. They are… quite binding.”

      That’s just it,” she said, coming over to him and taking hold of his arms, attempting to shake him. “Listen to yourself. Someone almost drove you off the road, almost killed you, and you are more concerned about breaking your word? That is insane. I don’t—I suppose I might have been upset if you hadn’t come because you said you would and I have come to count on you, but you almost died and you’re acting like it’s nothing and it is not nothing, you idiot.”

      She hit him, once, twice, and then when he thought a third blow was coming, she grabbed hold of him and held on instead, staying there as she shook with her sobs.

      You are not allowed to die, too. Don’t act like it’s nothing. Don’t be so calm. Be scared. I’m scared. I… I didn’t even want to like you but I can’t… you can’t die. I… Please…”

      That is not something I can control, nor do I think it productive to give the moment any kind of undue sentimentality or fear when—”

      Promise me you won’t die on me.”

      He swallowed. “I can’t. That’s not something I can guarantee, and if I said it, it would be a lie. I don’t lie. I… I do not lie. I know that doesn’t seem to justify anything to you when you are this upset and irrational, but I cannot bend that principle. You don’t understand. It…” He lowered his head. “I… You would… perhaps want to know that it… is almost an emotional reaction. I… When I was younger, they said I lied about something I would never lie about, that I was impugning the honor of a good, Christian man, and I swore I’d never ever let them—anyone—have a chance to believe I lied about anything. I won’t make a promise I cannot fulfill.”

      She sighed. “I know. That’s why I want you to make it so badly.”

        1. Well, he’s still not able to see that she likes him as a person even if she’s still annoyed at times by his fussing and the idea that she needs someone to take care of her (and also hasn’t quite figured out that her brother was mostly matchmaking and misled Judas about her on purpose to get him to agree to take care of her when he was sent home from the war, which he promised while wounded and thinking he was going to die, so he’s still kind of annoyed by getting trapped by that promise when he wasn’t supposed to have to keep it.) So Judas really thought she’d be happier if he died, which she’s so very not, and he’s confused and trying to be both logical and somehow comfort her, which he’s also bad at, so…

          She’s not wrong, it was bad, and he shouldn’t think it wasn’t. He just doesn’t think anyone should care about him (years in strict foster care/orphanages taught him that much) and certainly not her, so he takes it the wrong way. As usual.

    1. I swore I wasn’t writing this story, such dark backstory, but… this prompt made me think of how these two met again, and… um… I do crazy things when I wake at one am and can’t go back to sleep even though it’s now six and I didn’t even sleep…

      She parked the car next to the curb. The sun was still bright in the sky, but she was too tired to keep driving, and judging from the sparsity of towns on this road, she shouldn’t get her hopes up about their being another one any time soon. She should rest, even if she knew she couldn’t afford very many hotels or even enough gas to make it to the next town.

      She heard a heavy sigh, and she actually smiled. “Yeah, I know, you’re tired, too, huh?”

      She reached back and undid the buckles, taking the baby out of his seat. He’d taken to being on the road better than she had, but then he seemed to find all the things they saw fascinating until he got worn out enough to sleep again. Not so much with her.

      She still felt tension all through her, the need to run, run, and keep running, to be as far away from anyone who might possibly know her—know her father.

      She opened the door, grabbing the diaper bag that doubled as her purse and pulled it over her shoulder as she stood. She used to think she was uncoordinated, but these days she found herself capable of far more than she’d ever imagined.

      She cradled him closer to her, the best and worst thing that had ever happened to her, and shut the car door with her hip before heading toward the house.

      The weathered sign wasn’t exactly promising, but maybe it was still a bed and breakfast like it claimed, and she needed somewhere to stay and some food. Or at least directions to the next stop. She had to keep going until she felt safe again, which might never happen.

      The baby made a noise again, almost like he disagreed with her, and she tried to force a smile. He was too young to talk much, certainly too young for real conversations, but even if it was just her imagination, he seemed to know what she needed and could always bolster her spirits when she was faltering again.

      Well, hello there,” a woman said, opening the door for her. “Looks like you’ve got your hands full there. Ain’t he a cute one, though. Such big blue eyes, and what a unique color they are.”

      She nodded. Distinctive as they were, she was afraid people would recognize either of them by that fact alone, though there was another set of eyes she’d become more haunted by over the years, ones she couldn’t forget, ones that had shown such agony as they asked for her help… Ones she’d run from and denied.

      He’s precious,” the woman went on, clearly charmed by the baby, who managed to do that to everyone she met. “Of course, Mama looks pretty tired. Or maybe just lost? We get a lot of lost folks around here. The interstate’s back so many miles, you know, so I’m afraid we don’t get a lot of traffic here unless someone took a very wrong turn.”

      She shook her head. “I don’t like the interstate.”

      I suppose not, not with a baby that small and you on your own. Well, now, if you’re not here for directions, would you be looking for a room? Oh, you must be, it’s nearly a full day’s drive between here and anywhere with a real motel off this highway.”

      Yes, I’d like a room.”

      Very good. I’ll just get my ledger and get your name down.” She went behind her counter for a book and set it on top with another smile. “You’ll be first at the top of the stairs if you don’t mind. I’m afraid I haven’t any rooms down here—there’s the common room there, with the rotating library we share with the high school, my office here, just a small thing, and beyond that is the dining room. Dinner’s in two hours, and you’ll see quite a few of the locals if you come down for it. This is the menu for tonight. Oh, heavens. On second thought, let me bring you your food in your room.”

      She frowned. “I… that’s not necessary and I—”

      No, no, you’ll want to spare yourself, I’m sure. See, it’s Maisie’s turn to cook, and she really can’t make much, but she’s sure proud of her casserole, only our local town grouch can’t stand it and is never short on criticism for it, which we try to stall by keeping leftovers for him, but we’re out, and it’ll be a disaster.” She sighed. “If my nephew hadn’t gone off to college, I’d still have someone to deliver food for me, and then that grouch’d have no reason to come in at all—man hardly ever leaves his house anyway—what even is an actuary? Anyway, that’s just how it is. You don’t want to meet him.”

      I…”

      You needn’t fear expressing your agreement. I am well aware no one in this town cares for me,” a voice said, and she looked over at the doorway to the dining room. Nearly filling it was a tall man with glasses, much younger than she would have thought after the innkeeper’s words about a town grouch. She’d pictured someone older, with fraying clothes and wild hair, but he was clean cut and thin, with his hair only a slight bit askew, as if it had a tendency to go whichever direction it pleased and he did not care to restrain it. “I had suspected it was the day the regular cook was to be replaced by the inept one and my inquiry into that matter has been settled. You needn’t fear the dining room. I will not be present. I will inflict my presence at the grocery store instead.”

      She swallowed. Something about the way he talked—it was a bit pompous—no, a lot pompous, but it was familiar, too. Why did she know that way of speaking?

      The baby chose that moment to squirm, almost taking a nose dive to the floor, and she rushed to catch him, adjusting his position so he couldn’t fall so easily but losing her bag in the process. It fell off her shoulder onto the floor, landing on its side and sending his bottle rolling across the floor.

      He giggled. He seemed to think that was funny any time it happened. She didn’t. Though she only used plastic bottles, at least three of them had cracked this same way, lost to a spilled bag and her not having enough hands.

      The supposed grouch picked up the bottle and carried it over to her, lifting her bag for her as well before she had a chance to do it herself. “Here.”

      Oh. Thank you,” she said, forcing herself to smile up at him, but that died when she saw his eyes up close. No. Impossible. They couldn’t be that same shade. That emerald was as rare as her teal, shared with her child and few others, but that green shade of his… so sharp and clear now compared to the haze of pain…

      She had to be too tired. She was hallucinating to see that face, his face, after all these years, just at random like this. What even were the odds against that?

      The likelihood of you dropping your bag again or my assistance?”

      She winced. She’d said that aloud. “I… I think I know the odds on the first are close to a hundred percent—I’m less of a klutz than I was before the baby, but that doesn’t mean much, sometimes even despite his age, I think he does it to me on purpose, so…”

      He eyed the baby like it was something foreign and perhaps offensive. “Unlikely, though one does tend to attribute coincidence as a thing far greater than it is.”

      An actuary is a sort of mathematician, right? With calculus and statistics? You deal with insurance?”

      Some do. I am not an insurance agent myself, though the professions are sometimes confused that way. You surprise me, though, knowing what that means.”

      Trying to react as little as possible to her own words, she gave the truth, such as it was. “My father was a mathematics professor.”

      He actually took a step back from her. “I see. Excuse me.”

      The innkeeper shook her head as he rushed off through the dining room. “Silly man. The grocery store is a cross the street behind you. I suppose if you know a thing or two about mathematics, maybe you could have shown him up, since none of us around here are smart enough to call him on what he does, but you might have been able to.”

      Did… did he grow up here?”

      Oh, land’s sake, no. He moved here, what was it? Yes, about five years ago? Used to keep completely to himself when we had the delivery service running—guess the man can’t cook even to reheat most things—but since those days are gone, he’s been in town more often, and he can’t seem to get along with a single soul. Something to it, some say, like he’s up to no good, but he’s always paid his bills on time and only gives real trouble when he gets into arguments with Maisie over her cooking.”

      Five years ago. Maybe it really was him.

      Oh, sweetie, your destination’s blank. Aren’t you headed anywhere?” The innkeeper held up the registration book. “Forgive my nosiness. I just like to think about all the places other people get to go.”

      She had nowhere to go. “You… have enough demand here for a delivery service, but have no one to do it for you?”

      Oh, yes, yes. Though I could use another cook, too.”

      Twisting her lip, she knew she was on the verge of another terrible decision. “Would you consider hiring a single mom with absolutely no job experience to speak of?”

      The innkeeper stared at her. True, it was crazy, but she couldn’t ignore it, either. She couldn’t leave now. She had wanted to keep running, but there was something far more important for her to do. She didn’t know how she could possibly do it, but she had to find a way to make up for what her father had done to him.

      What she’d let her father do to him.

      1. Ah. This right here is an intriguing start to a story, someone on the run encountering someone they thought they’d never see again and feel guilty about. Just saying. This is the good stuff.

        1. This one keeps trying to draw me in even though I swore I wasn’t writing it. It would basically start here, with her taking the job and becoming a part of the community as well as getting close to him (I see her helping him learn to cook, for one) as she tries to find a way to make up for what her father did. Aside from the emotional entanglements… I don’t know that I do have much of a plot… She’s running from her father, but she also sent off a letter to the press when she did, and it sparked an investigation, so at this point he’s already been arrested, so that’s not even supposed to be a part of the plot… I suppose sadly all there was to it was her finding him and the two of them falling in love, with the cliche thing of her keeping secrets from him though admittedly if she’d told him right away who her father was, he’d have refused to see her period, packed up and left because her father did ruin his life and he doesn’t want it happening again. So the only chance she’d have of trying to atone is to lie, which is such a mess… And another reason why I probably shouldn’t write this one.
          1. Frankly, unless he demanded knowing who she was right away, it’s not lying to keep her past to herself, so there’s that. But nothing wrong with a good love story, which the whole overcoming reticence to letting someone in is a wholly viable plot too, even when it’s familial or friendly love, so there’s also that. Just saying.

    1. So these two friends are… well, I actually found a platonic ship that I love beyond all reason that’s just two best friends/math dorks and I liked them so much I tried using them in original fiction. (Um… several times.) This is a different one from the others, a flashback to a different boarding school, where they met long before they met the twins. Still, I like exploring their backstory and their unique friendship in any world.

      And so it is not really the prompt, but they discuss the only idea I had about a poem ending, albeit very awkwardly because Aldwyn is another logical to a fault doesn’t get social interaction type (thanks largely to his father who kept him isolated until boarding school.)

      So… the literature assignment. What did you think of it?”

      Aldwyn grimaced, not wishing to discuss it. Though he continued to have high marks in all his courses, his understanding of these recent assignments in their literature class was not what it should be. He didn’t see the point in language that did not say what it meant, nor did he care for things with so much room for alternate interpretations, each dependent on the reader.

      Ha. I knew it. You hated it,” Bryer said, sitting down on the corner of Aldwyn’s desk. “What was it? The romantic imagery or the flowery language?”

      Exactly what about that image is romantic? I have no comprehension of romance in general, but they were talking about flowers, unless I completely misunderstood the poem. And flower language is different from what they used in that poem. Different flowers are said to have different meanings. I find this is rather ridiculous, but I did read about it before. I do not remember why at present, but I did.”

      Bryer considered that. “Well, it’s hard to picture your father asking you to read about that. All he seemed to give you was research texts like he was grooming you to be the next Einstein or something.”

      Aldwyn snorted. “Far less noble. He simply wished for another Almer Prescott.”

      That reminds me—are you sure he didn’t name you that? You’ve only ever said Aldwyn was close enough to your name, so if it’s not really Aldwyn—”

      It is not Almer. Why are you here, Bryer? Surely you have other things to be doing at present. Or are you hiding from the masses again?”

      Oh, don’t remind me. One of them tried to show me how sincere they were with a prenup, can you believe that? This whole world is disgusting. I can’t wait until we are done with this school and everyone here. Ah, I can’t wait for the days when it’s just the two of us scientists working on some grand plan…”

      You are… exceedingly strange.”

      Bryer nodded. “So you keep saying, but since I’m the only friend you’ve got, you put up with me.”

      I do tolerate your presence and the occasional offering of food, yes.”

      Bryer laughed. “Yes. That. No. I… You’ll probably find this a weird thought, but I didn’t want to try and talk about it with anyone else since others would just turn it into some flirtation or nod and agree without understanding a word. I am so tired of that. People only ever care about what interests me as a way to seduce me.”

      I would object to that statement—”

      Because you’re my friend, and you don’t want to seduce me. It is so refreshing to be around someone who has no romantic interest in me, let me tell you.”

      “—Except I do not care what you are interested in, and there does seem to be an inordinate amount of the students and staff that pursue you. Inevitably, I end up in the middle of this because you are hiding in my room. It is more than tedious by now.”

      Bryer grimaced. “I swear I will make it up to you. I’m helping you overcome this school’s stupid system and your father, right? So you can put up with me having odd thoughts about a poem.”

      Aldwyn frowned. “I have a sudden conviction I do not want to know.”

      It’s not that bad.” Bryer caught his look and shook his head. “Promise. I’ll just… Okay, so have you ever read a book or seen a movie or something and thought, ‘that ended too soon?’”

      No.”

      Right. So asking the wrong person. Um… well, it was just… that sense. Like, if a book or a two hour film is two short, what about a poem? Some of them are only a few lines. So wouldn’t it suck to be the subject of a poem? That’s all you get. It’s over. And what do you do with that?”

      Arguably, if one is prone to wasting their time and everyone else’s, they read another.”

      Bryer sighed. “Right. Remind me sometime to find someone who has just a teeny bit more appreciation of things outside of science to talk to.”

      You could go do so now. I have work to do.”

      You’re still my best friend, you know.”

      Aldwyn sighed. “Again, you make me feel the need to state that you must have a very flawed understanding of what friendship means, and that is coming from me.”

      Whatever. We’re in this together. So we’ll both figure it out somehow.”

      1. Awwww! This is so adorable! He’s like, “You’re weird,” and I’m sitting here going, no, Aldwyn, that would be you, but you’re exceptionally cute and generally lenient and that makes up for a lot. A true friend indeed!

        Very, very nice!

        1. Lol, yeah. Aldwyn is a bit weird (he was isolated as a child and never had much interaction with anyone outside his father and a few staff members until he was in his mid-teens and sent to boarding school and in general he doesn’t understand people since he wasn’t even given much in the way of fiction to read as a kid.)  He is, however, a complete sweetheart and kinder than he or anyone else realizes. He gives Bryer a place to belong even if he doesn’t fully understand him, and with all the people in Bryer’s life after his money or his family’s title or even just how attractive he is, Bryer’s never really had anyone before that accepted him for who he was or even disliked him for who he was and not those other things.  Their friendship is very special to them both, even if Aldwyn doesn’t recognize that on a conscious level.

          Aldwyn comes from my new favorite archetype and I just… I adore him and want to keep him safe even though in his story he’s in danger and doesn’t know it yet.

        1. I have always enjoyed a bit of found family, going back I think to X-Men or maybe earlier, but it’s become more important to me lately.

          I do still get overwhelmed by having a lot of characters in any given fic, but I really do enjoy team/family dynamics, and with these two… I swear it’s almost impossible to have a story about one without the other. I’ve managed it once, and only because I forced myself to keep it to a one-shot because it was already a messy crossover.

          Plus… there is such a shortage of good platonic fic in the world. I feel like I should add to it, though I inevitably have ships, too.

    2. Well, it started to be about the prompt, but it veered off a little…

      ******

      Poetry seems either to be full of love or tragedy,” Amara observed, looking up from her book and over at Judas. He didn’t respond, his pen moving across his papers with a speed she envied, though what exactly he was doing was still a mystery to her. She knew that he’d been friends with Benny before either of them was drafted—it was rather impossible to forget finding her brother as drunk as he’d been that night. He’d said it was to give his best friend a proper send off, but she remembered him claiming her lap and crying at the idea of Judas dying in the war. She figured they had met at work, but since Benny didn’t talk about what he did for a living, and Grandma didn’t approve it, whatever it was, Amara hadn’t wanted to cause trouble by asking.

      She sighed, shifting in place to set the book down. She wasn’t in the mood for either topic. If she wasn’t grieving all over again, she was furious or scared, still anxious about the will. She didn’t know what she was going to do if they lost that battle in court.

      Two subjects which would incline one not to read it, I suppose.”

      She blinked, frowning. She’d gotten the sense Judas wasn’t even listening to her, but apparently he was. She tried to adjust her seat again. Staying still with her foot up was difficult, though if she got up again, Judas would start lecturing her again, and she didn’t want that.

      You dislike poetry? Or is it love you hate?”

      Should you not ask if it is tragedy? Or am I far too dour for that in your opinion?”

      She bit back a giggle. “Well, you are very studious. I know you’re working, but even so, you’re so focused and proper all the time. And didn’t you have enough tragedy in the war to last you a lifetime?”

      What I saw was waste. Hundreds of men dead for land that’s not worth fighting over, everything that was before destroyed by marching armies and artillery.” He took off his glasses and rubbed at his nose. “And poetry is guilty of the sin of glorifying such a thing. Idiots romanticize the idea of dying for king and country or honor and there is none to be had in that chaos. It is death. That is all that lives there. Thrives, even. War is vanity and greed, nothing more. Much less, even.”

      She smiled slightly. “You are almost being poetic yourself.”

      He snorted. “Are you attempting to provoke me now? I assure you I am not the least bit poetic or inclined to be so. Poetry makes great fools of everyone—those that believe in love or the illusion of there being anything of worth in glorifying tragedy. Those who delight in such verses are fools.”

      She shook her head. “We study history for a reason. Tragedy is a part of that, too.”

      Yes, well, humans as a general rule are stupid.”

      Oh. I see. You actually hate people.”

      He narrowed his eyes at her. “Why are we even having this conversation? You seemed disinclined to enjoy your choice of entertainment, but does that mean I must become it instead? I am only here so that you do not injure yourself again.”

      She took a deep breath. “Are you trying to provoke me this time? You know I don’t need you fussing. I am not incapable of walking, and I am resting. I’m not going to trip over the table and bang my head and bleed all over everything and make everyone in the house think I’m dying.”

      That is… oddly specific. Did you do that before?”

      No. Benny did. He scared the life out of our neighbor. She went screaming out of the room. Grandma rushed off calling for Grandpa, and then Benny sat up and asked me what all the fuss was about. Sometimes I think… he just doesn’t understand how the world around him works. He’s too sweet for it… and no one understands that. They want him to be like those men in the advertisements or the ones in the books… So he always acts like someone he isn’t.”

      It does seem like he will sometimes seem more foolish around others, particularly if those others are women. That seems to be a failing of most men, though. Your brother is hardly unique in that respect.”

      But not you?”

      I have no intention of marrying anyone, therefore there is no need to date, nor do I see the same value in ogling whatever woman might pass by me. Certain feminine forms have appeal, yes, but not to the point where I must stare constantly like others I’ve seen or make comments or attempt to touch. One can appreciate something without touching it. Or even staring at it for a long time.”

      She remembered his words about her the day they met. “I take it back. You’re not poetic at all.”

      1. Awww, you two. Poetic is just how you say a thing, Jude, not the content. But ah well, he clearly had bad experiences there. Love the whole… oddly specific. <3

        1. They are kind of bad at talking to each other sometimes, though it’s kind of cute in its own way that they’re like that. He’s had a few too many bad experiences in his life, and then he ended up drafted (in one of the first rounds of it, he had no intention of going to war at all, but the people around him were all telling him it was an honor, and he served with a lot of men who volunteered and thought they were going to win right away because they were in the right, others who thought there was honor in it, and he didn’t see any of that… he ended up one of few survivors of his unit before Bennett was drafted into it, and yeah… there was pretty much nothing good in the war, except maybe that eventually the two of them were reunited again, but even that didn’t last. Bennett almost got killed, Judas took the bullet for him, and he got shipped back for a long, painful recovery. He has people who know he went to war calling him a hero and other idiots thinking he’s a coward for not joining up. I have a scene for that in mind. I should write that sometime… )

          I digress. Um… yes. Bad stuff. Lots of it. He can actually be quite poetic unintentionally, though. And she’s more likely to do it on purpose.

          I want to include lots of little moments for her and her brother, to show how close they are and how much that relationship means to her as well even if he won’t be present for a lot of the story. And I thought it was kind of funny he’d do something like that and it wasn’t nearly as terrible as people thought (head wounds bleeding like they do, plus it showed a bit more of Bennett’s personality.)

  1. any, any + any, “This guy is being a creep and won’t leave me alone. Will you pretend to be my overprotective older brother for five minutes?”

    1. I am not really sure why I keep trying to make this story work, but… I do. I mean, the characters… they have something to them, but… Not enough, I don’t think.

      There you are,” Justine said, relieved to reach Caton’s side at last. Of the four brothers, he was always the easiest to find, tall as he was, though tonight his dinner companion was even more eye-catching. Careen looked amazing, like she belonged to this world of fancy parties and snobby elites, far from the waitress and struggling writer Justine knew her to be. She was quite popular, though she declined every invitation to dance and stayed at Caton’s side. That, actually, was just what Justine needed. “You have to pretend to be my brother for a few minutes.”

      Excuse me?” Caton frowned at her. “Why would you want something so absurd?”

      Careen giggled. “I don’t know that it’s absurd. You are a very good brother, as much as yours annoy you by being so overprotective.”

      Exactly. I need that. There’s this guy who won’t leave me alone, and I’ve told him ‘no’ several times already. So I need an overprotective brother to scare him off. I would have asked Marshall, but he was introduced to the same guy as my boss, so that won’t work.”

      Caton adjusted his glasses. “No. Go and find Warner.”

      I don’t want him dead. I just need him to back off.”

      For all that you work closely with Marshall, you listen far too much to Oswin,” Caton said. “Warner is not an assassin, no matter what my younger brother thinks.”

      Just a ninja, then?”

      Careen giggled at Caton’s glower, which got even worse than before. He glanced at her and she shrugged. “He is really stealthy, and I thought you told me that many stealth infiltration techniques were developed by ninjas.”

      That is not the point.”

      You have been willing to drive off guys that were bothering me.”

      That’s different. I married you.”

      True,” Careen said, tugging on his suit and pulling him down to her level for a kiss.

      Justine grimaced. She didn’t begrudge the two of them their moments or their happiness, but it was awkward being the only one in the office who actually knew about their marriage. Sometimes it was hard to believe they’d kept it from his overprotective brothers for so long, especially when they were like this in public, but even Warner seemed to believe Caton was not willing even to acknowledge his feelings for Careen.

      The other reason I can’t ask Warner is that I can’t find him. You know your brother. He disappeared a long time ago. Please? Don’t make me ask Oz.” Justine didn’t think Oz would agree to act like a brother—he’d insist on flirting and ruin everything even if he was supposedly helping. No, she wouldn’t do that. Not when there was a perfectly good alternative. “I will so tell him about you two if you do.”

      Very well. If I must.”

      Thank you,” Justine clasped her hands together in relief, and Careen smiled again as she leaned against Caton. He sighed but didn’t make any move to dislodge her.

      Ah, there’s that lovely lady lawyer,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. “Your very name means justice. So fitting. So perfect. And yet… You never did answer my law question.”

      Justine bit back a groan. That was all too fast. If Caton had held out any longer, she wouldn’t have had a plan in place to deal with that man.

      Interesting. Is this what you consider a means of flirtation? I confess I have no experience with the ‘art,’ as my younger brother calls it, but even to my unpracticed ears that seems woefully inadequate and even… pathetic. Are you completely lacking in intelligence, or does this ineptitude come from your obvious state of intoxication?”

      The other man blinked. “Uh… what?”

      Caton sighed, taking a drink from his flute. When he’d swallowed it down, he turned his best intellectual glare on the man. “You lack both the composure and the brain capacity to be holding a conversation. I suggest you leave my sight and do not bother Justine again.”

      I am not—Ow.”

      Caton pried the man’s hand off Justine’s arm. “If you make me repeat myself, I will be greatly annoyed. In such a case, I could even let my older brother handle it, and it is rumored that he is an assassin, so you might consider that the next time you bother one of us.”

      A what?”

      Oh, pay no attention to the rumors,” Warner said, appearing behind them and scaring the hell out of Justine. Again. He always did that to her. The only ones he never seemed to spook were Caton and Annora. Even Careen wasn’t immune. “Assassins work for hire. I have no such employers.”

      I… um….” He didn’t even find another word before he stumbled away, falling and then scrambling onward through the crowd, spilling drinks as he bumped through nearly everyone.

      I told you to ask Warner.”

      Justine grimaced. “Where did you appear from, anyway? Are you sure you can’t teleport? Because you just show up out of nowhere—poof—and—Okay, shutting up now. Stop staring at me like that.”

      Before you ask, he was actually Justine’s problem, not mine. I am fine, if excessively bored by this ‘party’ and its lack of anything of use. I am not coming again next year. I don’t care if Marshall’s birth parents make it a stipulation of his inheritance. He’s a lawyer. Make him find the loophole already. I am done. You can quit smirking at me like that Warner. I am well aware you only attended because of your endless need to watch over the rest of us.”

      Oz would say something about you not realizing how special you are,” Warner told him. “And it is true—you do not. Our current bonds exist because of you, do not forget that. And never think I have forgotten what I would be if your parents had not adopted me.”

