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#Looks like we got another essential crisis on our hands
viastro · 7 months ago
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pacman | yoon jeonghan
ミ★ synopsis: being best friends, you and jeonghan know all there is to the disastrous effects of developing feelings for each other. that’s why you both make a sleep-deprived promise at 5 am to never fall in love with the other. however, jeonghan begins to question everything when he tasks himself with making you and the new transfer become a couple.
ミ★ genre: best friends / to strangers / to lovers!au, angst, fluff, some humor
ミ★ warnings: none !
ミ★ word count: 7,559
ミ★ pairings: jeonghan x gender neutral reader / jun x gender neutral reader
ミ★ notes: hi guys ! here’s my jeonghan oneshot that was inspired by jaehyun’s upcoming kdrama ! it took me a few days to finish this, so it’s pretty long and i would like to apologize in advance AJSKBGKB i also recommend listening to stay here by gaho on repeat for like top tier reading experience HAHAHA i hope you guys enjoy this oneshot, and remember to give jeonghan lots of love <3
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Your eyes are closed as your head rests on the table, waiting for the lecture to begin. Your airpods are in your ears, playing a soft instrumental that has you on the verge of drifting off to sleep. 
Until Jeonghan sits beside you.
“I thought you slept early last night?” Instead of hearing the piano, you hear your best friend’s voice fill your ears as you open up one eye. The newly dyed redhead is staring at you with an amused expression on his face, causing you to squint at him. 
“Yeah, 2 am this time. Personal best for the year so far.” You tell Jeonghan, sitting up from the desk and stretching your arms over your head. Jeonghan rolls his eyes, knowing that is a lot earlier than the usual 6 am bedtime routine you’ve got going on. He sits down in the seat beside you, pulling out his things from his bag. 
Yoon Jeonghan, your best friend of almost eight years now. The two of you met in middle school, having been paired up in science class to dissect a frog. Jeonghan was close to tears the whole time while you were practically gagging over the smell through your mask. 
Someway, somehow, the two of you ended up sticking together after that unfortunate occurrence. No words were exchanged either, you both kind of just started sitting beside each other during lunch and waiting for each other at your assigned lockers. 
In high school it got annoying, as Jeonghan suddenly started to become... pretty. He grew taller, cut his hair short, and had a smirk that made anyone and anything swoon. Well, everyone except you. It got worse when you both entered university, as Jeonghan is continuing to become prettier by the minute. 
You can’t count on your hand how many times someone was jealous of how close the two of you were. 
However, the two of you made a vow after watching one too many kdramas with the trope of best friends to strangers due to one of them falling in love. It might be a bit drastic, and it was in the wee hours of the morning when the two of you made this oath so who knows if Jeonghan remembers. You don’t even remember most of what you both agreed upon other than the fact that the two of you can’t fall in love.
“Hannie, our friendship is too precious to end like theirs did!” You say through your tears, with Jeonghan pulling out a bunch of tissues to throw at your face. He nods his head in agreement, running a hand through his black hair as he fights back his own tears, only to pause and turn towards you.
“You think I’d like you?” Jeonghan asks with a look of disgust on his face, making you halt your movements, looking at him with a glare. “Hey!” 
“I’m teasing you.” Jeonghan says with a laugh, taking one of the tissues he threw at your face and wiping the snot that’s slipped past your nose from crying. You quietly let him, too tired and sad to tell him how gross that is. 
“We gotta stop binging kdramas until 5 in the morning.” Your best friend tells you, and you nod your head silently as you stare into his pretty eyes. He lets out a yawn once he’s done wiping away your tears, turning off your TV and placing the remote on the table. 
“Come on, lay down, yn.” You don’t move from your position on the couch, still huddled into the corner as you think of what could happen if one of you ever developed feelings for each other. 
A small smile forms on Jeonghan’s face at how deep in thought you are, reaching out and patting the top of your head. You look up at Jeonghan, and he tilts his head at you. 
“What’s up? I’m trying to tuck you in and you’re staring off as if you’re going through an existential crisis.” You purse your lips at his observation, wondering if you are having an existential crisis. Jeonghan sits back down beside you, and he rests his head on his hand as he turns his body towards you. 
“Let’s make a vow.” You say after a moment of silence passes between the two of you. Jeonghan raises an eyebrow, “What kind of vow?” 
You turn your body towards his, fixing the blankets on your lap before finally looking into his eyes again. You find Jeonghan’s eyes to be his prettiest feature, as you can always see what he’s feeling through his gaze. It’s how you’re able to tell when he’s lying. 
“A vow for us to never fall in love with each other.” You state, and you watch as mirth pools Jeonghan’s eyes while his lips curve up into an amused smile. “I don’t think we can make a vow on something that’s out of our control.” 
You bite the inside of your cheek, and Jeonghan watches as your eyes brighten when another idea comes to mind. He’s a bit taken aback when you suddenly reach out and grasp his hand, holding it tightly between your warm ones.
“Then we make a promise.”
“That’s the same thing as a vow-”
“No, shut up. Let me explain.” You say, and Jeonghan chuckles. He motions with his hand for you to go on, and you let out a breath.
