saphirered · 10 months ago
Hi! If you’re taking requests could you write a Mollymauk x Reader where they’re really close friends and he calls her a bunch of cute nicknames but then Molly notices that she starts getting really dejected or just leaves when he starts talking to new people and she ends up confessing that it’s because she’s fallen for him and doesn’t like to be around when he’s calling other random strangers “darling” and “love”? Thank you!!!
Hope you enjoy! 😘
When you were walking down the streets in search for a place to stay the night Molly had pulled you along by your arm wrapping it around his, proudly parading around like he usually does, the Nein following his lead, some of them definitely not keeping their opinions to themselves watching you two go. Of course these comments are simply met with a laugh and a kiss to your temple, words whispered in your ear to make you blush. The red creeping up your cheeks as you shoot a glance backwards are usually enough to make those comments from Beau at least to stop. Jester, the hopeless romantic she is will just squeal and take out here sketchbook to capture this moment in detail.
Inn found, the place is nice and cozy but also a bit more pricy than the group had hoped. That’s an easy task for Mollymauk Tealeaf to fix. He lets go of your arm when you reach the bar, the others behind and leans on the counter top on his elbows biting his tongue and giving an innocent half smile letting the pointed canines show in all their glory as he bats his eyelashes.
“Are you sure you can’t give us a special deal? We’re taking four rooms already. Some of us will already share but I don’t particularly enjoy sleeping on the floor. Do you think you’d have a better offer, handsome.” Molly winks at the barkeep who, admittedly isn’t bad on the eyes is also taken aback by the tiefling’s blatant advances. So much so he stutters on offering a decent discount as Molly reaches out brushing his hand over the exposed lower arm of the barkeep who’s more bothered by being seen by his other patrons than the tiefling’s gestures. Molly’s enjoying every second of this as is clear by the attitude he carries, the grin on his face and the mischievous look in his eyes and he’s so caught up in his act he doesn’t notice you excuse yourself taking one of the keys and rushing off to one of the rooms.
“You’re a darling. Thank you so much for your generosity.” That’s the last you hear as you watch Molly lean in over the bar a little closer and the barkeep blushes wildly. With a shake of your head and boiling blood you walk up the stairs, enter the room and slam the door closed behind you dropping yourself onto the bed face buried into the pillow and let out a scream of frustration to be muffled by the the pillow.
It takes a good fifteen minutes of Molly flirting with the barkeep to also get a discount on meals and drinks for the night. He’d gladly sacrifice his time, not only because they’re running short on money and need the coin but also because he generally likes to mess with people and it was so easy. He had the barkeep a stuttering mess in seconds. That’s something to be proud of isn’t it? Either way he prides himself for it. Nevermind, the others are settled at a table, drinks poured but one’s missing. You’re missing. Where did you go? Molly looks around the tavern but doesn’t see you. He doesn’t miss a beat sending a wink to the barkeep when they make eye contact but returns his attention to the Nein.
“The pretty one, where did she go?” Molly asks.
“I’m right here Molly. Or am I not pretty enough for you?” Beau snorts slamming back her drink. She knows fully well he means you and she won’t miss an opportunity to tease the tiefling now she’s got ammo. She’ll play this game any day.
“The annoying one, that’s what you are.” Molly replies as Beau sticks out her tongue and takes the drink Jester slipped to her for seconds. Two drinks right after arrival? That does not bode well for the night… for Beau. He, however will have plenty of entertainment provided by the monk once she starts a drunken bar fight. At least they won’t be the ones getting kicked out. He’s got that barkeep in his pocket.
“Fuck you too, Mollymauk.” Beau grumbles into her tankard.
“I think she went upstairs to settle in but she’s not come back yet. Should we save her a drink?” Jester speaks as she holds back a unclaimed tankard from Nott the Brave who’s already done with her own.
“That’s alright. Thank you, Jester, for providing a useful answer to my previous question.” Beau shakes her head at Molly’s words but holds her tongue as Jester allows Nott to take the remaining tankard and before Beau can claim his, he slides it across the table over to Nott who defends it like there’s no tomorrow. Beau flips him off as he goes upstairs with a laugh.
Opening the door to your room without knocking Mollymauk sees you face down on the bed, belongings discarded at the foot of the bed. For a moment he considers you might just have tossed yourself onto the bed and allowed the exhaustion of the journey to overtake you but your breathing doesn’t match that of your sleeping form. Molly sneaks up to the foot of the bed and wraps an arm around your ankle yanking it. He’s met with a yelp and before he knows it he’s struck in the face with a pillow. When it drops to the floor he sees you sitting up arms crossed. You’re not as amused as he is with his antics. Weird. Usually you’d have laughed or retaliated with a witty remark before you both would be laughing. Now you’re glaring at him.
“What’s got you in such a foul mood, darling?” He asks as clearly you’re not just going to reveal the answer of your own volition because you felt like it. You bite your tongue holding back a comment so instead he sits next to you on the edge of the bed, facing you arm leaning on your raised knees and for just a moment your expression softens. Okay, so you’re not angry at him for something. That’s good. At least he knows he won’t be at the receiving end of your wrath.
“Nothing.” You mutter. Why is hit when his stupid face walks into the room you just forget why you were upset in the first place. Well, you know why but the feelings still disappears, that little voice in the back of your head saying it’s a stupid reason anyway.
“Clearly it’s something, love. You know you can tell me anything, right?” Molly doesn’t feel the need to tease or even try to do something, anything to lift your spirits or make you laugh. This isn’t something that’s simply laughed off. This is something that needs words first.
“I know.” You nod but you don’t move to say anything and just let yourself fall backwards onto the bed wiping your face letting out a disgruntled sigh. You still keep your knees raised providing the support for Molly’s current position and look up at him. The jovial and smug attitude is gone and replaced by one of calm and a hint of worry. He pats your thigh waiting, giving you a moment to seek for the right words or response, anything really.
“It’s stupid. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about me. I’ll get over myself.” You offer him a weak smile but Molly doesn’t buy it. You don’t have him convinced for a second and you know you don’t when he gives you a look pressing you to be truthful. Stupid stupid stupid. Why did he have to have such a hold over you? Stupid feelings.
“It’s not stupid to me and I do worry.” It’s very few times Molly drops the act and allows his words to sound like the most genuine thing in the world. There’s no attempt of persuasion, or sweet-talking. There’s no blunt honesty but a careful one, approaching this as if you’re slipping through his fingers like sand. So that’s here you can’t stop yourself from clinging onto whatever you had. Better rip the bandaid off quickly and maybe he’ll let you down gently.
“I like you. I like you a lot. And whenever you’re flirting with strangers you come across like you do with me I just feel like I’m nothing more than a stranger to you.” Molly takes in your words and his expression remains gentle to the point where you can’t gleam anything but that off it. There’s no response like you expected. No surprise or discontent. You’d hoped he wouldn’t have laughed at you and at least he didn’t but you don’t know if you’re happier with the gentle smile he offers you as it literally doesn’t steer you in any direction. It just leaves you waiting.
Mollymauk’s not surprised by your words. He had suspected for a while but it’s not his place to assume. Sure when the attraction is only physical and never intended to be something of the longer term, it’s easy and fun to mess around with but you weren’t just physically attracted nor was this the short term kind of thing when it came to your feelings as these develop over time, not in a brief moment. So he dared not assume. It’s risky territory for him as he’s had few lasting long term relationships, even less so the ones build on genuine mutual feelings. He’s in no way uncomfortable with your feelings, or his own for that matter but he’s more careful because he’s pretty sure he’d have more success navigating a journey across thin ice, or a death drop below.
“Just say something. Do anything. Please. I can’t bear the silence.” You beg as Molly realises he might have zoned out a little longer than he intended to but when it takes him even longer to shake himself out of it you let your knees drop and making him lose his balance and fall upon your legs. That’s enough to snap him out of it.
“Very funny, love.” He deadpans as he sits back up again, releasing your legs allowing you to do the same and hug your knees leaning your cheek on top of it. Anticipation is clear within your eyes as he hasn’t given you any reaction to your confession just yet.
“Do anything you said?” The unreadable expression returns but his fingers slip beneath your face and gently lift it up. You await his next move not daring to hope where this is going and not moving beyond where Molly guided you to. He looks you in the eyes searching for any hesitation or move to back away but when you don’t offer him one beyond the anticipation he leans in pressing his lips to yours.
“You could never be a stranger. And I don’t know what I’ve done to lead you to believe so but take my word when I tell you I promise you I’ll spend every day of my life reminding you you’ll never be a stranger to me.” Molly’s words hit home and you know he’s someone who lives in the moment but you also know this is real and his words are genuine.
“Now if that means, you want me to stop flirting with barkeeps, and merchants to get some hefty discounts I will, for your sake.” He grins pecking your lips once more
“I’m pretty sure the others will kill me if you do. So best not?” You smile. Molly chuckles. Strangely, that’s all you needed to hear. Maybe your jealousy wasn’t stemmed from the tiefling’s blatant flirting with everyone and everything because you’ve always known Molly to be a flirt, even long before your feelings for him developed. It was just your own insecurities and doubts getting in your way and those were severely discredited by Molly’s words; ‘you’ll never be a stranger to me.’
“Best not then. That barkeep is a handsome one. Could be fun, darling?” Molly taps his chin as if considering and you slap his shoulder. You know he’s just teasing you so when he grabs the hand that hit at him you grab the pillow near your legs and smack him with it. Before you can swing a second time, the two of you giggling like idiots, Molly grabs the pillow throwing it behind you at the head of the bed and uses your held hand to pull you into a deep kiss.
The door swings open and in comes Beauregard, her backpack slung over her shoulder, staff in hand and just groans loudly at the kissing pair on one of the beds. She rolls her eyes disgruntled.
“Fjord! We’re gonna be roommates! Don’t fight me on this!” Beau shouts as she slams the door closed and goes over to a different room to drop her things. Fuck, she needs another drink. Despite everything she can’t fight the smile from slipping onto her lips. She’d known it was a long time coming but you finally having gotten over yourselves and having found some happiness brought her that smile to her face. Not like she’d ever admit it. And now she’s just gotten another thing to tease Molly about. She can already feel the comebacks and witty remarks form in her mind. Prepare yourself Tealeaf.
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dreamfisher-nux · a year ago
Queer Subtext in The Illusion of Living - Part 5/5
It’s time to address the elephant in the room: Henry.
Joey tries very, very hard to ‘no homo’ his relationship with the man:
“His presence was helpful, I can happily admit, but his absence was even more so. Not having him at the studio ended up being one of the best things that could have happened to it. Of course, the funny thing is, I couldn't have not had him without having him in the first place. Just like you can't appreciate the light if you haven't spent time in the dark, so too does a person's absence become clear only if he has been around.” TIOL, page 154
“A letter from Henry. You might not think I'd keep such a thing, but I do. I have no ill will toward the man as you know. Him leaving, as I said, was the best thing that could have happened to the studio. His letter reminds me of that.” TIOL, page 218
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
The only hint we get regarding Joey’s true feelings for Henry is the following note by Nathan:
“NateA: Joey has always been a professional person, far more so in many ways than me. That is why this section of the book is so forgiving of the man who abandoned the studio he helped create. Joey can't help but see the good in people. That being said, as a good friend of Joey's, I know that Henry's departure was a great upheaval for him and a great personal betrayal. Joey never truly forgave Henry, and I don't think he should have felt obligated to. The fact that Joey is so gracious in this part of the book is a reflection of his incredible generosity in allowing Henry Stein to be stainless in the eyes of history. I think, had he lived longer, Joey might have in later years called it his greatest illusion.” TIOL, page 155
I’m very surprised by the harshness in Nathan’s tone here. Especially since Henry appears to believe that he and Joey have parted on good terms, and Joey admits that they have continued to exchange letters for a while after Henry’s departure. We’ve also seen Henry’s note to Joey in the game, and it comes across as warm and supportive:
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It really doesn’t sound like anything ugly happened between him and Joey. So then why are both Joey and Nathan convinced that Henry is a monster?
While I can believe that Joey is pathetic enough to consider anyone who slights him his worst enemy, Nathan comes across as a more level-headed person. So for him to voice his approval for Joey’s petty grudge must mean that he knows something that we don’t. But what could it be?
Honestly, nothing else comes to mind except for romantic heartbreak. It’s the only thing that could justify a man holding such a deep grudge for so many years. This isn’t Joey’s first friendship that grew apart over the years - his army friends have moved on with their life as well. It’s a normal part of life and there’s nothing in TIOL that would suggest Joey is unable to cope with that. We also know that the studio did fine for quite some time after Henry’s departure, so it’s not like Henry left Joey deep in debt. Henry wasn’t even the only animator at the studio:
“When the studio opened I surrounded him with artists of all skill levels, and the Writing Department had its own de facto leader in Mr. Hemmings, and so the whole of Creative was well managed for that first year of the company before I had to part ways with Henry.“ TIOL, page 155
And so we’re left with only one rational explanation: that Joey isn’t so much hurt by Henry leaving his job, as by the fact that Henry left specifically for the sake of his marriage.
Try as I might, I found no reference to Linda in TIOL. Even though Joey claims to have been friends with Henry for many years, he makes zero mention of ever having met Linda. While there are some hints that Henry wasn’t yet married to her at the time when he and Joey opened the studio together (such as the fact that he claims he hasn’t seen her in “days” even though he presumably slept at home, implying that he and Linda weren’t living together at the time. A shopping list among his notes in the Handbook also suggests that he cooked his own meals, which would be unusual for a married man with a demanding job), the two were already a couple by then, and must have known each other for a while already. Surely, as Henry’s friend, Joey would have met her?
Even when talking about Henry leaving, Joey uses a cryptic language:
“Henry left for his own reasons, and the correspondence between us became less and less. To be honest, it was almost like a weight off when he left. He had grown more sensitive as the studio became more successful and giving him pep talks had become exhausting for me. All the good qualities he brought, the hard work and diligence, were being undermined by a restless need for something different. Something that wasn't Bendy. I will never understand that drive. Bendy was and is perfection.“ TIOL, page 177
In DCTL Norman claims that Henry left to spend time with his wife. Why doesn’t Joey say that? It doesn’t make him look bad to admit that an employee left to enjoy a quiet family life. It’s almost like he refuses to acknowledge Linda’s existence at all. Like it’s too painful for him to speak of her.
Perhaps the “personal betrayal” that Nathan is referring to is related to Henry choosing a real family, over the “studio family”, and the possibility of having a real child, as opposed to a fictional one?
The symbolic image of Bendy as a child shows up multiple times in the game: for example the drawing from Henry appears to depict Bendy, Alice and Boris as a happy family, with Bendy holding onto their hands like a child would:
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There’s also Alice using a womb imagery to describe the ink machine:
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And of course, the final monologue is centered on Henry’s choice to pursue a family:
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That monologue is very interesting if we assume Joey to be gay. Because a gay man would never have been able to follow Henry’s road. Gay!Joey could never choose to have a real family with a man he loved, because that option was denied to him by the homophobic society he was living in. The studio is the closest thing to a family that gay!Joey could ever hope to have. 
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And evidently, that was not enough for Henry.
If Joey’s indeed gay, that must have felt incredibly unfair to him - knowing that he had no chance of happiness in marital bliss from the start, through no fault of his own. This would explain his desire to create a real, living, breathing Bendy, no matter the cost, just to prove to Henry that Joey’s “child” can be just as real as the one Linda could give him.
“Bendy was Joey's child, and he felt just as strongly about Bendy as I feel about my flesh-and-blood son.“ TIOL, page 2
This idea of an illusory choice very much resembles the choice between the Angel Path and the Devil Path in Chapter 3. It’s the only choice that Henry ever gets to make in the game, yet no matter which way he chooses, he still ends up in the same corridor. Some of the golden messages highlight his helplessness:
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The symbolic meaning of the choice between the Angel and the Devil also shows up TIOL. There’s a scene in the book, where Joey writes a play about an Angel and a Devil fighting over the soul of a human man. Eventually, the Devil confesses that he doesn’t want the human to make his choice, because then one of them would have to leave. The play was supposed to end with the man making his choice, but according to Joey they lacked a third actor, so the ending was never played out.
I believe that the play is symbolic of the relationship between Henry and Joey, specifically with regards to Henry choosing a relationship with Linda over his friendship with Joey.
There are several reasons that lead me to believe this:
The human in the play making a choice between the Angel and the Devil is reminiscent of Henry choosing between Devil Path and Angel path in BATIM.
The play highlights that the Devil is on the left side of the human, while the Angel is on his right side:
“ANGEL: Spending my time with a devil has been an enlightening experience. Working with you over these years with you sitting on that left shoulder, so far and yet so near, all our debates, they were invigorating for the spirit. 
DEVIL: I won't miss you! Fighting all the time, trying to trick you into agreeing with me, trying to push you off that right shoulder of yours. The violence and the anger. I won't miss it at all!”, TIOL page 89
Much like the Devil Path is on the left side in the game, while the Angel path is on the right side:
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The Devil is obviously a stand-in for Bendy. Joey even dances on the stage at one point, and one of Bendy’s nicknames is “The Dancing Demon”. Joey also claims that the Devil from the play was an inspiration for Bendy:
“Let's start with the basic idea of a cartoon.You need a main character. Someone who has adventures and who the audience relates to." I did. I needed that. I needed a character who didn't just reflect the general population back to itself, but a more exciting version. I had no interest in moralizing, besides I didn't think moralizing was particularly realistic. People don't see the world as one populated by do-gooders. I thought of the angel in my play. She could never be a lead character. The devil on the other hand…” TIOL, 165
The fact that Joey claims the ending was never played out is strongly reminiscent of the missing ending of the Tombstone Picnic
It’s possible that Joey is lying about the ending not having been played out, to hide Henry’s role in the success of the play, much like he removed his part in Tombstone Picnic. After all, what would be the point of writing a play for 3 actors, when you only have 2? Why not ask someone to play the 3rd?
Although the play itself is centered more on the relationship between the Devil and the Angel, rather than their relationship with the human, there is still a strong queer symbolism in the play:
“Abby shifted nervously next to me the whole evening. She was in a dress for the first time in a long time, white and soft. I was pleased she'd come in character. For my part the only red thing I owned was a garish bow tie, so that was all I was able to contribute visually.” TIOL, page 82
The angel is played by a woman, who usually wears men’s clothing, but of course, the Angel being a symbol of Christian values couldn’t possibly be portrayed breaking the gender norms. She had to wear a dress, though Abby is clearly uncomfortable in it. She’s essentially performing heteronormative feminity. Next to her we have Joey as the Devil, dressed in a red bow tie, which as I’ve mentioned in the first part of this analysis, used to be a symbol of homosexuality. 
This contrast between the uncomfortably heteronormative Angel and flamboyantly queer Devil is striking. It’s also very much in line with the views of the society in the 1920s. For something to be the symbol of purity and goodness, it has to be heterosexual, and the Devil is queer, because he’s also the symbol of sin.
That symbolism could be indicative of Joey’s own internalized homophobia. Back in his army days, his friends used to bully him for breaking gender norms. Joey likes to present himself as the hero, who was easily able to outsmart the bullies, but many of his later remarks in the book and in DCTL show that some of that attitude has left a deep mark on him.
The symbolism could also be intentional. Joey boasts about having personal ties to Noel Coward, a real life gay playwright, who was known for his many affairs with men, and for putting an ungodly amount of queer symbolism in his works:
“The old woman took a liking to me, and she was nice enough. Besides, her connections were incredible. She knew everyone, she even had the playwright Noel Coward come to stay with her whenever he was in town.” TIOL, page 144
There’s a lot of evidence pointing to the play being symbolic of Henry’s choice between his relationship with Linda and with Joey. But it’s also symbolic of Henry’s choice between Bendy, and a real child. The studio family, and a traditional family. Heteronormative relationship vs a queer relationship. 
Although there’s no indication in canon that Henry might be bisexual, he doesn’t need to be. The game has beaten into our heads that the “choice” is an illusion. Henry was never going to choose the Devil, or at least that’s what Joey believes. Although we’re never told what choice the human in the play was going to make, we’re told that he was supposed to be dressed in white, which suggests that he chose the Angel. 
“(The door stage right opens. A man all in white enters calmly and chooses a seat, brushes it off carefully and sits. He takes his hat off and holds it gingerly in his lap.) (Quiet.) (Curtain.) THE END” TIOL, page 91
That might be why the Devil in the play confesses that he doesn’t want the human to make his choice, fearing that one of them will have to leave once such a choice is made:
“DEVIL: You think he has made a choice? 
ANGEL: It is possible. 
DEVIL: Do you think he might be all bad? 
ANGEL: I hope he is all good. 
DEVIL: If he is all bad, my job here is done. If he is all good, you can go home. 
DEVIL: Strange. If we win we also lose. You would think that would be something I would find delightful. 
ANGEL: You would think I would love to make such a personal sacrifice.” TIOL, page 89
The line about a “personal sacrifice” is very interesting in this context. The Angel and the Devil clearly care for each other and for the human, and don’t want their relationship to come to an end. Though the Devil in the play seems to make gestures that the audience interprets as romantic in nature, Joey insists that it isn’t the case:
“I leaned in and placed a hand on Abby's knee. There was a gasp from someone in the audience, but I knew Abby wouldn't be flustered by it. That wasn't the nature of our relationship.” TIOL, page 89 
It makes me wonder if perhaps Linda and Joey used to be friends at some point, and both competed over Henry’s attention.
There’s a much overused trope in fiction where two men compete over a woman, which ends up ruining their friendship. It would be really interesting and subversive to see a man and a woman competing over a man instead.
EDIT: I can’t believe I forgot to add this part:
"Joey, thanks for coming," said Henry, approaching from behind us. I turned to look at him He had dressed up for the event but every item of clothing looked slightly wrong. The sleeves of his shirt a bit short, his vest a bit long, his tie askew. He smiled, though, with such confidence that I couldn't help admire him. I still do.” TIOL, page 160
Joey fell for Henry’s smile, how romantic!
“We watched in silence as he worked. Despite his lack of genius, to this day, I will always say that watching Henry work was a real pleasure.“ TIOL, page 173
“It's fascinating. Henry was never the showman like I was. He didn't tend to be easily remembered by those who met him when we did business. I was invariably the face of the company, the one introduced first at a gala, the one to whom people slipped their business cards.Yet in the end he ended up setting up camp in this small corner of my memory. I can't deny that he is tied to the creation of Bendy, to the creation of the studio itself. That at one time, in one small apartment, one too warm evening, we had shaken hands. That once upon a time we had been partners. He'll always be there, in the dark recesses of my mind. Always linked to me that way. Funny how the forgettable man is now forever in my mind” TIOL, page 177
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ampleappleamble · a year ago
It was a day's hike to the cliffs, and a day's hike back. Pallegina went anyway, of course.
It was a good opportunity to assess the members of this ragtag band she was joining up with, as combatants and as people. Overall, she was fairly impressed with their martial skills– their tactics and group cohesion were sound, but she was sure to make note of their evident lack of formal training and quality equipment. She'd found herself pleasantly surprised at their generosity and inclusiveness, sharing food and drink and smoke and stories as freely with their feathered newcomer as they did with one another. No one had even brought up her "divine heritage" until they'd been sitting around the campfire that first night, and the aumaua who'd broached the subject had actually managed to look appropriately bashful as he'd done so. Although in retrospect, an Avian Godlike woman in a brotherhood of paladins probably wasn't too outlandish a concept for these kith, considering that their squad leader was apparently an Awakened Watcher.
Pallegina had been fielding annoying, invasive questions posed by strangers about her body and her soul for her entire life, but Axa was a newly-minted freak, it seemed, and so was not quite sick of talking about it just yet. And her friends weren't either: with minimal prompting, Aloth had recounted her nightmares and her past life memories, Edér had remembered her staring at the tree in Gilded Vale for nearly half an hour, Kana had practically rhapsodized about her conversations with ghosts in caves and in dungeons. And the next morning, as the group stood on the bluff overlooking the sea, Sagani had handed Axa a misshapen little lump of adra, and Pallegina had watched as the orlan peered through it and into the In-Between.
She'd been told the woman was a Watcher, and she'd more or less accepted it as truth, but the paladin hadn't exactly been expecting a demonstration just yet. After a few minutes of watching the little woman sway to and fro in the wind, apparently mesmerized by the adra carving the dwarf had given her, concern for her wellbeing had compelled Pallegina to approach and take her by the shoulders, attempting to shake her out of it before she wobbled her way over the cliff's edge.
"Everything... all right in there?" she'd muttered, lightly slapping the little woman's cheek.
"Adra arch," Axa had rasped in reply, violet eyes wild and unfixed. Sagani had gently pried the carving from her fuzzy hands then, smiled compassionately at the other two women before asking Edér where in the Dyrwood an adra arch might stand.
That was... very strange. But stranger things have happened, Pallegina had reminded herself. She'd kept reminding herself of that as they'd made their way back to the city, as she listened to the others' stories of reincarnated souls and mysterious cults, dead brothers and ancient tablets and a haunted castle this eccentric little woman called home.
Ambassador Agosti had been less than pleased to receive his agent nearly three days after Verzano had been cut loose, and accompanied by a pack of disheveled strangers no less. But Axa was nothing if not a fierce defender of her troops, it seemed, and although she'd made a valiant effort to keep her comments civil, eventually Agosti had frayed the little woman's last nerve with his dismissive arrogance and insinuated threats, finally ending up on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing himself for once. Pallegina had known then that she'd chosen her new companions wisely, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning at Agosti as he stammered and sweated under the orlan's indignant outburst.
Her amusement at Axa's antics had been soundly quashed, however, by the new assignment laid upon her shoulders, one that she had dreaded might be in the works but had hoped would never actually be implemented– the negotiation of a new trade agreement between the Vailian Republics and Eir Glanfath, one that took blatant, vicious advantage of the Dyrwood's badly weakened state due to the Hollowborn crisis. It made sense in the short term, financially and practically, for the merchants of the Republics to step in and take the reins where the Dyrwoodans would not. But what gave Pallegina pause were the long term political implications of essentially kicking the Dyrwood while it was down, especially now at such a crucial juncture in the deciding of the country's legislation regarding animancy. If the Ducs Bels willfully chose to make an enemy of the Dyrwood now, it could have long-reaching consequences that could do untold damage to the Republics in the years to come, particularly for the animancy community. Animancers were already under attack in this country, superstitious types blaming them for causing this soul plague by somehow invoking the wrath of the gods, as well as for their ill-fated attempts at curing the nation's blighted children. Would the people of the Dyrwood, fiery and reactionist as they were, still tolerate animancy at all should the Republics, animancy's shining champion, stab them in the back while they were at their weakest and least reasonable? What would become of Vailian animancy without competition to keep them sharp, or collaborative efforts to keep them abreast of the latest developments? Even if animancy was permitted to continue in the Dyrwood, its practitioners would be loathe to share their discoveries with their Vailian counterparts, leading to an inevitable stagnation in the soul sciences– or even worse, the Republics could potentially fall behind the Dyrwood, languishing in the past while the Dyrwood moved ahead, forging the future without them...
No. This was not permissible, not after all the Republics and its animancers had done for her. But still, she had her orders. Now all she had to do was carry them out, one way or another.
"Twin Elms is a good long way from here," Sagani reassured her afterwards at their table at the Charred Barrel, swirling her ale around in her tankard and feeding her fox under her chair. "And Axa'll find more than enough distractions along the way, I'm sure. Plenty of time to come up with some sort of... creative interpretation of your orders."
Pallegina tried to smile, but only produced a weak grimace. "Then I hope our Watcher friend is more 'creative' than I am. I have many strengths, but subterfuge has never been one of them. And one can only openly defy the powers that be so many times before their patience runs out." She stared pensively into her wine as she spoke, couldn't help but think of Verzano's fate, Agosti's warnings.
"I'll drink to that," Edér mumbled around his mouthful of roast pork and potato, raising his cup in a commiserative gesture before knocking it back. "Axa ain't much for bullshittin' folks– not as far as I've seen, anyway– but she's got a knack for solvin' problems, and for pushin' her luck 'n' gettin' away with it. If anyone can finagle some kinda deal that'll keep your ducs happy without totally screwin' over the Dyrwood, I'd wager it'd be her."
"Elegantly stated, Edér," Aloth deadpanned, rolling his eyes and pushing his food around on his plate. "Speaking of Axa, she's been away from the table for quite a while now..." The elf lifted his head, anxiously scanning the throng of diners, drunks, and debutantes. "If I recall, she only said she wanted to catch up with Ingroed and Nonton, but I don't see her at the bar anymore."
"Ingroed and Nonton?" Pallegina glanced around idly and spotted the little woman almost immediately– that bold red hair was unmistakable, even when mostly obscured behind the fat asses and round bellies of the taller kith surrounding her. "More friends, I assume?"
"Couple of folks from my hometown, Gilded Vale. She helped 'em outta a rough spot." The blond man glanced over at the bar, smiling at his former neighbors.
Kana looked up from his dinner, face flushed with drink. "Ah! Are those the ones who set a trap for the dead man in the bear's den?" He beamed at Pallegina, practically glowing with enthusiasm. "You must have her tell you the tale, my lady. A truly inspiring account of our Watcher's unique insight at work. She learned of their betrayal from the spirit of the victim, you see! But there's a tragic twist–"
"Hey, now, don't spoil the ending, big fella, you wasn't even there. Let her tell it." Edér had caught sight of Axa too, just as she'd turned away from the well-dressed elf she'd been speaking with, and he beckoned the redhead back to their table with a wave of his hand. The stranger watched her go, nervously fiddling with his ostentatious jewelry as she sauntered back to her friends, while Pallegina tried to remember where she'd seen him before, his eyes widening in alarm as he caught her staring at him.
"Talking about me behind my back again?" Axa sighed, grinning and shaking her head as she clambered back into her seat. "Gods, I can't leave you scoundrels alone for a second. They didn't tell you a bunch of ghost stories, did they?" She winked at Pallegina, and the paladin noticed just how tired the orlan looked.
"Only the true ones!" Kana laughed a bit too loudly– not atypical of him, but the alcohol certainly amplified his natural exuberance. Aloth delicately scooted his chair away from the overly jolly giant, vexation plain on his face.
If Axa noticed anything unusual, she didn't mention it, only chuckled and took a long drag from her pipe. "Found out where your adra arch might be, Sagani. Turns out it's somewhere over by Twin Elms, believe it or not." She glanced up at Pallegina, a cautious little smile on her tawny face. "Unfortunately, I've also heard tell that the road leading there is badly flooded right now due to inclement weather. So it looks like we'll have some time to kill before we can head over that way."
