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. Hmm. Apparently all I can fill this with is dark, terrible backstory.

      *sigh*

      I shouldn’t even post the scene I just wrote with it in mind because it is… well… terrible.

  1. any, any/any, Thought we built a dynasty that heaven couldn’t shake
    Thought we built a dynasty like nothing ever made
    Thought we built a dynasty forever couldn’t break up — “Dynasty” by MIIA

    1. I kind of figured this prompt fit this family and how they kind of would think they’d break at losing a certain member, so… um… I tried the hospital scene, sort of.

      This can’t be happening. It just… can’t.”

      Warner closed his eyes, not wanting to look at Oz as he protested against what he knew to be true. Oz had been the one to find Caton, not that Warner or Marshall had been that far behind him, they never were, but that didn’t make it easier for the youngest to face the unpleasantness of this situation.

      Caton was in surgery now. He could still die, even if Oz had found him in time.

      Knowing Caton, he’d seen it as the only logical solution, allowing his stalker to reach him, to believe their younger brother as weak and helpless as he’d been when that man first chose to harm him, setting a trap that had worked in most senses of the word. As much as none of them had wanted this, Warner had suspected for a while that the only way to find that man would be to allow him an opportunity to get close to Caton. Had his younger brother discussed his plan with him, Warner would have been able to act in time, but Caton was still convinced that Warner wouldn’t allow it. True, he hadn’t wanted to, but he would have preferred to control the confrontation. If Caton had allowed him to do that, he might not be near death now.

      We could have helped him. We were trying to keep him safe. Why did he have to do this?”

      You know Caton. He didn’t want us to keep sheltering him or put ourselves at risk,” Marshall said. “And he definitely didn’t think Warner should have to put more blood on his hands.”

      Mine are stained enough. No one else’s need be, not when I can deal with threats more efficiently than most.”

      Marshall sighed. “You know that’s not what any of us wants. Caton more so than any of us. He is far more independent than we’ve ever been able to accept.”

      Oz balled his fist. “This kind of independent is just stupid. And Caton’s not stupid. He knows better than this.”

      As if it was some small thing that he evaded the notice of all three of us and executed this plan without us knowing until the last minute,” Warner said, reaching up for his glasses. He took them off and cleaned them, finding the habit less soothing than usual. “I can appreciate Caton’s skill and understand his reasons, even if I disagree with his choices.”

      Yeah, sure. And if he dies, what then? Come on, Warner. Be angry. Don’t pretend this is nothing. You have to be furious. We’re all furious. Aren’t we?”

      Marshall sighed. “Frustrated, at least. It… It shouldn’t have come to this. None of us wanted Caton in this position again. This is what we were trying to avoid. He… He spared us when we were kids by taking their abuse on himself. We were supposed to make sure that never happened again. That was… our pledge, our one goal even when we couldn’t agree on anything else. We… failed. We let down our brother, and we all feel it. Don’t start picking on Warner just because his grief isn’t as obvious as yours.”

      Grief? You’re already mourning him? Cat’s not dead yet. You bastard. If you—”

      Warner stepped in to stop Oz before he could swing at Marshall. Oz hit him instead, pounding fists against him in his frustration. Warner allowed it, knowing full well he could take the brunt of it better than Marshall.

      That’s not what I meant. You know that. I haven’t given up on Caton. If there’s one thing our brother is, it’s stubborn. He’s… he’s more stubborn than the rest of us, possibly even combined. It’s… I just didn’t want you taking this out on Warner. It’s not his fault. It’s not yours or mine. It’s not even Caton’s, as angry and frustrated as we are about what he did. This is because that man was determined to hurt him again. That man…”

      Did not suffer nearly enough,” Warner said, and Oz shuddered against him. “Caton was far more merciful than I would have been.”

      That…”

      It is not a real consolation, no,” Marshall said. He leaned against the wall, fatigue obvious. “Has anyone heard from them?”

      Mom and Dad?” Oz shook his head. “Last I knew, they were getting a flight in, but it’ll still be a bit because they’re overseas. And I… I don’t know. I feel almost like they shouldn’t get on the plane.”

      Oz—”

      What if it goes down? What if we lose them, too? It already feels like it’s all ending. I don’t… I can’t think… I don’t… It’s… Caton can’t die. He’s…”

      He’s your glue,” Careen said, her voice trembling as she did. “Though… you’re all wrong. You wouldn’t lose what you all share without him. It… It won’t go away. They’ll still be your parents. You three will still love each other the same. That won’t change. As much as you think it will… it won’t, not if you don’t let it.”

      Warner did not know that her statement was accurate. “I do not know that Caton’s death would not divide us, as much as you wish to believe otherwise.”

      Oz nodded. “We’re not that emotionally mature. Haven’t you and a few others said that enough? We… I mean, look at us now. I picked a fight with Marshall, Warner intervened, but… it’ll just happen more and more. It’s not like… Cat’s the voice of reason, as much as those two want to be. We all listen to him when we don’t want to listen to anyone else. He… He made this family. He says he didn’t, he denies it, but he did. What he did when he sacrificed himself for us back then… what he did in getting his parents to take us in… He made our family, and we don’t know what to do with ourselves without him. That’s… I can’t even think… if I think about Cat dying…”

      He won’t,” she whispered, though they all knew that her words were no guarantee. “I have to believe if he knew, he wouldn’t…”

      Oz went over to her, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t you go blaming yourself now for not telling him you loved him. You’re not to blame. Marshall’s right about that. It’s not on any of us.”

      She winced and lowered her head. “You don’t understand, Oz. It’s not like that.”

      As soon as he’s out of surgery, though, you tell him. You give that idiot brother of ours another reason to live.”

      I…”

      Oz, stop pushing her.” Marshall sighed. “Look, it’s not on you to save Caton, whatever your feelings toward him might be. So don’t let Oz make you think you have to say anything. Whether you do or don’t… that’s not something you have to speak of now, even if… if things are dire.”

      She swallowed. “No, there is something I should say, but I don’t know that right now is a good time for that. It…”

      If you distress yourself further, you will put the child at risk,” Warner said. “Try and stay as calm as you can under the circumstances.”

      Oz stepped back from her, looking from Warner to Careen and frowning. “Wait. No. Not you two. What the hell? You just asked Annora out, you bastard.”

      Don’t be an idiot.” Warner had seen Careen’s condition—it was becoming more and more obvious, so he wasn’t sure why he was the only one who noticed—but he wasn’t the child’s father.

      She shuddered, and Sunnie pulled her close, trying to soothe her. “It’s okay. We’ll make it through this somehow. All of us.”

      Before Oz could push her again, a nurse walked up to them. “Are you all family for Caton Wales?”

      Yes.”

      I have some news for you.”

    2. Kind of a stretch, maybe…

      *****

      Does the fact that you injured yourself only two days ago mean nothing to you?” Judas demanded, not certain why she would be so damned foolish as to stand on this dubious balcony. She could easily fall, again, and from a much higher place this time. “What are you doing out here? Do you lack all sense? Or do you simply not care about your own life? You object to being considered completely helpless, but this is absurd. You could fall and die.”

      She shook her head, turning around to face him. “The balcony is safe. Benny made sure of that before he left. He knew how I liked to come out here. This is… my favorite place to sit and read or watch a sunrise or sunset. I can think here in a way I can’t in the house. Though… I can’t think now.”

      He took a cautious step onto the wood. This did not look safe, nor did he know that he trusted Bennett’s handiwork. “Nevertheless, you were injured. And it looks like it might rain again. You are hardly dressed for the weather, and why is it when I turn my back for two minutes, you go and put yourself at some kind of risk?”

      Stop trying to tell me what to do,” she said, smacking her hand on the railing. “Look, I am not helpless. I just wanted to think. Needed to think. You were cooking, but I…”

      She turned back to look at the yard, lowering her head.

      Judas frowned. He almost wondered if she would throw herself off just to spite him. “If you wanted to cook again—”

      Why should I? You’re better at it than I am. I’m a complete failure as a woman, and no man is going to want me as a wife.” She gripped the railing so hard her hands went white and she seemed to choke back a sob.

      You are exaggerating. For one thing, you are a woman and simply by being that, I do not believe there is any possibility of failing. Such a thing is not possible. You either are, or you are not. Men, therefore, all fail at being women, and nothing can change that. Nor should it. You, however, cannot possibly fail at it. You are a woman. That’s it.”

      She looked back at him. “That’s not—”

      You cannot succeed as a wife when you are not one. That much is true. Nevertheless, it is too soon to say that no man would want you as a wife. It is true that the man that comes to mind did die a few weeks before I was invalided out, but he was quite convinced through Bennett’s tales of you that he would marry you. Of course, Bennett always insisted he would never let that happen—and that man was well below the standard of idiot, so you were spared his ‘affections,’ but it is not impossible you would find someone who wanted to marry you. Some might even be willing to do so if only for the estate you now own.”

      She shuddered, reaching up to wrap her arms around herself. “Even if that is true… I don’t… I came up here, and I looked out there… This is home. This has always been home. They homesteaded here. Everything we have is built up from that. It’s not a small thing. It’s a hundred years of history, and maybe that’s short in the terms of the history of the world, but in my family, it’s everything. Our entire legacy. This was meant to last forever.”

      He looked out at the grounds. They were somewhat extensive, and this house was certainly not small. If it had started as a homestead, it had been worked and built up by several generations. He did not know that he was impressed, but he could understand why she felt there was some accomplishment there.

      I don’t know that I can do it,” she said. “How can I let it go…?”

      He shook his head. “There are other places you can live. People shed homes easier than some snakes shed skins. I fail to see why it’s an issue. If you don’t want it, your decision is simple. Do not contest the will. Leave matters as they are. Pack your things and go.”

      I want the house. I don’t want to marry some random man to keep it. I want my home. I don’t know why you wouldn’t see the value of what my family has made here, but I do. I need to preserve that. It’s our whole lives. Generations of my family’s lives. I can’t do that. This was supposed to be forever.”

      He saw nothing here worth forever, but she was different. Other people put value on these things that he had never understood and never wanted to, not when it made them ridiculous like this. “The lawyer said you could try and contest it.”

      He also said he doubted anyone else would see it as a violation. That paper says I have to marry, and that is a violation. Why doesn’t anyone else see that? How could my grandmother believe that it’s not? I don’t understand. Would she have wanted to be forced into marriage?”

      It is likely she married at her family’s bequest.”

      Amara put her hand to her head. “Maybe, but she had to know that I couldn’t just find someone like that. She hadn’t arranged anything, and did she expect Benny to do that? He would never.”

      Judas kept his opinions on Bennett’s intention in sending him here to himself. He was not volunteering himself as her husband. He did not intend to marry, nor did he believe she would ever consider him a possibility.

      I don’t know what to do. Your lawyer said he’d do it, that he’d contest it, but he didn’t think it would work. The other insists it’s binding and legal. There may be nothing I can do about the will but accept it. Either I marry… and I have a baby… or I don’t. And I lose everything. All my family worked for. I don’t… why did she do this to me? She… she did love me. I know she did, but this… this can’t possibly be what she thought was best.”

      Judas shook his head. “It is my observation that people doing what is best for others frequently fail to understand that their idea of best only resolves the situation from their perspective. It does not actually help the person they believe they are assisting. The will did state you lack financial comprehension and she wanted your husband to manage the money. If you factor in Bennett’s opinion that you need other assistance… she may well have believed that getting you a husband would be the best way of caring for your future. Stupid, but her reasoning seems clear.”

      Excuse me?”

      The idea of one’s stability or future happiness resting on someone else is absurd. You don’t know what this husband might do with your money or to you.”

      She nodded. “That’s another reason… why I don’t know what to do. How do I face a future with someone I don’t even know? I just… I don’t know that I can do it, that I can marry just to save this place.”

      Perhaps not. You do not have to do it today. You have a full year even if the lawsuit fails.”

      She put a hand to her head. “I don’t know what to do. I can’t afford the lawyer, and I might not be able to pay you back even for the consultation today. And I can’t think… I look out there, and I… I just don’t know what to do.”

      You do not have to make a decision now.”

      No, but I… I don’t know what to do.”

      Judas shrugged. “I told you—there is time for that later. For now, I suggest you eat.”

      1. Judas kept his opinions on Bennett’s intention in sending him here to himself. He was not volunteering himself as her husband. He did not intend to marry, nor did he believe she would ever consider him a possibility.

        LOL You are totally gonna marry her. Though seriously, the baby bit is a pretty good reason for her to be worried about doing it now. I like how he pointed out the well-intentioned awful ideas of people who assume they know what’s best for you out of love (having quite a few relatives over the years that never understood me or my needs at all), and I like how they’re thrown in this together and he’s all exasperated at her and she’s like dude, I know the risks of the balcony. They’re cute.

        1. He is. He totally is. He just doesn’t know it yet.

          A baby is not something to take lightly, which is why she’s struggling with it so much. She wouldn’t just be risking her family legacy or even her own future, but also her child’s, and at this point, she doesn’t think she knows anyone worth marrying (though she’s just blind at the moment, Judas really is perfect for her.)

          I know it’s been the same way for me with a lot of my health issues. People in my family assumed I could just get on medication and everything would be wonderful or others assumed I could think happy thoughts or power through it… none of that actually works, and it’s taken me a long time to get where I am in understanding what does, so I get why they don’t see it, but it’s hard all the same when they think they know better.

          He shows his concern in thinking of practical things that could be dangerous, and she’s so over it because she knows her house and her limits, but they are quite cute in their small misunderstandings and actual need for each other.

  2. any, any+/any, We’re the run toward the fire kind
    We’re the fearless on the front line
    We’re the never leave each other, always layin’ down to cover
    Take a bullet for your brother kind — “Same Blood” by Aloe Blacc

    1. I really thought I’d end up doing this with the brothers from the other fic, but I was exploring characterization again, and I did this, and um… it kind of fits?

      You took a bullet for me.”

      Her hand was on the welt left by the shot that grazed him—he was lucky, the head of Adonis wasn’t nearly as good a marksman as she was—but her eyes were on him. He could see it now. Her strength all through that ordeal, her power to end it without taking any lives, that had run out in the face of quiet reality.

      Her fear, invisible when she took aim, was plain on her face, and her eyes were damp with unshed tears.

      He shook his head. “He was aiming for me. Don’t think he wasn’t. I was the one that wasn’t prepared.”

      He hadn’t drawn his weapon fast enough. He got shot. That was all on him. Not her.

      You could have died. For me.”

      I told you. He was aiming for me.”

      She shook her head. “He shot you so I’d get angry enough to kill him. That would have been what he wanted. And… I think… I would have. I would have killed him if he’d killed you. If he’d hit you a second time, I… I think I would have fired in anger. I wouldn’t have aimed to disarm him. I’d have wanted to kill him.”

      Yanagi pulled her close to him. He understood that better than she knew. If that bastard had fired at her first, Yanagi might have gone too far again. He might have broken every promise he made to himself to atone for his past and killed that man. Without her, none of this felt right. He’d been a coward hiding for so long, unable to face his past or move forward, he’d resigned from being a cop because he couldn’t reconcile his orders with what he’d learned the hard way. He couldn’t hold to his ideals, so he hid from everything all the while claiming he was doing the right thing—the only thing—to stop this terrorism.

      Then he’d found her. His nightmares returned to life in a mockery of their shared past. He’d needed her for the case, intended to use her but keep her at a distance. What a fool he’d been. He couldn’t keep to that, and she’d ended up saving him, forcing him to confront what he’d been avoiding. He found the way to overcome that same issue he’d become so mixed up over, and even if he still wouldn’t go back to being a cop, she had given him a way to be as close to at peace with himself as he would ever be.

      He couldn’t lose her. She was too important to him.

      He’d take a thousand bullets for her.

      He knew she’d do the same for him, and that scared him.

      Maybe you would have,” he said, reaching up to comb his fingers through her hair, tangling them in the longer sections that went down past her waist. “But I think you’d have the strength to overcome it in time. Even if you ran for a while, like I did, you’d come back again. You’re strong. Almost fearless.”

      I was terrified.”

      He nodded. “Yes. And you had every reason to be. Your life was in constant danger, anything you said or did could mean it was over in an instant. You didn’t know who did that to you or why. And then you found yourself face-to-face with a monster from your nightmares.”

      She shook her head. “I just needed to remember that you saved me. I was scared and confused back then, so my memories weren’t clear, but as much as that part when I woke up frightened me, it should never have overshadowed the relief I felt when you first came to help me. You didn’t have to. I was a stranger to you, but you came for me. I’m free because of you. Safe because of you. Then and now. I needed your help to see me through this. If not for you, I couldn’t have faced knowing who he really was. I saw him as a friend. I didn’t want to believe it. You helped me accept it and confront him. And then I almost lost you.”

      It was a graze.”

      If he wasn’t injured, I’d make him guard you forever.”

      Yanagi grimaced. “No. Hell, no.”

      She laughed then, and he had to smile in return. “Can I? I know you already said I could stay by your side, but I want to ask again. I want to be here. I want to watch over you like you watch over me.”

      You already know the answer to that,” he said, making a point to touch the ring he’d put on her finger. “Fait accompli, remember?”

      Yes, but—”

      I’ll say it again. I want to live with you. Forever. Now and forever. No matter what happens, I’ll never let you go,” he repeated his words from when he gave her the ring. “I told you I’d be clingy now that I let myself get attached.”

      I am willing to be as tied down as you want.”

      He couldn’t resist teasing her. Dangerous words when we’re alone in bed together.”

      She went red with his words, reminding him just how much of an innocent she was despite what she’d been through. Still, ever that strong woman that she was, she steadied her gaze and smiled at him. “I know you won’t hurt me.”

      He smiled back, barely keeping himself from saying too much. He felt sure this woman would be the death of him, but as she said, fait accompli. It was already done.

        1. Thanks. It was a lot easier to get into his head than it was hers, and it seemed to work out well… They’re actually very cute together. I like these two, a lot.
    2. Loose interpretation is… loose.

      Right, and I think I may just do a small transition to show that the coffee/tea table alliance has happened and they’re all working together now. Well, almost all. I’ll have to put it all together and make sure it doesn’t need more than a bit of a transition. If it does, I will write that scene, but for now, they’re at the point where they’re working together but before the green king has said he’s going to take the Slate.

      ***********

      Can’t believe I’m on babysitting duty again,” Yata muttered, aware of Kusanagi giving him a pointed look while the new kid he was babysitting didn’t so much as look in his direction. Yata didn’t know why he’d gotten saddled with Anna’s chosen, but he sure wasn’t happy about it.

      Sure, the kid could fight. Even before he’d officially taken Anna’s power, he wasn’t a slouch. He might even be a bit scary with just how far he’d gone in that fight with his so-called brother. Yata had considered Fushimi one, and he could understand hating someone that much, but Anna had to intervene because it wasn’t looking like either of those two would have given up before someone died.

      Already told you I’d go once I paid my debts.”

      Yata shook his head. That just made it worse. HOMRA was family. You didn’t just walk away from family.

      Like Fushimi.

      At least Yata wasn’t stuck working with any of the blues. He supposed this was better, even if he didn’t want to be stuck with the new guy. Shin’s fire came out looking like a heart, which was embarrassing as hell. They weren’t about hearts and flowers, but this guy couldn’t seem to make it shape into anything else, and he didn’t seem to want to use it, either.

      Listen up,” Kusanagi said, standing next to the blue chick. “This is the first time we’re working together in a large group, before we go stepping on each other’s toes, we need to remember—this is about taking down green.”

      The woman looked at him, and he shrugged. She shook her head. “We need to remember to keep order. Though the threat this time is on a scale we haven’t seen before, we cannot afford to allow this to become chaos. Our objective is simple: subdue the green clansmen before they cause further damage. Do not underestimate your enemy. These are not uninitiated E rank members who do not have any powers. We believe all the combatants currently involved are at least U rank and there may be J rank members present as well. This may be an attack meant to weaken our fighting power. We will hold several forces from each side as reserves in case of an ambush.”

      Better not be in the damned reserves again. If I get stuck outside of the fight because of you—”

      I’d offer to invite Toma over again so you could pick a fight with him, but I don’t like you that much,” Shin muttered, and Yata balled his fist, tempted to hit the kid anyway.

      I don’t need to go around picking fights with clanless people to win.”

      Shin nodded. “Right. You’re an idiot, not a bully.”

      You little—”

      Save it for the greens, boys. You’ll have your turn soon enough.”

      As if to make Kusanagi’s point, the building in front of them collapsed in on itself. Through the dust from the rubble came several figures and the loud chimes of multiple phones announcing the same thing.

      Mission failed. You have lost all your points. Mission failed. You have lost all your points.

      Let’s go round them up.”

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

      That was quite the speech.”

      Her anger flared at the sound of that voice. “Don’t look at me.”

      One of the other squad leaders spoke, his voice full of hesitation. “Lieutenant?”

      It’s okay. I know she’s talking to me,” the Strain said, and Awashima’s grip tightened on the handle of her sword. She knew Munakata saw some kind of purpose to this one, but she could not forgive him or herself for how she had behaved while under the influence of her eyes. She, the right hand of the blue king, a lieutenant trained in battle who dealt with all manner of extraordinary things on a daily basis, she had been reduced to a caricature of a school girl with a crush, believing herself in love with that man and willing to do anything to get his affection in return.

      She had even promised to give up anko when he asked. She’d completely taken leave of her senses.

      Incidentally, it’s when you look at me that’s the problem. I can look at your back and you won’t feel a thing, but if our eyes meet, that’s when there’s trouble. Ken says based on that there may be something in the pigmentation of my eyes that causes it, but he wasn’t actually able to determine which one because—”

      You’re a Strain,” Fushimi said. “You have powers because of the Slate. How hard is that for you to grasp?”

      Please. Like you, the one who claims to be interested only in gaining more power, would really think it would be pointless to understand exactly how any Strain’s ability worked. I got lucky. I found a friend who actually cared enough to try and help me understand why my ability works the way it does, which is more than you people did even after arresting me.” Ikki gave the hilt of Fushimi’s sword a pointed tap. “It’s not like I have one of those, after all. And I don’t get to use your shiny knives, either. I get to go back in a cell if I do that. A shame, too, because I was in a dart club and a billards club, too. Very good with my hands.”