“If one of us catches feelings, then we end our friendship.” Jeonghan stares at you with a serious expression on his face, and you find that you’re afraid at how fast the amusement left his eyes. Jeonghan leans in closer towards you, “You’d want to end our friendship just like that?” 
“Nono! I mean like, for a certain amount of time. Essentially we’d just ghost each other until our feelings go away, and the other can’t intervene.” You explain, slightly shoving Jeonghan away, but you see that he still looks a bit put off by your idea. 
“I’d feel like ass if you just left without a word, though.” Jeonghan tells you, and you slowly nod your head, understanding where he’s coming from. You let out another sigh, looking up at the ceiling.
“Pacman.” You peek at Jeonghan, wondering why he mentioned your guys’ favorite game when you were children. He gives you a tired smile, “It’ll be our code word. Instead of leaving without a trace for a couple months, or confessing our feelings and then leaving, we can just say Pacman. It’s not directly saying I love you, and who knows if either of us will remember the word. It’s the perfect thing to say before disappearing for a bit.” 
You slowly nod your head, finding that it seems like the best option thus far. And so, out of your 5 am fatigue, you hold out your pinky towards your best friend. 
“Pinky promise that you won’t fall in love with me.” You mutter sleepily, and Jeonghan chuckles, reaching out and intertwining his pinky with yours. 
“I pinky promise that I won’t fall in love with you.” Jeonghan responds softly, pressing his thumb against yours, sealing the promise.
And now here you both are, still going strong after that sleep-deprived promise you made when you two were barely 16 years old. 
You let out a yawn, covering your mouth with your hand while Jeonghan scrolls through his phone to try and show you the meme he saw earlier. Only for you to pause your movements when someone enters the auditorium.
“Look, I found it.” Jeonghan says happily, about to hold out his phone towards you, only to pause, seeing that you’re distracted. He turns his head in the direction of your awed state, only to find a handsome guy standing at the doorway, looking for a seat. 
Jeonghan slowly turns back towards you, finding you still staring at the man. He’s never seen this expression on your face before when you looked at someone else, but he knows this look. And so, he lets out a grin, before standing up from his seat and walking down the steps. 
Your eyes widen when you suddenly see Jeonghan’s red hair flash before your eyes, and you internally scream when you watch him walk up and bow to the incredibly pretty man.
“Hi! I’m Yoon Jeonghan.” This seems to startle the guy, but his eyes almost immediately turn up into an eye smile as he bows back in Jeonghan’s direction. 
“Hi, I’m Wen Junhui.” Jeonghan grins back, before motioning over towards where you and him are seated. 
“Oh God.” You mutter to yourself when the pretty man looks up at you, causing you to look down at your phone and check to see if you look at least half decent. You internally scream when you look back up to see him and Jeonghan walking up the steps, and you would’ve flipped Jeonghan off if it weren’t for the pretty guy looking at you. 
“Yn! This is Wen Junhui, he’s a transfer.” Jun smiles at you, and you find yourself smiling back at him, warmth flooding your chest at the precious sight. “Hi yn, you can call me Jun.” 
You nod your head, “Hi Jun, let Jeonghan and I know if you ever need any help!” 
He sits down in the seat besides Jeonghan and bends down to take out the things from his bag, giving you enough time to quickly smack the back of Jeonghan’s neck. He squeaks, turning and shooting you a glare, only to stop and give Jun a reassuring smile when the pretty transfer looks at him in concern.
“Are you okay?” 
Jeonghan nods his head, giving Jun a thumbs up. He glances towards you once more when Jun goes back to preparing his seat, only to find the slight sparkle to your eye as you stare at the transfer student. Jeonghan slowly looks away, knowing exactly what that sparkle will signify in the future. 
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Jeonghan walks towards the square with both airpods in, hands holding heat packs in the pockets of his coat to keep warm. He notices you sitting on the bench, bundled up in your large jacket as you wait for him, causing a small smile to form on Jeonghan’s face. 
He’s about to call out your name, only to halt his movements when he sees Junhui heading the opposite way. Jeonghan looks between the two of you, knowing that you have a raging crush on the pretty man but won’t initiate anything, and that Junhui might possibly be interested in you as well.
It’s been a month since Jun transferred to Seoul National University, and Jeonghan’s slowly been trying to push the two of you together. However, he does it so that it’s not too obvious for the sake of him not getting yelled at by you.
When you yell, you yell for a long time. 
And so, being the kind friend that Jeonghan is, he quickly walks unnoticed past you, and places both hands on Jun’s shoulders without a noise of greeting. This promptly startles the transfer student, considering the brief look of fear on Jun’s face, only for it to morph into a smile when he looks into Jeonghan’s eyes.
“Jeonghan!” 
“Jun! Are you done with your lectures today?” Jun nods his head in response, and Jeonghan grins at his answer. He turns and points towards you, making Jun peek over his shoulder to see you practically shaped like an onigiri, with your shoulders to your chest and your large winter jacket wrapped around you. “Yn and I were just about to go and get lunch, wanna join?” 
Jeonghan notices Jun’s eyes become a bit brighter when he looks at you, before he turns back to look at him and runs a hand through his hair. “That sounds great! I’m starving.” 