      That was their choice. I did not force them to take you or Oswin, nor was I any part of their failed attempt to get Marshall. Please stop exaggerating the facts.” Caton put a hand to his head. “I have another headache. Careen, would you—”

      I’ll drive you home,” she said, wrapping her arm around him to help steady him as they walked.

      Justine fought another grimace. Those headaches did seem to be getting worse of late. “Oh, Caton. Thank you.”

      He snorted. “You truly do not know what you are asking for, getting one of us as a brother.”

      1. I’m mighty fond of the “overprotective big brother” trope, whether because he is or because he’s acting like it. 😀

        For the record, if the characters are solid, I’m firmly of the mind a story can work for them. You just have to figure out which parts of the stuff that happens to them and the stuff they happen to, to put in what order. Not that this is easy, mind. I suck at plot in general, so I feel you.

        ETA: Also, sidenote, I finally solved the comment problem on the umpteenth try with a whitelist plugin. 😀

        1. I’m fond of overprotective brother types myself. (Alik, *c0ugh*) In this story, Caton ended up with two overprotective brothers, one older and one younger. I know their back story, just that, mostly, and a bit of where the plot was supposed to start.

          …Caton, Warner, Marshall and Oswin (Oz) were all at the same boarding school together, though in different classes due to their ages. Oz got dumped there by his parents that wanted nothing to do with him. Caton’s highly intellectual parents figured he’d get more of the education he wanted there than public school. Warner’s biological family heads a crime syndicate. He was there to make connections he could blackmail and use later among his fellow students. Marshall’s parents wanted him out of their hair. They were among few students there when a group of criminals not related to Warner’s family took them hostage for the money their parents had. (Oz’ parents refused to pay anything. Caton’s didn’t actually have the money. Marshall’s did, but they dragged their feet about paying. Warner’s family preferred to deal with the criminals themselves.) This led to them being held for a while. Caton got singled out for abuse because of his tendency to point out the criminals’ stupidity, and he chose to place himself in harm’s way if they tried to go after Oz, who was younger. (It was logical that only one of them suffer.) Marshall tried to help them, but his parents were the ones due to pay the most, so they didn’t want to hurt him and took it out on Caton instead. Warner eventually used his skills to free them all. When Caton’s parents heard what the others did, they ended up adopting Warner and Oz, but Marshall’s parents refused to give up custody. He still considers himself their oldest brother, though, and has basically disavowed his biological family.

          So there’s a lot of found family dynamics. The story starts with Justine wanting to get a job as a lawyer after being blacklisted, and she stumbles onto their craziness just as they get a case and gets caught up in it, too. At the same time, their former kidnappers have been released and one wants Caton for revenge, which leads to them all being  overprotective and him being grumpy with them. He is the science/research expert that helps Careen with her books after meeting and arguing with her when she was his waitress. Oz teases him mercilessly about his “crush” on her, so when they eloped, Caton refused to tell any of his brothers about it.

          So I don’t know if there’s a real story there, but I loved the dynamics between the characters enough to start it and this is actually not the first iteration of Caton and Careen or even Oz. Caton’s based on my favorite character from a game, and he’s actually on his fifth original story now, not that I’ve finished any of them. *sigh*

          (I did see that the comments were being accepted faster. I added some more prompts just in case something might help or at least maybe make you laugh.)

          1. I did indeed laugh at a few!

            I definitely see a story there. Maybe just start with the backstory? You seem to have that fully plotted out.

    1. “Is that what you waters say when you’re trying to pick up a girl or what?”

      Cress laughed as he pulled Enya into his arms. “Maybe the ones who aren’t in love with a firebird.”

        1. Thanks. I wasn’t sure I had anything  I could do with that prompt because I have no underwater worlds or powers but that reminded me of the elemental one, so Cress and his water was an obvious choice, but I didn’t have much for it all the same.
    2. Okay, I did this in another silly way with my favorite platonic friends, but it was kind of funny, so…

      I can’t believe she tried to hold me under the water,” he muttered, shaking his head and trying to get more of the water out of his ears. “I almost drowned.”

      His friend didn’t even look up from the book he was reading. So much for dragging him along to the water park today. Sometimes he swore that man didn’t know how to have any fun at all—but then he also knew it wasn’t true, since they had plenty of fun together.

      I believe you have no one but yourself to blame for that.”

      Excuse me? Here I am your best friend, I nearly drowned and had to be rescued by a lifeguard whose idea of resuscitation was frankly scary, and you are not the least bit sympathetic. You could try, just a little. You’d miss me if I was gone. Admit it.”

      It is difficult to have any ‘sympathy’ for you as you put it when you did, in fact, bring it on yourself,” his friend said, setting down his book as if to make his point. “After all, your choice of pick up line in this case was ‘I like long walks on the ocean floor.’”

      He grimaced. “Well, that’s—”

      You argued it was fitting because we are at a water park and multiple pools are themed with an ocean motif. I am not sure I can blame her for taking you up on your offer. True, there is a certain lack of intelligence to her actions, but since she was pursuing you, I believe that is fairly typical and even expected.”

      Hey, that’s not—”

      The effect of your eyes turns them essentially into mindless drones, so you should not be surprised when they act like morons.”

      He sighed. “Gee, thanks. I know you didn’t want to come today, but did you really have to go ruining water parks for me, now, too?”

      His friend folded a paper and stuck it in his book. “I am not ruining anything for you. However, it would be wise for you to exercise a bit more discretion in such circumstances.”

      Well, you weren’t willing to go on any of the rides with me. So I had to find someone that was.”

      Yes. I suppose you did.”

      He frowned, suddenly suspicious. “Wait a minute, that paper. Did I see numbers on it? As in… a phone number?”

      I told you,” his friend said as he gathered up his towel. “You should act with more discretion.”

    3. Well, this one isn’t really funny, but the dialogue came in part of the ideas about how she “messed it all up,” so this is it. Her mistake.

      *******

      Pour me another one.”

      Judas eyed the glass she had and frowned, not certain that he should. Of course she’d taken today’s news from the lawyer poorly, which he understood, since he found it just as disappointing as she did. He would have thought that no one could do such a thing in a will, and he swore it should not have been upheld, but the courts seemed to favor the traditional roles her grandmother had demanded of her.

      Come on, Judas. I think we both deserve another drink.”

      I am not the one who had a set back today,” Judas said as he put a little more of the bourbon into her glass. She downed it and made a face as she did. He considered laughing, but that might make things worse. “You should probably rest.”

      Rest? The judge ruled against us. Me. I have to get married now. And have a baby. And how am I even going to… I can’t. I can’t do this.” She picked up her glass and held it out to him. “More. I need more. I can be brave if I have more.”

      This is unwise.”

      You can be wise enough for both of us,” she said, taking the bottle instead. She drank straight from it, dribbling some down her chin and coughing before setting it down. She collapsed in her chair with a moan. “It’s not fair.”

      Me being wise or this court decision?”

      Both. No. Yes. Well…” She sat up and took the bottle again. “I wish I was as smart as you are. Best I can do is try very hard, and that’s not enough. And this will… Even if I thought I had a solution, it’s not the answer…”

      No, I think the solution at this point is your bed,” he said, going over to her side to take the bottle and get her up on her feet. “Come on now. You need to rise.”

      She stood unsteadily and almost toppled over. Oh, are we going for a walk?”

      You could say that.”

      She smiled, wrapping her arm around his as she leaned against him. “I like walks. Long ones on the ocean floor.”

      He frowned at her. “I believe you must be drunk.”

      You know what I mean, right? When you walk alongside the water at the beach or by a river and it’s so beautiful? Walks like that are nice. The water’s moving… you’re moving… And very warm. Because you are. Very, very warm. I thought you’d be cold because you’re so stern, but Jude is very warm and gentle…”

      You are very intoxicated, and we are getting you upstairs and into your bed.”

      Oh. That sounds nice, too. Will you cuddle with me?”

      What? No. I—That’s—you are drunk, and you have no idea what you’re saying,” he said, feeling flustered. He helped her along to the stairs, aware she was humming that song she’d made him dance to the other day. He did not need to be reminded of that, either. “Here we are. Your room. You can go in and lie down now.”

      She pushed open the door and turned back to him. “Judas?”

      Yes?”

      I really do have to be brave. I have to. Because… if I don’t… I mean… you won’t, will you?”

      I fail to see how my bravery has anything to do with it unless we’re back on the nonsense about medals and awards. I know they exaggerated the one I got when I was sent back stateside, and I don’t—you think more of it than you should since it supposedly saved your brother, but it isn’t—”

      She tugged on his jacket and dragged him down close to her. He supposed she didn’t want to hear that. He reached for her hands, trying to get her fingers loose.

      You should really—”

      She kissed him. At first, he didn’t even know what she was doing, but her lips pressed up against his. He let go of her, but she put a hand on the back of his head and held him close. This was absurd. What was she doing? She… She was drunk. He knew that. He did.

      He forced himself away from her. “You… You have to go to sleep now.”

      No, I… Didn’t you like it? I thought… You did. I know you did. You…”

      He winced. So what if perhaps he had? He didn’t care to admit that now, and it made no difference. She was too intoxicated to know what she was doing.

      You could do it,” she said, and he frowned as he saw a tear on her cheek. “I know I irritate you, and you think I’m stupid… but… you promised Benny and… and… maybe there’d be something you’d like… you are a man, after all… and you… you could…”

      No,” Judas said, shaking his head and barely restraining himself from an urge to shove her away from him. “Don’t twist my word to your brother or think all I want is sex. Just… no. Go to sleep. In the morning… I don’t even want to think about it.”

      I don’t want to sleep. I have to convince you to marry me.”

      No. You don’t. And no, I won’t. Just…” He turned and walked away, heading back down the stairs. He hadn’t realized how much it would hurt to have her reach the conclusion he’d understood almost from the beginning. He didn’t want her inheritance. He didn’t want to marry her for money or a home. He didn’t want to be someone she used to get that. He didn’t care what he’d promised Bennett. He was not marrying her for any of those reasons.

      The fact that she only wanted him because of them… That stung in a way he had not anticipated, hurting more than when he’d been shot in the war. No, that was excessive. An absurd hyperbole, and yet… he felt sick, lightheaded and ill just like he had been injured.

      He leaned against the wall, needing to calm himself. No. This wasn’t anything. He was fine. He would go home, and if they were at all fortunate, she would have no recollection of these events. That was for the best.

      She would not ask him again. He would not have to say no a second time. The idea would never have come to her if she were sober. She’d had to drink to get herself to ask, and that… they were both better off forgetting that.

      He looked back at the stairs. “Damn you, Bennett. You knew, and I could hate you for it. I do hate you for it. She… She’s supposed to be an obligation. Nothing more. Not… this.”

      Judas pushed himself away from the wall, going to the door. He couldn’t stay here another minute. He even found himself tempted to go for his own bottle, that maybe he would forget by morning as well.

      He certainly had no desire to remember any of these… feelings. He much preferred when he felt nothing at all.

        1. They really do.

          And they really do need to talk, too. So much went wrong in that night and then how he reacts to try and protect himself.

      1. Kingdoms and Thorn, Air and Gloria, Now You See Me

        Air stared at the figure across the street—familiar, once much loved, but now…

        She frowned, tilted her head, and thought to herself of the taste of betrayal, promises broken, friends used like weapons and discarded. If there were anyone I would have thought wouldn’t do that, it was you.

        A flare of brilliant green in those all too familiar eyes. As expected. Gloria was mindreading.

        Air dropped the pretense and said aloud, “What do you want?”

        Gloria was silent a moment, then, “To see you.”

        Air spread her arms, visible—Here I am.—then walked away.

        1. I think it may have been too long since I saw fic with these characters. I know they’re not on Shift’s team or on Red Wolf’s… They’re with Arc and Starlight, right? And Math… is it Math? Oh, I feel awful. I don’t remember now.

          And Ice Queen… was it Gloria that made her cry? Or was that with her infiltration mission where she eventually goes back to being part of that tribe?

          1. Totally fair, I think you’ve gotten Air (and Shadow) from Team 14 only a couple times, though Gloria cut a swath through a lot of teams. She was actually taken down by Thought/Shield/Cate in the end, but she essentially mind controlled other team members into hurting their own teams and the minute she mind controlled her own former team member, she alienated her own former team. Mind readers in this world have to maintain trust, and that wasn’t a good way to do that, to put it mildly.

            The bit that might actually be helpful to you: https://scribblemyname.dreamwidth.org/349496.html?thread=2099768#cmt2099768

            Team 14 is Vision’s team, and he’s Cate’s twin brother, but haven’t actually developed a large backlog for them yet.

    1. This is another new one. I… don’t really know why this idea seemed interesting, but it did.

      I don’t believe in curses,” Amara whispered, feeling another drop of rain pelt her head. She shivered and looked at her car in dismay. Yes, she’d parked on a hill, but she hadn’t expected the brakes to fail. She didn’t think that thing would move again, ever, not with how bent the front was from hitting the tree just above the curb.

      Thunder boomed overhead, lightning brightening the sky, and she jumped, almost thinking it would hit her.

      I feel cursed.” She took a deep breath and looked around. Since she was family, she’d been the last to leave the grave site, enduring all of the hugs and condolences from strangers she’d never met and suspected her grandmother hadn’t even liked. She didn’t see anyone else, not even the groundskeeper. She’d been assured they wouldn’t be intrusive during the services.

      Apparently that meant disappearing entirely after they were done.

      She sighed, looking down at her hands. She had her car keys and some tissues. This was a great day to leave her cellphone at home. Sure, she’d figured she wouldn’t need it at a funeral, but she did.

      She looked around again. Well, this place probably had an office of some kind, but she had no idea where it was. She had little choice but to start walking towards the entrance. Maybe she could flag someone down by the main road.

      She hadn’t gotten far when her foot caught on a rock. Her ankle twisted, and she went down, swearing in words her grandmother would have hated. She tried to move her foot and saw that the hell of her shoe—which wasn’t even that tall, she was by no means graceful—had just broken off. She groaned and tried to push herself back up, wincing as her skinned palms touched the pavement again.

      As soon as her ankle touched down, she cried out as the pain hit and fell back down. No. No putting weight on that again.

      She lowered her head and started to sob. She couldn’t help it. The pain, losing her grandmother, everything that had gone wrong today… She couldn’t stop the tears.

      She was still sitting there, crying, when a horn beeped at her, and she screamed, unable to do more than scoot back—not nearly fast enough for a car coming. The front bumper stopped just in front of her, and she heard the door open.

      Are you completely insane? I realize you are likely suffering from a great deal of grief, being at the cemetery, but that is no reason to sit in the middle of the road.”

      She laughed. She couldn’t help that, either. “Do you really think I want to be sitting here? The world is against me. Or I’m cursed. I don’t even know. First it rains during the funeral, then my car decides—just as I’m walking up to it and the last person here—that the brakes have failed and though I tried to catch the door handle, I couldn’t—it was on a hill and went too fast even for not being on—it hit a tree and I think it’s good and totaled. And I don’t have my cellphone, and there’s no one here, and so I was going to walk to the main road, but I tripped and broke my shoe. And twisted my ankle. So yes, I am sitting in the road, but not because I want to.”

      The man came closer to her, looming over her like something out of an old horror movie, the ones that were all about atmosphere and monsters and not gore and the worst of humanity. She swallowed. She was really in trouble now, wasn’t she?

      Bennett said you were accident prone—to be quite accurate, he said you were ‘completely helpless,’ but I did not believe him until now. It seemed impossible, and yet here you are, in the middle of the road, in the rain, with a twisted ankle and a broken shoe.”

      She frowned. “Wait. Benny—You know my brother? No, you don’t. He doesn’t like it when people call him ‘Bennett.’ It’s too stuffy like Grandfather was.”

      Agreed, your brother is hardly the sort one would call… formal.”

      She blinked in the rain, staring up at the still looming figure, still feeling cursed. “Judy?”

      I see he informed you of that nickname. Call me that again, and I will leave you where you are, promise or no promise.”

      I…” She wasn’t sure what to think anymore. “You actually prefer Judas?”

      Since it is a name made famous by somehow who committed a grave betrayal, people expect that of someone named Judas, meaning they usually have no interest in interacting with me at all, which is to be preferred to my mind.”

      She was not expecting that as his reason. At all. Though she did understand him disliking the name her brother gave him. Most of Benny’s jokes were in poor taste.

      Honestly. You completely lack sense. Take the hand I offered you so that you may get up with my assistance. I am not carrying you.”

      She did. She just wanted to go home, after all. This day couldn’t get much worse.

      Benny asked you to do what now?”

      Judas took off his glasses, cleaning them on his handkerchief. For all the tales that Benny had told him of his sister, he had left out just how stubborn she was. If he’d thought it was difficult to get her into the car, it was even more so to get her out of it and to convince her to change out of her wet clothes. Though she’d worn no coat and her dress was soaked through, she hadn’t wanted to do anything about it until he explained everything, apparently.

      He exacted a promise from me that while he is overseas, I would watch over you and assist you in any way that might prove necessary. He felt that with your grandmother as ill as she was, you would need someone else to aid you. He got word to me earlier that she had actually died, and the notice in the paper included the time and location of the services, though I did not find that information in time to be there for the funeral. Not that it would have been appropriate. I did not know her at all. For all Bennett’s threats to drag me over and introduce me to both of you, that never happened, likely because not long after, he enlisted and ended up going to war.”

      She sighed. “I have never understood why he did that.”

      As I understand it, he was drunk at the time.”

      She winced. “That is so not what I wanted to hear, though it is very much like Benny.”

      Indeed.”

      She took a breath and let it out, looking at him. “Exactly what does my brother expect you to do? Babysit me? Because I don’t need that. I’m fine. Today was—it was a bad day. That’s all. You can go.”

      I will point out that you have yet to change out of your wet clothes—”

      I am not doing that with you in the house, pervert.”

      He folded his arms over his chest. “I will have you know that while the way that fabric clings to you leaves very little to the imagination as far as your general form goes, you look more like a drowned cat than anyone I would find attractive. Bennett may have misled you and told you that you were the most beautiful woman he knows, but one, he’s biased. Two, he says that to every woman he meets. I note your clothes only because I would be remiss in fulfilling my promise if you were to get sick now.”

      She wrapped her arms around herself. “Please leave.”

      He frowned. “With your ankle—”

      I hate you so much right now. Just go.”

      He thought about arguing with her, but that seemed highly counterproductive. “Very well. Here is my card in case you change your mind. Bear in mind I live across town and will not be able to be here immediately regardless of what emergency might arise.”

      I do not need your help. Get out.”

      He set down the card and crossed to the door. He started to open it when she spoke again.

      Oh. Um… I really don’t want to ask but I don’t have a car and I don’t think a taxi is an option, so could you… um… give me a ride to my grandmother’s lawyer’s office in the morning? He’s doing the will reading. It’s important, or I wouldn’t ask.”

      He had absolutely no desire to do any such thing, but he had made a promise, and he did not give his word lightly. That was, of course, the reason Bennett had damned him into this. “Very well.”

      I… Thank you.”

      He stepped outside, giving the rain a glance as he took out his phone. He would spare nothing in telling Bennett just how he felt about all this, but he strongly suspected that the girl would not think to report her car’s accident or had the vehicle towed even after she got home.

      He would see to that as well. Completely helpless was looking more and more like the truth of her, for all she protested otherwise.

      She was sure she had a cold, and if Benny’s friend found out, he’d be sure to lecture her. She did her best not to sneeze on the drive over to the lawyer’s house, one even more uncomfortable than her trip to the funeral home and cemetery. Judas apparently didn’t think he needed to say anything at all after getting the address.

      Not that she wanted to talk. She didn’t. She had nothing to say to him after yesterday’s humiliation.

      She rubbed at her neck, not sure why the lawyer was going on and on about how fit her grandmother’s mind had been when she made her will. Amara knew she’d made it years ago, long before she got sick, and even when she was sick, she wasn’t addled. She knew everything, hadn’t ever lost sight of that. She just… wasted away in spite of her determination to stay.

      And that brings us to the actual terms of the will. She did include a letter for you, but she left it in the care of your brother.”

      What? Why leave me a letter but give it to Benny? She should have known better than that. Benny’s… Well, he’s sweet, but he’s irresponsible. And maybe when she made the will, he wasn’t in another country, but he is now. How am I supposed to get that letter from him?”

      I’m afraid she left me no instructions on that matter.”

      Amara sighed. Of course not. Grandma would have just said that was between her and her brother.

      Now, as for the terms of the will…” The lawyer took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and started to read. “‘I, Amara Ingrid Langford, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath all my remaining assets, my home and all moneys in my various accounts, all furniture and other miscellaneous items to my granddaughter, Amara Annette Langford. So long as she is living in my home, its doors should be open to her older brother, who knows he is expected to help maintain the property.’”

      Nothing for Benny? Really, Grandma?”

      “‘With regards to Bennett, dearest, if you can spare any resources for him, that is up to you, though given your brother’s carefree ways, I advise against putting him in charge of any money. His efforts at the stock market have never turned out nearly as well as he hoped they would. He’s such an optimistic boy, but I’m afraid he’s never quite seen reality as it should be. You as well lack discretion, which is why I would have preferred to leave financial matters in someone else’s hands.’”

      Amara balled her fists. She was not that bad with money. Neither was Benny. He just never admitted how much money he made to anyone.

      “‘Which brings me to the stipulation—’”

      Stipulation? What stipulation?”

      “‘Amara will get everything provided that she—’”

      Amara shook her head. Something was wrong with her ears. There was no way she’d heard what she just heard. “No. I can’t. How can that even be part of a will? That’s not legal. Grandma knew better. She knew I can’t. I’m not… that’s not possible.”

      Your grandmother was of sound mind when she made this will. I assure you it’s all legal and binding. If you do not fulfill her stipulation, the entire estate goes to the state. Not your brother or a charity, just the government.”

      Amara’s stomach rolled and she gagged, trying to control her reaction. Her head was pounding, and she could barely breathe. That couldn’t happen. Not Grandma’s sanctuary, not the house the Langfords lived in for generations. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. “No. That’s not even—Grandma would have known I can’t, and how can she even… She wouldn’t… Okay, she would, but she can’t. It’s not… I have to… I’m going to be sick.”

      Judas checked his watch again, not sure how much longer she’d be. She was just as stubborn as yesterday, refusing help for her ankle and sniffling as if she thought he couldn’t hear her. She hadn’t acknowledged him with more than a few words, either, not that he wanted to chit chat.

      Still, did it really take this long to read a will from someone who was at best upper middle class? Did this woman have hidden assets? It hardly seemed like it from what Bennett said. Though admittedly prone to exaggeration, he had spoken more than once of having to secretly supplement his grandmother and sister’s income so they did not face financial ruin. That was another reason why he wanted Judas to watch over her while he was gone.

      He looked over when he heard the door, and she stumbled out, looking paler than before and stumbling along the doorstep. He left the car and went to her, afraid she was about to fall down the stairs and injure herself.

      Careful. You will miss the step and—”

      There you are,” she said, pretty much throwing herself off the top step and down to him, holding onto him in a long, disconcerting embrace him. “Thank goodness you’re still here. Tell me this isn’t legal. This can’t possibly be legal.”

      He blinked, taking a step back and adjusting his glasses after narrowly avoiding the paper she’d almost shoved in his face after hugging him. He couldn’t possibly read it at that distance even were he not far-sighted.

      This is a far cry from yesterday’s reaction or even this morning’s. You did not greet my presence with anything close to enthusiasm. In fact, the words you used were—”

      I know what I said, and that—that was part the lousy day I had and the rest me being mad at my brother’s stupid assumption that I couldn’t manage on my own even if the only other family I had besides him is gone now. I am an adult, I’m capable of making my own decisions and my own mistakes, and I don’t need my big brother fussing over me from overseas. He’s off doing his war thing, and I’m not supposed to worry when he could die, but he gets to send his best friend here with a ridiculous promise to watch over me? You don’t even want to be here, so yeah, it’s upsetting, but it’s nothing compared to that.”

      He lifted the paper and read it over, frowning as he did. He could see why she would object to such a document, and the more he saw of his friend’s family, the more unsettling they were. True, he would not have expected much, knowing the man who’d insisted on befriending him more or less against his will, and his sister’s vehement reaction yesterday was something to behold, but this went well beyond any unreasonable behavior either of them had so far exhibited.

      I am not a lawyer.”

      I know that,” she said, putting her hand to her head and further distressing her hair. “Can someone really put that in as a condition of their will?”

      He took a breath and let it out. “I would say they couldn’t, except in some kind of comedic farce in a play or a film, not in reality. Yet as I said, I am not a lawyer, and I do not know for certain that it can’t be made a condition of a will. I’m certain most people would like to be able to exert this kind of control on those they consider their heirs—”

      Most people? That’s insane. That’s criminal. It’s borderline…” She put a hand to her mouth, struggling to calm herself. After a moment, she lowered her hand and faced him. “Since this man is my grandmother’s lawyer who supposedly made this document, he insists it’s legal. Only as you can see, I don’t have any allowance for getting another lawyer to look at it. I have a set monthly amount to cover the bills on the house, nothing else.”

      He nodded. “Yes, and since you quit your job to nurse your grandmother, you are currently unemployed which leaves you with no income and quite possibly no savings of your own. You didn’t answer that question yesterday.”

      She folded her arms over her chest. “Well, I don’t see how it is your business, but then… I did ask you for help with this. I just… No. I don’t have any savings. Grandma always said not to worry, but my idiot brother who is in another country on another continent got the power of attorney for her, so I had to use my money to get anything we needed and that ran out fast. She probably meant that she was leaving everything to me, but what good is that when her stipulation is… impossible?”

      You are infertile?”

      No. Maybe. I don’t—I’m not sure. I never tried before, but she knows that. Knew that. She knows there’s no one in my life like that, and it specifically says ‘provided she and her husband have a child within the year.’ How am I supposed to do that? I’m not married, and there’s no guarantee that even if I was, I’d have a kid by the end of the year. I don’t even think I could meet a guy by then. I’m… not very good at dating.”

      He had a feeling he knew exactly what her brother would say to this, and he also strongly suspected his friend knew the terms of his grandmother’s will when he extorted this promise from him to watch over his sister.

      Damn him. If Bennett came back from the war, he was a dead man.

      I believe I can cover the expense of a lawyer to verify the legality of the document.”

      She hugged him again, making him tense up. “Thank you. I swear I will pay you back as soon as I can, but if this is real… I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know what I can do.”