"Belfetto," Pallegina sighed. She appreciated the attempt to cheer her up, letting her know she had time to decide how to handle the Ducs' request, but she had a feeling that the longer she dwelled on her predicament, the more it would weigh on her mind.
Aloth leaned close to the little woman. "I take it this means we're to head for the catacombs on the morrow, then?" He looked simultaneously anxious and eager, as though preparing to take on a task he knew to be important but especially onerous. A familiar burden, Pallegina mused.
"Ah... perhaps," Axa replied, looking away quickly. "There are a few other things I'd like to tend to first, though, if you're all amenable. I was just talking to that elf over there, the one in the fancy robes with all the gaudy jewelry, and he's asked me to do him a favor. See, he has this friend who's a courtesan at the, uh, at the Salty Mast..."
She winced as everyone at the table put down their forks and goblets and gave her their undivided attention.
Pallegina downed the rest of her wine.
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darnittumbleweed · a year ago
Matthew meeting your family and being worried they won't like him because of your age gap but they end up loving him
The age gap between you isn’t gigantic but it’s there.
When people really rudely ask you the age difference between you you snap. “He was eleven when I was born do the math.” You don’t stand for anyone trying to make your relationship seem like it’s something it’s not.
He knows it sounds cliche when he says it, but in a lot of ways, you’re far more mature than him. 
He hates explaining that out loud because he knows that’s the excuse gross old men use when they date younger women because women their own age won’t put up with them.
You have to remind him that he’s not a gross old man and you’re a grown woman who had an established life of your own before you met.
When he first met you he was in awe of how much life you’d packed into your twenty-something years of age.
You’d had so many experiences already. You’d lived such an interesting life.
You seemed so sophisticated and well-traveled. He felt kind of childish compared to you even with all his life experiences.
You’d lived overseas growing up because of your father’s military career. You’d been on your own since you were eighteen. You’d used an inheritance left by your grandmother to travel the world and take photos.
That was how you’d met. You were a photographer working on your newest project. You’d been hired by a celeb and lifestyle magazine to take photographs of interesting homes in the area and Matthew’s house had been chosen to be featured.
You were overtaken by his generosity and his humble spirit. 
He wasn’t at all what you’d been expecting. You’d dealt with a lot of Hollywood types, spoiled actors and actresses who treated you like you were below them because you weren’t famous. 
Matthew wasn’t the Hollywood type.
It was easy to feel a certain fondness for him as he showed you around his haunted treehouse.
He had such an interesting home filled with such personality. It was so easy to feel at ease around him.
It was the most fun you’ve ever had while working.
When you had all the photos you needed you had to admit you were sad to leave.
He seemed so shy, so worried he was crossing a professional line, when he asked for your number. He’d used to excuse that he’d use it to arrange some time to take you thrift shopping, a callback to a conversation you’d had about how some of his most interesting decor had been thrift shop finds.
You were friends before you were lovers. He felt it was important to know he could have a solid friendship with someone before he dated them.
As you grew closer it became obvious that you were becoming more than friends.
You were worried when it came time to meet one another’s friends as boyfriend and girlfriend but you were relieved that for the most part no one seemed to take issue with the relationship. The friends who had a problem with it didn’t stay friends for long.
Meeting his parents and the rest of his family was nerve-wracking. You could tell they had some reservations about you at first. You understood why. Even though the age difference wasn’t the biggest you still understood how some people might find it odd. Add in the factor of Matthew’s career and success and it was easy to see that some people might write you off as being with him for the wrong reasons. You tried hard not to let it bother you. You were patient and put on a brave face. By the end of your trip to Vegas it was clear that you’d been accepted by the Gubler family and they approved of your place in Matthew’s life.
He was hesitant to let your relationship become public knowledge. He valued his privacy and your respected this. You understood how hard it was for him, wanting to have both his career and maintain a sense of normalcy. He’d been on the receiving end of gossip about his love life in the media before. You didn’t want to push him into something that might make him uncomfortable.
He was the one who decided he didn’t want to hide your relationship. He was scheduled to go to the Sundance Film Festival for a film he’d been part of. He asked you to accompany him. He wanted to enjoy something he'd been part of creating. He wanted you to enjoy it with him. 
You didn’t have much of a choice though after paparazzi took photos of the two of you together while you were attending Sundance with him. It was set to be your first public appearance with him, but the news came out before you ever made it to the red carpet. 
Some people weren’t so kind. They assumed the worst. You look younger than you are so people assumed you were much younger. They assumed you must be with him for money or fifteen minutes of fame. 
You both put on a brave face and tried your best to ignore it. You were happy and the people who mattered were the ones who accepted you.
That was how your family found out about Matthew unfortunately.
They started hassling you to bring him to meet the family, and to your shock he wanted to do it.
He was nervous the entire plane trip back to the town your family had settled after your father’s retirement from the military.
Lot’s of “what if they hate me?” “What if they think I’m too old for you?”
Lots of you reassuring him that you are sticking with him no matter what.
He’s scared of your father, you can tell.Your dad is a military man. He’s a mans-man. Matthew isn’t exactly the shining beacon of stereotypical masculinity.
He puts on a brave face and tries hard to be as polite as possible to your parents.
He’s squeezing your hand so tight the entire trip back to your parent’s home.
He’s shocked your parents are letting you share the guest room.
Things are tense at first. Your father is quiet and your mom is trying hard to fill that silence with chatter.
You can tell your mom likes Matthew a lot. Your dad is holding in just what he thinks though. It’s making Matthew a nervous wreck.
He finally decides to have a talk with your father man-to-man. Maybe if he shows him some respect and makes an effort then it’ll be okay.
You find yourself pacing outside your father’s study as Matthew and he visit behind a closed door.
It seems like it takes forever. You have no idea what’s happening behind that closed door.
Then the door finally opens and you have no idea what Matthew did or said because your dad is patting his back laughing hard.
Matthew looks up at you and smiles and you know of course he won your father’s blessing. 
You share a smile both knowing that everything is going to be okay. The people who matter are the ones who have accepted you both.
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veron-argentum · 2 years ago
Hi! I just watched isi & ossi (rich girl and poor boxer boy AH) on netflix and now i cant stop thinking about cal and fake dating. Do with that what you will😂
I actually watched it the moment I got this ask! First 20mins in and I already know how it’s gonna go hahaha 😅😆 Confession: I didn’t finish the film. I stopped at the part where Isi walked out on her parents in that museum scene. Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the coming chapters of this fic! 💕🥰
“Playing Pretend”
Cal Kestis x Reader
Next: Part 2 | Masterlist
1 of ?
One would assume that everything in Alderaan were peaceful and perfect, however, another would beg to differ. Every lavish party, every sophisticated conference, or every single resident dressed with all the glamour in every thread of their clothing is proof of a luxurious, prosperous life.
Except for you. The young, free-spirited only child of Governor Sohan Torvel and Yasina Elvas. Despite giving simply anything and everything that you would ever want, you’re not satisfied with the things that have made you the cause of envy among your peers.
Indeed, you may move with a regal, youthful grace—thanks to the private tutors that groomed you according to your mother’s bidding (and payment)—but this princess façade was only Yasina’s fantasy. You have a different calling.
You took your lessons seriously and diligently, excelling in some areas that further impressed the tutors and parents; your best advantage being the vast knowledge of politics—both clean and dirty—thanks to your family background.
But you’d rather spend the day hiking, rock-climbing, and even roaming the city without an escort—at the command of your father. In your teenage years, you’ve grown familiar with the city after traversing rooftop to rooftop with an acrobatic fluidity. You’ve turned yourself invisible from the eyes of your father’s hired bodyguards—whom you familiarized yourself with—perhaps your only lacking skill is combat, since you stayed away from trouble more than you should find it.
You’ve heard talks about your father, Sohan, was eyeing political bonds that would prove to be advantageous to him, but of course, no such exchange exists with only one party giving out. The family was discussing this over dinner.
“So, [y/n],” Sohan cleared his throat in their wide dining hall that it echoed. “How are your lessons coming along?”
“Swimmingly,” you replied with a dry smile.
“Well, darling, I’m sure you would love to share the news with everyone,” Yasina subtly initiated.
Immediately, you realized that there is something your parents are either planning to do or have done already and are just announcing it now.
Your gut feeling was heavy, as if an anchor inside your stomach had suddenly dropped—something isn’t right. There’s something that your parents aren’t telling you prior to tonight. You hate it when they do that.
You alternately looked at your parents left and right.
“What? What is it?”
“I’ve decided to apply as Senator. If I emerge victorious, we can either stay in our estate in Coruscant or here but I will be in the Senate Palace most of the time,”
You exhaled through your nostrils, managed a smile. “That’s great, Dad,”
“Thank you, sweetie. I’m glad I have your support,”
The joy was immediately cut off with your sharp wit. A knack that your mother disliked because it usually kills the mood and subsequently uncovers a nasty truth.
“With an expensive move like this, I assumed you searched for sponsors to aid your campaign. And obviously, whomever sponsor that is, it’s only natural they require something in exchange, don’t they?”
The couple’s collective smiles melted as soon as their daughter pointed out a very tiny loophole in the agenda. In terms of deals such as these, you weren’t dumb to not notice the pattern.
“Actually, in four days’ time we’ll be having a banquet—as a way of thanks and gratitude to my sponsor,”
“I don’t think a banquet is enough of a repayment of their generosity and willingness to help you, Dad,”
Yasina somehow sensed what you were trying to squeeze out of your father. For some reason, Sohan was also dodging your questions—or answering them with a statement that is out of the intended context.
You gave up in pressing your father further on giving you a name, or at least a hint on who it might be.
I guess I’m finding out for myself at the party then. You thought to yourself, picking away the rest of your dinner with the prong of your fork.
“[y/n], honey, please don’t play with your food,” your mother lightly scolds.
You shot a look at her—a signature downward-tilting angle of the head with your indifferent sneer. However, she had her counterattack: her jaw stiffened and her fingers curled inward, slowly clenching into a fist. That didn’t seem to scare you—at least now at your age.
“Eat your food. That is not how young noblewomen touch their food,”
“I’m not hungry anymore,” you mumbled, wiping your mouth. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Dinner ended with an awkward note. After your mother lightly scolding you which nearly became a war of words, you left the table and marched to the hallway to your bedroom.
As soon as you found refuge in your room, you inner sanctum, the holotable was the first thing you approached and then touched. It took a few seconds before the projection of Tazha—your childhood friend, the only true friend that you ever had all these years as a matter of fact—fizzled and crackled into clarity.
“Oh hey, [y/n],”
Tazha was your polar opposite. She was the preppy—kind of ditzy yet endearing—girl. Meanwhile, you were the adventurous one who didn’t mind getting her hands dirty or her nails chipped after hiking a hill or climbing a waterfall’s rock wall. Nevertheless, she was your friend—the one who stayed by your side while everybody else envied you, talked behind your back, and scorned you for being the child of the elite.
“Ohh, I know that tone of voice, [y/n],”
Silence from your end.
“Another party?”
“Another party.”
She squealed in excitement. Tazha’s family and yours have been working collaboratively—that was a bonus in your friendship, another bonus is that for every public function or gathering that either family held, the other family is written into the guestlist by default.
You let Tazha in on the details regarding your father’s campaign and the party that will be held to commemorate the generosity and new partnership he’s celebrating with his sponsor.
“You have any idea on who the sponsor is?”
“I was hoping I’d get that answer from you, Tazha,”
“Well,” she sighed pensively. “You know how I do. I still have to time it right for Papa to get the invitation or bring up the party.”
You sighed so deeply that Tazha cracked a joke about it.
“Jeez. Sigh any louder and we don’t need this holotable to converse,”
“Ha-ha. Very funny, Taz,”
“Oh alright,” she whined. “Another thing about the party is bothering you, huh?”
“He didn’t mention who the sponsor was,”
“Ever heard about the element of surprise?”
Tazha was understanding to lend a listening ear for you to rant away. She had quite strong counterarguments, albeit being simple one-liners. As your good friend, she tried to calm you down; talking you out of it so that you could get your mind off of it.
“Just lie down and relax. Get some sleep, stay hydrated, and don’t think about it too much—if you can, okay?”
“Okay,” you muttered in defeat, knowing that Tazha was right one way or another.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, hun,”
“Yeah, see you,”
She blew a kiss before her holoprojection faded into thin air. You retreated to your bed. You couldn’t sleep, but you know one thing that might cheer you up and ease your nerves.
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phen0l · a year ago
idk if this scene is making the cut but lmao @ this dynamic
"I brought dinner," you announce, and when Kyojuro’s eyes light up, you add, "for the kids. You'll eat later."
"Hm… Fair enough!" 
You set the plate of gyoza down before the children, and even in her fear, the little girl pops her head out from behind the boy. Her companion, on the other hand, is completely shameless. 
"This is for us?" he asks, eyes wide.
"Mhm." You crouch down, smiling at them both. "I bet you're hungry." 
An adult would doubt the generosity, but just being kids, the two of them dig in. The boy is chatty, talking to you about how long it's been since he had gyoza, and all the foods he'll eat once he can get back on his feet doing odd jobs. Though you're pleasant through the whole conversation, you cannot help but feel a little sad for them. You remember what it is like to be that hungry, and you hope they do not eat themselves sick—but they only seem content when they finish, and the girl is in much better spirits. "Thank you!" She chirps sweetly before turning to Kyojuro, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry I was so rude to you, Mister. Your wife is so nice and pretty, even though you're a little scary…"
Rather than correcting the child about your relationship, he only continues to smile at her. Anyone else would assume that he's unbothered at the comment, but you can see the uncertainty in his eyes.
Later, when you're both at the ramen stall, Kyojuro looks openly contemplative as he slurps his noodles. 
"Am I actually scary?" he asks.
You try to give him a reassuring look. "You're an adult with a sword, and they'd just pickpocketed you. I'm sure they were scared of what the consequences might be—not you as a person."
"Hm… that's a good point." He leans back to cross his arms, looking at you. "You're really good with children, you know."
You blink. "Am I?"
"Of course. Like with those two back there, and with Senjuro, too."
"Oh…" You nod, considering. "I guess so."
He turns back to his noodles. After taking another slurp, he asks, voice casual, "Do you want kids of your own someday?"
You pause. You'd assumed for so long that you would start a family not out of a desire for one, but simply out of obligation. Nobody has ever asked you for your own feelings regarding the matter. But as you watch Kyojuro and think of all the time the two of you have spent together with Senjuro…
"If I had the opportunity, I would like to start a family."
Kyojuro glances at you again. "I'm sure you'll be able to. I know you'll be a great mother too!" When he beams at you, his eyes arch up in a genuine smile.
If only it could be with you.
You have to contain a heavy sigh, pondering his intentions. 
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mrneighbourlove · a year ago
Evil’s Bane: Ch 2. Obligation
Lately, the members of the Hive had been a touch worried about Bonegrinder, more so than usual. There were days that the Anagari was full of energy and then there were times when he slept for nearly a week. Even Red, the flirty incubus, stated that this was no tiny matter. None of them had ever seen the formidable master so out of balance or exhausted before this year. Then all of the loyal monsters agreed to keep a close eye on the Anagari, taking turns, watching him while he slept. There was magic in the air, all around the shaman, and whisperings of an ancient, long lost language. All of them heard it. Yet, the one who seemed the least surprised of all was Hades.
"This is the fifth day he's slept." Blue sighed, having settled in beside the snake. He slept deeply on his coils, his face shielded partly by the tip of his tail. "Do you think he's sick?"
"I don't think he's sick, I think Bonegrinder is overwhelmed." White told her sister with a frown, hanging upside down in front of her sibling. "By his magic, this prophecy he keeps muttering about, Mother keeping him tasked with keeping an eye on Kaksa's host... he might host a deity, but his body is mortal. I think."
"Mortal, true, but the deity's soul keeps him alive despite the damage."
"... maybe we should boil him some poppies to keep him asleep longer."
"What?! White, why would you say that?"
"So he'd get more rest, so he won't be slithering the tunnels half-conscious at night, rambling in tongues we don't know, and glowing with magic like a firefly."
"You have a point, but I don't think drugging him is the way to go."
"Well, just sting his ass, and keep him knocked out."
"White! I'm not going to sting him!"
"No drugs, no stinging, and I'm assuming you're going to say no to stealing a mild sedative from the palace?"
"Why don't you just make one?"
"My shit's a lot stronger."
Hades tapped his ‘mace’ against the ground. In truth, it was a gigantic club. This chatter was getting under his skin. “We will do nothing to Bonegrinder. And him napping does not stop operations here. You squabble like children as soon as a parent turns his gaze away from you. If you wish to be preoccupied, be so with your tasks.”
"Kitty, we're worried about him, we're not squabbling." Blue shot him a dirty look. "This isn't like Bonegrinder."
"The Bonegrinder we know never gets tired or sleeps for ages like this." White crossed her arms, her eight eyes narrowing at the Lynel. "And our operations are just fine. We have plenty of product that is being made and moved."
“And what does all of you standing about accomplish!”
"Annoying you for one, so I consider that an accomplishment." Blue said dryly. "We're keeping watch on Bonegrinder. He's vulnerable like this and we're not leaving him alone."
"If you're so concerned about us standing around, then I must ask what you're doing." White asked. "Other than nagging us?"
“I’m Bonegrinder’s real protection. His friend. As his little children you have tasks that need completing.” Bonegrinder sniffed the air, irritated. He’d come to call her many names over the years. Harlot. Distraction. Tiny Shadow. Witch. Now in recent years he simply referred Leere as, “The Pesky Sage draws near. Deal with that if you wish a distraction.”
"Leere?" Blue and White exchanged confused glances. The woman hardly ever visited the underground catacombs since she met Sunny. In truth, it did hurt the sisters' feelings, since they were so fond of Leere. Those days of pleasure and leisure were such good times. "... fine. I'll go get here if you stay here with White."
“Very well. The rest of you, disperse.”
Leere herself was making her way through the catacombs of Hyrule and more into the territory marked by the Hive. It certainly been a while, but she still knew her way around. Navigating shadows was never a problem for her.
"It's been a very long time since you've been down here." Blue, as always, was sneaky just like her sister. While White had the silent steps, Blue was able to skitter faster. "I thought you had forgotten about us."
“Not at all Blue. Not at all.” Leere lightly smiled, giving her friend a nod of greetings. “How have you and your sister been?”
"We're both all right. Picked up a few new clients in a less shady manner; herbalists and doctors trying to help patients but unable to get the plants they need." Blue then asked, "If you've come to see Bonegrinder, it's... a bad time."
“I did. Is he in one of his trances again?”
"Not exactly." Blue figured there was no reason to hide the truth from Leere. She was a Sage and a friend of Bonegrinder's. She could be trusted. "He's... I don't know. I'd say sick, but I don't think that's the right word. He's exhausted from being a host. His body is mortal, but the deity within him keeps him alive. Lately, I believe Prama has been more active within Bonegrinder so..." The Echidnan ran a hand back through her dark hair. "We're worried."
Leere put a hand to her chin, thinking deeply on this development. “I fear enemies are collaborating and going to make a move soon. Perhaps I can coax the spirit within so that Bonegrinder can be rational once more.”
"You... are going to try to talk to Prama?" Blue sounded incredulous. "He rarely speaks to any of us. And if he does say anything, he's so bitter." She then rationalized. "Though I think I'd be pretty pissed off too if I was trapped in a body that wasn't my own."
“I’m good with spirits. Lead the way? I’ll let you hold my hand again.”
"Hrm, tempting, but I know you're mated now; monogamously." Blue plucked Leere off the ground and settled the woman on her exoskeleton.
"See? Look. I told you he glows sometimes." White insisted when she pointed to Bonegrinder's scales. "Look! He's predominantly black. How does a black Anagari suddenly get shiny, white, glowing scales?"
“Because of the spirit within. Now be quiet before I-“ Hades paused mid argument, looking to see that Blue had brought the witch here. “Ah. I see you brought the woman here. Excellent use of your time...”
“Sheer-Khan.” Leere ignored the sarcasm in his voice. “I can see indeed Bonegrinder is not his usual self.”
"I'm glad to see you, Leere, though will you please tell this pretty kitty that Bonegrinder has had this spirit within him for years on end and has never glowed?" White insisted. "Something wrong."
"He could just be dreaming again." Blue set Leere down close to Bonegrinder. "Or maybe shifting his magical energies?"
“Would you all give me a moment with Bonegrinder? Perhaps I can see what’s wrong with him.” Hades, surprisingly, nodded his head. “Everyone out. Letting the Sage examine Bonegrinder will finally show you that the old snake is not in mortal danger.”
"Once again, we know he's not in mortal danger, he's not mortal. In a sense." White retorted with a stubborn grumble. "We will wait outside, kitty cat."
Once Hades shoed the others out, Leere bent close to her friend’s head. Whispering softly, she spoke out to him with a hand on his cheek. “Am I speaking to Bonegrinder or am I speaking to Prama?”
"Leave me be, Shadow Sage, I am not in the mood to deal with you or those other detestable creations of my brother." Prama's voice flowed through Bonegrinder's lips, those eyes opening to be solid gold - no pupil, no snake-like slit, nothing. "Your snake sleeps and tries to heal inside the confines of his mind."
“Heal from what? Did you hurt him? Something else harm him?” Leere spoke softly to him.
"Long ago, he was unfortunate to come into contact with my brother before I awakened within him. His mind is damaged by the horror he suffered." Prama scoffed. "I would be foolish to attempt to harm this so-called body. It's bad enough I am trapped in one of my brother's created species, but also now, an insane one. He sleeps because I force him to. The mind is a fragile thing and he is holding on by threads."
“I need his assistance with a matter most important Prama. I had a terrible omen come to me. Something of great danger is rising in Malus. I must investigate the source of this omen.”
"Let me guess." Prama sounded most unenthused. "Demons? Hellspawn? Take your pick. Nothing good comes from Malus. Long ago, my brother created a portal to hell there where all the damned souls dwell." He said in most dry humor. "A 'dumping pit' as he called it."
Leere didn’t want to throw around an accusation without a belief in it. So she trusted on her gut when she spoke her next words carefully. “I saw a cruel being with leathery wings. He claimed he was your brother.”
"Even lesser demons like to parade as Dhakk just to scare those who know the stories." Prama did not sound too convinced. He repeated a rhyme of the old tricks to identify hell spawn. "They cannot hide their red eyes and there you see through their lie. Demon, hell spawn, or hellish tricks, know your magic to toss them to the pit."
“It was shadows. All shadows.” Leere clenched her fist, seeing this wouldn’t get her anywhere. “Please. I sense a calamity about to unfold. As a creator, you could help me stop it.”
"And why should I?" Prama sounded very... bitter. Just like the sisters warned Leere. "I have been trapped within this body for a millennia. The beings I created have forgotten me. No one believes an Anagari is the host of the Maker. My creations have fallen into ruin and the world is unbalanced. There is hate and evil running rampant where there used to be goodness and love. Without my full power, I am cut off, unable to connect to my beloved Kaksa. I don't even know what happened to her after Dhakk lashed out at us. Yet, when I look at the world, I fear she is gone."
"Because the world deserves better. It deserves kindness and generosity. I want to give that. And I think you do to. Help me do that."
"The world deserves better? Even when this world I created with Kaksa has forgotten us?" Prama still held contempt in his voice. "Give me a reason, woman of Malus, for even attempting this folly besides trying to appeal to my sense of compassion, for these mortal beings. Kindness and generosity for all? Even the ones who did such horrors to you? You truly expect me to believe that?"
"You don't stop being a good being just because the one's you love are gone. My father and mother are gone, but my resolve in fighting the evil of humanity to save the good has not dwindled. What would your Kaksa say to see your resolve to heal and bring life be crushed so?"
"I do not know what Kaksa would say. I have not heard her voice in so long." Prama sounded... sorrowful. "I often wonder if I will ever hear her again. I wonder if what those monsters in Omisha ramble about her return is true, or just a farce to keep me close. Either way..." He sighed, very tired. "I often enjoyed spreading my light to the corners of the world. I loved to see the smile on my creations' faces each time I gave them something new to use on this planet. I do not like to see pain or suffering... yet I feel without my full power, I am too weak to stop such madness."
"Then help me. Help me now. Either with your own hand or by giving Bonegrinder the control to free Malus." Leere held his hand, nodding softly. "Let me be your soldier for good."
"... Malus is not of my origin, Shadow Sage." Prama warned Leere. "I will be limited as to what I will be able to do while trapped in this host. Even Modoc, Bonegrinder as you call him, might not be able to protect you as he has before. While my brother and I are twins, we are opposites. I cannot control his creations and he cannot control mine."
"Then just get me there. I can fight any monster."
"You can fight any monster." Prama stated assuredly. "Yet... you have never faced a god."
"No. No, I haven't. But I've faced killers, rapists, undead, vile demons, savage monsters and other dimensional nightmares. What's a god to a non believer?" Leere smiled to reassure a literal god.
"Hope. For we can light the way."
"And you know something about light Prama?"
Previous Ch. https://mrneighbourlove.tumblr.com/post/625815638040018944/evils-bane-ch-1-ghoulish-omen
Next Ch. https://mrneighbourlove.tumblr.com/post/625816338129207296/evils-bane-ch-3-onward-and-forward
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notquitejiraiya · 2 years ago
Chess [27] - {ShikaTema AU}
I have no excuses, but hopefully my rustiness and likely mistakes in this can be forgiven. All my love: enjoy :)
“You’ve gotta have an oral fixation.”
“But really. You have to. I look away for one minute and you’ve stolen a straw from behind the bar and you’re chewing on it!”
Temari tried to hold back a giggle, and upon failing set off Chōji. He started to go red as he snorted.
“I just wanted a straw.” There was an innocent, yet far too defensive tone to his voice.
Eyebrows were raised around them, not least by the barman. “But not to drink with?”
Shikamaru frowned, as though he genuinely didn’t understand. “What’s the matter with that?”
“We don’t give them out for people to chew on, mate.”
“Then don’t bloody make them out of paper!”
Temari took a sip on the straw, poked innocently into her cocktail, which had caused such an unexpected fuss and watched as Shikamaru chewed on his lip as his best friend nattered away. Suddenly he reached across the bar and snatched the straw from Shikamaru’s grip, earning an exasperated sigh from him, and an undeniable giggle from Temari.
Like the drive they had taken, their walk to the pub had been fairly short and sweet, but seemingly uneventful. The slight spots of rain that came with January weren’t exactly welcome, but they were easily ignored when he was beside her, hand in pockets and puffing out smoke like a bloody train. While she scurried along, wrapped in her hood and desperate to keep warm, she almost asked him for a drag once or twice, but there was something about the serenity of the silence between them—hearing only the spots of rain and tyres hitting puddles periodically—that was too pure to be broken. He had looked happy, despite it all; happier than he had ever looked.
Enjoy the silence, she had told him, and she had to listen to herself.
Still, that didn’t mean when his knuckles brushed against hers she didn’t let out a soft breath and bite her tongue when wanting it to last forever.
Upon getting to the pub amongst the hustle and bustle of a rough Saturday night, Shikamaru had made a beeline for Chōji the minute he’d locked eyes on him. Temari has pottered over at half the speed, but ever since they had been perched on the same bar stools with her fingers always wrapped around a drink—or at this current time, a pitcher.
Once or twice Chōji would shoot Temari a knowing look, always accompanied by a smile. She hoped that what she was seeing was gratitude, for being there for his friend and seemingly helping him. From her impression of the man she assumed negative emotions didn’t exactly come easy to Chōji, and she’d smile back within a second, hoping she was right.
Meanwhile, as one of these looks took place once more, Chōji running his mouth off at Shikamaru for was reaching for a second straw, their common interest was growing restless. He could see the looks his friends shared; he wasn’t stupid and he also wasn’t blind. Their lack of subtlety would’ve been funny if it weren’t laced with unwanted pity disguised as amity, and the water in his hand was growing tiresome after the third glass.
He wanted a drink—a proper drink. Not to drown sorrows or to pretend everything was okay, but just to join in. The smile on Temari’s face was so wide, so beautiful, and as her lips wrapped around that straw he wanted nothing less than to taste what she did, whatever concoction sat in her pitcher. He couldn’t help watching as she took another long sip, watching Chōji try to stack twelve glasses with little success, and wishing that he could just pull her face towards him, closer and closer; so close no space was left between them...
No, he was wrong. He didn’t want alcohol. He wanted her.
With that realisation came the familiar feeling of burning red ears, and he prayed the others wouldn’t notice his embarrassment amidst the dim lights. With a smile he look down at his water and sloshed it around in his glass, remembering the feeling of holding her hand earlier on. He thought of the rain that still pelted down outside, and how bundled up she’d been like a khaki Michelin Man, kicking leaves with her boots. Suddenly all he could see in the water was her face, smiling at him as the rain drenched the front of her hair, blonde bleeding into brown with wet.
“Chōji?” Temari asked, finally speaking. “Can you just give him another straw please before he tops himself?”
Shikamaru smiled. Insensitive, he thought, why the fuck am I not angry with her for that?
“No, he can’t. I have a right to refuse service.”
Her eyes rolled, letting her palm rest on his kneecap. “Service of drinks, yes. Does it really need to apply to straws?”
“You bet it does if I want it to,” be laughed. “I refuse to sell Shikamaru anything but soft drinks—always—on principle. And after last time I told the other staff not to as well.”
“Because you’re a pain,” interjected Shikamaru, raising his water in 
“And,” he continued, “he won’t go to another pub because he only comes out to hang out with me, so no point. Thank me later.”
Temari shook her head, shifting her eyes to lock with Shikamaru’s. Her fingertips crept above his knee. “That’s no cure for alcoholism,” she chuckled, “but you’re a good friend.”
Chōji smirked. “Speaking of being a good friend, Shikamaru…”
He didn’t look to his friend, he was far too distracted by her eyes, and how they somehow looked violet in this light.
There was no chance his eyes could be torn from the woman before him as hers fingers danced up his thigh, a million different colours flickering across her under the lights and her pupils getting larger by the second.
“Shikamaru, do you want a smoke?”
If he didn’t stop her soon he was going to have to drag her elsewhere, but it was so hard not to be utterly captivated. She was too beautiful, too full of excitement from her pitchers, for him not to savour the way she looked at him. He felt like the only person in the room.
His weakness prevailed. “Nah, I’m good man.”
Chōji was getting desperate, and with a huff pulled out a straw from behind the bar. Thrusting it into Shikamaru’s hand, he tapped on the bar with rough knuckles and coughed. “I need a word, man. Come on?”