      Enough. We’re here to deal with the greens,” Awashima said. She still wasn’t sure why the captain had insisted on sending his pet Strain along, though if this was some kind of test for her personally, she was resolved not to fail it. She would not succumb to those eyes again, and she would not let him provoke her, either.

      The building in front of them collapsed suddenly, sending a wave of shock through their people as a cloud of dust rose. How many people had been in that building? They had reports of a high number of Jungle, but there could have been civilians as well.

      She heard the voice announcing the lost points and shook her head as HOMRA started forward to gather up the Jungle members that had come out of the dust cloud. So much destruction, and yet it seemed like they had gathered all their forces for nothing.

      No. That wasn’t right. Was this another trap set by Jungle to make them come together only to attack at once? That seemed more likely.

      Lieutenant, there’s someone in the rubble,” Hidaka said, and she looked over to see a man sitting in the middle of what seemed like an intact room dead center of where the building used to be. Three of the four walls supporting its ceiling still stood, at least for a moment, before they all shifted into a fine powder that showered down and scattered in the breeze.

      The man, now more visible than before, reached into his coat and took out a phone. He opened it, showing a green screen.

      Halt!” Awashima ordered. “You are under arrest. If you do not surrender immediately or make an attempt to flee, we will use force to subdue you.”

      Don’t worry, Heartless Woman, we’ve got this!” The brash HOMRA with the skateboard charged forward. He was about to attack when another wall rose up in front of him, knocking him off the board and making him swear.

      A Strain? But if that was an illusion, he would have kept moving.

      Ken!” Ikki broke free of the ranks and ran past the others, rushing to the side of the man in the rubble, yanking the spade accent from his coat and throwing it down to create a barrier to block him from the others. He reached the man’s side and threw himself over him. “You idiot. Don’t you know how dangerous it is to go around with Jungle out there causing trouble for everyone?”

      The data… is intact.”

      Awashima motioned for her people to hold back. She would investigate this herself. Ikki was her responsibility, after all.

      Damn Blues,” Yata muttered. “Sheltering a green now? The hell is wrong with you?”

      A fellow HOMRA member reached over and hit him on the back of his head. “You’re the idiot. Kent’s colorblind. He only sees green.”

      Awashima tried not to wince. “Is that true?”

      Yes,” the man answered, shoving at the Strain. “Ikkyu, get off. If you wish to cuddle, find your fan club. You know I do not enjoy being touched.”

      Only if I’m sure they won’t hurt you.”

      I give you my word he will not be harmed unless he proves a threat,” Awashima said. She believed they might have to arrest him as an unregistered Strain, but that was different.

      And the reds?”

      Ikkyu, if you do not get off me right now—”

      They won’t touch him,” the new red member said. Awashima knew little about him, apart from his distinction as the first newcomer chosen by Anna instead of someone already recruited and belonging to Mikoto Suoh.

      Don’t you go speaking for all of us. How the hell do we know he’s not with the greens? Just because he’s colorblind doesn’t mean he isn’t one of them. What the hell was he doing here, anyway?”

      Research.”

      Research?” Fushimi had joined her, and she decided not to call him on his disobedience of her order. She hadn’t formally stated it, after all. “What kind of research?”

      I’ve been tracking the levels of variance around the city. This location had experienced significant growth over the last few weeks. I was trying to determine why when a bunch of those idiots showed up and claimed to have a mission here.”

      The greens attacked you?”

      He nodded. “This site must have some significance… they did not want me learning what that was. I have some readings, but I will still need to do more. I was in the middle of inverting the polar matrices when someone shouted that I was the mission and the fight began.”

      Awashima frowned. What could be so important about this location? And could this one man have held off that many ranking members of Jungle on his own?

      Can you walk?” Ikki asked, getting a glare in answer. “Come on, Ken. Even with what you can do, that was no small fight. You sound exhausted.”

      I sound strange because you have yet to let go of me and are actually compressing my air supply this way.”

      Liar,” Ikki said, but he did finally let go. “You better not be just saying that. If you die… Nope. Not allowed. I’m still trying to convince your parents to adopt me, remember?”

      As my mother is a lawyer and could have drawn up the papers at any time if she so desired it, I think she has no intention of doing so.”

      Damn, you’re mean. Why do you always have to crush my dreams?”

      Don’t you idiots even start,” Shin muttered. “I get enough of this at work. Can’t believe I’m stuck with it here. And the hell, Ikki? Who thought it was a good idea to recruit you into blue?”

      I did, actually,” Munakata answered, his sudden appearance causing a low murmur through the crowd. With what they’d thought they were up against, they could not be certain that his presence would not be needed, though she had hoped it would not be. She worried about the state of his sword of Damocles, and she wanted to make sure he did not die on them as Suoh had.

      Shin shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

      Hey, I am the complete package, you know—brains, beauty, and even brawn. Why wouldn’t I be of use to the blues or anyone else?” Ikki countered. “I mean, sure, my Strain ability is more of a drawback than an asset, and it’s not something I can use like a weapon like some people’s, but I am not the slightest bit useless.”

      Ikkyu?”

      Hmm, Ken?”

      Take this and shut up,” the other man said, passing him a paper and making him groan with the sight of it. He rose to his feet, slightly unsteady, but when he stood at his full height, he was taller than Munakata. His black and green coat did make him seem likely to be allied with Jungle, but if it was true he could only see green, his clothing choice almost made sense. It had far too many buckles to be completely practical, but he did almost seem like he could go toe-to-toe with the captain.

      You said you were doing research. I’d like to know more about it.”

      Kent folded his arms over his chest. “Are you familiar with Fermet’s Last Theorem?”

      The one finally solved by Andrew Wiles in Ninety-five? Does this relate to elliptic curves or is this another part of the final solution?”

      If we’re talking about the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture, I think that’s a misapplication,” Ikki said. “I mean, that doesn’t really apply to this, does it? Or are you tracking the divergence in elliptical forms from some kind of central nexus? Huh. I suppose that does fit. Never mind. Carry on, Ken. I didn’t mean to doubt your brilliance.”

      Awashima frowned. “Fushimi, what are they talking about?”

      Math,” Fushimi answered, which was no explanation at all. She supposed it didn’t matter so long as the captain understood it, which he seemed to do.

      These elliptical patterns have a point of origin, I assume?”

      More than one. Some trace from what is known as the Kugutsu Crater, others from Mihashira Tower, and still others from locations not in Japan.”

      Specifically?”

      Dresden, Germany for one, also some in Prague, Czechoslovakia.”

      Intriguing. I should like to hear even more. Perhaps you would be willing to disclose the full particulars of your study to me at my office?”

      Captain—”

      I am aware he’s at least a Beta level Strain, Lieutenant. However, I do not believe he means us any harm. Indeed, it is quite impressive that for being such a powerful Strain, no sign of that has been seen prior to today’s events.”

      Kent folded his arms over his chest. “While it is true that nothing else comes close to answering why I am capable of doing what I can do, and all my attempts to explain it by other means have failed, that does not mean I want this ability or even would accept this as reality if there was no other option. It goes against all sense and reason and to use it is… unacceptable as well. At the same time, however, it would seem that my fight or flight response and sense of self-preservation were too strong as natural impulses, and I used what I could do to save myself.”

      Ken,” Ikki said with a wince. “Come on. It’s not that bad. You get to do amazing things with yours. I’m stuck with a curse because I wanted girls to like me. How dumb is that, right?”

      I will state that I think there are things you could do to change your situation even if the effect of your eyes remains permanent and at the same level as it currently exists. It is your willingness to commit to the three month cycle that was created and partially perpetuated by your fan club that causes most of your difficulty, including your mistaken belief that you can never have love.” Kent adjusted his glasses. “I also believe Kokoa is not the only exception to the effect of your eyes, simply the only one you are aware of at present.”

      Spoken like a true friend.”

      If you hug me again, I will use my ability against you.”

      Awashima shook her head. Were these two always like this? If the captain decided that Kent, too, would be on their side, how would they get any work done? They were short-handed as it was, and she did not want to think about how they’d manage to keep an eye on both men even with the reds helping them subdue Jungle.

      If you use your ability in a violent manner, we will be forced to arrest you,” she told him, and he grimaced. “Under the mandate of Scepter Four—”

      I’m aware you believe I’m more of a threat than Ikkyu is, and you already took him into custody.” He sighed, and she thought he was resigning himself to his fate. That would make this easier, though it did seem like Ikki might fight the arrest. “Incidentally, you’re late.”

      She frowned, thinking he meant her for a moment, but he was not speaking to her, Ikki, or even Munakata, his eyes now focused on someone behind them.

      I disagree. My timing is perfect, as always,” the man said, moving past everyone just in time to catch Kent when his strength gave out and he almost fell. “You handled yourself well today.”

      No.”

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

      One Strain against a bunch of high ranking Jungle creeps?” Yata shook his head, arms folded over his chest. “Kind of hard to believe, actually.”

      Because you assume that Kent’s Strain is a mere manipulation of perception. You are more experienced than that, are you not? I suppose that you are likely disposed to believe that, having experienced the talents of the girl called Neko when she employs them for defense, but your own King has other abilities.”

      Careful, Waka,” the blue Strain advised. “We don’t need them thinking Ken’s a threat when he’s a pacifist.”

      The other man smiled smugly. Did that jerk actually think that was funny? It wasn’t. “Is that what you think I’d allow them to do?”

      Uh… No, actually,” the Strain said. “Can we not do the scary boss thing now? Because… I think you honestly scare me more than Munakata does.”

      I should. He stands for law and order. I am far more… nebulous.”

      Like you’re a real match for a king. Who the hell even are you?” Yata demanded. “You show up with that guy, whose Strain is supposedly powerful enough to take down all these Jungle jerks, and somehow we’re not trying to beat you down, too?”

      It is good to finally meet you, Waka,” Munakata said as he folded his arms behind his chest. “I’ve heard much about you that interests me as well.”

      I’m retired.” Waka shifted Kent’s weight on his shoulder. “And your intervention with Kent is not needed, nor was it necessary for you to take Ikki. Shin needed HOMRA, but Ikki does not need you, and I am more than capable of protecting my own.”

      As you are a former Usagi, I have no doubt about that,” Munakata agreed, causing murmurs to go through the crowd. Yata himself was frowning. Someone had actually walked away from the Gold King? Wasn’t he like all powerful or something? Would he really have let that happen? “Still, you may be able to be of further assistance to us, and if that is the case, I should like to be able to call upon you.”

      Captain—”

      Munakata held up a hand. “Jungle is currently a threat to everyone, not just my clan, the Silver Clan, or HOMRA. You will not be able to remain neutral in what is to come.”

      Perhaps not.”

      I’ve heard, in fact, that you would mete a great punishment on any who attempted to draw you out of retirement. Does that hold true of the green king as well?”

      Waka smiled, and damn, that was one hell of a creepy smile. “Naturally. Rest assured I will see to it he pays for what he has already done to my people.”

      Yes,” Munakata said. “The fact that Hisui targeted your research is quite intriguing. I would like to know what he sees in it that is such a threat. Unless, of course, he is simply using Kent as he used Kuroh Yatogami and this was meant to lure you out.”

      Unlikely.”

      Though he didn’t want to agree with the Blue King who killed Mikoto on anything, Yata still shrugged. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

      True enough, though even with access to the Gold Clan’s records, I doubt very much that man considers me a threat.”

      He has the mentality of a spoiled child,” Kent muttered. “Assigning him a sane reason for doing anything is absurd, and the same holds for his ‘clan.’”

      Excellent point,” Waka said. “Though your condition certainly isn’t improving. We should go.”

      About that research—”

      Given the nature of this move, you will convene another strategy meeting soon. Simply have Ikki or Shin tell us where it will be, and we will be there.”

      I never agreed to that.”

      You’re unfortunately quite necessary, Kent. You cannot refuse.”

      Would if I could think straight. One more calculation and—”

      No, no, we’re getting you home to rest before you make me fat again.” The Strain shuddered and that Waka guy actually laughed. “Hey! That… You… No, I suppose you did think it was funny. And you still have those pictures, don’t you?”

      Waka’s smile, Yata decided, was completely evil.

      1. So… The only reason they didn’t teach Ikki about his power was likely because Munakata was more interested in recruitment and Ikki already knew about it. But they don’t just “arrest” all Strains. They register them and make sure they know what they’re doing so they don’t hurt anyone, then keep tabs on them and arrest them if they actually do hurt anyone.

        I am absolutely 100% intrigued by the research as it clearly dovetails with the Slate’s power. Very interesting!

        1. I’ll have to adjust the wording to reflect them doing the detain and rehabilitate/classify thing with Strains.

          Ikki got his ability as a child (in line with his canon background of making a wish as a young boy for girls to like him and ending up with his hypnotic eyes, Nhil is a perhaps a well-intentioned wish granter, but he doesn’t consider the consequences, which for Ikki have been far worse than his childhood self could have ever known and kept him from a true relationship of almost any kind for years.) He’s had experience dealing with it and negating its effects for a long time, so it might also be that training him about his Strain ability wasn’t necessary.

          Ikki’s also not joking about his talents at billards and darts, and he would be a good fighter. I think overall he’s kind of an asset, though his nature isn’t entirely suited to blue. Still, his connection to Waka is useful, and Munakata also dangled possible relief from the effect of his eyes as an incentive for Ikki to join them, which may be another reason why they haven’t done much about his eyes.

          Kent’s been tracking the spread of the effects of the Slate, in part. I forgot a discussion of his research was supposed to happen at the strategy meeting. I’m going to have to go do some more edits…

          1. That’s what makes sense to me. It’s like most Strains that aren’t doing anything criminal are fine as long as they’re registered, and they’re actually checked as babies basically and if noticed later, just assessed: dangerous, not dangerous, needs training, doesn’t. So it’s like Ikki arriving the way he is, he’s just a useful asset who happens to be a Strain, and there really isn’t anything more Scepter 4 needs to do about his power at this point beyond note it.

            I feel like this Nhil I haven’t encountered yet is similar to the Slate in that it chooses who fits the aura without regard to the consequences, just as Nhil grants the wish without regard to the consequences. It’s a good fit.

            1. Yeah. I was just working on the idea that these are Strains who developed after their likely testing (Ikki’s part ties his to Kugutsu, like Neko’s and Kent’s coming from that incident as well started part of his research) and Kent and a few others might wrongly think that he’d be arrested for a pretty violent use of his abilities just then, though he was at first assumed to be their enemy in Jungle because of his colorblind dependency on the green of his phone to see some things properly. Ikki’s ability and Kent’s are pretty under control, so they wouldn’t need further training. Munakata just saw him as an asset he wanted to use.

              Nhil doesn’t make an appearance in person until the last episode of the anime or the end of Ukyo’s route (assuming one survives all of his many bad ends.) He’s referenced before hand, and it’s heavily implied in Ikki’s route (and in the anime,  I believe, though it’s been a while since I watched it) that Ikki’s eyes were a wish granted by Nhil. He gave Ikki what he thought he wanted, and he tried to do the same with Ukyo, but it didn’t go well. Some people excuse what Ukyo did because Nhil should have known better or acted differently, and I agree to a point but I still don’t think it excuses what he did so I still dislike him.

              The wish part does seem to connect the two canons a bit more.

      2. The edited version, with more clarity all around… Yata’s scenes got the most changes, others were more word choice than characterization.

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

        Can’t believe I’m on babysitting duty again,” Yata muttered, aware of Kusanagi giving him a pointed look while the new kid he was babysitting didn’t so much as look in his direction. Yata didn’t know why he’d gotten saddled with Anna’s chosen, but he sure wasn’t happy about it.

        Sure, the kid could fight. Even before he’d officially taken Anna’s power, he wasn’t a slouch. He might even be a bit scary with just how far he’d gone in that fight with his so-called brother. Yata had considered Fushimi one, and he could understand hating someone that much, but Anna had to intervene because it wasn’t looking like either of those two would have given up before someone died.

        Already told you I’d go once I paid my debts.”

        Yata shook his head. That just made it worse. HOMRA was family. You didn’t just walk away from family.

        Like Fushimi had.

        You better not,” Yata told him, and Shin glanced toward him. “If you betray HOMRA, I will personally hunt you down and make you pay. You don’t get to treat Anna with that kind of disrespect after all she did for you.”

        I already said I’d pay my debt,” Shin said, balling a fist, his aura coming out and circling his arm, looking like a damned heart again. Soon as he saw it, he cut it off and made it stop, muttering under his breath as he did.

        Listen up,” Kusanagi said, standing next to the blue chick. “This is the first time we’re working together in a large group, before we go stepping on each other’s toes, we need to remember—this is about taking down green.”

        The woman looked at him, and he shrugged. She shook her head. “We need to remember to keep order. Though the threat this time is on a scale we haven’t seen before, we cannot afford to allow this to become chaos. Our objective is simple: subdue the green clansmen before they cause further damage. Do not underestimate your enemy. These are not uninitiated E rank members who do not have any powers. We believe all the combatants currently involved are at least U rank and there may be J rank members present as well. This may be an attack meant to weaken our fighting power. We will hold several forces from each side as reserves in case of an ambush.”

        Better not be in the damned reserves again. If I get stuck outside of the fight because of you—”

        I’d offer to invite Toma over again so you could pick a fight with him, but I don’t like you that much,” Shin muttered, and Yata balled his fist, tempted to hit the kid anyway.

        I don’t need to go around picking fights with clanless people to win.”

        Shin nodded. “Right. You’re an idiot, not a bully.”

        You little—”

        Save it for the greens, boys. You’ll have your turn soon enough.”

        As if to make Kusanagi’s point, the building in front of them collapsed in on itself. Through the dust from the rubble came several figures and the loud chimes of multiple phones announcing the same thing.

        Mission failed. You have lost all your points. Mission failed. You have lost all your points.

        Let’s go round them up.”

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

        That was quite the speech.”

        Her anger flared at the sound of that voice. “Don’t look at me.”

        One of the other squad leaders spoke, his voice full of hesitation. “Lieutenant?”

        It’s okay. I know she’s talking to me,” the Strain said, and Awashima’s grip tightened on the handle of her sword. She knew Munakata saw some kind of purpose to this one, but she could not forgive him or herself for how she had behaved while under the influence of her eyes. She, the right hand of the blue king, a lieutenant trained in battle who dealt with all manner of extraordinary things on a daily basis, she had been reduced to a caricature of a school girl with a crush, believing herself in love with that man and willing to do anything to get his affection in return.

        She had even promised to give up anko when he asked. She’d completely taken leave of her senses.

        Incidentally, it’s when you look at me that’s the problem. I can look at your back and you won’t feel a thing, but if our eyes meet, that’s when there’s trouble. Ken says based on that there may be something in the pigmentation of my eyes that causes it, but he wasn’t actually able to determine which one because—”

        You’re a Strain,” Fushimi said. “You have powers because of the Slate. How hard is that for you to grasp?”

        Please. Like you, the one who claims to be interested only in gaining more power, would really think it would be pointless to understand exactly how any Strain’s ability worked. I got lucky. I found a friend who actually cared enough to try and help me understand why my ability works the way it does, which is more than you people did even after arresting me.” Ikki gave the hilt of Fushimi’s sword a pointed tap. “It’s not like I have one of those, after all. And I don’t get to use your shiny knives, either. I get to go back in a cell if I do that. A shame, too, because I was in a dart club and a billards club, too. Very good with my hands.”

        Enough. We’re here to deal with the greens,” Awashima said. She still wasn’t sure why the captain had insisted on sending his pet Strain along, though if this was some kind of test for her personally, she was resolved not to fail it. She would not succumb to those eyes again, and she would not let him provoke her, either.

        The building in front of them collapsed suddenly, sending a wave of shock through their people as a cloud of dust rose. How many people had been in that building? They had reports of a high number of Jungle, but there could have been civilians as well.

        She heard the voice announcing the lost points and shook her head as HOMRA started forward to gather up the Jungle members that had come out of the dust cloud. So much destruction, and yet it seemed like they had gathered all their forces for nothing.

        No. That wasn’t right. Was this another trap set by Jungle to make them come together only to attack at once? That seemed more likely.

        Lieutenant, there’s someone in the rubble,” Hidaka said, and she looked over to see a man sitting in the middle of what seemed like an intact room dead center of where the building used to be. Three of the four walls supporting its ceiling still stood, at least for a moment, before they all shifted into a fine powder that showered down and scattered in the breeze.

        The man, now more visible than before, reached into his coat and took out a phone. He opened it, showing a green screen.

        Halt!” Awashima ordered. “You are under arrest. If you do not surrender immediately or make an attempt to flee, we will use force to subdue you.”

        Don’t worry, Heartless Woman, we’ve got this!” The brash HOMRA with the skateboard charged forward. He was about to attack when another wall rose up in front of him, knocking him off the board and making him swear.

        A Strain? But if that was an illusion, he would have kept moving. No, if this man was a Strain, he was not using illusions. The wall that took down the HOMRA clansman still stood where it had formed only moments before.

        Ken!” Ikki broke free of the ranks and ran past the others, rushing to the side of the man in the rubble, yanking the spade accent from his coat and throwing it down to create a barrier to block him from the others. He reached the man’s side and threw himself over him. “You idiot. Don’t you know how dangerous it is to go around with Jungle out there causing trouble for everyone?”

        The data… is intact.”

        Awashima motioned for her people to hold back. She would investigate this herself. Ikki was her responsibility, after all.

        Damn Blues,” Yata muttered. “Sheltering a green now? The hell is wrong with you?”

        A fellow HOMRA member reached over and hit him on the back of his head. “You’re the idiot. Kent’s colorblind. He only sees green.”

        Awashima tried not to wince. “Is that true?”

        Yes,” the man answered, shoving at the Strain. “Ikkyu, get off. If you wish to cuddle, find your fan club. You know I do not enjoy being touched.”

        Only if I’m sure they won’t hurt you. They arrested me after that thing with my sunglasses, and this… well, that was a riot, but this still looks worse.”

        I give you my word he will not be harmed unless he proves a threat,” Awashima said. She believed they might have to detain him as an unregistered Strain, but that was different.

        That didn’t appease their Strain. “And the reds?”

        Ikkyu, if you do not get off me right now—”

        They won’t touch him,” the new red member said. Awashima knew little about him, apart from his name and distinction as the first newcomer chosen by Anna instead of someone already recruited and belonging to Mikoto Suoh.