      Since the solution he had no doubt her brother intended had escaped her notice, he chose not to draw attention to that. “First, you must find out if the document can be valid. I think in this modern climate that people would find her terms… offensive at the very least, which may give you grounds to challenge it, but we would need the advice of an expert, which neither of us is.”

      Right. Um… I don’t remember what Benny told me you did for a living.”

      Knowing your brother, it was inaccurate anyway. Come. We should look into alternative, reputable lawyers.”

      She nodded numbly, starting to walk away and getting two steps before she fell and he had to catch her, her curses loud in his ear. He would have said something, but those gave way quickly to tears, and he found himself holding a sobbing girl with no idea what to do with her.

      1. Well, first off, I absolutely love the characters and their push-pull. I do find the timeframe somewhat problematic. There’s literally no way to ensure you conceive and give birth in that timeframe, though I suppose being pregnant would count. And adoptions usually take longer than that (and cost more money). She should have given them two years because sheer logistics mean it’s practically impossible for her to inherit.

        “Adopting a foster child can take 6 to 18 months. Adopting a newborn can take 2 to 7 years.” And it takes 6 months to be approved to foster. I think the only sure path would be simultaneously get approved to foster and take that adoption path while separately getting a marriage of convenience rolling.

        Aka, Grandma, this is not even close to a way to ensure your granddaughter’s happiness. Fostering is one of the most stressful difficult paths to parenting there is. But it’s the only one that’s fast enough unless she goes by way of artificial insemination, which usually takes about 6 months (60-70% of patients), because at least that doesn’t leave it up to chance with the “husband” she hasn’t got yet.

        :thinking:

        But overall, I really like the premise and wonder how they’ll overcome the obstacles, besides get married immediately obviously.

        1. These characters were very interesting in their dynamic, if… similar to others I’ve been writing lately. Eep.

          The timeframe isn’t the only improbable thing, I guess. I was told that a condition like that in a will would counter public policy so it would be considered void, though I wanted to explore how she’d come to a decision where she might just ask Judas to marry her for the sake of things.

          Except… between the time frame and the likely invalid nature of the will… this probably doesn’t work. I mean, I found a possible fix for the legality issue that is… well, kind of messed up (as in… her grandmother’s lawyer was looking to exploit her and talked her into that condition knowing that she’d have a hard time fulfilling it without someone to assist her quickly, which he’d try and use to marry her himself… but that doesn’t fix everything.)

          Though I do really like these two and the set up so far…

          (Also, there were scene breaks when I posted the comment. I have no idea why wordpress takes mine out.)

          1. I dunno. I think you’d have to be in HTML view and use hr (surrounded by angle brackets) unless you’ve got the rtf editor visible, in which case, you’d insert hr from the buttons.

            Well, you could always just leave it at she can’t afford to take it to court to get it thrown out and he’s similarly impoverished? I really like the idea, legalities aside. Or you know, just make that your one gimme and decide in this story they haven’t made that illegal / unusable yet.

            1. I guess I’ll have to see if trying to do it html keeps them in. Every time I use the button in rtf, it disappears. It’s very annoying.

              It was the first idea I was actually kind of thinking might go somewhere until I found out about the legal issue (I swear I’d seen it done before, but that was fiction, so…) I read up on it, and it said that wills could be thrown out if it countered someone’s ability to choose whether or not they got married. Courts do uphold ones where the person is disinherited if they marry someone of a certain religion (though some of those are in appeal) and also I think maybe someone could make a case that her grandmother was controlling her sexuality, which is a huge no today, so I did think about maybe setting it in the past instead (which could even be before IVF, which forces the hand even more while also negating the legal issue a bit because in those past times it was really expected that a young woman’s future was decided by who/if she married.)

              Though it complicates other things… including what I already wrote (because the car thing and stuff.)

              I’m still thinking… I’d like to find a way to make it work. I thought maybe… maybe I could even do a lighthearted story (well, aside from backstory, Judas’ dislike for people comes from his past) that was just romance, but I… I don’t think I can. I still get locked up by the idea of only doing it for the relationship and not having a separate plot.

    2. Okay, I decided to alter it to be set during World War II. Slightly historical, makes her brother’s actions make sense, allows for public policy to be in favor of the idea she should marry and pop out kids, and still keeps a lot that was there plus adds a bit, maybe.

      Also testing the breaks to see if I can make them work. (Html source says they’re there. We’ll see.)

      I don’t believe in curses,” Amara whispered, feeling another drop of rain pelt her head. She shivered and looked at her car in dismay. Yes, she’d parked on a hill, but she hadn’t expected the brakes to fail. She didn’t think that thing would move again, ever, not with how bent the front was from hitting the tree just above the curb.

      Thunder boomed overhead, lightning brightening the sky, and she jumped, almost thinking it would hit her.

      I feel cursed.” She took a deep breath and looked around. Since she was family, she’d been the last to leave the grave site, enduring all of the hugs and condolences from strangers she’d never met and suspected her grandmother hadn’t even liked. She didn’t see anyone else, not even the groundskeeper. She’d been assured they wouldn’t be intrusive during the services.

      Apparently that meant disappearing entirely after they were done.

      She sighed, looking down at her hands. She had her car keys and some tissues. This was a great day to leave her purse at home. Sure, she’d figured she wouldn’t need more at a funeral, but she did.

      She looked around again. Well, this place probably had an office of some kind, but she had no idea where it was. She had little choice but to start walking towards the entrance. Maybe she could flag someone down by the main road.

      She hadn’t gotten far when her foot caught on a rock. Her ankle twisted, and she went down, swearing in words her grandmother would have hated. She tried to move her foot and saw that the heel of her shoe—which wasn’t even that tall, she was by no means graceful, nor any kind of pin up girl—had just broken off. She groaned and tried to push herself back up, wincing as her skinned palms touched the pavement again.

      As soon as her ankle touched down, she cried out as the pain hit and fell back down. No. No putting weight on that again.

      She lowered her head and started to sob. She couldn’t help it. The pain, losing her grandmother, everything that had gone wrong today… She couldn’t stop the tears.

      She was still sitting there, crying, when a horn beeped at her, and she screamed, unable to do more than scoot back—not nearly fast enough for a car coming. The front bumper stopped just in front of her, and she heard the door open.

      Are you completely insane? I realize you are likely suffering from a great deal of grief, being at the cemetery, but that is no reason to sit in the middle of the road.”

      She laughed. She couldn’t help that, either. “Do you really think I want to be sitting here? The world is against me. Or I’m cursed. I don’t even know. First it rains during the funeral, then my car decides—just as I’m walking up to it and the last person here—that the brakes have failed and though I tried to catch the door handle, I couldn’t—it was on a hill and went too fast even for not being on—it hit a tree and I think it’s good and totaled. And there’s no one here, and so I was going to walk to the main road, but I tripped and broke my shoe. And twisted my ankle. So, yes, I am sitting in the road, but not because I want to.”

      The man came closer to her, looming over her like something out of a horror movie, like that one that Benny had dragged her to with the scary atmosphere and monsters that appeared out of nowhere from the shadows. Somehow that man had been more terrifying in black and white, though Benny had just found the whole thing funny. She’d hated it.

      She swallowed, looking up again. She was really in trouble now, wasn’t she?

      Bennett said you were accident prone—to be quite accurate, he said you were ‘completely helpless,’ but I did not believe him until now. It seemed impossible, and yet here you are, in the middle of the road, in the rain, with a twisted ankle and a broken shoe.”

      She frowned. “Wait. Benny—You know my brother? No, you don’t. He doesn’t like it when people call him ‘Bennett.’ It’s too stuffy like Grandfather was.”

      Agreed, your brother is hardly the sort one would call… formal. Irreverent might be a better description.”

      She blinked in the rain, staring up at the still looming figure, still feeling cursed. “Judy?”

      I see he informed you of that nickname. Call me that again, and I will leave you where you are, promise or no promise.”

      I…” She wasn’t sure what to think anymore. “You actually prefer Judas?”

      Since it is a name made famous by somehow who committed a grave betrayal, people expect that of someone named Judas, meaning they usually have no interest in interacting with me at all, which is to be preferred to my mind.”

      She was not expecting that as his reason. At all. Though she did understand him disliking the name her brother gave him. Most of Benny’s jokes were in poor taste.

      Honestly. You completely lack sense. Take the hand I offered you so that you may get up with my assistance. I am not carrying you.”

      She did. She just wanted to go home, after all. This day couldn’t get much worse.

      Benny asked you to do what now?”

      Judas took off his glasses, cleaning them on his handkerchief. For all the tales that Benny had told him of his sister, he had left out just how stubborn she was. If he’d thought it was difficult to get her into the car, it was even more so to get her out of it and to convince her to change out of her wet clothes. Though she’d worn no coat and her dress was soaked through, she hadn’t wanted to do anything about it until he explained everything, apparently.

      He exacted a promise from me that while he is overseas, I would watch over you and assist you in any way that might prove necessary. He felt that with your grandmother as ill as she was, you would need someone else to aid you. I only just learned that she had actually died, and the notice in the paper included the time and location of the services, though I did not find that information in time to be present for the funeral. Not that it would have been appropriate. I did not know her at all. For all Bennett’s threats to drag me over and introduce me to both of you, that never happened, since he has not yet been granted leave.”

      She sighed. “Nothing has been the same since Benny was drafted. I almost wish…”

      He’d been the one invalided out, not me?”

      Yes.” She winced. “I mean—that’s not—”

      You need not apologize,” Judas told her. He often thought the same. Bennett had people who wanted him home, needed him. Judas had no one who would care if he was alive or dead. “It is understandable you’d want your brother here, and as the injury that sent me home has healed, more or less, you would believe it better than the constant threat of death your brother faces.”

      She took a breath and let it out, looking at him. “Exactly what does my brother expect you to do? Babysit me? Because I don’t need that. I’m fine. Today was—it was a bad day. That’s all. You can go.”

      I will point out that you have yet to change out of your wet clothes—”

      I am not doing that with you in the house, pervert.”

      He folded his arms over his chest. “I will have you know that while the way that fabric clings to you leaves very little to the imagination as far as your general form goes, you look more like a drowned cat than anyone I would find attractive. Bennett may have misled you and told you that you were the most beautiful woman he knows, but one, he’s biased. Two, he says that to every woman he meets. I note your clothes only because I would be remiss in fulfilling my promise if you were to get sick now.”

      She wrapped her arms around herself. “Please leave.”

      He frowned. “With your ankle—”

      I hate you so much right now. Just go.”

      He thought about arguing with her, but that seemed highly counterproductive. “Very well. Here is my card in case you change your mind. Bear in mind I live across town and will not be able to be here immediately regardless of what emergency might arise.”

      I do not need your help. Get out.”

      He set down the card and crossed to the door. He started to open it when she spoke again.

      Oh. Um… I really don’t want to ask, but I don’t have a car, and I don’t think a taxi is an option, so could you… um… give me a ride to my grandmother’s lawyer’s office in the morning? He’s doing the will reading. It’s important, or I wouldn’t ask.”

      He had absolutely no desire to do any such thing, but he had made a promise, and he did not give his word lightly. That was, of course, the reason Bennett had damned him into this. “Very well.”

      I… Thank you.”

      He stepped outside, giving the rain a glance as he took out his keys. When he wrote Bennett, he would spare nothing in telling him just how he felt about all this. Judas stopped at the car door. He strongly suspected that the girl would not think to report her car’s accident or have the vehicle towed.

      He would see to that as well. Completely helpless was looking more and more like the truth of her, for all she protested otherwise.

      She was sure she had a cold, and if Benny’s friend found out, he’d be sure to lecture her. She did her best not to sneeze on the drive over to the lawyer’s office, one even more uncomfortable than her trip to the funeral home and cemetery. Judas apparently didn’t think he needed to say anything at all after getting the address from her.

      Not that she wanted to talk. She didn’t. She had nothing to say to him after yesterday’s humiliation.

      She rubbed at her neck, not sure why the lawyer was going on and on about how fit her grandmother’s mind had been when she made her will. Amara knew she’d made it years ago, long before she got sick, and even when she was sick, she wasn’t addled. She knew everything, hadn’t ever lost sight of that. She just… wasted away in spite of her determination to stay.

      And that brings us to the actual terms of the will. She did include a letter for you, but she left it in the care of your brother.”

      What? Why leave me a letter but give it to Benny? She should have known better than that. Benny’s… Well, he’s sweet, but he’s irresponsible. And maybe when she made the will, he wasn’t in another country, but he is now. How am I supposed to get that letter from him?”

      I’m afraid she left me no instructions on that matter.”

      Amara sighed. Of course not. Grandma would have just said that was between her and her brother.

      Now, as for the terms of the will…” The lawyer took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and started to read. “‘I, Amara Ingrid Langford, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath all my remaining assets, my home and all moneys in my various accounts, all furniture and other miscellaneous items to my granddaughter, Amara Annette Langford. So long as she is living in my home, its doors should be open to her older brother, who knows he is expected to help maintain the property.’”

      Nothing for Benny? Really, Grandma?”

      “‘With regards to Bennett, dearest, if you can spare any resources for him, that is up to you, though given your brother’s carefree ways, I advise against putting him in charge of any money. He’s such an optimistic boy, but I’m afraid he’s never quite seen reality as it should be. You as well lack discretion, which is why I would have preferred to leave financial matters in someone else’s hands. I believed that someone would be your husband, but as you have yet to marry, I must hope that you will rely on my lawyer’s advice until you do.’”

      Amara balled her fists. She was not that bad with money. Neither was Benny. He just never admitted how much money he made to anyone. She also didn’t need a husband to manage her money. She had done just fine with her money before she had to quit the diner to take care of her grandmother.

      “‘Which brings me to the stipulation—’”

      Stipulation? What stipulation?”

      “‘Amara will get everything provided that she—’”

      Amara shook her head. Something was wrong with her ears. There was no way she’d heard what she just heard. Parts of it had annoyed her, but this… this couldn’t be right. “No. I can’t. How can that even be part of a will? That’s not legal. Grandma knew better. She knew I can’t. I’m not… that’s not possible.”

      Your grandmother was of sound mind when she made this will. I assure you it’s all legal and binding. If you do not fulfill her stipulation, the entire estate goes to the state. Not your brother or a charity, just the government.”

      Amara’s stomach rolled and she gagged, trying to control her reaction. Her head was pounding, and she could barely breathe. That couldn’t happen. Not Grandma’s sanctuary, not the house the Langfords lived in for generations. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. “No. That’s not even—Grandma would have known I can’t, and how can she even… She wouldn’t… Okay, she would, but she can’t. It’s not… I have to… I’m going to be sick.”

      Judas checked his watch again, not sure how much longer she’d be. She was just as stubborn as yesterday, refusing help for her ankle and sniffling as if she thought he couldn’t hear her. She hadn’t acknowledged him with more than a few words, either, not that he wanted to engage in idle chatter.

      Still, did it really take this long to read a will from someone who was at best upper middle class? Did this woman have hidden assets? It hardly seemed like it from what Bennett said. Though admittedly prone to exaggeration, he had spoken more than once of having to secretly supplement his grandmother and sister’s income so they did not face financial ruin. That was another reason why he wanted Judas to watch over her while he was gone.

      He looked over when he heard the door, and she stumbled out, looking paler than before and stumbling along the doorstep. He left the car and went to her, afraid she was about to fall down the stairs and injure herself.

      Careful. You will miss the step and—”

      There you are,” she said, pretty much throwing herself off the top step and down to him, holding onto him in a long, disconcerting embrace. “Thank goodness you’re still here. Tell me this isn’t legal. This can’t possibly be legal.”

      He blinked, taking a step back and adjusting his glasses after narrowly avoiding the paper she’d almost shoved in his face after hugging him. He couldn’t possibly read it at that distance even were he not far-sighted.

      This is a far cry from yesterday’s reaction or even this morning’s. You did not greet my presence with anything close to enthusiasm. In fact, the words you used were—”

      I know what I said, and that—that was part the lousy day I had and the rest me being mad at my brother’s stupid assumption that I couldn’t manage on my own even if the only other family I had besides him is gone now. I am an adult, I’m capable of making my own decisions and my own mistakes, and I don’t need my big brother fussing over me from overseas. He’s off fighting a damned war, and I’m not supposed to worry when he could die, but he gets to send his best friend here with a ridiculous promise to watch over me? You don’t even want to be here, so yeah, it’s upsetting, but it’s nothing compared to that.”

      He lifted the paper and read it over, frowning as he did. He could see why she would object to such a document, and the more he saw of his friend’s family, the more unsettling they were. True, he would not have expected much, knowing the man who’d insisted on befriending him more or less against his will, and his sister’s vehement reaction yesterday was something to behold, but this went well beyond any unreasonable behavior either of them had so far exhibited.

      I am not a lawyer.”

      I know that,” she said, putting her hand to her head and further distressing her hair. “Can someone really put that in as a condition of their will?”

      He took a breath and let it out. “I would say they couldn’t, except in some kind of comedic farce in a play or a film, not in reality. Yet as I said, I am not a lawyer, and I do not know for certain that it can’t be made a condition of a will. I’m certain most people would like to be able to exert this kind of control on those they consider their heirs—”

      Most people? That’s insane. That’s criminal. It’s borderline…” She put a hand to her mouth, struggling to calm herself. After a moment, she lowered her hand and faced him. “Since this man is my grandmother’s lawyer who supposedly made this document, he insists it’s legal. Only as you can see, I don’t have any allowance for getting another lawyer to look at it. I have a set monthly amount to cover the bills on the house, nothing else.”

      He nodded. “Yes, and since you quit your job to nurse your grandmother, you are currently unemployed which leaves you with no income and quite possibly no savings of your own. You didn’t answer that question yesterday.”

      She folded her arms over her chest. “Well, I don’t see how it is your business, but then… I did ask you for help with this. I just… No. I don’t have any savings. Grandma always said not to worry, but my idiot brother who is in another country on another continent is the one with the power of attorney for her—I couldn’t be, I’m a woman, or some nonsense like that. I had to use my money to get anything we needed and that ran out fast. She probably figured she made it right when she left everything to me, but what good is that when her stipulation is… impossible?”

      You have reason to believe you are infertile?”

      No. Maybe. I don’t—I’m not sure. I never tried before, but she knows that. Knew that. She knows there’s no one in my life like that, and it specifically says ‘provided she marries within a year and has a child within two.’ How am I supposed to do that? I’m not married, and there’s no guarantee that even if I was, I’d have a baby by the end of the two years. I don’t even think I could meet a guy by then. I’m… not very good at dating.”

      He had a feeling he knew exactly what her brother would say to this, and he also strongly suspected his friend knew the terms of his grandmother’s will when he extorted this promise from him to watch over his sister.

      Damn him. If Bennett came back from the war, he was a dead man.

      I believe I can cover the expense of a lawyer to verify the legality of the document.”

      She hugged him again, making him tense up. “Thank you. I swear I will pay you back as soon as I can, but if this is real… I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know what I can do.”

      Since the solution he had no doubt her brother intended had escaped her notice, he chose not to draw attention to that. “First, you must find out if the document can be valid. I think in this modern climate that people would find her terms… offensive at the very least, which may give you grounds to challenge it, but we would need the advice of an expert, which neither of us is.”

      Right. Um… I don’t remember what Benny told me you did for a living.”

      Knowing your brother, it was inaccurate anyway. Come. We should look into alternative, reputable lawyers.”

      She nodded numbly, starting to walk away and getting two steps before she fell and he had to catch her, her curses loud in his ear. He would have said something, but those gave way quickly to tears, and he found himself holding a sobbing girl with no idea what to do with her.

      Judas looked over at her, and Amara swallowed, feeling anxious again. She hadn’t been able to calm down since her meeting with the lawyer. She hadn’t meant to cry again, but this whole situation was so overwhelming she hadn’t been able to help it. She didn’t understand how her grandmother could do this to her, and everything was such a mess.

      I’m not like this normally. I don’t care what Benny told you. I’m not.”

      Judas’ look made her want to shrivel up in her seat, and she wished she hadn’t said anything. She put a hand to her head and looked out the window.

      I don’t understand how she could think that a woman is incapable of thinking. She had to do so much after Grandfather died, but somehow I’m incapable of thinking for myself? Managing my own money? It’s like she’d somehow forgotten how things changed with the war. So many women work out of the house now and even if they don’t, they have to manage somehow. No, I couldn’t manage the victory garden, but just because I can’t keep a plant alive doesn’t mean I’m going to die without a man in my life. Grandma assumed that. Benny assumes that. I am so angry about it, and I’m also still grieving and worried and my ankle hurts and I have a cold and damn it, you were right, and I hate that you were right because it does make me seem helpless, but I’m not.”

      True. The state of affairs has altered considerably because of the war. I will not speculate on your level of intelligence or education. I will say you seem to be very emotional and not necessarily making the best decisions due to that—”

      Excuse me? How do you—”

      You have a cold because you refused to change clothes. That poor decision was made in my presence, so I am aware of that much. Also, you refused assistance for your ankle, which also is rather foolish. That said, nothing so far has convinced me that you are completely ignorant.”

      Amara closed her eyes and took a breath, forcing herself to calm down before letting it out. That didn’t help much. “You… Do you even know how to talk to people?”

      Yes, obviously, though I will agree I have never mastered the art of pleasing anyone with what I said. Your brother being an aberration of sorts in that respect—he often finds me amusing which no one else has done before. It’s not a skill I ever wanted or felt like cultivating. I did not care for anyone long before the war.”

      She sighed. “Look, I will be fine once I have settled the matter of this will, and when I have, then I will know that—Wait a minute. This isn’t the way to my house.”

      No, it is not.”

      She tried to control her temper. “Why are we not going to my house? If you think that I am going to yours or even to—”

      While I would have thought you’d be more inclined to assume we were headed for another lawyer’s office—goodness knows I have no interest in having you in my home—that is not our destination. This is.”

      He stopped the car, and she looked over at the hospital, wincing.

      I don’t—”

      Your ankle should be examined. You’ve fallen twice. You said it hurt. At this point, if you object, I will carry you inside.”

      With mortification, she remembered him carrying her to the car and shook her head. That was not happening again. Ever.

      No. I… I’ll manage.”

      You remain stubborn.” He sighed this time. “Very well.”

      1. So haven’t read yet, I’m babysitting a delivery but doesn’t look like you put in an & nbsp; (no space after ampersand) or an hr or even an empty open p tag, close p tag, so there’s nothing showing up because just whitespace always gets stripped beyond splitting paragraphs. Will read after done babysitting delivery.

        1. It doesn’t make sense that it would strip code that is < hr / > like it should be. That’s how it always works everywhere but here.

          So frustrating.

          I don’t mind if it cuts out the extra spacing, but there’s no reason for it to cut out the line, especially if I’ve put it in using its tools.

          And the way to get html in the reply is not very clear. I think it’s this

          <hr/>

          but I’m still testing.  I have no idea if that will actually work. Otherwise comments are just rich text and it strips the breaks so I may have to put in some ***** instead.

           

          1. testing


            testing

            Literally, all I did here was insert the horizontal line from the insert menu. I’ll have to troubleshoot later. ETA: Okay, it disappears on edit. The edit comment editor doesn’t do it right.

            But it works on the first time add. There’s something else too this editor breaks that way (tables). Sorry.

            1. It doesn’t seem to work when I add it from the button or from the drop down menu. It looks like it’s there if one looks at the html code. It shows on my screen up until I post, and then it’s just gone. So I guess… stars.
        1. This is more of a one time thing. He’s not usually the type to overrule someone’s opinions even if he disagrees with them. He just doesn’t want to fight her about getting treatment this time since she fell again. That, and last time she ignored him and got sick on top of her injury, so he was mostly trying to get her to believe he’d force the issue. He’s not really that way.  (He’s another one that doesn’t like being touched, so he’d much rather not touch her… which may get really awkward later if they do agree to marry each other.)

          He is nicer than he thinks and already genuinely worried about her, even if she confuses and frustrates him.

  2. any, any, “If the world bores you, why not construct it yourself? With your own hands, reconstruct the order, principles, and framework of the world.” — Reisi Munakata to Saruhiko Fushimi

    1. Well, okay, so they’re only talking about people who are actively doing this, but… it kind of fit?

      It seemed to want to be a part of a historical fiction, so… I did a bit on a work in progress…

      That man has absolutely no respect for decorum. For society. For the way this world works. No, I dare say he has no respect for anything at all.”

      Keane’s frustration was clearly getting the better of him, though O’Hallaran could hardly blame him. The steward was extremely proper, clinging to that propriety as though it was a shelter in of itself, and he was never meant to get caught up in the whirlwind that was Abernathy. Any of the Abernathys, actually. The youngest son took after his mother, who was affectionately known as a force of nature to all who met her and delighted in defying as much social convention as her position as a marchioness would allow her to do.

      Yes, well, you unfortunately crossed his path when he was bored, and a bored Abernathy is a dangerous thing.”

      Keane’s attention turned to him with clear contempt. “You condone this?”

      Unless you somehow forgot, I got my title by marriage. I’m a half-Irish by-blow. I’ve no respect for the so-called nobility or anything of the sort. I just don’t take it as far as any of their lot does. They’ve decided to change as much as they can, even if it’s just in their circle, accepting commoners and servants as friends and family, adopting anyone they please as theirs and challenging all social conventions as they do.”

      You refuse to participate, but you admire it.”

      O’Hallaran shrugged. “Can’t deny that I benefited from it, as much as they infuriate me at times. I see my adoptive mother more these days since my schedule is better. I don’t only go to her when I’ve gotten on the wrong side of my detective chief inspector and taken a beating. I don’t even have to worry about him now. I still get to work the only job I’m fit for on this side of the law thanks to Abernathy, who is about the only one who’d let an earl work as a copper. And I got to marry the woman I fell for in spite of myself. All and all, I owe them. Though don’t think I like that for a second. I don’t.”

      Keane shook his head. “I used to think I would not understand nobles because of the difference in status, but these days I believe it is simply because you are all insane.”

      O’Hallaran laughed. “Well, listen to you now. I’d almost think you might come to like us at this rate. There it is again—that strange Abernathy charm overcoming even deep-seated hatred.”

      Exactly what in my statement suggests I have any less contempt for nobles than I did before?” Keane asked with a frown. “Honestly, all you are doing is proving my point. Nobles are insane.”

      Agreed.”

      Keane frowned at him again, this time choosing to walk away in disgust. Abernathy would have enjoyed every minute of that conversation, O’Hallaran was sure of that. For his part, he felt like he’d actually had a breakthrough with his steward. After all, the man had finally admitted that he did, in fact, hate the nobility.