With an awkward cough and a guilty feeling building in the pit of his stomach, Shikamaru squeezed Temari’s fingers gently and lifted them up as he pulled his gaze away from her. He hopped down off of the stool and followed Chōji as he weaved through the crowds toward the door, somewhat glad to have been drawn away from her. After all the last thing he wanted to do was take advantage of her, and he was almost grateful to the freezing rain as he stepped outside, waking him up and reminding him it wasn’t his job to yearn for Temari every second of the day—not that that was stopping him.
Shikamaru’s thoughts, however, were unknown to the woman they’d left behind, and she couldn’t help feeling abandoned as they scurried outside into the cold. She almost texted Gaara and explained what was happening, but he was on a date, wasn’t he? She couldn’t interrupt that, it wouldn’t be fair. Not after all the stick she’d given him as a teenager for getting involved in her business all the time. Now it felt wrong not to involve him in everything, and tipsy Temari even thought for a second that she should ring him after all, and invite him and his date here.
But who was she kidding? That was a terrible idea. She could just about see her reflection in the mirror behind the spirits as she looked over the bar, and immediately decided that this pitcher would be her last one. Tonight was not to be the second night she was helped home by Shikamaru in a drunken state. Tonight would be the night she kept her cool, wasn’t eating pasta out of a saucepan at midnight and might even pay for his taxi back home. However, it had crossed her mind as she stared herself out that given her free house that was currently empty of brothers, he needn’t call a cab, or at least not one from here. He could come to hers, shelter from the rain for a while if he wanted to, for as long as he wanted to…
Oh, honestly, girl! Pull yourself together! She took a deep breath and shut her eyes. Send him home. You can do without another evening overcomplicating everything.
But despite her inner pep-talk, when Chōji re-entered seconds later without Shikamaru in tow, Temari’s fuzzy brain barely held in a whimper. But, as he jogged towards her with such intention in his eyes, she couldn’t help frowning and adjusted her position on the stool. “Is everything alright?”
“More than alright.” He came to a stop just in front of her and leaned against the bar. “He’s better than I’ve seen him in years, Temari,” he added with a soft smile.
She started to blush ever so slightly, but she could see the slight frown on his face. “Whats wrong then”
Chōji coughed, biting on his lip. “You did do it, didn’t you?”
Her eyes widened and her cheeks grew crimson in a flash. “Do it? Do what?”
“You know,” he chuckled awkwardly.
“I can guarantee I don’t.” Temari tucked a stray hair behind her ear and took a shaky breath. He cannot be talking about Thursday, she told herself. Shikamaru would never have told him, would he? “What did I do?”
“You took him to see Mrs Sarutobi, didn’t you?”
Only some of the nerves subsided, but she felt her shoulders loosen as she nodded. “We did,” she sighed. “It didn’t go too badly, but still can’t tell if it was actually the right thing to do, Chōji.”
“Thank you,” Chōji mumbled before pulling Temari into the tightest, quickest hug she’d ever had. “You’re good for him. Have another pitcher on me.”
And before Temari could reply, or thank him for his generosity in supplying alcohol she didn’t need, he was flying out the door and she watched it close with a soft thud.
When Chōji flung open the door and hopped back outside, a big grin across his face, an unimpressed Shikamaru who was now soaked to the bone was already half-way through his cigarette. He raised his eyebrows as a hello and huffed.
“I thought you were getting me my coat, man.”
His friend smirked and shook his head. “You don’t need it. We won’t be out here much longer.”
“I’m already soaking, Choji.”
“You wear t-shirts in December, Captain Hypothermia. You can live with some rain,” Choji spluttered, crossing his arms and bouncing slightly on the spot. He had to admit that it definitely wasn’t warm out here, but there were bigger issues at hand.
Shikamaru took a long drag of his cigarette as a piece of wet hair smacked him in the eye, he winced as he let out the smoke and rubbed the eye in question. “What do you want to talk about then?”
There was a moment silence, and Shikamaru knew the smirk building on Choji’s lips did not bode well. 
“So you’re together now, right?”
He scoffed and shook his head, hooking his thumb inside the cuff of his sleeve. “C’mon, man…”
“You’ve shagged. Obviously.”
If he hadn’t been expecting it, Shikamaru would’ve most certainly choked on thin air. His eyes rolled to the back of his head. “Chōji…”
“That’s an answer, for sure.”
He let his foot tap at a particularly interesting brick on the wall, unable to look his friend in the eye. “We aren’t together, okay?”
“But you have shagged. Definitely.”
“Can you stop?” When he looked up, Choji looked proud beyond belief. It was as if he thought this was his doing that Shikamaru had found someone of the opposite sex who he didn’t find totally unbearable more than fifty-percent of the time. “What’re you so pleased with yourself about, eh?”
The bigger man shrugged, smug as anything. “Nothing, really,” he mused, with the most irritating snigger at the back of his throat. “Just that my pal has found the future mother of his children.”
Now Shikamaru was choking, and kicked the wall just a little too hard. “Fuck!” he hissed. “I’ve known her like a month, man—get a grip!” He took another drag and bit the bullet, leaning against the freezing cold brickwork. “You’re more invested in this than I am.”
“I wouldn’t let her hear you say that. Won’t be getting anymore, will you?”
“How do you even know about that?” He was finding it progressively harder to keep his tone one he’d want to hear if the tables were turned, but his friend was driving him nuts. “Did she tell you?”
“As good as,” Choji laughed. “I asked her if you guys had gone and done it and she went bright red.”
Shikamaru almost snarled, unable to comprehend what he was hearing. “What planet are you from, man? How’s that even slightly acceptable to—”
“Relax!” He hurried closer and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I meant if you’d gone to Mrs Sarutobi’s today, not anything more. I’m not an animal.”
I beg to differ, the dark-haired man thought to himself. He looked up and raised his eyebrows. The temptation to put out his cigarette on Choji’s stupid apron was overwhelming but he managed not to, and simply took one last drag and let it fall to the floor, drowned by rain. “You knew about that, then?” he asked, barely getting the words out.
Choji nodded slowly and pulled his friend in for a hug. “She mentioned it before and I knew it would help.”
“You thought so?”
“Of course, and I was right.”
Shikamaru let his right arm encircle his friend’s larger frame and tapped him on the back. “She helps me, for sure. More than anyone ever has.”
“I can see that for myself,” he said with a smile as he pulled away. “I’m glad it went okay.”
“Me, too, man,” nodded Shikamaru, leaning back against the wall. “But can I ask you a favour?”
“I beg you to stop being weird about her.”
Choji looked affronted. “I’m not weird!”
“Going on about…you know…”
“Someone’s embarrassed.”
“Yeah, actually,” Shikamaru sighed. “I am embarrassed, really fucking embarrassed that I just stormed into her office and did that.” He kicked at the brick again. “I’m not like that, man, I don’t do that. And if that’s who she thinks I am now, I’ve fucked it.”
There was a moment where Shikamaru wondered if he’d split the conversation apart, to a point where Choji felt too awkward to put the pieces back together for him. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed them, as if by magic he thought that upon opening everything it would make what he’d just said disappear, and the sad atmosphere he’d created just float away.  However, it seemed that Shikamaru had forgotten his friend’s ability to make everything that was awkward for someone else feel like a breeze, and when Choji wrapped his arm around his shoulders, there was a jolt through them. He was waiting for his friend to say something equally as inappropriate as he previously had been as he stared down at his feet.
But he didn’t.
“Chin up, mate,” he said softly, nudging Shikamaru. “She went with you today and sat there, listened to you, helped you out…you think that if you’ve fucked it she’d do that?”
While he felt a little better, it didn’t fill the entire hole he’d dug himself. “I mean I’m not spontaneous like that, never have been and I never will be. I can’t be bothered, can I? I’d rather just sit on my own and—”
“But you were,” interjected Choji. “You were spontaneous. So yes you are.”
Shikamaru slowly nodded. “You’re wrong, but thank you.”
“No worries, man.” He slapped Shikamaru’s back and followed him back to the door. “SO did you shag in her office.”
“Say ‘shag’ one more time and I’ll push you in the road.”
“Table? Chair?”
He stopped, scratching at the light brown stubble on his chin humorously. “Bet it was the chair.”
Shikamaru shoved him sideways, shaking his head as he sighed and said with great pleasure, though you wouldn’t know it from his monotone voice, “Table.”
He regretted not waiting to see Choji’s dumbfounded expression before heading back inside, and catching her eyes once more.
By the time another hour had disappeared so had many people and another pitcher, but as Temari gathered her things to leave she felt surprisingly sober. Not as sober as Shikamaru clearly was, however, and as his lips parted slightly as he laughed at Chōji’s poor choice of jokes, his eyes rolled to the back of his head for the same split second. Temari couldn’t stop staring. She hopped to her feet and threw on her coat, forcing her arms in and zipping up quickly. For a moment she’d contemplated offering him her coat given how he was still sopping wet from his last cigarette break, but she knew he wouldn’t take her up on the offer. After all, he had a coat, waterproof or not, and it wasn’t like him to see her go without anything.
She watched as he chewed on the end of yet another paper straw, something she’d never have expected from him, and when he turned to look at her, a kindhearted yet utterly devilish look in his eyes, she wanted nothing less than to steal him away.
Then he winked, and the deal was sealed.
“Is there any chance you could walk me home?” she asked, feebly interrupting the two of them. Where her spunk had gone she had no idea—never had she asked such a question and felt so vulnerable in doing so. It felt foreign and weird, she hated it and adored it all at once. “I’d go by myself, but if Gaara finds out I’m on my own…”
Shikamaru didn’t need asking twice. With his straw poking out the corner of his mouth he hopped to his feet, towering over her, and threw his coat on with much more ease than she had. “’Course,” he smiled, and tucked in his barstool. “I’ll probably be back in a minute, Choj, don’t worry.”
“You will?”
He looked down at Temari, who he couldn’t help noticing looked a little taken aback, and immediately retracted his statement as he fell deep into those eyes once more. “Actually…” he began. They were completely natural now in this light; that perfect blue-green hue he’d grown to know. “I’ll let you know. The old man might want me back.”
Choji chucked and threw his tea-towel at his friends head, only to get it thrown straight back. “Yeah, right. Be careful, you two.”
They walked out on him chuckling, Shikamaru tagging slightly behind as he raised a finger to Choji in protest, and one final snort emanated from the bar as the door shut behind them.
The rain had eased up again, back to a miserable and endless dribble, but a few stars were managing to peep through the mostly block cloud, and so Temari tried to focus on those. She felt a shiver run across her shoulders as she examined the combination in the sky, wondering if maybe what she was seeing was a familiar constellation. It wasn’t.
“I had a really nice evening,” she told him as they turned the corner onto her never-ending street, slightly saddened by the knowledge it never seemed long enough anymore. “It was fun.”
Shikamaru’s warm smile made it feel like the rain was a hot morning shower. “Don’t thank me, love. It was Chōj who gave you free drinks.”
She barged him with her shoulder and wobbled herself, but he steadied her before she could hit the floor with a full toothy grin, which wasn’t something she often saw. Her cheeks flushed hot as she whispered a soft, “Thank you,” and they only grew warmer as he rolled his eyes. “So,” he began, “what happened to you being able to make it home by yourself? To Kankuro seeing and you being able to take care of yourself?”
Temari took a deep breath and let it out as a massive, solemn sigh. “Nobody’s inside. And besides, Kankuro and I aren’t exactly friendly at the moment.”
He cocked his head to one side and looked up at the pavement ahead. “Not because of me, I hope,” he mumbled.
“Oh, it’s entirely because of you, Shikamaru,” she sighed. “Everything’s about you now.”
“What?” he chuckled. “What does that mean?”
She ignored him, barely even hearing him over her own thoughts. “But it’s a Kankuro problem, not a me problem or a you problem. He can keep being a baby if he wants, I don’t actually give a shit anymore.”
Her eyes drifted up to his as their feet came to a halt outside her house. “What?” she asked, frowning. “‘Tem’, what?”
“He’s your brother.”
“As is Gaara, and he’s not treating me like a child. I’m older than both of them.”
The petty sibling problems were too much for Shikamaru, so he threw his head back with a despairing laugh and shook his head. “You, woman,” he said, “are an utter nightmare.”
Temari pouted cheekily and took his hands in hers as she leant against the wall outside her house, apparently much to his surprise. She squeezed them once and bit down on her lip. “Nobody’s home,” she muttered. “You can come in if you want.”
“Tem…” He looked down at their hands and ran his thumbs across her knuckles. “It’s late and you’ve had a lot to drink. I wouldn’t feel right us going in and—”
“That’s not what I meant!” she spat out, grumbling. “I mean…it was, but it doesn’t have to be. We can just chat, as if we don’t do enough of that already.”
He let go of her hands, rubbed the back of his neck and took a deep breath, remembering his complaints to Chōji. Now, maybe, he could be spontaneous. “Go on then, love,” he smiled, unable to deny the look in her eyes. “Lead the way.”
And she did, happily, forcing herself not to skip up to her door and unlock it. She couldn’t help turning to see the look on his face as she eased it open. “I warn you, we have lots of stairs.”
“I can manage, woman, I’m not ninety.”
She laughed and stepped inside, for once glad for the fact that Gaara had left the heating on whilst he was out. The warmth hit her instantly, and she kicked off her boots to the side of the little entranceway. Temari watched as Shikamaru pointed awkwardly to his own with a questionable look, and she nodded. She didn’t particularly care about wet footprints on the carpet, but it was clear in her head that she had to keep his presence on the down-low. Even Gaara would likely be unhappy with this development, after all.
She passed the door to the room on the right that belonged to Kankuro with great pace—fighting the want to kick the damn thing down—and started to climb the stairs up to the living room, and hung her coat over the back of one of the chairs at the table. “I know it’s weirdly laid out,” she sighed, “but it’s home.”
Shikamaru, now at the top of the stairs, leant against the threshold. “It’s not weird. It’s like Ino’s place.”
The fact that she was mad at him for mentioning Ino only cemented her anger with Kankuro, putting stupid ideas in her head for her jealousy to feed on. Without thinking she opened one of her cupboards and pulled out a half full bottle of red wine that she was certain belonged to Gaara and raised it towards the man before her. “Drink?”
“Temari,” he sighed, “I’ve exclusively drank water tonight. You think I want wine?”
For a moment she felt foolish, and incredibly guilty for offering him something that she knew that she shouldn’t, but it didn’t stop her getting out a shot glass with a smirk and pouring some into it. It looked ridiculous, especially when she poured herself a normally sized glass, but she held the tiny portion to him with raised eyebrows and couldn’t help saying, “Not even a tiny bit.”
Shikamaru shook his head, chuckling at the shot glass and sighed. “Nah, I’m good. You wouldn’t like me when I’ve had a drink.”
“Hadn’t you had one when I followed you into the loo that time?”
“Two,” he grimaced, “but it had almost worn off by then.” He wasn’t lying.
“One won’t hurt.” She knelt down and started rummaging through the same cupboard the wine had been produced from. “I must have some whiskey somewhere.”
“You’re baiting me, Temari.”
“I have whiskey.”
He knew she was being friendly, being flirty, and he knew this wasn’t a ploy to get him into bed or anything. But he couldn’t forget the shame in Choji’s eyes last time he’d ordered whiskey, and the feeling of disgust that came with the false high he eventually felt.
Temari put it down on the kitchen side and shotted the stupid portion of wine. She rinsed the glass out and held it up to him. She looked so beautiful, and so full of genuine acceptance. She’d never judged how skinny he was or mentioned the little white flecks up his arms and across his hands, she just looked him dead in the eyes with pure feeling, and he knew she just wanted him to join her in her high.
Thing was, he already had it by just being here, and it crossed his mind that he hadn’t drunk anything whilst genuinely happy before. It had always been to create happiness, not to accentuate it, and while he knew it was nonsense and it was fake, he wanted it. Now was his chance to join in. He wanted to try it, and there was nobody he’d feel more safe trying it with. 
Slowly, he closed his eyes and nodding, shuffling closer to her. “Just one.”
Temari smiled slightly and poured two. “I hate whiskey,” she mumbled, “but for you I’ll give it a shot.”
“Bad pun.”
“Fuck you.”
He smiled. “You’re a terrible influence.”
“Only every once in a while.” She winked at him as she handed him the glass. “To new beginnings.”
Shikamaru raised his tiny glass and necked it with ease, instantly regretting the feeling of warmth that was building in his throat. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Temari bit down on her lip and followed suit, screwing her nose up.
“Still hate it?”
“Oh, course. It’s the worst.”
With a sigh, he took a step back towards the door. “Maybe I should go.”
“Please don’t.”
“I can’t sit and drink with you.”
“I don’t need you to,” she whined. “I just don’t want you to leave me yet.”
Shikamaru felt his shoulders tense up, and his eyes started to burn. He was tired, but no amount of tired was more overpowering than seeing the red that was starting to creep into her waterline as it grew wet.
“I made you do something horrible today,” she sighed, collapsing onto the nearest chair. “You thought we’d go somewhere good and I put you through it. You didn’t deserve that.”
I did, he thought to himself, taking a step closer to her. “You’re trying to make it up to me?”
She nodded, rubbing her eyes.
“You don’t have to do that, love. Today was helpful, and it was good for me.”
“But I do have to.” She sniffed, looking up at him with big eyes. “You’ve done this thing I can’t explain, Shikamaru, where you’ve made me feel like it’s my job to take care of you.”
He gulped. “I’m sorry.”
“No, no. It’s not your fault. I phrased that wrong.” Sniff. “I feel so much fuller when I see you laugh, like I’ve done something good. You’re not my little project anymore or anything like that, you’re just so important. And when you leave, especially with that sad face you’re doing right now, I just feel like shit.”
Placing his hand on her knee, Shikamaru knelt down and tried his best to smile at her. She peered through her hands at him, and he swore he saw a flicker of a grin spreading to her eyes. Did he really have the power to do this? He who was so afraid of talking to people, who had felt like such a moron when he’d apologised the other day, who’d never felt so drawn to anyone or anything in his life…
It was torture, seeing her with what resembled tears in her eyes; this scary, forceful woman with the will of an ox. She’d dragged him back and forth with that strength more than she realised, and jumbled his thoughts on more than a few occasions. But now, on this crazy day, as he looked at her, everything seemed to fall into place. 
He remembered what she’d said soon after they’d met—how she wasn’t going to fix him, but she was going to re-wire him to the best of her ability. It hadn’t made sense to him at the time how someone could do that for a person, but the look in her eyes right now allowed him to feel all the jumbled wires in his brain—his whole body—uncrossing. It made sense now. Yes, he knew that they couldn’t be together—they shouldn’t given how he was, that he still wasn’t okay. He needed to accept himself, he knew that, and although he was one step closer thanks to today, it was the beginning of a long road ahead.
But she’d be there for him, the face she was pulling now told him that without a shadow of a doubt. So he had to do the same. For whatever reason she wanted him to stay, and while he had the chance, he had to. It didn’t feel like choice, more a service, a necessity. A thank you amongst other things.
“Hey,” he whispered, letting his hand gently caress her knee. “One more drink. Then you can decide if I’m actually worth all this bloody hassle, right?”
Temari wiped her eyes and laughed, nodding. “You better be.”
Shikamaru nodded, feeling himself smile the biggest smile he had in a long time. “I better be…”
It was then, without any warning, that her eyes softened once more and her hands flew to his cheeks, still frozen from the bitter cold outside. She crashed her lips into his, and Shikamaru could do nothing but let them, obliging and giving into the power he loved so much.
He stopped momentarily, letting his thoughts fill him as she kissed along his jaw. Don’t use that word, he told himself. You barely know what it means.
Her voice was weak, and within a second of hearing it he was back in the room, his lips on hers as his hands resting on her hips. He felt her forehead rest on his, and he took a deep breath as they split apart. “I’m not going anywhere,” he mumbled before feeling her arms engulf him in the biggest hug.
He’d never felt so wanted, so needed, and he never wanted this feeling to go away.
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inkstaineddove · 2 years ago
Dancing With the Devil
Ships: AusHun, PruHun; PruAus of some king if you squint
Characters: Austria, Prussia, Hungary, Maria Theresa, Frederick the Great, Britain; mentioned Russia and France
Summary: To bring some joy back to Vienna after the Second Silesian War and win more allies, Austria and Maria Theresa decide to throw a ball. They also convince themselves that inviting Prussia will lead to only his humiliation, but he has a plan of his own.
 April 1746, Vienna.
Humiliated. Austria had been humiliated by an upstart kingdom taking control of one of his richest provinces. Ever since the ink on the treaty dried where he was forced to recognize this coup by Prussia, he’d been working furiously to secure some sort of alliance with the others. Britain, that traitor, couldn’t be counted on. He harrumphed, scribbling out letters to France and Russia. Unscrupulous bastards, how he loathed that he must turn to them. But, he supposed, beggars can’t be choosers…
“Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something?” He snapped, hearing the door to his office open. He didn’t remove his eyes from his work.
A soft clicking of the tongue. “Now, Roderich. Is that the way to properly greet your sovereign?” Maria Theresa glided into the room, smiling faintly. “You can’t let the barbarians steal your manners too.”
He stood, bowed, and kissed her hand. A quick rectification. “My apologies, your majesty. I assumed you were someone else.” He moved to sit again only once she had, intently following royal protocol now. “I’m sure you share my frustrations.”
“Naturally. Which is why I believe we need something to look forward to, to bring some joy back into these halls.” She sighed dramatically. “These last eight years have been marred by misery. We’re to throw a ball next month. I miss dancing and we can show the ambassadors that we haven’t been hampered in the slightest by recent events.”
“Well, if it’s for diplomatic purposes then I can hardly be opposed to it.” Roderich would be lying if he pretended that the concept upset him completely. He’d been out campaigning for so long that he missed most of the ball seasons over the last few years. It would be nice to don the clothes an aristocrat and catch up on the latest gossip with his equals instead of galloping around the countryside with undisciplined commoners. “I suppose you want me to get working on a guest list now?”
“That’s why I’m here. I wished to help you craft this one.” She waited for him to ready himself with a fresh piece of paper. “The Russian and French delegations are a must and they need to be given all the works. Showing the Swedes a proper respect would be advisable as well. If you find it won’t be too hard on you, I would like the Spaniards to come.” She noticed him roll his eyes and chuckled. “I’m trying to be courteous. Oh, right! The Saxons should be welcomed. As should the Bavarians and any of the smaller states you think could provide us with something beneficial.”
“Is that all? No Britain?”
She tapped a finger to her chin, mulling it over. “Send them an invitation a little less than a day before. Shows them our displeasure but isn’t too unreasonable. Now, that’s all squared away. There was something you were telling me.”
“I was?” Roderich slipped the paper in the top drawer of his desk. He racked his mind for whatever she meant. “Would you please tell me what, exactly, I was saying?”
“Before he invaded Bohemia, you were filling me in on all the others of your kind. Letting me know all the gossip and news surrounding them.” Maria Theresa fiddled with one of her rings, reminding Austria of when she was a child. “You filled me in on everyone else in the empire except our little nuisance.”
“I told you everything there is to know about Brandenburg. He’s not a complicated character.” He knew exactly who she was angling for, but he would play the fool. He’d spent too much of his thoughts on that damn creature, he was haunted by him every waking moment now. But his queen was giving him such a look, it became impossible to keep his resolve. Austria sighed, defeated. “What do you care to know about Prussia?”
“Oh, stop playing like this! I want to know everything there is!” She noticed his pained expression and laughed. “Come on, Roderich dear. Wouldn’t it be a joy to use everything we have against him? We’re working the presses hard to print out every nasty rumor about his king. Why not go after both of them?”
There was something he could go along with. In fact, Roderich was willing to wager that it might actually be enjoyable. This was a war he could easily win. He made himself comfortable in his chair, a smile breaking free. “What isn’t there to say about him? He’s vile, he’s garish, and completely uncouth. Ever since we were children his only concern has been killing things – bugs, pagans, heretics. Now, lucky me, he wants to kill Austrians.” He licked his lips, remembering a juicy tidbit. “His crusading is rather humorous considering how often he was sent to the pyre. He’s always looked demonic. If you spend your days around zealots with that appearance, you get what you asked for.” He smiled wistfully. “He did make good cinder though.”
“Roderich, that makes him pitiable.” Maria Theresa wrinkled her nose, imagining the smell of burning flesh. “Please, talk about anything else.”
“My apologies, I got lost in the good times.” He noticed her horrified look. “He’s still alive! And we were children then! If you knew how often many times he shot my eye out with arrows or gutted me with his sword, he wouldn’t seem so sympathetic. It was a different period. Now we…still impale each other. Some things never change, do they?”
“Right, right! Not what you want to know!” He tapped his fingers on his desk, trying to remember anything else interesting. He realized he was stuck too far in the past. There was something she would get a kick out of. “Ridiculous, how could I possibly forget? Not like they’ve had much time to see each other recently. Maybe this war wasn’t all for nothing.” He smiled wide, enjoying the imminent implosion. “He and Erzsébet have relations. Been happening for a century now.”
“With our Erzsébet? With Hungary?” He watched her upset grow until it completely overtook her. “That scoundrel! How dare he!” She smacked him in the arm. “And you only tell me this now! Eight years I’ve been on the throne and now, now, is the opportune moment! Why the delay?”
“Don’t assault me! We were in the middle of a crisis! I figured my personal life could wait till after.” Austria straightened his jacket. “This isn’t something I’m exactly proud of, your highness. It’s bad enough that every time I see Britain or France they feel it’s of vital importance to mention. I try not to let it consume more of my waking days than necessary.” He quickly shushed the voice in his head reminding him that his conscience spent a great deal of time plotting against this whole matter already.
“Great, so George and Louis knew all about this before me. My dignity is a joke to everyone in Europe, isn’t it?” She clutched a hand to her chest, wincing in agony. “My poor heart. How many more of these crushing humiliations will I be subjected to? I won’t last much longer at this rate.”
That familiar vein in his forehead twitched. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to calm down. Snapping at his sovereign would result in nothing good. Calming breaths. “You worry too much. They would be foolish to consider any of this a reflection on you.” The unspoken ending was that, if anything, it would be a reflection on him. He grimaced considering that. “We can use this to our advantage if we’re smart.”
Maria Theresa’s composure returned. “You’re right. It shouldn’t be too difficult to dissuade Erzsébet from that ruffian. I remember being a young woman. Men like that – so wild and unrestrained – always weasel their way into your affections. They present something new and exciting. Then they leave, casting you aside for whatever cheap thrill they can find in some whore’s bed while you’re left picking up the pieces of your shattered self-esteem.” She spoke with surprising emotion. Waving away whatever phantom memories lingered, she smiled at Roderich. “She will realize that a man like you or my dear Francis is much better. Polite, predictable, so willing to listen. A good partner mustn’t challenge you in such a way as a man like that does.”
“You underestimate her. They’re equally culpable. Don’t let her con your generosity.” This was the opposite of comforting. He slumped in his chair, chuckling bitterly. “No wonder she runs around with him. How your majesty describes Gilbert makes me want to fall in love with him! There’s likely a much more polite way of telling me I never had a chance!” That familiar pulsation in his forehead again. “I’m sorry, but please don’t try and console me further.”
“For a man to be predictable is a good thing! Let the women have all the passion and the spirit and the spunk! If the men could keep to themselves, I wouldn’t be working with an empty treasury.” She imagined Frederick, the man causing all her troubles, groveling before her. It provided her second wind. “Now, quit this self-pity and think! What’s this Prussia character like in a suit?”
“Rather like a donkey. You can dress it up all you like, but it’s still a jackass in the end.” Austria paused, seeing where she was going. “Are you really going to invite him? He would try to sabotage the whole thing!”
“It’s certainly a possibility. He could also – and I believe this is most likely since I trust he’s as incompetent as you say – make a complete fool of himself before everyone. Doing so would guarantee us all the allies we possibly need and remind our dear Erzsébet that her little…thing is beneath her breed. Make him the first invitation we send out.”
Austria quickly wrote one, not caring if it wasn’t his best penmanship. Such efforts would be wasted on Prussia. He noticed a streak of brown hair disappearing past the door. “I trust your judgement if you’ll trust mine.” He cleared his throat. “Magyar!” Hungary stepped into the room. He slipped the envelope into her hands. “A favor. Would you be so kind as to deliver this to Berlin or wherever your paramour lays his head?”
Hungary glanced between her queen and her superior, distrust eating at her. “This is too easy. What’s the catch?”
“There is none. Can’t I do something nice for you?” He waved her away. “Go, enjoy what time you two have left together.”
“Don’t enjoy yourself too much!” Maria Theresa warned, her voice stern.
Hungary’s suspicion grew. But what could she do? She didn’t trust either of them as far as she could throw them, but she had no evidence of their plot. She would have to bide her time. Curtsying, she shuffled out the door and began mentally planning what to wear for her arrival.
Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam.
Frederick strolled through his palace, his eyes fixed on the letters gripped in his hand. War was over. Now, it was time to govern and flex his muscles domestically. He passed through the Marble Hall. He had been cooped up inside for too long. Some fresh air in the gardens was needed. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted two figures. “Gilbert, strange woman.” He turned back on his heel. “For the last time, Gilbert, stop bringing your whores here.”
“She’s not a prostitute, this is Erzsébet.” Gilbert aimed a forced grin at his king.
“I’m aware that they all have names. Run along, dear. He doesn’t pay very well.” She refused to budge. Frederick sighed. “Must you always bring home the stubborn ones?”
“She’s Hungary!” Prussia hissed through gritted teeth. He couldn’t recall ever being so embarrassed.
“Then give her some food and send her-” Frederick blinked slowly. A crisis had to be averted. He politely bowed. “My sincerest apologies. Despite never shutting up about you, this moron never bothered to give me a portrait.” Forcing back his irritation, he slipped into an easy smile. “What brings you here? I hope you don’t bring any declarations of war.”
Hungary’s last couple of hours had been stressful. She had no idea what the greater ploy Austria and Maria Theresa were up to and why she needed to play messenger in it. Nor was she overjoyed at her warm welcome by Prussia’s disrespectful king. She needed something to provide her some entertainment. She handed him the envelope she’d been tasked to deliver. “Why, I haven’t the slightest idea. It could be anything.” She met the king’s gaze. “You understand how grudges work. This was really all I came for. I’ll be on my way.”
Gilbert scrambled alongside her. “Do you really have to leave so soon? Why all the rush? You’ll get back to Vienna late. You don’t want to spend the night here, that’s fine. The old man snores. There’s plenty of space in my home for the two of us.” He took her hand in his before the door, pleading with his eyes. “At least let me walk you out.”