        Don’t you go speaking for all of us. You don’t get to do that when you can’t even respect what you have,” Yata said, folding his arms over his chest. “How the hell do we know he’s not with the greens? Just because he’s colorblind doesn’t mean he isn’t one of them. What the hell was he doing here, anyway?”

        Research.”

        Research?” Fushimi had joined her, and she decided not to call him on his disobedience of her order. She hadn’t formally stated it, after all. “What kind of research?”

        I’ve been tracking the levels of variance around the city. This location had experienced significant growth over the last few weeks. I was trying to determine why when a bunch of those idiots showed up and claimed to have a mission here.”

        Awashima looked around at the wreckage again. “The greens attacked you?”

        He nodded. “This site must have some significance… they did not want me learning what that was. I have some readings, but I will still need to do more. I was in the middle of inverting the polar matrices when someone shouted that I was the mission and the fight began.”

        Awashima frowned. What could be so important about this location? And could this one man have held off that many ranking members of Jungle on his own?

        Can you walk?” Ikki asked, getting a glare in answer. “Come on, Ken. Even with what you can do, that was no small fight. You sound exhausted.”

        I sound strange because you have yet to let go of me and are actually compressing my air supply this way.”

        Liar,” Ikki said, but he did finally let go. “You better not be just saying that. If you die… Nope. Not allowed. I’m still trying to convince your parents to adopt me, remember?”

        As my mother is a lawyer and could have drawn up the papers at any time if she so desired it, I think she has no intention of doing so.”

        Damn, you’re mean. Why do you always have to crush my dreams?”

        Don’t you idiots even start,” Shin muttered. “I get enough of this at work. Can’t believe I’m stuck with it here. And the hell, Ikki? Who thought it was a good idea to recruit you into blue?”

        I did, actually,” Munakata answered, his sudden appearance causing a low murmur through the crowd. With what they’d thought they were up against, they could not be certain that his presence would not be needed, though she had hoped it would not be. She worried about the state of his sword of Damocles, and she wanted to make sure he did not die on them as Suoh had.

        Shin shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

        Hey, I am the complete package, you know—brains, beauty, and even brawn. Why wouldn’t I be of use to the blues or anyone else?” Ikki countered. “I mean, sure, my Strain ability is more of a drawback than an asset, and it’s not something I can use like a weapon like some people’s, but I am not the slightest bit useless.”

        Ikkyu?”

        Hmm, Ken?”

        Take this and shut up,” the other man said, passing him a paper and making him groan with the sight of it. He rose to his feet, slightly unsteady, but when he stood at his full height, he was taller than Munakata. His black and green coat did make him seem likely to be allied with Jungle, but if it was true he could only see green, his clothing choice almost made sense. It had far too many buckles to be completely practical, but he did almost seem like he could go toe-to-toe with the captain.

        You said you were doing research. I’d like to know more about it.”

        Kent folded his arms over his chest. “Are you familiar with Fermet’s Last Theorem?”

        The one finally solved by Andrew Wiles in Ninety-five? Does this relate to elliptic curves or is this another part of the final solution?”

        If we’re talking about the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture, I think that’s a misapplication,” Ikki said. “I mean, that doesn’t really apply to this, does it? Or are you tracking the divergence in elliptical forms from some kind of central nexus? Huh. I suppose that does fit. Never mind. Carry on, Ken. I didn’t mean to doubt your brilliance.”

        Awashima frowned. “Fushimi, what are they talking about?”

        Math,” Fushimi answered, which was no explanation at all. She supposed it didn’t matter so long as the captain understood it, which he seemed to do.

        These elliptical patterns have a point of origin, I assume?”

        More than one. Some trace from what is known as the Kugutsu Crater, others from Mihashira Tower, and still others from locations not in Japan.”

        Specifically?”

        Dresden, Germany for one, also some in Prague, Czechoslovakia.”

        Intriguing. I should like to hear even more. Perhaps you would be willing to disclose the full particulars of your study to me at my office?”

        Captain—”

        I am aware he’s at least a Beta level Strain, Lieutenant. However, I do not believe he means us any harm. Indeed, it is quite impressive that for being such a powerful Strain, no sign of that has been seen prior to today’s events.”

        Kent folded his arms over his chest. “While it is true that nothing else comes close to answering why I am capable of doing what I can do, and all my attempts to explain it by other means have failed, that does not mean I want this ability or even would accept this as reality if there was no other option. It goes against all sense and reason and to use it is… unacceptable as well. At the same time, however, it would seem that my fight or flight response and sense of self-preservation were too strong as natural impulses, and I used what I could do to save myself.”

        Ken,” Ikki said with a wince. “Come on. It’s not that bad. You get to do amazing things with yours. I’m stuck with a curse because I wanted girls to like me. How dumb is that, right?”

        I will state that I think there are things you could do to change your situation even if the effect of your eyes remains permanent and at the same level as it currently exists. It is your willingness to commit to the three month cycle that was created and partially perpetuated by your fan club that causes most of your difficulty, including your mistaken belief that you can never have love.” Kent adjusted his glasses. “I also believe Kokoa is not the only exception to the effect of your eyes, simply the only one you are aware of at present.”

        Spoken like a true friend.”

        If you hug me again, I will use my ability against you.”

        Awashima shook her head. Were these two always like this? If the captain decided that Kent, too, would be on their side, how would they get any work done? They were short-handed as it was, and she did not want to think about how they’d manage to keep an eye on both men even with the reds helping them subdue Jungle.

        If you use your ability in a violent manner, we will be forced to arrest you,” she told him, and he grimaced. “Under the mandate of Scepter Four—”

        I’m aware you believe I’m more of a threat than Ikkyu is, and you already took him into custody.” He sighed, and she thought he was resigning himself to his fate. That would make this easier, though it did seem like Ikki might fight them taking him into custody for any reason. “Incidentally, you’re late.”

        She frowned, thinking he meant her for a moment, but he was not speaking to her, Ikki, or even Munakata, his eyes now focused on someone behind them.

        I disagree. My timing is perfect, as always,” the man said, moving past everyone just in time to catch Kent when his strength gave out and he almost fell. “You handled yourself well today.”

        I didn’t.”

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

        One Strain against a bunch of high ranking Jungle creeps?” Yata shook his head, arms folded over his chest. He didn’t like this. Here they were allied with these blue jerks—like Fushimi the traitor—and he was stuck working with another one in Shin, who just happened to know this suspicious Strain and the new blue guy, too. None of this felt right, and he knew he’d be sore for a while after that damned wall. Was this jerk behind that? “Kind of hard to believe, actually.”

        Because you assume that Kent’s Strain is a mere manipulation of perception. You are more experienced than that, are you not? I suppose that you are likely disposed to consider that possibility first, having more recently experienced the talents of the girl called Neko when she employs them for defense, but your own King has other abilities. Ikki and Kent do as well.”

        Careful, Waka,” the blue Strain advised. “What I can do really isn’t useful, and we don’t need them thinking Ken’s a threat when he’s a pacifist.”

        The other man smiled smugly. Did that jerk actually think that was funny? It wasn’t. “Is that what you think I’d allow them to do?”

        Uh… No, actually,” the Strain said. “Can we not do the scary boss thing now? Because… I think you honestly scare me more than Munakata does.”

        I should. He stands for law and order. I am far more… nebulous.”

        Like you’re a real match for a king. Who the hell even are you?” Yata demanded. “You show up with that guy, whose Strain is supposedly powerful enough to take down all these Jungle jerks, and somehow we’re not trying to beat you down, too?”

        It is good to finally meet you, Waka,” Munakata said as he folded his arms behind his chest. “I’ve heard much about you that interests me as well.”

        I’m retired.” Waka shifted Kent’s weight on his shoulder. “And your intervention with Kent is not needed, nor was it necessary for you to take Ikki. Shin needed HOMRA, but Ikki does not need you, and I am more than capable of protecting my own.”

        As you are a former Usagi, I have no doubt about that,” Munakata agreed, causing murmurs to go through the crowd. Yata himself was frowning. Someone had actually walked away from the Gold King? Wasn’t he like all powerful or something? Would he really have let that happen? Sure, he was dead now, so maybe that was it. The guy left when his king died. Huh. So much for loyalty, right? “Still, you may be able to be of further assistance to us, and if that is the case, I should like to be able to call upon you.”

        Captain—”

        Munakata held up a hand. “Jungle is currently a threat to everyone, not just my clan, the Silver Clan, or HOMRA. You will not be able to remain neutral in what is to come.”

        Perhaps not.”

        I’ve heard, in fact, that you would mete a great punishment on any who attempted to draw you out of retirement. Does that hold true of the green king as well?”

        Waka smiled, and damn, that was one hell of a creepy smile. “Naturally. Rest assured I will see to it he pays for what he has already done to my people.”

        Yes,” Munakata said. “The fact that Hisui targeted your research is quite intriguing. I would like to know what he sees in it that is such a threat. Unless, of course, he is simply using Kent as he used Kuroh Yatogami and this was meant to lure you out.”

        Unlikely.”

        Though he didn’t want to agree with the Blue King who killed Mikoto on anything, Yata still shrugged. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

        True enough, though even with access to the Gold Clan’s records, I doubt very much that man considers me a threat.”

        He has the mentality of a spoiled child,” Kent muttered. “Assigning him a sane reason for doing anything is absurd, and the same holds for his ‘clan.’”

        True of at least the lower ranking members,” Waka agreed. “Though your condition certainly isn’t improving. We should go.”

        About that research—”

        Given the nature of this move, you will convene another strategy meeting soon. Simply have Ikki or Shin tell us where it will be, and we will be there.”

        I never agreed to that.”

        You’re unfortunately quite necessary, Kent. You cannot refuse.”

        Would if I could think straight. One more calculation and—”

        No, no, we’re getting you home to rest before you make me fat again.” The Strain shuddered and that Waka guy actually laughed. “Hey! That… You… No, I suppose you did think it was funny. And you still have those pictures, don’t you?”

        Waka’s smile, Yata decided, was completely evil.

  3. any, any+/any, ‘Cause you and me, we are both soldiers
    Ain’t coming back ’til it’s over — “Same Blood” by Aloe Blacc

    1. Okay, very, very different take on this prompt. It may be just as bad, and it’s still not quite fitting, but… this story won out as Nano this year against all sense and I’m feeling the effects of a cat-stair assassination attempt, so… it may not be any good, but it’s slightly less problematic than the other one, maybe. Hopefully.

      Ugh.

      It’s strange,” he said, his eyes not on her or anything in the house but some far off distance, things only he could see. This wasn’t the first time she’d seen him do this since she’d stopped her car in front of the bed and breakfast and crossed his path again, but this time worried her more than the last one did. His usual expression was fairly neutral, with a slight hint of a frown, and if he showed more, it tended to be a true frown of confusion or an outright scowl if someone displeased him. His smiles were rare, and she held onto them, greedy as she was, so proud of how they were something for her alone. No one else saw him smile.

      No one else saw his pain. He held it back so much that she didn’t think he even knew she was there, not with that hurt so raw and visible on his features.

      How much you are willing to fight when threatened. You never think of it. Intellectually, I had the luxury of being a pacifist. I never thought I’d have need of violence or want to hurt anyone.” His hand on the wall became a fist. “I lacked the strength to fight back, but sometimes I see it play out differently. I win. I pay back every bit of pain he forced on me—not the way he did it, no, not like that, but I see myself pounding his face until it’s unrecognizable, until that false smile he deceived with disappears forever… And other times, I think of going back, finding him there in his still perfect life and ending it. I don’t have any great plan, don’t care if I get away with it like he did. I just want him stopped. No, no, I want him to suffer as much as he made me suffer and then he can die.”

      She winced, pulling the baby closer to her and covering his ears. He didn’t need to hear this. She didn’t even think Grahame meant to tell her any of it.

      He shook, putting both hands on the wall for support. “They want me to testify again. I… There is this part of me that wants to run. To disappear again because how the hell did they even find me again? I don’t… None of that life is here. I left all of it behind, but they found me and they say… I need to do this so he does get stopped this time. And I don’t… I’m not strong enough.”

      She took a breath and forced herself to speak. “I think you are. Some people say it but they don’t mean it, they say it freely like they can understand but they don’t… sometimes surviving is hard enough that doing so takes everything we have. And… and that’s what they’ll never understand even if they tell us ‘you’re so strong to have made it’ and they don’t see how many scars that leaves behind in your mind… Some people here say that to me, and I just… I was never strong. In any sense of the word… They can say all they like it took courage to leave, but it wasn’t that, not really. If… I hadn’t had the baby, hadn’t needed to get him far away from there… I don’t know that I would ever have left. I could fight for him. I… never did for myself.”

      It was different, too. She understood that. She’d failed to act, and what she got she brought on her own head by her cowardice.

      Grahame looked at her. “Sometimes I think for you that child is too much of an excuse.”

      Excuse me?”

      I have seen you do nothing but fight since you got here. You found a job for yourself and a home and you are not shy about telling the ignorant inhabitants of this backwater town just how little they know of your situation and have no room to talk about you or the child even if you are a single mother. You may claim it is all for the boy, but all of that still comes from within you.”

      She flinched. “I am not—”

      I lack the strength to argue that point right now,” Grahame told her, his voice matter of fact and bleak all at the same time. “I know this much of you even if there is more I have yet to see—you are someone who will fight to the end. Maybe your child is your catalyst, but that does not change what you are. My own catalyst is far less noble, but I do know… in spite of everything, I fought with all I had. I lost, but I never stopped. Parts of me were broken, the drugs made me even weaker than I was, but I kept fighting long after I’d already lost. As long as I was alive, it wasn’t over. And… I told myself that to get through the first trial. Even the outcome of that, with them taking his side… it didn’t change that I wanted to fight until it was done.”

      The baby pulled at her shirt, and she shifted him as she wiped at a tear. “I really do have to tell you something that I should have—”

      I do not have the energy for that, nor can I spare it.” Grahame’s misery was all over him. “I… I have to go back and face this trial, testify again… and it will take all I have… if not more… It shouldn’t be so difficult, not when my mind could create so many scenarios where I actually ended his threat with my own hands and yet… I am tired already. I don’t know if I can do this.”

      You can.” She knew he could. He was so much stronger than she was.

      He gave her the faintest bit of a smile, a derisive one. “I suppose that may be true.”

      You—”

      His hand on her head made her words die in her mouth. He’d just willingly touched her—Grahame didn’t touch anyone if he could avoid it, so why was he doing this?—and she couldn’t think.

      I have no doubt that you will still be here, fighting all your many battles, should I return. In the meantime, please go. It is late and we both need rest.”

      He walked away, and she choked, tears running down her cheeks at her absolute failure to tell him what really needed to be said.

        1. Yeah, so far my seven thousand words of this at the beginning are fairly innocuous, with them forming a bit of a bond over the terrible food that’s served at the place she’s stopped for the night and her ability to turn a can of green beans and cream of mushroom soup into something edible… which is… boring, but has some funny moments to it, too. And a dash of angst as well. He doesn’t recognize her or her name, but she knows it’s him. I figured the real drama/tension of what little plot there is would come from them finding him to make him testify again… and my brain has created a couple of versions of a scenario where he finds out about her connection because she ends up testifying against her father at that same trial. I don’t want to draw out her not telling him forever because that would get old and frustrating for a reader, not that I know that I’ll ever show the story to anyone in its entirety, but at this point, she’s still trying to figure out how to help him and once she has that, she’ll explain, which of course goes wrong… probably because people find him for the trial…

          Sometimes the things that need to be said the most are the hardest to say… even when it’s to someone we care about who needs to hear it… so one can understand her needing to do it and being unable to all at the same time.

    1. I tried to do some character exploration in a small action scene and it is bad, but I did need some practice with these characters, and it started from this prompt, so…

      There’s no time to think. No time to mull on the heartbreak of betrayal.

      The man she’d called friend was behind so much death and violence. She didn’t feel like she knew him anymore. She didn’t. She might understand the way his mind worked, what he wanted, and that had led her here, to where he would be, so they could confront him at last, but even that was not enough.

      She’d been unprepared for him targeting her chosen partner. Zero had prepared for it, easily shooting the man she loved in an attempt to provoke her into killing him.

      She wouldn’t. She couldn’t give him what he wanted, even if he’d hurt Aiji.

      The cathedral was quiet, eerily so, but she felt like she could feel a roar around them, It wouldn’t take much to picture this place in flames. This moment was it, all they had, and she had to act. She couldn’t afford to miss.

      He’d already fired two shots, one that grazed Aiji. Another that just missed.

      She wouldn’t miss. She couldn’t. She fired once, hitting his hand and forcing him to drop his gun. She wanted to be relieved, but he just seemed amused.

      Impressive skills.” He reached for his waistband, and she realized he had another weapon concealed there. She fired again, her bullet entering his thigh and causing him to stumble. As soon as he went down, Aiji was on he move, rushing forward to capture Zero. No hesitation even as more police rushed into the room and it became chaos.

      Zero laughed when they ordered him to surrender, putting a gun to his own head. She knew that Aiji wouldn’t reach him in time to stop him. She aimed again, and when she fired, it hit Zero’s shoulder, allowing Aiji to catch him.

      It’s over,” Aiji said, and when he said it, she believed it.

      She walked closer to Zero, putting her gun away and taking out her handcuffs. He looked up at her, his expression showing his sadness as she put the cuffs on him.

      From now on, you’ll suffer forever.” He wasn’t fighting now, but he couldn’t stop trying to convince her of the righteousness of his side. “Your heart will be pained at your inability to save people, crushed by the unfair malice in the world, and weighted down in sorrow.”

      The silence that fell then was full of bitterness. They’d both failed. She couldn’t bring Zero back from where he’d gone, and he couldn’t get her to take his side as he wanted, as he’d planned.

      It’s impossible to erase all sorrow,” Aiji said. “No matter how hard it is, or how much they hurt each other, people will always have to bear that burden of sorrow. Still, no man is an island. When the sorrow is too much for us to take, we can support each other.”

      She felt a small thrill despite everything, hearing that from the man who’d done his best to push her away. He truly had accepted her and any support she could give him.

      They didn’t have anyone to rely on. The police wouldn’t listen. It was self-defense. There are countless different circumstances.” Aiji shook his head, and she knew he was remembering his own past again. “But killing is just an excuse. No matter what feelings are driving them, people must always fight against themselves. They have to overcome it on their own.”

      She knew he was still locked in that struggle. Every day he fought against what he’d done in the past and what he never wanted to do again. He hadn’t given in. He was living with what he’d done. She admired him for it. She wanted to be right beside him as he did.

      That’s just the rationale of the strong. No matter how much they’re hurt or suffering, they can always face forward and live,” Zero said. “But there are people who can’t live in that kind of world. In this world.”

      She felt a pang of sadness. As much as he’d twisted that, he wasn’t completely wrong about that. Some people just couldn’t bear this world. Those were the same people she had sworn to protect. The ones that Aiji, too, wanted to protect.

      They couldn’t save anyone. Maybe this was it, maybe all they ever saved was each other. That didn’t mean she’d stop trying, no, but it was also enough for her. She’d helped free Aiji, allowed him to face his fears and win. He had helped her face truths she never wanted to see, and she kept growing as a person with him.

      Maybe it wasn’t much, but they’d still managed a small victory against the sorrow and malice in the world, one Zero might never understand but one she clung to with pride.

      She took Aiji’s hand. “We need to get you to the ambulance.”

      He nodded, and together they walked away.

      1. Actually, this is fantastic! You should write more stuff like this. Just saying. I need to get a hold of all your novels again. I’m getting back into reading, and I never did get them all printed for me because health but this is top notch stuff and reminding me of the parts of id we share.

        1. Well, to be fair, the dialogue wasn’t mine. I forgot to say that. I was doing a scene from someone else’s canon with her thoughts fleshed out a little.

          I think part of that was that I was going to mail you a copy of the books I had in print but then Whim’s cover ended up being problematic and I got so frustrated with it I gave up on getting it in print and haven’t done anything with that since. I could still send the other three, though, because I do have copies of them. (Createspace made a mistake on the cover for In the Family, but once again they told me it was my fault for putting my name where I did, so they wouldn’t do anything about it.)

          I keep telling myself I’ll get organized and get other books out, like the other serials from the site, and it never seems to happen.

          1. Eh, the biggest problem is my “never seems to happen” syndrome tied to chronic health issues and using my limited bandwidth more on writing than reading (difficult when brainpower’s low) or publishing or typesetting or even distributing (also difficult when brainpower or energy is low). You’re fine, and you won’t hear judgment from me considering everything I’ve yet to do, including mail people things I do have because I don’t really have the budget right now.

            :hugs:

  4. any. any+/any. “The story is different now, the records are playing in the living room
    And you might say you’re wounded, and I might say I’m hurt,
    But we knew the difference then between the fire and the earth.
    And we may say we’re broken, we may say we’re weak,
    But we knew before we started, oh, the secrets we would keep.”

    ~Julia Stone, It’s all Okay

  5. “I hate that I love you
    Don’t want to, but I can’t put
    Nobody else above you
    I hate you, I love you
    I hate that I want you
    You want her, you need her
    And I’ll never be her.”

    ~Gnash, I Hate You I Love You

  6. any. any+/any. “I miss you when I can’t sleep
    Or right after coffee or right when I can’t eat.”

    ~Gnash, I Hate You, I Love You

    1. Some people didn’t want to be saved, or weren’t willing for other reasons. It meant something, however small, however not enough, that Suoh had offered one of his rare apologies for leaving them in this position.

      Munakata breathed the cold air, felt the warmth in his arms, knowing how soon it would fade. There was blood on his hands, and he couldn’t think or feel, except to wonder if this is what Zenjou felt once when he’d been forced to kill his own King and Munakata’s predecessor, reportedly his best friend.

      The pain dulls but doesn’t fade as much as they all let on by the time he goes to the bar they’d once crossed paths at and orders two drinks, one for himself and one for the friend that isn’t there to drink it, the one that broke his heart.

      1. It really isn’t enough that he apologized. The people he left behind, the burden he forced on another… Mikoto might not have wanted to go any other way or let someone else get his revenge for his friend, but the fallout… it’s so painful for everyone else.

        Which makes one crave fix it fic so much, so that no one feels that pain.

        (Then again… the angst and pain is canon and I have such a habit of resonating with the painful lyrics… those speak to me more than lighthearted ones… I tend to find those songs and lyrics and prompts over the fun, fluffy ones, though I did try and balance the ones I gave here more than usual.)