      And maybe that opinion wouldn’t change, but O’Hallaran had a feeling if anyone could do it, it would be an Abernathy. After all, they’d won him over, and that was no small thing.

        1. There is a lot of backstory here, too (this is actually from the fifth in a series, eep.) Sorry.

          Abernathy is at the center of the first three, him and the woman he ends up marrying, but his family’s very involved in them as well, from his parents who married counter a long-standing feud to his brother who resents him and the shadow of the other brother who died, plus the extended family brought in by his work, the other inspector who works under him and his wife who aids Abernathy’s mom at the shelter she runs for women in trouble. O’Hallaran’s adoptive mother is a lady doctor who works at the shelter. There’s also the medical examiner and his formerly estranged daughter, plus O’Hallaran, who started helping them and then took a case of his own where he met Verity and ended up marrying her and ascending to a title… which led to him needing a steward because he’s not interested in being a noble, he wants to stay a cop.

          So Keane gets hired as that steward, against his protests, and ends up in the middle of their investigation in more than one way. He’s another that has a terrible backstory, his past with nobles was far from pleasant. He hates them, but he has to work for them, so he is proper and polite to a fault (plus he’s the rational, emotionally distant type, too.)  He’s cynical enough not to believe that the times are changing even with relatively progressive people around him. Abernathy or his mother would likely topple social conventions if they could, him because he was bored, her because she’s always hated how women were treated. She had it better than most as the daughter of an earl who married a marquis, but she was still subject to mistreatment and actively fights against it as much as she can in the society she’s in.

          Keane’s dry wit is fun to write in this world, especially with Abernathy playing off of him, and he really does think they’re all insane in that family, possibly with good reason.

    2. K fill to a K prompt… Except is crossover, and it is loosely tied, but this theory came to me and I decided to share it as part of the meeting to discuss how they’re going to fight Nagare.

      *************

      The green king made contact with me. He asked to form an alliance. When I refused, he grew angry. He intends to steal the Dresden Slate.”

      Another childish response.”

      What do you even know about it? You haven’t been dealing with Jungle like us. We’ve been the ones hunting them down and dealing with them, not you. You’re not clan. You’re just a Strain.”

      I have yet to see any conclusive evidence that being part of a clan has made any of you smarter to any significant degree,” Kent said, and Yata gaped at him while Fushimi laughed. “It seems to have done nothing to quell your impatience and recklessness, which is easily countered if one can plan on your rash behavior.”

      You little—”

      I don’t like to use my… abilities, but I assure you if you lose your temper now, I will, and it will not be pleasant for you. I think something worse than the time I made Ikkyu three times his size is in order.”

      Ikki shuddered. “Don’t do that again, Ken. Please. I still have nightmares.”

      Can we get back to the point?” Munakata asked, pushing up his glasses. “If the green king does intend to come after the Slate, we will have to defend it.”

      Yes, exactly. That is what I wanted to discuss. I believe I’ve come up with a plan that will allow us to protect the Slate and defeat the green king.”

      That seems arrogant of you,” Kent observed, and the Silver King blinked, looking over at him. “Don’t bother with false naivete. Or are you all truly idiots and none of you has considered the possibility that the Slate wants the green king to free it?”

      It’s not like you to think of it as a sentient being,” Ikki said. “Damn, you said that, and I’m scared as hell because you… you wouldn’t say something like that without reason.”

      The Silver King frowned. “Well, it is true that Hisui’s stated purpose is to release the Slate’s full potential, but why would you believe the Slate wanted that?”

      I am curious as well,” Munakata said. “I believe I can guess at some of your reasons, but I would hear them all.”

      Very well.” Kent rose and stood between the stage and the chairs. “First, you will all agree that there is some form of ‘sentience’ to this Slate. You have all spoken of being ‘chosen’ by the Slate, have you not?”

      Three nods came, some more reluctant than others.

      Then, holding to that supposition, why would the Slate chose someone like Nagare Hisui? According to the records of his age at the time he was first known to have become the green king—”

      Hold on,” Kusanagi said. “How did you get access to all of this information, anyway?”

      Kent looked over at Waka. The other man smiled thinly. “I had access to nearly everything in the Gold Clan before my retirement. As that oath was never one I wanted to take in the first place, I saw no reason to abide by it after I was gone. I did not spread the truth to everyone I met, but it would have been foolish to withhold it from Kent, who was working tirelessly to understand his condition and Ikki’s.”

      I didn’t believe it at first, but we are well past that point now,” Kent said. “If I may continue…?”

      Fine by me. I just wanted to be clear on the source.”

      Again, Nagare Hisui’s age at the time of his selection as green king is something difficult to understand. While Miss Kushina is quite capable and mature for her age, Nagare Hisui is very much the opposite. The way he created a game as a means to recruit members, trading lives and other crimes for points… that is not the work of a mature person, but a child.”

      I could not agree more,” Munakata said. “However, this is a very dangerous child.”

      That is not in dispute. Green is called the king of change, and he may well see this as his role, his purpose, to bring about the end of an era. Nevertheless, his childish way of doing so ensures he does not comprehend the true outcome of his actions, the implications and the end results. Specter Four and HOMRA have been subduing dangerous Strains for years now, but when the Slate is liberated, everyone will have that kind of power. Even those who think the best of humanity—and I am not one of them—would agree that granting everyone such power is a disaster.”

      That doesn’t mean the Slate is using him to do it.”

      Perhaps not on its own, but consider—why would the Slate choose someone as deranged as the last Colorless King?”

      Silence fell over the room.

      Kent adjusted his glasses. “Yes, that is what I thought. No one has a good answer to that, either. I have given the matter consideration, and it makes little sense outside of the idea that the Slate was trying to engineer its freedom.”

      We don’t know what the Colorless King was originally like. By the time I confronted him, he had already taken over so many bodies and assimilated their personalities so that his original persona was gone. He could have been a good person.”

      Does a good person take over someone else’s body in the first place?”

      The Silver King winced. “I suppose that does seem rather… bad.”

      Munakata nodded. “Even if at first it started mischievous, it quickly escalated to malicious.”

      We can go further back than that choice as well,” Kent said. “Think about how long it took for the present blue king to be chosen. That long without the king designated to keep order. Strains were out of control even with the rise of the Red King, Suoh, but that, too, took years from the death of Kugutsu. It is entirely possible that gap was allowed in order to increase the population of Strains and weaken the position of the other kings. Recall that there were only two other kings functioning at that point—green was still a child, gray is believed lost in Kugutsu as well, and Silver was up in the sky refusing to have anything to do with the world below. That left only the aging Gold King and the Colorless King to stand against the Slate. Had that situation continued, the Slate could already have been liberated by this point.”

      Yeah, but the Slate chose Mikoto and that jerk, so it never happened.”

      Kent nodded. “Yet consider the endless deadlock of red versus blue. Those clans have been in opposition from the start. That did not begin with Munakata and Suoh, nor did it even start with Hibari and Kugutsu. By choosing a new king for each side—and making them famously stubborn men—the eventual clash between them was inevitable. The Colorless King used that to weaken them to try and take them over, but the Silver King drew him into the middle for Suoh to kill and in turn be killed himself.”

      Well, now that’s not—”

      You did hit me back with your umbrella. I have often wondered if that was because you were fighting for control with the Colorless King or if you thought I would not do what you wanted and kill the Colorless King. While it is true I would have considered alternatives to such an act, I did understand that the Colorless King was capable of changing bodies and a great threat to everyone. In such a case, due process would not have been an option. If I had been closer, I could have been the one to act, not Suoh, and it would not have meant a Damocles down.”

      I… Yes, that is true. It could have gone differently.”

      Kent shook his head. “At any rate, any plan to keep custody of the Slate may already be doomed to failure simply because the source of your power is actively working against all of you.”

      Gee, you’re a lot of fun at parties, aren’t you?”

      He’s hilarious. You just have to get him drunk first.”

      No, Ikkyu, you just think everything is funny when you are drunk. I still have no sense of humor.” Kent said, returning to his seat.

      Forget about senses of humor or parties. If you’re right about this…” Kusanagi drew in a breath and let it out, shaking his head. “That does put one hell of a damper on things.”

      We still have to try,” Anna said with determination. “We cannot allow Nagare to have the Slate.”

      Agreed,” Munakata said. “If the green king liberates the Slate, the consequences will be catastrophic. That is not what any of us wants. However, I also agree that we may be up against an opponent greater than Nagare Hisui.”

      I have a plan that should allow us to fend off his attack,” the Silver King said. “I know a great deal of Nagare Hisui’s abilities because of his attack on the Gold King. The lieutenant shared that information with me.”

      He outlined his plan, explaining everyone’s roles in it for the three clans.

      Shin frowned. “So, what, you’re sitting this one out, Kent?”

      Kent leaned back against the wall. “I do not know that I will be of any use.”

      Spoken like a true traitor. Did Jungle want you to sabotage us with that talk or what?”

      You are exceedingly tedious.” Kent was actually tempted to make that one feel some consequence to his words. “My ability functions not unlike how the Silver King described to you all of Hisui. It can be incredibly powerful for a very short time. As long as I can do the calculations to manipulate the world around me, I can do nearly anything, but it takes a physical toll that makes further calculations impossible and leaves me exhausted enough to sleep for days.”

      Very true. I had to spend three days as fat Ikki because Ken passed out and couldn’t undo what he’d done to me.” Ikki frowned. “It’s not funny. Don’t laugh. Come on. It was horrible. If he did it to you, you’d hate it, too. I mean, there are worse things he could do than make a guy fat. That’s adding mass. If you think about him subtracting—”

      Ikkyu. Enough.”

      Yeah,” Shin said. “No one wants to think about that.”

      Especially not me, which is why you will not have to fear my Strain ability being used to that purpose,” Kent said, disgusted. “This is… ridiculous.”

      I think it’s best we keep Kent and Waka as floaters who would go where they’re needed most. Remember, green’s plan will be to exhaust us. We need to keep our strength up and exhaust them.”

      Kent grimaced. Waka put a hand on his shoulder.

      If their plan works, you and I will not be needed at all.”

      That, Kent thought, was no consolation. “Will you still blame green if you are?”

      I will blame Hisui. I can separate the actions of one person from those of all, even if I felt no inclination to stay with the Gold Clan after my father died.”

      That was different.”

      Agreed.”

      1. Well, it’s interesting. I’m not sure I agree, though it all seems in character for Kent to feel that way.

        Nagare is always unfailingly polite and calm, one of the most interesting things about him, and just because he used an impersonal app to gamify and therefore massively spread his clan’s reach in a way very few would notice, I don’t think it is childish. It’s actually a really smart way to build up a clan in secret when meeting people in person wasn’t even very viable yet. (His viewing the Gold King as the big boss might count as childish, but it wasn’t an inappropriate metaphor.) Additionally, he’s not even remotely deranged. He’s coolheaded and ruthless in advancing his very logical goals. Even if it’s not a good goal, he has every reason to think it is.

        And the Slate chooses the King who best embodies the aura (thus Anna couldn’t become Blue King). It has no desire to force itself upon everything. I think Seven Stories made pretty clear that it just wants to make everyone who taps into its power happy and fulfill their wishes. Which probably got kicked off pretty strong by Weismann’s original wish to make everyone happy via clans and a place to belong.

        Red is violence and protection and those outside society. Blue is order and rules and society. They are opposites because of what they embody, not because of any nefarious plan. And Silver is eternity and unchanging, just as Green is change. They’re opposites because of what they embody. Nagare could have chosen to express change in some other way, but that’s the one he did. He was also at the heart of the Damocles Down and dead completely if the Slate hadn’t intervened, so there is an element of the need creating Kings and Strains. Neko became a Strain there as well, and it saved her life thereby.

        Of course, all this may be an AU element if it’s true, in which case everything I said is utterly irrelevant. If it’s canon compliant, I think the conspiracy theory and condescension fits Kent’s personality thus far in the story, but it’s got a lot of bias mixed up in it that I think is clouding his thinking.

  3. any, any, “‘I’m not myself,’ she offered, guiltily. He smiled. ‘You can never say that. You’re just a piece of yourself right now that you don’t like’.” — Jodi Lynn Anderson, Tiger Lily

    1. Again with a scene from a different story I will probably never write… So much dark backstory again…

      Quit looking at me like that. You can hate me. You should hate me, I hate myself, but that stare… Stop looking at me like… like I’m still some puzzle you can’t figure out.”

      He watched her, tilting his head as he did. He had to admit—she was. From their first awkward interactions to now, with her admission that clarified the odd sense of familiarity to her features, he had never understood her. He didn’t grasp basic social nuances most of the time, and he still failed to comprehend how so many had chosen to overlook things he knew as fact and accept a flimsy fabrication that in no way explained what had happened to him. That reaction had convinced him there was no point in socializing or attempting to understand humanity. He never would, not after they had chosen to accept the things done to him. Withdrawing from others was practical.

      Then she had come along and disrupted many preconceived notions.

      Explain to me why hate for human weakness would ever be worth wasting my time on.”

      She blinked, staring at him. “What?”

      You refuse to forgive yourself for your actions as a child when any reasonable person would know that you were motivated by fear. Your own fight or flight reflex was at work. You ran.”

      She winced, rubbing at her cheek as tears rolled down. “Don’t be kind about it. That… My father destroyed your life. He hurt you… and he… he was a monster… he… You were the only one that lived, the one that stood up to him… and I… I lied and said I never saw anything…”

      He looked away, taking a breath as he tried not to recall those memories. If he hated anyone, it was the ones who had looked at the evidence and somehow still believed her father’s version of the facts. True, his own was unclear, confused by injuries and the drugs they could not prove he’d been given. He would never be certain if he could have fought off the attack if he had not been drugged, but as it was, he’d been unable to run, unable to move properly, unable to defend against any of it.

      He didn’t even remember seeing her. She admitted to running when it looked like her father was going to kill him, and that… that part he understood. The reactions of the others, the ones who had taken the word of a sadist over the clear evidence in front of them… That he did not.

      Your statement is erroneous.”

      No. I did that. I admit it. I’m not—”

      When you ran from him, you were not silent. You denounced your father’s actions as well as the police force and the judicial system that let him free after my trial. Your letter to the press led to an actual investigation. They found his other victims because of what you did. In that sense, you also stood up to him.” A glance back in her direction showed she was already crying again. He did not know what to do with tears. He found himself reaching out a hand anyway. “I… I never blamed you for what he did, nor for the trial’s inexplicable outcome. Yes, they said I was a liar and much worse and I still feel lingering effects from the… the torture he inflicted on me that weekend, but I never…”

      You really don’t understand people at all,” his professor said, laughing as he ruffled his hair. “Such a genius everywhere else, but when it comes to us humans… you are so incredibly naive.”

      He reached up to push away the hand, not sure why the man felt it right to touch him. “Humans are not worth understanding.”

      Isn’t that the truth?”

      He pulled back, and she was the one staring this time. He couldn’t find words to explain that moment, though of all that had happened that weekend, it was the most innocent. He’d gone to his teacher for additional lessons, never imagining that the experiment that man had in mind was to see how much pain he could inflict.

      I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” she said. “Your… acceptance.”

      He shook his head. “You are the one who will not forgive herself. I bear no grudges. There is no point in them. The sheer irrational nature of what confronted me after that… I will never understand it, but I have never been… excessively emotional. I did not want revenge. I recognized that justice was… impossible. I chose not to have anything to do with anyone until now. You… are actually the first person to show me that there was any value to interacting with others.”

      Me?”

      He nodded. “Flawed as you are, you show true kindness to everyone, not just me in some useless attempt at redemption. You are liked and welcomed by all in this town. It is true they do still whisper and wonder why you waste your time with me, but you have ‘won’ them all over, as I believe the expression goes.”

      I… No. I’m not good. I just…”

      Whatever your intentions in coming here, in gaining employment where you and I had frequent contact, you did not hold to a pretense with anyone else. You are as at ease with children as you are adults, and even animals seem to hold fondness towards you. The only one who dislikes you is you.”

      She wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his chest as she sniffled. “I wasn’t that young. You keep saying that being a child excuses it, but I… I thought I was so grown up until that day. I handled my parents’ divorce better than the other kids my age, I read books they called ‘college’ level, and I was starting to figure out makeup, too. Everyone said I was so mature… and then… I didn’t mind when he forgot me, when he didn’t even know I was there for the weekend. I hated him in that stupid way kids do back then, back before I knew what he was to truly hate him. And still, when I heard those noises and went downstairs, when I saw… I turned and ran and hid… I lied when they asked if I saw or heard anything… You shouldn’t forgive me. I knew…. I knew better. I knew it wouldn’t end if I hid, but I hid anyway, covered my ears and cried like I was five, not thirteen going on thirty.”

      He frowned. Her words were starting to confuse him again. Still, that last part was not important. “At eighteen, I was no better.”

      She looked up at him. “No, you—”

      I have had years since then to reconsider many of the things your father said to me when I was in his class and in the additional teaching sessions we had before that day I went to his home. Even our conversation that day, when it began… It is clear to me now that he had singled me out for my lack of understanding or even interest in social interaction. He made several comments that now I see as revelations of his intentions, but before then… I didn’t see it until it was too late. I’d already accepted the drink with the drugs, and I couldn’t fight.” He grimaced. That much was more than he needed to share. “I simply mean that age is not… the only factor in determining sense or even the comprehension of danger. If we want to go further… I still have no understanding of humanity. It is true I decided I did not wish it, not after that farce of a trial, but… I do not believe you should judge yourself so harshly based only upon your age.”

      She sighed. “I think it might have been easier if you’d hated me.”

      You are confusing me again.”

      I thought… your forgiveness was impossible, and I told myself not to expect it, but now… I want even more than that… and I know… that I really don’t deserve.”

      It is my understanding he did actually turn on you later, hurt you on several occasions before you were able to escape him. It is not sensible, but if you feel you must be punished for that inaction ten years ago, why do you need more than what he already did?”

      Because…” Her voice was a low, trembling whisper. “I love you.”

      1. Awwww! Yes, good, just confront her relentlessly with the truth that her self-loathing is unwarranted. That’s always such a hard thing to accept.

        1. Yeah, it is definitely hard to get over the self-loathing. And she blames herself for a lot that’s not her fault, since she thinks not speaking up allowed her father to get away with not only what he did to the man she now loves but also others, since he was only her father’s first victim and he started killing after that. She believes that if she’d spoken up, her evidence could have stopped that, so she hasn’t been able to forgive herself since that day.

          He’s a very logical person and doesn’t see the point in blaming her, especially since it might not have changed anything if she had spoken up back then. Plus while it’s not entirely clear here, he’s in love with her, too. He just doesn’t articulate it or think about it because the emotion is foreign to him.

          These two… I’ve been quite fond of their pairing and keep using their basic archetypes in several fics… Haven’t finished any of them, but my brain keeps finding new scenarios for them to play out anyway.

    2. And… this got convoluted.

      *************

      Amara put a hand to her head, fighting the pain. She must have had far too much to drink last night. She didn’t even like bourbon, but her grandfather had the supposed good stuff, and she was in such a bad mood she’d figured she needed it. She knew that was stupid, but she didn’t know what else to do.

      Wait. Why was she awake again? She wanted to go back to sleep. She felt terrible.

      The phone rang again, and she jumped with a curse. Having it moved to her bedroom was a very bad idea, but she’d thought it made sense at the time. She reached over and picked it up. “Hello?”

      You just woke, didn’t you?”

      Oh. Judas. I… Yes. I did. And I feel awful at the moment. I won’t lie. My head is pounding and I think I just want to go back to sleep.”

      That might be wise.”

      She swallowed. Something was off about his voice, even for being on the telephone. “I… Um… Did I do something terrible last night? I don’t remember, but I feel like I must have. I never drink, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I did.”

      No.”

      She rubbed her forehead. “Are you sure? Because you don’t sound like I was… You sound like I did so something wrong. It’s not even your frustrated with my lack of self-preservation voice. It’s… you’re angry. And disgusted. What did I do?”

      I said one word. You are exaggerating. Go back to bed. I only called to see how you were and inform you I would not be coming today. As you are deservedly the worse for wear after your excessive alcohol consumption last night, I will leave you be. Goodbye.”

      He hung up, and she held onto the phone, tempted to cry. She didn’t remember, and her head ached, but she was sure, so sure, she’d done something stupid. He didn’t get angry for no reason. Even as distant as he could be, he wasn’t the sort to be cruel.

      What had she done?

      She laid back against the pillow. Would she remember any better if her head cleared?

      She closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep. Maybe if she napped, she’d feel better and she could start to sort out what she might actually have done. Then she could try and fix it. She closed her eyes and curled up on her side, doing her best to doze off again. She hummed a little, and then sat bolt up in bed.

      No. She hadn’t…

      She had.

      She had.

      She’d honestly been trying to work herself up to telling Judas that she was attracted to him, had been since their dance, but then she got the decision about the court case and… She almost smacked herself. How could she have thought that was the answer?

      Not that… well, she’d been trying to find a way to tell Judas they should date, not just be stuck together because of his promise to Benny, but that wasn’t the same as deciding he was the solution to this mess with the will. Sure, if they ended up liking each other enough that dating felt good for a change, then maybe they could do the marriage thing, if they were already working out and liking each other and… and in love.

      Only she hadn’t said that part, had she? She’d said he should marry her, but not because she thought maybe she’d started to like him as something more than her older brother’s friend who was helping her. He… She hadn’t even been willing to call him her friend until a few days ago. What else would he think when he heard her ask that but that she only wanted it for the inheritance?

      She picked the phone back up, needing to apologize. She turned the dial for his number, grateful that their city had converted to that system before the war started. She didn’t want some operator hearing this conversation.

      What?”

      Judas, it’s me. I’m sorry. I remembered a bit of last night and I need to apologize and I—”

      We have nothing to discuss.”

      No, we really do because I wasn’t—I was drunk, I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I didn’t say—”

      What you said was more than sufficient. And we need not speak further of anything. I assure you of that much. Now go back to sleep if you can. You will regret it if you don’t.”

      No, Judas, please listen to me. I need to—”

      Hello, there, beautiful.”

      She almost dropped the phone. “Benny? What? How? Why are you at Judas’ house instead of at home? You… Is this a trick?”

      No trick, my lovely sister. I wanted to surprise you, but Jude tells me I shouldn’t. You were drinking. And I missed it. What a pity. I think you’d be a cute drunk.”

      No. Not at all. I was terrible. Judas knows I was. I hate myself for it. I just—can you make him get back on the line so I can apologize to him? Please?”

      Too late for that. He walked out the door soon as I got on the line. Something about work? Anyway, do you think maybe you could come here and get me? I was kind of counting on him bringing me over for that surprise, and since he left, I have no transportation.”

      You are so thoughtless. I have a hangover, and I would love to leave you where you are except I haven’t seen you in months and thought you were dead and… Fine. I’m coming to get you, but you… You… Damn it, Benny.”

      Don’t cry. It’s good. I’m home. I’m safe. My timing’s not great, but I’m home for good. Even if the war drags on another year or more… I’m done. I’m out. It’s over for me. Promise.”

      Benny…”

      Oh, sweetheart. Please don’t cry. Here. I’ll see if—ah, I knew you hadn’t abandoned me, Jude. Take me to my sister, please. She’s so happy she’s crying, so she shouldn’t drive. I’ll be there soon, Amara. Just wait.”

      She nodded, hanging up again, feeling numb.

      ***************

      When the car stopped in front of the house, Amara opened the door and rushed out, needing to see her brother for herself. She had heard him, yes, but hearing him wasn’t the same, just like no amount of letters was like hearing him. She ran up to the door, and soon as he was out, he had her in his arms.

      Ah, you feel good. Such a sight for sore eyes, too. Funny thing about war—not a woman to be seen in the trenches.”

      Don’t be an idiot.”

      Benny laughed. “Well, I’ve been trying to lighten the mood a little. Jude’s not happy I’m home. Can you believe that?”

      Do not put words in my mouth. All I said was that it was foolish for you to try and surprise anyone, not just your sister but also me. We should have been informed you were returning so proper arrangements could be made. You are injured, and if you bled in my car, I have even more reasons never to forgive you again.”

      He says that, but he loves me,” Benny said, and Judas glared at him. “You don’t fool me for a second, you know. I am the brother you never had but always wanted.”

      I never had any desire for siblings. You are a good reason not to have any.”

      She swallowed. “Um, let’s get Benny inside, and then I would like to talk to you, Judas. I need to, and I know you don’t think I should, but I should, and if you—”

      I told you. There is nothing to discuss. Leave the matter alone. And you, Bennett, can also leave well enough alone, or I will make sure your wound goes septic. Now excuse me. I have work to do.” Judas got back in the car and slammed the door shut before pulling away in a hurry.

      Amara sighed. How was she going to explain anything if he wouldn’t talk to her?

      Benny leaned against her. “I see he hasn’t changed much. Funny, I kind of thought he would.”

      What?”

      You are all that is sunshine and good, you know. I thought… if anyone needed that, it was my friend Jude. You’d teach him how to eat with other people and how to dance and to love movie musicals and—”

      Stop it.” She shuddered, shaking her head as she started to walk away from him. “I’m not any of those things. And I can’t magically make Judas a happier person. I make him miserable. I… I wanted to see him happy, but I was stubborn and stupid and cowardly and managed to throw that chance away. Oh, maybe I got him to dance once, and I was going to ask him to go with me to the movies, but I didn’t. I just… irritated him and said the wrong thing like always because that’s what I do.”

      You being stubborn is not half the problem you think it is. You have to be stubborn in this world. You’re a woman, and women have to fight for more than any man does on any given day,” Benny said, putting his arm around her. “And saying the wrong thing isn’t always so bad. Sometimes the wrong thing is the right thing. Especially with Jude.”

      That makes no sense. I don’t even know why he puts up with you.”

      Oh, darling sister… Have you spent this much time with him and learned nothing? Jude isn’t going to say what he wants because he’s convinced he doesn’t deserve any of it. So even if he wants a family more than he knows how to say and even if he’s secretly pleased I didn’t die in the war, you won’t hear him say it. I have learned to say plenty of those things for him, and eventually he agrees, though it still takes him a while to admit it.”

      That…”

      I, on the other hand, am very upfront about what I want, and right now, that is a very, very long nap. So… help me inside, would you?”

      She nodded, still feeling completely out of sorts. Benny could laugh it off, but she couldn’t. Anyone would have been hurt by what she did, and she hated herself for it. She knew there were other, better ways. She should have used one of them instead.