The ends of her mouth curled up in a smile. “There’s no need. It’s a rather dainty palace, isn’t it? I promise I won’t get lost. You be good.” She shot a look at Frederick. “And you. Do us a favor and stay out of Bohemia.” In a flurry of skirts, she was gone as quickly as she arrived.
Now alone, Gilbert released his consternation. “Fritz, next time, just fucking shoot me. If you really care about me, spare me the agony.” He ran his hands through his hair, groaning. “I can sabotage myself without your help.”
“Why are you blaming me? Whenever I’ve wanted to know what that woman looks like you’ve only told me bullshit like ‘more beautiful than Helena of Troy.’ Which is wonderful, but it doesn’t help me pick her out in a crowd!”
“Who else would I be staring at like this?” Gilbert’s expression shifted into that of a lovelorn fool. His eyes softened; a wide grin lit up his face. He looked idiotic in that charming way lovers do. He dropped the act as soon as it appeared, dismissing it with an eye roll. “That whole routine might’ve set me back fifty years.”
Despite knowing about Gilbert’s kind his whole life, being reminded of their immortality never disturbed Frederick less. “Does it matter? Time is meaningless to you lot.” He shook his head. He didn’t have time for this. He had a treasury to refurbish and a new province to integrate. “I can’t be bothered with all this now. This damn envelope could hold our death sentences and we’re bickering like a bunch of old maids.” He opened it and tossed the card aside after reading its contents. “It’s a fucking invitation to some ball. Who gives a damn?”
Gilbert snatched it out the air and skimmed it over. He thought he recognized Roderich’s handwriting but disregarded it. Didn’t all those pompous aristocrats write the same? “It could be fun. Who doesn’t love dressing up and dancing the whole night away?”
The king began heading for the gardens again. Fresh air. Fresh air would clear away this whole mess. “Well, if my memory serves me correctly you don’t. You’ve always been adamant about how much you loathe these events.” He shot Gilbert a look over his shoulder before chortling. “I get it. You’re only looking to get some pussy. Have some more dignity than this. You know as well as I do this is likely some little ploy to humiliate you, and me by extension.”
Gilbert’s cheeks turned bright red. “That’s not the only reason! We could get…alliances out of this! It could improve our diplomatic situation! I’m not walking into anything!” He held open the door to the gardens for them both. “Fritz, you’ve got to trust my instincts! I know exactly what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this for centuries.”
“Your instinct is the reason why I’m so afraid. You’re incredibly reckless and prone to bouts of what I can only assume are insanity. You’ll ruin whatever good name we have left. That’s why I can’t allow you to go.” Sitting down at the table, he examined his papers, ignoring Prussia’s exaggerated pout. “Stop pushing out your lip that far. You look like a grotesque duck.”
Change of tactics. “Isn’t that Italian here? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to have your fun with Algarotti if you sent me and a few delegates off to Vienna for a weekend next month?” Gilbert rested his chin on his hands. His eyes carried such faux innocence. “Didn’t seem like too many men were sneaking into your tent late at night these last eight years.”
Frederick glared at him over the letters. “Is this really the game you want to play at?” Seeing his smirk, the king scowled. “Whatever. I don’t have time for this. You can go, but you will have chaperones and I will appoint them. I don’t want any minister going that finds your whole act adorable. It’ll lead us straight into another war!”
“I promise, I won’t let you down, Fritz!” Gilbert puffed his chest out and stood straight. “You can trust me.”
“No, you will. At least, have it be funny when you do. I want some amusement before the Austrians invade.”
June 1786, Vienna.
The ball was gorgeous. Everyone was looking their best, the orchestra never sounded so sweet, and the food was first-class. All the finest luxuries in the world brought together. The guests were thrumming to-and-fro, enjoying the conversations amongst themselves.
Gilbert loathed it. He stood at the bar, filling his drink as quickly as he could empty it. The strongest drink he could get his hands on was watered-down scotch. It was a disgrace. He scanned the crowd again. What was the point in being here if he couldn’t find her? Wasn’t that the whole meaning of his trip?
A tap on his shoulder. “I’m no one to judge, but how do you expect to gain any allies chatting up the bartender?” Arthur smiled wide. “Seems so unlike you to linger so far away from the center of the action.” He nodded at the bartender, who refilled his glass of brandy. “Hard to stun the crowd from the sidelines.”
“Why would I want to waste my talents on a bunch of stiffs? They’re not going to appreciate my work. Now, if you don’t mind.” Gilbert began peering around the Briton. “I’m waiting for someone. Francis has to be around here somewhere. Hang around him instead.”
So that’s why Gilbert was here. Everything made sense. An impish grin broke out across his face. The night would provide him with some good entertainment. “Erzsébet’s welcoming guests with Roderich and her majesty. I could take you over and introduce you as I’ve already paid my respects.” He tugged Gilbert’s sleeve, dragging him through the throngs of people. “Come along, let’s get this started!”
“I don’t need a wingman.” Gilbert straightened his jacket, huffing. “Seriously, you can run along now.”
“Please and miss out completely? I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Prussia rolled his eyes. With friends like that, who needed enemies? Arriving before Austria and Maria Theresa, he bowed. “Roddy, I forgot what you looked like without a uniform. Much more natural than seeing you posturing with a gun.” He attempted to kiss Maria Theresa’s hand, but she jerked it away. “I take it that your majesty knows who I am already. On behalf of his Prussian majesty, we sincerely thank you for the kindness of this invitation and everything it represents.” He looked back at Britain, who gave him a thumbs up. He’d nailed it, there would be no war declared.
As if to undo any good work he’d managed, Hungary materialized besides the queen. “That Russian delegation can talk your ear off. Next time, please don’t sacrifice me to them. I don’t want to hear about the intimate details of their personal dramas.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him. She gave a subtle wink and smirk to Prussia. “Oh, Gil. How rude, I didn’t see you there. I’m so glad you came.”
Restraint. He needed to practice restraint. He was in the presence of important company. There could be no mistakes. Then he saw Roderich. Roderich, standing there looking intemperate, grinding his teeth, glaring as if begging his foe on. Gilbert was overcome. He forgot himself. Erzsébet was too beautiful and Roderich too irritating to deny himself such sweet joys. Gilbert took her hand in his and kissed it. “I had to. I didn’t want to miss seeing such a beauty.” His lips trailed up her arm, holding eye-contact with Roderich the whole time. “How could I stay away?”
Austria opened his mouth to speak, but Hungary beat him to it. “Daring tonight, aren’t we?” After speaking loud enough for all surrounding parties to hear, she leaned in close to Prussia’s ear. “If you get war declared on you for anything you do tonight, remember that I actually like this queen. I don’t think you can afford to be this reckless in front of her.” She gently, yet firmly, pushed him away.
Point noted. Flustered, Gilbert took a step back. “Right. Well, it was nice to see everyone. I’ll be…somewhere else.” He spared one last dejected look at Erzsébet before scampering off with Arthur on his heels.
“I’m impressed. What on earth did you say to him?” Roderich moved besides her, reflexively putting a hand on the small of her back. Realizing neither of them liked the gesture, he removed it.
“I told him I would meet him in the gardens later if he wouldn’t be so obvious.” She laughed at his frustration. “Don’t be so glum. I’m still upset about Silesia. I promise, it’ll be hate sex this time.”
“How comforting.” Austria moved to take his place besides Maria Theresa. “Now you understand what I’ve been dealing with. Everything is personal with him. None of the other states give me this much trouble. Why can’t he be more like Bavaria?”
Maria Theresa looked much more crestfallen. She cradled his face in her hand, unable to meet his gaze. “You poor man, what a terrible situation.” She peered up at him through her eyelashes. “You’re a cuckold.”
He forced his eyes shut. What a disaster. The promise of the whole night was disintegrating before his very eyes. “Your majesty isn’t helping.”
“You’re not helping yourself either! Standing around, looking so shocked at everything. Have some life, impress her, show everyone that you’re not passive in affairs of the heart.” She waved her hands away from her. “Do anything but stand around here and talk to me!”
“Why do I want her to fall in love with me?” Seeing the fire in his queen’s eyes, Roderich quieted his protestations and took his place besides his wife. “I’m being held here against my will.”
“Aren’t we both? Don’t feel too special.” They shared a conspiratorial look before breaking into giggles.
The orchestra began a new piece. Roderich caught himself humming. It was one of his favorites. He held out his arm. “Would you grant me the honor of a dance?”
“It is only fair to give your date at least one. Especially when he’s such a fantastic dancer.” She let him lead her to the floor. They began twirling around, hitting all the marks in time. She envied how naturally this all came to him. “It’s not fair for you to be so talented.”
“So kind of you to think so. You’d be disappointed to know that it’s less talent and more centuries of being forced into the role of a gentleman. Though, it is a natural fit.” He gained some contentment from her easy laugh. There was almost something enjoyable in this. “See, Erzsébet, it isn’t all bad. The lady protests too much.”
“You would think I complain too much about anything. There could be a freeze and you would think I’m ridiculous for bemoaning the chill. I’ve been quiet recently. No major rebellions. Be thankful.” She closed her eyes, getting lost in the music. “Please, be quiet. If you don’t talk then I can pretend that I enjoy your company.”
A simple enough request. Besides, the dancefloor was no place to settle differences. Roderich complied, happy for the momentary respite in their relationship. He could imagine this as normal for them, this peace with no screaming matches. No threats of violence against each other or their people. That they were any ordinary married couple who tolerated each other just enough to not end in scandal. The very idea thrilled him.
The very idea was interrupted by their Prussian scandal. Gilbert tapped Roderich’s soldier, a lupine smile on his face. “May I cut in? I couldn’t resist.”
Erzsébet moved to take his hand. She was met with air. She found Roderich and Gilbert in an embrace, the former looking incredibly determined while the latter was exasperated. “It would be rude of me to deny you, wouldn’t it?” Roderich nodded at Erzsébet. “Don’t wait up.”
“What are you doing? Let me lead!” Gilbert hissed. The fight for dominance began immediately. He winced, feeling Roderich’s heel dig into his toes. “That’s my foot. You be the woman, you’re the feminine one!”
“Why would I take orders from you? You’re used to being subordinate, follow my lead.” Roderich yanked them the opposite direction Gilbert was taking them. “I know exactly where I’m putting my feet.” For good measure, he stepped on Gilbert’s foot again.
Prussia bit his lip, forcing himself not to yelp in pain. He wouldn’t give the other man the satisfaction. His nails dug into Austria’s lower back, finding pleasure in his pain. “Why are you doing this? Let me have my dance, it doesn’t take anything away from you. You never let me have what I want.”
Austria couldn’t force back his laugh. It was maniacal. “Really? That’s funny, that kingdom you’ve got says differently about my generosity. If anything, I’ve been too accommodating to you. Silly me, thinking compassion would civilize you.” He sneered. If he gripped Prussia’s hand tight enough, maybe he could manage to break a few fingers. Wouldn’t that be a sight? “You’re a brute. You don’t deserve what you’ve got.”
“You’re going to talk to me about deserve? You, Little Master, born with a golden spoon and so hell-bent on his divine authority? You’ve never worked for anything in your life.” Prussia snarled, all teeth. “Unless you count laying down beneath Spain and taking whatever he gave as work.” He twisted Roderich around. “This way!”
“You stay out of my marriages!” Austria’s face was red with indignation and embarrassment. “What happens in my bedroom is of none of your concern!”
“You’re right it’s not. But what doesn’t happen is and I know there’s been a whole lot of nothing in there.” He put a hand on Austria’s cheek. Prussia’s eyes were swimming with sickening contempt. “I’ve never understood why everyone’s so desperate to marry you. You can hardly fulfill your spousal duties and then you wonder why some vagrant like me can come in and take them over. It’s a shame, really.” He winked. “Wouldn’t change it for a thing.”
“You’re pathetic. Are you that jealous of everything I have that you’ll never be satisfied? I would pity you if you weren’t so loathsome.” He smacked Prussia’s hand away. “Your inferiority must eat you alive. Anything you could ever want, I hold it so firmly in my grasp. How do you handle it?” He looked the Prussian up-and-down. “Obviously, you don’t. What man in full control of himself would go to such lengths to humiliate himself in such ways at every given opportunity?” They were dancing on the edge of a cliff and, oddly enough, Roderich couldn’t bother to care. His mind, his whole being, was completely focused on eradicating this blight. If he went down too, fine. Such would be the price.
“Because you can’t resist me either. Sure, I may look like a fool to everyone, but I’m not alone.” Prussia’s breath stung hot against Austria’s ear. It sent a shiver down his spine. “You live to roll around in the mud with me. Face it, Roddy, you’d be lost without me.”
Hungary shoved them apart, breaking the spell of their mutual madness. Her voice was hushed. “A few things. Do you two do that often because, for some odd reason, that was incredibly arousing. Amazing. I’m blushing.” They shot her a look. Her cheeks burned a deeper shade of red. “Never mind. Maybe this you’ll find important: you two were very loud. Everyone heard and now they’re staring.”
The two men dared to look away from her. She was right. All eyes were on them. Roderich met the gaze of an incredibly upset Maria Theresa. His mouth suddenly became very dry. “Gilbert, I think we’re in trouble.”
Gilbert, for his part, had made eye-contact with the minister who was supposed to be his chaperone tonight. Podewils looked ready to unleash his full wrath. “You don’t say.”
The three of them were ushered into one of the nearby rooms. While they waited for the queen and minister to arrive, Hungary took it upon herself to lecture them. “What were you two thinking! What compelled you to revert back to children!” She shook her head. “Forget children, a whole pack of toddlers would’ve behaved better! I’m ashamed of you both!”
Gilbert was slumped on the sofa, his head buried in his hands. “This wouldn’t have happened if he let go of his pride and didn’t jump in between us! But no, little Roddy always has to show me up.” He cast a pitiful glare at his cousin. “Do you feel like a big man now?”
Roderich had his back to them as he stared outside the window. “Are you seriously blaming me? If you knew how to conduct yourself in front of polite society, none of this would’ve occurred! Instead, you’re the one who must constantly show he’s no slouch! That he can do whatever he wants, that he can work with the adults!” He turned around now, a cold fire burning in his eyes. “You can’t, Gilbert! You don’t have the pedigree to operate at these strata! Get these delusions of competition out of your mind, embrace your place in life and then you’ll find yourself much happier.”
“Right because it was fine for you to grab the laurels of power, but anyone else who wants it obviously can’t handle it. You should be thankful that-”
Maria Theresa burst into the room. “Silence! Both of you, shut up! For the love of God, stop talking!” She narrowed her sights on Prussia first. “How dare you! You vile little creature. We kindly invite you into our palace, into our capital, and you show us this kind of disrespect? Have you no self-restraint? No understanding of how to manage yourself amongst men? I shouldn’t be surprised. You invite a beast, he’ll behave like a beast.”
Roderich forgot himself. He sneered at Gilbert. “See? It’s apparent to everyone that you are the most wretched creature on the planet. Why bother carrying on at this rate?”
Maria Theresa’s rage turned on him. She began striding towards Roderich. “And you. I’ve never been more humiliated in my life! How foolish of me to ever put my faith in you. You were such a good man, Roderich. So intelligent, so capable, so dependable. Was my trust misplaced? How ridiculous it seems now, to believe you were ever capable of behaving in an acceptable manner.” She had him backed against a wall. “I look at you and I want to be angry, but how can I be? How can the strong be angry at the weak? Roderich, I know now you’re a weak man.”
Podewils cleared his throat, reminding everyone of his presence. “Your majesty, you have my deepest and most sincere apologies for tonight’s mishap. I can assure you that his Prussian majesty does not endorse the conduct of this most insolent and moronic man who should frankly be ashamed of the dishonor he’s brought on his own people!”
The queen rolled her eyes. “Oh, quit it monsieur. I’m not declaring war.” Her eyes narrowed, settling on a subdued Roderich. “If I was, I’d have to declare it on my own people first.” She huffed, straightening up. “Frankly, I want to forget this whole matter as soon as I possibly can. This night has been a complete wash for all of us involved. All I want is for you and that, that thing to leave Vienna as soon as humanly possible. Now, if you don’t mind,” she left the room in a flurry, slamming the door shut behind her.
All the wind returned to Gilbert’s sails. He rose and clapped Roderich on the back. “All’s well that ends well, Roddy. I ruin your little party and I face no repercussions. I say that’s a good resolution for us both.” He quirked his head to the side. “What’s up with your eye? Did you always have that twitch?”
“Get off me!” Roderich shoved him away. His breathing was ragged. “Why must everything revolve around you? Why must you always hijack everyone’s attention and steal away whatever remnants of my dignity remain from our last incident? You are no better than any other vermin, I’ve got half a mind to-” He cut himself off, a moment a clarity cutting through the haze. He straightened his jacket out, striding for the door. “You’re a plague among Europe and now I’m suddenly seen as a victim. I’ve got all the most important diplomats outside. Why am I continuing to tussle with you? What worth do you have for me?” Hand on the doorknob, he cast one last look at a surprised Gilbert. “Enjoy your victories while they last, Preussen.”
Unconcerned, Gilbert slid over to Erzsébet and snaked an arm around her waist. “Now that we’re away from prying eyes, I never got to properly tell you how gorgeous you look tonight. If I’m remembering correctly, didn’t you promise me a stroll through the gardens? I think the roses are in bloom.” He kissed her hand, holding her gaze the whole time. “A quick one. Before I have to leave.”
She was smiling, but it lacked any real warmth. “The moments passed, Gil.” She clutched her hand to her chest, appraising him. “We’re not exactly friends right now, are we? Do you have any idea how many men of mine you murdered after your ridiculous incursion?”
“Not at all, but I remember seeing you leading them in battle. You know what that does to me.” A smile like a wolf. She thought him depraved. “A little animosity can help to spice things up. You should know that from living with him so long.”
“How’s this for animosity?” She dug her heel into his foot, putting all her weight into it. For good measure, she twisted it in, sending a shock of pain up Gilbert’s spine. He’d never seen her so spiteful. It drove him wild. “You should be satisfied from humiliating Roderich in such a way and, if that’s not enough,” her lips brushed against his ear. He felt his heart beating through his chest. “Use your hand.” He watched her exit the room, silently begging her to stay.
Instead, the only touch he received was Podewils yanking at his elbow. “We’re leaving now. Before you can manage to worm your way into further trouble.”
Glum, he let himself be dragged along. “Relax, Heinrich. All my trouble left with her.” Sighing, he tried to muster up some fake cheer. He managed to genuinely find some. “What are we worrying for? The old man said I’d be fine as long as whatever happens is funny.” He snickered. “And, admit it, this whole mess is hysterical.” If he could laugh at Austria’s expense, didn’t that count for something? Who cared how it ended for him, as long as that prick was sufficiently embarrassed, he could rest easily at night. Yes, that was all that mattered, forget his tattered dignity and what he couldn’t have. Austrian suffering was the most beautiful reward of them all.
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letsquestjess · 2 years ago
Subnautica: Echoes - Chapter 2: All for One
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All Ryley wanted to do was rest. His ears vibrated with the shouts and angered yells of his fellow board members, his brain throbbing from the hours of stress-fuelled arguments and stubborn pride. He shoved the door to his apartment closed with an exasperated grunt and ambled into the hallway, eyelids drooping and the siren call of sleep tempting him to his bed. His stomach gurgled. 
The strip of lighting beneath the wall-mounted cupboards activated as he entered the kitchen. The fridge hummed softly and the digital clock on the screen ticked towards midnight. He discarded his jacket over the back of the dining chair, rescuing the dinner Lyra had promised to leave for him and cramming the plate into the microwave. Placing his elbows onto the worktop, he wiped at his face, palming his closed eyes to erase the notion of slumber from them. 
“Is it true? Have you arrested Marguerit Maida?”
Ryley swivelled at the tiny voice, blinking away the blur covering his field of view. “Lyra? What are you doing up? I assumed you were in bed.”
“Couldn’t sleep,” she replied plainly, staring at her father with hurt in her eyes and padding into the kitchen. The smooth, metal flooring tingled cold against her exposed feet. “You didn’t answer my question. Have you arrested Marguerit Maida?” 
Ryley hung his head, grasping the surface behind him. “Yes.”
“On what charge?”
“For working against the interests of the Alterra Corporation.” 
Lyra gritted her teeth, the frenzy in her blood simmering. She tightened her fists and took a moment to collect herself. “That planet is not the property of Alterra.”
“Yes it is,” Ryley told her, spitting out the words harsher than he meant to. “They have invested enough time, money and effort for them to claim it as their own. With no sentient beings to communicate with, they class the planet as empty and open for takers.” The microwave pinged, and he jabbed hard at the switch, the door releasing and swinging wide to discharge a cloud of steam. He wafted it aside and used a towel to pick up the scolding hot plate, sliding it down onto the countertop to cool. “I have come from a difficult meeting. Everyone’s at odds. Nobody wants to agree on what to do. I haven’t got the strength to argue with you.”
“What do you want to do?” In her heart, she understood this wasn’t what her father wanted. The purple smudges beneath his eyes and the withering angle of his demeanour were sufficient indicators of the stress and strain he was under. 
Ryley opened his mouth to speak, to unhesitatingly express his wish to see Maida freed, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t have that power. His position on the board of governors was an honorary one, a false act of generosity after the press had pressured them into making a hero of him. Nothing he said counted. Not that he hadn’t tried. He’d put forward countless suggestions, seeking to make Alterra better for everyone, but the ruling elite weren’t interested in the welfare of their staff or the ethics of what they were doing to the planet below. All they craved was information on how they could strengthen their profits. “When I…” He gulped down the gnarling anxiety coiling from his stomach and dropped his eyes to the floor. “When I was down there, I found an island. Some survivors of the crash planned to meet there, only they never made it.” 
Lyra’s resentment ebbed; he’d not spoken like this in a long time, and he scarcely talked about his ordeal after the demise of the Aurora.
“While I was there, I found Degasi bases and journals. Marguerit survived a crash like the Aurora’s with two others. A Torgal CEO and his heir, if I remember rightly.” The memories floated like specks: the rush of the tide on the shore, and the algae smell of the sea air. The sweat dappled on his brow in the radiating heat. “It didn’t go well for them, and from what I understood from one particular entry, Marguerit had died. Claims were she was last seen drifting away on the back of a Reaper. I must admit, having come up against those bastards, I’m rather impressed.” 
“I’ve heard the stories about Marguerit, dad,” Lyra said. “You can’t work so close to 4546B and not know the tales, but why are you telling me this now?” She joined him at the dining table, clasping her hands together and laying them down in front of her. 
Ryley drew in a powerful breath and released it in a burst of apprehension; he couldn’t keep it from her. She had every right to know, no matter how she might take it, and she’d find out, eventually. It was better coming from him. “Maida spoke to your mother about a week after the reports ceased. She won’t tell anybody what they talked about, but she insists she saw her.” 
Lyra’s jaw slackened and her breathing hitched, her laced fingers breaking apart as she lapsed back. The seat squeaked at the sudden impact. A hundred questions buzzed in her mind like dragonflies, all demanding her attention, all just as important. “She could still be alive?” she breathed, tears pouring down her cheeks in wet trails. Droplets dripped from her chin and onto her purple pyjama top. 
“I’m not sure.”
“I got a message from mum,” Lyra said after a quiet moment. “She sent it before the reports stopped, but I only got it a few days ago.” She spoke hesitatingly, every few words accompanied by a second of silence as she sought to assess his reaction. “She was in a facility and there was lava outside. She thought there might be something significant there.”
“I know that place,” Ryley mumbled, his hunger all but forgotten about and dread filling his veins. His stomach twitched sickeningly. “I told her not to go there.”
“Huh? What did you say?”
“It’s nothing. You know what your mother is… was… I…” He rolled his eyes. “What I mean is you know her well. She explored everything, down to the finest grain.”
“She said this was important.”
“It’s a delayed message. She won’t be there now, and even if by some miracle she was, we wouldn’t find anything good.”
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look,” Lyra argued. She didn’t understand why he was brushing this off like it was nothing, treating her mother’s last note so nonchalantly they may as well have been discussing the weather. If her mother really was dead, if she had succumbed to the unforgiving tides of the alien world below, surely he’d still want to bring her body home? “No matter what state we find her in, she deserves to be-”
“Lyra, you are meddling in things you don’t understand,” Ryley snapped. “Drop it.” He shoved his chair backwards so hard it almost fell over, snatching his plate from the table and storming into the living room. 
She waited in the hazy hum of the kitchen, hoping he’d come back and apologise for his outburst, but the door remained closed, and she found herself once again left alone with her grief. 
 * * *
 Lyra jogged down the stairs to the lower decks of the station, the walls resounding with the roar of the ships flying back in to the loading bay. A few pilots wandered by her, their oxygen masks dangling from their faces. It wasn’t odd for lab personnel to be there, but she kept her head down. Her mission required discretion, and the fewer people who saw her, the better. A deafening screech of returning jets rumbled as she passed the lobby leading to the hangar. She scarpered past to evade the brunt of the turbulence, covering her ears to shield them from the blasts of noise.
The floor beneath her changed from concrete to metal, the grating clanging with each step she took, lower into the belly of the station and through the narrow walkways of the brig. 
At the front desk, she planted her PDA into the connection slot carved into the countertop and slid her authorisation to the guard on duty. 
“Can you confirm your name, position, identification, and reason for being here,” the man requested, fatigued eyes darting across the screen. 
“Lyra Robinson. Junior Researcher. Alterra ID LR90104. I’m here to conduct research for Professor Patrick Pearson.”
“That’s fine. Go on through.”
She snatched her PDA from the counter and crossed through the barriers. The holding cells were mostly bare, just a few stragglers who Alterra wanted to deal with, presumably for trivial matters. But it wasn’t the regular cells she was heading for. Meandering through the twists and angles of the Juno Station brig, she arrived at a bulky metal set of doors and produced her PDA. A blue light shot from the circular scanner mounted at eye-height, floating up and down the device and permitting her entry. 
The units of the segregation block were murkier than those in the regular block. They were drab, cold, and miserable, intended to sap any sense of spirit and life from those locked within. They had placed Marguerit in a cell near the end of the lengthy row of dark cubicles. The woman herself sat stock still on the makeshift bed that stuck out of the wall like a shelf, one knee raised and the other leg dangling off the edge. The toe of her worn boots scraped the grainy ground, and her jacket lay abandoned over the seat nailed down in the corner. 
“Are you not cold in here?” Lyra asked. Admittedly, it hadn’t been the first question she’d planned on asking. 
Marguerit looked up at her guest, cynical eyes scouring her cautiously. “I’ve been in colder,” she responded slowly. 
Lyra approached the tempered glass of her containment unit. She’d assembled a list of things she wanted to ask for Pearson’s research, but that all vanished as she faced the legend Alterra employees whispered about. “You communicated with my mother a few months ago, didn’t you?”
The older woman grinned widely, her browning teeth splitting her lips. She twisted away for a moment and nodded to herself before she shoved herself up off the bench. “I thought you seemed familiar. You’re like a tiny version of Astrid.” 
“Did you speak to her?” 
“I did. Not that I’ll ever tell anyone what we talked about.” 
“Not even her own daughter?”
Marguerit rocked her head side to side, almost sorrowfully. She’d made a vow to Astrid, and she wasn’t about to break it because of puppy dog eyes and a grieving girl. “No.”
As disappointed as Lyra felt, part of her accepted her response. Marguerit and her mother had likely encountered things none of them could comprehend, things that couldn’t fall into the hands of Alterra, and even though she’d never tell a soul, secrets had a habit of spreading in a place like this. It was better to say nothing than risk delicate information reaching the wrong ears. “I think I understand,” she said, striding a little closer. “But that’s not the only reason I’m here. You know the planet, right? The secret ways nobody knows to look?”
“Maybe.” Marguerit frowned, observing the youthful woman; Astrid had chatted about Lyra before, but standing before her, hearing her speak, and catching the mischievous danger in her tone was like listening to Astrid herself. It was almost scary. “Why do you ask?”
“Because Alterra is doing nothing to find my mother, and someone needs to. Can you help me?” 
Marguerit scoffed, bridging her arms over her chest. “What makes you think I’ll agree to that? Do you honestly think I want to go back to that hell?”
“So you’d rather rot in an Alterran prison for the rest of your life?” Lyra lifted an eyebrow. “If you help me find my mother, I will give you the codes to ship we’ll take, and you can leave 4546B and Alterra behind for good.” 
“You are just like your mother,” Marguerit laughed. “Always plotting. How are you so certain this will work?” 
“I’m not, but it’s all I have.” She swallowed hard. “So will you assist me?” Marguerit’s hardened expression only grew fiercer, and for a moment Lyra feared she’d decline, but after a few tense seconds, a beam cracked across her face. 
“I’ll help you. I suppose it’s the only option I have, at least at the moment, and I trust your mother enough to trust you. But you’d better do your damnest to ensure you succeed, because if you don’t, it won’t only be you Alterra go after.” 
It hadn’t been a straightforward decision to make; she wanted to save her mother, but she knew the cost was high. One false move, and everybody she’d ever loved would face the consequences of her actions. “I’m aware of that.”  
“There is something I want to know, though. How are you planning on returning if I have your ship?” Marguerit questioned. 
“Probably in handcuffs,” Lyra admitted. “But if it means I can find my mother, I don’t care what it takes.” 
 * * *
 She spent the hike back up to the hangar clutching the files to her chest as though they’d leap out of her grasp and vanish into the vacuum of space. Her fingers jittered against the paper, the investigation within them virtually worthless since Maida had refused to answer any of Pearson’s queries, but she didn’t care about that. Her heart sang with the increasing prospect of locating her mother. She tried not to get her hopes up, there was no way of knowing what awaited them on the deadly water planet below, but with Marguerit agreeing to assist her, she felt one step closer to success.
“Someone’s in a merry mood today.” 
Lyra span on her heels. Cassidy casually leaned against the lowered leg of an Alterra jet, calculative eyes regarding her. Behind her, Samuel and Hunter rested against a stack of supply crates. 
“Where are you going on such a rush?” Hunter asked, swinging around the standing support of the plane until Cassidy swatted at him to stop. 
“Work stuff.” Lyra gestured over her shoulder. “It’s hectic. A load of fresh samples arrived this morning and Pearson needs-”
“We know what you’re doing,” Cassidy interjected. “Samuel came to us after you stopped by the artefact lab. Admittedly, we thought nothing of it at first, but after hearing from one of your technician buddies how you so passionately volunteered to speak with Maida, perhaps he wasn’t wrong.” She approached the younger woman, steering her away from prying eyes. The other two followed them into the empty side lobby, blocking the entryway. “He thinks you are planning to go down to the planet to find your mother. Is that true?”