Jeonghan nods his head, before turning towards you and calling out your name. You glance up at the sound of Jeonghan’s voice, looking over to find him and Jun standing a few feet away from you with small smiles on their faces. You shoot your best friend a look, and his smile simply grows wider as you stand up from the bench and walk over to the two. 
“Jun! Are you joining us for lunch today?” You ask when you make it over to them, secretly slapping Jeonghan’s side for being a goddamn whore. Jun smiles and nods his head while Jeonghan inconspicuously rubs his waist to ease the sting from your smack. 
“Where do you guys wanna eat?” Jun asks as the three of you begin walking out of the square. You think to yourself for a moment while Jeonghan stays quiet, letting you decide on where the gang will have lunch. You let out a grin when you finally think of where to eat, glancing at the two before saying, “Thai food!” 
Jeonghan and Jun nod their heads in agreement, and you celebrate quietly between the two. You squeeze the heat packs in your pockets when Jun turns and looks at you, causing you to look back at him. 
“What do you usually order at Thai restaurants?” You purse your lips at Jun’s question, fighting back the warmth from rushing to your face at the way he’s staring at you with so much interest. “It depends on my mood, to be honest.” 
“Wanna order for me when we get there then? I’m not sure what to eat.” 
“Horrible idea. What if I choose something you don’t like?”
“Then I’ll keep eating it, yn.” 
“Jun!” 
Jeonghan watches as you and Jun unconsciously walk faster until the two of you are now ahead of him. You are in your own little world as you bicker, but Jeonghan knows there’s no malice in your guys’ argument with the way you’re both smiling brightly at each other. 
You pause when you don’t feel that familiar presence beside you, and you turn your head to find Jeonghan standing a bit far behind you and Jun. You squint at your best friend, before pulling your hand out of your pocket and waving him over.
“Hannie! What are you waiting for? Come here!”
Jeonghan tightly squeezes the heat pack in his pockets, before nodding his head and walking a bit faster to catch up to you guys. It’s only when he’s standing right beside you that the three of you begin heading towards the Thai restaurant again.
As the frigid temperatures hit him, Jeonghan’s left wondering why the heat packs no longer offer him any warmth as he watches you laugh with Jun.
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Jeonghan sits beside you on your couch, invested in the new episode of the kdrama the two of you have been keeping up with. He turns his head when your phone lights up, and his eyes land on the contact name.
jun <3
“You got a text from Junnie.” Jeonghan says, taking a piece of popcorn and placing it into his mouth. You look away from the TV, picking up your phone and reading the message. Out of the corner of his eye, Jeonghan watches the dopey smile form on your face as your thumbs type out a text to your crush.
Suddenly the popcorn feels a bit too dry to swallow as Jeonghan reaches over to take a sip of water. It only goes down smoothly when you place your phone back down on the couch and adjust the blankets over you and Jeonghan. 
“I love when the main actress stands up for herself.” You mutter, taking a few pieces of popcorn and tossing them into your mouth. Jeonghan nods his head in agreement, watching as the female lead starts cursing back at the man. 
“There’s just something so satisfying about women proving that they don’t need a man to protect them. They need to show this more in kdramas, break the stereotype, ya know?” Jeonghan adds, and you smile softly, pride swelling in your heart at the simple sentence. He turns his head and catches sight of your soft smile, and he feels the undeniable feeling of warmth from the beauty of it. 
A sudden bright light makes him glance down at the blankets, finding that your phone has lit up again. You notice as well, picking up the cool metal and reading the new text from Jun. Jeonghan watches as your mouth drops open and how you immediately stand up from the couch. 
“Did something happen?” Jeonghan asks, only for your phone to be shoved directly into his face. The redhead curses quietly, muttering about how you need to update your phone to be able to turn on dark mode, before reading the message on the screen.
“He asked me on a date! Me! Wait, is it a date? What should I say?! What if he didn’t mean to send me that text?? Oh my God, I’m so nervous I could actually pee my pants.” You ramble, and Jeonghan’s eyes slowly trail up to your face, watching as you mumble to yourself and begin to pace around the small living room. He bites the inside of his cheek, before grabbing your phone out of your hands and typing out a message. Your eyes widen when you watch your best friend’s thumbs move swiftly across your screen.
“Wait, Yoon Jeonghan!” 
“There.” Jeonghan states, handing you back your phone. You stare at the screen in silence.
jun <3: i was wondering if you wanted to go to the aquarium together on saturday? I remembered when you told me how you’ve never been, and the aquarium is having a christmas special even tho it’s november :3
It’s totally fine if you don’t wanna go by the way
you: that sounds great ! i can’t wait <3
jun <3: yay! I’ll pick you up at around 4 on saturday ~
Jeonghan watches as your eyes slowly trail up towards his face, and he wonders whether you’re gonna choke him or scream at him. Or both.
Jeonghan thinks it’s both.
It comes to his surprise when you instead wrap your arms around his frame, squeezing him tightly. Jeonghan slowly reciprocates the hug, cradling your head in his hand like he always does. 