        1. Eh, he didn’t apologize for the Damocles Down. He apologized for making Munakata kill him. Which definitely not “enough” but pretty important for him to do and significant for a character who apologized once to Kusanagi for the first time he decided to do what he wanted and handle a problem and Kusanagi was just like, apologies aren’t natural to you, don’t do that again, which should tell you something.

          I actually love everybody lived stories and there’s the one I really want sometime with Totsuka getting shot but surviving and humorously trying to stop a clan war from a hospital bed, but tbh, I revel in angst and Mikoto’s canonical death is definitely one I feel was well done. So I tend to fic a lot more canon compliant.

          I just really have a picky id for angst and death and tragedy and this one fits mine perfectly.

          1. It is important he apologized.

            As much as I think it was done well, I think it will be a long time before I’m not mad at him for letting himself die, even if it was… him and what he needed to do.

            I like the angst, too, but I also want an everyone lives AU, just because gen is nice without angst and I wish he could have seen Anna grow into her role.

            And it was a heavy burden for Munakata, too… one that leads to a lot of trouble later… though I’m glad he didn’t go down the exact same path as Suoh.

  7. any. any. “What about all the times you said you had the answers?
    What about us?
    What about all the broken happy ever afters?
    What about us?
    What about all the plans that ended in disaster?
    What about love? What about trust?
    What about us?”

    ~Pink, What About Us?

  8. any. any. “We are problems that want to be solved.
    We are children that need to be loved.
    We were willin’, we came when you called.
    But, man, you fooled us, enough is enough.”

    ~Pink, What About Us?

  9. It is a little awkward not being able to take a comment thread out past a few responses. Four seems to be the limit.

    And apparently… I just want to ramble on and on pointlessly about stories.

    1. Deven was an orphan before he was even a toddler. His infant cries of terror and pain from some night terror had translated through his body to a nightmare far more real—an explosive, scorching tidal wave of power that injured his mother before she could comfort him.

      He hadn’t killed her. It was a small, but material consolation. She’d merely abandoned him immediately to the care of the Family her own served. His potential in just that incident had been great enough that they found a soothing empath to raise him from infancy to childhood without complaint that his mother should have completed the task herself.

      Deven remained powerful.

      When they angered him, that white glow started at his fingertips, heat aching through his inner body, itching under his skin, and lighting off before he even thought to send it forth. He wasn’t wise to do battle against, though of course, there were other powerful that probably could if they wished.

      It would make some arrogant, to be able to do so much. It made Deven quietly move through his days, ruthlessly suppressing any emotion or feeling that might set him off. He’d been caught off guard by a joke once, laughed openly in his childhood innocence, and leveled the garden wall. It made him quiet—forcibly, deliberately quiet. It made him left out of fun. Fun was dangerous. Left out of family. Who could comfort him but the one woman he barely even remembered who had deliberately quieted his emotions for him, then taught him to do it for himself.

      In a way that mattered far more than power, he was utterly alone.

      But he’d already learned, the hard way, not to let himself cry.

      1. His isolation is so sharp and painful. One feels so bad for him.

        He could use someone who really understands him and all the joys and love he’s been denied.

          1. Well, it does seem like he’s a little willing to share with Naira. I had found a kind of angsty song I thought might suit them, and I meant to email it to you, but I haven’t gotten that done. Still, I’m really liking the fluffy snow bits.
    1. The house was buried in snow.

      Neither of them really wanted to dig out, so they both called off their respective workplaces—West by picking up a phone and actually calling the receptionist, Air by transmitting over the communication implant she had yet to remove. She settled in beside him after and rummaged in the drawer beside the couch for a book.

      “I see your reading list is more interesting than me,” West commented with some amusement.

      She glanced up at him and shrugged. “Did you have something in mind?”

      There were plenty of things they enjoyed doing together, but it was snowy outside. She liked the idea of snuggling in with just a book and human pillow to cuddle with.

      “Nothing in particular. Keep reading. I’ll bring you some tea.”

      He was as good as his word, showing up minutes later with a hot cup.

      Air lost herself in the book for a little while, only a little while, before it suddenly struck her the warmth that surrounded her, a gentle arm slung over her shoulder that wasn’t there because he was injured and needed help dragging his body to safety, a cup in her hand that wasn’t an act but an actual comfort, reading material that was light and familial instead of the cold, hard facts needed to do a dangerous black ops job.

      She dropped the book, her hand serving as a loose bookmark, and looked at West’s profile until he looked up from his own book. She didn’t tell him why she was looking at him, just studied him a long moment before returning to her own book again.

      She could just see the white drifts from the corner of her eyes through the window, remembered so many times slogging through cold, bitter days and nights towards one target or another. It was snowing outside, and she was warm within—finally at peace.

      1. This is very sweet. One of those perfect quiet moments I love so much.

        (Um… do have one question, though… West is Shadow, right? I’m not sure I ever saw his non-operative name.)

        1. Glad you liked!

          Nope. West is someone she met after (her lawyer for a day actually), and Shadow is her, well, partner? She doesn’t think of him as brother, but those two are as close in a platonic fashion as Database and Meld.

          1. Oh. I had only seen Air with Shadow and Gloria, and she’d called Shadow hers, so I thought it was him. I didn’t realize they were just brother-sister like.

            And the contrast between the memories of missions and her current reality made me think West was also an operative.

            1. Quite reasonable. I’m not known for properly explaining everybody’s relationships in these ficlets, but yeah. Eventually, I’ll get it all organized.

    2. The snow kept falling. Deven was staring over the balcony again, and the hallway was cold, soft snowflakes blanketing the floor by the railings. Naira sighed as she came out in a proper housecoat and found her unmindful husband wearing a thin almost blousy shirt.

      “You’ll get the shivers,” she said lightly, prodding in her own way.

      They were still quite new at this, for all it seemed to have fallen into a pattern.

      Deven’s breath made fog in the chill air. He nodded toward the falling snow. “The Stronghold won’t stir for a few days.”

      A few days? Naira was taken aback. She’d never really asked Deven about his infamous power, but she hadn’t thought it involved forecasting the weather.

      She came to stand beside him and saw the deep drifts piling up, covering doorways, rising against the distant city gates. She smiled, memories of a laughing child at play dancing through her mind. “I always loved the snow.”

      Deven glanced at her sideways and made a small sound of acknowledgement. She never took much to encourage.

      “I loved playing in the deep drifts taller than I was,” she went on. “My father would dump me in over my head and we’d build snow forts and castles and make angels.”

      No one believed in angels, not even Naira, but they built the ancient guardians every first snowfall, a tradition that had yet to cease.

      Deven reached out and tucked the loose strands of her hair behind her ear, fingertips just brushing the skin behind, and it surprised her enough to make her blush and nearly shiver. She looked back at him, eyes wide.

      He was beautiful, she thought. The snow suited him. He was fair, almost white hair falling over his eyes, features sharp and body lean. He studied her with eyes always a little too blue, a little too intense. Then he looked away, back out at the view below.

      “I don’t remember ever playing in the snow,” he said. His voice was faintly wistful.

      His hands were in his pockets. She gently tugged one loose, drawing another surprised glance from Deven, then wrapped her fingers around his, joining him quietly in watching the world covered over in white.

      1. Aw, that’s sweet, even tinged with sadness on his part.

        For a moment, I thought she’d get him to go play in the snow, but she didn’t. It’s still nice, though.

        1. Deven was asleep when the snow stopped falling from a cold, white sky.

          Naira was still awake, stuffed into the corner of the bedroom windowseat in a fluffy robe with another steaming cup of tea in hand. She’d been waiting, watching for this moment. She decided not to wake him until she was ready, to better be able to chivy him about if he resisted.

          She pulled on her warm winter clothes and did up her hair so she could put a cap over the top, then she went over to the large bed and studied her husband for a long moment. She’d heard how people looked more innocent when they were asleep or more endearing. He looked as quiet in sleep as he did in waking, soft steady breaths ruffling the edge of the sheet, unmoving from when he’d lay down. Even so, there was something fluttering inside her breast when she leaned over and prodded his shoulder gently with one hand and he stirred, then blinked in bleary-eyed surprise. She had no intention of ever startling him awake and finding out if he’d mastered not activating his power in such a circumstance.

          He barely turned his head, just enough to take her into his gaze.

          “Up,” she ordered with no small amount of glee and waved her mittens in his face. “Sleep time’s over!”

          Deven’s blinking turned incredulous.

          She prodded his shoulder again, harder. “Up!”

          Thankfully, he obeyed before she had to resort to stronger measures, like dragging him out.

          She took him out into the snow and ordered him to help her roll together the great big balls of it necessary to shape the base body of a snow angel.

          He clearly hadn’t been lying when he claimed unfamiliarity with the task.

          “No, like this,” she ordered impatiently, demonstrating the right way to do it, then prodding him into the right position when he messed up.

          He sighed more than once in exasperation, but didn’t argue, barely even spoke as she directed the angel making, then shaped the wings and halo herself. She stood back when they were finished and grinned at a proper tradition well kept, then touched it once. Sharp light sparked from her fingers, a crystalline glow infusing the guardian while Deven watched her sharply, the first time he’d paid any attention to her power. It certainly wasn’t clear from seeing it now what it’s function was, and she didn’t explain it to him, but this guardian would live long past the others made without that spark.

          She turned back around and smiled at him.

          “Good,” Deven said simply. “We can go back inside now.”

          That was when he got a faceful of snow.

          “What—!”

          But he didn’t get the chance to say more as she pelted him good with her set aside stock of snowballs, all the ones too little for a snow angel.

          Deven growled and flung an armful of snow back, but having no shape, they failed to do more than dust her as she laughed.

          “I want to build a fort!” Naira shouted gleefully. “It’s the first snow!”

          “What, are you a child?” Deven muttered but stomped after her as she made good on her word, gathering building blocks promptly.

          He stared for a little while, neither exacting revenge nor helping, but then he stooped down suddenly and did what she was doing as perfectly as if he’d done it a million times before. A good visual learner then, she thought.

          He certainly was.

          A moment later, she was pelted with snow.

          1. Aw, that’s so cute. I’m glad she was able to get him to play and have some fun. He is a quick learner, and that was just… so much fun and cute. 🙂
    1. Kilter laughed softly to himself, wondering at how appropriately he could be named. All it took was one person to keep him off kilter.

      He stared at a girl covered in blood, violently ending another mission, another night, with a smile on her face. It was so much easier before he loved her, so much easier when the weapon she was wasn’t the one thing he wanted.

      He had no taste for blood and said as much when she turned back to him. “Done yet?” with an unpleasant undertone.

      She tilted her head at him and that smile curved wider. She could always read him, shift the mood with a flicker of her ability, chasing one shape of her body with another, one calculated to not remind him of the killer she could be. “You don’t have to watch.”

      “Someone has to sit on you if you go too far,” he reminded her dryly.

      Shift studied him a long moment, accepted that, spared him any sign of friendship or affection as she finished cleaning up.

      Yes, for all she was a terrible person, he would never stop watching Shift, loving her though it bothered him. He’d seen too much, he figured, and couldn’t go back now.

      1. There are so many thoughts… and I lack coherence on them. (This is my second attempt to formulate a response, and it’s just as fail as the first.)  Their relationship is so complex because of who she is and his conflict and it’s a mess and on the one hand one feels bad for him and knows he’d probably be better off if he loved someone else and yet one roots for them anyway…  Perhaps the reader is equally conflicted…
        1. They are indeed complicated. You might remember when I first hit these two, I really wasn’t sure if they were going to be endgame and only went for it due to reader response. They’re very, very messy.

          1. Yes.

            I suppose in some ways I am sort of to blame for that… I guess I wanted to believe that there was something good to come for both of them after what they’d been through and that what they had was somehow worth it, especially since they did have a child together.

            I wonder a bit, if I would feel the same way about them reading it for the first time now… I’ve rethought some of my positions on certain archetypes and relationships with them… if nothing else, otome games are good for exploring that, and I have changed my position on some of the things I used to like. Definitely not as much of a fan of the tsundere types as I used to be… though I adore a lot of meganes and kuuderes.

            Sorry, tangent. I was just thinking about it earlier and did have to wonder… would I have wanted Shift/Kilter if I was reading it new now and not already familiar with it/invested in the ship? I don’t have a good answer to that, either.

    1. A/N: Yeah, never met these characters before in my life, but it’s an interesting start anyway.


      “It was nicer before I knew you,” Naira murmured quietly, not really willing to say it was her own fault she hadn’t noticed his flaws.

      Deven shrugged, not really saying but implying anyway that it wasn’t his problem. That was Deven’s way. He didn’t mind that the powers that be had chosen to marry them, didn’t mind that she didn’t love him, didn’t love anyone else. This was what happened when your very blood was valuable. “Would you prefer your own room?” he asked. He said it normally, as if none of this affected him at all.

      Naira scowled. “And if I did?” she asked, putting her anger into her tone.

      Deven sighed. “If you want it, take the one across the hall. It’s the nicest. If you don’t, don’t.” He got up, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and walked out. Done. He was always done so easily when something like actual emotions came up.

      Naira threw her hairbrush at the mirror, grateful and annoyed that nothing broke. That was the reason Deven seemed less beautiful to her now, now that his brief interest in discovering her had been satisfied. He didn’t care one way or the other about how she felt, only that he took care of her needs.

      He didn’t love her, didn’t love anyone. It was silly to think that would change after they married. Deven had always been known as disinterested, despite the massive amount of power he could bring to bear if something provoked him. That was a good thing, in the end. No one wanted Deven provoked.

      Except Naira.

      1. It’s a very interesting start. Arranged marriages are almost always an interesting scenario to see play out, and he has some intriguing character traits showing through here. So does she, and how that would continue to play out gets  a reader curious.

        (I saw the line for the prompt on a stock photo and was like, “hmm, that should be fic, but how?” This is nearly perfect for it, though.)

          1. It does seem interesting. I was just thinking… what might I add as prompts to prod that along?

            Lately, I haven’t been doing much music acquiring… but I have been listening to my Ex:Re station on iHeart radio a lot. She’s the lead singer of Daughter, but she did a solo album and it’s a break up album and full of angsty songs… “Crushing” almost feels like it might work… and then on the same station I hear a lot of Angus and Julia Stone (both their collaborative stuff and Julia’s solo stuff) which also has some potential, like “Draw Your Swords.”

            (I actually have two arranged marriage fics in the works at the moment and am sadly stuck on both of them. One is because of my usual nemesis, an action scene, and the other is… I don’t know… boring? I kind of shelved them anyway… I have so many things I should finish, and I picked a story no one will see to complete… Hmm.)

            1. Sound interesting! You could always just say the action happened and gloss it over? And I rarely find some good emotional stuff boring, but yeah, plot not required when it comes to me.

  10. any. any+/any. “Times that I’ve seen you lose your way.
    You’re not in control, and you won’t be told.
    All I can do to keep you safe is hold you close,
    Hold you close till you can breathe on your own.”

    ~Birdy, Keeping Your Head Up

    1. Different take on the same scene from elsewhere, but it fit the prompt so well, I couldn’t help myself.


      There was nothing but his heart when the wings came out—pillars of dark blackness, as dark as his anger, lashing out indiscriminately when all he wanted was to kill the person in front of him.

      There was no thought about the consequences, no thought about his brain damage or his limitations, no thought at all, just channeled emotion perfectly calculated as though he’d never had a bullet in his head.

      And there she was, standing before him with a bright smile on her face and love in her eyes. She was in front of him and he wanted to destroy every single thing in all the world, so his wings lashed out. But it was her, her smile he wanted desperately to protect, and he couldn’t touch her, couldn’t hurt her, his heart desperately wanting to destroy, desperately wanting to protect.

      It was for her, for Yomikawa, for Yoshikawa, for all the Sisters that he wanted to tear the world down. She was here, and he felt his heart relent, draw the wings back. He wouldn’t hurt her, couldn’t hurt her.

      “Thank goodness.” She tucked her arms around him, held him close.

      He could feel it now, the lack inside him, he couldn’t even speak without this little girl giving him the calculations, giving him the words. He felt like he couldn’t even breathe, but she was here, holding him until he could find his way back to whatever tiny ray of light he’d ever had.

      1. As dark as it starts, it is actually sweet that she can calm him and soothe him and bring him back to something closer to the light. And how much she matters to him, too, that’s special.
  11. Sound interesting! You could always just say the action happened and gloss it over? And I rarely find some good emotional stuff boring, but yeah, plot not required when it comes to me.

    Can’t actually gloss over the action. That would be my solution, normally, but the action is supposed to be when a couple big reveals happen… as in the female character uses her ability to protect her semi-estranged fiance, who has been denying that such powers actually exist… because he himself had to bury his own power because it’s insanely strong (he’s got similar probability powers to Wanda Maximoff wherein he can create/destroy worlds by certain decisions) and he was nearly killed as a child because people see him as a monster. The people who did it were the ones in her order with her kind of power, so it’s that much more complicated… But they were supposed to get attacked, he was going to fight along side his best friend and sword mentor, but then other powers get involved, forcing both of them to use theirs… so yeah… that’s the next stage of the story as I saw it, and it doesn’t quite work without the action?

    There technically is plot to the other one (she’s royalty, so there’s a lot of intrigue and people trying to kill to gain the throne which he’s trying to expose by using either or both of them as bait and it’s… been pulling teeth to get anywhere with it, so I keep setting it aside because it’s not getting any easier to finish even though I know that a bunch of revelations are supposed to come on their actual wedding day… which again is action because there is one more attack to try and stop the wedding and him gaining power enough to change the laws.)

    The story that doesn’t have much plot is my Nano… it’s all about the two of them bonding and nope, no plot, just terrible backstory and semi-pointless everyday interaction. I’m almost twenty thousand words into it, and so far… they’re going shopping. 😛

    1. Ah, yes, I see the difficulty. That said, domestic everyday interactions while attempting to build a relationship (or not build one and that fails) is a timeless plot if done well. Carry on!

      1. I am hoping to get them done eventually, but I’ve been finding that almost all I’m good at writing anymore is flashbacks and banter, maybe a few small bits of fluff, and if I need action, I just… can’t make it work. It’s like my ability to hold to a plot has… left me, and all I can do is write until that point when conversations and flashbacks can’t carry the story anymore and I can’t make progress…

        I’m not even sure why that is true, but it has been. I guess that’s why the Nano was appealing… Ruby and Grahame’s story is all about them quietly developing a bond against his will while she’s trying to atone for what she did (or really didn’t do) and so far they’ve spent more time together than I would have expected and he was far less… distant and bristling and pushing her away than I thought he’d be…  So then it seems a bit unrealistic, too, since he’s someone who seems to hate everyone but this person at random somehow gets close in less than a day… They’re both damaged, and by the same person, even, but he’s unaware of that because he hasn’t connected her to her father and only met her once when she was a lot younger (a bratty thirteen year old, actually, and that’s very different from her now after the loss of her mother, her father’s abuse, and becoming a mother.)

        My brain really likes to find fault with this story… with every story, actually…

        1. Well, it may not have an action plot, but getting to know each other / get together with a history is a great emotional plot and you should carry on.

          1. So far the plot has just been about cooking… he can’t cook, and she sort of can, so she’s teaching him the basics and the difference in food in a warm loving family versus his that was a bit distant. She had a moment when they went shopping and then ended up falling asleep right after sitting down for dinner after he did most of the cooking… so he gave her his bed and is still very confused as to why he keeps being kind to her…

            Which, honestly, I don’t have an answer to aside from deep down he’s a good guy.

            1. Cooking! Include recipes in the book, maybe?

              But yeah, that is the only good answer and the answer is good. This whole thing sounds like my kinda catnip and it’s a perfectly good plot. Oh, wow, maybe I’m not entirely evil. Okay, I’ll be not entirely evil but don’t you dare suggest that I’m not! Just saying.

  12. any. any. “This is not my circus, and those are not my monkeys.”

    (Sorry. Heard that today from a coworker and had to share.)

    1. “And how is this my problem?” Deven asked lightly, leaning back against the wall of the Senior Patriarch’s office, not particularly intimidated by the man’s rank.

      The Senior Patriarch of his Family had never been able to control Deven, let alone deploy him as a threat against some other Family in their power struggles.

      “Your family has always maintained their contractual arrangement with mine,” the Patriarch said with a soft smile, speaking as one would to the unreasonable. “Therefore our troubles are yours.”

      “Are they?” Deven asked in a bored tone.

      He was bored. He turned and looked toward the window of the office. Deven had no family, so he had no special loyalty to those who protected and sheltered them during their vulnerable years, and he was not vulnerable himself, so felt little compulsion to bow his neck to those who could not make him.

      “And how is Naira?” the Patriarch asked, a shrewd glint in his eye.

      His office wall suddenly disappeared, scorched and steaming, the flash of white light leaving him blinking in the aftermath, cold air from outside making him shiver.

      Deven clenched his fist and forcibly set his emotions aside as the Patriarch gaped at him. One breath, two, slowly, bringing himself to a state of calm.

      “If you threaten me or my wife,” Deven answered, voice light and even, “you will be my enemy. I will raze your House and your Family to the earth and never mind the consequences.”

      Even with his rather excellent self-control, his whole insides itched and ached and his fist glowed white.

      “My office—”

      “—is not your body.” Deven’s anger finally quieted enough he could stuff his hands back in his pockets and straighten. “Your troubles with the Ishata Family are not my concern,” he said. “In ten generations, their agents have proven no more dangerous to the Hollis Family than monkeys in a circus.” He paused, looked at the Patriarch. “I hope we’re clear.”

      He didn’t wait for an answer. He went out into the hallway, closed the door firmly behind him, and breathed. Well, there went any thought he was handling his marriage well.

      Not that Naira needed to know he’d just told off the Patriarch. Somehow, he didn’t think she’d approve.

      1. Well, Naira might be pleased that he cared enough to burn a wall for her. Maybe.

        It’s kind of funny he did, even if it shouldn’t be, but it does show how much she matters to him even if they both haven’t realized it yet.

        1. Yes, I think she would be. After she got over the fact that he told off a Family Patriarch without even caring about the fact that you’re really not supposed to do that.

          She matters to him a lot more than they think.

          1. It would probably a bit shocking, but then she’d go around happy, getting a secret thrill every time she remembered.

            Well, maybe. If I was writing it, I guess.