Lyra stared at the shorter male recoiling into the corner and ducking his head so that his flutter of golden hair covered his eyes. She nodded sheepishly, scuffling her feet. “But it doesn’t matter what any of you say, I’m going.”
“I know,” Cassidy assured her, rubbing her upper arms and affording her a light smile to allay the tension emanating from her. “We understand. This is your mother we’re talking about.” She peeked around at the others, the pair behind her nodding solidly. “Which is why we’re coming with you.”
“What?” Lyra squeaked, her hand slapping over her mouth as a couple of maintenance workers dashed down the stairs. 
Hunter moved to let them pass, and they melted into the hubbub of the loading bay. “You didn’t think we’d just leave you to do this on your own, did you?” he replied with an impish grin. “We are a team. Whatever troubles we face, we face them together.” 
“No.” Lyra fervently shook her head. ”You can’t.”
Cassidy shrugged. “We’ve already decided.” 
She rounded to Samuel, the voice of reason, the rational one of the group, but he appeared just as decided as the others. “You agreed to this too?” 
“I did.” He may not have possessed the confidence of Cassidy and Hunter, but he sure as hell wasn’t about to allow his best friend to confront the perils of 4546B alone. “I’m not a powerful swimmer, I am petrified of almost everything, and the notion of a vast stretch of ocean makes me so nauseous I could vomit for days.” He strode towards her and reached for her hands, squeezing them reassuringly. “But I won’t abandon you.” 
“I can’t ask this of you,” Lyra said, wrestling through the apprehension streaking through her core. This would not be some glory mission. Success was slim, and they were likely to suffer severe repercussions if they returned. 
“You’re not asking,” Cassidy insisted. “We’re going with you, and that’s that. If the higher-ups won’t get off their asses and do something, then we will. We’re with you, Lyra, all the way.” 
Her throat squeaked as she sought to force her words out, but she couldn’t do this alone. Reluctantly, she conceded and bowed her head.  
“Now that’s all settled, do you have a strategy?” Hunter asked. 
“Sort of,” Lyra admitted, lowering her voice. “Marguerit has agreed to help, but it will be risky just getting off the station. What we’ll be doing will get us into major trouble, even if we succeed. Not to mention the fact that it could cost us our jobs and may end up in us spending the rest of our lives behind bars.”
Cassidy and Samuel remained stalwart, acknowledging the uncertainties but accepting them anyway, but Hunter’s grin stretched across his dusky features, expanding from ear to ear and sparkling playfully in his dark brown eyes. “We already told you we were in,” he said teasingly. “You don’t have to keep tempting us.” 
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whoneedsapublisher · 2 years ago
Christmas in Mihama
Another fic I wrote ages ago that I’m cleaning up and posting now. It’s from back when I was reading a bunch of Grisaia (a series which I enjoy, despite some of its problems) and tried to do a scene in the style of it.
Words: ~4400
Summary: It's Christmas at Mihama Academy. A celebration is planned; Amane pulls the strings.
Also available on Ao3
Since coming to Mihama Academy, I’ve shifted my operating parameters somewhat. Slowly, gradually, I’ve started to truly internalize the notion that no one here is trying to kill me. Not even Yumiko.
As such, I’ve started to relax my sense for something being “off”. I can’t completely turn it off- and I wouldn’t want to anyway- but I no longer get tense at the slightest change in my environment. Normal little changes are just that- normal. No need to fuss over them.
This, however, qualifies as outside of that newfound band of tolerance.
Yuuji: Mind explaining just what the hell you think you’re doing, woman…?
Amane jumps, startled by me speaking. I didn’t exactly put much effort into concealing my presence… was she that absorbed in her “work” that she didn’t hear me coming?
Amane: Ah! Yuuji! Jeez. you’re always sneaking up on me like that.
Yuuji: Amane, my friend, you seem to be rather confused about the meaning of that word.
Amane: What?
Yuuji: “Sneaking” is when you attempt to get close to someone without alerting them. When you walk into your own room without making a ton of noise, that’s what’s called “consideration”.
Yuuji: So what the hell is all this? Decided you wanna marry Sakaki before the two of you screw, and figured my bedroom was the best place to hold the ceremony? 
Yuuji: Not that I have anything against your sapphic passion, but I didn’t figure you for the type to be prudish about sampling the goods before making that kind of commitment. Especially for a marriage that won’t be on the family register anyway.
Yuuji: Also, weddings on Christmas sound romantic, but in my experience, that kind of thing ends up just being an excuse to celebrate Christmas and your anniversary on the same day.
Amane let out a sigh with a slightly disbelieving look on her face.
Amane: Uh, “sapphic passion”?
Amane: I’m not interested in Yumiko in that kind of way, thank you very much. And these aren’t wedding decorations.
Yuuji: Oh? Enlighten me, then. What are they? And why are they in my room?
The mysterious objects in questions currently consist of a few streamer looking ribbons and a collection of balloons, but the boxes and face down banner around the room imply this is merely the vanguard of a more
Amane: Well… they’re decorations. Christmas decorations.
Yuuji: So, we’ve come upon a holiday, and now you’ve got it in your head to “celebrate”, huh?
Amane: Well, obviously! Come on, it’s Christmas! We have to have a party!
Yuuji: In my room?
Amane: Well, you’re still the newest student, you know? We were planning to surprise you with a party when you got back as sort of a welcome thing…
It’s been month since I started attending, but I suppose that given the amount of time it took for everyone to warm up to me  - mostly Makina and Yumiko - there never really was much in the way of a formal welcome. Combining it with the nearest holiday makes a certain kind of sense.
There is, however, a glaring flaw in Amane’s plan.
Yuuji: In the “surprise party” scenario, isn’t it customary to distract the victim while you set things up? Or were you just hoping I wouldn’t happen to visit my room at any point today?
Amane sighs.
Amane: Makina and Michiru were supposed to find you and keep you busy for a few hours...
Yuuji: Trusting those two was your first mistake.
Amane shrugs helplessly.
Amane: There was no one else. I needed Sacchan to pick up a few items in town, and Yumiko is helping to arrange things as well.
Yuuji: Hrm…
I don’t know if I like the sound of “arranging” things. In my line of work, I’ve “arranged” a lot of things, and when that sort of talk comes up, it’s usually an indication that someone’s about to find out that whatever clever plan they had is going to end up with them taking a bullet in the brain.
Still, as much as I’m suddenly feeling an urge to hit the floor and avoid windows, I’m forced to admit that it’s pretty unlikely that Yumiko has taken up a sniping position on the hill overlooking the school.
Amane: Anyway, now you know, so shoo!
“Shoo”? What am I, an alleycat that’s sniffing around her back door?
Yuuji: This is my room, you know…
Amane: Oh come on, are you really complaining about that at this point? If you need something, I’ll bring it to you. Go amuse yourself for an hour or two.
With that, I’m pushed out into the hallway, and my own door is slammed in my face.
I’m tempted to march right back in there, pick Amane up by the scruff of her neck, and re-educate her on who gets to throw who out of my room, but I decide that opposing this is likely to be more trouble than it’s worth. Despite Makina and Michiru’s subpar contributions, it seems like all five of the other members of the dorm are united in this plan to celebrate. Chasing away Amane isn’t likely to shut down the situation, and having her whine at me would be a pain in the ass. Might as well just go along with things at this point.
Michiru: Ah! Yuuji!
Michiru rounds a corner at points at me dramatically. I half expect her head to loll back and for her to let out a screech to alert the others that she’s found someone who’s yet to be replaced.
Michiru: You can’t go to your room yet!
Ah. It seems that, as belated as it is, Michiru is attempting to complete her part of this plan.
Yuuji: That so? Wanna explain why, punk?
Michiru: Eh?
Michiru looks startled. Was she expecting me to just play along with such a patently unreasonable order without even being given a reason…?
Michiru: Err… Because… um…
Not only did the girl fail to find me in time to stop me walking in on Amane, now that she has found me, she can’t get past the very first hurdle of actually stopping me. Truly, if there’s a more useless human being, I have yet to find them.
Michiru: Makina!
Yuuji: What about her?
Michiru: She said she needed to see you! As soon as possible!
And so, with little wits she had exhausted, Michiru turns instead to passing off the job onto her partner in crime. I momentarily entertain the notion of saying that I’ll go see Makina after I get something from my room, but I decide that, in the spirit of generosity that my days in America taught me to associate with Christmas, I’ll let Michiru have this one.
Yuuji: Fine. Any idea where she is?
Michiru: Ah, er, she’s… in town!
Hm. A risky gambit, considering how obviously untrue it is - not helped by Michiru’s refusal to meet my eyes, her embarrassed half-smile, and the beads of sweat on her forehead - but not entirely the worst tactic to adopt. Assuming she could convince me to go along with this farce, even when it became clear that Makina wasn’t in town, the walk there and subsequent search would delay me long enough to buy Amane quite a lot of time.
Unfortunately, even if I am willing to play along with her and let her pull me away from my room to give Amane some time, I have no intention of letting Michiru think I’m going to fall for such a blatantly obvious tactic.
Yuuji: I’ll talk to her when she gets back, then.
I reach for the doorknob and Michiru panics.
Michiru: Ah! Uh, I mean, she was in town! Until just a little while ago!
Yuuji: ...I’m pretty sure I didn’t ask where she was before.
Michiru: Anyway! Right now, she’s um, out in the garden! Probably! You should go see her!
Yuuji: …
This probably isn’t going to get any more convincing any time soon. Trying to play along with her until she comes up with something convincing seems as likely to bear fruit as asking an American senator to explain why, exactly, the district they’re from seems to be the shape of a child’s scribble and doesn’t happen to include any inconvenient neighbourhoods that might upset their snug little majority. All I’m going to get is “um”s and “ah”s.
If I just go to the garden, I’m sure Michiru will have emailed Makina to meet me there. I could point out that it’s suspicious that Makina didn’t bother to email me herself, but I suppose I’ll file this little ommission away as part of Michiru’s Christmas gift.
Yuuji: Fine. See you later, then.
As I walk away, I hear Michiru heave a sigh of relief. I’m having to not notice an awful lot right now. Not that it’s anything new. As a “dog”, I’m expected not to know more than I should about what my “master” is up to. Ichigaya makes sure to divide its missions to stop any particular agent from seeing too much of the bigger picture, but even if I happen to get assigned to one too many related jobs, I’m expected not to connect any dots that might be inconvenient.
I head down to the gardens at a leisurely pace, making sure Makina has plenty of time to beat me there so that I can “find” her.
When I arrive, I see Makina standing by the tree, glancing around. As soon as she spots me, she hurries over.
Makina: Ah! Onii-chan! Just th’ man I was lookin’ fer!
Yuuji: Yeah, Michiru told me as much. What’s the deal?
I have to admit, I’m slightly curious if Makina is going to be able to come up with something more plausible than Michiru.
Makina leans in, speaking in a needlessly conspiratorial way, an exaggerated “whisper” that probably carries just as far as talking normally.
Makina: Well, you see, it’s somethin’ of a sensitive issue.
Pulling back suddenly and putting her hands on her hips, Makina proudly sounds off.
Makina: It’s Chris’mas! The most romantic day of the year! A paradise for couples! The day where the French and German armies have wild orgies insteada fightin’, ‘cause on Christmas love overcomes even th’ boundaries of nations and th’ horrors of war!
Makina appears to have heard some kind of telephone version of the famous “Christmas truce” of World War 1, but despite her questionable grasp of the actual events, she seems to have picked up on the Christian propaganda surrounding the occasion without much lost in translation.
Makina leans in again.
Makina: And yet, poor Chiruchiru’s still an unplucked flower, wiltin’ and rottin’ away without anyone t’ share such a wonderful day with!
Makina: In other words, onii-chan, Chiruchiru’s desperate and needs to get a date.
Makina, it would seem, is taking the opportunity for a little payback on Michiru for foisting the responsibility of distracting me onto her, and has come up with a scenario that paints her companion in a less than charitable light. 
Yuuji: What does that have to do with me, exactly? If you’re hoping I have an attractive friend who likes bottle-blonds, I’m afraid life isn’t quite that convenient.
Makina pouts a little.
Makina: Aww, c’mon, onii-chan, can’tcha do ya poor classmate a favour and toss her a pity fuck or two? What’s it gonna cost you, huh? Don’tcha like sex?
Yuuji: Listen, you…
Makina: Fiiiine.. In that case, we gotta hit the town!
Yuuji: The town…?
Makina frowns and throws her hands up in the air in apparent agitation.
Makina: C’mon, haven’t you ever watched TV?! Obviously, when you’re alla ‘lone on Christmas, you wander the streets with yer hands in yer pockets and look wistfully at Christmas trees ‘n the like! We just gotta go find the Christmas tree in town ‘n keep an eye out for lonely hotties, then snag ‘em for Chiruchiru!
Yuuji: Do you even know what kind of guy Michiru is looking for? How are you going to tell what kind of man someone is just by watching them mope around the street?
Makina smirks.
Makina: Awful naive of you, onii-chan. We’re not doin’ a marriage meeting, you know? If we find someone good lookin’ enough, Chiruchiru will roll over and go all dere, regardless of what he’s like.
Michiru, my friend, I think you’re being slandered right now…
Yuuji: So why do I have to come along, then? I can’t say I have particularly strong opinions on what guys are hot.
Makina: Cause if you don’t, I’ll go on my own.
Makina: Little ol’ Makina, all alone on th’ streets at Christmas, approachin’ random men. If something happened, do you think you could live with yourself, call-y-ous-ly leavin’ me to do it by myself?
Yuuji: Kuh…
Damn. I got careless. I’d thought that since I knew the plan behind all this, I’d be able to control the conversation easily and see through any ruse Makina came up with. But I let down my guard, and now Makina’s cornered me completely.
Yuuji: Devious little punk…
Makina laughs.
Makina: Let’s go, onii-chan!
In the end, we spend hours sitting out by the big Christmas in tree watching people pass. It’s not what I would have chosen to do with my time, but I have to admit it’s a somewhat pleasant. I’ve spent a lot of time waiting and watching when on the job, but it’s a different feeling when you’re sitting comfortably and not looking through a sniper scope. There’s a certain satisfaction to just taking a break to sit and watch the world pass by as you relax, and people watching in a busy area is a good way to do it.
Despite Makina’s predictions, we don’t see any hot young men scuffing the dirt with their feet as they stare up at the lights, their hands shoved in their pockets and an expression of romantic angst on their face. In fact, guys of the age that it would be appropriate to drag back to Michiru are in short supply. As usual, the majority of people in the shopping district are the elderly and children, and neither of those seem like particular likely prospects for turning Michiru “dere”.
Finally, it seems that Makina has received the signal from Amane that it’s no longer necessary to occupy me any longer.
Makina: Screw this! I’m bored!
She declares this brazenly mere moments after checking her phone, which had rather unsubtly vibrated just prior to her picking it up. Just how stupid do these people think I am, exactly..?
Yuuji: Oh? Is that so? This was your idea, punk.
Makina: What, so that means I gotta stick to it past th’ point of failure?! That kind of rigid thinkin’ is the problem with this country! If somethin’ isn’t working, you gotta be ready to drop it and move on to the next big thing! If we keep clingin’ to the past just cause our predecessor decided on it, America’s gonna leave us behind in the tech world, and where’s our economy gonna go then, huh?!
Yuuji: I don’t think this has anything to do with S*ny’s market share…
Makina: It’s got everythin’ to do with it! We gotta be able to face up to reality ‘n change course when we’re about to run aground! Pretending everythin’ fine when it ain’t won’t change the markets, no matter how hard we try!
Makina: In conclusion: we blew it, onii-chan! Michiru’s just gonna hafta take care of herself, like she has every other Christmas.
Yuuji: You don’t sound too broken up over it.
Makina: Ehhh.
Makina shrugs and stands to leave.
Makina: C’mon, let’s go back. Amanee’s probably finished cookin’ by now, and I’m gettin’ mighty hungry.
I have to admit, the idea of dinner doesn’t sound too bad to me either. I can survive without food for days if I have to, but even the most well trained human body prefers to eat when it’s hungry and keep a reasonable schedule of meals.
Yuuji: Fine…
When I get back to the dorm, the lobby is empty. That by itself isn’t unusual, but agents who last long enough at Ichigaya to get a number quickly learn that there’s different kinds of empty. A room can simply lack people, but if it’s “abandoned”, then there’s usually a reason.
In this case, though, it’s not much of a concern. After all, I’m fully aware of the reason for the suspicious emptiness in the dorm. The normal inhabitants are lying in wait in my room, ready to wish me a Merry Christmas.
Pretending to play along, I turn to Makina.
Yuuji: Well, have fun breaking the news to Michiru. I’m going to go back to my room.
Makina: Geh… I was kinda hopin’ that you might let her know…
Yuuji: No.
Makina: Yer heartless, onii-chan!
Yuuji: You’re not the first woman to tell me that.
I reach out to the doorknob and twist it, pushing open the door casually.
Amane/Sachi/Yumiko/Michiru: Happy birthday, Yuuji!/Happy birthday, Kazami-kun!/Happy birthday, Kazami-kun./I-It’s not like I want you to have a happy birthday or anything!
I pause, startled.
Sure enough, the room is decked out not with the Christmas or “Welcome to Mihama Academy” decorations I’d expected, but birthday themed ones, with a big banner saying “Happy Birthday Yuuji!” taking pride of place.
Yuuji: What?
I turn to look at Amane, and she winks and pokes out her tongue in a mock apologetic fashion.
Amane: Ehehe…
Yuuji: …How did you know?
Amane: Well… Principal Tachibana miiiiight have mentioned something about your birthday coming up...
Yuuji: …Chizuru, what the hell kind of info are you letting slip…?
Apparently, my school files aren’t as sealed as I might like, despite the gag orders Chizuru is no doubt under regarding the more “sensitive” details of my personal record. And certain older women with baby faces are out there revealing things that are better left quiet.
Makina: Don’t worry about it!
Makina comes up behind me, grinning.
Makina: The important part is it’s your birthday! Happy birthday, onii-chan!
Yuuji: Hrm…
Can’t say I’ve done much celebrating on my birthday in recent years. Still, men are, by nature, fairly simple beings. Whatever feelings I might have about the day, I can’t help but feel slightly happy at being celebrated like this.
Yuuji: ...Can’t believe I fell for that “welcoming party” line…
Honestly. Here I was thinking I had the upper hand on this whole conspiracy, and Amane had me dancing on her strings the whole time… If Asako was here now, she’d be laughing her head off.
Yuuji: Fine, you got me.
Yumiko: “Got” you? There’s no need to be so melodramatic. It’s a celebration. You needn’t act like you’re being marched to death row.
Yuuji: …
I consider challenging her with a question of “how do you know I don’t hate my birthday?” but I suspect that, actually, that was something Amane checked with Chizuru. Everyone’s here for a reason. Since anyone asking about my reasons would be inconvenient, I avoided asking about anyone else’s at first out of pragmatism, but as time went on I noticed it was a “courtesy” extended to everyone here by everyone else, a silent agreement not to pry. If Amane found out my birthday from Chizuru she probably would have asked if it was okay to celebrate. And since Chizuru knows why everyone is here…
Yuuji: Alright, alright. Thanks.
Yumiko: That’s a better attitude.
Makina: Onii-chan, c’mon, are you gonna sit in the doorway all day? It’s dinner time!
Makina, impatient with my hesitant reaction, scowls behind me.
Yuuji: I’m simply overcome by emotion at the kindness of my classmates. I might burst into tears any second now.
I’m suddenly pierced by multiple pairs of eyes as my classmates glare sceptically at me.
Yuuji: … Pretty sure I’ve said this already, but sta-
Yumiko: “Staring won’t get me off”, right? It’s a bad enough joke in the first place, but using it this many times is just tacky.
Yuuji: ...hrm.
Come to think of it, this would be the third time I’m breaking out that particular ice breaker. Guess it’s outlived its welcome. Sorry, old friend, but it’s time for you to accept your watch and clean out your desk.
Amane: If you’re about to burst into tears, it certainly doesn’t show on your face.
Yuuji: I like to keep a stiff upper lip. You know how it is.
Amane: Are you British now…?
Makina: <‘Ello guvna!>
Where Makina picked up that particular line, I’m not sure, but her pronunciation would be enough to make even the most stoic Englishman wince.
The food Amane has prepared, is, unsurprisingly, chicken. While it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the famous Christmas KFC that never fails to amuse the Americans, it’s as well made as everything else Amane produces.
As we eat, Michiru pipes up.
Michiru: So were you really born on Christmas?
Yuuji: So I’m told. I can’t say I remember the event myself.
Amane: Uh, it would be pretty strange if you did…
Michiru: What the heck? How did such an unromantic guy like you end up with such a romantic birthday?!
Yuuji: Oh, that reminds me, Michiru.
Michiru: E-Eh? Of what?
Yuuji: Something to do with romance. And you.
Michiru flushes a deep red.
Michiru: W-Wait, what?
Yuuji: I have something to tell you.
Michiru: H-Here?! Now?!
Yuuji: Yes.
Michiru: W-Wait! I’m not ready, my- my heart isn’t prepared for thi-
Yuuji: Makina’s plan to snag you a guy failed. Terribly sorry.
Michiru: Oh, Yuuji! I lo- eh? What?
Yuuji: Makina’s plan. To find you someone on Christmas. That’s what she wanted to talk to me about. Sad to say, we couldn’t find any eligible, lonely looking young men. Guess you’re on your own.
For a moment, Michiru’s mouth flaps open uselessly, no sound coming out of it. The girl resembles nothing so much as a goldfish.
Eventually, she regains her ability to speak.
Michiru: Makina! What the hell have you been doing?!
Content with my little piece of payback on Makina, I return to my meal.
Makina: Chill out, Chiruchiru. It’s true that you’re alone, ain’tcha?
Michiru: Mukiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!
It really is good chicken.
After dinner, of course, there’s the cake. Once everyone finished their slice, Amane clears her throat and glances around, gathering the attention of the others.
Amane: There’s one more thing, actually.
Yuuji: Hm? Oh, did you hire a stripper?
Yumiko: Where do you imagine we would have been hiding her all the time…?
Yuuji: Hm. Makina’s room, maybe?
Michiru: Eh? Why Makina?
Yuuji: Well, it’s not like she really uses it much, right…?
Amane: No, we didn’t hire a stripper.
Amane steers things back on track quickly before the diversion can go too far. She reaches into a box nearby and pulls out a smaller box, wrapped in colourful paper with a bow.
Amane: Happy birthday, Yuuji!
She hands the box to me. Slightly dumbfounded, I remove the wrapping paper and open the box. Inside, on a layer of cotton, is a scope. But not just any scope. It’s clear at a glance that this is the new zoom technology from the states, Uncle Sam’s latest foray into using laser cut lenses to achieve high accuracy magnification on a small scale.
Yuuji: How…?
Sachi: I overheard you mention that you were interested in a new scope from America. After some research into the subject, I found that this model was the most likely one for someone overseas to know about and have any interest in.
Yumiko: Honestly, when Sachi came to me with this information, I almost thought it might just be better to buy you a porn magazine or something…
Yuuji: I’m glad you didn’t.
Seriously, getting a porn magazine from Sakaki would be a little too mixed of a message.
Sachi: Sakaki-san… to think that your porn addiction would go so far as to compel you to recruit others…
Yumiko: W-What?
Amane sighs.
Amane: What are you, a kid who can’t think of anything to get their dad except what they want?
Yumiko: That isn’t what I meant! I just thought that since Kazami-kun is a guy…
Makina: Ohoho? But I don’t think onii-chan’s looked at a porn mag since he came to this school, unless he’s real good at hidin’ em, and little miss Yumiko goes searchin’ the whole web t’ find new perversions every night!
Yuuji: Oh ho? Didn’t realize you were such a connoisseur. Maybe a porn mag from you would open some new horizons for me…
As Sakaki closes her eyes in fury, I hear the telltale clicking of her box cutter.
Yuuji: Alright, you four, settle down.
Makina: Fine, fine…
Michiru: Eh? I didn’t even get a chance to say anything!
Yumiko: Oh? Was there something you wanted to add, Matsushima-san?!
Michiru: No! Very sorry about that!
Michiru’s voice is more like a squeak as Yumiko whirls on her in rage.
Amane: Ah, hey, stop changing the subject! Do you like it?
Yuuji: Yeah. It’s pretty great. Thanks.
Honestly… it’s amazing. I probably don’t even want to know how Sakaki and Sachi managed to figure out what scope I even meant, let alone actually get their hands on something like this. And going to that kind of effort to get a gift for someone like me… well, anyone would be a little happy about something like that.
Michiru: … You don’t look that thankful.
Sachi: Really? It looks to me like Kazami-kun has gotten quite emotional.
Yuuji: Hrm…
Seems Sachi’s getting pretty good at reading my expressions.
Yuuji: You’re right. I’m pretty deeply touched. I might tear up.
Amane: Uwah… I don’t think I can even imagine that…
Makina: Uhhh, yeah. Onii-chan cryin’ over a gift… doesn’t seem possible, y’know? Kinda like a robot chef throwin’ off its hat and saying it’s goin’ to go start a fam’ly.
Yuuji: What the hell kind of impression of me do you people have...?
This school isn’t normal. I knew that when I joined. It’s a dumping ground, a convenient container for a bunch of broken humans that no one can bring themselves to completely throw away. It’s a hands off approach to kids that are such a big problem that they can’t be trusted to be put into a normal school. But in this bin of rejects, I feel like maybe I’ve found some real friends.
So maybe I’ve run into a little bit of Christmas miracle after all.
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edrudiger · 2 years ago
During the summer of 2017, I preached a series of sermons entitled "Living by the Spirit." Although God has called us and filled us with the Spirit, often our lives don’t actually reflect his presence. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from talking about it and claiming to understand how to get it and even judging whether or not others have got it. This we do often and well. What we’re not so good at doing is living it, in other words, living by the Holy Spirit. And that’s what we’re going to talk about this summer, how we might demonstrate the presence of God through our lives. Using Galatians 5:22-26, we’ll consider the following topics: ✙ Those who live by the Spirit... ✙ Those who live by the Spirit demonstrate love. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit feel joy. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit work for peace. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit have patience. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit show kindness. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit practice generosity. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit understand faithfulness. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit exhibit gentleness. ✙ Those who live by the Spirit have self-control.
Below is a copy of the third message in this series sermon.
Now, if you haven’t been around here the last couple of weeks, we’ve started a summer sermon series entitled, Living by the Spirit. And it’s all about how we can follow the command given by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatian churches: “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Now that’s our focus. And during the first message, before talking about a spiritual kind of life, we looked at what “the desires of the flesh” were all about. And we reached the conclusion that they came from a misuse of the freedom we have in Christ. And this leads to a mess of character flaws, which, when taken together always results in a bunch of broken relationships. That was the first message. And last week, we focused on the first sign of a spiritual life, namely love. And we talked about how the kind of love about which Paul wrote is both a decision, not an emotion, and an obligation, not an option. And this morning, we’re going to look at the second trait shown by folks who are living by the Spirit: namely joy.
And I’ll tell you, just like we said about love, joy should be a big deal for Christians. For example, some of the most popular songs we sing around the church are about joy, and I’m talking about the feeling, not the person. I mean, I think a lot of us know by heart the first verse to “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” And Christmas just wouldn’t seem right if we didn’t sing “Joy to the World!” And right after “...peace like a river” and “...love like an ocean”, everybody knows that “I've got joy like a fountain in my soul,” right?
But my favorite Christian song about joy is the one that starts like this (and I won’t sing it): I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (someone say ‘Where?’) Down in my heart (Where?) Down in my heart. I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.” Now, brace yourselves, we’re going to sing it a little later in the service. Let’s just say, we sing about joy a lot in the church, again the feeling, not the person.
But you know, even though it’s a big deal, that doesn’t necessarily mean we really understand what joy and rejoicing is all about, at least not what it meant for Paul, nor do we understand why he listed it as the second fruit of the Spirit, right after love. And for that reason, we’re going to spend a little time breaking down Christian joy so that we can get a better idea about what it is and why it’s important. What we won’t do, though, is talk about how to get it, because the kind of joy Paul had in mind we don’t need to get. The Holy Spirit has already planted it within each one of us, I guess you could say down in our hearts, just like he planted the ability to love. And so, all we need to do is simply allow what is right now inside us to rise to the surface.
And to do that, well, I think it’s pretty important to understand exactly what it is, and of course, I’m talking about joy. And to do that, we’re going to open our Bibles and take a look inside, because when we do, I believe Paul offers three characteristics of the kind of joy that the Spirit brings and that believers can show. And I’ll tell you, we can find all three in what he wrote in his letters.
You see, first, for Paul, Christian joy is grounded in faith. It’s grounded in trust. I’m telling you, it’s grounded in our decision to believe that the one who loved us before he laid the foundation of the earth holds our destinies in his hands, in his loving and compassionate and merciful hands. In fact, I think this was something that Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, “Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” [Philippians 1:25-26] You see, for Paul, joy and faith were always linked. And this was especially true when that faith, that trust in God was directed to the future, and I’m talking about the future toward which God was leading the world and in which Christians could feel hope. In other words, when we trust that God is leading us into a glorious future, one that’s free from a lot of the mess we have to deal with now, we’ll experience hope and that hope invariably leads to joy. For example, when Paul wrote to the Romans, he told them to “rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” [Romans 12:12] And in the same letter, he prayed that “...the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” [Romans 15:13] And earlier, again in the Roman letter, as he was beginning to explain our relationship with God, Paul tied joy with both faith and hope. Just listen to what he wrote, and I think it’s a little easier to understand when we read from the Contemporary English Translation and here the word that’s usually translated “joy” is translated “happy”: “By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God.” [Romans 5:1-2] You see, for Paul, joy is tied to both faith and hope.
And I’ll tell you why I think that connection is important. Sometimes I think we assume that joy, that happiness just comes and goes. There are times when we’re happy, probably when things are going our way, and there are times when we’re not, and that’s just the way it is. But that’s just not true if Paul was right and Christian joy is grounded ultimately in faith, you know, trust in God. I mean, while good times may come and go, we can decide to believe that God is in control. And we can decide to trust that through Jesus Christ our past has been cleansed and our future secured. And we can decide to have faith that the Holy Spirit is a constant source of inspiration and strength. And because joy in grounded in faith, when we make that decision, and it’s something we make not just once but over and over again, if Paul was right, it’s through that decision that we’ll experience joy. Now that’s one thing I think he believed.