“Thank you, Hannie.” You mumble, and Jeonghan bites the inside of his cheek at the softness to your voice. He lets out a smile, nodding his head, “Of course, yn. Anything for you.” 
“Did you know that you smell good?” Jeonghan raises an eyebrow at the random question, and the rumble of his chest from laughter makes you giggle in response, squeezing him tighter. 
“Really? What do I smell like?” 
You purse your lips in thought, before letting out a deep sigh. You close your eyes as you quietly say, “You smell delicate, it reminds me of Spring.”
Jeonghan’s heart thumps against his chest as he pats your head, “How can I smell like a season?”
“I don’t know. You just do.”
You pull away from the hug to flash Jeonghan a bright smile, and you watch as his features brighten at the sight. You rub the back of your neck, about to sit back down to finish the drama, only to pause when you realize something. 
“Jeonghan!” 
“Yn!” 
“I have to choose an outfit for Saturday! Oh my GOD!” You sprint out of the living room and to your bedroom, while Jeonghan remains in the living room. He listens to the sound of your screeches, and the chaotic noises of clothes being pulled out of your closet. 
“Hannie, come help! I’m not that stylish!”
Jeonghan bites his bottom lip, turning to look at the long forgotten drama. He lets out a sigh, bending down and picking up the remote, turning off the TV. The screen turns black, leaving him to stare at his reflection in the monitor. 
It’s as if Jeonghan is having a staring contest with himself as he stares at the TV monitor, thinking of the answer to a question that he’s not willing to ever admit. He only looks away when he hears the call of his name, pursing his lips at the thoughts he was thinking. 
Jeonghan pushes everything in his brain away, letting out a small smile when you walk out of your room with your head stuck in a hanger. You scratch the top of your head, confused as to how you even managed to fit your head through the small space. 
“Please help.” You say, and Jeonghan chuckles, nodding his head and walking over towards your room. 
“Should I ask how you even managed to get your head through the hanger?” 
“No.”
“Good, because I didn’t plan out how I’d react if you told me about it.” 
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Jeonghan runs a hand through his hair as he looks out the window of his apartment, seeing the grand view of the city of Seoul at night. He tilts his head at the sight of a few fireworks shooting up into the sky, even though there’s about ten minutes left until it’s the new year. 
“Hannie! My parents want to see your red hair.” He turns his head at the call of his name, finding you sitting at his kitchen table on FaceTime with your family. He grins and walks over to you, resting his hand on the back of your chair as he puts himself in the frame. 
“Hi auntie and uncle! Happy New Year!” Jeonghan greets with a smile, and the two of you let out a laugh at your mom’s reaction to his bright hair color. He runs a hand through his hair, sending your mom a thumbs up in the camera. “Do you like my hair?
“I’m honestly just surprised that you pull it off so well.” Your mom responds, and you chuckle. Your dad nods in agreement, giving Jeonghan a thumbs up with a proud smile on his face. Grinning, you reach out and ruffle Jeonghan’s hair. 
“Of course Hannie can pull it off! He’s one of the prettiest guys ever, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were able to rock green hair.” Your mom and dad laugh, while Jeonghan just stares at you for a moment, feeling slightly empty when you pull your hand away. Your mom lets out a mischievous smile, and you raise an eyebrow at it. “What are you planning, mom?” 
“Since you think Jeonghan is so pretty, why aren’t you dating him yet?” Warmth immediately floods your face, and you let out a whine, causing your mom and dad to holler over in laughter. You turn to Jeonghan to apologize, and he just gives you a small smile, nodding his head in understanding. When you glance back at your phone to scold your parents, Jeonghan’s smile turns bitter, and he looks away from your screen to hide it. 
You and Jun have been dating for a month now. 
“I’ll talk to you guys later! Jeonghan and I have to take our annual New Year’s photo.” You say, waving at your parents with a bright smile on your face.
“Bye Jeonghan!” Jeonghan glances back over at your phone, finding your parents waving at him with happy expressions on their faces. He forces out a smile, waving back at them with the same energy they’re giving him. “Yn and I will try to visit soon!” 
“Yeah you better!” You let out a laugh at your dad’s comment, waving at them one last time before ending the call. You lean back into the chair, closing your eyes to try and muster up some energy. 
“Your parents’ love suck all the life out of you?” Jeonghan asks with an amused expression on his face, and you wave him away with your hand, eyes still closed as you do so. He chuckles, reaching out and pinching your cheek before walking back over to the couch. 
“Are we gonna take a picture or what?” You open your eyes to see Jeonghan already preparing the polaroid camera, and you stand up and walk over to him. You rest your chin on his shoulder, making Jeonghan stiffen slightly, and he hopes you didn’t notice. However, you’re observant.
“Why’d you freeze? Oh! Is your shoulder bothering you again?” You ask in concern, immediately stepping back and assessing Jeonghan’s shoulder. He watches as you begin to ramble about how he should go to the doctor about his shoulder pain as you poke and prod at him. Biting the inside of his cheek, he moves his shoulder out of your reach, “It’s fine, I just slept wrong last night.” He lies through his teeth, and you stare into Jeonghan’s eyes as your hands slowly fall to your sides. 
His deep brown eyes bore into yours, seeing a reflection of his own as he does so. After a moment of searching, you look away with a sigh. 