  13. Cooking! Include recipes in the book, maybe?

    But yeah, that is the only good answer and the answer is good. This whole thing sounds like my kinda catnip and it’s a perfectly good plot. Oh, wow, maybe I’m not entirely evil. Okay, I’ll be not entirely evil but don’t you dare suggest that I’m not! Just saying.

    Well, so far Ruby hasn’t shown him how to make anything terribly complicated or even completely from scratch. It’s not quite like Alexei and all of his Russian traditional dishes. Ruby showed him from a can green bean casserole first because it was all she could find at the convenience store, and I wasn’t really sure what the second meal was, so I glossed over it because she did pick her favorites and recipes she knows but I’m still not sure what those are for her unlike Alexei who had the Russian mom who taught him to cook to be looking at those recipes and using them.

    He did have that reaction a bit, where he told her he wasn’t a good person and she shouldn’t defend him, and he does dismiss the kind things he does for her, too. He doesn’t see his kindness to her as kindness but practicality, but there’s a part of him that knows it’s not just that. He just grew up with parents that weren’t very emotional and he doesn’t know how to express his own feelings, plus he ended up badly traumatized by what her father did and the trial afterward, so he withdrew from everyone and believes he hates people even if really he’s just annoyed at times and unwilling to be vulnerable again. She isn’t one of the townspeople he’s already written off and she’s pretty non-threatening, being so small and having the baby, so she was able to get a bit closer without him realizing it, but she’s also very much what he needs as much as he is what she needs… since she’s convinced he should hate her for her failure to act and only he can prove he doesn’t. She’s able to show him that despite humans being very flawed, they are worth knowing and letting close.

    Or at least that’s how I justify it, I guess…

  14. any, any+/any,

    Don’t wanna break your heart
    Wanna give your heart a break
    I know you’re scared it’s wrong
    Like you might make a mistake
    There’s just one life to live
    And there’s no time to wait, to waste
    So let me give your heart a break — Demi Lovato

    1. Okay, it’s vague and convoluted, but I have a gen fill for this… I’m quite proud of myself in an absurd way even though.. probably all out of character anyway…

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

      This was sooner than expected, Kusanagi thought as the kid came in the door. He knew Anna had reached out to this one, and he didn’t doubt her choice. Even before the power of the red king awakened in her, she’d had the gift of perception, and she understood more, saw more, than anyone else. She knew plenty about this one already, and if she said he was red, Kusanagi believed it.

      Still, he hadn’t expected this one to lower any of his walls just yet.

      Melon soda again, kid?”

      What’s the strongest drink you have?”

      Kusanagi frowned. “How old are you, anyway?”

      Shin snorted. “Your bar is full of underage kids every day, and now you’re asking about me? Forget it. I don’t even know why I came.”

      For a drink, apparently.” Kusanagi said, getting another snort from his guest. His phone buzzed, and he looked down at it. The sender was blocked, though with green running wild like this, he wasn’t entirely surprised.

      His mother needs a transplant.

      Kusanagi eyed the boy again. He had mentioned a mother, but that didn’t mean this text was about him. He didn’t even know where it came from.

      Anna climbed onto the stool next to Shin. He saw her and swallowed, looking like he had plenty to say. No words came. He lowered his head and rubbed his neck.

      He won’t ask for help.

      Kusanagi lifted the phone. If their security had failed and green was watching them… He glanced toward Anna, who put her hand on Shin’s arm. He looked at her, and Kusanagi wished Totsuka was still with them. He’d have gotten this one to open up easily. That was his way.

      If you can give it, do so. If not, cut him loose.

      Kusanagi put the phone away. He didn’t take orders from random strangers on the phone, no matter how well informed they were. He wasn’t interested in playing into anyone else’s hands.

      You can rest here,” Anna told him. “You do not have to do anything else.”

      Have a shift later. Can’t afford not to take it. Just need a minute.”

      Kusanagi was calling in for the kid anyway. He was in no shape to work. That much was clear to anyone with a pair of eyes. “Bet I could double your wages. Could use someone to help keep the place clean.”

      Anna tilted her head. “There are more important things than money. You are not abandoning your responsibilities. Waka will understand if you need time.”

      And make Kent work doubles all week? Yeah, that’s fair.”

      You don’t strike me as the type that believes life is fair, kid.”

      Shin grunted. He put his head down, not lifting it. Anna sighed, putting a finger to her lips as she gave a motion for silence. So the kid was almost out, huh? Kusanagi didn’t want to wake him. The kid did appear to be at the end of his rope today.

      He’d give him a few minutes and take him upstairs where the rest of HOMRA wouldn’t wake him.

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

      When Kasunagi got back downstairs, Anna wasn’t alone.

      The man seated next to her wasn’t HOMRA. He wasn’t anyone Kasunagi recognized from the Blues, either. He seemed more their type, though, calm and cool, a bit similar to Blue’s current king, Munakata.

      I appreciate what you have already done for Shin.”

      Kasunagi nodded. So this was the Waka Anna had mentioned earlier. “Not a problem. Unless it is for you.”

      Admittedly, I have no wish to descend into red territory, but Shin is perhaps… too independent. He has shouldered the burdens of his father’s choices for so long he does not know how to rely on anyone else for support, resenting and rejecting all offers of assistance.”

      Sounds like a lot of people I know,” Kasunagi said with a faint smile. “He seems to be in pretty good hands otherwise.”

      To a degree. I am loyal to my people, which is more than can be said of some.” Waka picked up his glass, taking a sip. That wasn’t the melon soda Kusanagi had offered Shin, and it wasn’t anything he’d given Anna, either. “Toma informed us of the need for the transplant this morning, but since then Shin has been impossible to reach.”

      You’re the one sending messages to my phone.” And helping himself to my bar.

      I have good timing, it seems,” Waka said, turning the glass over in his hand. “You can argue the point if you’d like to waste our time.”

      Frankly, we’re more likely to have an issue because you helped yourself to my bar.”

      That made Waka smile. “That might be something to discuss with your king, then. The young lady generously offered me whatever I wanted and agreed to my suggestion I serve myself.”

      Did you now?” Kusanagi asked Anna, who smiled faintly in turn. Fine. She had. Were she anyone else, he’d say she’d done it just to screw with him. She hadn’t, though. This Waka had her respect for some reason. “All right. Your boy’s upstairs. I can—”

      Let him rest. He will not take it at home or at my establishment.”

      Kusanagi nodded. He wasn’t inclined to wake the kid or force him out. “You have something you want from us, then?”

      It is up to Shin to accept your help if he wishes. I can provide limited assistance, though from what I understand, you may find what he needs sooner than I can.” Waka took another sip. “It is possible to access the database of medical records to learn who might be a viable donor for his mother—he is not, or he would already have done it—but I will need more time than he has.”

      Damn. His mom is that bad?”

      Waka shook his head. “Not according to the registry. She is quite low on the list of priority.”

      Anna spoke for the first time since Kusanagi came back downstairs. She might already have been over all this with Waka already. “You are worried Shin will make himself sick before her transplant comes.”

      Waka nodded. “You’ve seen his state for yourself. He’s been like this since her condition worsened. She’s not stable enough to leave the hospital even with dialysis sessions. Their financial situation being what it is, he works every moment he is not with her. I have considered extreme measures when it comes to getting him some rest, of course, but knowing Shin, such an attempt would result in him quitting and making everything worse. I did expect Toma to intervene by now, but for some reason he has not. That is how we have reached this moment.”

      Toma?”

      Anna curled her fist around her marble. “No.”

      I agree with the assessment. Toma is… protective to an extreme, and his methods would not address the underlying issue.”

      Kusanagi folded his arms over his chest. “Why not ask your clan for help?”

      I have no clan,” Waka answered, which made a shiver go through Anna. “And I am not asking for assistance. I am merely explaining the situation.”

      Right.”

      Waka rose, walking toward the door. He stopped, looking back. “I do appreciate you providing a place for Shin to rest.”

      Not a problem.”

      If Toma becomes one, let me know.”

      Kusanagi frowned, but before he could ask about it, Waka was gone. The door made no noise, and it was almost as if he hadn’t gone through it at all. Kusanagi shook his head and looked at Anna. “You want to take this on?”

      She nodded. “I will make the offer. It is up to Shin if he accepts it.”

      Should we be worried about Toma?”

      She shook her head. “Not if Shin accepts our help.”

      And Waka?”

      She did not answer.

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

      Shin rose, his head aching, and stumbled toward the door. He didn’t know this place, but he figured Toma had something to do with it. This kind of crap had his name all over it, and he wouldn’t put it past that annoying idiot to have put something in his drink to make him sleep.

      He made his way downstairs and realized he was still in the damned bar.

      Well, it wasn’t the stupidest thing he’d ever done, but it ranked up there. He didn’t know why the hell he’d come here in the first place, but he wasn’t staying a moment longer.

      Shin.”

      The girl was in front of him again, and he stopped short, almost running her over. “You can’t keep me here, you know.”

      She shook her head. “I can help you find a donor for your mother.”

      Shin tensed, balling a fist. “Damn it, Toma.”

      You regret having others care for you,” the girl said, and Shin swallowed. He didn’t need them. He’d been on his own for so long, just him and his mom, and he didn’t need Toma fixing things for him. Not that this was something Toma could fix. He couldn’t.

      We actually haven’t had the pleasure of meeting that one or talking to him. Sounds like he’s an interesting guy,” the bartender said, and Shin eyed him. “Your boss is even more interesting.”

      Waka came here?”

      The girl nodded. “He is concerned. Many are.”

      Whatever. I don’t need help.”

      The girl held up her hand and a small red marble. “It is your choice. It will always be your choice. If you accept, I can help you find the person you need to help your mother. If you do not wish to do this, there are others who will offer you assistance.”

      Shin wasn’t entirely surprised, though he had a feeling none of them were talking about doing this legally. Not that he had much respect for the law. It hadn’t been fair to his father. “Doctors keep saying she’s not in danger yet.”

      You do not believe that.”

      He didn’t think he liked the way she saw right through him. She was worse than people who’d known him all his life, worse than Waka. “Why do you even care?”

      You are red,” she said, and she closed her eyes. A flaming bird appeared around her. Shin watched, trying to figure out when he’d started dreaming again, but this wasn’t a dream.

      The hell.

      We are all red,” she said, opening her eyes again. “You are not alone.”

      He frowned. “You can really do this?”

      Yes.”

      You’re not going to go knock someone out and steal their kidney, right?”

      Not for nothing, kid, we could do it, but we’re not organ smugglers,” the bartender said. “Anna can find them, and they’d be able to volunteer. That’s all. Nothing illegal. Actually downright heartwarming when you think about it.”

      And what do I owe you for this?”

      She let the flames die, the bird disappearing. “You do not owe us anything. I want to help you.”

      It was never that simple. Shin knew that. In spite of everything, though, he wanted to believe it.

      1. Awww, warm fuzzies. Yeah, he doesn’t get clan or the red clan’s need to protect those who are outliers at all. But he will! <3

        1. Yeah. They take care of those outliers.

          I kind of figured Shin would be too stubborn to accept help in most cases, and he sticks with red at first to “repay his debt,” but he will get a chance to learn just how much red takes care of his people.

  15. any, any+/any,

    Come just as you are to me
    Don’t need apologies
    Know that you are all worthy
    I’ll take your bad days with your good
    Walk through this storm I would
    I’d do it all because I love you — Katy Perry

    1. I haven’t gotten back to Grahame and Ruby yet, and I’m still bouncing between ideas trying to find something to work on now that I’m trying to get back into writing original fiction and not sharing things and stuff… um… this is actually based on another story I already wrote and don’t know that I should convert, but… anyway… it was on my mind so this happened… though it’s already been altered from what it was.

      She sat down and wrapped her fingers in his before leaning her head against his shoulder. “Thank you for doing this with me.”

      He frowned down at her, not sure why she felt the need to say that. This was her dream, after all, not his. He would rather not face the past, he wanted to ignore it and bury it, never let it surface even when it tried to rise back up again, and he would if he had half a chance. She, on the other hand, faced it constantly, building this place to aid others who were dealing with the same problems that she had overcome.

      She helped them through it, giving them support even when she seemed to have nothing left. He watched her with other scared, broken women, and she never wavered, giving them the strength to fight that she claimed she never had.

      You did this. I only arranged the money.”

      She shook her head. “You know you did so much more than that for me. If you hadn’t helped me back then… I wouldn’t have lived to do this, and you know it. You made me see that it was him. Not me. That as stupid as I was for marrying him and trying to make it work even after he turned on me, I wasn’t to blame for what happened after. None of this would be possible if I hadn’t met you again that day. You gave me… everything. And all that we do now is because you made it possible.”

      He closed his eyes. He’d facilitated things, true. He arranged for the sale of the building and the workers that got it ready to be a shelter—her shelter, the one that gave battered women a place to go when they needed help—but he hadn’t done anything special. Anyone could have gotten her the loan, could have spoken to those workers, made the sale.

      She always gave him too much credit. So he’d held her hand in the hospital. That was nothing.

      I didn’t do anything.”

      Stop belittling what you gave me. I couldn’t do this without your support.”

      She did so much. He did nothing. He hadn’t been able to speak to his family in years out of shame for what happened to him. She faced the worst kinds of monsters and defied them, making it so that others could do the same.

      He felt like nothing beside her.

      I wish I could do as much for you as you do for me,” she whispered. “You made me feel like I was still worth something in spite of my ex-husband, and that made me realize that I could do that for someone else. You gave me a purpose. I… That I will always treasure. I owe you so much…”

      No. You owe me nothing.” He lacked the words to explain it, but if she thought he had given her purpose, she had done the same for him. He’d seen no point in going on living after what happened, and he wouldn’t even have wanted to after that man abducted him a second time if he hadn’t needed to know that she was okay. She was his reason for living, though he did not wish to say such foolish things.

      Maybe we’re close to even,” she said, and he looked at her. “Yes, I know the books are your thing, but you don’t seem to understand how much you do for me, so you don’t have those ones right.”

      He shook his head, but he smiled as he put his arm around her. They would never be even, but as long as she wanted him with her, it was enough.

        1. He’s another of my characters who doesn’t see his worth… There’s a long, dark backstory to that, but because of all that happened to him before their paths crossed again, with him being a victim of a psycho who hurt him to get revenge on his brother, twice, he doesn’t think that he’s worth anything (he was just a proxy for his brother, after all, and a weak one at that.) Still, he did a lot of good for her and they support each other and make it possible for others to get better lives, too. It’s a very… nice idea, even if it comes out of dark places for both of them.
    1. I was in the mood to write on historical fiction. *shrugs*

      It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

      Kalen tensed, jerking himself out of his memories as he looked back at her. She gave him a timid sort of smile, trying to apologize, though he knew not what for. She did seem to misunderstand him often, and since she was ostensibly polite, she always tried to give some amends, though he honestly did not need them.

      What are you talking about?”

      She was the one to frown now. “The maple tree. I thought that was what you were looking at. Isn’t it? Lord and Lady Albright are fortunate to have such a nice home and garden, even with as much as they’ve said it was neglected. The tree still stands, tall and beautiful, strong as ever. It’s a nice.”

      Nice.”

      She nodded. “Yes, nice. I don’t remember much about my parents. I know that they had a shop, but I can’t remember what they sold. I do remember he liked maple wood. He had the counter made out of it. It was so tall compared to me, but I remember putting my hands on it and the feel of the wood… I miss that, but maple trees still remind me of them even if it’s not the same as being back in their store.”

      Kalen glanced back at the tree. “I have no such pleasant memories of maple trees.”

      He used to stare out at one, those long years when his servitude had been slavery, when he was essentially a prisoner in that room, fortunate if he was able to move around at all, occupying himself with mathematical problems out of desperation, needing some way of escaping the pain and knowledge that only more of that same awaited him should the lord of the house decide to visit him again.

      He hated that tree. He’d wanted it to wither and die for the crime of being freer than he was. It was illogical. The tree was stuck in place, roots going down deep, but that did not make it any less true. The tree could breathe the free air—however polluted London’s might be—and he could not.

      Oh. I… You stared at it so long I thought you were remembering something.”

      He was, but nothing good. “It is nothing. Did you have need of me for something?”

      She held up the book in her hands. “You had promised to teach me some more of this today. That is… if you’re not too busy and I haven’t upset you… I know this isn’t actually your job. You have so much work to do overseeing Lord Albright’s home. I just couldn’t make sense of it last night, I’m so stupid, but you—”

      Do not assume because complicated subjects are difficult that you are incapable of learning them,” he said, holding out a hand for the book. “You grasp many tasks readily and have shown more promise than that woman put forth by Lady Abernathy for the housekeeper.”

      Oh, well, I…” She sighed. “I hope she doesn’t become one. It’s not that I don’t want her to work since she’s like all of us, trying to find her way and stay off the streets, but she’s awful to Oliver, and I can’t stand her because of it. I know he can be spirited, but he’s a boy. He should be able to enjoy life and freedom, not be trapped and forced to behave in some manner unnatural to him.”

      Kalen swallowed, feeling a bit ill with memories he would not like to revisit. “While Lord and Lady Albright lack certain sternness that can and should be countered by a stricter staff, I do not think that woman right for the role, and I am unlikely to recommend they retain her. However, you are a bit too indulgent, which also makes you unsuitable, as too much leniency lends to excess and the kind of mismanagement that while not harsh is of no benefit to anyone, either.”

      Kind of a ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ situation, right?”

      If you wish to imbue it with religious sentiments, I suppose I cannot stop you, for the proverb is applicable.”

      She bit her lip. “It must have been a terrible thing that happened if it made you doubt the existence of God.”

      I prefer mathematical and scientific certainties. It has nothing to do with my past.”

      Says the man who got lost looking at the maple tree.” She shook her head. “I may not be smart like all the others, not educated like the nobles around us, but I’m not an idiot. I can see someone hurt you very badly. Lord Ryndell pokes at it almost like a joke, though it isn’t one and he hasn’t the right to do that to you. I don’t know what they did or why they did it, but I’m sorry.”

      It was not your doing. Quit apologizing for things you did not do.”

      I had Oliver, so even at the worst it ever was in the orphanage, I wasn’t alone,” she said, looking up at him. “You were, and I think you think you still are, but there are all these people around you who are genuinely nice and caring, even the gruffer ones like Lord Albright or Doctor Grimes, and they would help you if you let them.”

      I do not require assistance. Save such sentimentality for your brother. I have no need of it.”

      Kalen started to walk away from her, knowing he had other, better things to do than continue a pointless conversation.

      No,” she whispered. “I think you need it more than any of us.”

        1. He is. He’s one of those unfortunate people who was a victim more than once, (and he lost his parents young, they were actually killed in front of him, so he’s got that buried trauma, too,) he unfortunately went from the one good time in his childhood to a rough period as a teen after the doctor who saved his life/had guardianship of him died. The next home he worked in wasn’t wonderful, but it was decent until his previous abuser found him and ruined that situation for him. While Kalen does have a loyal friend who was also in the care of that doctor and did his best to help him during some of those times, he’s in a bad place himself, so he was limited in what he could do.  Even though Kalen has now been dragged into the extended Abernathy family (which is large, crosses all sorts of class boundaries, and is the best support that any of these messed up people could ask for while being terribly flawed) he’s resisting it as much as he can because his life has taught him that nothing good lasts and nearly everyone betrays you or leaves you. (He’s even misguided enough to think his friend’s actions in helping him find a position in the country far away from the man who tormented him was not done out of kindness but in a way to get rid of him.)

          Me and the terrible backstories for people…

          Kitty also lost her parents, but as rough as things were for her and her brother in the orphanage, she’s more open to people. And despite them getting off on the wrong foot, a little, because he’s tactless, she cares about him, too. (And there is technically a past between them that they both barely remember… his parents used to frequent her parents’ shop and his father was such good friends with hers that he used to insist on betrothing them, always insisted they’d get married one day. Her father wasn’t entirely convinced, but they would have staring contests when she was still a baby. So she remembers vague senses of calm and happiness from his visits as a child, while he remembers nothing due to how violently he lost his parents.)

  16. any, any+/any, Here is the part where everyone was happy all the time and we were all forgiven, even though we didn’t deserve it. — Richard Siken

    1. Well, I thought this one was shelved, and I did end up jumping ahead which I wasn’t going to do again, but… it just all kind of came and spilled out, so…

      She put her hand on the door, starting to open it, her heart heavy even as she knew that she needed to do this. It was past time, really. She knew things couldn’t go back to the way they were before the trial. She knew even before they came to ask him to testify that she had overstayed her welcome, and then she’d hurt him so much by not telling him the truth. He’d been completely blindsided when he found out about it, and though he forgave her for that, he shouldn’t have. He was kinder to her than she’d ever deserved, and she wanted to cling to that so badly she could cry.

      Luka tugged on her shirt, and she put her hand on his head to calm him. He would fall asleep in the car soon enough. She was the one who had to stay awake with these feelings. She had to drive.

      What is this?”

      She looked back at Grahame’s voice, biting her lip. “You weren’t supposed to find that note until tomorrow morning.”

      Obviously,” he said, frowning at her. “I keep telling you that I rarely sleep, and you don’t seem to understand that it is not an exaggeration or a lie. I don’t sleep. I was not asleep when you put that letter there. I could have reached out and caught you then, but I didn’t understand what you were doing until I’d read this.”

      She tried to force a smile even as the tears came. “Okay, so I was a coward. Again. I… If I’d tried to say goodbye to your face, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

      He adjusted his glasses. “I don’t understand.”

      She shrugged. “Well, I… It’s not that I’m not very grateful. I am. And I probably would… there is this part of me that would stay forever, but I know I can’t. I will always value what you did for me. You gave me a start, a place to stop and feel safe. I know it wasn’t just you—Barbara gave me that room that night and some work the next day, but then I did end up here most of the time, and you… you let me help you. You let me stay here instead of the inn when I was scared… you were more patient than anyone in this town thought you could be, and you… you forgave me for what I did… what I didn’t do… for what my father did and—”

      As I said before, that was not you, nor could you realistically have been expected to stop him. It is also impossible to know if you had picked up a phone that it would even have worked. I do not want to have that conversation again.”