And second, for Paul, Christian joy can really help us, particularly when we’re facing some kind of suffering. Let me show you what I’m talking about. When Paul was telling the Corinthians about the suffering that he and the Christians with him were facing, he wrote, “Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.” [2 Corinthians 7:2-4] And in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” [1 Thessalonians 1:4-7] And to his friend Philemon, Paul wrote, “I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.” [Philemon 7] I’m telling you, for Paul, that feeling of joy was absolutely essential for believers who were struggling through tough times.
And I’ll tell you, that’s still important for us right now. I mean, without an awareness that we’re not alone, without a sense that the future holds something more than what we’re experiencing right now, and without a feeling that we are a part of something greater than we can even imagine, it’s easy for discouragement to slip into despair. But if we can claim the joy that comes from faith, we’ll be able to keep our heads up when life is pulling us down. Joy can help, and that’s number two.
And third, according to Paul, Christian joy is shared among believers. It enlivens the Body of Christ. It must, not should, but must be something that’s experienced within every Christian church. Now I think that’s exactly what Paul believed. And not only do we see it lurking behind almost every passage we’ve looked at this morning, I think it was crystal clear when Paul told the Philippians that he was sending to them a man they’d sent to him. He wrote, “I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.” [Philippians 2:28-30] And later, in the same letter, he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. ...I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.” [Philippians 4:4, 10] And finally, also in his letter to the Philippians, Paul was about a clear to a congregation as he could be, when he wrote, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.” [Philippians 3:1] For Paul, a Christian church is a community where people know how to rejoice; dah. Man, it’s a place where people feel joy, the kind of joy that comes from faith and the kind of joy that picks us up when we feel “rode hard and put away wet.” Man, this isn’t rocket science.
But I’ll tell you, this presents us with a pretty clear challenge I’m not sure we can avoid. Listen to me, if we’re not a church that knows how to rejoice in everything we do and if we don’t feel happy when we’re worshiping and when we’re working and when we’re just hanging out together but instead we grumble and gripe and complain, I’m telling you, if we have decided that we’re not going to experience joy, brothers and sisters, “Houston, we have a problem.” And it’s one we better solve before we find ourselves standing before the Judgement Seat of God. Joy must be shared among Christians; therefore, it must be present here. And that’s three.
And I’ll tell you, that’s something we need to remember, if we’re serious about living by the Spirit. You see, regardless of what we sing, for the Apostle Paul, Christian joy always is grounded in faith. It always helps when we face suffering. And it always is shared among Christians in this community we call the church. That’s the way it was, is and always will be, amen. And so, as Christians who want to live spirit-centered lives, let’s start bearing some joyous fruit from that seed which was planted down in our hearts, and I’m talking about joy, joy, joy.
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kdlovehg · 2 years ago
Chapter 2 - Twelve times the season - a festive everlark fic.
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Oh look, I’ve finished another chapter. Enjoy. XO
Click for links to chapter 1 and summary - tumblr
Chapter 2
First thing the next morning, Peeta received his first envelope from the letter carrier. After finishing his draft the night before, Peeta had made sure to write the post in his best handwriting and had then faxed it over to the head office, eager for them to have it published in time for the next morning. Now Peeta wasn't a fool, he'd made sure to add a footnote so that the publishers were aware of the situation and thus wouldn't put a copy of his column in any of the papers in his apartment building, except for his. Unfair? Perhaps. But it was better than risking Katniss nicking someone's paper and seeing it. This simply avoided the problem altogether.
He tore open the envelope and pulled out a single scoresheet. Now as this was a sponsorship, the company had made sure that there would be a way to track the number of papers being read from page one until the final word in the column. One common way was to check for any fingerprints on discarded papers, that way they'd know if the reader had flicked through the pages or not. They would also send out workers to see if people had chosen not to grab their paper at all as this was all important information in finding out how many people were reading it.
Two, was written in bold in the centre of the paper. Fifty views. No recommendations as of yet.
It wasn't the best start, because no recommendations meant that nobody in the town or wider part of Panem was talking about it but it was fine. He'd only just started. He turned over the page to see a few comments printed on the back, all of which must have been submitted back to the head office.
Mockygirl: Good luck! Can't wait to see where this goes.
Atrinketonthetree: Fabulous idea! Spread that cheer all through the year.
Unfortunately the last comment wasn't as promising as the first ones.
SwiftG: Just leave it. A Grinch ain't gonna change for you so don't bother.
Despite what the third reader had suggested, Peeta had already planned his first move to woo the little Grinch into the festive spirit. He washed, dressed and left just early enough to grab both Katniss' and his newspapers.
Once he'd collected them, he rode the elevator back up to their floor, checking the time as he went. She hadn't left yet so his plan should be perfect. He knocked on her door and listened for her voice, yet he was only greeted by a loud bark.
After waiting for a few moments he knocked again only to receive a muffled "What?".
"Its your neighbour" Peeta said, doing his best to sound perky. "Mellark. Peeta Mellark".
Realising that he wasn't going away Katniss replied "Am I supposed to care?".
Peeta ignored her comment. "I brought gifts". That would work. It always did with the children, besides who didn't love free stuff.
"Don't need em".
"Should I leave it against your door?".
A pause.
"Leave what?".
"Its a surprise. Don't you like surprises? I sure do. Puts you in a great mood for the day".
The door flew open and she stood in front of him, her skirt failing to conceal a layer of shaving cream that was painted across her leg. Katniss held the razor in her hand tightly as if it were a weapon she might strike him with. Her other arm was holding onto doorframe, creating a blockage for Mutty so that he couldn't escape. Regardless the dog peered over as if he too were curious about the surprise.
The familiar scowl settled back on her face. "I hate surprises".
"Here's your paper", he said, thrusting it towards her.
She grabbed it and tossed it over her shoulder, someone managing to make it land on her table. The accuracy was honestly quite impressive.
"You're welcome", he added, both of them knowing that she didn't appreciate the help. Before she could start mumbling under her breath he turned around and left with a "Have a good morning!".
"You say that a lot don't you Everdeen?", he commented with a grin. For someone who he assumed was smart, she wasn't very creative with her responses.
"Do you mind? I'd like to finish what I started". Peeta tries not to think about her getting out of the shower when he knocked. Imagine if he made her open the door in a towel. Just for a paper she could've gotten herself. Goodness. It'd be hard to talk his way out of that.
"Go for it", he added, refusing to turn around. Granted it was a little rude but if she could do it then so could he. His nice deed had been done so he didn't owe her anything.
At least she hadn't slammed the door on him.
There was progress at least.
He returned to his room and waited for the familiar sound of her opening and closing her door as she left for work. Then seconds later he left to accompany her at the elevator.
Couldn't break tradition.
"What a coincidence", he lied as they entered and she pressed the button for the bottom floor. Katniss glared at him, clearly not believing a word he said.
He glanced over, seeing the familiar paper tucked under her arm. Perfect. Unintentionally, his gaze dropped back to her legs to see a small piece of paper peeking out from beneath her skirt.
She must have cut herself. Odd. Katniss didn't seem like the type to be distracted easily, but mistakes happen, he supposed.
"I hope that wasn't my fault" Peeta said, gesturing towards the injury.
Katniss huffed and tugged her skirt lower slightly so that he could no longer see it. "Course not".
It totally was.
She'd never admit it though.
"The little cuts are the worst kind".
She shrugged, avoiding conversation, but he heard the quiet "So are happy neighbours".
Well she thought he was the worst kind of neighbour? Perfect. The feeling was mutual.
"Forgive me, I was just trying to be helpful. Next time I'll knock and leave it at your door for when you leave".
"Don't what? Its too big to slide under your door".
"Don't be helpful" she insisted. Katniss didn't need anybody's help. The only thing she needed was for this elevator to hurry up. His voice was getting on her nerves.
"Its really not any trouble".
"I said don't".
"Alright", Peeta said, backing off. "If that's what you want".
"That's what I want" she said, finishing the conversation. Gosh he was annoying.
As soon as the elevator stopped and the doors slid open, Katniss flew out of there, eager to get away from her neighbour. Peeta found it amusing to say the least. He'd never made someone run from him before.
"Enjoy your day", he called out after her, if only to wind her up more.
Finnick was right. Being nice wasn't half bad. It was the most entertainment he'd got in weeks.
As a treat, Peeta decided he'd go to a local store, 'The Hob', as it was the closest place to get produce. Inside it they also had a small counter of freshly baked goods, mainly breakfast items, and hot drinks which likely earned them all of their customers. As luck would have it, he noticed that Everdeen was four people ahead of him. Odd since he'd never seen her in the store before.
Despite knowing that he shouldn't, Peeta shouted out to her, his voice quickly getting the attention of the other patrons. "Katniss I didn't know you came here! You should of told me, I could've came earlier to grab you something".
Katniss tensed up, swallowing back a curse at the familiar voice. Of course she couldn't escape him. She knew she should've went straight to work. She just can't catch a break.
Sae, Peeta's favourite barista and the owner of the store, gave him a toothless grin. "Morning Peeta".
"And a good morning to you, lovely", he said with his typical charm. He gestured towards Katniss. "She's my neighbour. I'd like to buy her a hot chocolate".
Everdeen spins around, hand on hip and leans to the side so that she can see around the other people in line. "No. I can buy my own hot chocolate - and cheese buns", she added. "I'm very capable". She didn't want his money. She didn't want his help. Gosh she hoped he'd miss his train so that his day could be as annoying as hers .
"Consider it an apology", Peeta explained as Sae bagged the fresh, gooey buns. She handed it to Katniss along with her drink and waited for the outcome. Peeta knew the older woman must be confused, why would anyone refuse an act of kindness?
"No", Katniss stated and slapped the money down on the counter, capturing Sae's attention.
"Well if you insist", Peeta said as the queue moved towards the counter, every other barista completing their order quickly and with a smile. "I really am sorry. I'll be quieter next time. You won't hear a single Christmas noise from me" he lied. Rather than acknowledge his insincere apology, Katniss grabbed her goods and left the store, not even saying a goodbye to the woman who'd served her.
Peeta considered if Sae knew anything about the woman. Surely she's visited before, just at a different time perhaps? When it was his turn to order he asked, "That girl" and leaned slightly across the counter. He rubbed his face, playing up the curiosity as if the thought just happened to cross his mind. "She come here often?".
"Aw yeah all the time. She orders the same thing, never talks really but what can you do".
"I figured", he said politely. What did he expect? She was an older woman, hardly one to gossip. He asked for the usual hot chocolate and paid, and then gave Sae extra money with the memo that it was to pay for his neighbours order the following morning. "Tell her its from me". Katniss would have to accept his generosity one way or another.
"Well if you're sure boy. She seemed a bit mad about you trynna do it today though".
"She's like that. Talking ain't really her thing", he said as if he was actually friends with Everdeen. Sae handed him his coco.
"I noticed. I'll make sure to serve her tomorrow, just for you Peeta", she added with another grin. There's the community spirit he missed.
"Perfect. Thankyou Sae".
He turned to leave with his drink and added, "Just a shame I won't see her reaction".
Peeta hurried out the store and rushed to the platform, just in time as the train had already arrived. He slid through the doors as they closed and sipped his hot chocolate. What would Katniss do?
The man was driving Katniss crazy. Why couldn't he just leave her alone? He was obviously just doing it for the attention. No-one was that happy in general let alone in the morning, yet every day its the same smile that he greets everybody with. Katniss knew he was playing a game with her and she didn't like it one bit. So she decided she'd do what she did best - ignore him. Unfortunately he'd already managed to get her to talk on two separate occasions so far but that was a mistake. She knew better now. Walking quickly, Katniss headed towards the Justice building. Being late was never an option. She had bills to pay and a cut in her salary wouldn't help. Besides she had a schedule: work in the morning and then for lunch she would go home, grab a snack, get changed and take Mutty out. Then once the dog was all tired out - which seemed to be never the older that he got - she would quickly wash and change back into her work uniform. Then she'd leave just as he'd settle down for his nap. It wasn't always that way, but Haymitch's building didn't allow dogs so she had to take him in. The more she thought about it, the worse she felt. Katniss loved her Uncle - even though he was a pain - and she was grateful for all that he did in raising her. Luckily he seemed to adjust well to the new place, and by that she meant, she had yet to receive a complaint from the complex.
Even when she was young, Katniss knew she wasn't a people person. Her father had tried many times to help her make friends but she hated everything about it. She'd much rather sit alone in the woods and study the animals. That's why her job in agriculture suited her. She could spend time away from people as often as she wanted to. People were dangerous. Animals were smart. They knew to be careful with their trust and she'd been fooled before. She didn't even want to think of Gale's betrayal. No - it was over. Her mind had moved on.
"Morning Miss Everdeen!", the receptionist said in greeting. She was unusual as the place was known to be quite cold and workers were stoic, but Katniss didn't mind as the girl was never mad at a lack of a reply. On her counter sat a small Christmas tree with ribbons wrapped around it and trinkets hung from the branches. It did nothing for Katniss' mood but she supposed some of her colleagues might like seeing the sight.
With a nod in her direction, Katniss moved on. She didn't remember the young girl's name, or perhaps she hadn't bothered to ask. It didn't matter she supposed. The less familiar she was with people the better. She closed the door behind her, glad to be back in her office. Silent. Alone. Perfect. It gave her time to ponder her odd neighbour. He was a nice guy. That wasn't unusual, but why now was he trying so hard to get her attention? And why did she care?
After work, Peeta headed down to 'Monsieur Cornucopia', a building full of different clubs for young children, so that he could help them with their holiday program and then he travelled to the orphanage. He'd had a good day - better than yesterday at least. The shoppers seemed more patient and they sold out of a lot of fish. He liked to think that it was some type of good karma, for trying to be nice to Everdeen. Sure she rebuffed it, but these things take time.
The kids in the orphanage enjoyed the singing and loved the chance to sing to those in their community that were often forgotten; the elderly, the homeless, even some of the new mothers. The previous week they'd sung at the local hospital, for the new parents, most of whom were underage and thus looked down on. The children didn't judge them though. Maybe that's why he liked them so much. They were just jolly, none of them needed a reason for it, unlike some people.
This week the children were heading down to The Seam. The small living-complex located on the outskirts of twelve, didn't always sound like the ideal place to take children but they wouldn't mind it. He knew how excited they were. Some even hoped to see their old relatives, after being separated from them for good reason. They wouldn't understand that though. They didn't care.
By nine-thirty, Peeta made it back to the lobby, he was exhausted, but still in a good mood. He headed towards the lockers to check for any mail - if it was a special delivery letter then the carrier would take it straight to the room but anything else was just stored in the designated box. As he unlocked, the locker, he grabbed his mail and began flicking through the envelopes. Bills. Gas. Water. No Christmas cards yet but there was still a chance for those that could afford to send them, to do so this year. In his peripheral vision he caught sight of a familiar brunette. Everdeen. He wondered were she'd been as she was dressed in the same clothes that she would wear when taking her dog out but he was sure she must have done so already, and the little fella wasn't with her so she must have been somewhere else. The faint smell of sweat tickles his nose but he doesn't comment on it. She'd probably take it as an insult anyway. Although, he glanced her way, she did seem to be pretty athletic. That was a nice surprise. Not that he should be looking. It was her body, who cared what he thought of it. He looked away before she could catch him. Maybe she'd cuss him out, out loud this time. He didn't want that, it could ruin her mood for tomorrow and then she'd never appreciate his gift.
Katniss kept quiet. Of course she'd seen him, subtlety wasn't his forte, but she chose not to comment. She'd had enough interaction with him for one day. A week even. She just wanted to relax so she watched as he shut his locker closed. She checked her locker quickly, and seeing that it was empty, she closed it again and as had become the custom, the two of them rode the elevator together in blissful silence. Katniss made a point to stand in the corner so that she could have as much space away from him as possible. She needed time to breathe. There were too many people around at this time of year. Peeta chose not to acknowledge the distance between them and when they finally reached their floor, they separated and headed for their own apartment. For some odd reason, Peeta felt as if she was watching him - just staring at his back because he wouldn't see her. Rather than turn around he glanced over his shoulder at her to see the usual scowl on her face. Lovely.
Katniss couldn't figure out why he still hadn't spoken to her. She liked it obviously but it didn't seem right. Just hours ago he was bugging her and now he was content with silence?
Peeta forced a smile in her direction, "Have a good evening, Katniss".
"You don't look good".
His eyebrows jumped up. No way.
She spoke. Goodness had he broken her already?
"Its been a long day" he said, testing the waters. He wouldn't draw this conversation out, that was up to her.
Unfortunately for him, that answer seemed to satisfy her enough and she spun on her heel and disappeared into her apartment.
Accepting defeat, Peeta entered his own apartment and collapsed onto the chair. He wasn't making a lot of progress. But it was only day one. At least he knew there was promise there. Yet before he drifted off to sleep, he remembered that the day was over and thus it was time to start his second column entry. With a huff he hauled himself off of the chair and grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen. He wondered what the commenters would think of it this time.
Twelve times the season - Entry 2
December 15th
A letter and a lady
Operation Grinch to little elf is officially underway, ladies and gentlemen. Have I granted her a cheerful smile today? Oh yes. Did I give her the gift of a surprise? Why certainly! She just hasn't warmed up to the idea yet. Since seeing me this morning, I'm fairly certain she now wishes she'd succumbed to the festivity weeks ago but alas it is too late and thus my presence is here to help.
What wonderful thing did I do you ask? I woke up early - gave up a full ten minutes of sleep for this woman - and trekked downstairs to retrieve her newspaper so that the Lady wouldn't have to even spare a second to locate it. Not only that, but I offered to buy her breakfast. She refused of course, but at least I've set the tone for the next few days. And not only that twelve but I've bought her breakfast for tomorrow. How convenient is that? A lovely way to start her morning I'd say. I can't wait to here about how she reacts to that.
However something occurred once nightfall hit. A strange encounter one might say. I was merely collecting my mail in the lobby when she appeared. Odd but not unusual. Coincidences happen. From previous experience I knew how these encounters would go. If I were to strike up conversation, especially when she is at the end of her day, then I was sure to be ignored, and I didn't feel like finishing my night on a sour note. Now granted I know I'm not her favourite person, but I don't believe I'm the only one. It seems the one with the problem is her.
Now I like to believe that my newfound fascination with her is unsettling. How do I know? Well I changed tactics for a moment. I was tired and thus gave her the cold shoulder. And did she like that twelve? Oh no.
She cracked.
It was small. An ever so small dent in her façade as she asked me how I was. Were I not so exhausted I would have revelled in her words. Am I getting to her? Who knows. Its still early but I'm optimistic people.
I'll end it here for now until I can figure out a new way to... sweeten her up. In fact, I think I might have just found one.
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why-this-kolaveri-machi · 3 years ago
Notes on SPN 14.02
So! I saw 14.01 yesterday, which was for the most part, surprisingly, a blast, and since I have a bit of free time today I thought I’d keep a hold of the momentum and watch and liveblog 14.02 as well. I’ve heard it’s one of those Buckleming plot-a-paloozas, but I’ll try my best to provide semi-reasonable commentary instead of incoherent ranting.
Right. As always, typing this post up as I watch. SPOILERS for the episode ahead.
1. We start with a recap of last season’s finale, and Show, do you really want to remind us this many times about that wire-fight?
1.25. Show’s lore regarding possession has been dizzyingly inconsistent, but the more I think about it, the less sense it makes to me that Nick is alive? Because Nick couldn’t actually house Lucifer for very long in s5—he was deteriorating, which was why Lucifer needed Sam so urgently. The last we saw of Nick, he was dead/dying in a dingy room in Detroit, when Lucifer jumped ship to Sam. Even if Lucifer assumed Nick’s visage in the Cage and afterwards when he was brought back, Nick-the-person with Nick-memories and Nick-feelings isn’t there anymore.
1.255. So what does this mean? Like, if this was explained away sometime over the last two seasons--I’m very sorry, I really wasn’t paying a lot of attention to large chunks of them—please let me know. If there’s no explanation, then has Lucifer disappeared inside a Nick-construct? Did he use a loophole to escape the worst of the Archangel Blade right at the moment Dean plunged it into his side? Lucifer was “human” for a while in s13, iirc. Did he have enough “human” to hide behind and recover? And has he filled that human with the memories/personality of one of the humans he knew best? Is it because he spent centuries assuming Nick’s body in the Cage that he’s most comfortable being him here?
… I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but, hey, it’s fun to speculate.
2. We start off with people artfully tied up in an artfully derelict church illuminated artfully by artful lightning.
… *groans* I hope we aren’t getting a torture scene already.
2.25. Well, Michael’s certainly chirpier than he was last episode.
2.5. Is he trying to make new angel minions, is that it, by feeding them blood and his grace? Leaving aside the lack of creativity in the mechanism, the whole thing kind of makes a weird sense. Michael is looking for those with purity of purpose—among religious leaders (and refugees, apparently), angels, and then finally monsters—and rejecting those ‘poisoned’ by nuance and experience and supposed sin. After all, no being whose wants are even slightly more complex than ‘food’ is going to be a perfect follower.
It also plays into his assholey, self-righteous personality and, well, god-complex.
(Dean would’ve appreciated this quest for pure purpose.)
3. There’s a kind of sitcom-y vibe to this little expository scene: Bobby talks shit about angels only for Castiel to walk in with a quirked eyebrow; the group talks about Jack and Lucifer only for Jack to walk in and go, “hey, you talkin bout my father again?”
(these are the tiny ways I feel SPN is at cross-purposes with its own theme of ‘found family’. Everybody’s obsessed with blood relations, to the point that Lucifer and Jack are constantly referred to as ‘father and son’ when there is no need to bring that relationship up. Last year, even Castiel referred to Jack while talking to Lucifer as ‘your son’ without any prompting from Satan. Words are so powerful, and so revealing.)
3.45. Castiel “as you know, Bob”-ing is hilarious. Oh, Buckleming.
3.5. Um, not to dismiss or compare Castiel’s considerable trauma at the hands of Lucifer, but is anybody going to acknowledge even once that Sam, who appears to have taken the brunt of caring for Nick so far, is also going to have trouble looking into his abuser’s face??
4. Nick continues to make no sense to me.
(I like little touches like Castiel telling him that he needs to remind himself to eat.)
4.5. I kinda like this scene, sue me. It makes sense to me that Nick would obsess over and over again about how he could’ve let himself say yes to Lucifer, although Lucifer is as old as time and had all the power in that situation. The ‘monster’ bit is a little too on-the-nose for me, but I like it. Really drives home what an intimate, horrifying violation possession is and how scarred and twisted it can leave the survivor who spirals down a well of undeserved guilt and self-loathing.
I wish Sam was the one talking to him now, or was at least present. He’d talked in the previous scene about how Nick was only ‘housing’ and deserved a chance to rebuild his life, and that hard-earned generosity of spirit would’ve been a balm to all three of them, I think.
5. ETA on the TOD, Bobby? *sporfle* Seriously though, I love this role-reversal: usually it’s Bobby who’s rolling his eyes at SamnDean’s eff-bee-eye shenanigans.
5.25. Ah, but where this Bobby has become an expert now is in telling the difference between smiting patterns!
5.5. I wonder if trying to appear non-threatening is just Sam’s default whenever he meets with, uh, ‘civilians’.
6. I really, honestly hate that the Bunker just happens to have ‘lore books’ on whatever the hell random question they’re having that day. I just kinda hate the Bunker in general, now that I think about it.
6.25. But doesn’t that ‘human component’ (lol) make a Nephilim strong enough to take down even archangels?
6.5. As pep talks go, that wasn’t bad. A few notes:
a) there’s an earnestness to the words that I’m sure that Castiel learned from Sam.
b) I think this is the first time that Castiel—or anybody—has referred to the events of 8.23 as “The Great Fall”. It’s interesting that it’s already gotten a name among angelkind and that Castiel would call it that, given how close he was to the events that led to it.
c) I want to both laugh and cry at Castiel’s assertion that Sam and Dean were there for him after he lost his grace. He was mostly left to fend for himself, obviously, but there’s no space for that in a pep talk.
d) Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Jack is actually just only a year old. Asking him not to dwell on something so… immediate is a tall ask.
7. Ok, so that was a nice snappy little counterpart to Lucifer-talking-to-Sam-in-the-mirror from the s5 finale. I like how Michael is blunt and matter-of-fact while Lucifer relished in the moment, bragged about how he’d had Sam’s number all his life, and seduced him with violent revenge. This is nice.
I don’t know, guys, I’m really enjoying this episode so far!
8. Sooooo Lucifer is residing in some subconscious layer of Nick’s mind? Is this PTSD shaped by his possession? Is Lucifer bleeding through his own construct? Are we going to find that it was actually Nick who killed his own family? (I think we are.)
8.2. Castiel looking for residual Lucifer in Nick reminds me of when he was doing the same for Sam re: Gadreel, and that reminds me of Dean’s ‘teen mom’ joke from that episode and now I’m pissed off.
8.5. Nick is fascinating, but is he fascinating enough that I care about his little revenge sub-plot? Eh. Jury’s out. Plus I just can’t stand the actor anymore
9. Sam’s just kinda there to move the plot along. Give him some more character moments, episode!
10. Michael reminded me of Dean in the scene with the werewolf. I’m really not getting a capital P personality from Michael, though that may be due to a personal choice. Or maybe because Michael was never a distinct character to begin with, and this is far more noticeable when Ackles plays it and ‘Dean’ threatens to take over any minute.
Or going meta for a second—maybe Michael’s deliberately infusing some Dean into his persona. Possession isn’t simply putting a thing inside a box: both entities are influenced and informed by the other, but only one has all the power.
11. … ok, so my interest in this Nick subplot is rapidly decaying. Nick did it. He killed his family. It’s not a mystery.
11.5. The emotional dynamics of this scene… checks out, actually. Of course Nick is projecting all his rage on Castiel. And of course Castiel regrets destroying Jimmy Novak’s life the most. More than toeing the party line and being instrumental in almost bringing the Apocalypse about in s4; more than releasing the Leviathan; more than trusting Metatron in s8; more than killing his brethren, who’ve tortured him back and tried to kill him on more than one occasion. But Castiel has been both angel and human—both possessing and being possessed—long enough that he’s intimately aware of the devastation it leaves both within and without. And there are no excuses for the way he and other angels have done that damage—so carelessly, so casually. Even the most well-intentioned angels are deceptive and manipulative and give not a second thought about their hapless vessels. It’s a sign of Castiel’s growth and compassion that he recognises his responsibility in this and that he invokes Jimmy’s name with both reverence and regret. In all this shouting and crying that Show doesn’t acknowledge the deep-seated trauma of possession survivors, this is actually a great moment.
12. That werewolf leader looks familiar. Has the actor been on SPN before? He kinda reminds me of one of the leads on Suits.
12.5. That’s a lot of clunky dialogue, but Michael is basically confirming what I speculated in point 2. Cool.
13. How Jack managed to get away and find his grandparents is never explained, but that’s a familiar Buckleming trope—characters are put together in a scene without any regard to how it might connect to other scenes or how/why those characters might’ve gotten there.
13.2. That said, it’s kinda poignant that Jack, having lost his angelic powers, is now trying to understand the human side of his heritage. He’s trying his best to adapt to his situation; this one year old kid is more well-adjusted than most of the adults on this show.
13.5. Well, holy shit, Jack talking about Kelly to his grandparents is just… making me feel emotional in a way this show hasn’t made me feel in a long, long time. This Calvert kid is good.
13.6. It is bizarre that Kelly’s parents are mostly ok with not knowing Kelly’s whereabouts for over a year—I don’t think we ever found out what position exactly Kelly held in the President’s office, and I can picture them in a bit of denial by telling themselves the reason they haven’t heard from Kelly is because she is in the middle of super-secret government work. I don’t know! But it’s just about handwave-able though, and their scene with Jack is worth it.
14. Honestly, Castiel, how did he travel so far and for so long without you noticing? So much for “Don’t worry, Sam, I will babysit this defenceless creature.”
(Speaking of Sam, wheeeerrreee’s Saaaaammmm)
“I suppose there are worse ways to be human than to be kind.”
“Have you heard from Sam?”
14.5. No, actually, Dean wouldn’t want it any other way. He said as much when Gadreel took over Sam completely back in s9.
15. Shoo, Nick.
16. FINALLY MORE SAM. With only like 4 minutes of episode left. What, Show, did you think you spoiled us too much last episode with all that glorious, glorious Sam content?
16.25. And finally a bit of action! The rapid-fire editing is making my head hurt, though.
16.5. Soooooooooooooo Dean’s back? Obviously Michael is playing a long game here, but it says something about the show that they can’t keep Dean away for more than two episodes without getting the shakes. I honestly miss Sera Gamble and her desire to rattle the status quo: in s6, she kept the so-called ‘real’ Sam away for half the season, which gave us imo some of the best storytelling, characterisation and acting from both Padalecki and Ackles in the entire show. In s7 she took away all the Winchester markers: the Impala, weird motel rooms, Bobby’s house. Of course, after she left the show settled back into a familiar rut (substituting Bobby’s house with that thrice-damned Bunker). I wish the show would take risks with these two again. s9 and the beginning of s10 were so very promising but there was no follow-through.
I guess they want to MotW fillers for a few episodes and that would be weird without SamnDean SamnDeaning it in the Impala, but Show, why don’t you just say ‘fuck it’ and try weird on for size? What do you have to lose? I mean, seriously?
17. Nick’s the murderer—called it!
18. This wasn’t terrible, you guys. 95% of the episode was just people sitting around having conversations, the dialogue was clunky, ideas derivative, scenes progressed without any rational links between them, the pacing was wonky, and there was too much exposition. But the emotional beats were solid and the set up is reasonably intriguing. I’ve seen far, far worse BuckLeming episodes.
Pacing is a real issue in this season, though. And Michael is not remotely intimidating as a threat.