Jeonghan’s eyes are your favorite feature of his, as his true emotions always show through them. They’re his most honest feature, you’d say. 
so why can’t I tell if he’s lying right now? 
You shake your head, before looking back at Jeonghan with a smile. You nod your head, reaching out and softly patting his shoulder as a means to not accidentally hurt him. “Let’s take the photo, I need a post for Instagram.” 
Jeonghan scoffs, holding up the polaroid camera, “You only want to take photos with me so that you get more likes on Instagram.” 
You smile, peace sign up towards your eye as you nod your head, “Of course. If I have a pretty boy beside me in my photos, then everyone will like them!” 
Jeonghan smiles, winking into the polaroid camera as the flash goes off. The film photo immediately pops out, and you take the small photo and wave it around. Jeonghan purses his lips, before holding up the camera again. 
“Let’s take one more.” He says, and you raise an eyebrow, surprised that he wants to take another photo with you. You place the polaroid down onto the coffee table before posing without question, as you’re afraid he will immediately take back the request. 
“1, 2, 3-” Your hand makes your way to Jeonghan’s face, squishing his cheeks when the flash goes off. Jeonghan turns to face you, finding you giggling happily as you take the developing polaroid, flapping it around a bit before placing it onto the coffee table. 
“I wanted to look handsome in that one.” Jeonghan whines, and you roll your eyes. 
“You’re always handsome, be quiet.” You respond, and Jeonghan opens his mouth to argue, only to stop when you glance at the time. 
“15 SECONDS!” You screech, grabbing the noise maker and confetti, handing one to Jeonghan in the process. You jump up and down as the two of you begin to count down. 
“10!” 
“9!” 
“8!”
“7!” Jeonghan glances at you, feeling as if time is starting to slow down as you excitedly dance while counting down. 
“6!”
“5!”
“4!” You laugh happily, doing a small dance as you prepare the confetti in your hand. 
“3!” 
“2!” Jeonghan feels his heart sink in his chest when you turn to face him with a bright smile, seeing all the stars in your eyes as you stare at him. 
“1!” 
“Happy New Year, Hannie!” You squeal, throwing the confetti up as high as you can into the air. Jeonghan swallows, noticing how dry his throat has become as he takes in the sight before him. Time comes to a slow as the fireworks explode in the air behind you through the window, while the confetti sparkles fall around the two of you. All the background noise drowns out, all of his senses honing in on you and you only. You look nothing short of ethereal in this moment.
The realization of what he’s been denying for the last three months comes to the surface as he stares at you, and he wishes for nothing more than for it to not be true. That it’s just a fluke.
However, when you turn back towards him and wrap your arms around his frame, greeting him Happy New Year once more, Jeonghan knows it’s the truth. 
“Happy New Year, Yoon Jeonghan.” You say softly with a grin, and Jeonghan slowly wraps his arms around you, biting the inside of his cheek as he closes his eyes. 
“Happy New Year, yn yln.” Jeonghan mutters, and you pull away to pull out your phone from your pocket. You wave it around Jeonghan’s face with a mischievous smile, “I’m gonna go greet Jun a happy new year, I’ll be back in a sec.” 
Jeonghan squeezes his fist at his side, nodding his head as he gives you a smile. “Tell the handsome man I said Happy New Year.” 
You give the redhead a thumbs up, before dialing Jun’s number and heading towards the bathroom. Once the door closes behind you, Jeonghan reaches up and clutches his chest, biting his bottom lip harshly as he looks down at the floor. He notices the now developed polaroids, and lifts up the one where you're squishing his face.
You’re staring at Jeonghan with stars in your eyes as you smile widely, hand squishing his cheeks. Jeonghan purses his lips, before pulling out his wallet from the back of his jeans, placing the polaroid into the slot before his driver’s license. 
The photo reflects back at him underneath the light from the fireworks behind him, and Jeonghan lets out a breath. Running a hand through his hair, he closes his wallet and places it back into his pocket. Just in time too, as he looks up when he hears your bathroom door open, noticing the happy smile on your face. 
“Ready to make midnight snacks to celebrate the new year?” You ask with a wink, and Jeonghan throws on his best fake smile, nodding his head. 
“Of course I do, don’t ask me no stupid fucking questions.” Jeonghan teases, and you let out a laugh at the sentence, sending the redhead’s heart into a frenzy. 
“Let’s go make food then.” You say, turning and heading towards the kitchen. Jeonghan slowly walks after you, a sad smile on his face as he watches you dance as you walk. 
Just one more day. Jeonghan thinks to himself, before speeding up his pace and wrapping his arm around you. You turn to look at your best friend, and he smiles at you. 
“Let’s make rice krispy treats.” Jeonghan suggests, only to let out a laugh at how your face brightens just at the mention of the delicious dessert, and you nod your head excitedly. You lead him to his own pantry, and begin explaining who’s gonna do what as you take out all the ingredients. All while Jeonghan watches fondly, knowing that he needs to ingrain this moment in his brain.
Just one more day with yn.
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Jeonghan shuffles in front of your door, dreading what’s going to happen as soon as he knocks on the surface. He lets out a sigh, resting his head on the wall for a moment, questioning everything.