      We won’t,” she said, feeling another pang. “I’m going now. Luka and I have a real chance now thanks to you, and I won’t waste it, I promise. I have work experience, so I can get a job and settle us someplace and—”

      I thought… Is it not true in all media that… when you love someone, you do not leave them? If that is true… were you lying before? You… did not mean those words.”

      The tears fell even faster now. She leaned against the door for strength. “Please don’t do that. I don’t… You know I can’t stay. You don’t love me, and I can’t just keep taking advantage of your kindness. If I go now, maybe I can start over, and I can just… it’s better. Don’t you understand that much? Don’t make this harder for me. I wouldn’t go if I thought I could stay.”

      I never told you to go.”

      She sighed. “That’s… I mean, you don’t understand. It’s not right to be in an uneven relationship. One person loving the other isn’t enough. My parents taught me that. I mean, my dad was a monster who had many people fooled. He was. And he’s not a good example of anything, but my mom genuinely loved the man she thought he was. If she hadn’t come home to him with one of his students, she probably would have stayed married to him until she died despite the problems they had. She loved him enough to try and make it work. And it was… so wrong. You are not my father, you’re nothing like him, but I won’t do that. You don’t love me, and I… I accept that. I do. Okay, it hurts, but I… I know it’s better if I don’t stay when you don’t love me. And I’m not saying that to try and make you feel you have to or for you to ask me to stay because… that’s wrong, too. I’m just saying… that’s why I need to leave. It may not seem right, but if you knew what love was… you’d understand that sometimes letting go is for the best, at least… it is when it’s unrequited.”

      Grahame frowned again, starting to speak and stopping at least twice as she tried to compose herself. She closed her eyes and took a breath, not wanting to sob her way to the car.

      You do not get to say what I feel.”

      Ruby froze, her mind doing its best to convince her the world had stopped spinning or something. That… couldn’t possibly mean what she thought it did. She was just clinging so badly to her last hope now, and it was wrong. “I… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have, but you aren’t in love with me, so—”

      I lack social awareness. I don’t get nuances. I had no example of romantic love in my parents—they did not see their relationship that way as much as they did seem… happy in each other’s company. They assured me that romantic love was a natural chemical byproduct of the situation, and I wouldn’t need to worry about chasing it—it would find me when it was time. Since I assumed that was for reproductive purposes and had no need to father a child when I was not even finished with my schooling, I did not bother looking. I did not see the point in consuming much fictional media before I met you, either. So I have never had much of an idea of what love is. That much is true. I never cared to know or observe it in others before you, either. The love you have for your child is not romantic, but I have seen much of it since you entered my life.”

      She didn’t know if she should smile or not. In some ways, Grahame’s words broke her heart. As messed up as her family was, her mother and her grandparents made sure she knew what both kinds of love were, platonic and romantic. She understood how families were meant to be even if she didn’t have one like that herself.

      You still have time to learn what the rest of it is like.” She wished, for her own sake, she hadn’t had to find out in such a painful way. Knowing she was in love with Grahame hurt. Not because he was cruel about it or because she would look like a fool after denying it to so many people in this town—she didn’t care about that. She just knew that she would never deserve his love after what she’d done, and how could she ask him to live with the child of the man who hurt him? To raise Luka as his? He couldn’t possibly want a kid, too, even if he’d never been harsh with the baby.

      Grahame shook his head. “I do not think I need time to learn that.”

      What?”

      I kept asking myself why I was willing to let you anywhere near me or my home, my… sanctuary. I know in part, you were familiar. You were not a threat, so small in size, with a child keeping you from doing much, and then I learned of the weakness in your arm as well and you… you couldn’t hurt me, that I always knew. What I did not know was why I wanted to smile when you smiled at me. Why I felt a need to figure out your tears and how to make them stop so you were not hurting any longer. Why the idea of you going was so hard to accept even when I thought I just wanted my house back. And… why it hurt so much when I learned who your father was.”

      She winced. “Grahame, I… I know I said this before, but I did mean to tell you. I was going to so many times, and things got in the way, and there was always some reason to wait or an interruption or I fell asleep before I did—”

      I do not want to have that conversation again, either,” he said, shaking his head as he stepped closer to her. “I don’t understand love. That I admit. I don’t understand why I want to see you smile or make you laugh. Why cooking with you or doing some other mundane household task is enjoyable and not tedious. I do not know why I want to touch you when I have never needed or been fond of physical contact. I find myself wanting to share everything new I learn with you, even concepts I know you have no basis for understanding. I never thought I cared for children, and by all rights, knowing what I do about yours… yet he is a part of you… I admit I do not know how it could be possible or how it even happened, but I do think—I believe—I feel—I love you.”

      She felt herself shaking, not from fear this time—though if she was honest, she wasn’t sure he could possibly mean that. “Grahame…”

      I am not going to kiss you now. Don’t get any foolish notions about that. I just… I am not saying this only because I want to keep you from leaving, but… do not leave. Please.”

      She choked on another sob. Her mind was as much of a mess as the rest of her was. “I… that’s not fair. I told you I didn’t want to go. How… you…”

      He put a hand on her cheek. “It… it is still difficult for me to initiate even this much contact. You might feel easier, less like this is just a statement to keep you near, if I could do as the romantic media suggests and kiss you now, but I… I can’t. I don’t know how and the only experience I had with it aside from a few forehead kisses from my mother were… well, I suppose there was also that moment when you kissed me on the cheek after saying I was sweet, but that still isn’t this… it’s not what… not what happened that… It was easier to testify about his torture than try and talk about this. I don’t understand that, either, but I… I will make the attempt if you insist on it, if that is the proof you need—”

      No. I… I mean, I don’t think I want to go the rest of my life without ever being kissed, but… I never got a decent one of those, either, aside from the familial kisses from my mom. It’s not like… well, you know it wasn’t the love of my life that gave me a child, not even a horny teenage boy, a first love… Well, I mean… You are my first love. And maybe it’s not so romantic just to be together, but… I am just happy being in the same room as you, listening to you read or explain something I wouldn’t even have guessed about. I love your mind. It’s not about your body.”

      He grimaced. “That… actually has a lot of scars and is not particularly attractive.”

      She pushed up her shirt sleeve and showed him her arm. “That’s not even the worst of mine.”

      He pulled her close to him, turning her to the side just enough to keep from squashing Luka between them as he held onto her. “It… it angers me even more now to know that because they did not believe me and they let him go that he did so much harm to others. I told them all I could remember, all he did, and it… it should never have come to that for you or those others he did kill.”

      She sighed. “For so long… I believed it was my punishment for not speaking up back then.”

      That is—”

      You already told me it’s a fallacy. I know.” She closed her eyes again, taking comfort in being close to him. Maybe he still didn’t know all of what love was, but she probably didn’t, either, and this… this felt good enough to be perfect. She didn’t need more.

      Please tell me you will stay now.”

      She looked up at him. “I…”

      Even if my assumption is incorrect and I do not fully love you now, I… I believe I can learn to,” he said, swallowing. “Don’t leave before I have a chance to try.”

      Oh, you beautiful, wonderful man. How could I ever leave you?”

      1. Awwwwwww! You two romantic failboats! I’m glad she made the right choice. “Don’t leave before I have a chance to try.” Just lovely!

        1. They’re so backwards when it comes to some things, but they are good for each other all the same. And he… He is so adorable and I just loved his way of admitting he cared about her, plus him asking her to stay so he can try.

          (That so wants to be an arranged marriage fic line, but… I’ve got nothing.)

    1. I have two for this one… My favorite pair of friends… *sigh*

      We’re always going to be friends, right?”

      He looked up from his book, frowning at the other man’s question. “You do realize that such a statement is problematic. ‘Always’ is unquantifiable, and therefore just as much of a problem as never, though never is slightly more accurate if a dangerous fallacy. One cannot promise absolutes. There are simply too many variables. However, it is possible to state that some things have never been done, because in our recorded history, that is a fact.”

      His friend blinked. “Okay, not what I had in mind, you know. I wanted some kind of reassurance. Like, I say ‘we’ll always be friends’ and you say, ‘of course, no one else would put up with you,’ that sort of thing.”

      That would reassure you?”

      The other man shrugged. “I do know that you’re not exactly a sentimental person—though I still think that will change if you ever fall in love—so yeah, I’d settle for that. I mean, honestly, it’s true. No one else does put up with me like you do. And when I think about it, I can’t picture ever not being your friend. Like, I can’t. I cannot picture any circumstance where we had met but weren’t friends. You and I have been through a lot. We met because your girlfriend dumped you for me. If we can overcome that at the start, we can overcome anything. So… yeah. We’re friends for life.”

      Very well.”

      And if we were in some other freaky universe where things were different—where I didn’t get a wish granted that gave me these eyes or you didn’t like math—we would still be friends. We would be friends in any universe so long as we were both alive.”

      He frowned. “That may be an exaggeration. True, there are few people who understand either of us, but if I did not like math, then we would have little to bond over, either. So I think you cannot say that we would be friends in that case.”

      Like there would ever be a world where you didn’t like math. Even if you were secretly evil and head of a crime syndicate, you would like math and do all your own accounting. It’s so you.”

      I disagree, but I also do not wish for you create more scenarios like this.”

      His friend grinned. “The possibilities are endless.”

      Yes, but that does not mean they need all be discussed.”

      No, they don’t, because no matter what universe we’re in, we’d be best friends.”

        1. Thank you. They are very cute, these friends, and I have a hard time writing one of them without the other, mostly so it is fitting to say they’d be friends in any world.
    1. This is apparently such a favorite trope of mine I had to do  it twice in the same fic in a short amount of scenes.

      Ruby sat down on the couch, regretting her choice a little now. Yes, she’d rather be in Grahame’s home, but she was so exhausted she’d like to sleep herself, but Grahame had the only bed. She knew this couch wasn’t big enough for her and Luka, even if she was small. She was afraid she’d smother him if she tried it.

      Wait. Was there any chance that Grahame had bought a couch with a hide-a-sleeper? He didn’t seem the type, but then he’d probably chosen this couch on how it looked and maybe how it felt, not so much about that part. She could see him picking an entire room’s worth of furniture based on a display or a picture in a catalog.

      She stood, reaching down to take the middle cushion off, and then to her delight, she saw a handle. Yes. This would be perfect. She would just have to make some space for it. Even Luka seemed excited, clapping and kicking his feet as she struggled to push the coffee table out of the way.

      She moved the other cushions to the side. There. Now everything was ready except sheets, which she would just do without for now. Luka had a blanket, after all, so that was what mattered. She reached for the handle and gave it a tug.

      It didn’t budge. Pain shot up her arm, and she bit down on her lip before she tried again. She still couldn’t budge it.

      She sighed, looking down at Luka. Well, she could always go back to the inn and her room there. Maybe the sheriff was done with that man by now?

      She grimaced. “How much will Grahame hate me if I wake him?”

      Luka didn’t answer her, but then she knew he wouldn’t. She just had to hope that maybe Grahame hadn’t fallen asleep yet and it wouldn’t be too terrible if she asked for his help. She couldn’t move it, but he looked a lot stronger than she was, and maybe even if he wasn’t, his height would make it work somehow.

      She climbed the stairs and walked down to the door to his room. He’d closed it, so she felt bad opening it, but she knew that she needed to all the same. She stepped inside.

      Grahame? I’m sorry to bother you, but I noticed you had a hide-a-bed, and I tried to pull it out myself, but I can’t lift it, so if you… could you maybe help me get it out of the couch? I did already move the table, so it’s out of the way, but I can’t lift the bed out.”

      There is a bed… in my couch?”

      Yes. You… don’t know what that is? A couch bed? Hide-a-sleeper? A pullout couch?” She frowned, trying to think of any other names for it. “It’s a bed that folds up and stores inside your couch. You really have never heard of that?”

      No. And I did not realize I’d purchased one.”

      You did, and I could use it. I’d even like to, but I can’t lift it out of the couch.”

      He groaned, shifting his position. “No. I… If I move now, I will vomit again. I do not want that.”

      Oh. I… Okay. I can just go back to the inn. That’s fine. Um… I did kind of hurt my arm trying to pull the bed out, so I don’t really feel up to putting the cushions or table back and—”

      Take the other side of the bed.”

      She gulped, starting at him. Had Grahame actually said that? She didn’t understand. “I can’t. That’s your sanctuary. Your safe place. It’s bad enough I borrowed it, and you are… you said you didn’t want any kind of—”

      I don’t. That’s not what—don’t be absurd. This bed is—when I went to purchase it, the salesperson assured me that it could fit four adults in it and made a lewd comment on it. I left that store and bought from his competitor who at least had the good sense not to imply deviance came with my need for a larger bed due to my height. If he was not lying, there is likely plenty of space, as he said four adults—I believe he meant them all my size—which you are not. You are quite petite, and your baby will not take up much space either. You do not have to, but I am not moving, and I do not want to talk now as I feel ill. Your choice. Just let me sleep.”

      She nodded, taking Luka out of the carrier. He grabbed at her shirt, and she bit her lip. Did she dare ask him if it was okay if she nursed Luka, too? Or…

      She shook her head. First she’d lie down and see if there was enough space. There might not be. She set a pillow in the middle and then put Luka on the bed. She took off the carrier and set it to the side before lying down next to Luka.

      Hmm. Grahame’s bed still felt divine. Even with him in it. She might fall asleep right away again.

      Thank you, Grahame.”

      He didn’t answer her, but she was okay with that. She closed her eyes and found herself drifting off despite Luka wiggling next to her.

        1. They can be very adorable.

          He is kind of cute that way. I figured he’d be a bit oblivious to that feature and not care so long as the price was right, the chair was comfortable, and he liked the color.

    1. Um… So the one character was supposed to tell the other that he needed a hug, and it got out of hand?

      **********

      “I agree the trinket box is beneath me as far as skill set and analysis goes. Plenty of others could have opened it. All of the members of that historical society are trained to handle artifacts, after all.”

      “The ones who volunteer on a regular basis are, you mean,” Strawberry corrected, and Sennet shrugged. He refilled his drink again, not that Carson wasn’t already a bit impressed. The guy wasn’t kidding about his tolerance—it wasn’t like what he’d had so far had affected him at all, and it wasn’t like he was drinking it watered down or even light alcohol to begin with.

      “Very well. Those who would typically have handled it have training. It is simply that Mrs. Brendt believes far too many objects have more value than they do.”

      “Hey, that box is part of our mystery,” Mackenna said. “It might be more important than you know, so lay off the box, okay?”

      Sennet reached for his drink. “I haven’t discounted the possibility that it is related to what you found in the trunk. However, most times when she gets excited over an artifact, it is not nearly so vital. Two weeks ago, she wanted me to analyze a fork.”

      Strawberry winced. “Yes, she did, and I know I said I was sorry before, but—”

      “You are not responsible for that woman. Stop apologizing for her actions. It’s extremely tiresome.”

      Strawberry flushed, looking down at her hands.

      “Oh, now, I see the truth. Here we thought Mackenna was being a busy newlywed, but it turns out she’s just abandoned us for a younger crowd,” Brady called out as he, George, and Granger approached their table. Carson didn’t see Mac with them, though, and he could tell that bothered Mackenna even as she tried to force a smile.

      “It’s good to see you. We were beginning to think you weren’t ever coming out of that newlywed cave. Even drove Mac from home, didn’t you now?”

      “Hey, that’s not what happened,” Carson protested. “That’s—he’s dealing with his wife’s death. It’s not about our marriage.”

      “He knows,” Granger said, shaking his head at his companions. He turned back to the table, looking at Sennet. “You’re the one the Coles took in, right? The foster kid?”

      “Oh, yeah, that’s right. The Landry boy. How are things at White Fields?”

      “White Fields?” Mackenna repeated, staring at Sennet herself. “You own White Fields?”

      “Yes. Is that somehow a problem? Your husband should have known that.”

      Carson swallowed. “Well… I told her you were adopted and probably got the Coles’ place, but I couldn’t remember the name of it.”

      Brady snorted. “Ain’t a soul around here who could forget that place. Couple of rich idiots decide to recreate that plantation from Gone With the Wind in the middle of the North Dakota prairie, you bet your britches people remember it.”

      “That would be Tara. Sennet’s house isn’t based on Tara. It’s based on the Ashland plantation, which is in Lousiana, not Georgia. It was in a movie, but that was Band of Angels, which did also have Clark Gable in it, but it wasn’t Gone With the Wind.”

      “Ah, the lady knows her stuff,” Brady said, sitting down next to her. “That one knows cars, but you know the great Gable. Is he all you know, or have you come here with Mac’s granddaughter to steal all our hearts now that she’s gone and gotten herself hitched?”

      Strawberry blushed, shaking her head. “No. I came to tell them about something I found in the historical records. That’s all.”

      “But you are single, aren’t you? You wouldn’t go dashing all our hopes again like Mackenna did, would you?”

      Strawberry’s flush deepened as some of the others started to tease her as well. Poor thing looked like she wanted to bolt for the door as they started in on the flattery they usually reserved for Mackenna. While she tended to tease right back, Strawberry seemed to fold under more and more, her voice getting quieter until she didn’t speak at all as the talk continued.

      Sennet put another shot in front of her. “Ignore the vultures. They’ll be prey themselves soon enough.”

      Granger narrowed his eyes at Sennet. “Excuse me?”

      Strawberry took a shaky sip of her drink. “You don’t have to be like that, Sennet. I know you believe aging is a natural process and part of life, we live, we die, and we turn into nutrients to fuel another cycle of life and death in the plant world, but not everyone sees it that way, and it’s rude to call attention to their age in such a cruel way.”

      He seemed to smile. “Yes, and when have I ever not been rude?”

      “Tenth grade. You let me hide behind you so I could avoid those jerks who made up that awful song about my name.”

      “They sang it anytime they saw you. Hiding you was as much for me as it was for you. That was an obnoxious tune and the words didn’t make any sense.”

      Strawberry downed her drink and got herself another. Carson had no doubt she knew exactly what those bastards were saying in that song, even if the euphemisms had gone over Sennet’s head. “That wasn’t the only time you did that for me, either.”

      “Why Sennet,” Mackenna teased. “One might even think you cared.”

      “You only say that because you did not grow up here. Ask your friends. Or your husband. They will all tell you what a heartless monster I am,” Sennet said, taking his bourbon as a shot again. Carson grimaced, though he knew Sennet wasn’t wrong. Most of the people who grew up in the area thought he was rude at best, and at worst… Well, there were those who’d wanted to blame the death of Carson’s father on Sennet even if he also would have been too young for that.

      “They’re wrong,” Strawberry whispered, reaching for her own drink and downing it.

      The silence got awkward fast, and Mackenna soon found herself waving to the guys as they left for their own table. In a way, she was relieved. She loved them, all of them, since they were all sweet in their way and fun to be around. She liked them even when they were having hard times. George still mourned his Rosie deeply, and there were times she was sure Granger was dealing with some PTSD from his days as a marine, but that didn’t make the oldtimers anything less.

      She just didn’t think they meshed well with her new friends, though it seemed Sennet didn’t mesh well with anyone—except Strawberry, which was a bit odd since she’d been the one to warn them off so strongly the other day.

      “So… White Fields…”

      “Because of the wheat. I’m not sure the Coles had any idea how that would sound when paired up with a recreation of a southern plantation that did have slaves.” Strawberry reached for her drink. “Then again, the Coles weren’t particularly sensitive people regardless of what the issue was. You remember that fundraiser around the Fourth of July?”

      Carson shuddered. “Why did you have to remind me? That was awful. Sorry, Sennet. They… I guess they meant well?”

      “They were idiots. Do not think I had any particular attachment to those people. I was a guest in their home. I inherited everything by default, not intent. They didn’t like me any more than the kids at school did.” Sennet filled himself another glass. “It’s not worth discussing.”

      “You need a hug,” Strawberry said, and everyone turned to stare at her. She shrugged. “I always thought that back in school. You needed the biggest hug ever to make up for all they weren’t giving you. And how everyone treated you. You were so much kinder than they knew… they didn’t even give you a chance, but they should have given you a hug.”

      “No. Hell, no.” Sennet’s reaction should have been funny, but Mackenna didn’t think it was. He shook his head. “You are intoxicated, Strawberry. You need to go home.”

      “I know, but that means calling my brother for a ride, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t need him lecturing me, too. You do enough.” She put a hand to her head. “Sometimes I miss the you that you were in high school. He wasn’t as jaded and mean. You won’t even stop calling me by a name you know I hate, but back then… you used to be the only one who didn’t make it sound like an insult when you said it. I hated it when almost everyone else said it, but you… You were kinder. Matter of fact. And it was nice. You’re not nice at all anymore. Sometimes I forget, and then you’re yourself and I get all mad at you all over again.”

      Sennet shook his head. “I didn’t change. You’re idealizing someone I never was and never will be. If this town was larger, I would call you a cab. Since it is not, you will have to rely on someone else, and I suppose that is your brother.”

      “No.” She stood up, but she wasn’t at all steady on her feet and flopped on him a second later. She held onto him even as he stood still, discomfort all over him. “You needed all the hugs. You still do. If only it would make a difference…”

      “The time for that is long past.”

      She looked up at him, lip trembling like she might cry. “Say that’s not true. Please.”

      “You are drunk, and this is unbecoming of you. Desist. Now. You will regret all of this later.” Sennet looked at Mackenna and Carson in turn. “I wouldn’t put any stock in her ramblings. She does, in fact, hate me when she’s sober.”

      “Wait, what if they hugged you, too? Would that work? I’m not enough, but if you had more friends, more people that cared—”

      “No.” He took out his wallet and set a bill down on the table before grabbing her files and walking her toward the door.

      Carson sighed, shaking his head as he watched them go. “Are you happy now? I told you bringing those two together was a bad idea.”

      Mackenna grimaced. “Well, we did get distracted from our main mystery, but don’t you think the one between the two of them is just as interesting?”

      “Are you playing matchmaker now? Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

      Mackenna almost smacked him. “I am not playing anything. I’m sure they used to be friends, but something went wrong there. You could hear it in her voice—she regrets it, whatever it was. He’s tried to harden himself against it, but he’s still got a soft spot for her.”

      “You just can’t help yourself, can you?”

      “What?”

      “You have to fix things. Not just cars. You chose to fix me, and now you want to fix them.”

      “I think I might just smack you after all.”