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sinjuuchiha · a year ago
A little about me and the conflicting thoughts and feelings that haunt my mind everyday. First off, let me introduce myself. My name is ghost. And you will never know my real name. Only for the sole fact of, that’s what I am in life. Not on some depressing shit. On some real life shit. I am not one that likes to stick around in one place for a long period of time. I like to be on the move. But most importantly, growing up my family has taught me how to distance myself even from the ones closest to you. It’s not the best way for a child to grow up. But it did make for some good character development. 🤷🏾‍♂️ either way, it has been a pretty lonely life for me. Even up until now. “Well isn’t that your choice to be alone?” Shut the fuck up linda! No one asked your assuming ass. Smh anyway, no. I do not choose to be alone. One thing that I have learned growing up is that I am a very genuine person. I am not saying that I am anywhere near perfect... But I promise you will never meet anyone like me. I shouldn’t have to tell you what kind of person I am only because, this is tumblr. This is where we all come to vent out our problems and be who we really are. Right? Well, not for me. I used to come on here faithfully. But then I started to realize that I am no less of a ghost on here than in the real world. But at least I can speak my peace. “Wait... what do you mean a ghost in the real world?” Thank you for asking. I will tell you. You see; being such a generous person as I am, people become so amazing of what they found and try to hide me from the world yet let me roam free. It’s almost as if I am something shiny and new that you didn’t have to pay for at all! No one deserves me or how I am able to treat people. You see, I have what everyone wants. A little bit of everything. You mix that with my generosity and the will to give you and everyone else a world you deserve. Then you just get hell on earth. 🤷🏾‍♂️ but not their earth of course. Mine. No one asks how ghost is doing... no one really thinks about ghost. And when they do, it is only when they need something out if they are thinking of a good memory with me. The first one May seem a little out there. But think about it. I’m a driver where I work. I’m one of two. But I’m the one everyone calls first. Why? Because I’m the go to guy.... cool. But I’m a whole 16 hour day not once have I been genuinely asked “hey, you seem a little stressed. Want someone to talk to?” Or “what’s up bro, your day going okay?” Or fuck, something. But that’s not how it works. I’m a driver, the plug, a worker, a therapist, a comedian, a free spirit... I’m coming to realize that I am truly alone. My mother, the one her birthed me, her first and now only son isn’t allowed to speak to me because her husband is a fucking piece of trash. But guess what? She chose this man over her very first son. The one that’s supposed to be her pride and joy. The one that is going to be the most lost... I was no longer useful to her. I feel like I will never be. How do you just do that? Chose some random nigga over someone you hell in for nine months? Now don’t get me wrong, having a stepfather isn’t a bad thing. But when you’ve been lied to about who he is to you and then tells you the truth In the most horrific way, then it’s bad... I don’t have a family... in fact I don’t even know if I have a family. Mine kept me away from everyone and most of my life I was lied to so his side of the family ain’t even mine... it was time for me to be a man. Coming this far into the future and learning about life and my own life, I’ve come to realize... I might not even find love... not that I’m really looking for it. But it’s the same shit every time. I’m the ghost. The one you only see every now and then when your man isn’t around or when your family ain’t around because of race issues. Sneaking around is fun. I’m not going to lie. I get it, I offer a fantasy that no other guy give to a female. But that’s what it is... I’m too good to be true. A fantasy. So when a female is around me they worry nothing about anything because
I am literally a fantasy... but the problem still stays the same. Except it’s worse. I can’t just call or text whenever I want. Only they can. I can’t just say come over or let’s go somewhere. I can’t be dealing with a major issue and confide with that person whenever I can. I just don’t understand. I do but I don’t. I mean, how do I deal with that? “Let her go. That’s plenty out there.” No shit Sherlock 🕵🏾‍♂️ that’s not the point. I know there is. I have quite a few. But I can’t choose between them. “Why?” Because they are all on the same type of time. Got a man who is a piece of shit that puts his hands on her. (This has happened multiple times. And I’m the one still talking about loneliness.) someone who reciprocates the same feelings that I have for her but she has a whole family. Oh, let me tell you about that. This woman is literally the love of my fucking life. And the whole fucking decade we have known each other and we have been in love love. But of course, I had to be a ghost. Long story short, all of THAT should have been mine. Still should be. Before you judge, it is a very big complicated mess. Anyway, I just don’t understand how I’m supposed to as a man just accept the fact that I have to accept the fact that the woman that I am literally in love with or Vice versa is living lives apart like this was supposed to happen? This isn’t fucking fair, real talk. I know life ain’t fair. But fuck... I just don’t want to be used anymore. If you want me, come and get me. If you love me, then do it the right way. I’m sorry... as a man I just can’t accept any of this at all. Maybe your boy wasn’t meant to be loved the right way. Maybe how I grew up really impacted my life as time when on. Maybe I don’t even know how to love right. I never really had the chance to
Find out. I feel like losing my family at such a young age is the reason why I don’t have kids. Idk man. All I know is that I’m sick of being the ghost. The one that only lives in someone’s occasional thoughts. I’m just saying, everyone can say to me what they see when they see me. But it’s only funny because I have to mention these things. I don’t get anything genuine. Just everything original. With no thoughts, actions, or plans on how they will try and figure out how to help. Anyway, all I’m saying is, maybe going ghost isn’t a bad thing. I’m already treated like one and when no one is around or in my text, I am a whole ghost period. I’m ready for change. I am ready for my companion. And I am ready to just say fuck it all and just because a real ghost. Always in the cut, no one can find me, on some real vigorous self reflecting. Are you the one for me? Do you believe that? Do you really love me? Are you really interested? Or am I just being used? There is no simple way to put it. I am being used by everyone. All I’m saying is... a nigga deserves a much more than what he is asking for. Here’s the queen even more fucked up, here I am sitting lonely af in bed by myself like I have been doing for the past 6 months. I don’t deserve to be alone. I also don’t deserve to be treated like some sort of fantasy either. Either way, they want a ghost AND have some good memories with me, then I think it’s time to take a step from the world because I really would like to see what my life was worth to others. 👻
I just can’t believe words anymore. I need to see at least 70% of what I give. I’m sorry, I need you and you aren’t here. And as a man, I’m putting my foot down and letting you know that you yourself are not hurting me, but everything around us is hurting. At least I know where I stand in everyone’s life. Time for some serious self reflection. I’m tired of being the ghost. I’m tired of hiding. I’m tried of being so called “loved” I’m tired of not being able to talk to a single sound when I need it the most. ... you could be happy... fuck Man... you do what to have to do. But I don’t think I’m strong enough to watch knowing exactly what the outcome is going to be. ... I should take what’s mine and dare anyone to say anything to me about something....
idk. Fuck it. Done ranting
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kafkasgods · a year ago
faaya shah BOT 12/10/2020 despite saying faaya wasn’t planning on reopening the club anytime soon, they’d only been words of exhaustion and she was back at it. the only thing that really need any fixing was her doorknob, so she was still working on getting that replaced. but she wasn’t working now. for once faaya was a regular, depressed patron, just as anyone else. maybe not as much as ellis, who faaya had begun seeing more frequently, though it was the first time she’d decided to approach him, considering he appeared worse for wear lately. “a moscow mule and a whiskey sour, please.” her bartender was about to talk politely, but seeing faaya, merely saluted and carried one. “what are we fucked about tonight, ellis?” @Ellis Merchant
1 December 12, 2020
ellis merchant BOT 12/12/2020 ( tw alcohol, injury mention )
he’d been told repeatedly to rest. and he had honestly tried—but letting cain take care of chores and things around the cabin for most of the day had left ellis drenched in guilt, and he’d eventually begged to go for a walk, with promises that he’d be careful, leave his phone on, and come back soon.
he just needed a break from being injured, but unfortunately that wasn’t really how the human body worked. you didn't get breaks—unless you maybe turned to self-medication. not wise, sure, but what was the worst that could happen if he had a drink or two? there probably wouldn't be another monster attack so soon, he convinced himself. it'd be fine.
he dragged himself into the grapevine shortly after midnight, and was surprised to see faaya approach, drinks in hand. “no tea tonight? what’s the occasion?” he inquired, gingerly sliding onto a bar stool. he winced, but hoped she didn’t notice. “what aren’t we fucked about,” he returned with a slight grin. “i feel like that’d be a shorter list.”
@Faaya Shah
faaya shah BOT 12/12/2020 “it might be shorter, but i don’t really care to hear anything positive, frankly.” maybe another time faaya could have been in better spirits, but despite the carefree fun being had all around, there was a certain bleakness to the club during the late hour. at least in faaya’s opinion. she placed the whiskey sour in front of him, taking a seat beside him. with a clink of their glasses, she took a refreshing gulp of her own. “the occasion is i’m not working. we can drink to our heart’s content. if you even wanna drink with me. i’m fine either way.” she placed her cup down, idly looking at the colors reflecting on the cup. “i’m only bothering you because you don’t look very celebratory.” @Ellis Merchant December 18, 2020
ellis merchant BOT 12/18/2020 ( tw alcohol/injury )
“i’ll gladly accept a drink with you,” ellis said honestly. faaya never seemed particularly upbeat, but tonight was evidently something different. he chuckled softly. “do you expect me to be celebratory? i would’ve thought you knew me better by now, but if you need cheering up i can show you my injuries and you can appreciate in the fact that you weren’t stepped on by a chimera—” he narrowed his eyes at her. “unless you were, and you’re just much faster at healing than i am.” he couldn’t recall where she’d been, during the snowstorm, but she didn’t appear to be physically worse for wear, at first glance.
@Faaya Shah December 20, 2020
faaya shah BOT 12/20/2020 wincing at the sound of the injury, faaya lifted her shoulders. “stepped or not stepped on, word around town was you were a hero. i thought your head might be bigger by now.” it took her a moment to figure out what she wanted to say about her own experience. faaya had tried saying it before, but it never came out or was received well. the drink in her hand made her somber enough to feel distant from the moment. “i don’t think i’d be any faster at healing than an apollo child. so no, i got off unscathed. i was outside too though. we fought a drakon. the group i was in all had a hand in taking it down, i even got to use my scythe, which i haven’t go to touch very much recently. but.” she lifted the cup back to her lips, speaking into it before she downed it. “i was very much going to die.” @Ellis Merchant December 21, 2020
ellis merchant BOT 12/21/2020 ( tw alcohol & death/trauma/monster mention )
he felt a strange emptiness at hearing the word hero, and kept his eyes on his drink as he processed that. a few days ago, he would’ve been unaccountably proud of his actions, of hearing that people were tossing the title around when it came to him. now, though, he didn’t know what to feel about it.
he rubbed the back of his neck and half-laughed. “yeah, me too, this should really be my time to be truly insufferable… but i feel more or less the same as i did before, i dunno...” he listened to her summary of that night, his brows raising at the mention of a drakon. “yeah, you were with lida and rune, weren’t you?”
then she took a sip, and added the kicker. he let out a soft snort. “i would say i’d drink to that, but we’re already on our way.” he let the silence drift, momentarily, the memory of the chimera's claws back on his chest, the phantom weight. “but we didn’t die,” he said slowly. it was a casual observation of a fact, but he felt like it was worth stating. "kinda crazy, when you think about it. that could've just been... it."
@Faaya Shah
faaya shah BOT 12/21/2020 ( tw suicide mention )
there was a melancholic tone to ellis’ voice that made faaya pick up on the fact the experience he was was different than one other people saw. it was strange how whenever she was with him, she felt in good company. their moods and experiences felt oddly paralleled. “and hadley. they were all very competent people to be with.”
faaya nodded her head to ellis’ joke, staring at her own empty cup now. certainly she was going to order another, but she just wanted to sit with it for a moment. “sometimes i’m not sure how to feel about that.” scared wasn't the right word. fear and death was something she'd long grown used to. but this wasn’t something she’d ever talked out before. it felt okay to share because ellis knew the feeling too and he had no preconceptions about her.
“do you ever wish it was? in some ways, death is freedom, isn’t it? the gods can’t do anything else to us. maybe its the only real choice we have.” there had been merit in bentley's choice. she saw the appeal. she knew the mindset familiarly well. that was why it was too realistic.
shaking herself from too morbid thoughts that did tread the line of 'oversharing' even for them, faaya tilted her head towards ellis, giving him a coy smile. “don’t worry. i get more angry than i do sad. i’d be concerned for everyone else.” still, it didn’t mean she didn’t think about it. @Ellis Merchant December 27, 2020
ellis merchant BOT 12/27/2020 ( death talk, alcohol tw )
“i don’t know if i’ve ever seen hadley fight... but i dated his sister.” he tilted his glass one way then the other, watching the dwindling liquid flow back and forth idly. “even with her powers taken, she still managed to throw lightning at me and jamie once. i wouldn’t bet against a child of zeus, ever...” seeing faaya had already finished hers, he did the same, then signaled the bartender. “my round,” he added, in case she was going to accuse him of taking advantage of her apparent generosity.
the way she talked of death reminded him a bit of cass. it was familiar, in a horribly morbid way. “i’ve been accused of having a death wish, more than a few times,” he confessed, then frowned and shook his head. “i never really thought that much about it, but i don’t think i do, actually.” certainly he was reckless, and he considered it inevitable that he’d probably go down fighting, one day. but he didn’t seek out dangers. they just kind of happened—which he thought was probably typical of demigods, wasn’t it?
“i don’t think it’d feel like freedom to me, though. i think it’d be boring, predictable—assuming i didn’t end up in the fields of punishment… but having nothing to accomplish? nothing to work towards?" he shook his head. "i’d be screaming to get out by my second day.” having come to this conclusion in the last thirty seconds or so, he nodded to himself. “life’s got more to offer. i'm glad i'm still here.”
@Faaya Shah December 28, 2020
faaya shah BOT 12/28/2020 “i heard,” faaya replied with light amusement. she couldn’t help but think of collins then. with him gone to think about if he really did want to pursue her, faaya had unintentionally done some reflecting herself. at first she’d been ambivalent, but she was quite certain now that it just probably wasn’t going to work out. “do you have any advice about taking a lighting strike?” it seemed in her future.
the new drink was a generous surprise and she raised her glass in thanks to him. the drink came at precisely the right time; she needed it to ease the critical thoughts she had of ellis’ perspective of life. regardless, she let her opinion be known. maybe the alcohol hadn’t helped and all it did was loosen her tongue. “life’s rarely offered me anything good, so i really don’t have any impulse to give good back.” the thin straw sat between her teeth for a moment in solemn thought, pressing against the cushion of her lip before faaya released it. “i don’t want anything i do to be pretty.”
faaya gave a light mercurial laugh. “does that make us antitheses?” @Ellis Merchant
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taidajournal · a year ago
The Genie’s Wish
by Ciara Yip
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A genie grants three wishes in exchange for being set free. That’s how it always goes. Right?
Faron levels a flat stare at the not very big, floating purple genie with an ego larger than the Sahara.
“Three wishes for letting you out, isn’t that what the legends say?” The fifteen year old asks. It’s rhetorical, and he’s not really expecting an answer because so far the genie has refused to give any responses aside from indignant huffs or snorts. This time, however, the genie replies. 
“The legends don’t say I have to listen. And I don’t wanna!” 
The genie is surprisingly childish. but maybe it isn’t so surprising, because the purple being has the outward appearance of a young teen and apparently the mindset of one as well. 
“Then don’t,” Faron shrugs, picking up the antique Arabic lamp he’d dropped in surprise earlier and sets it on his desk. “Also you sound like a five-year-old. I thought genies were supposed to be these high and mighty, super mystical spirits?”
“I do not!” The genie screeches. In response to which question, Faron isn’t sure. The genie crosses his arms over his front. “And only those ancient dust bags act like that! I’m not that old!”
Ancient dust bags, huh? Faron just barely manages to not laugh out at the derogatory term the genie coined for what he assumes is other older genies. Which would mean that the genie in his room is young. Well,... younger.
“Uh huh. So you’re what? Five hundred years old?” Faron purposely chooses a lower number, because he has no idea what is old and what is young in genie terms. He’s fishing for answers now, wanting to make the most of this bizarre experience, and why the hell not? He just hopes the genie won’t catch on. 
“I’m not answering!” Or he might. The genie glares at him. “I know what you’re trying to do so don’t even try!” Oh well, looks like the genie is smarter than Faron assumed. The teen decides to take a more direct approach then. 
“Hey, you know, like it or not, I’m the one who let you out,” He mimics the genie, crossing his arms over his front. “If the legends are true —which I’m guessing they are considering your reaction— then the only way you’ll get rid of me is to grant my wishes.”
At this, the genie groans. “And what would you ask for, human?” The spirit is tempted to throw a tantrum right then and there because freedom be damned, but he is just about sick of people asking—demanding—that he him to grant their wishes. He is young, compared to some of his fellow genies, but he has been through his fair share of masters. “Riches? Power? A pretty wife?”
Faron blinks and stares at the genie like the spirit has grown a second head. “Dude,” he drawls. “First off, I’m fifteen. A girlfriend would be nice but I’m not looking to get married anytime soon. Second, my family has enough money as is. Third, why would I want power? I’m assuming you’re talking about political power here, and frankly politics is a major pain if you weren’t aware fyi.” 
Now it was the genie’s turn to stare in surprise. He goes silent for a while, before turning to look at the room he was in. Then he turns back to Faron. “What year is it?” 
“2020?” The teen responds with an answer that honestly sounds more like a question, and the genie begins doing the math out loud.
“2020. I think the last time I was out was around 1421? So that would be… Huh, that explains a lot.” 
“That explains nothing.” Faron really doesn’t want to respond, but does so anyway. For the sake of upholding the conversation. The genie was talking now, but who knows if the spirit would suddenly clam up again? “So it’s been a couple hundred years since you were last out of your lamp and times have changed, big deal.”
“Humans,” The genie sighs dramatically, exasperation evident in his tone. “Always thinking they know everything.”  The genie floats down from where he had been hovering near the ceiling. “So, what would you ask for, if not riches, power or a wife?”
Faron hums thoughtfully. “What about world peace?” 
“If world peace was a feasible wish, someone would have already wished for it, do you not agree?” 
“Point. Getting rid of the current global pandemic then?” The teen continues throwing out random ideas. 
 “Too troublesome.  And what pandemic are you talking about?” ’
“Oh, you know, just your everyday virus going crazy in people’s bodies.”
“... what, may I ask, is a ‘virus’?”
”And that is a sure-fire sign that we should probably stop going off-topic.” Faron would have explained. Really, he would have, except that his grades in Biology were abysmal. As it was, he could just barely remember basic cell structure, let alone explain to an immortal being what a virus was. “At any rate, I don’t really have anything I want that I couldn’t easily acquire, and your wish-granting abilities seem to have aits limit as well so it appears we’re at an impasse,”
As soon as the words left his mouth, the genie who had been amicably social for the past few minutes descended right back into childish territory. 
“Ugh.” The genie groaned dramatically, making sure to express his displeasure in the most obvious way possible. “Fine. Since you have absolutely no desires, I will simply have to wait until that boring mind of yours conjures up something worthwhile. And doable.”
The genie starts drifting towards the lamp on Faron’s desk, but stops when the teen suddenly asks him to wait. 
“What?” Oh boy, the genie sounds really annoyed, Faron thinks. “Well, I know people say curiosity killed the cat, but…” 
“Get to the point, human!”
“What kind of wishes can’t genies grant?”
The genie sniffs condescendingly, which Faron is pretty sure he’s doing on purpose. The purple spirit turns almost gracefully to face the teen. “Well, I suppose that is an acceptable question. However, it would be greatly appreciated if you would stop referring to me as ‘genie’!”
 “I would, except I don’t know your name.” Faron points out. “My name is Faron, by the way. In case you wanted to know.”
The yet to be named genie harrumphs. “You may address me as the Great and Mighty Rashad, spirit of Rashidun!”
Faron is struck speechless, Not at Rashad’s apparent might, no, but the sheer lameness of his probably self-proclaimed title.
Rashad sees the look on Faron’s face and resignedly drops the act. “Okay, fine. You may call me Rashad.” The look on the purple genie’s face tells Faron that Rashad knows very well the name is stupid. That ,and he is doing it on purpose to get on the teen’s nerves.  
“So…” Faron prompts.
“Generally Generically speaking,” Rashad holds up three fingers. “There are three kinds of wishes that my kind cannot grant: death wishes, ascendant transformation, and infinite wishes.”
“So technically you could grant world peace and get rid of the pandemic?”
The genie reluctantly answers. “I suppose technically, I could.”
“But you won’t.”
“But I won’t.”
“Why?,” Faron shrugs. “Hey, can you grant yourself wishes?”
“No.” The genie looks at Faron like he’s stupid. “Even if I could, there would be no point, would there?”
Faron grins sheepishly. “Fair enough. If you could, though, what would you wish for?”
“A cat.” Rashad’s reply is instantaneous.
Faron blinks. “That was fast…  and oddly specific.” 
 “You are not the first master I have come across to have asked me that question. I have had hundreds, if not thousands of years to think about it. And I have come to the conclusion that I would rather much have take the company of a cat rather than that of a puny human. They make much better conversational partners.”
“I’m going to pretend I did not just hear you insulting me, or humans in general.”
“Wise choice.���
“What else would you wish for besides a cat?” Faron asks. “You know, because three wishes.”
“King Arthur’s castle, staff included.”
“I am not even going to bother questioning that. And the third wish?”
“Eternal solitude.”
Faron doesn’t manage to stifle the snort that escapes him. “That’s kind of dark.”
Rashad sort of just glares at him. “Let’s see how social you are when you have been bound to a container for eternity, only being let out when someone wants you to grant some ridiculous wishes, then.”
“Fair enough.” Faron has an idea all of a sudden. Rashad is probably going to scoff and laugh at it, but the teenager thinks his idea is fairly doable. “Hey, you know, since I don’t need the wishes, I could make your wishes for you!” 
True to form, the genie stares like Faron has grown a second head. “What kind of hare-brained idea is that?”
“I’m just taking a page out of Aladdin!” Faron explains. “The genie in Aladdin wanted to be free, and Aladdin helped him get his wish by using his third wish for the genie. I thought we could do the same thing.”
The genie considers the offer. “I admit it is not impossible, but why would you use your wishes for me?” The spirit sounds genuinely confused.
“Because I’m just nice like that?” Faron shrugs. “I mean, there’s really no reason. I just thought you might like to make a wish of your own for once, instead of always granting other people’s wishes.”
It took a bit more convincing before Rashad gave in and accepted Faron’s offer of making a wish on the genie’s behalf. Although the purple spirit was adamant about only making one wish.
“You seriously want to make a wish for a cat?” 
Five minutes later, after a very carefully worded wish by instruction of the genie, two cats of different colours and gender appeared on Faron’s floor. 
“Well, it was nice meeting you. Enjoy your furry company, I guess?”
“You are not so bad yourself, Faron.” Rashad smirks at the teen’s surprise when he uses his name. “I suppose I should thank you for your generosity, but…”
“But you won’t, because you’re too damn proud.”
“That I am. However,” The genie begins to shrink as he enters the lamp. “I would be glad to grant you any more wishes should you require them.”
“I thought I had only two wishes left, and you can’t grant infinite wishes, right?”
The genie snorts. “I can’t grant infinite wishes, true. Then again, one or two more wishes isn’t exactly infinite, is it?”  
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sevralships · 5 years ago
(Entry for asterism-pinoideae’s Creature of the Week Challenge. Mine was prompted by the Journal 3 entry on Giant Vampire Bats)
When young supernatural investigator Stanford Pines hits a road-block in his study of Gravity Falls’ Giant Vampire Bats, his mysterious muse encourages some unorthodox research. TW bloodplay, TW vampirism/autovampirism, TW cutting/self-harm, TW all sorts of fucked up Bill stuff, TW Stangst. Billford. NSFW, 4370 words
It had been a long night and Stanford’s body was weary as he hiked homeward through the trees. It wasn’t late in the day, no later than nine in the morning, but the humid heat was already becoming stifling. He had shucked off his jacket and undone the top couple buttons of his shirt, but he was still overdressed. He grumbled under his breath as he walked, feeling very tired and frankly, a bit cranky.
Not only had the night been long, but worse, it had been unproductive. Stanford had established a little makeshift camp up in the mountains, just down-wind of the caves that the Giant Vampire Bats inhabited. He had chosen the position due to its being down-wind, to avoid the perplexing and likely dangerous creatures catching his scent and deeming it too appetizing. He had not, however, given enough consideration to how miserable it would be to sit on a rock all night drowning in the scent of bat droppings. Even the stench of guano would have been worth it if he had learned anything, but he had left his stake-out post this morning with no more clues than he had started with.
“This town baffles me…” he muttered. He had not been in Gravity Falls for very long, but its strangeness (and the strange behavior of its residents) had been immediately quite apparent. It was that very strangeness that drew you here in the first place, Stanford, he reminded himself. It was why he was here. Not just why he was in this town, but it was also literally why he was here, sweaty, over-tired, stinking of bat excrement, and trudging through the woods, when he ought to be quietly nursing a leisurely cup of coffee. He should have suspected, perhaps, that in a town with so much strangeness that the people would adapt. He certainly had not anticipated the reluctance, the denial, the desire to turn the other cheek and pretend there was nothing abnormal at all. It seemed ludicrous, in a town where bizarre things were around every corner, that the people should be so willfully ignorant.
Ford realized he was scowling and took a deep breath. It won’t do me any good to pout about it, he thought, willful ignorance is fairly universal and I’m the one who was naive to expect it to be any different here. It had been wishful thinking, after all. That, perhaps in a place with so much weirdness, there would also be more acceptance. More of a place for him, more appreciation, more acknowledgement that he wasn’t just a freak, but special.
As if summoned by his griping thoughts, He appeared. The color bled out of Stanford’s surroundings in that way that wasn’t quite familiar yet and he felt him before he saw him, “HEY THERE, FORDSY!” he said, in that strange voice that Ford seemed to feel in his spine as much as hear in his head.
“Bill!” He said dumbly. His muse had chosen him a scant month before and he had not yet gotten the hang of casually greeting such a wise and celestial being. His legs mechanically kept walking through the grey landscape, Bill floating pleasantly along beside him.
Bill laughed and Ford smiled politely with him. He had observed that Bill often laughed when nothing funny had been said, as if he always had some inexplicable glee to express. He regarded the strange triangular being beside him, finding the simplicity and strange symmetry of Bill’s visage to be somehow pleasing. Bill’s aura was rippling in time with his laugh, his eye crinkled joyfully. Ford was so fortunate to have been blessed with a muse of such good humor and agreeable temperament.
“SOMEBODY’S FEELIN’ GRUMPY,” Bill observed, in the wheedling tone one might use to ask if their dog wanted a treat, “WHAT’S WEIGHING DOWN THAT BIG HEAD O’ YOURS, SIX?”
Ford’s cheeks felt suddenly warm, a bit embarrassed of his petty complaints now that it was Bill inquiring, “Oh, it’s nothing for you to concern yourself with,” he assured Bill. This splendidly wise entity had for some reason seen fit to choose him, and he’d be damned if he was going to waste Bill’s valuable time.
“AW FORDSY,” Bill protested. He sounded disappointed but somehow still like he was grinning. Ford tried not to wonder about how little either made sense considering Bill’s lack of a mouth, “DON’T HOLD OUT ON ME! I THOUGHT WE WERE PALS, YOU ‘N’ I!”
“We- we are!” Ford insisted, hoping he had not upset his muse too greatly, “I mean to say, I would be honored to be considered amongst your friends,”
Bill laughed heartily, “THEN TELL ME! WHAT’S BUMMING OUT MY NEW PET?”
Stanford laughed nervously at the word choice, but brushed it off. Bill often said things that seemed a bit odd or off-color, but Stanford assumed that sort of thing would come with the territory of being an ageless keeper of knowledge. Your vernacular might end up a bit dated and strange, “I am merely frustrated by my research,” he said, hoping to downplay how irked he was feeling.
“BUT YOU’RE A GENIUS!” Bill pointed out and Ford’s heart soared at the praise. He had always been a genius, but he had rarely been told as much, and surely not by anyone with Bill’s authority.
“You’re too kind,” Ford thanked, “I misspoke. I suppose it’s not truly the research that has frustrated me. I don’t expect the bats to make it easy for me, but the lack of cooperation from the townspeople is infuriating!”
“HM,” Bill said, rubbing under his eye as if thoughtfully stroking his chin, “THOSE PEOPLE SHOULDN’T CONCERN YOU, FORDSY,” he advised, “WHATTA SHEEP LIKE THAT KNOW THAT A PRODIGY LIKE YOU DOESN’T?”
Stanford tried to ignore the bright red flush he could feel on his face at Bill’s flattery and tried to play it off with a small laugh, “It’s funny you should say that, Bill, because sheep are all they’ll talk to me about!” Bill gestured for Ford to continue, “There have been disappearances in the town, and I suspect the Giant Vampire Bats are responsible. Many livestock animals, but more importantly, a couple people! An old woman, a homeless fellow, and a young child!” Bill’s face remained impassive (insofar as one could read the expressions of a triangle) so Ford kept on, hoping to underscore his point, “When I have inquired with townspeople, all they want to talk about is how many of their sheep have gone missing! How many cattle, how many goats! Innocent people are likely dead and these people…” Ford scowled, “They joke about it being mosquitoes!”
“OH, SWEET FORDSY,” Bill cooed, and Ford tensed, unsure if he detected sarcasm in his muse’s tone, “YOU BIG SOFTIE!”
“It doesn’t matter if I’m sweet,” Stanford said, his voice having picked up a slight defensive edge, “That won’t help me to deduce why these bats would be interested in eating humans!”
Bill laughed again, harder this time. His small black hands clutched over his tie, as cackling laughter shook his strange luminous form. Ford’s footsteps slowed a bit as he curiously watched his muse’s amusement. Just as he was accepting that he would never be able to puzzle out what had set Bill’s laughter off, the sage being stilled his laughter and without having to catch his breath (Ford supposed that made sense, as surely he didn’t actually breathe) exclaimed matter-of-factly, “BECAUSE HUMANS ARE DELICIOUS! ”
That stopped Ford in his tracks and he knew he pulled a face, “Bill, you’ve got to be joking!”
“DO I-HAHAHA!-SOUND LIKE I’M-AH! HAHA!-JOKING?” Ford opted not to answer, mulling over what Bill was implying. Was it possible Bill was not as altruistic as he seemed? Ford frowned, “AW, C’MON, FORDSY, -HEH...HAHA- DON’T BE SO CLOSE-MINDED!”
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe it’s close-minded of me to reject the idea of eating fellow humans,” Ford said a bit tersely.
“SHEESH, KID, NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT YOU EATING FELLOW HUMANS!” Bill gave Ford’s shoulder a teasing punch. The spot tingled strangely. Touches in this odd grey in-between were always strange, “ALL I’M SAYIN’ IS THERE’S NO BIG SECRET YOUR BATS ARE HIDING! THEY EAT HUMANS BECAUSE YOU’RE TASTY! ”
“...How do you know that…?” Ford asked, quietly, hearing the doubt that tinged his own words.