What if I just pretended?
I could just walk in and we could hangout like we usually do, like nothing has changed at all.
No.
Jeonghan lifts up his head, raising his fist and knocking on your door without a second thought. He bites the inside of his cheek when he hears you say, “Coming!” 
Your front door opens after a moment, and his eyes trail over your outfit. An oversized vest over a white dress shirt paired with straight leg pants and sneakers to match. Jeonghan’s eyes slowly go back towards your face, just to find you staring at him with surprise painted over your features.
“Hannie! I wasn’t expecting you, what’s up?” You ask, and Jeonghan stays quiet for a moment. He gestures to you, and you raise an eyebrow. 
“Are you going somewhere?” Jeonghan asks, and you nod your head. Letting out a smile, you show off your outfit and do a timid spin for emphasis on the oversized vest. “I have a date with Jun today, you like the fit?” 
Jeonghan doesn’t respond, instead squeezing his fist in his pocket. He looks down the hallway, making you look in the same direction as well. You find Jun walking towards your apartment, and you let out a smile. 
“Speak of the Devil. Did you need something from my apartment? You can just lock up when you’re done.” You tell Jeonghan as you turn back towards him, and you find the rest of the words die in your throat at the sadness in his eyes. You reach out to grasp his arm, and he takes a step back. 
“Hannie, what’s wrong-” 
“Jun is lucky to have you.” Jeonghan cuts you off, and you stare at him as he struggles to utter the next word. He turns back to look at Jun, seeing that he’s almost to your door, having not noticed Jeonghan yet. 
“Jeonghan?” You ask, and you watch as the pretty man turns back to look at you. 
“Pacman.” Jeonghan breathes out, and you feel your heart stop, unsure of why.
He turns around and walks away without another word, and your eyebrows furrow in confusion. You step out to ask him what he means, only for Jeonghan to stop and turn around himself. He gives you a bittersweet smile, waving his hand at you. 
“You look beautiful, yn. Have fun on your date.” And with that, Jeonghan turns around and walks away, sucking in a deep breath to try and hold back the tears that threaten to escape. Leaving you alone by your doorway, confused. 
“Was that Jeonghan?” You turn your head at the sound of Jun’s voice, and he gives you a soft smile. You nod your head slowly, turning to look back in the direction that he left in. “Yeah, he seems sad though.” 
“Wanna go and check on him?” Jun asks, and you bite the inside of your cheek, remembering the tickets Jun bought in advance for the two of you to go to this garden. Regretfully, you shake your head and give Jun a warm smile. “It’s okay, I’ll check on him after our date.” 
You quickly grab your phone and bag, locking the door to your apartment and turning to Jun with a grin. He extends his hand towards you, and you intertwine your fingers with his. The two of you walk towards the elevators, but you’re left in confusion as to what Jeonghan meant, and why he was so sad.
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Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks, and months eventually turned into a year. 
You and Jeonghan haven’t spoken since the day he stopped by your apartment and said that cursed word. 
You tried to reach out once you realized what he meant, even stopping by his apartment multiple times to just get him to say something, anything. You were quite literally talking to a door, as there was never a response. There were times that you fell asleep in front of his apartment on the floor, and would wake up in Jun’s arms as he carried you back to your own place. 
Many tears were shed, hearts were broken on both sides as you lost not only Jeonghan, but Jun as the two of you broke up four months after Jeonghan left. 
“I’ll always love you, but I know that your heart belongs to someone else.” Jun tells you softly, and you bite the inside of your cheek. He gives you a small smile, grasping your face, making you look down at the floor as he presses one last kiss to your forehead. 
Jun pulls away, and pats the top of your head. “Don’t be a stranger, yn. I love you.” 
You wanted nothing more than for Jeonghan to be there with you at that moment, to help you take the baby steps in healing, but you couldn’t get through to him no matter how much you tried.
It was what you two promised to do, anyways. 
He even managed to avoid you on campus successfully, you couldn’t be surprised though. The university is huge, you wouldn’t have been able to find him if you tried, which you did. He stopped frequenting all the places the two of you used to go to, it was as if he disappeared. 
And the hole in your heart grew and grew the longer Jeonghan was gone. 
Now here you are, a year later, sitting on a park bench as you let the music flow through your airpods. The weather is nice, a contrast to the rain that’s been pelting the city of Seoul for the last few days. The sky is blue, and there’s a slight wind to cool you down from the warmth of the sun. You tilt your head back, letting out a sigh as you remember the pile of assignments sitting on your desk back at home. 
And so, placing your hands into the pockets of your hoodie, you get up off the bench and begin to walk down the path in the direction of your apartment. Your eyes stay on the ground the whole time, just trying to focus on the soothing piano as you ignore the other people walking by you. 
You only look up when you get to the crosswalk, seeing a crowd of people across the street from you. Your eyes trail along the numerous faces you see, and you’re about to look back down when you lock eyes with a familiar pair. 