      “Maybe, but… I don’t think I’m wrong. You want to help them. What you started with me… you’re actually wanting to continue it with others. And… it’s kind of a beautiful thing. I just… I worry, you know. Not because I’m jealous, don’t start on that, but… you can’t fix people like you fix cars, and I don’t want you being hurt by that.”

      She smiled a bit ruefully. “And there you go reminding me of why I love you.”

        1. Thanks. I… actually found a place for Sennet from that other fill in an existing story (a sequel to one I have in print, actually) and his complicated relationship with Strawberry (her father named her Strawberry Shortcake, he thinks it’s hilarious, she hates it and him and was bullied mercilessly in school because of it, with Carson and Sennet being some of the few exceptions.)

          There’s a mystery… though it does seem more and more like the story is about the relationships between people… Carson and Mackenna being newlyweds and trying to figure that out, her grandfather Mac dealing with his grief over his lost wife, Mackenna and Carson both learning to have friends… Sennet and Strawberry finally working to overcome their miscommunication and clear that air again…

          but maybe it won’t be so terrible… :/

  17. any, any+/any, “You know, inside you’re actually really nice.” “Repeat that disgusting slander again, and you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”

    1. Um… it doesn’t quite have the prompt as stated, but I couldn’t help trying anyway because… well…

      Ugh. I’m dying. Dying, I tell you.”

      That is an erroneous statement, and kindly stop repeating it,” he said, not sure he could remember how many times his friend had said that since he entered the other man’s apartment. He’d only intended to drop off an assignment that he had texted him to ask about, but the other man’s insistence upon his imminent demise had given him pause.

      Though it would seem his friend only had a cold, he was currently in between girlfriends and living alone, had no one to take care of him. Somehow it fell to him to fix this, though he did not see why. With the other man’s fan club, there was always some idiotic girl who wanted to date him, so it would have simply been a matter of asking the leader for someone—and he suspected that woman would come herself to do it if given half a chance.

      His friend had refused, though, so he was the one standing at the stove and preparing a meal to help fortify someone ill. He did not entirely know why, but it was much better if the other man had some of this on hand over what he had been eating when he was too sick to cook for himself.

      That smells wonderful.” He sneezed, loudly, and cursed as he searched for his lost handkerchief. “Is it done yet?”

      Not yet. How many times do I have to tell you to be patient?”

      But… I’m dying. You have to make it faster.”

      You are not dying. Go sit down and stop bothering me while I’m making you food.”

      His friend sighed, moving back but not leaving the general area of the stove. “You’re too nice, you know. I swear none of my girlfriends would do this for me.”

      I do not care to speculate, but perhaps that is for the best. Their general level of intelligence is not necessarily one that should be trusted with any kind of flame. Also not with food. You might die for real then.”

      That’s mean. You know, some of them are actually quite smart. At least… until my eyes get hold of them. Then…”

      Then they are mindless.”

      Not completely. They just… want me beyond all reason, and they think it’s love when it’s not.”

      I told you—love is just a chemical reaction in the brain.”

      We have got to get you a girlfriend so you realize just how untrue that is,” his friend said, shaking his head. “Once you’re in love, you’ll understand. It’s not about chemicals. And you shouldn’t want it to be. It’s so much better when it’s not.”

      Even you do not know that.”

      I do. I know what I have isn’t love, for one thing, and I know how good the other kind of love is. Friendship is just as important as romantic love. It’s not the same, but it… it matters. More than you know. Which is why I am so glad you’re here with me.” The other man hugged him, and he grimaced. Not only was this dangerous and unsanitary, it was uncomfortable as well. “Thank you for being my friend and the nicest person I know and cooking for me. It means so much to me, you know. Now I know I won’t die because my nice friend came and took care of me.”

      Get off.”

      Nope.”

      I can’t finish your food like this, and I am actually quite tempted to grab something sharp and poke you with it to prod you off of me.”

      You wouldn’t. You’re a nice person.”

      Keep saying that, and you will hear from my mother.”

      The other man frowned, pulling back. “What? Why are you bringing her into this?”

      If you keep insisting on spouting nonsense, I will have to take some form of legal action, and since my mother is a lawyer—”

      Right. Of course. That’s awesome,” his friend said, grinning. “Let’s do that. We can have a family dinner.”

      No.”

      Please?”

      No. Now go and eat your soup.”

  18. any. any+/any. “So when she calls, don’t send her my way
    When it hurts, you’ll know it’s the right thing.”

    ~Milk Carton Kids, “Michigan”

    1. Naira went inside indignantly, covered in snow. Deven lingered a moment, waiting.

      He was not disappointed.

      Naira was right that the first snow of the season drew out the powerful. They built guardians in the snow, like she had, and talked to each other while allowing their children to play in the drifts. He stayed out of the way like always, pressed back up against an outer wall.

      Keket found him anyway. She was quiet, dark-haired, softspoken with eyes that held gentleness but without the warmth some part of him had always wanted. He didn’t belong to her and never had.

      “Keket,” he huffed out with a sigh. He didn’t want to encourage her.

      The empath merely smiled softly, her power washing over him and smoothing over even that small irritation.

      He didn’t fight it.

      They stood there quietly for a bit, his hands buried in his pockets, hers wrapped around a steaming mug that she sipped from while they looked out over the rest of the Family. One woman in particular stayed at the edge of his vision, where he kept her. She was pale white—fair-haired, fair-skinned, and slender almost to a fault. She laughed loudly and readily as she talked enthusiastically with the other women. She was considered one of the most cheerful and beautiful with a power she wielded with perfect control.

      “Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but the scars become less visible.” Keket looked at him then, finally acknowledging why he was standing out here in the cold instead of following his wife indoors.

      He blew out a breath that turned to icy fog. He’d never seen her scars at all. He nodded shortly at Keket—she deserved that much—and shoved off the wall to finally leave like he should have before.

      He had no mother, he reminded himself. He didn’t really have anyone at all.

      1. Poor Deven. He so badly needs someone to care about him and love him… and yet he holds back. And it’s understandable, but sad, too. One just wants him to get all the cuddles and love. Naira wants to give it, but she holds back, too. And even her love doesn’t negate completely that he lacked his mother’s or the empath who raised him.
        1. Ah, true on all counts. I’m still listening to that song Distance because you’re right, it’s perfect for them. They both hold back and he doesn’t know how to let himself love or be loved and she doesn’t know how to bridge the gap just yet, but they’ll figure it out. That lack growing up definitely affected him more than he even realizes.

          1. I’m glad the song helps some. It seemed perfect, though sometimes I’m the only one who thinks so.

            I’m looking forward to them finding a way to bridge the gap. Her learning about the empath is probably a help, though he’ll have to give a little, too… Poor guy doesn’t know how, but he will have to learn.

  19. any. any+/any. “You took the words right outta my mouth
    When you knew that I would need ’em
    What am I supposed to do now
    Without you?”

    ~Milk Carton Kids, “Michigan”

    1. “When I said I was cold, I didn’t mean for you to hug me.” Accelerator growled but was unable to pry the barnacle of Last Order off his waist.

      “I am never letting you go again!’ Misaka Misaka says as she clings tightly to prevent you leaving.” Last Order made good on her description of clinging tightly.

      Accelerator sighed in exasperation. “I was just going to grab a blanket.” For her, but no need to tell her that either.

      She cast a skeptical eye upward. “‘You were leaving me,’ Misaka Misaka pouts, reminding you of all the times you lied.”

      Misaka Worst was over in the corner of the couch, laughing fit to be tied. Yomikawa and Yoshikawa were both giggling in the kitchen.

      He had left the hospital several times after telling her he wasn’t going off to fight. That said, Accelerator reached down and yanked the little girl up to toss her onto the couch. Her startled squeak was quickly followed by a reproachful look.

      She sat up, hands on her hips. “Misaka Misaka— Umph!” A blanket landed squarely on her head.

      He sat back down on the couch and dragged her over. “See? A blanket.”

      She snuggled in with a grin as if it had been her idea all along.

          1. No harm in that. Nice character dynamics are good, and as we’ve discussed before… there isn’t enough platonic fic out there.

            (And I’m still completely fail at writing it without including other elements.)

            1. The solution is clearly to include no one at all that’s shippable. For example, Misaka Worst has a crush on Accelerator in canon (whether or not she acknowledges it as such), but they are absolutely not shippable to me (or any of the Sisters) because the Sisters can literally share brainwaves, thus forming the Misaka Network. Which includes (and is kind of headed by) Last Order, a girl that’s physically and mentally about 10 years old and unofficially Accelerator’s family.

              That makes every single Sister completely nonshippy for me. And Yomikawa and Yoshikawa are adults whereas Accelerator’s probably at the tail end of 15 years old and despite having nothing one could call a childhood, is very much a teenage boy (who also has a lack of apparent interest in anyone that way).

              So I can easily write gen for Accelerator because writing shipfic in his little world he’s carved out for himself is… well, out of character and there aren’t any prospects in what’s fannishly dubbed “Accel family”.

    2. “Augh, it’s cold in here.” Accelerator closed the front door loudly, hung his coat in the front hall closet, and failed to remove his shoes—which Yomikawa would likely scold him for later—before throwing himself down on the couch in the front room.

      Last Order blinked at him wide-eyed, then raised a speculative finger to tap her chin before gleefully bounding over to the couch and throwing herself on top of him and burrowing in like he didn’t have kidneys or important organs to protect.

      “What—? Last Order!”

      “You said you were cold! Misaka Misaka says, glaring at you.”

      “I didn’t mean to hug me!”

    1. “Hello, this is Captain Munakata Reisi of Scepter 4!”

      “He does know that’s a toy phone,” Domyouji asked under his breath to Akiyama.

      Fushimi merely blinked at the unusual sight of the Captain of an entire branch of the Japanese government settled in with a tiny little girl of unknown provenance, drinking from a child’s toy teaset instead of his own beautiful set he used regularly and answering a phone with great enthusiasm that apparently had a stuffed bear on the other end.

      “My niece,” the Lieutenant, Awashima, said with a perfectly straight face.

      Akiyama elbowed Domyouji. “When a child hands you a toy phone, you answer it!”

      1. Aw, that’s cute. I like the idea of him letting down his guard and being gentle with a child. It’s a very nice image.

        And so funny with his clan being unable to believe it.

  20. And this is the other one. It got… um… long…

    You say this is a bed?”

    Ruby put a hand to her mouth, unable to help her giggles at Grahame’s reaction to seeing the hide-a-bed in his couch. She still found it funnier than she should that he didn’t know what one of those was. She knew he’d said he got most of what he had from the insurance settlement after his parents died, but even before that, they must have been fairly comfortable for him never to have seen or heard of one before today. Though she supposed if the salesperson who sold him the couch was anything like the one he’d said tried to sell him the bed by implying it was big enough for an orgy, he would not have listened and been very short with the poor person he met at the competitor’s shop.

    Yes, it is a bed. You pull it up and out,” Ruby said, rubbing her arm where she’d tried before but couldn’t manage to do it. “You don’t have to try if you still have the migraine. I’ll just put the cushions back on and sleep on the couch, I guess.”

    Grahame studied it, lifting his hands as if to use them as a measurement, then framed her in the same space. “That does not seem wise, not if you intend to share it with the child. You will assuredly roll over on him and kill him.”

    I…” She grimaced. “Okay, yes, that does scare me, but he… he can sleep in his car seat. I… If I do move somewhere permanently, the first thing I’m getting is a crib or a bassinet, but since I’ve been doing so much traveling and wasn’t really able to take a whole lot of money when I left… I had to prioritize. The car, the car seat, a diaper bag, bottles, diapers, clothes… there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room left after buying only the essentials. I only have this carrier now because Barbara gave it to me.”

    It is quite useful. Perhaps she has other things she would donate.”

    I don’t want her to give me everything she has. That’s not—”

    She is well past child-bearing age and has no need of such things. It is wasteful to hold onto them or dispose of them when they can be used by someone else.” Grahame put his hand to his head. “If you are going to be stubborn about it, I cannot stop you, but it seems foolish to me.”

    She bit her lip. “Well, I don’t know. It seems strange to ask her about that now, and it’s not like I know I’ll be staying because I don’t… I thought I might when she mentioned her need of a cook and a delivery person, and I didn’t mind the work I did do, not before today, but… that man… she had to hit him with a frying pan and I… I don’t know if I can go back there. Will… will you go with me when I do? I mean, just long enough to get my things and put them in my car and not when you aren’t feeling well because I can tell your migraine is back, but… later, maybe?”

    He grunted. “Maybe. I will think about it later. I need to lie down again.”

    She sighed. She’d been hoping he would feel better after eating, but he still looked sick and didn’t sound good, either.

    He started to walk away and then stopped, looking back at her. “Are you coming?”

    She blinked. “What?”

    I assumed your point about the couch was that you were also tired as well, not that it isn’t expected since I did wake you with my nightmare. Since we both lack the ability to deal with that… thing in the couch, it will have to wait. You can have the other side of the bed again if you wish. It may also be better if we retire at the same time, assuming the child permits it.”

    She bit her lip. “Um… Well, I… sort of need to nurse him, so… um… that’s…”

    Grahame shook his head as he started walking away. “Your need to get so embarrassed about the natural way of childcare is confusing when I don’t have a migraine. Honestly. You’re covered by a blanket, aren’t you? And even if you are not, your body is designed to work that way.”

    Most people see boobs as a sexual thing.”

    I would assume that is due to some foolish psychological idiocy brought on by Freud. The damage that man did to the treatment of mental health is unconscionable.”

    She giggled again as she followed after Grahame. Somehow it didn’t surprise her that he had issued with the man considered to be the founding father of psychology. “It really doesn’t bother you? Because… I find it weird myself, and I’m the… the one… um…”

    You are the mother,” he said as he started up the stairs, and she shuddered. He frowned at her, and she winced, not sure she was up to explaining that reaction. It meant talking about her father, and could she actually do that to him when he was already sick?

    Yes. Technically.”

    He stopped, leaning against the wall and staring at her. “Did you not give birth to him?”

    I…” She put her arms around Luka even as she struggled to find words. “You said you understood. That… you know how…”

    Ah. Yes. That. You… would have some conflict about being the child’s mother even if that is a biological fact.” Grahame continued on into his room, pushing the door open. “I did not think of it in those terms.”

    I try not to. I mean… It’s not Luka’s fault. He didn’t ask for it. And I… I was like plenty of other kids and played at having a family when I was younger. I liked the idea of it. I just… I didn’t expect it to be like this. He didn’t even want me… he just wanted a boy… a boy he could hurt…”

    Grahame took off his glasses, walking them over to the nightstand. “I cannot guarantee that you are entirely safe here—the incident at the inn proves otherwise—but it is unlikely he would find you in this forgotten relic of a town, and even less likely for him to look for you here instead of at the only motel for miles, if that helps any.”

    She tried to force a smile. “A bit, yes. I do take comfort in knowing that I drove halfway across the country before I couldn’t drive anymore. I mean, I did have to rest before stopping here, and I took back roads, so it did take longer, but I… I am pretty far from where I was. And…”

    And?”

    I’m not alone.” She swallowed. “Um, not that I expect you to protect me because you aren’t under any obligation to do that, and not that I think you would or should have to, but… I… I’ve been alone since my mom died, other than Luka, and I… I didn’t realize how nice it was just to have someone to talk to again until that first night when we had green bean casserole.”

    If you consider that good conversation, you must be more tired than I realized,” Grahame said, and she laughed again, a bit hysterical. “You should rest. And… this house has a security system, so no one should get in as long as it is on—I will verify that in a minute. I… I am no means of defense, though I am told I look intimidating to these people here, so I can attempt to use that.”

    Okay.”

    Though if things progress as they have been today, the best I will manage is vomiting on them.”

    She laughed, almost shaking too much to put Luka down on the bed. “Thank you, again.”

    It should not have been amusing.”

    She shrugged, climbing in next to Luka and trying to get comfortable. She’d been so drained earlier it was easy to fall asleep, but she wasn’t as tired now, and she did need to feed Luka, too. Even if Grahame felt it was natural, she felt weird doing this in his bed.

    Are you sure this isn’t—”

    The security system is on. The light is going off.”

    Okay.” She adjusted her position again, still feeling awkward. “Do you want to know something really stupid?”

    You do not have to make conversation. The purpose of this exercise was rest.”

    I know. I’m just nervous.”

    Talk if you must. I may fall asleep and ignore it.” He shifted his spot, moving his pillow as he did. She studied his back and told herself it was fine. Grahame wasn’t interested in her like that, this was all part of him being practical, and it was kind of him to offer her half of the bed—and there was plenty of space because somehow people assumed that a tall person like him also needed the bed massively wide, too—so she wasn’t close enough for it to be intimate in that sense, either. Even the pillow on the other side of Luka didn’t touch Grahame, and she knew he wasn’t on the edge of the bed.

    Would you laugh if I told you his name was supposed to be Luke Skywalker?”

    Grahame turned over and frowned at her, squinting as he did. “Was that intended as a provocation? Why would you ask that?”

    Because it’s true and I was looking for a way to make this less weird, which I did not manage at all.” She sighed, touching Luka’s head. She had to explain it now, didn’t she? Why did she think this would be easier? It wasn’t. With him looking at her, even knowing he didn’t have his glasses, she felt strange. “I’m sorry. I… really am nervous. I shouldn’t be. Nothing happened before, but for some reason this feels… different.”

    I suppose I was already mostly asleep when you asked about the couch. I am not familiar with most popular media, but I do know that one you spoke of… and I am again confused. Why would you wish to name the child that—and how is it not his name if you did?”

    She closed her eyes, still moving her hand on Luka’s head. “The doctor asked me what I wanted to name the baby, and I tried to say Luke Skywalker. For one, it would have infuriated him. I wanted that. I wanted to do anything I could to stand against him.. I thought I had… accepted what he did to me, but I hated him so much… and it was so wrong and yet… right… that I could finally do things for myself again when the baby came. I…”

    She didn’t want to speak of the times before Luka, the painful miscarriages, the forced bed rest. If she hadn’t gone into labor early, she’d still be trapped with that monster.

    She forced her eyes back open, meeting Grahame’s and trying for a smile. “For another… the baby deserved to grow up the hero who still believed in the good and won over the evil back to the light. Not that I saw any of the movies beyond the first three, so I don’t know if that stayed true or not, but I wanted to give him a name with hope, and I had none of my own, so I picked a movie about hope… I wanted him to have that, especially if it was all I gave him.”

    You considered giving him up for adoption.”

    She nodded. “Yes, but… as terrible as I am, I was afraid… he’d find the baby… so I kept him. For now. I… If they ever arrest him… maybe then it would be safe. He does deserve better than me.”

    Perhaps not.”

    What? That’s a terrible thing to say and—”

    You care about the child a great deal. Most people attach much weight to such a thing when it comes to families, do they not?”

    Oh.” She shrugged. “I suppose they do. I don’t know if it’s enough in this case, much as I try. I do get so much wrong. I screwed up… even his name…”

    You still haven’t explained that.”

    Oh. Um… When I was trying to answer, I was in so much pain, I said ‘Luke… ah…’ I couldn’t think of the last name at first, and I was in pain, and then I passed out and never managed to say ‘Skywalker,’ so when I got the birth certificate, it said ‘Luka.’ No middle name. I could have called him Luke, but… by then I wasn’t on painkillers and didn’t want to admit that was what I’d done.”

    Grahame nodded. “Understandable.”

    Hey!”

    He smiled ever so slightly. “You did not have to tell me, though it was quite amusing after all.”

    Meanie. That’s not fair.”

    Were you expecting me to disagree with you over the ‘silliness’ of your choice? Or would you prefer to speak more of those things alluded to in what you did not say?”

    She shook her head. She couldn’t expect him to disagree, not really, and she didn’t want to talk about the rest of it. “I just… It… I’ve never admitted that to anyone before, not anyone who asked about Luka’s name.”

    I can see why.”

    She grimaced, but at the same time, she was fighting a smile. For some reason, she was glad she’d told Grahame that. She closed her eyes, feeling lighter despite how hard the middle of that conversation had been. “Thank you.”

    He turned back onto his side. “I did nothing for you to thank me for.”

    No, you did,” she disagreed, though she didn’t have enough energy to explain it to him. “You’ve done so much… I can’t even tell you how much. And I should… there’s more I should tell you, too.”

    Perhaps in the morning. I should rather be done with this migraine.”

    Okay. Good night.”

    He didn’t say it back, but that didn’t matter. She could hear him breathing and it was nice somehow. She was safe, Luka was safe, and Grahame was safe. This wasn’t weird or awkward anymore. It was comforting, just like Grahame was. She could even forget that Luka was nursing and just sleep. She did so with a smile.

    1. Interesting. Do people really fall asleep while nursing? I like how protective and exasperated he gets, whether or not he realizes he’s being all protective of her.

      1. Well, my sister and my best friend did. They’d be tired themselves and sometimes the child in question didn’t want to sleep unless they fell asleep nursing, so they’d just lie down with the baby and nap. Or go to bed that way. I know both of them used to get so frustrated and tired that they’d just be like, “fine, whatever, nurse, I’m going to bed.”

        *shrugs*

        He has no idea how much she means to him right now, and it’s probably too soon for it, but he is very protective of her all the same. And he’s also feeling guilty because he spaced out (he had a flashback to his own trauma) when she was being bothered by that guy at the inn and wasn’t any use then between that and his migraine.

        Plus… he’s not good at comforting people and doesn’t think he wants to even if he does and is trying to at the same time.

          1. Yes, he is. I adore him for it.

            (And apparently keep needing to try and write that same thing again and again. *sigh* I need to do other kinds of characters, but his type, the awkward but oh so sweet, is so my favorite right now I can’t help but keep finding more situations for ones like him.)

  21. any. any+/any. “We are glowing
    How we shone
    Like a comet, like a torch
    I would like to find how to ignite you.”

    ~Holly Thorsby, We Are Glowing.

  22. any. any+/any. “I hope that you see right through my walls
    I hope that you catch me, ’cause I’m already falling
    I’ll never let a love get so close
    You put your arms around me and I’m home.”

    ~Christina Perri, Arms

     

  23. any. any+/any. “The world is coming down on me
    And I can’t find a reason to be loved
    I never wanna leave you
    But I can’t make you bleed if I’m alone.”

    ~Christina Perri, Arms

  24. any. any+/any. “I tried my best to never let you in to see the truth
    And I’ve never opened up
    I’ve never truly loved ’till you put your arms around me.”