      She should have done so many things differently, and she didn’t even know where to start in trying to make any of it right.

      1. Benny is a treasure. Jude is being terrible. Anyone that assumes when someone says they need to say something that they know what it is and the other should shut up is being terrible. I’ll forgive him later, but right now, someone should wring his neck.

        1. Benny is rather fun and lighthearted. He’s nice, too, and sweet. Judas is… withdrawing and throwing up walls to try and protect himself. He’s afraid of hearing her apology… because he both wants it and fears it. He’s actually had his hopes crushed very painfully before (he thought he was getting out of an abusive orphanage only to find that the person who adopted him worked for the orphanage and continued to abuse him after he was adopted. So he is afraid of caring for someone and of hoping, and he didn’t want to hear her apology because he’s afraid to believe her.) He should listen, he needs to, and he shouldn’t have assumed he knew what she would say or not listened to it. I just… know all these things about his past so I can’t hate him for that…
          1. I definitely don’t hate him for that. A lot of my favorites are not nice people, except to those they love and sometimes still… I’m just like, dude. Pull yourself together. Because I’m like that. I yell at fictional characters. It’s a sign of affection.

    3. Um… well, this isn’t quite that, and this scene doesn’t do much plot wise because I held back pertinent explanations, but… I have already kind of established that for lack of a better term, Kent is Waka’s second, though their dynamics are a bit… different from some others.

      **********

      You seem… out of sorts.”

      Waka’s lips curved with amusement. “Do I?”

      I suppose I am not the one anyone would expect to notice such things. And it is true that I mostly would not,” Kent said. “I find emotions are genuinely obstacles to true observation and practical results. One cannot basis anything on an emotion and find a verifiable fact. Emotions are subjective. I do not like it when I cannot properly categorize and catalog things. Math is appealing because it has constants. A formula can be applied and always have the same result. Emotions never do.”

      Waka nodded. “Yes, but even you can appreciate that emotions have their place in human existence.”

      If this is about—that’s not the issue we are discussing. You can attempt to turn the conversation to my emotions, but it is yours we began to discuss.”

      Waka nodded. “That it is.”

      If you will not speak of them, you need not waste our time. I know I cannot force you. I do not even know that I want to know. I have made the observation, and it is perhaps the duty of the researcher to see it through, but I am well aware that my skills do not extend toward any sort of… comfort, if that is what this situation actually requires.”

      Waka shook his head. “I am annoyed. Nothing more.”

      You are not the sort of person where ‘annoyance’ is a small thing.”

      Waka laughed, nodding in deference to the truth of that statement as well. “You and I are perhaps too alike. Or perhaps you are simply too intelligent.”

      Unlikely. On both suppositions. I am nowhere near as skilled or trained as you, though I seem to have some natural instincts and abilities that are… more advanced now than they were. I am not a leader, as you are, and while we are both tall, have brown hair, and wear glasses, we are not that similar in physical appearance, nor is it true our personalities are the same. You say nothing because a look can do so much more. I say nothing because I do not understand basic social interaction.”

      Modesty doesn’t become you.”

      And evasiveness is much of your nature.” Kent let out a breath. “The obvious reason would be Shin and Toma’s revelation of his mother’s state. Yet I think you are still bothered by your encounter with those strange friends of the youngest waitress.”

      She has a name, you know.”

      Again, an evasion. This is not about whether or not I remember the newest part-timer’s name. You have been in a mood since they came in that night.”

      Is that so?”

      Honestly, do you really think that I would begin this conversation willingly were it otherwise?”

      Waka smiled again. “Ah, I see. They sent you because you are the only one who is not terrified of me. That is not surprising. What is it they fear? That my frustration with our inability to affect the situation with Shin’s mother will cause them some kind of harm?”

      I believe they fear your ‘laser eyes.’”

      Waka did laugh then. “I see. You would not fear them because you do not believe in supernatural abilities.”

      I prefer to believe in what is verifiable and tested, but again, this is not about me. While it would be nice to blame that phenomenon that night on dirty glasses or excessive fatigue, I was not the only one who saw it. The girls were both unsettled by the movement of the walls, though neither of them caught the arcing light.” Kent adjusted his glasses. “That’s it, isn’t it? You had to use that to end the illusion, and you’re angry about it.”

      I could have found another way to end it.” Waka had not been pleased to find old instincts at work, pulling on what was left of him of the power of the gold king, using it to cut through the Strain’s illusion. “It irritates me to use such methods.”

      Yes, I can see why they’d have little appeal. Their unnatural nature is… abhorrent.”

      That is why you have no wish to draw upon them.”

      Kent grimaced. “Stop making this conversation about me. What do you intend to do about the girl’s friends?”

      I have the word of the Silver King that he will not return. Anything that happens after that will be determined by whether or not he keeps his word.”

      Kent nodded. “And Shin?”

      I did what I could to convince the red clan to intercede. The Red King already wanted to, but it will still depend on Shin.”

      Kent pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why do so many important decisions always come down to such stubborn idiots?”

      You yourself are quite stubborn.”

      Have you been talking to my parents lately?”

      Now Waka was tempted to laugh for a different reason. “They did suggest that I remind you that an arranged marriage is a rather logical solution to your problem.”

      Twenty-five years they spend telling me that my genetic match will find me when it is time for procreation and now all of a sudden I need an arranged marriage? That is their own mortality talking nothing more. They are both advanced in age and suddenly feel I must settle because they may not live long enough to see any grandchildren from me if I do not do so soon. Ridiculous.” Kent closed his eyes, trying to release some of the tension that had overcome him. “And yet I envy them. They still get to have the world where logic and reason exist, where the absurd is not a part of our daily lives, the impossible happening all around us while idiots treat it as games and the very fabric of our existence is threatened.”

      Waka nodded. “This situation cannot last much longer, that is true. The stalemate will end, and the consequences for everyone might well be devastating.”

      1. Well, I can tell that Kent is opposed to the Green Clan’s stated goals of giving every human being the power of a King. Though I can’t say it’s illogical or unreasoned. I just massively disagree, seeing as it’s the Kings that are most unstable, not the clansmen. If it was just give everybody aura, I might be on board, tbh.

        1. At this point, Kent doesn’t actually know for certain they’re planning on releasing the Slate.  He and Waka have discussed that possibility, since Waka knows what the Gold King’s role was and that the Gold King is dead, so he’d be aware of the possibility.

          His main objection to Jungle is the way that most members believe it is a game and are willing to commit crimes for points. He considers that extremely irresponsible, and since most of green doesn’t know what Hisui is actually up to, then they’re all “idiotic” dupes for doing his dirty work for him.

          Though, that said, he would still hate the idea of the Slate being used to give everyone power. Kent favors logic and reason and order (he’d be a good fit for blue, really, but he’s green… eh…) He would see a world like that as pure chaos. He also doesn’t believe in the better nature of people, so he’d believe that people would abuse their power as soon as it was granted. While he understands natural selection, he’s actually a big softie who wouldn’t want that to happen to the world. I think, after a lot of consideration, both Kent and Waka would favor destroying the Slate.

          Then again, Waka hates the Slate because of what he went through, and Kent doesn’t like the fact that he himself has Strain abilites, so… that’s kind of understandable to them.

          I’ve always wanted some cool ability. Closest I come is being invisible to nearly everyone or looking younger than my age, which is only sometimes amusing.

          1. How Kent feels about powers though was pretty clear. He’d make a great blue. He’d make a terrible green. He does not represent change at all. But unless he goes to a King and becomes a clansman or becomes a King, he’s not going to pick up any aura, so he’s fine. Though strain power is great.

            I really need to finish catching up.

            1. Yeah, the Amnesia colors don’t line up as well with K colors outside of Shin. Ikki is actually so chaotic he’d probably be a good green (for the change thing) except he’s not really a good fit for this group of green with the video games. He’s got that silly side to him, but his games with Kent seem on a different level than that. Kent is definitely of blue disposition. Toma I’ve been giving a lot of thought to, too, as to where he’d fall with the K philosophies, and he… still eludes me. On the one hand, he’s red. His bonds are close (dangerously/insanely close) and he’s very protective. He also has some anger issues. Toma’s also very controlling, so for a while I joked with myself that he’d make a good Gold King (aside from his obvious issues.) He’s got a really good poker face and in three of the five routes minus one bad ending, you’d have no idea that he’s anything but a kind, sweet, older brother type figure, because that’s how he appears on the surface in Kent, Ikki, and Ukyo’s routes. His other side is only visible in his own route and Shin’s and one bad end in Ukyo’s. So he seems pretty nice, and caring and could be part of other clans, too. So I keep not knowing where exactly he fits. Ukyo has similar problems because of his dual personalities. He acts a lot like the evil Colorless King in parts, and he’s known as the Joker, so he’d fit that role in some sense, but I hesitate to place him there. Also, only his insane personality can fight, so I’m not really sure what role he’d have in the rest of this.  (Plus, admittedly, leaving Ukyo out is just plain my preference. I’d work in Sawa if I knew a good place for her and maybe Mine, and Toma should have a role, but he’s been fighting me on what it is.)

              In a sense, Waka is their “king,” and Kent is almost certainly his second. Toma would be the other possibility for that, since they leave him in charge of the cafe when they have their pool party with Waka. Ikki’s likely the third if Kent’s the second. Not sure he’d want that role of Toma was the second, though, and if Kent’s not the second, he’s the third. I did consider the possibilities of other Amnesia characters being kings (like I thought about Toma and Waka as Gold, Ukyo as Colorless, and Orion as Gray) and even the idea of what it might be like if Kent was the green king, but with green being change, that… really doesn’t seem to fit.

              Kent’s strain ability did… it’s kind of what I almost always use for him and superpowers… he can manipulate the world through math. It’s very… him, with his love of math.

              1. Yeah, if Munakata died before the Dresden down, then the Slate really might pick him as Blue King. So Gold is prosperity and everyone in the clan has their own natural abilities enhanced drastically, and Colorless Kings are the arbitrators. They can actually affect other Kings. I know Kuroh was daunted by any of the Kings when it came to fighting them, but oddly Yukari was not and there’s a side manga bit where Nagare actually said Yukari could kill him, so that could be what Ichigen put in the swords, or it could be part of Colorless being less rejected by other auras, or not sure. I’ve wondered if it was the sword that would allow Kuroh to kill a King or if it was because he was killing the Colorless King and you can kill a King of your own aura. It’s never fully explained.

                That said, Ukyo might actually be more green, but not really sure. Waka with his super protectiveness strikes me as Gray with its total defense and being second most influential clan in its time. Orion could also be gray, for sure.

                I don’t know the Amnesia characters well enough yet to keep speculating but it’s interesting. I’ll keep it in mind for sure.

                1. I could see that, but I really don’t want anything to happen to Munakata, so he’s safe, and Kent’s not likely to become the blue king. Though it might be interesting if I ever developed a second crossover where Kent was Scepter Four since he allies so well with the blue clan personality-wise. I have considered exploring Kent in a different color scheme before, but green being my favorite color (aside from K where I dislike most of that clan) I don’t mind that he’s green and it’s actually quite nice on him and his eyes… Sigh.

                  I did read one side story with the gold clan, but it didn’t explain much of what they were like, aside from the whole mask thing so no one member stood out. They spoke about the Gold King being the strongest and binding the Slate to his will, which was where I got the “controlling” part. I didn’t really think Toma was a good fit for that even if he’s yellow in Amnesia. And diamond.

                  I wondered about that with Kuroh since they made such a big deal later on about how only a king could kill a king (which wasn’t technically true because Hibari didn’t die at a king’s hands, either, though he probably did leave himself open to attack on purpose to stop his Damocles down. Also, they showed two attempts to kill Munakata with regular guns in Side Blue, so it does seem like they’re a bit inconsistent about how they handle that mythology because if it was common knowledge, then Nagare would never have bothered sending Douhan to kill Munakata… and it was common knowledge that Hibari was killed by his second.)

                  So maybe it is the swords?

                  I could see Waka as gray. He is very protective. I’d started with the idea he might be gold and Kent would become green, but delving more into the lore, I didn’t think either was right. I did keep Waka’s background as enduring attempts to bind him/make him gold’s successor, which is what some people would want most with green on the loose now.  I think I’ve found which direction to go, it’s just a matter of how best to do it now.

                  In some sense, since Ukyo is a catalyst, he’d seem like a good green, but his whole mess starts because he can’t let go, so he’s not exactly a force for change, either. He and Nhil ruin multiple worlds because he can’t move on and then goes insane. Then again, maybe he is, but why do they have to go ruining my favorite color like that? Ukyo can stick to purple.

                   

                  1. Yeah, there are important reasons the exceptions make sense, and Nagare could have killed Munakata potentially if he hadn’t fully figured out his aura, but he was one who really “saw it all” and hit the ground running. Anna could have been killed right after her birth as a king, so it makes sense. And after Nagare found it a losing proposition, he moved to other means of dealing with the other Kings, like using the Colorless King to indirectly kill Mikoto because he knew exactly what killing Totsuka or Kusanagi would do and told the guy to pick either. And it’s not common knowledge outside the clans that only kings can kill kings, and further, it’s notable that once your damocles is falling, you’re killable because the sanctum is gone.

                    So Kokujoji was the strongest because “prosperity”—whatever you are and do prospers and he used the Slate to basically make Japan prosper, which is why the Gold Clan runs so much of government behind the scenes and the Blue Clan is responsible for Strains entirely, so also got a lot of override power. I have no idea what Grey Clan did, only that it was second most influential and called Cathedral, and Red Clan runs the underworld basically and Colorless keeps all the other Kings and Clans in line, though Gold can and will exert his own influence to arbitrate if necessary while also respecting each other King’s domain. So Kokujoji “prospered” and additionally was the second chosen by the Slate and had the most understanding of it due to being there with the Weismanns and also his ability to control the Slate was the one thing you only find out in the side materials (the Christmas Weismanns one is where I did) that wasn’t given by the Slate. He exercises 5-element magic to control how “sealed” the Slate is, which is why it’s drastically less effective and more detrimental to Munakata to try to use the Slate’s own power to seal it. That’s a failing proposition out of the gate.

                    7 Stories says the Slate taps into the power of wishes, but there isn’t nearly enough info on the mechanics of what it’s doing.

                    And now I must go goodnight, though I meant to read/write more. This is just it for me.

                    1. Yeah, they did say something about how Munakata had taken control and put everything in order in Scepter 4 in four days after becoming king, and he just thought it was natural. He had his abilities under control and also read up on all the history he could as he reorganized things, so he wasn’t really vulnerable in the same way that Anna was there when she almost lost control of her powers and Nagare used that ability to try and kill her.

                      Still, even if not common knowledge outside of clans, Nagare was the green king and raised by the gray king, who should have known that. I think that’s still a bit of  a plot hole.

                      Right. When I was looking up the Dresden Slate for Kent’s talk about the patterns he was tracing and how he’d pinpointed one in Germany as well as Prague, I did read, I think in the K wiki, that the Gold King was an onomoyji. Which would explain his other abilities and how he could control the Slate to that degree. Hmm. (Interesting. In a couple of my AUs, that’s what the heroine is and how she sees Orion when he’s not visible to everyone else. My brain wants to run with this.) Though I did not actually read or want to read that Christmas story. It’s referenced, I think, in the one shot where Shiro has Christmas eve with Neko and Kuroh before the green king comes to take the slate, as they go to the Gold King’s old quarters and take out his nativity set. I just… really dislike Christmas fic and thought I was reading a different one, so I only read that one by mistake.

                      The Slate being tied to wishes is interesting, too. Especially from a crossover standpoint because Ikki’s “curse” in his eyes is the result of a wish and Kent thinks he made a terrible wish that came true (he said he wanted the heroine’s dog to go away so they could be alone just before the dog broke its leash and was hit by a car, and he was so guilty over that and how badly he screwed up trying to comfort her afterward he was sure she meant what she said when she said she hated him in her grief,) and the Ukyo’s wish… is what leads to a lot of problems on a lot of different worlds because he gets help from someone who has no business granting wishes. Someone did a tumblr post of all the guys’ wishes though not all of them are as devastating as the ones that forever altered lives like Ikki’s and Ukyo’s.

                      Sleep well. I will be up for a bit more. Have some stuff I’d like to write down and other things to do before bed.

                       

                    2. I don’t see how it’s a plot hole. Nagare didn’t know Munakata was a prodigy. He put in an attempt when the guy should’ve still been vulnerable and figured out he wasn’t.

                      The story entitled Christmas is not really a Christmas fic, the way you put it. The three are all working and at the end, they do stop and eat together I think, but they’re mostly not talking about the holiday, they’re talking about the Slate. And it’s pretty much the only canon I’ve got that actually gives any of the worldbuilding or background for the Slate, which is pretty useful. The next really useful piece didn’t come along until Seven Stories.

                      It’s not like the Blue Christmas one where Fushimi is a very grudging Santa or the one you just described. Even so, I get why the title might be offputting to you.

  4. any, any+/any, “Don’t be so vain to think that you ruined me, that you wrecked me, destroyed me. I am the only one who has the power to do that.” — Amanda Helm, “The Day I Learned That I was Broken”

    1. Well, this might not be the prompt, and this is… not original characters or anything, but these two kind of demanded it, so… I tried.

      Why are you still here?”

      There are plenty of reasons. Most of them, probably the most important one, died long before reaching her tongue, and she will not voice them. She knew she should, but she dared not say it in the face of this unreasonable anger.

      I broke my promise.”

      He snorted. “What promise? I don’t remember you making any.”

      I… I failed you. I wasn’t there when you needed me. Five years I was gone, and you have—”

      Don’t you dare say I suffered,” he snapped, closing in on her and backing her into the wall. With his unnatural strength, he can break her to pieces and she knows it. Her own abilities might not be enough to save her. “You want to take this all on yourself? For what? To make it so I feel less guilt and will suddenly be sane to lead all of you hopeful idiots to some kind of victory?”

      She swallowed. “That’s—”

      You all act like I’m this pathetic creature. That I deserve pity despite the blood covering my hands, how bathed I am in it daily, and you think there is forgiveness and redemption out there if I will only calm down and become sane. And they tasked you with that, with making me sane, so you feel guilty, but you still don’t see it, do you?”

      See what? How desperate he was? How he couldn’t sleep because of the ghosts in his head demanding vengeance? How he couldn’t see anything but revenge? How he tried so hard to bury down the good parts of himself and pretend they did not exist? That he called himself a monster even when he killed in self-defense or to protect the others?

      I see the boy I once knew pretending to be the man in front of me.”

      Oh, that’s rich,” he scoffed, getting all the way into her face, towering over her with implied menace in every movement, in the placement of all the parts of his body near hers. “Don’t you understand this? I chose this. Your leaving didn’t break me. His death, that of my uncle, all those soldiers and rats I’ve killed… That’s not what broke me. I did.”

      She shook her head, reaching up to touch his face. “No. You believe that because you think you had to, but you should never have had to bear this burden, and certainly not alone. I know I failed you, and don’t think I’m just saying that because they want me to fix you. I saw signs and didn’t confront them. And even before those signs, I was warned by your childhood friend. I didn’t believe him, and I still think he’s wrong. He didn’t understand what that was for you, but he is just as guilty of inaction as I am. As we all were. It should never have come to this because we should have acted long before that day. I should have. And I’m not asking you to forgive me.”

      You’re not? That’s amusing.”

      I want you to forgive yourself,” she said, and he stared at her. “You were a child who was fortunate to survive. You didn’t do anything wrong—and surviving should never have been the curse you think it is. Even if they asked you in their last moments to avenge them, they had no right to do that to you. If they’d lived, they’d have known how unreasonable that demand was of someone badly injured and traumatized, but they didn’t. They didn’t get to see all the damage they did, but I hope to hell they’d be ashamed of it if they did. And all those others who stand back, call you hope, and leave you drowning in despair… I am just as angry with them as I am with myself. Maybe you chose this because you saw no way of saving yourself, but that’s the thing… if you can’t see a way to save yourself… then we should have been there to help you find it. That is my failure, and that guilt I deserve.”

      I failed them all. I killed so many. How can you ask the impossible of me and tell me to forgive myself?”

      Because I love you, she thought, but that was no answer to give. Love didn’t make all his sins go away, and who was to say he even wanted that from her?

      I already know you have been punishing yourself since you survived the death of your family. How much longer must you atone for crimes that were not your own? Even the revenge they demand of you will not free you, and you have to know that, too. Half the time I don’t think you’re chasing that as much as you’re hoping someone will finally kill you and spare you the pain of going on. I… Selfishly, I don’t want that. I don’t want you to die.”

      Why would you want me alive as I am?”

      Well, that’s the thing.” She almost smiled at him. “I don’t want you like this. I want the you I know you can be, the one I knew… the one I still believe you will become. I want the you that doesn’t hate being alive… that doesn’t hate himself… or me.”

      Damn you. Why do you say these things to me? You pull at something close to hope and yet that teasing thread never materializes into more. Forgive myself. Forgive you. And then what? Pretend at being a civilized man when I am a monster?”

      That is your guilt talking. Your guilt and years and years of an idiot calling you a ‘boar’ instead of confronting his own emotions about anything. He cared about you but refused to admit it, so he antagonized you instead. What help was that? And is his constant desire for a worthy opponent to battle so different from what you did? He craves battle. You actually don’t. When you’re in the middle of it, you can fight stronger and more savagely than any other, but it scares you. It has for years. Does he have that fear? Maybe. He’d never admit to it, but you did. You are not some mindless monster. You even tried to justify this path as your choice so you could cope with it, but it isn’t you. It’s not something you ever wanted or should have to bear. I want to tell you to turn your back on it, to leave and make your own way, forget kingdoms and debts and just live.”

      You wish me to run?”

      I would gladly run with you if I thought either of us could live with that.” She shook her head. “We can’t. I know we can’t. Your sense of duty is greater than mine, but remember… your enemies are my enemies. I will be there with you. That is my chosen atonement for the mistakes that I made. Do not deny me that again.”

      If… if I allow these thoughts… if I go back to what I was… I fear it will finally, truly break me,” he whispered, anguish all over him. “I… I can’t.”

      She pulled him closer. “You can. Because this time, if you do break, you will not be alone. You will never be alone again.”

        1. It would take a lot to explain that I didn’t want to put in this bit of fic, and really, the whole thing is a mess with so many problematic elements, but somehow it’s still my current obsession, so I ended up writing it for them anyway.

          At least it’s kind of interesting even not knowing the characters…

          1. I know the feeling. Most of my obsessions right now have issues baked into canon, and yet…

            I’m still eyeing the prompts, just nothing’s biting me in the inspiration today.

  5. any, any, All we really want is to belong somewhere, even if that somewhere is in the middle of nowhere. – Samuel Decker Thompson

    1. Um… Okay, this is from the original source for my favorite character. I was just thinking of the normal end, when he leaves for London, and ended up doing this with them, so… um… yeah. I don’t know.

      I… I don’t understand,” he said, blinking in confusion and disbelief as he stared at the woman in front of him. “I know my last text said that I wanted to see you, but for you to be here, now… That is so impossible I fear I must have been exposed to a hallucinogen in the lab.”

      She smiled, shaking her head. “No, this is real. I… I wanted to see you, too.”

      He reached for her hand, aware his own was trembling slightly as he did. He didn’t understand. She had been so reluctant even to hug him when he was leaving. He knew, with her amnesia, that she didn’t remember all of their past interactions, nor would he actually expect her to return his feelings. Her changed behavior was not a sign of affection for him but of the amnesia itself.

      I… You barely made that promise to me before,” he whispered, feeling foolish as he did. “It seemed presumptuous to assume you’d miss me. Though… I didn’t think you’d be happy about me leaving, either. Still, of the two of us, the idea of me leaving seemed harder for me to bear than for you. I… I felt as though you might lose whatever feelings you did have for me by the time I returned. I was even afraid to leave. I needed you to lie, to say you’d miss me and that you’d want me to come back just so I could let go of you at the airport, but even then… I suppose I still doubted you. You said it wasn’t a lie, but I kept thinking the good between us could only be a dream.”

      She shook her head. “No. We were both stubborn and stupid and neither of us was willing to sacrifice a bit of our pride to admit what we really felt, not at first, and I held what you said against you for a long time, much longer than I should have, and I was a coward because I never admitted to my feelings when I had the chance to. I… I was lonely. Every day. I missed you. Shin was so annoyed he told me point blank to quit moping.”

      He is—”

      No, his words were the last push I needed. I saved up for a plane ticket, I got my passport, and I came here to see you. It was all I really wanted.” She winced, lowering her head. “You already know that my situation with my family is not… ideal. I… I was angrier than I should have been when my dog died and you were insensitive about it. You didn’t know, didn’t understand, that my dog was all I had. My parents weren’t there. I only had him to belong to, and I lost him. I lost what felt like anything, and I pushed you away when I really did want you close.”

      He frowned. “Why would you possibly want—”

      Because your way of thinking fascinated me from the day we met in that stupid class. I wanted to know more. And even when we fought, I still did. I kept on asking because I still wanted to know you. I wanted to understand you. I wanted… you to like me. That day that my friend asked you out and you turned her down… I wanted to ask you, too, but I was too afraid to say the truth, so I made something up and we ended up fighting again.”

      Yes, you slapped me when I expressed my opinion that day. I remember it.”

      She flushed. “I know. I… I wasn’t honest with you then. I didn’t admit that the person I said broke my heart was… you.”

      Me?” He shook his head. “How foolish, then. You know, of course, that I only said such a childish thing in response because I was jealous.”

      Her head jerked up in surprised. “No, I didn’t… you were?”

      He nodded. “Though at the time I did not realize that was what it was. I didn’t recognize the feeling. I… have little experience with such emotions, as you may well know by now.”

      She lowered her head again. “If we’d only been honest that day…”

      Yes.” He took her hand, getting her to look back up at him. “We had much to learn about communicating, but we can talk now. I would like that. I would like so much more than that, even. I should not say it.”

      She stepped forward to embrace him. “No, I want to hear it. I do. I… I should say what I started to say, too. I… was searching for somewhere to belong after my parents moved away. I thought starting university would be the answer, but it wasn’t. I clung to the familiar in my dog, but after I lost him… I was lost. And I didn’t… I didn’t feel like I belonged again until… until I lost my memory.”

      He frowned. “That does not make sense. You should have been confused and upset and completely lost. You shouldn’t have felt any sense of belonging.”