“Jeonghan.” You breathe out as he stares at you with the same amount of shock written across his face. His red hair is now dyed black, emphasizing his sharp features. His eyes still hold all the warmth that you remember as he stares directly back at you, making the pain in your chest more evident at how much you miss him. You bite the inside of your cheek harshly at how much prettier he’s become, wondering how he’s capable of doing so as time passes. 
The crosswalk signal turns green, but you remain where you are for a moment, as does Jeonghan. The reminder of the promise the two of you made flooding through your mind.
“Nono! I mean like, for a certain amount of time. Essentially we’d just ghost each other until our feelings go away, and the other can’t intervene.” You explain, slightly shoving Jeonghan away, but you see that he still looks a bit put off by your idea. 
“I’d feel like ass if you just left without a word, though.” Jeonghan tells you, and you slowly nod your head, understanding where he’s coming from. You let out another sigh, looking up at the ceiling.
“Pacman.” You peek at Jeonghan, wondering why he mentioned your guys’ favorite game. He gives you a tired smile, “It’ll be our code word. Instead of leaving without a trace for a couple months, or confessing our feelings and then leaving, we can just say Pacman. It’s not directly saying I love you, and who knows if either of us will remember the word. It’s the perfect thing to say before disappearing for a bit.” 
Jeonghan begins to cross the street first, and you look down at the road as you step off the sidewalk, melting in with the crowd as you walk in Jeonghan’s direction. Your heart is breaking within your chest as you do so, knowing that you have to keep the promise you made with Jeonghan. 
The two of you pinky swore, after all. 
Tightly, you squeeze your fists at your side as the piano instrumental reaches its climax in your ears. Numerous questions flood your brain as you reach the middle of the street.
Is this it? 
Are we never going to be best friends again?
Has he already passed me?
Does…
Does he still love me?
All thoughts rush out your brain when a hand grabs your wrist unexpectedly, the sudden jerk of your arm making your earbud fall out of your ear and onto the road, the soft key sounds of the piano disappearing with the wind. You open your mouth to protest, but the words die in your throat when you’re pulled into a tight embrace. It’s only when the familiar scent of Spring fills your senses, that you immediately wrap your arms around Jeonghan’s frame, tears filling your eyes from the overwhelming feeling of relief.
“Hi, yn.” Jeonghan mutters into your ear, tears falling from his own eyes as he holds you tightly, never wanting to let you go. You let out a sob at the sound of his voice, closing your eyes as you clutch onto him just as tight, scared that he’ll disappear without a trace again if you let go. 
And so, through your tears, you whisper, “Hi, Jeonghan.”
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“Yn! It’s only a few more minutes until midnight!” 
“Coming!” You shout back, checking over your reflection once more. You step out of the restroom once you’re sure that you look decent, and walk over to your living room. You let out a smile once you lay eyes on Jeonghan laying upside down on your couch, scrolling through his phone.
“What are you doing, Hannie?” You ask, and the black haired beauty peeks at you past his phone, flashing you a smile. 
“It’s more comfortable this way, wanna try?” You roll your eyes, flicking his forehead as you grab the polaroid camera. He lets out a whine, fixing his position so that he’s now sitting properly and not upside down. 
“Why’d you flick me?” 
“Cause you’re cheeky.” You answer, preparing the polaroid film to take the annual New Year’s Eve photo. Jeonghan grins, quickly fixing his hair to make sure it looks presentable. “Do I look okay?” 
You quickly turn towards him, taking in his features. His soft eyes gaze into yours as you stare at his pretty nose and high cheekbones. You reach out and pinch his cheek with a smile, “You look pretty, Hannie. You always do. Now let’s take this photo.” 
Jeonghan smiles happily at your compliment, before taking the polaroid camera from you and holding it out as you have trouble doing so. You let out a bright smile at the camera, Jeonghan doing the same as he takes the photo. The flash goes off, and you’re quick to take the film out and wave it around. 
“Another one.” You command as you take the polaroid camera out of Jeonghan’s hands, and he chuckles, nodding his head. You hold the camera out and send a wink towards the camera, Jeonghan doing the same pose. 
“Okay. 1, 2, 3-” Jeonghan quickly changes his pose last minute, reaching out with his hand and squeezing your cheeks with a laugh. The flash goes off, and you let out a whine, turning back towards the pretty man to see him still giggling as he takes the polaroid out and waves it around.
“Are you happy now that you’ve gotten your revenge?” You ask, and he nods his head with a grin. “Very happy, actually.” 
You’re about to respond, only to pause when you see that there’s only 30 seconds left until the clock strikes midnight. You practically screech, standing up from the couch to grab the noise makers. Jeonghan watches you with a fond smile on his face, getting up from the couch to snatch the confetti. 
“You’re doing confetti this year?” You ask when you scramble back over, noise maker now in your grasp. Jeonghan chuckles, “Why do we always get confetti when it’s a pain to clean up afterwards?” 
You purse your lips, refusing to answer the question as you begin to count down the seconds instead. Jeonghan rolls his eyes at your antics, starting to count down along with you. 
“10!” 
“9!” 
“8!” 
“7!” Jeonghan nudges you a bit, and you stumble over, making the latter laugh loudly as you squint at him. 
“6!” 
“5!” 
“4!” You and Jeonghan turn towards each other, bright smiles on your faces as you continue to count down.