    ~Christina Perri, Arms

  25. any. any+/any. “And I will make sure to keep my distance,
    Say I love you when you’re not listening,
    How long, can we keep this up, up, up?”

    ~Christina Perri, Distance

    1. Actually, this version might be better:

      “Make sure to keep my distance,
      Say I love you when you’re not listening,
      How long, ’til we call this love, love, love?”

      ~Christina Perri, Distance

    2. any. any. “[She] was someone different. She had very, deeply feminine qualities … that I felt were very endangered at that time, and they are from generation to generation, and that somehow they should be kept alive, and … The main thing is that she was always thinking of the other person, and the interesting thing to me is that she was a happy person … loving, compassionate.”
      — Olivia de Havilland
    3. any. any. “Some of the best things people ever did came out of the shame of what they did in the past.”

      ~Scarlett O’Hara, Scarlett

      1. Accelerator wasn’t the only one mending his ways, Yoshikawa thought to herself. But it was still hard to think of all the Sisters as children that always ought to be protected and cared for and educated in the ordinary way that human children were.

        Accelerator was enrolling Last Order in school, instead of allowing her to learn her necessary schooling via the other Sisters and the Misaka Network.

        It wasn’t like Yoshikawa didn’t want to protect and care for Last Order, but a part of her was a researcher still and thought of all of them in terms of their capabilities and desired results rather than as children.

        “You never did have a problem sending children off to war,” Yomikawa commented dryly. Not particularly happily.

        Yoshikawa could only agree. “I would make a terrible teacher,” she said.

        Accelerator was scowling as he attempted to fend off the combined efforts of Last Order and Misaka Worst to steal the remote control for the TV. He looked like an older brother, gruff and annoyed but soft and protective in his own way. She knew how much shame for the brutal violence he’d done to the Sisters drove that protectiveness now.

        “Perhaps I’ll do better as a student.”

        Yomikawa blinked, startled.

        Yoshikawa just smiled. She still had a lot to learn.

        1. So I am admittedly a bit unfamiliar with the other characters, since all I’ve really seen is Last Order and Accelerator, but it is interesting that this person is willing to relearn behaviors to be a better person, too.

          Of course, him being the gruff big brother was probably the best part of it.

          1. :nod, nod:

            Yoshikawa is basically the person that first talked to Accelerator like a real person, despite being one of the researchers responsible for the experiment where he was “brutally violent” to the Sisters. Last Order was part of the experiment, but he didn’t meet her until afterward. Yomikawa is the cop/teacher that’s his and Last Order’s guardian now and Misaka Worst is too much trouble to explain. She’s basically one of the Sisters that came later that he saved separately.

            This is a horribly deficient explanation, but hopefully a tiny bit helpful.

            I love his gruff big brother, though the writer Kamachi seems to imply he’s more of a father figure. I’m skeptical of that. He treats her just like a big brother would really.

        2. It does give at least a bit of perspective on who they are in relation to the others, so that helps some. (I am getting a bit curious about the fandom now though I had sworn off anime because I was tired of all the unhappy endings and canon ships I couldn’t support.)

          I think that some brothers can act in a way that is fatherly, some stand in for that role, too, though some are more just obnoxious brother types. Older brothers can be as nice as father figures, too. I know when I wrote that X-Men fic that Wolverine was kind of both. And with the ones I’ve written lately… the one that Warner (and others) take their basis from is an odd hybrid of the father figure/older brother/mentor even when he’s not old enough to be a father but could be an older brother.

          1. I must… warn you that this is one of the most troublesome canons I’ve ever gotten fannish over. Because really I got fannish over one character and his storyline. Okay, and the Sisters and Misaka Mikoto (the original) too, but theirs is not the primary storyline outside of the arc where they were all introduced.

            So if you swear off the Light Novels (swear them off, there’s issues that are glossed over in the anime that are even worse in the LNs), then you still have an egregious amount of fanservice and all the mains are teenagers, so the fanservice is extra awful when thinking of their ages.

            The magic side wholly makes free with adapting “Christianity” into something barely recognizable as such, and the science side while avoiding most of that is “brutally violent” and tramps all over human rights. Frankly, I went to the LNs for the rest of Accelerator’s backstory and thoughts, etc., and while most of it was fantastic, it’s really even more brutal than apparent in the anime.

            They successfully turned this kid into a sadistic weapon and while he’s started being more of a hero than a villain, there’s a very good reason he still considers himself a villain. That finally changes at the end of the anime, but where the LNs continue, he’s not really used to it or comfortable with the idea of not considering himself one yet.

            There’s also a ton of angelic imagery and elements, even when just sticking to his storyline. So in short, I suspect this anime might be a pass for you. I barely made it through as much of Railgun as I did to get to the Sisters storyline, but I was determined. It’s one of those canons you fall in love with what you fall in love with, bemoan the rest, and don’t feel comfortable recommending to anyone while wishing someone else would join you in your torment.

        3. Yeah, that does sound like one I would have trouble with. I do like me some problematic canons, but that does sound like it hits on a lot of things that I am not comfortable with. I’m really not a fan of when they bend religion into things and I really, really dislike inappropriate/fanservice things with underage characters (or even ones that just look underage. Not a fan of any lolita or shota stuff in any form, though I did like the sort of spoof of it in Ouran High School Host Club, which mostly turns those tropes on their heads except I can’t stand the “main” guy and gag when I see the romantic parts with him and the lead girl because she should never, ever be attracted to him (his main redeeming quality is he acts like her dad, and that’s a whole other level of squick.) I like Kyoya, but even he’s a bit problematic.)

          I enjoy these characters out of context, so there’s that, I guess. I was just trying to think if I knew of any other good ideas for platonic/fluffy prompts that might be suitable for them.

  26. any. any+/any. “Please don’t stand so close to me
    I’m having trouble breathing.
    I’m afraid of what you’ll see, right now.”

    ~Christina Perri, Distance

    1. “Are you in love with him?” Tasho asked, perking up all too interestedly in whatever Naira would answer.

      Technically, Naira thought, she probably shouldn’t even be here, seeking out her previous Family’s Matriarch for advice. She could ask her mother, but her mother was not particularly helpful in this department, having always breezily suggested Naira flirt with whoever she liked in the hopes they’d seek her hand from the Matriarch. Or just go to the Matriarch herself.

      Naira frowned. She didn’t know the Matriarch in her new household and she didn’t know what to do with Deven.

      “He’s not in love with me,” she said at last. Expected of the newly wed in an arrangement, but… She sighed. “He told me he can never love me.”

      Tasho made a small noise of understanding and settled into the chair on the other side of the tea table, having finished placing all to her satisfaction. “And that bothers you.”

      “Shouldn’t it?” Naira demanded, instantly vehement, barely holding back the tears that sprung to the backs of her eyes. “I— Didn’t you find love eventually with your husband?”

      “Yes,” Tasho answered bluntly. “But my husband also isn’t known for having a power triggered by emotions.”

      Naira froze, taken aback. “Deven feels things.”

      “But he denies feeling them,” Tasho replied, sounding quite certain of her ground. But then she shrugged, casually, as if this wasn’t something important they were discussing rather than something trivial, like the weather. She sipped her tea slowly. “At least that’s the impression I’ve always gathered.”

      “You know him?” Naira asked cautiously.

      “I know Keket,” Tasho corrected. “Keket was the empath who trained him to keep his feelings manageable.”

      “Keket.” Naira tried to wrap her head around that.

      “You might ask for an introduction,” Tasho offered. “But ask. Don’t go asking Deven’s parents for advice if he hasn’t introduced you yet.”

      Naira frowned. “I didn’t think he had parents.”

      “It’s complicated.” Tasho gestured toward the teacup by Naira. “You should drink.”

      Ah, right.


      It’s not like talking about it made the problem go away. When Naira returned, it was late and evening had drawn a comforting cloak over the sky overhead. She wasn’t surprised to find Deven had arrived ahead of her and already coming out of the shower, still drying off his hair with a towel.

      She blushed and turned away to put her wrap and bag in the closet. He paused behind her—close. Too close.

      She tried to breathe and wondered if it was too much to hope that Tasho was right and the problem wasn’t love, only believing in it.

      “You all right?” he asked quietly, voice low and rough at the back of her neck, and she wanted to turn around and tell him not to stand so close.

      Instead, she turned and smiled. “I’m fine.” She took her night clothes from the drawer and went into the shower behind him.

      That was perhaps the most irritating part of this, she thought to herself as she leaned back against the door as if to hold him out. She was pretty sure that what she was feeling was exactly what her mother had always talked about.

      1. Ah, it’s good she got a little help to understand a bit more of Deven. (And kind of funny that she thinks she can deny it to her former Matriarch, who totally knows.)

        I’m glad this prompt worked for them. The song seemed very them in some ways.

        And the awkwardness… somehow strangely endearing.

  27. any. any+/any. “I’ll give you everything I am,
    All my broken heartbeats.
    Until I know you’ll understand.”

    ~Christina Perri, Distance

  28. Nothing wrong with that. I love living weapons learning to human and loving whom they love. I keep making up more of them.

    I admittedly have even made my awkward but oh so sweet into the living weapon (Kane is one version of that and I have others.)

    *sigh* I have issues.

  29. The solution is clearly to include no one at all that’s shippable.

    I’m not good at that, really, though I think it’s nice someone else managed it.

    Me, I always seem to find pairings even when I’m writing about groups and families, and I don’t have an easy time finding platonic oriented content, since I am very selective about what I read and watch. I’ve also been frustrated going into fandoms where the two leads are best friends and instead of there being a lot of friendship, it’s all slash fic. Or it’s supposed to be about a family and there’s incest. I get tired of looking after a while, and I tend to stay with things that are known quantities (things I’ve read/watched before) or that someone has already vetted that I can trust.  That, and when I’m not having issues reading my own fics because they’re awful, I go back to them because I don’t include the things that set me off (though I still have dark backstories.)

    1. Ah, well, fandom is a separate issue. There are those who ship aged up Last Order and Accelerator and I’m just not into raising your future girlfriend, if he were even capable of wrapping his head around that sort of thing. (I highly doubt he is. He’s canonically short on hormones he ought to have and demonstrates no real indication of a sex drive at all, let alone attraction, even toward Sisters that actually look his age rather than like a 10 year old.) So to say the least, I avoid everything labelled with that ship because what are they even thinking?

      That said, it’s easy for ME to write it gen because there’s absolutely no one shippable without aging up and I’m not interested in aging up to try that wholly unlikely ship on for size. I actually appreciate the writer’s saying he’s parental in that sense, because the writer is wholly convinced that Accelerator isn’t looking for romance. He desperately wants and needs familial love as a kid that never had it.

      That’s part of what I like about Kingdoms and Thorn too. I’ve got these duos that would never ever be interested in each other in a romantic sense but they love each other so completely. It’s one of my favorite dynamics.

      1. Yeah, I’m not interested in the aged up relationship thing, either, though I do have some weakness for things I liked as a kid and seeing those kids grown up and being in love as adults. That’s a bit different, though, and I really don’t like the idea of someone raising their future love interest. That’s more like grooming, and ew.

        My mom and I were having a conversation last night about Emma because we just watched the 1996 version of it. We got to discussing the age difference between Knightly and Emma (because of the new remake I’d seen a trailer for, where the actor for Knightly looked younger than the actress playing Emma) and why even though there is a gap of sixteen years between them it’s not problematic because of the time period, in part, and because he wasn’t part of raising her, and when they decided they were in love, both of them were adults. Though mostly I do favor stories where the gap between the characters is only a few years, ten at the most, just as a personal preference. There is a bad tendency towards making age gaps exploitative, and I don’t like unequal relationships… there’s just too much chance of abuse.

        I like being able to find things that are a good mix of both the family dynamic and the romantic because I am a hopeless shipper, but it’s pretty rare and even I don’t do it much… I get overwhelmed by large amounts of characters in a fic and tend to focus on a specific two or four, which I’m sure doesn’t help matters any.  I think I’ve improved on this some, but not enough.

        I might try again now, but even when I was trying to start something new… arranged marriage plot came to mind over anything else, as much as the story was going to also be about the friendship between the sister and her brother who arranges for his best friend to marry her (to save her from their father’s abusive friend) and their younger brother plus the family dynamics of the other family (since the best friend only agreed if his friend will do the same for his younger sister that he doesn’t understand and who utterly fails at being graceful and lady-like and is high spirited in comparison to her two older, very stoic brothers who do not understand her at all… and the one doesn’t see the point in trying anymore while the other is trying to balance his past with his sudden elevation into the nobility.) Just writing that much down makes me realize how bad of an idea that is…

        1. Yeah, Knightley is a somewhat different case. I don’t mind age gaps myself; it’s a familial relationship turning non-familial I don’t like.

          Tbh, it sounds like an interesting idea. Though yeah, not quite what I think you’re going for.

          1. I have gotten perhaps a little oversensitive to abusive relationships, and I’ve found an unfortunate tendency in some things I was enjoying and the type of games I was seeking out (visual novels are in some ways all the best of anime/manga and yet also the worst in some senses… one gets some moving pieces, anime art, and story, but one also gets the same tropes, some very questionable canon, and some very, very toxic relationships.) And it does seem like when there’s an age gap it’s been handled very badly where the guy (who is usually the older one) has all the money, power, and authority in the relationship and who can and does use any of those things against the younger girl who has very little recourse against it if she even addresses the abuse of power at all. So I tend to be a bit gunshy if I see a big age gap between characters. Some of them aren’t an issue, like the one in Emma and how Colonel Brandon is with Marianne in Sense and Sensibility (and I know I know of others but my mind is not thinking well at the moment… I’m still very depressed and the weather must be shifting because my ears hurt again.

            I kind of like the idea of the story in theory, though as a story where I’d be working on familial dynamics over romance… that’s not really the one to pick. Even the one with the adoptive brothers has lots of romance to it, since I had paired off Warner/Annora, Caton/Careen, Marshall/Justine, and Oz/Sunnie. Even Careen’s adoptive brother/overprotective grump Hart has a potential romance with a forensic tech who is just as grumpy on the outside as he is (though she’s really a big softie who has a weakness to her favorite food.)

            I am honestly a bit stuck because I don’t have the momentum to finish Ruby and Grahame’s story (I let myself write the good parts, that’s never wise.) And I have too much emotional baggage with a lot of the others, I guess, because I try and work on them and can’t, hence the “let me write something new” that fizzled into nothing.

            1. That’s legit. I don’t consume much in the way of age gaps with power differential, so they remain segregated in my mental space.

              Yeah, you’d have to come up with a concept that had family focus/plot baked in and not much room for romance.

              1. I have been trying to avoid those same things, and stick to places where those kind of age gaps don’t exist, but it’s hard in the niche gaming world I was heavily into for a while (and admittedly still dabble in.)

                Yes, though I find myself balking at the prospect of creating something that oriented to platonic stuff. I should maybe do a sequel to something else, where I’ve already gotten the romance established, but most of those have other baggage and I’m still thinking I can’t write my own characters after setting them aside for a while… Kalen’s story is proof of that… the Abernathys and everyone… they’re all out of character.

                And I’m so not up to plot anymore. I apparently just… can’t. I run out of steam, and I can’t get past little hiccups that derail what little plot I have, and there isn’t even a plot to Ruby and Grahame’s story and I can’t finish it.

                1. There’s no external plot, but the plot is pretty clearly two damaged people slowly learn trust and love from each other. Which is a nice plot. I like character arc plots.

                  1. I’m really not used to not having an external plot. I keep trying to think of a way to continue on, but since I have the part where they admit feelings and that was about the only milestone I had… I have no idea how they actually get to that point… It took what seems like a long time for them to get to where they are now, and it was only like three days.

                    It was actually supposed to be months… when I started writing it, I imagined it being much slower in that respect, but I guess it’s because there is nothing for them to do when they’re not actively interacting with each other (basic life stuff, maybe, but not anything worth writing about.)

                    When I think about how fast (yet slow, since it is 50k words and no actual resolution) this all happened, I realize it’s horribly flawed and I lack the willpower to go back and fix it. I just want to cry again.

                    1. Adding off-screen time is as easy as laying things out in order and inserting transitional phrases in likely looking paragraphs. But I only like to do it when I feel like it, tbh. I’ve had to extend timelines on stories frequently.

                  2. Adding off-screen time is as easy as laying things out in order and inserting transitional phrases in likely looking paragraphs. But I only like to do it when I feel like it, tbh. I’ve had to extend timelines on stories frequently.

                    I don’t really know that there’s any space to squeeze time in. The only real gaps in time come when they’re sleeping, and not even then since there’s often flashbacks for those times.

                    I don’t know if I’m overthinking it or I’m just determined to find fault with things today… I am back wanting to delete everything and give up and can’t seem to make myself focus at all because it’s all so awful…

                    *sigh* I need to do something else, I guess. Movie isn’t enough again.

                     

                    1. By transitional phrases, I mean stuff like “A few days later,” or “They’d fallen into a rhythm.” Stuff like that which implies time has passed. You don’t have to write out anything that happens when time passes, it just makes it more believable when things happen “quickly” because we don’t ever have to see every minute. But sometimes that means sitting down and figuring it out and I for one don’t always feel like doing it.

  30. By transitional phrases, I mean stuff like “A few days later,” or “They’d fallen into a rhythm.” Stuff like that which implies time has passed. You don’t have to write out anything that happens when time passes, it just makes it more believable when things happen “quickly” because we don’t ever have to see every minute. But sometimes that means sitting down and figuring it out and I for one don’t always feel like doing it.

    No, I understand that part, but I meant that so far the days events are all full, and one day goes into the next as the next scene is that next morning if it’s night. So it’s not really possible to insert a passage of time that’s more than a few hours since all the days are laid out as they are.

    It would take a lot more rewriting to extend the timeline, I’m pretty sure. And I just… don’t have it in me to do that. They’ll be fortunate to get a real ending at all, even if they deserve it after all they went through… I just don’t know how to give it to them. I thought I did.  There was some empty build up to him taking her to a park for Luka, but that doesn’t fit unless I drag it out far too long before Grahame is asked to testify and finds out about her father. I thought I had a scene where Grahame surprised/embarrassed Ruby by discussing marriage for the prompt about the heart a break one (no time to waste seemed like Grahame’s likely attitude towards things since he’s unlikely to think it necessary to wait when he has decided she should stay, but I never did write it.)

    1. Well, that’s fair. You had said 3 days was too short for the emotional arc, which would be why to move the days a bit but keep the sequence, but if you’re tied to the days being one on another, then don’t rewrite it. Just decide (whenever you’re ready to deal with it again) how to expand the story. Though the testifying thing sounds like a perfectly acceptable crisis before a story climax/resolution and she does need to figure out what she’s going to do if not work for the lady.

      1. It is too short, really, and I know that. I just… can’t see any good way of expanding it right now because the few moments the story does have actually tie all in together. I suppose there may be some time around the trial… they’d be separate for a bit, especially since he was only going to find out about her father just before the trial, and only afterward would they really talk again.

        Though that’s… I don’t even know if it works… It was just the only plot I had.

        I really don’t know if there is any redemption for what I wrote… I just don’t have a way to fix it because adding to the days as they go now feels wrong. Everything feels wrong. What did I even write?

        1. What you wrote was fine. The fact that edits are needed doesn’t really mean it’s a great time to sit down and do them. As they say, don’t prune until the plant is well established. And if you’re trying to decide how to work an external plot, I would let the timeline question alone until later.

  31. I’m sorry about yesterday.

    Hopefully I can find some helpful prompts since it seems I’m just in the mood to get rid of all my writing.

      1. I just wanted to be… useful. Today I have not been.

        I thought maybe there was something that could be done to support the platonic fic or maybe other fic, but I couldn’t even come up with good prompts today.

        It was kind of a bad day, though not really… nothing happened, but that’s kind of why it was bad… Lots of nothing at work and at home and in writing and other things.

  32. And the other one. Other friend’s point of view, but still…

    He winced as his joints creaked, sounding like they might just give out on him as he sat down. He knew he’d come pretty close to falling, too. He hated getting old. He’d always figured he’d either die young or age gracefully, and he’d done neither of those things.

    Damn, I’m too old for this.”

    His friend looked over at him from the other chair. “Then I suppose you must consider me ancient.”

    Yep,” he joked, though the other man barely managed a smile. He knew he wasn’t the only one feeling his age. Both of them were up there now, and everything was harder. Moving, talking, remembering things. They’d already had to sacrifice their math duels after one too many hips breaking.

    It is interesting the distinction three years makes.”

    Don’t start. I don’t want to think about it. I still say you’re not allowed to go before I do. None of them are,” he said, looking over at the extended family they’d amassed over the years. His friend’s kids had married his, so they were bound in a legal sense by now, not just one of feeling. Family. That felt good after too many years with the wrong kind of love. “I couldn’t take it. It terrifies me.”

    Hmm. Then I suppose I should not remind you—though I had to be reminded of it myself—that today is the day we met more than fifty years ago.”

    Damn. We’re both ancient.”

    The other man managed a small smile. “Perhaps. Though we have not wasted any of that time.”

    Well, you didn’t, that’s for sure,” he said, grimacing. It had taken him longer to sort his personal life out, but he was happy now. Too happy. He didn’t ever want to lose the love of his life, their kids, or their grandkids. Or his best friend through it all.

    I think I could arguably have done more had I not been so stubborn.” His friend took off his glasses to clean them. “I would have preferred to retain my eye sight, at the very least. What little I have is not enough to do much. I am fortunate to rely on so many advances in technology.”

    We both are.”

    I am glad we met. At times I admit I could not stand you. I could not understand you. However, my life has been better because you were in it. You gave me friendship when no one else wanted to, when even I thought I did not want it. Thank you.”

    Hey, don’t start that. You are not in my debt. Not at all. You were the first person since I made that damned wish who treated me like a normal person. You’re invaluable to me. Don’t doubt that. And don’t you dare go going first because you said your goodbyes today. That’s not allowed.”

    As much as you are my friend, I have no desire to die sitting here next to you.”

    Um…”

    There is life yet left in us both. Let us simply continue to enjoy our friendship as we already have all this time.”

      1. Thank you. I wanted to do something that showed they’d always be friends, no matter what, because they’re really that way. (And they’re not allowed to die, fictional characters or not.) And their humor is so very them, it had to be a part of it.

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