      I… I didn’t. Not to my apartment or the thousands of entries in my phone that I made so I didn’t feel alone—I put in the dentist and the pharmacy just to make it look like I knew people—or even at work or with childhood friends. I was lost at first, but I had you.” She smiled up at him even as her eyes seemed to fill with tears. “You helped me find my way without even knowing you were helping. Like suggesting I get a manual for work so I knew what my job was supposed to be before I went back to it. And with your mathbook you made for me, even if it wasn’t what I expected as a romantic gesture. You were thinking of me and my major. You protected me from that stranger who scared me. Actually, it was in something so small as just spending time with you at your house. We weren’t even doing things together, but we were so… comfortable we felt like a couple. Since you’ve been gone, that was missing even when we called and texted every day. I wanted it back. I wanted to be where you were. I… Even though I barely speak the language of this place, though I almost got lost on my way here and was completely overwhelmed and almost broke down and cried… Standing here now… I feel like I belong. I belong with you.”

      He wanted to embrace her tighter. She shouldn’t say such tempting things. “I would keep you with me forever.”

      You would?”

      Yes. I would marry you today if I could.” He touched her cheek, aware that by any standard dating process such words were being spoken too soon. All his research into relationships had shown him at least that much. “Ah, forgive me. I… That…”

      Yes.”

      What?”

      She grinned, wiping away at her tears. “Yes. I would marry you today and stay with you forever.”

        1. 🙂 These two are so cute together they’re so much fun to write. I just love the idea of her showing up and surprising him like that and him wanting to marry her on the spot… so they do end up eloping. He saw dating as a step towards marriage all along, and he told her that, and in the other ending he does give her “advance notice” that he wants to propose to her, so it seems fitting he’d ask (and his grand plans for his proposal going awry is canon, too, so… I could see him just blurting it out like he does, since he also does that in the good ending, sort of, right before his advance notice comment…)

          Sorry. I get carried away with these two. They just have a very sweet relationship once they both let go of their pride, though hers had a bit of help by her getting amnesia versus him actually softening and taking steps to change.

    2. I was just looking at this prompt again and reminded of this conversation I’d recently written, and it was fitting even as she’s still thinking about it in another scene.

      Ruby jerked awake, looking around in confusion. This room was another unfamiliar one, but she was almost used to that now. The sun was not quite poking through the window, and most of the sky was pink. That was the sunrise? She hadn’t thought she’d sleep so long.

      Next to her, Luka looked up at her with a smile, clapping his hands together as if pleased to see her awake again. She sighed, wiping tears off her cheeks before she sat up and looked around again. Grahame’s bedroom suited him somehow. The furniture was simple but solid, dark in color and all matching, from the tall armoire to the chest at the foot of the bed. The mattress was firm but nice, and she’d fallen asleep again faster and stayed asleep longer than she thought she would.

      She’d only meant to lie still long enough to appease him so she could go back to the inn, but she’d dozed off and now it was morning.

      She grimaced and rose, finding the carrier and strapping it on before picking Luka up off the bed. He kicked out his feet as soon as he was in, and she shook her head. “I used to tell you I’d be black and blue all over with you kicking so much inside me, but now that you’re outside, you’re still doing it.”

      He cooed, and she winced, though she knew it wasn’t because he really understood what she’d said. Still, she didn’t want to think about the bruises her father had left on her and how terrible it had been to think of the baby making them inside her.

      She shuddered and bit her lip, willing herself not to cry. She was fine. She’d be fine.

      She opened the door and almost bumped right into Grahame. “Oh. Sorry. I… I didn’t mean to oversleep.”

      He frowned at her. “It is not even five o’clock in the morning. How is that oversleeping?”

      Uh… I told you I didn’t want to keep you from your bed. I didn’t mean to. I was just going to rest for a bit like you wanted and then go. I mean, you had a point about paying for a room I wasn’t using. I really can’t afford to do that.”

      He nodded, and she could see how tired he was. She winced.

      I really—I’m so sorry—please tell me you slept a little.”

      I do not, in general, sleep much. I never have, though it did become worse five years ago. Stop apologizing. It is unlikely I would have used the bed even if you were not in it. I simply came for a change of clothes before I took my shower. You can stop gaping at any time. I am not lying to appease you or for any kind of sympathy.”

      I… It’s just… I know how hard it is to go without sleep for so long… I… He had me terrified for so long I couldn’t sleep, always afraid of what I’d wake up to, and if Luka didn’t keep me as exhausted as I am just by all he needs, I don’t know that I could sleep I dread it so much sometimes… but you didn’t even get a chance to try last night and I…”

      Grahame adjusted his glasses. “I did observe that it was of some benefit to create a private space for myself. This house is… that, but even beyond that, my bedroom was a place for isolation of my choosing. Perhaps you would feel better if you were able to find a place to establish yourself some kind of… boundary. I doubt it will be at that inn. It is too public since most of the town still eats there and it houses what little library this place has.”

      I’d like that. Having a place of my own. There was this brief time after Mom died, I had the apartment to myself. And it was hard because she was everywhere and I missed her, but it was also… nice. It was my space then, ours, and I wanted to stay there so much… I still hate that woman that forced me to go to my father.” Ruby realized she’d balled her hands into fists and let them go, sighing again. “I would like to have a place I felt safe again. That hasn’t happened since they made me go to him. I’m glad you were able to make a place for yourself that’s safe, though. It’s good. You seem to be doing well—other than the not cooking thing, but we’ve fixed that, right?”

      It was edible,” he said, “and I made it, so yes, that is progress.”

      She smiled at him even as she felt like she might cry again. “Oh. Um… here. I’ll move. You can get your clothes and—Wait. Since I’m here, I should show you how to make coffee. You can make it and then get in the shower, and it’ll be ready for you when you get out. That’s nice, right?”

      It does sound agreeable. Let me gather my clothes and I will meet you downstairs.”

        1. They are such adorable messes. Well, it’s sad she doesn’t see her worth at all, but she had some really bad years and at least on person did tell her the worst thing possible about what she did: that she brought it on herself by lying before. He just assumes his life is normal and doesn’t really know how to take care of himself properly.

          At least they can do it for each other, though. They both need it.

    3. Another one… still exploring these characters.

      Everyone here is running from something.”

      She looked over at the woman who’d spoken, feeling uneasy. She’d been driving for a while now, and most of the cashiers or clerks at the roadside stops didn’t start talking to her until she went up to the counter, if they spoke to her at all. This one hadn’t said anything when she walked in, either, just all of a sudden coming out with those words and nearly scaring her to death.

      She knew she shouldn’t be jumpy. She wasn’t running, not like that woman said.

      Town like this, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

      She tried to focus on finding a bag of chips for her brother. He’d be hungry when he woke up, and she’d stopped for food, not just gas and stretching her legs.

      They call it Sanctuary. And everyone here is running from something. They ran until they came right here.”

      She really didn’t feel comfortable here. She grabbed a bag of chips and went to the cooler, reaching for the door without much thought. She just wanted to get her stuff and get out of here. She didn’t know where the next gas station was, and she still needed to pay for that, so she couldn’t run, but she wanted to all the same. This was too weird, and she wanted to get back in the car and get far away from here.

      She went up to the counter with a drink for her brother and the chips. “I also filled up on pump one, so if you could—”

      Gas is free.”

      What?”

      Gas is free,” the woman repeated. “Free for those who stay.”

      Swallowing, she took out a bill, knowing she wasn’t going to get her change and she could use it. She put it on the counter and backed away, not sure what else to do. She got outside into the fresh air and shuddered, looking back in confusion. What was with that woman? She was… scary.

      Does she just… not get enough customers? Or is she… crazy?”

      I believe the second option is the truth, though most insist on telling me she is harmless.”

      She jumped, looking back at the gas pump. On the other side of her car was another vehicle, older than hers but in better shape, at least on the outside. His didn’t have big ding on the rear driver’s side like hers did. In fact, someone somewhere probably considered his a classic.

      He was much younger than his car, though, maybe a couple years older than her? He didn’t talk like he was, and his look now was a bit scary.

      Harmless?”

      He nodded, pushing up his sunglasses. “Her son owns most of the businesses in this town, though he’d rather be elsewhere and leaves them to be managed by others. Some are capably done. Others… not so much.”

      So he leaves her in charge of his gas station? Isn’t he afraid he’ll lose money?”

      I wouldn’t begin to know what goes on in that man’s head. He likely is as crazy as his mother, though so far the only proof of that is his endless ability to hire incompetent idiots for every job, even the simple ones. Tell me, do you believe it difficult to write down someone’s food order and bring it to them when they are done? It is not even that you’d have to cook it. That takes some skill, but writing down what someone says is simple enough, isn’t it?”

      I… Yes. I mean, I never had trouble with it back home. I worked part-time in a restaurant during high school. I only had trouble when people had accents I couldn’t understand or I was sick.”

      You would be an improvement over most he hires for the local restaurant.”

      Thanks, I guess, but I don’t live here.”

      That is frequently not a requirement, either.”

      What?”

      There is a campground outside the town, and he frequently hires people from there to work, even if their intended stay is less than a week. It is… infuriating.”

      She saw him turn back to put the nozzle in his gas tank. “You’re still getting gas even knowing she’s in there?”

      I live here, and there is not another gas station for miles. Though you should know that when she says no one local pays, she only means that no one who knows her is stupid enough to pay her. The honest ones pay him directly. The others don’t pay at all.”

      She wished she was bold enough to ask him which one he was. Instead, she turned back to her car and got inside.

      A restaurant would be nice.”

      She jumped again, sighing before turning to face her brother, who grinned at her. She didn’t think it was all that funny.

      I got you something to eat.”

      Yeah, and when was the last time you ate?” He shook his head. “Don’t lie. I know you’ve been feeding me and skipping meals yourself. We don’t have enough money, do we?”

      She sighed. “We’ll have enough.”

      We don’t even know how we’ll afford a place when we get there. It’s not like he’s ever acted like he wanted us. Maybe we should stop for a while. If we can stay at the campground and you can work, we could save a bit before going to where he is. Because I don’t think he’s really going to give us anything.”

      That’s not—”

      He has never even seen me. He’s my father, but he never bothered to meet me. He’d rather be with them. He won’t give you a penny, and we already know he doesn’t want custody of me. Why not here? It’s as good a place as any.”

      She sighed, though she didn’t have a good argument against it, either. They didn’t really have anywhere to go. She had planned on asking her father for help to get resettled, that much was true, but she knew that was unlikely. She had hoped her brother wouldn’t see past her lies for a while yet, that he’d stay hopeful even if she was fighting despair, but she hadn’t fooled him.

      She probably shouldn’t have tried.

      I’ll see. It’s at least a place to stop for the night.”

        1. Well, she’s not wrong. A lot of the people who have settled there were originally running in a way. The manager is another former military trying to deal with his past, the cook had to get away from the publicity surrounding his guardian’s fall from grace and the exposure of the abuse he suffered at that man’s hands, and the new waitress and her brother left behind where her step-father is to get away from the fallout of his actions, so, yes… running. Everyone who stays is running. They want the anonymity of a small place like that where people don’t bother with things like… internet.

          Though… she’s not meant to be a character with any real part in things at all, gas station lady.

    4. Okay, so I did the scene with Ikki giving Yata advice. Maybe better this time around… maybe…

      ***********

      Damn it,” Yata muttered, tempted to punch the wall. What was with that jerk? Didn’t he understand what he had? Why had Anna let another ungrateful Fushimi into their clan? She could see more, and that meant she saw something in Shin worth keeping. Yata couldn’t find it. All that guy did was piss him off, and he wanted to fight him, but everyone kept stopping him even though Shin was an ungrateful little bastard. “I should kill him.”

      You don’t think you’re being a little harsh on our dear Shin?”

      Yata looked over at the man who’d spoken. “Thought you already left.”

      Obviously not.” The blue Strain twirled the spade on his chain around his finger. “You could be a little kinder to the kid. He is going through a rough time even if his mom’s transplant was successful.”

      That doesn’t give him the right to dump on what he got from HOMRA and treat the rest of us like crap. He keeps saying he’s just here to pay a debt. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get us. If Mr. Mikoto was alive now…” Yata shook his head. “What does it even matter to you? It’s not like he likes you any more than he likes us.”

      Oh, that is where you are wrong, my impulsive little friend,” Ikki said, reaching over to ruffle Yata’s hair through the beanie. He glared at him, only barely holding back from smacking the Strain.

      Don’t touch me again. I’m not your friend. I’ll never be friends with a blue.”

      Now that’s just racist. Wait, is it racism if it’s based on a clan? I’ll ask Ken later. He’s probably got that memorized in that big brain of his, too.”

      How is it no one has killed you by now?”

      Oh, don’t think they haven’t tried,” Ikki said, smiling. “I just happen to be able to negate the threat of most female assassins because of my eyes and natural strain ability. The males ones… well, them I have to fight if they’re not scared off by Ken’s height alone, but I told you… I’m good with my hands.”

      Yata shook his head. “You’re an idiot. Go away.”

      You’re just as stubborn as Shin is. You even snarl like him when you’re cornered.” Ikki grinned. “Yes, I know that glare very well. Look, the thing about Shin is—and this is pretty simple, actually—Shin has never felt comfortable anywhere. Goes back to his dad. He probably didn’t tell you about him. He wouldn’t. We only know because Kokoa’s a sweetheart who’s known him since they were little. Anyway, Shin’s dad went to jail for killing a guy, and you know who they blamed for that?”

      Shin? The hell. He didn’t have anything to do with that. He was just a kid.”

      Does that matter to other bratty little kids? No.” Ikki shook his head. “Shin and his mother had it pretty bad back then. Toma and Kokoa used to stand up for him and fight off the bullies on a daily basis. That’s part of why Shin’s so pissed at Toma now. Toma doesn’t know how to quit. Our boy Shin, though… he doesn’t know how to start.”

      Yata frowned. “Are you trying to confuse me now? Talk like a normal person. Or better yet, leave.”

      No one appreciates the art of storytelling, I swear. Between you and Shin… even Ken sometimes…” Ikki sighed. “You see, all of that growling from Shin is actually a sign of affection. He doesn’t know how to show it at all, so he picks fights with people he cares about. Or he’s too harsh. He made Kokoa cry. A lot. Underneath all that, though… Shin is just like his name. He’s all heart.”

      You’re kidding.”

      You know a girl who can make herself look like a cat, right? Get her to help you if you don’t believe me. All it takes is one moment alone with an animal, and you will see Shin is the biggest softie there ever was. He’s going to keep saying he’s leaving, and he’s going to keep pissing you off. That’s what he does. That’s how he stays safe. You just have to know that’s what it is and let the stuff he says roll off your back. Be the duck.”

      You’re an idiot.”

      Ikki held up a hand. “I am a genius, actually. I’m just unappreciated in my time. Honestly. Sometimes I wish this ability worked on men. You all are so damned stubborn. Not a one of you knows how to properly express emotions. Of course, Ken would be saying I don’t know how to, either, but I’m a lot more honest about mine than you boys are.”

      I seriously just want to punch your smug face right now.”

      Good. Emotional honesty. Keep that up.” Ikki gave his cheek a pat. “Also… try and give some thought to what I said, okay? You have an aura and better healing, but Toma’s straight up insane, and if he hears you talking about Shin like that, all bets are off.”

      Yata shook his head. “You’re not going to scare me.”

      Just giving you fair warning. HOMRA gave Shin something Toma never could despite his best efforts, and he’ll be jealous. That’s not a side of him you want to see, even with a strong Red King at your side.” Ikki reached into his pocket and took out his phone. “Well, there’s my good deed for the day. Let’s see here… which of these confessions should I accept today?”

      You’re disgusting.”

      You have somewhere you belong. You have people who love you. Unconditionally. Not because of some Strain ability that makes them lose all willpower but because they genuinely give a damn. You have no idea how lucky you are for all you preach about it. I’ll take my comfort where I can. You don’t get to judge me for that. I only let Ken do that. He’s my best friend. Only friend.”

      The image of Fushimi rose in his head, and Yata squashed down all thoughts of his former friend and betrayer.

      Shin just wants somewhere to belong,” Ikki said over his shoulder as he walked away. “We all do. He’ll be damned if he admits it, though. So you make sure he stays where he needs to be.”

      1. Ikki is ADORABLE.

        No one appreciates the art of storytelling.

        I’m not appreciated in my time.

        You men and your emotional constipation.

        Which is triply adorable because Yata is emotionally transparent and heart on sleeve all. the. time. But it actually was well articulated here why Yata has so much of a problem with him and will probably now be unable to stop thinking about Shin’s history and growly move to taking care of him.

        He’s just too much like Fushimi and Yata got burned pretty badly on that one for reasons he never understood because, let’s face it, Fushimi refused to tell him the reasons.

        1. He really is. He won me over in spite of being one of my least favorite archetypes (the prince type flirt with the fan club… Normally I dislike them so much, but Ikki has a lot more dimension and heart than a lot of them.)

          And he’s hilarious to write/read. He’s got a good sense of humor, has few boundaries, cares about people deeply, and is smart, too. So while he’s the flirty type and the fan club adores him, he really just wants to make everyone happy and wants to be seen for his mind, not just his body or his eyes.

          Ikki’s telling stories is a thing in my stuff, too, I don’t know if it’s canon or just how I write him now… Though him calling people on their emotional hangups is pretty canon (he does it mostly to Kent, but not just him.)

          I actually was thinking about it, and it might be possible to understand Yukari via Ikki to a minor degree… if that makes any sense.

          Still, yeah, Shin is all the things Ikki says and Yata fears, but now that he knows, he can start to try and overcome it. The persistence he has is in his favor, since that’s what it took for almost everyone else (Kent and Shin don’t admit to friendship on either side, though generally when I write them, they do express concern for each other as much as they snark at each other, too, and Shin doesn’t see Ikki as a friend, but Ikki counts him as one, Toma and the heroine kept things up from childhood, and Waka… is Waka.)

    1. I actually had this thought for other, non-original characters, but it works for these two, too.

      The path I’m going down isn’t well traveled.”

      Her lips curved into a derisive smile. “Because of what they say about the road and good intentions?”

      Aldrick laughed, unable to stop a smile of his own as he nodded, though this situation wasn’t all that humorous. He knew what he was about to do was likely to get him killed, and at the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to care. Maybe if he did this, maybe it would finally end, that torment in his head that never, ever stopped.

      Would this erase his father’s disappointment? The shame of that day?

      No.

      If those idiots had their way, those ones who thought they were childhood friends, ones who saw only the boy he’d been and failed to comprehend the man he’d become, they’d see this as his rightful path to the throne, but he knew better. This was just revenge, and it wouldn’t save anyone. It was no great hope, only damnation, and as much as he knew not to chase it, he was going anyway. He couldn’t let those who had slaughtered his family to live.

      You don’t want this.”

      You dead? Yeah, we already established that’s against the rules.”

      That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

      She tilted her head, not quite nodding. “Yes, but all the same, that’s what it is. Either I go with you, or I let you die. I’m not so keen on that second idea. You’re kind of… mine now, after all.”

      I don’t owe you that much money.”

      She laughed, shaking her head as she reached out to ruffle his hair. “Foolish boy. When will you learn that a lady’s claim means everything?”

      Maybe when I start traveling with a real lady.”

      Her response to that only proved his words, but he smiled anyway. He hadn’t wanted to admit it, but he did not want to go alone. Even knowing the terrible things he was asking of her, he was glad she refused to leave his side.

      This road would be even worse walking alone.

      1
        1. Thank you. I think the bond between these two, as unstated and yet constantly present as it is, would probably be the best part of this story.
    1. Well, I didn’t use a “her” since none of my current female characters have the sort of situation I felt worked with the prompt, but there was someone who did, so… I went with this instead.

      I hate this.”

      That statement is particularly vague,” Caton said, not looking up from his research. “I suppose you’ll have to elucidate, but I am busy right now, so I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”

      Too bad,” Oswin said, crossing over to where he was working and leaning against the counter. “Last time you foisted me off on Warner, and you know that’s just not fair. All he does is stare at me like that’s going to make it better.”

      That is inaccurate. Warner believes, as do most of us, that you already know what would improve your situation and fail to act accordingly. So he sees no need to speak of it, even if you are not seeking a solution and rather… commiseration.”

      Oswin eyed him. “Just how much time are you spending with that lady writer friend of yours? I swear she’s the reason you act more human, something the rest of us somehow never managed in all our years together.”

      Caton reached up for his glasses and sighed. “That is also inaccurate. You like to romanticize love in all its forms like it changes everyone and everything, but clearly that has never been the case with you, or we would not be having this discussion.”

      Excuse me?”

      You are here because another relationship ended, aren’t you?”

      No, I am here because… because Sunnie refuses even to go out with me,” Oswin admitted, and Caton almost sighed again. “Don’t look at me like that. How am I supposed to make a relationship work if I can’t even start one? She… I wasn’t doing it just because I flirt with everyone. I didn’t even do it to annoy Hart because they made her his partner against his will, and I didn’t do it because she’s Careen’s best friend and we’d be able to double date with you and her if you ever admitted you liked her. It’s not like I can’t appreciate a woman in any other way than romantic. I love Mom. You know I do. And sure, I flirt with our own Moneypenny, but someone should. She’s not just a functioning robot far too loyal to Marshall’s family.”

      You are the only one who assumes that.” Caton grimaced. “Well, no, she is loyal to Marshall as her family has served the Blackledges for generations but he’s the only one worth knowing of them at present. He has some hope for his niece, but his nephew’s reputation is worse than yours. And the robot thing is also an exaggeration—she is efficient, that’s all. As for your other remark… Careen says that she’s in love with Warner, so make of that what you will.”

      Of course she is. I knew that before anyone else did. He hasn’t given her one bit of encouragement, though, so someone should remind her she’s desirable and wonderful since our brother doesn’t know how to be anything but an overprotective killing machine.”

      Caton rubbed his neck. He did not want to have this conversation. “You know that it is not all Warner is, either.”

      Oswin sighed. “It’s no secret we all are emotionally stunted idiots around here. Warner thinks his only value is in protecting us no matter the cost or method because his biological family was… well, full of killers and all sorts of bad people. Even Marshall who is arguably the best adjusted of any of us can’t see what’s under his own nose.”

      Oswin, how many times do I have to tell you that I have no interest in discussing anyone’s love life? Please desist. I have work to do.”

      Sometimes I wish you were a little more sympathetic.”

      I would not be myself if I were.”

      I know. I just…” Oswin took a breath and let it out. “I… I love all of you. No reservation, no holding back. You’re my brothers, and I would die for any of you. That… that’s so simple and easy. And Mom and Dad… I love them, too. I do. I never had any problem with that. They have always been more my parents than the ones that should have been. I just… I suppose it doesn’t help knowing they never loved me the way they loved you. You’re their son.”

      There is a level of bias inherent of being their biological child and their only child for several years. That does not mean that they do not care for all of you in their way. Do not forget that they are not particularly… demonstrative people in general.” Caton studied his glasses. “It is not that you are undeserving of affection as your own parents tried to tell you, both in words and in actions. That is not true. It is simply that… they are rational people and do not see the need for emotional displays any more than I do. For all that I am the ‘favored’ one, I do understand that I am simply an accidental byproduct of circumstances rather than a planned choice. Children were always a possibility, not necessarily a want, all biological imperatives aside. However, you and the others should not overlook the fact that they chose to adopt you. That was not necessity. That was a conscious decision. And as previously stated, I do believe they care about all of you as much as is possible for them.”

      It is seriously messed up that you think you were just an accident, and we’ll have to come back to that sometime because you’re just going to argue with me unless I get back up on that,” Oswin shook his head. “No, I just… You all say I have to change. Even Sunnie said it. Well, no, she said that a leopard doesn’t change its spots. She doesn’t think I can have a real relationship with anyone. If Sunnie’s not even willing to try… What the hell do I do?”

      I suppose you find someone else who is willing to try.”

      I don’t want anyone else,” Oswin said, misery in his voice. “I… I know I’ve flirted with so many, and I have dated and run from them, but this time… I want it more than ever, and it scares me, but… I think… I feel like… She’s it. She’s really it, but I can’t even get her to go out with me because I screwed up so badly before. I wanted someone to love me, but… I was always so afraid they’d leave me like my parents did… and I ruined everything.”

      Caton shook his head. “Only time proves constancy. If you wish to show you have changed, then I suggest you refrain from dating and flirting altogether. Or at least restrain yourself as far as flirting goes—I know it is habit for you now, as annoying as it is when you start in on Careen. That is the best way I can see of you showing her these things you’re telling me.”

      I… Yeah, you might just be right about that.”

      Good. Now go. I have work to do.”

      Oh, Cat. You know I love you, too.”

      Do not hug me,” Caton said just before his brother did, clinging to him in a most obnoxious manner. “Oswin, damn it—get off of me.”

      Nope. You’re the bestest brother I could ever have, and I’m never letting go.”

      I see. I missed the signs somehow, but you are clearly intoxicated.”

      Oswin just laughed and held on tighter.

      1. Okay, so much of this is adorable, but this was my favorite bit:

        “Do not hug me,” Caton said just before his brother did, clinging to him in a most obnoxious manner. “Oswin, damn it—get off of me.”

        Adorable.

        1. I really do enjoy writing this family’s dynamics, even if it’s mostly in dialogue. Some of the others haven’t had much time on screen, but Oz is a show-stealer and Caton is very droll.

          These two are also a lot of fun to write. (They are another iteration of my favorite platonic ship. I shouldn’t admit that, but it’s true. It’s also my personal conviction that the Oz character loves to give clingy hugs, particularly when drunk, and the Caton character hates it but endures it because they’re friends/brothers.)

    2. Um… the excuse is parallel worlds. And a possible loop of some kind. *shrugs*

      **********

      You could have stopped it.”

      Wouldn’t have been me.”

      Munakata adjusted his glasses. “What is the power you have if not that to shape the world? You are a king. You make your sanctum. You give home to your people. If you wanted to become the leopard, you could. You could even shed her spots. Instead, you chose to stay the lion.”

      I did.”

      And you know that when our positions were reversed… I chose to change my spots.”

      Always said we were nothing alike.”

      Munakata gave Suoh a half-smile. “That is where you are wrong. If you could have seen that…”

      What’re you complaining about? We have another turn at this. All the memories of what we did. We get to do it all again.”

      Yes.” Munakata looked over at him. “But you have to be willing to change for any of that to matter.”

      1. Yeah, changing his depressed, caged in, violent self would be hard. When you get to Blaze, Mikoto literally only stuck with Homura because Totsuka asked him to “do it for me”, so the basic thing is neither of his friends can go down or Mikoto self destructs.

        Spoiler below!