Although the idea of Bill eating him hadn’t actually entered his mind, he was glad to hear that those were in fact not Bill’s intentions. It did not however, entirely settle the unease in Stanford’s mind, “But Bill…”
“OH, THEY WERE ALL WILLING SACRIFICES,” Bill clarified further with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Ford blanched. Still not what I was getting at, “...Willing sacrifices?” he repeated, morbidly intrigued, “You’ve accepted sacrifices?”
His muse had never referred to himself as a god before. From a young age, Stanford had rejected religion in favor of science. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing any faith could explain better than what could be learned through even-headed logical observation. He was committing his life to explaining the unexplainable, finding the facts behind those things that most people waved off as fantastical. What a stroke of irony that he of all people should be favored by a god. He supposed the title fit Bill as well as any other. He was unfathomably wise, ageless, powerful, and the very spirit of generosity, offering his help and asking nothing of Ford in return. Stanford could not deny that he felt a deep awe in Bill’s presence.
He stopped in his tracks, and looked down at his feet, reminded suddenly of their Rabbi’s voice when he was growing up, describing how Moses was made to remove his sandals by the burning bush for he had stood on hallowed ground. Neither he nor his brother had ever taken that story or any of the others much to heart, but at this moment it seemed apt. Maybe he’d simply never understood what it meant before.
It only took him a moment to snap out of his uncharacteristic reverence. He raised his gaze to Bill again. The muse, or perhaps he was a god, was watching Ford with a look of curious bemusement. Ford wondered again how such a nondescript face could convey so much, when he remembered his initial confusion, “You don’t have a mouth,” he said flatly.
“WELL, YA DON’T HAVE TO BE RUDE,” Bill snarked, a laugh hanging close by.
“No, no, pardon me, I’m not trying to be rude,” Ford said, “How do you know how anything tastes if you don’t have a mouth?”
“OH THAT! LIKE THIS!” Without warning, Bill blinked and when his eye opened again, it wasn’t an eye at all but a fanged grin. The sight ought to have frightened Ford but it sent a thrill down his spine. This creature, be he a muse or a god or something else entirely, was a mystery that only grew more enticing. A black tongue wet Bill’s new lips and to Ford’s shock, the sight aroused more than curiosity in him. Before he could even wonder if it was normal for one to desire a deity, Bill was dragging his tongue up the side of Ford’s face. The lick tingled, more intensely than a less intimate touch, it prickled like a prolonged static shock. But as fast as the contact was there it was gone again. Bill smacked his lips and said, “LIKE I SAID, HUMAN IS DELICIOUS!”
Stanford stared as Bill’s mouth closed and opened again as an eye. He hoped his unbidden feelings of lust weren’t apparent, desperately forced them to the back of his mind, “Is… is that all you meant… by delicious?” he asked.
Bill laughed, “‘COURSE NOT! SURE YOUR SKIN TASTES FINE, BUT IT’S THE BLOOD THAT REALLY PACKS A PUNCH!” Ford hmm-ed thoughtfully, unsure what to say to all these new revelations about Bill, “YA REALLY CAN’T KNOCK IT TILL YOU TRY IT, SIX. ANYWAYGOTTAGOSEEYAAA,” And with a jarring suddenness, Ford was blinking his eyes open. He had continued walking along in a trance in that threshold where Bill seemed to dwell and he was not far from home now. He began walking more briskly, eager to get out of the heat and into a cold shower.
An icy shower, a few hours of dreamless sleep, a couple stiff drinks, and Stanford still couldn’t quiet the turmoil of his thoughts. Worry about the Giant Vampire Bats had given way to far less welcome concerns. Was there such a thing as gods? Was it absurd for a mortal to desire a god? What was so ‘delicious’ about human blood?
“What’s come over me?” he asked himself, disbelieving the strange trajectory of his own thoughts. He had always had such a clear idea of who he was, of who he wanted to be. And none of this quite fit into the picture he had of himself. The pursuit of knowledge had always been of the utmost importance to him, but this all seemed somehow different. These were not questions that could be answered with recorded data, these demanded something from a much darker more primal part of the human mind. The very part of his mind he had always tended to keep tightly shut. It seemed the arrival of his muse, this bizarre god (if that was really what he was) had presented more questions than answers.
Not nearly for the first time, Stanford caught himself wondering what Stanley would say to all of this. What would he think of Bill? Ford wondered, What would he think of me? Stanley had always hated hearing his brother called a freak, even when it was Ford saying it. How could he begin to understand what his twin’s research in Gravity Falls meant to him? Thinking about Stanley only made this all harder to parse. His complicated feelings about his estranged brother would have to wait. There had been a time when Stanley had been his partner in crime, but those days were long past and Ford had a new partner now. He knew that with their powers combined, he and Bill could achieve great things.
His face was already a bit warm from the liquor, but he felt his cheeks getting hotter. I’m only starstruck, he told himself stubbornly, That’s a perfectly reasonable response to a deity, is it not?  He had never experienced religious zeal and he wasn’t entirely sure that this was how it was supposed to feel. The memory of Bill’s ink-black tongue snaking over his sharp teeth came unbidden into Stanford’s mind yet again and he felt his trousers growing tighter. He groaned, grateful he was alone but embarrassed nonetheless. Religious zeal most certainly did not involve that. He tried in vain to ignore his body’s response to the thought of his muse, trying instead to consider the likelihood that some faiths incorporated sexuality more than the lax reform Judaism in which he’d been brought up. It was definitely true, but he was still quite sure that what he was feeling was wrong.
He shut his eyes in frustration, willing his bloodflow to return to normal and leave his penis out of this. After a moment it started slowly to work, and Ford immersed himself. He focused on the mysterious blood, flowing dark and unseen beneath his skin. He realized too late that he was getting too caught up in the thought, that his mouth was watering. Bill wouldn’t lie to me, he reminded himself, not sure if that was more comforting or unsettling, “It’s only blood,” he said out loud, opening his eyes and staring down at his hands, crossed on the table in front of him.
He spread all twelve fingers, looking down at the broad palms and extra extremities that had garnered so much teasing and self-doubt over the years. It always surprised him that something so stupid should make such a big difference to anyone, including himself. It didn’t make him any less functional or valid, it was just a strange genetic accident. Just like any other trait a human might have, it was just a blip deep down in their chromosomes, in their DNA, in their blood.
The blood is the life! Stanley would say, in a bad Transylvanian accent. Ford smiled bitterly at the memory of watching black and white movies with Stanley. How simple things had seemed, how far away it all was from Stanford’s present. He stared at his hands, the way the pads of his fingers were slightly rosy. He pressed his thumb and forefinger together, watching transfixed as the pressure turned his fingertips white before he released and watched the blood rush back. He had never been so curious about what lay underneath his own skin, but now all at once it seemed he couldn’t stand not knowing.
He stood up abruptly, the legs of his chair squeaking noisily against the linoleum. There was a short list in his head of what he would need and he set about gathering it all. This was no different than any other experiment and thinking of it that way made it so much simpler. Of course there was no way he was going to hurt anyone else, but this was research and he was his own willing lab rat. When he returned with his arms full, Bill was waiting.
“YELLO!” he greeted cheerily, “I GUESS OUR TALK REALLY WET YOUR APPETITE!” he cackled at his own joke, watching as Ford arranged all the things he had gotten neatly on the table. There was a boxcutter with a new blade, a bottle hydrogen peroxide, some sterile gauze, and medical tape, “A BOY SCOUT IS ALWAYS PREPARED, EH?”
“I wasn’t a boy scout,” Ford said a little stiffly. He wasn’t sure when Bill had pulled him back into the grey trance of this threshold space, and he didn’t like that he hadn’t noticed. Bill’s presence made it somehow more embarrassing that he was actually doing this.
“I’M JUST YANKIN’ YOUR CHAIN, FORDSY,” Bill said making a small tugging motion with both hands, which created an odd tightness in Ford’s gut. He ignored the sensation as best he could. He took a small pad of gauze and wet it with the hydrogen peroxide. First he used the gauze to thoroughly wipe off the boxcutter blade, and then did the same to his left palm. He dropped the spent piece of gauze on the table absently, steeling himself for what he was about to do, “WOW,” Bill said, in an impressed tone that made Stanford’s chest swell proudly, “YOU’RE ONE HELLUVA HUMAN, SIXER.”
Hearing his muse’s earnest praise gave Ford the little boost that his nerves needed. As if it was the most commonplace thing in the world, he guided the blade to his sterilized left palm and pressed. His hands did not shake, and he hardly flinched, although it was more a result of surprise than pain. It took practically no pressure for the keen blade to break his skin and it happened easier than he’d expected. He watched as the dark blood surged up around the metal. Bill made a pleased oohing sound and Ford’s pulse quickened, reacting to the pain and the thrill of impressing a god.
Hypnotized by the sight of his own skin parting cleanly beneath the sharp knife, Stanford slowly dragged the boxcutter across his hand. He hissed involuntarily at the feeling, the pain acute and immediate. It hurt, but there was a harsh satisfaction to it as well. All of the confusion and doubt from only moments before fell away, and everything distilled into the exquisitely simple pain of damaged tissue. His half-cupped palm was filling with blood and he watched it dreamily for a second before putting down the boxcutter. He glanced at Bill and was stricken by what he saw. He hadn’t realized how close his muse had come, entranced, and did not expect him to be so near. His single, unnerving eye was trained on the blood pooling in Ford’s hand, his aura wavering in time with the perpetual low hum he was emitting. It was an entirely inhuman sound, requiring no air, but something about it stirred Ford much the way the sigh of a lover might. Bill met Stanford’s gaze and widened his eye slightly, as if raising an eyebrow coaxingly.
Without breaking eye contact for an instant, Ford lifted his left hand to his open mouth. An instant later, his palate was flooded. He had tasted blood before, as anyone who has sucked a papercut or lost a tooth had, but never had it been anything like this. The taste was agonizingly rich, bitterly metallic and salty and almost sweet all at once. It tasted dark and heady, like the ozone smell of pressure before a storm. He heard his own soft moan, surprised by it, as he slowly swallowed, wanting to prolong the sickeningly decadent feeling of his own blood sliding down his throat. The sound Bill was making changed in response to him, the pitch moving higher and somehow Ford could recognize that it sounded hungrier.
He licked along his own hand, his tongue feeling strange against the fresh wound and Bill’s eye was glued to the contact. Ford realized absently how hard he was, but unlike before, he no longer felt embarrassed by it. With the way his muse was watching him, it suddenly no longer seemed wrong or unwelcome. It seemed like a shared secret, something certainly taboo, but not a crime he was committing alone.
Stanford somewhat reluctantly lifted his mouth from his palm. The straight angry line of the cut bled again at once, that strange dark red swelling up temptingly. He wasn’t going to drink from himself again though. He lifted his eyes from his hand to look at Bill. He was floating as near as possible without touching and Ford could swear the normally clear lemon-yellow appeared to be tinged just slightly a pinkish-orange. His aura was glowing brilliantly, dizzyingly bright, and the sound he was making set Stanford’s teeth on edge. Bill’s eye was glued to the seeping wound, and Ford extended the hand slightly to him, “Would you like to taste me?”
The sound Bill was making changed as he blinked slowly. It took Stanford a second to identify why it had changed, taking on a warmer, throatier, even more maddening tone. Then Bill opened his mouth, and the reason became clear. Where a moment ago it had been a sound abstractly produced, it was now a starved growl being emitted from an actual mouth, “I’D LOVE THAT,” Bill’s mouth said, and watching his voice actually come out of his mouth sent a shiver from the top of Stanford’s head, down through him to settle achingly in his groin.
Bill’s small black hand reached out to steady Stanford’s wrist, his tongue lolling out of his mouth to wet his lips before moving languidly across Ford’s palm. Ford cried out at the contact. The touch of Bill’s hand was one thing, but his mouth was entirely different. Just as when he had licked his cheek in the forest, it tingled electrically. It was excruciating pleasure when his tongue would meet the rawness of the open wound. Bill moved his tongue thirstily against the small gash, making wet obscene sounds of pleasure. He closed his lips on Stanford’s palm and sucked, his tongue never stagnating. Ford hardly knew his free hand had moved to touch himself through his pants, it had been so involuntary. He stroked himself vigorously, shamelessly, the edge so close that his toes curled. Bill seemed to sense Ford’s urgency and his teeth prickled against Ford’s skin as his tongue dragged firmly against the cut.
Stanford cried out again as he came harder than he ever had before. Bill’s mouth did not release his hand until Stanford’s orgasm has subsided to rattling gasps and tremors. Bill laughed a bit airily and said a little smugly, “THAT’S ALWAYS WHEN HUMAN BLOOD TASTES THE BEST,” Ford gave a weak grunt in acknowledgement. He felt a hand on his hair and realized his eyes had fallen closed, and opened them. Just as he did, Bill’s tongue darted out to lick a couple lingering drops of blood from Ford’s lips. Without an instant’s hesitation, he opened his mouth, inviting a kiss from Bill’s strangely irresistible mouth. His tongue tasted like blood and felt like lightning and Ford drifted guilelessly in the bliss of kissing his muse. The kiss ended and when Stanford opened his eyes, Bill’s mouth was gone and had been replaced by the return of his eye, “YOU DID SO WELL, FORDSY,” Bill said, and Ford’s head swam with pride and relief at the praise, “YOU’RE EVEN MORE VALUABLE THAN I THOUGHT,”
Without another word, Bill disappeared. Stanford blinked at the color in the world around him, at the absence of Bill’s touch and voice. His mouth tasted like rust and his hand was bleeding on the table. Dutifully, almost robotically, Ford sterilized and dressed the wound, lingering wistfully over the small incisions that Bill’s teeth had made. After he cleaned up, he dragged himself in the direction of his bed, appreciating the sticky wetness in his pants. It was a bit uncomfortable, but he was grateful for it nonetheless. As he fell into bed, there were a million and one thoughts clamoring at the door, begging entry to his mind, but they would have to wait. All he cared about at the moment was that he had pleased his muse.
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smackit17-blog · 5 years ago
Couch surfing is deceiving. It looks easy but it’s really hard
In my inaugural post, I concluded by saying I was heading to Los Angeles for a change of scenery and to explore opportunities. And as it happened, one of the conversations I’d started before arriving, became real on my first full day in LA. We agreed to a 3-month trial and if we both decide it’s a good fit at the end of the 3 months I’ll be relocating from NYC to LA.
The thought is both exhilarating and terrifying. Of course, you want to deliver great results, so that you are asked to stay on, but am I really ready to leave NYC? I mean LA is a fun place to visit, and I’ve talked about it moving here, but with the security of knowing I was locked into NYC- until now. Which brings me to lesson #1 in this post: Don’t underestimate the little things. Remember me espousing the belief that I am currently tethered to nothing and no one? Not entirely true. My family is outside of Philadelphia less than a 2-hour drive from my Battery Park apartment. I have an amazing network of friends with many of the friendships running more than a decade. My favorite workouts, restaurants, hell even the “go to” drycleaner, who can literally get out any stain. And so much more. It’s called a life and I was so wrapped up in thinking about a job and a relationship that I forgot about all the other things that make up a life.
And now here I am in LA with no net. Not even a go to Dentist. Clearly, I’m not in a 3rd world country, but you get the point. Familiarity breeds contempt, but man when everything is unfamiliar, the longing is palpable.
And I’m still dealing with the post-traumatic stress of the most recent fallout with my ex. (I know horrendous to bring him into a 3rd post, but whatever it’s part of what I am dealing with). Friends who don’t read my blog (and most don’t) have no idea I have seen him in the last year or more. And the ones I confided in are so sick of hearing about it, the ability to have any sympathy is just non-existent. And I don’t blame them. I have zero sympathy for myself at this point. And do question my sanity.
So, all of this is happening, while I start a new job, where I need and want to impress. I’m in a strange city with only a handful of friends. And I’m couch surfing, i.e. staying with an incredibly generous friend. Which brings me to lesson #2 in the post: True selflessness is a humbling. I feel a combination of guilt, relief, and the kind of gratitude you have for someone who has saved your life. Guilt because she has more on her plate than any single person should have to. And adding another body in your already full house is a lot. And let’s be honest — I’M A LOT! She couldn’t be more welcoming and gracious but I feel/am a tremendous imposition. Relief because I don’t have to pay two rents, and I get to come home to a familiar and beloved face (faces including her two kids and 10 -month old lab puppy — more on him shortly). And gratitude for having someone extend such kindness. This is more than a good friend. This is family.
So while I am not technically couch surfing — I have a lovely room which I have taken over from her 6 year old son (yes you read that correctly), I am living in someone else’s home, and just generally imposing on every aspect of her life. Because despite the awkwardness, it just doesn’t make sense to look into something of my own until I have clarity on whether or not this is a permanent relocation. And as it so happens, she and her children are out of town the bulk of the summer leaving a mostly empty house.
Which brings me to lesson #3 in this post: Be careful what you wish for! All those times I wished I could be more free-spirited and accepting of others generosity? Let me tell you this is harder than it looks. I have listened to stories over the years of mooching friends, wondering how they “pull it off,” and thinking, “man I couldn’t do it, but really wish I could!” I’ve always prided myself on total self-sufficiency, and if anything, being the one to pay the tab or let someone crash with me because I was “so sorted.” Also I am a bit of a control freak. I like having my own space, with my things organized just my way, and my whole routine. So being in someone else’s home, carless for the moment, without knowing the places to run errands, or having any of them be walkable, makes you feel incredibly dependent and unsettled.
And there’s the shame of asking a million stupid questions — is there a Starbucks between here and work (don’t worry I’ll make you coffee); how about a drycleaner (I’ll drop your stuff); is there a drawer I could use (give me a few days to clear out my son’s clothes); Do you want to go hiking this weekend (sure! Even though I know the answer is most certainly — NO) Cringe-worthy.
And so, this control freak became determined to be the best damn couch surfer/house guest. How could I do it? Could I cook dinners? No. As it became immediately apparent everyone ate on different schedules. Could I book my trainer friend to train us? Maybe. But would that even be a workout she liked and a time that worked? Keep thinking Julie! And then the answer seemed handed to me on a silver platter…
When my friend picked me up from my AirBnB and was driving me to begin my stay at her house, she mentioned that he puppy was pretty out of control and might be the most challenging part of my stay. THERE IT WAS! I would train this puppy! So we walk into the house and I meet Kota. Well my student was a handsome devil. Pure white with a big square head and inquisitive expression. He was a large one too — about 70 pounds full of wriggling, constant moving, chewing, and barking puppy power. My immediate diagnosis — this dog just needs exercise. So, shortly after entering the house, Kota and I were off for a walk
Kota didn’t have a prong collar, typically a helpful way to train big strong dogs to heel and walk properly. I was not deterred. I’m big and strong and I can do this. Well this dog dragged me to and fro across the neighborhood streets, sniffing and wiggling with joy and abandon. I could see he was happy to be out, but I was beginning to realize I might be in over my head. I had grown up with big German Shepherds, but they were all trained by my mom. And my own beagle, Beemer, had come to me as a show dog — trained and saintly.
But I figured I’d get into a routine, great for both of us. I’d wake up early and walk the loop of my friend’s hilly 1 mile neighborhood. Hell maybe 2x around! Start the day off right for both Kota and me. And I’m sure the more I walked him the better he’d get. I’d pick up a nice prong collar and we’d take it from there. So Thursday am I woke up tired and slow moving on the heels of The Grateful Dead show. But off I went. Letting Kota drag me about half way through the neighborhood before giving up and turning around. Tomorrow would be a fresh day, not hung over and stressed about a new job. We’d start then.
Following work that same day, I arrive back to Bel Air. My friend and her kids were relaxing after dinner and watching some TV. My new best friend Kota greeted me with interest. I had some new hire paperwork and first day email follow ups, so I set up at the breakfast bar in full view of the family so I could maintain some sense of sociability and do what I needed to do.
Which brings me to less number #4: Don’t underestimate your task! I quickly became engrossed in some personal emails and my friend and her kids made their way up to get ready for bed. I remained perched at my breakfast bar stool, face fully into the computer. Kota was downstairs with me. I assumed we were together in companionable silence. We’d probably been alone for 10, maybe 15 minutes when I looked down and noticed one of the two espadrilles I had put on the ground beside me was missing. And almost instantly I knew the culprit. Kota. Sure enough, it was dangling from his mouth. He had been waiting for me to notice. I stood up and watched over and in my most authoritative voice demanded he drop it. Instantly he stood up and ran to the back yard, and then popped his head back in the house and the chase ensued. That fucker was most certainly having a glorious time taunting me. I alternately tried to cajole and demand. Neither worked. I got desperate and offered bread. It worked. Only the damage was done. The entire strap was chewed off and its contents, including the buckle were in Kota’s stomach.
I went upstairs to complain to my friend who was trying to enjoy some quiet time with her daughter. She asked me gently for a few more minutes. I sheepishly left the room and went back downstairs to face my tormentor. And in the 2 to 3 minutes since I’d gone upstairs Kota had not gotten hold of a pen. At some point, he had ripped up a significant area of my friend’s white living room rug and lay chewing on the pen in the newly bare spot on the rug. So not only was it bare it was blue. As was his feet and his tongue. Arghhhh this fucking dog!
This dog, that I was going to train, as the legacy of the greatest couch surfer of all time, was making me look like really really really bad. Actually, more like the worst house guest ever. Causing more problems than anything. I had to grab my friend abruptly from her daughter’s bedroom as I literally how no idea how to handle her new blue dog, who by the way wouldn’t drop the pen, and wanted to engage in another game of “catch me if you can.” So, after she windexed as much blue from him as she could and I apologized as much as you can in this kind of situation, I made my own quick exit to bed.
And as I lay in her 6-year-old son’s bed, I was feeling blue. A lot like Kota looked actually. What was I going to do? I was now feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the prospect of this dog. Especially with a new job, which after only one day I knew was going to be long and arduous hours. And as I continued to ruminate on how quickly things had unraveled this evening, it dawned on me that Kota and I had a lot in common, We were both antsy and anxious beings who didn’t know what to do with our excess energy and anxiety and instead of having any ability to self soothe or channel our energy productively we got destructive. Hmmmm. This thought might be too deep to tackle in this post, and it certainly was at 10pm that night. So, I did what the experts say you should do during moments like this– I went the fuck to sleep.
And this brings me to the final lesson for this post: There is always a silver lining! When I woke up in the morning I had new resolve. Surely, I was humbled, but I wasn’t yet ready to give up. I would walk this dog every morning and at minimum and goddammit that was something. So off we went as my friend again readied her kids for school. This time, I managed to let Kota drag me through the whole neighborhood loop, and there were a few minutes where a passerby might think this dog was walking quite nicely! And even better this loop is steep hills throughout. Good for Kota and even better for my ass! WIN WIN! And so here we are. The dawn of a new day and new possibilities for me and Kota, and for finding my missing ass ;)
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skyler10fic · 5 years ago
Do you mind someone coming to you on anon to talk about personal stuff that they don't want to share publicly, but at the same time feel desperate to talk to someone about it? I have been so indoctrinated by religion my entire life that now that I have admitted to myself that I don't actually believe, I still can't shake the guilt/pressure/fear that goes with that. If I opened up to them, they'd just say those feelings of guilt are a sign that I'm wrong and need to repent. I feel manipulated.
Oh my dear, Nonny. Sigh. First, a huge hug. This is so hard and I want you to know you aren’t alone.
Now, get comfy because this is going to be a long one. Here we go: 
1. In general about personal stuff, I don’t mind at all! In fact, this is a good way to talk since others might have perspective I lack. That said, know that like most people on here, I am not a professional counselor or even very good at giving advice, so I encourage you try counselling because it is seriously a life saver and I mean that very literally. 
2. Back to the topic of religion, I do find it interesting you came to me specifically, as I try to keep religious stuff off here for many valid and varied reasons. 
3. One of those reasons is that while I am still somewhat a person of faith, I have also been through some pretty weird/intense/hard to explain spiritual abuse. This makes my real life extremely complicated and I never want to bring that here since Tumblr is my safe space away from all of that. So now that that is out there, also know that I will not be sharing more details or any specifics and prefer not to talk about this subject on here at all. 
4. All this to say, I can relate and the following is based on my own experience. Feel free to ignore/discard anything here that doesn’t apply to you. Anyway. Back to your ask. 
5. You mention guilt, but I think it would help a lot to parse the guilt (”my actions are bad”) from the shame (”I am bad”) that your religion has left you with. My lifesaver (again, using that word literally) was reading/watching the work of Brene Brown. She is a researcher who uses storytelling to share her work on shame/guilt, courage, vulnerability, and living a wholehearted life. It’s all really data-driven, so if the genre of “self help” makes you gag, know that this isn’t that. Watch all of these (link to YouTube) and read her books and cry and laugh and say “me too” and hopefully that will help you put language to the things you are feeling/talking to your counselor about. Seriously, please read these books.
6. I’d encourage you to check out Micah J. Murray’s blog. Particularly this post on leaving the church. 
7. If it happens to be conservative/fundamentalist religion you’re leaving, Rachel Held Evans is a good place to find kindred spirits (her comment sections are full of all beliefs and backgrounds and she has a lot of fans who aren’t religious, if that helps). Her first book (and kind of everything else she writes) was about wrestling with leaving evangelicalism and confronting doubt and how painful it is, so I would start there. (link) 
8. Ok, that’s enough resources. Now from my own experience, some learn-from-my-mistakes wisdom: 
9. I know this will only get harder the longer you explore life outside of the religion you’ve known, but it will help you so much to stay open to those you know and love who still believe. It’s ok to have friends who believe different stuff. Please don’t isolate yourself because that is the worst. 
10. That said, if you are in a cult, are being spiritual abused (here is a decent list to help spot red flags), or are experiencing other abuse, please get out. It’s ok to break ties. It’s the best thing you can do sometimes. Personally, it took cutting off almost all of my friends and moving to a new state to eventually break free. BUT I did it with the support and community of new friends who helped and understood and were healthy and patient and kind and let me cry on their kitchen floors and such. Not saying you have to wait to leave, but just that it is easier when you don’t cut out the healthy people along with the unhealthy people. Keep the friends you can, even if you think they are wrong or listen to sucky music or are just in a different season of life than you. 
11. It takes YEARS to feel ok again sometimes. And that’s normal. It will hurt when some people react the exact way you fear. It will hurt them that you aren’t “who they thought you were” and it will hurt you that they think that. Forgiveness for their harsh words and behavior may eventually come, but for now, grieve and move on from those who are rude, angry, mean, or manipulative. You don’t need them, I promise. Toxic friendships get exposed when someone can’t handle the other changing and that sucks, but it’s good in the longrun and will make you happier down the road, like a weight lifted off your back. 
12. But still, this doesn’t have to be THE THING that crouches on your head, pushing you down and making you fearful and ruining your life. That’s anxiety. Instead, I’d advise only telling those who need to know. You don’t need to announce on Facebook “Hey everyone! I’m no longer a (insert religion). Feel free to start ranting in the comments about how I’m going to hell.” Nor do you need to externalize your anger with anti-religion posts all over the place. That’s not productive for anyone and won’t help you be understood at all. But maybe just have coffee with someone who you hope will get it. Maybe a friend who listens well and speaks with wisdom, or an aunt who has been through the same thing, or again, your therapist. Then maybe plan out a calm, distraction-free, neutral-territory night with your parents. (i.e. not right after your religious service or in a fight or when emotions are high) Explain that you’ve made your decision and you’d like them to trust you on it and respect you as an adult (hoping that you are an adult. If you’re a teen, maybe less finality the younger you are because they will try to say you are too young to know, etc. etc. blah blah blah). 
13. That said, keep an open heart/mind to the idea of religion over all. I know a lot of people who have discovered different expressions of faith that worked for them. (Women and LBGT folks and poc who left conservative faith and found a drastically different liberal faith, for example.) Even if you totally aren’t into religion at all, stuff like meditation and silence and positivity and such that are part of many religious traditions are actually scientifically valid and helpful, even when divorced from a specific god. And along with the bad, you might have some really positive memories of religion associated with “home.” So in time, when it feels right, it’s ok to accept and acknowledge and appreciate the beautiful parts of religion as part of what made you you and it’s ok to leave it there. Like school. It’s a big part of your childhood and sometimes it sucks but it passes on and you leave it and change. But you are grateful for what it taught you and may go back occasionally to visit, but you don’t have to live there anymore. Even for many young adults who don’t completely leave the faith, it looks so different in their 30s from the religion of their teens (and their parents), they might as well have.
14. I can only address your concern about conviction ( = guilt means you need to repent) versus condemnation (the manipulation and shame and indoctrination and fear) from a Christian perspective since that’s my background, but I assume it applies to other religions as well. I tell people, based on Brene’s research and the same Bible they claim to defend, that healthy guilt/conviction is fear-free. Conviction to change something in your life is based on love and freedom and joy, and according to the Bible, love “casts out all fear” -- so if something is making you feel afraid, by definition of their own scripture, that isn’t God’s voice. If you are feeling guilty, for whatever reason, you do need to listen to see if there’s any truth to it (like, for example, you should probably feel guilty for stealing from a baby or killing people or lying to someone you shouldn’t, etc. haha ;) ) but after you listen, you discern. And if your discernment tells you you haven’t done anything wrong, that’s when it gets tough because now it is time to be brave and to hold fast to your truth. And if your truth is that you don’t believe, then you have to refuse to accept any fear or guilt or manipulation, and choose to remain true to what you DO believe in (kindness, generosity, love, etc.) and who you are. Again, do this in humbleness and empathy and patience. Not because you owe it to anyone, but because those things will make it easier than the alternative in the longrun.
15. There will be people who will want you to debate them. Don’t do it. Don’t offer anyone an explanation or dissertation or fight who is clamoring for one. It’s good to talk it out with people who care and will listen and can guide you, but it’s not going to help anyone to argue on social media whether you know them or not, or even in person, if they are just trying to “win” or convert you or rile you up. 
16. There is a healthy way and place to mourn what you’ve lost. Please do it. Also know when to control those emotions and not let them guide you into war with your family and friends and community and everyone who means well but says exactly the wrong thing. This is something that comes with time and learning the hard way. 
ok, that’s enough religion talk. I think I’ve probably pissed off everyone I know and you’ve tuned out or clicked out of this long ago, but that’s about all I have to say on the subject. I hope some of this (even just one of the bullet points) is helpful. Like I said, if it’s not and this doesn’t apply to you, don’t worry about it and just ignore it and move along, but just in case it does apply to you, here you go. Obviously, I have some experience in this area, so maybe the silver lining of me having to go through it is that it benefits someone else.       
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