        Actually, by the time you trawl through all the extra materials, there’s a big point that red aura is violence and the Red King almost always does eventually self-destruct, except Mikoto took a lot of measures to make sure he never had a Kagutsu, even arranging his own Mikoto. Totsuka was his “stopper” and literally could calm his flames when he was going out of control. Without him, it was probably only a matter of time before Mikoto had an accidental Damocles Down instead of a controlled one with someone poised to save everybody.

        1. That was one thing that wasn’t as clear in the anime as it could have been. There were references to the red aura being violent and it showed how much everyone cared about that guy, but not that he was the stopper that Mikoto needed to keep from going down.

          If I was ever crazy enough to do a loop fic (which I sincerely do not think I ever want to be, I’d have to have gone through all the extras and it would probably take several small changes over several loops to make any major change possible, which might be hard if they retained all their memories. Then again, if only one of them did… Eep. No.)

    1. A Certain Magical Index again, sorry.

      Last Order wouldn’t stop staring at him.

      “That’s creepy,” Accelerator told her, shoving her off the end of the couch with one arm.

      “‘Don’t be mean!’ Misaka Misaka protests, flailing her arms for balance,” Last Order squawked indignantly. She shot back upright and glared.

      He eyed her from the corner of his eye, but she just huffed and clambered back up beside him.

      “Misaka thinks that you look happy, Misaka Misaka notes with satisfaction.” Last Order grinned. “Misaka thinks that you should stay here with her forever.”

      “Happy, huh?” he murmured and closed his eyes.

      Such an odd feeling. Happy.

      1. I admit, Last Order’s way of talking confused me for a bit because I’m not familiar with the fandom and thought that was two separate people talking and maybe something was missing, but after the post-migraine fog cleared a little, I understood.

        These two seem very cute together.

        1. Her way of talking is definitely odd! I’m constantly falling in love with these extremely dangerous guys and the tiny little girls that have them totally wrapped. :sigh:

          1. Sometimes odd ways of talking are nice, though.

            I like the dangerous guy getting wrapped around a kid’s finger, too. I mean, there was that whole X-Men AU forever ago, and I have enjoyed others if not necessarily written for them.

  6. any, any. “Attacking an impregnable fortress head-on is rather impressive… or suicidal. Depends on the day, really.” ~Linhardt, Fire Emblems Three Houses
    1
  7. any, any. “How many years has it been since I was kept awake by hopes for the future, rather than nightmares of the past…” ~Dmitri, Fire Emblem Three Houses
    1. “And you never thought to tell me we knew each other?” Red’s mouth tightened in a frown.

      Justus shrugged, drying the dishes like Red’s wife had set him to doing. “You two need to talk,” she’d said, and she hadn’t been wrong.

      “Why would you have believed that? Everything in there is lies,” Justus told him bluntly. Everything. Even memory could be a lie.

      Red laughed, a small bitter sound, and handed him another washed plate. “That’s a pretty cruel idea, you and me being friends. Which means it’s probably true.”

      Because everything in there was also pain, cruelty, captivity—it was a program occupied solely by survivors, willing to do what it took to live through the nightmare of their youth.

      Justus and Red had been friends once, before they’d landed on different teams, one with his memory and one without. Those teams had never gotten along.

      “We knew each other,” Justus said, finally admitting it out loud.

      Red stared at him a long moment, not speaking, not washing, then finally, “And what were we like?”

      This was probably safer to ask Justus than any member of the family Red didn’t even remember.

      The answer was cruel, so it was probably true.

      “You were nothing like you are.”

      1. Ouchies. I mean, it’s kind of always been there between those two, but then having it set out is just… ouch. Short, pointed, painful, with all they lost so plain and raw.

        They did need to talk, Whisper was right about that, but… I don’t know that I was ready for it. One feels so bad for them both, wants to fix it and make it all better… though they do have their own, separate happy endings now… It’s just a shame they can’t ever have what they did, that their friendship is all gone.

        (And now I have another terrible idea because I always wonder what could possibly separate my favorite platonic friends and… well…)

        1. Well, someone prompted all these angsty prompts that took a while to ping in the brain. :twiddles thumbs:

          But yeah, lots of pain with them. I think they can make something new between them, but Red is definitely disinclined to go back to who he was before because he kind of realizes he’s not who he was before. It’s rough on him a bit. I should actually write something more on that at some point.

          1. Um… I tend to favor deep, meaningful music, though… now that I look at the prompt again, I made that one up myself (not all of the ones I did I created but a lot of them, actually, snagged them from my prompt tumblr. Sorry.)

            I did try and include fluffier things. I really did. I just… tend to think of dark things and dark humor and am not sure how to write happy things.

            It would be good if they could build something new. They will have to try. Though it will be hard for Red, with all the people who think he should be someone he isn’t now. Justus mostly understands that, but others might not. That happened to at least one other member of team… eight, I think it was.

    2. The truth was they were friends. The truth was also that neither would ever admit it.

      “Suoh, you have truly deplorable taste in all things.” Munakata sipped the overly sweet, extremely red, too fruity concoction Suoh had just ordered, wishing he’d said anything other than I’ll have what he’s having.

      Suoh just chuckled. Then Anna appeared from the park across the street from the vendor where she’d apparently been inspecting some flower or small creature in the bushes. Suoh handed her his drink, a very red smoothie.

      Anna could only see red.

      She sipped on her drink as she looked at Munakata with a very serious expression that seemed to see far more than it should. It did, most likely. She was a known Strain.

      “You’ll end up lonely if you don’t say anything,” she said after a moment.

      Munakata pushed his glasses up on his face, a tad startled at her words. It wasn’t his way to say these things. He hesitated a moment, then said simply, “Enjoy your day, Suoh. Try not to cause any trouble.”

      Suoh waved it off, a somewhat tame reaction for the way they usually grumped and fumed at each other. He took Anna by the hand and walked away.

      1. Aw, that’s nice. Such a quiet moment with so much unstated affection. They’re actually comfortable with each other, at least for a bit.

        A nice glimpse of the underlying friendship and respect as well as their rivalry and the walls they both have.

  8. any. any. “But I can’t go to bed without drawing the red, shaving off breaths;
    Each one so heavy, each one so cumbersome
    Each one a lead weight hanging between my lungs”

    ~Julien Baker, Sprained Ankle

    1. A/N: Eh. Fits the prompt, but it’s not very good.


      Deven takes a moment to breathe.

      Naira’s already gone to bed, curled up under the covers, hair strewn over the pillow, breaths soft and even. He listens to that sound, times his own to match.

      There’s a part of him that isn’t quite sure why power is heavy in his chest, his lungs too thick with it to exhale easy. He thinks of Naira as something fragile that he doesn’t want to break.

      His fingers flick to the right and one of the stones on the shelf is crushed or incinerated to powder.

      It doesn’t exactly calm him, but it lets him quiet this feeling inside him, enough that when he joins his wife on the bed, he knows he will not harm her.

    2. He dreams of fire, he dreams of devastation, and when he wakes, it’s like he’s still dreaming, the enormity of the Slate’s red aura pulsing under his skin, barely contained and begging to be let out of its cage. Does it matter that he’s the cage and Mikoto knows full well the price he’d have to pay to be free.

      He gets up, as if he could leave the dream on his pillow where it came to him, and goes downstairs into the bar where clansmen have already begun to filter in, squabbling happily amongst themselves. Homura was made up of outsiders, those who fit along the edges of society, who couldn’t fit and needed something to protect to save themselves.

      “King!” Totsuka appeared with a bright smile, sun to his fire, light and warmth instead of violence. “Good morning!”

      “Mikoto,” Kusanagi greeted lightly.

      Mikoto stood there among his clan for a moment, sweltering in the too intense heat of their nearness, caged once more. And yet, he willing went to join them, the lion of his power asleep once more.

  9. any. any+/any. “I know you left hours ago
    I still haven’t moved yet
    I knew you were gone months ago
    But I can’t think of anyone else.”

    ~Julien Baker, Something

    1. For just a little while, things had been so happy. Last Order lay in the hospital bed, a small frown on her face. She wanted to pepper her surgeon, Heaven’s Chancellor, with the same questions over and over. Where is he? Is he okay? When is he coming back?

      Accelerator was alive. There was that tiny tug through the Network whenever he calculated enough to walk, talk, or flipped all the way up to using his power as an esper. But he wasn’t here, with Last Order, or any of the Misakas.

      She looked through the Network, pinged through the memories of all the Sisters, and yet, nothing.

      She closed her eyes at last and thought to the one user of the Network who couldn’t actually hear her. “I wanted to be with you forever.”

      1. Accelerator, go back to her, now.

        Lol.

        Though really… poor Last Order. They were happy. And now she can only have the small comfort of knowing he’s still alive.

        1. Well, he gets there eventually! So canonically, she was taken from him and he got her back, but very violently and ends up blackmailed to work for the government for a while, but when her life is in danger, he whisks her off to Russia to save her and in the process saves the army of the government that’s been blackmailing him. Also, this is where he meets and saves Worst (after she tries to kill him and Last Order and he barely stops himself from killing her outright, long story.) He makes demands and they reward him. With all that warm fuzzy stuff I’ve been writing afterward.

          But that tiny little scene in canon where she’s lying there in the hospital after the incident wishing for Accelerator just really fit the prompt and hit me in the feels.

          1. Ah. I see. Well, at least he gets her back and they get their freedom and happiness in the end, though yeah, this part… Poor Last Order. And Accelerator. Until they were reunited, it must have been very hard on them both.
  10. any. any+/any. “I should have said something, something, something
    But I couldn’t find something to say
    So I just said nothing, nothing, nothing
    Sat and watched you drive away.”

    ~Julien Baker, Something

    1. Alex Manning had worked undercover before. He’d weathered the end of undercover before, but this was the first time he was looking at the face of someone he’d lied to in the course of duty who looked just shy of heartbroken with not an ounce of understanding or forgiveness in her eyes.

      Cate April had developed the post-Rebellion “business”, as they called it, the unofficial network of former team operatives who still worked in either the underground or official law-keeping or military bodies. Finding out whether that network was above board had been a vital assignment, and he’d drawn the short straw to get it.

      She’d made it worth it.

      He’d told her as much about himself as he could around the things he couldn’t, but when she’d confronted about the parts of his story that didn’t add up, he hadn’t just left out facts. He’d sprinkled in a few plausible half-truths and lies.

      “Refuge,” she said at last. “I’m the most powerful mindreader in the world. You know that.”

      He waited for the rest of it. She’d never dug around in his. She’d trusted him, to whatever extent meant he got to keep his thoughts mostly to himself.

      “I can make anyone think they feel anything I want them to,” she commented, tilted her head to look at him as though he was a specimen she was studying. “Who would ever trust me or stay near me if I broke their trust, even once?”

      She never messed with someone’s head without either their knowledge or their permission.

      Alex knew better than to answer the question. He would. He would trust her even if she’d wiped his memory the first time she’d suspected him of not being who he said he was.

      She closed her eyes, and he knew she was making a decision, knew he needed to find something, anything, to say if he ever wanted to see her again. She shook her head, gave him one last look. “Goodbye, Alex.”

      He never thought his name would be the one thing he didn’t want to hear her say.

      1. So… I don’t remember Alex. Is he the one Cate does end up marrying?

        It makes sense they’d want to watch the former operatives, they’d fear them, and so someone had to do that job. It still hurts, though, since they were already betrayed as kids and used in horrible ways.

        Yes, lots of ouchies today.

        1. So Detective Alex Manning has previously had one appearance. He’s the cop in Dowse and Bleed who had an operative name, Refuge, which is part of why the Database decided to let him have her back when she went in. Because anyone that gave him that name would have an opinion that mattered to her standards.

          But yeah, Cate, aka Shield or Thought, doesn’t brook any betrayal at all. Another person might have forgiven him. She definitely would not.

          1. Ah, that would be why he was slightly familiar but not familiar enough.

            Yeah, he really did screw things up. And her position of not forgiving him is pretty understandable.

  11. any. any+/any. “I have emotional motion sickness
    Somebody roll the windows down
    There are no words in the English language
    I could scream to drown you out.”

    ~Phoebe Bridgers

    1
    1. It wasn’t like he didn’t feel things.

      Deven was younger than he looked—not yet twenty. They hadn’t wasted time trying to settle him down with a stabilizing influence and preferably someone with strong blood herself so whatever children they produced would be just as valuable. Not that Deven had cooperated with entering anyone’s service, despite his power. Not that he was manageable.

      But just the potential of his existence was enough for the Kairos Stronghold to wield as a threat against any other stronghold that came against them. Deven may not have been willing to do just whatever they told him to, but he was perfectly willing to level armies should they threaten the place he preferred to live.

      Right. As if he had a preference.

      He sighed, leaning back against the wall and staring out over the balcony at the city below. It was a nice balcony, right in the middle of a spacious hallway. His line was among the better served and treated among the powerful. Never mind, they were all glorified servants when properly managed, obliged to use their power to serve the city or otherwise not use it at all, unless they wished another of the powerful to bring them to heel.

      He didn’t mind the cage so much as he minded his self-enforced reserve, so much as he minded the hint of anger lacing Naira’s tone when he wouldn’t answer the quiet challenges she wouldn’t outright state. Maybe she didn’t want to lose whatever tentative truce they’d made. Maybe she didn’t want to rile him up anymore than anyone else did.

      A wave of irritation rode up within him, and he stuffed it back down with the reflexes of long habit. No need to feel power surging at his fingertips, boiling in his blood, feel the wave of white heat and scorching, tangible power pressing out from his body like a living thing.

      There weren’t any words to settle his feelings, no words that could express them. He sometimes felt he could scream himself hoarse and it wouldn’t satisfy the ache any strong feelings raised inside him.

      Nothing satisfied, nothing stopped the rise and fall of the tide of power but silencing its trigger in the first place.

      Naira didn’t understand that, he thought bitterly. He’d actually wanted the marriage, wondered what it would be like to have someone to belong to and to care for, someone that saw him as a person instead of the living embodiment of undiscriminating destruction. But perhaps that was asking too much.

      He clenched his fist.

      Because of all the hopeless, reckless things, she wanted him to feel.

      1. Even more interesting now to see it from his perspective.

        Though I think they’re another case of “if they only talked to each other, they’d see they both want similar things.”

        Still, he’s intriguing as a character and makes me want to see more of him.

        1. I’ll see if I can write more. They do have a legitimate difficulty though in the fact that she really would like him to be a little less emotionally distant and cold, and he does that for a pretty compelling reason that’s unlikely to change. Might be interesting to try throwing an actual plot at them. (who me? never)

          1. I guess it’s just that if she told him why she wants to see more emotion from him… that she wants to care about him… that might help?

            She wants to be a person to him, too. She wants to see that side of him as a person… or that was the sense I got.

  12. any. any. “I know that I’m not what you wanted
    Am I?
    Wanted someone who I used to be like
    Now you think I’m not trying
    Well, don’t argue it’s not worth the effort to lie
    You don’t want to bring it up
    And I already know how we look
    You don’t have to remind me so much
    How I disappoint you.”

    ~Julien Baker, Appointments

    1. A/N: So this is definitely a snippet, plotless character musing business, but it fit.

      People thought sometimes that Shift perhaps overestimated what Kilter was willing to live with, how far he was willing to go or let her go before something broke permanently and for good. But then most people didn’t realize that Shift always excelled at counting the cost.

      She knew the cost for herself when she went for broke, rebelled, or did the unthinkable. She knew the cost for her team members when they were broken or hurt or in need. She knew the cost in blood, in pain, in relationships, in whatever moral goodness they might have had left.

      The thing that people didn’t realize was that, for the sake of her daughter or team, there was no cost she wasn’t willing to pay.

      “I don’t think I can do this,” Kilter finally said, barely able to stand the words coming out of his mouth if she read him right. Shift always read him right. He wasn’t even looking at Shift. He was looking at the daughter he’d once never even knew he had.

      But Shift was Shift. “Then don’t.”

      1. There’s one part of a reader that wants Shift to back down and make it right, convince him that he can, but that wouldn’t be Shift. One still wants them to find a way, though, since they have that understanding of each other and they have a child, too. And because as bad as the things they may have done are, after what they suffered, one still hopes they find some kind of happiness. It’s complicated with Shift because she’ll still do extreme things if she thinks it’s necessary and for her daughter’s sake, but all the same, one wants them to have peace in the end.
        1. Yeah, definitely not her thing to be conciliatory (unless she’s doing it to manipulate you, which is something Kilter can appreciate, that he gets the unvarnished version of her when she’s not treating you like her target in one way or another). But yeah, they’ll come back together. This was aiming for that part where he left before he came back, because there is a chunk in there where they did not come to an agreement.

          1. I had a feeling this was for part of that time when he left and before they managed to work it out. He did have a lot to process, and their parenting methods were at odds, plus he was still dealing with finding out about having a child and all Shift did to keep that child from their life… I think he’d have some stuff he needed to think through before he could be the father and husband that Shift and their daughter needed.

            At least he recognized it and took steps to change it, I guess.

  13. any. any. “How are you still alive?”

    “Oh, please. The parent dying to spur the hero onto greatness is an overdone cliche.”

  14. any. any+/any. “But if you’d be willing to accept me, I’ll pledge my undying faithfulness to you for life.” ~Kent, Amnesia
  15. any. any+/any. “I want to put your heart at ease. I want to regard you with kindness.” ~Akechi, London Detective Mysteria
    1
    1. A/N: so I wasn’t planning on fannish, but uh… I have a new fandom, A Certain Magical Index and related anime. So have a ficlet.

       

      “I found my lost child,” she said, a small quiet familiar voice reaching through the maelstrom of Accelerator’s blackened heart and the black, black wings sprouting from his back and his own scream wailing into the sky.

      Someone else bloodied and shot before his eyes. Somebody else he failed to protect. What was the point of power if no one ever stopped getting hurt?

      But that gentle voice, that sweet smile, that one person that looked at him and saw something other than a killer, her arms open.

      He struck at her with his cutting wings but never hit her. No wound in his heart could overcome the memory of all her sisters bloodied for him, cut down for him, born just for him to kill them. Never again, never again.

      “It’s okay.”

      She looked at him like he was worth something, like he really could stop fighting, like maybe she could love someone terrible like him.

      Last Order was just a little girl, but she was already so much wiser and better than Accelerator could ever be.

      He stared at her until the maelstrom quieted inside, reaching for her with hands instead of wings, and let her hold him as every part of everything he was ached for something other than this bleak and bloody life.

      “Thank goodness,” she murmured and held him close, the child comforting the teenager, the child protecting her protector as he let himself hold on and be held.

        1. I expected as much. I’m just currently obsessed. Finished marathoning the last season available last night and yeah. Glad the ideas at least worked!

  16. any. any. “‘Cause kindness is weakness, or worse, you’re complacent
    I could play nice or I could be a bully
    I’m tired and angry, but somebody should be.”

    ~Halsey, Nightmare

  17. any. any+/any. “Found you when your heart was broke
    I filled your cup until it overflowed
    Took it so far to keep you close
    I was afraid to leave you on your own.”

    ~Halsey, Without Me

  18. any. any+/any. “Gave love ’bout a hundred tries
    Just running from the demons in your mind
    Then I took yours and made ’em mine
    I didn’t notice ’cause my love was blind.”

    ~Halsey, Without Me

  19. any. any. “With every stab wound and exhale, I promised myself
    That I would never lose my youthful fears of grown up men
    I’m scarred with cruel intentions.”

    ~Ex:Re, Romance

    1. There’s a list. Only fools forget there’s a list.

      They’re free, and there are rules, but Shift has not forgotten.

      She remembers the children that they were, screaming and crying as they broke the children down. She remembers the blue room and the pain that went on endlessly, endlessly, ever without ceasing. She remembers Watcher’s tears on her back and Sear holding her head as she recovered. She remembers her own child taken from her arms away from her, just to spare the child her own horrible life.

      She remembers their handler, Chandler, someone she swore to herself long ago was on the list.

      When there are no repercussions, when we are free, she swore to kill him.

      He doesn’t even look surprised to see her in his home, smiles wryly to himself as if he’d been expecting just this. “I heard there’s a treaty now, huh? No one’s allowed to touch you.”

      Shift shrugs. “They are if we break the laws.”

      “Ah, but since when did you bow to the law?” He sits and pours a cup of coffee, then raises it in her direction. “One last assignment, huh?”

      “Drink your coffee,” she tells him. It isn’t camaraderie that allows it. Even in this, even as she waits him out, lets him have his final moments, it’s the one thing she always had that he had always lacked.

      Basic human respect.

      1. It’s funny, I wasn’t thinking of Shift when I chose that bit of lyrics, but it’s very fitting for her and this piece shows that. The complexities of her character and how much her past shaped her.
        1. I’m glad! Sometimes I worry about her complexity showing through. She’s not all good or bad. She’s absolutely loyal, with as much goodness and cruelty as that entails.

          1. Complex characters are hard. I often think mine must be rather one-dimensional because it’s hard to show enough… and I am usually unwilling to give any sympathetic edges to villains.
  20. any. any. “He pretends that he’s understanding
    And you know in the grand scheme of everything
    He’s probably called a nice man
    Or an ordinary kind of man
    Or a stereotype with strong hands.”

    ~Ex:Re, Romance

  21. any. any. “I could begin to open up and risk desire
    For I’ll move slower and quieter than most
    I grew up too quick and I still forgive too slow
    Oh, I wish there was another way.”

    ~Ex:Re, Romance

    1. A/N: So there’s an implication of the wedding night, but I think I managed to gloss it over sufficiently that this will still be readable. A prequel of sorts, or at least, the beginning.


      He touched her slowly, cautiously that first night, even before they got to closed doors. This was a wedding, celebrated with vigor and enthusiasm, but the bride and groom barely knew each other, having met at the start of the festivities.

      Naira felt aware of her every breath when her husband—husband—slowly twined his fingers into hers to draw her to their place at the table. The ceremony binding them was complete, but the feasting and dancing had merely begun. He had yet to say anything beyond the appropriate ceremonial words, but that was all right. This was all quite new.

      She’d known of Deven of the Hollis Family’s powerful. Who hadn’t? The last time an outside raid had come against the Stronghold, he’d reportedly walked outside, incinerated the entire army of raiders in the space of a few breaths, and walked back in before the rest of the powerful had even taken to the walls. He was a specialized weapon, taken out and used for only major events, held on standby in between as a threat against any who would hurt the Family.

      She knew of Deven, but she didn’t know him personally. Naira was from the Shiroth Family. While they were easily considered allies of Hollis, sometimes their interests aligned and sometimes they did not. The relationship could use strengthening, and she was chosen to provide another tie between the Families through this marriage.

      They settled at the head of the feast and Naira glanced over, only to realize he was already studying her curiously through the pale hair falling over his eyes. She blushed and looked away. He dressed just well enough for a wedding, but neither his hair nor clothes were that of one who cared much about appearances. Even so, he was naturally beautiful, it seemed, a little too thin, a little too uncared for, but pleasing to look at anyway.

      He released her hand and they filled their plates quietly as she tried to pretend she wasn’t jumping out of her skin every time he almost touched her, let alone when his hand actually brushed against hers.

      It was ridiculous, Naira told herself. She didn’t know him, and it really didn’t mean anything yet.

      Yet.

      She stole another glance at him and he met it openly.

      It would be helpful if he stopped doing that, she thought to herself with some irritation. “Are those any good?” she asked, pointing her skewer toward the potatoes. They’d been dressed in some sort of orange-colored sauce she hadn’t seen before, and it was the Hollis Family in charge of the food.

      Deven shrugged, added some to his own plate wordlessly, while Naira stared at him, wondering if he intended on answering.

      “Have you had them before?”

      “Yes,” he said, voice low and rough. She told herself that it was just his voice, not a particular emotion or gruffness. He shrugged. “They’re not bad.”

      Ah. Not good, not bad. She could forgive the shrug. She skewered exactly one and placed it on her plate to try. Perhaps Naira would like them more than he did.

      She’d hoped that saying something might prompt more of a conversation, but he remained quiet throughout the meal, willing to answer questions but volunteering nothing except those curious looks that were more than a match for her own. Either he was a very quiet person and Naira was in for a lifetime of frustration, or he was shy around strangers.

      Even so, there was no lack of confidence when he cautiously, gently took her hand again, as though she were delicate and fragile enough to shatter should he hold too tight, and led her away from the table towards closed doors at last.

      She’d heard that men could be rough and selfish, taking no thought for a bride’s nervousness or pleasure, but she was surprised and pleased to discover his caution remained. Any hint of discomfort and he paused, asked her if it was all right, if she was. He was slow, gentle, as inexperienced as she was, and all in all, she could hardly have hoped for a better start.


      Naira was a sound sleeper. She didn’t even stir when Deven woke and rolled over to gently trace his fingers over her cheek. Naira was barely even visible above the blankets she’d snuggled down in, one hand clutching them tightly beneath her chin.

      He hadn’t burned her, hadn’t hurt her, proving again the exact nature of his power’s trigger.

      He fell back on the pillow and sighed. It was something of a relief, even if he knew why it was also something of a disappointment.

      If he’d misunderstood the trigger at all, he could find new rules to manipulate it, ones a little easier to work with, but it would also make having a wife a little riskier than he’d assumed, so it wasn’t actually a bad thing that he hadn’t misunderstood at all.

      Suddenly restless, Deven slipped out of the bed and went to shower, trying not to let misgivings gnaw at him. He’d accepted the offer readily enough. It was traditional for the Great Families of a Stronghold to arrange appropriate marriages among the powerful, subject to the consultation and final agreement of both the Powerful Family’s matriarch and the one who would be married. Deven had eschewed most traditions where he could, even turning down those who might have reined him in, using the traditional partnership model. The one time they’d nearly forced a bond hadn’t gone well for those who’d tried.

      He sighed, stepped under the hot spray, closed his eyes and let it run over his head and body and wipe away ugly memories before he could properly feel them.

      Deven understood his power very well. There were those who assumed he did not: he hadn’t mastered it, he couldn’t control it, he couldn’t use it at will or suppress it at will like the rest of the powerful. He wasn’t reined and didn’t take advantage of the contract between a Powerful Family and a Great Family to provide someone that could stop his power forcibly to make up for Deven’s lack of ability to do so.That’s what everyone thought when they thought of scorching white power and the most valuable powerful of the Hollis Family.

      They were wrong, but it didn’t matter. He couldn’t afford to feel overly offended at what anyone else thought.

      Except…

      He wondered what his new wife would think should the matter come up. Naira had expressed plenty of curiosity at seeing him, but without the particular brand of fascination that typically went with opinions or theories about him. He wondered how much she’d heard about him at all.

      He shut off the water before it could run cool. She would likely want a shower too soon enough.

      He was married now. The thought was still startling if he thought about it. There was another person in his life and home for him to consider in everything he did or decided. He hadn’t asked why they chose her, just answered the Matriarch’s questions and let her handle the negotiations for the best selection. It wasn’t like he knew any of the powerful outside of his own Family.

      When he finished dressing and went back into the bedroom, Naira hadn’t moved, but her warm, brown eyes were open as she looked at him, curiosity still sparking in her gaze.

      He tried to think of literally anything to say to her and finally settled on the entirely underwhelming, “Good morning.”

      Naira blinked, clearly surprised, then she smiled sweetly for no reason he could discern and murmured, “Morning,” into the blanket before burrowing down deeper still, eyes closing.

      Not exactly promising for conversation but he tilted his head and looked at the mound of covers, rising and falling with her breath, and the wisps of brown hair ruffled up this way and that and found it endearing.

      Not quite enough feeling to be dangerous, but just enough to be warm.

      “What do you eat in the mornings?” he asked lightly.

      That apparently surprised her enough to draw her head back out from under the covers, eyes widening, mouth opening slightly. “Tea,” she said after a long moment. “With milk in it, no honey.”

      Deven barely suppressed the intense urge to tell her that wasn’t food. He nodded. “Tea.”


      Naira loved her tea. She’d hold a cup warm in her hand and study Deven as she thought of new ways to feel out his particular shell he hid behind. She wasn’t an especially patient person, and this was patient work. It was apparent to her that Deven was unfamiliar with someone actively trying to get to know him.

      “Do you like the Patriarch?” she’d ask, exasperated with the lack of results from sideways angles or indirect questions, thus moved to bluntness.

      Deven merely frowned a little, as if confused about her question. “I don’t like or dislike him. He’s the Patriarch.”

      Deven seemed to have no opinion on the management of his Family’s contracts, their usual work—she wasn’t sure if he even kept up with knowing their usual work. He had no food preferences she could discern, freely rearranged their suite at the slightest hint she might want something differently, seemed to have no wants or likes of his own.

      “Do you read?” she’d asked, poking through the shelves in his suite. It was standard allotment stuff without a hint of the personal—standard histories, standard children’s stories at the very bottom, standard decorative items.

      Deven shrugged.

      He did that often.

      Naira hesitated, torn between annoyance and thinking she just hadn’t found something he was interested in yet, hadn’t learned how he communicated. Surely, there was something he had any kind of feeling about?

      “What do you like?” she asked, falling back on direct questions, blunt enough to border on rude, when nothing else would avail.

      A soft, long exhale. He wasn’t even looking at her, looking past her to something she couldn’t see, possibly beyond this room or time. For the first time, she wondered if she had cracked through the thick armor of indifference even the least bit. It felt weighty, that moment when he held that question inside him and only finally, finally returned his gaze to her again.

      She studied him curiously. It shouldn’t have been a weighty question.

      He opened his mouth as if to answer, hesitated, finally close it and shrugged. “Nothing,” he said at last, faint bitterness under his tone.

      Naira blinked, genuinely surprised.

      He lifted his hand to look at it, a faint light glowing on his palm. He grimaced and close his hand, like snuffing out a flame.


      It came to him very slowly that despite learning how to please her in little things, he wasn’t learning how to please her at all. When all was said and done, Naira was unhappy and it took him even longer to discern why.

      She couldn’t get him to feel.

      The few times she’d found a hint of emotion in him, she’d slowed down, faint hope in her eyes as she tried to reach out, only for him to shut it down. He didn’t explain to her that the moments he stopped, breathed slowly, and put away all the feeling welling up inside him were what kept her safe and protected and that mattered to him more than her happiness. Except it didn’t.

      He’d wanted this, hoped for something to change in his life if there was someone else there to care for. She let him do those things, but she’d stopped smiling when he got her tea just right or figured out her favorite foods, read her unspoken wishes correctly, pulled back the edge of the covers just so to see her sleepy face in the mornings. It wasn’t what she wanted.

      He wanted to find some way to reach her, to let her reach him, but there were risks other than just his heart in the way. He wasn’t slow, quiet, cautious because he didn’t want to be open.

      “I like you,” he said quietly as he watched her brush out her hair.

      It made her pause. She’d paused so many time, looked at him with that faint hint of hope in her eyes that maybe this thing between them could actually work.

      Naira wasn’t usually at a loss for words, but he saw her caution as she almost spoke, then seemed to discard one set of words for another before finally asking, just as quietly, “Could you ever love me?”

      Deven leaned back his head against the wall, trying to calm his immediate reaction. He didn’t waste time trying to discern what he was feeling, just closed his eyes and breathed as he put those feelings away.

      To love her would be to hurt her. To tell her he couldn’t would hurt her just as badly. There wasn’t any winning, was there?

      He laughed softly, harshly under his breath and caught her taken aback from the corner of his eye. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her.

      “No,” he answered, hating himself for having to say it and hating the need to quench that too.

        1. Slightly more coherent tonight. (Been helping my friend as she tries to deal with her father-in-law being in the hospital after having a stroke because he refused to manage his diabetes and while it’s not my crisis, I’m emotionally drained and also upset on her behalf because he was really mean to her earlier when she was trying to help him. I can’t do much, and she just lost her grandfather, and I haven’t been able to be much use.)
      1. Okay, so it hurts… in the sense that one wants them to be able to make it work. They both want to, and they both make their attempts, each trying in their own way, but there’s his power and need to control his emotions keeping them apart (even as my brain is going, “no, you already love her, idiot.”)

        And he hasn’t explained to her why he needs to keep his emotions under control, and she’s afraid to give much more herself because she thinks he doesn’t want it…

        It’s a mess, but the interesting, fun kind of mess one keeps hoping will work out somehow.

        (And maybe I am not so coherent as I thought.)

        1. Very coherent. Articulated beautifully their issues, including the fact that he is as she feared, a very quiet person, and she might be in for a lifetime of frustration trying to prod proper explanations out of him. But they’ll figure it out. I’m sure of it.

  22. any. any+/any. “I’m going in. If I don’t make it back, take care of my family for me.”

    “You do realize you’re just going to the grocery store, right?”

  23. any. any+/any. “The cat is staring at me.”

    “So?”

    “It’s creeping me out.”

    “It’s just a cat.”

    “Says you. I swear that thing is bent on world domination.”

    Cat purrs.

  24. any. any+/any. “Must we discuss this? This subject is disgusting.”

    “You need to stop getting grossed out by feelings.”

    1. It is possible this won’t make enough sense since it’s got little context and there’s a lot of stuff going on, so I may have been better off trying to make the colic idea work, and I may do that anyway, but… I did actually make progress on this story again, so that’s something…

      It should be a relief that we actually have this out in the open, but it’s not,” Kalia said, and Halia knew what her twin meant without even looking at her. Kalia was angry with her for keeping that to herself, and no amount of her reasons for it would appease her. It didn’t matter how traumatic that time had been, how deep its scars went even if they weren’t physical, her sister didn’t want to forgive her for such secrets, not right now.

      Everything was too raw, and neither of them were coping all that well with this. Losing their memories separately would have been bad enough, but to have that be the action of an AI compressing their minds and connecting them in ways that before were only myths about twins—beyond the legends, even—was worse.

      Halia could hardly stand it, the complete loss of privacy. All of her thoughts were going to her sister now, and she hated it. She wanted herself back.

      You are such a—”

      Um,” Bryer began, reaching over to touch Kalia’s arm, concern all over his face. “Look, I won’t pretend I know everything that’s going on right now because even with that bombshell you two just dropped on us, I don’t, but one thing I do know is you, and you have that look on your face like you’d gladly murder your sister. That’s not to say you mean it, I know that, too, but you… could use some distance. This is your ‘Halia’s paranoid and driving me so crazy I’m going to strangle her’ look. You need to cool off a bit. Now, I would suggest some chili cheese fries and a bunch of corny movies, but you are now giving me the ‘you can’t fix this’ look, so let’s settle for you sitting up front with me while I drive and let big sis sit in back with Aldy, okay?”

      Whatever,” Kalia said, going for the passenger seat. She got in and slammed the door shut behind her. And don’t bother apologizing, not that you would.

      Halia glared at her, balling her hand into a fist. Who the hell are you to tell me I had to say anything about that to anyone? Even being my twin doesn’t give you the right to know.

      This argument seems likely to repeat itself several times.

      Shut up, Aida.

      Halia shook with frustration and fear. It had almost been a relief to hear the AI go silent when she had, but it was also unsettling. She didn’t know what to think now, and she was still mortified, both from what the AI had done in taking control of her but also from the secrets now bared to everyone.

      I wouldn’t suggest going to my father’s home if we had any sort of viable alternative, but there is none I know of with the equipment we’d need to deal with your situation—which should not even be possible and yet is—no, that’s not even… we’re barely at the preliminary trials for that, so it can’t be a combination of—that’s not important now. We do need you to get back in the vehicle. It is not wise to let that… thing reside in your head any longer than we must.”

      She almost wanted to laugh. “You really do hate Aida, don’t you?”

      He shook his head. “No. It’s… It always felt like the project was a scam on my father’s part, a lie he was using to steal money from the backers because it was no more sophisticated than the assistants on phones and computers these days, and I do tend to dislike anything my father is heavily involved in because it’s his and he… It… If what you said is true, then yes, I should hate it. I have a reason to dislike it that is beyond my father’s abuses.”

      She winced. “Aldwyn…”

      Don’t,” he said, walking away from her and back to the other side of the car. It would be better if he sat behind Kalia since he was so tall, but he wanted his distance, too, and Halia couldn’t blame him for that.

      Damn that AI.

      I can hear you, you know.

      I wanted you to, Halia snapped, furious. She forced herself up and into the car, pulling the door shut and curling up on her side. You made me kiss him. He’s right. He should hate you. I do.

      She felt something brush her arm and jerked in surprise. She frowned, staring at Aldwyn’s coat, which was now covering her lap, having fallen off her shoulder when she moved.

      You shivered. And… it is not a blanket.”

      She winced, lowering her head and trying to fight for some measure of composure. She couldn’t let herself fall apart now, even if she might have every reason to. She did not deserve kindness from him. She wasn’t kind to him, she knew that even without all of her memories, and while Aida had controlled her body, she’d been the one that forced that moment on him. He’d been taken by surprise—even more so than her—and hurt. Hurt in a way no one should hurt.

      If it is of any consolation,” Aldwyn began in a low voice, one clearly only meant for her even if they had told him Kalia was aware of anything she was. “I am not wearing my glasses and cannot see anything… including any non-existent tears.”

      That did it. She turned toward him, all pride gone ad she sought out his warmth, shuddering against him as the tears she’d held back for so long overwhelmed her.

        1. Halia did seem like a good fit for this prompt because she doesn’t want anyone seeing her cry. She’s always been private, and she has more of a problem with being a twin than Kalia does. Kalia’s pretty laid back about it for the most part, but Halia feels not being seen as her own person strongly, and part of this is about one that Kalia just found out about that Halia hid and wouldn’t speak of (but accidentally told Aldwyn about when she was drunk and worried about her sister and because the rational part of her knows he’s different and trusts him, but her irrational half was scared by how much she did and how much she let him know and pushed him away harshly after he found out and used nearly every opportunity she had to be mean to him despite her and the other two basically knowing he’s in love with her even if he hasn’t said it.)

          (And so it was pretty messy between them even before the amnesia and AI, since she would overcompensate with meanness any time she caught herself worrying about him and any time his feelings for her seemed obvious.)

          Aldwyn is super sweet. I love that he’d tell her he couldn’t see so she’d feel like she could cry, but oops, typo.

    1. I suppose there are better ways of filling this prompt, but… this one was the loudest until I went to post it and thought of other things I should have done.

      Okay, I have a question.”

      Careen looked up from the notes she was making, frowning slightly at Justine, who seemed to regret her words as soon as she said them. She knew that reaction herself around here. The Blackledge Group was made of some rather intimidating men, after all, and even Annora could be off-putting to strangers. She was good at her job, maybe too good, and she could rival Warner with her ability to appear just at the right moment without any warning.

      You can ask. I don’t bite,” Careen said, smiling as she shifted her papers over. She found she liked writing here when she waited for Caton, though she did make more progress in the waiting room instead of in his lab, since she had a bad habit of getting distracted when she was with him.

      And he always blamed her for his distraction.

      I…” Justine grimaced. “Somehow, I can hear Oz telling me you do.”

      He gets under your skin awful quickly, doesn’t he?” Careen had to smile at that. Oz was not someone anyone could ignore—with the possible exception of Caton, who she believed sometimes did it just to annoy him. Other times, though, Oz provoked Caton in ways no one else could. “Well, even if he did, he’d be teasing, and he’d follow it up with something about me giving love bites and then he’d ask Caton if he had any.”

      Would he?”

      Careen frowned. “That’s… um…”

      It is actually what I was going to ask you. Are you and Caton… dating? Or… not.”

      Careen laughed, bringing her hand to her mouth. She knew she shouldn’t find it funny, but she did, sometimes. She wasn’t actually sure why it was a question for anyone, to be honest.

      Wait,” Justine said, coming closer and taking her hand. “Oh, damn, no wonder you’re laughing. You’ve got an infinity ring on your hand. Wait, that’s just your right hand. You don’t have anything on your left. I… Now I’m confused again.”

      Careen pulled her hand back and adjusted the band. “Caton felt an eternity band was more fitting since there wasn’t exactly a proposal and our engagement was… maybe five minutes long?”

      Justine sat down in the chair next to her. “Five minutes?”

      Careen nodded. “Um… we were arguing again. Caton was in a mood because Oz was needling him about us, and so he started to list off all the reasons why we were not dating, and then it actually looked like we were and so he tried to have a rational conversation about it which ended in both his most romantic and unromantic statement ever.”

      You’re smiling like you loved it, though.”

      I did,” Careen said, since any time she remembered it, those words and his voice still made her weak in the knees.

      The entire idea is absurd. If I had any sort of romantic feelings for you—and I do not, romance is an illusion created by neurochemical reactions in the brain—then I would be obligated to marry you today.”

      She still loved how flustered he’d gotten after that, how he tried to explain that, and her own sudden boldness, covering his mouth with this same hand and telling him she accepted.

      Do I even want to know what he said?”

      Careen shrugged. “It wasn’t that bad. Caton doesn’t do half-measures. He always figured if he was going to date someone, it was because he intended to marry them. And him trying to explain that after blurting it out really awkwardly was so adorable, I stopped lying to myself and admitted I loved him just as much. As soon as I said so, we got married.”

      Just like that?”

      Well, we did spend half the day—we were on a trip together, Caton was helping me research for a book—discussing how Oz insisted it was a romantic getaway and all the reasons why we weren’t dating –which is not to say that I don’t think it’s possible for people to have strong friendships without any sexual feelings at all, but in discussing what we thought our relationship wasn’t we really defined what it was, and since it was in many ways already like a marriage, we didn’t see any real reason why it couldn’t be one easily enough. Plus… Caton actually refused to officially date me around his brothers. They are… very protective of him, and Oz is nosy, too, so we wouldn’t have had a moment’s peace. And before you say that’s an exaggeration, there was an incident with a girl Caton dated in college and… it was very, very ugly.”

      Okay.”

      I’m not joking. Marshall tried to give her a prenup, Warner researched her family back to their first immigration to this country, in scary detail, even, and Oz… was Oz. Caton’s parents even helped with the disaster, explaining why he was good husband material but also insisting his genes attracted the girl to him. She… tried to have them all arrested. That’s… actually how they met Hart.”

      Justine put a hand to her head. “Okay, I realize the entire family is… kind of crazy, but she could just have dumped him and moved on, right? Or… did Warner threaten her, too?”

      They… all did.”

      Oh.”

      Careen shrugged. “If she’d stuck it out, she might have understood better. It’s not that they’re all dangerous or anything. Poor Marshall sees the law as a solution to too many things when it isn’t, and he really did want to help protect Caton because of course Oz was convinced this girl didn’t love Caton at all. Warner was suspicious of her, too, and you know how intimidating he can be. The thing is, though, it’s not… it’s actually heartbreaking, knowing how scared they are of losing him. I swear they’re all convinced if something did happen to Caton, the whole family would fall apart, so they treat him almost like he’s fragile, and he hates it, even if he admits he’s bad with emotions.”

      Because they think somehow the adoption goes away if there’s no Caton? That’s…”

      Illogical? Irrational? Both?” Careen sighed. “All of them went through forms of emotional abuse as kids, and as adorable as Caton’s parents can be, they are not the kinds of people you go to for emotional problems. None of them ever really recovered from the damage their biological parents did, and what they went through at that boarding school… They saw Caton almost die once. It traumatized them all, too.”

      You know a lot about them.”

      Careen nodded. “Well, I spent months around them before that day, and even before I started coming here to get Caton’s help with my writing, we spoke often enough when he came to eat at the restaurant. Plus it helps I’m a failed psychology student who realized she’d rather write about people’s problems than help them deal with them. That… Um… Never mind. I guess the point is… I already knew how special he was to them by the time we acknowledged anything romantic between us. There is some truth to that statement that when you marry someone, you marry their family as well. I knew that going in, and I don’t mind. I feel it, too—that sense that Caton’s special. Differently, of course, but he’s very important to me, too, and I don’t want to think about my life without him in it.”

      Justine nodded. “That all makes sense, except for one thing.”

      Hmm?”

      How do they not know about the two of you?”

      That made her laugh. “Oh. I… I suppose it’s because very little changed, at least in what they see of us. We supposedly acted like we were dating or even like a married couple before we were one, and now that we are… it’s still the same. Well, not completely, I mean, we do things we didn’t do before—we have sex—but that’s private and we don’t—oh, this is embarrassing. Forget I said that part, okay?”

      Justine laughed. “Okay. You’re cute, though.”

      Ugh. I hate when people say that about me,” Careen said, forcing herself to resist the urge to clarify that and say she didn’t actually mind if Caton said she was, though he usually didn’t and had only once used that word in connection with her—with her hands.

      He had also been a bit tipsy that time, too.

      And we’re sure they don’t know and this isn’t just a big circular game, right? You pretend you’re not a couple—”

      Except I don’t. Caton denies anything to his brothers, but since Oz likes to call it a ‘crush,’ which Caton disagrees with since it’s more than that, he’s not lying.”

      “—and his brothers pretend not to notice so that he doesn’t get mad at them?”

      Sometimes I think Warner does. Like his way of respecting Caton’s wishes is to pretend he doesn’t know, but Oz definitely doesn’t and Marshall is hopeless. He’s a sweetheart, really, but he can be kind of oblivious sometimes if it’s not about the law. I know Oz doesn’t know because we’d be getting lots and lots of ‘when are you going to have kids’ instead of ‘when are you going to kiss her already’ conversations. Or… worse… he’d be asking us about our bedroom habits, which… just no. Not discussing that.”

      Problems there?”

      Absolutely not.” Seeing skepticism, Careen sighed again. “I will just say this much—Caton is a very thorough, dedicated researcher, and he applies that in all aspects of his life.”

      That seems almost innocuous, and yet I also feel the need to fan myself.”

      I am a very happily married woman,” Careen said, fingering the band again. “And I’m sure eventually all of those boys will figure it out, but until then, I’m just going to go on enjoying what Caton and I have.”

      Yeah. That sounds like a good plan,” Justine said, her words almost taking on a wistful tone. Careen supposed the other woman had no idea just how often Marshall blushed when he was talking to her. She was pretty sure Marshall hadn’t realized it yet, but even if he had…

      It wasn’t Careen’s place to say anything.

      She’d leave that up to Oz. That was what younger brothers were for, right?

      1. Interesting! I like her whole, no, just no, we’re not discussing that. 😀 And the whole I wish I hadn’t said I had a question moment. Very cute.

        1. Thanks.

          Justine, as the newest member of the group and a relative stranger, doesn’t know a lot of the history, and she’s both curious and a bit scared to know more about any of them.

          And Oz is kind of shameless, so he’d ask that sort of thing, but both Careen and Caton are private people who prefer to keep that part of their romance to themselves.

          I’ve actually been going back and forth over whether or not it was a good idea to establish Careen and Caton’s relationship before the story starts. I actually tend to write where they’re in the process of falling in love, but I also really wanted to write them when they’d already gotten past their miscommunications and acknowledged feelings… but I don’t know if that actually works here since their relationship does seem to need some explaining.

          1. If you ever wrote a second book after the one where they fell in love, you’d be writing established relationship, regardless of whether they explain it or not. Established relationship is underrated. Its generally my favorite kind because there’s a whole lot more to maintaining a healthy loving relationship than there is to falling in love, and more people should write about it. It’s not boring.

    2. This isn’t a prompt, but us talking about platonic ships reminded me of this prompt blog I found looking for prompts a while back.

      They take requests, they do some themed ones, and they also tend to get and share recs for platonic stories, so you may find that useful.

      I believe someone did ask for prompts similar to your dynamic in the dangerous type with kid who has them wrapped around their finger, too, and there was even a post about making a platonic exchange, though that hasn’t materialized.

          1. You’re welcome. I hope it’s helpful.

            I haven’t actually managed to use any of the prompts there, but I would like to be able to do something. It’s just hard sometimes if they don’t mesh well with what my brain is mulling over, which of late has been all similar character types and not necessarily in any useful way.

            1. I never can predict what story or prompt’s gonna work in my head at a given moment. It depends on a whole ton of variables, so I just do the inputs and see what falls out.

    3. So, I actually think I know  why I had a need to write this story, but I also am totally depressed by it, and so I wasn’t going to work on it at all, but… I had started a scene that brought this back to mind and I finished it, and it’s not good because the tone shifts too much, but… it was inspired by this one anyway.

      Ruby forced herself not to look at Grahame, though she was aware of him just outside her vision. He was out of his office again, sitting out here to read instead of whatever it was he actually did as an actuary. He hadn’t explained, and she wasn’t sure she would understand if he did, but she did like that he was no longer hiding in his office whenever they weren’t working on a meal. She knew she shouldn’t. She didn’t have a right to his company, not really, not when she still hadn’t told him the truth. She wanted to say she kept getting interrupted, but she knew it wasn’t just that. She’d been interrupted a few times now, and she’d fallen asleep before she intended to a few others, so she’d accidentally missed when she meant to tell him, like after a meal, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have other chances to say it and simply not done it.

      Here she was, the daughter of his worst enemy, the monster of his nightmares, and he didn’t even know it. She knew it wasn’t extremely obvious—as far as any familial resemblance went, she’d gotten her mother’s family’s traits for the most part, though apparently both her parents must have had a pretty rare recessive gene that gave her these eyes of hers.

      And Luka’s.

      She didn’t look much of anything like her father, not to where if someone looked at her, they’d know. They’d know if they’d seen a picture of her with him, almost definitely, because her eyes were that distinctive. Blue eyes weren’t as common as some, but hers was a teal color, not quite blue and not green, either, and she hadn’t seen anyone else with eyes this shade before she had Luka. Others had what people called sapphire or light blue for eye color, not teal.

      She did think Grahame should recognize her, since she knew he’d seen her that night. He’d asked for her help, and she’d run. That had happened. She hadn’t made it up after the fact like some claimed.

      She shivered, pulling Luka closer to her as she tried to comfort herself. Here she was taking advantage of the generosity of the man she’d betrayed, his enemy now welcome in his house only because he somehow didn’t remember what she’d done. She had told herself she was doing this to help him, and she’d tell him once she’d done that, but she hadn’t said anything. She was such a liar, even now. A liar and a coward.

      Luka gave on of his proto-wails, and this time she couldn’t smile over what Grahame had named it. She ran her hand over Luka’s hair as she tried to soothe them both. She stopped, looking down at his head. No, she wasn’t mistaken. His hair was coming in thicker now, and it looked darker. Too dark. Not like hers or her mom’s, but like his.

      She grimaced. “You were supposed to get my hair, too, not his. You don’t want that. You don’t want to grow up looking like him.”

      She knew she shouldn’t say that. Luka was his own person. He could be himself, different from her and his father, and he wouldn’t have to be trapped by the way he looked or how he came to be. She just didn’t want to think of him suffering with each cruel word from other kids or even adults.

      No, that wasn’t it.

      It was, but it wasn’t.

      How was she supposed to face him as he grew up looking so much like that monster?

      Are you in pain?”

      She jerked, looking over at Grahame. “Oh. Um. No. I… I was just thinking.”

      Hmm.” He looked back down at his book, and she didn’t think he believed her, but then he shouldn’t since she was kind of lying. She swallowed. She did need to speak to him, to tell him the truth, though after what she’d just said about Luka… Did she dare? “Perhaps you need a glass of water or something.”

      What?”

      Your face said your thoughts were so disgusting you wished to vomit. Water might help.”

      Oh. I… My face said that much? I… Am I always so obvious?”

      He shrugged. “Perhaps I have come to understand your expressions more, though it is equally likely that it is simply because of what you told the child. I do have ears, too, you know.”

      She felt herself flush. “Oh. Right. I’m sorry.”

      If you prattling on to the child bothered me, I would already have made you leave.”

      She nodded. That much was true, and she was very glad he let her stay here, especially after the incident at the inn. She still liked working with Barbara, but sleeping there had been impossible, so she was grateful he let her spend as much time here as he did. Being her with him like this was very nice, too. She didn’t even know what he was reading, but it was comfortable like this.

      Would you tell me about your book?”

      He lifted it up for her to see the cover. “Are you sure you want me to?”

      I have no idea what that stuff on the cover means,” she said, biting her lip again. “Will you tell me? I… I should also work on getting my GED since he didn’t let me finish school, but… tonight, I think I’d just like to hear about what you’re reading. That is—if you’re willing to tell me about it. You don’t have to, but… it might be nice.”

      Very well, but if you fall asleep—”

      You’ll wake me because we actually both share a fear of me rolling over on Luka if I’m sleeping with him on this couch?”

      Grahame gave her a faint smile, nodding as he picked his book back up and started reading aloud.

        1. Yes, they are. That… really makes it that much worse my brain decided to panic over this, get depressed over something that may not be true even if it’s very likely to be true, and balk at trying to accept that truth and in doing so refusing to work on the story… they deserve better… and I just feel horrible because of the mental stuff and also not being able to finish Nano.
          1. To paraphrase, the story was made for man, not man for the story. The story will still be there if you ever come back to it, and you matter way more than fictional characters. Take care of yourself, you hear.

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