“3!”
“2!” 
“1!” 
“Happy New Year!” You both cheer, and Jeonghan throws the confetti up high into the air. You laugh excitedly as it falls around the two of you, feeling your heart warm when he turns to you and grasps your face with his hands. 
Your eyes softly fall shut as Jeonghan leans in and captures your lips in a kiss to celebrate the new year. Your hands trail up and rest on his sides, gripping his shirt as a smile breaks out onto both of your faces. He pulls away and rests his forehead on yours, staring into your eyes. 
“I love you, yn.” He whispers, and you feel your heart swell from joy.
“I love you too, Jeonghan.” Warmth fills Jeonghan from those three simple words that hold so much depth as the two of you begin to sway side to side to the soft music filling the background.
The polaroid that Jeonghan kept in his wallet for the last two years sits up on the frame behind the both of you as you slow dance, the bright colors of the fireworks exploding outside casting an iridescent glow over the two of you. 
As you scoot closer and rest your head onto Jeonghan’s chest, and his hand softly cradles the back of your head, you realize that sometimes, 
Promises are meant to be broken.
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sumsebien · 6 months ago
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by design pt.2 // Prince Friedrich
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series masterlist
summary: one room and two very confused individuals.
word count: 3.6k
warnings: none
a/n: don’t ask me how. i don’t know either :) (edited: i added another scene yall)
Friedrich stood awkwardly next to the coffee table, looking out the window while you sat on the couch all the way across the room from him. A queen-sized bed splitting the space into his side and yours that none of you were willing to cross.
“The weather-“ Friedrich began, taking a quick peek outside, “-is lovely, don’t you think?”
“It really is.” You were just going to say that.
It had been 15 minutes and that was the first thing you had said to each other after the doors were closed. Both of you were longing for lunch time to arrive for an escape, any escape from this tragic situation you felt developing.
“I-“
“I-“
“Oh, you were saying?” he asked.
“No, nothing. You?”
“I was just-I think I’ll head out for a minute. Check on where the rest of the luggage is.”
It was confirmed. He absolutely despised your guts. That was not his job. A Prince never had to check on anything. If he wanted to stay, there was nothing that could stop him. Not even some stupid luggage. He must be leaving because he didn’t want to stay in your company any longer.
“Oh, of course.”
Friedrich gave you a small smile, walking towards the door with the least amount of elegance anyone had ever seen. His legs didn’t even feel like they were even his. There went all of his posture and diplomatic training.
As the Prince, he was forced to sit in numerous lessons on the art of making conversation and had to put it into practice almost immediately at dinner with his father. At Cambridge, he spent three years studying international relations, different societies and their interactions.
But somehow, the weather was the first thing he talked about. It was such a poor attempt that he was absolutely certain you found him dull. Even he thought it was dull.
And the walk? He could not explain where that came from. He was a giraffe who suffered an identity crisis and had no awareness of its legs.
There was no way in hell he was going to make you suffer through this the entire day. He thought as he asked his guards to find Heinrich. He was going to fix this.
Lunch had passed and soon came time for dinner.
You sat and watched the plate of beans, stale bread and soup go cold. It wasn’t because you were a picky eater by any means or that you held some sort of contempt for people less fortunate than yourself. It was none of that. It was the voice inside your head, feeding you paranoia every second that passed.
He would probably walk than sit on the same train as you. Remember his face? And the small talk that he kept having to make? Probably did not think you were worth any real conversation.
You stood up abruptly and then sat down again, the skirt of your dress rustling with your movement. You huffed, staring out the window with no intention of admiring the landscape. You just needed something else to think about. But there was simply nothing other than this.
Just as you were about to call your maids in to clear away the food, you heard a knock on the door. Careful this time, you stood up and told whoever on the other side to come in.
It was Friedrich. You scanned his expression with caution, hesitantly. He wore a gleeful grin on his face, his eyes gleaming. The happiest you had seen him. But it was fleeting, quickly wiped off when he saw your face. Were you that terrible?
He took a glance at the neglected tray and then back up at you. “Was the food not good?”
“Oh, I just wasn’t hungry.”
“Your lady’s maids are just outside. Would you like anything? Fruits?”
You shook your head. Through the gap he left, you could see Lea and Ilse’s figures. You walked past him to the doors, calling them in.
Once they saw your face, they immediately rushed into the room, curtsied to the both of you and took the tray away. You just stood next to the door and gazed aimlessly at the floors. Friedrich who was impressed turned to you with a remark that completely missed you.
“Yes?” you asked again.
“Nevermind that,” he smiled, “I have found a solution!”
“What?”
“A solution to our problem,” he gestured between the two of you. A glimmer of hope flashed in front of your eyes, so close that if you had reached out your hand you would have caught it. Your heartbeat hastened, your fingers clenching around themselves.
“I have rented out a compartment for myself. It should work perfectly well! You can have this room!”
Whatever else he said blew away. You heard none of it.
You could still see perfectly clearly though. A smile plastered on his face, his lips moving so fast you could not make out what he was saying even if you tried. He seemed so cheerful, so satisfied with himself that he had dealt with this, with you.
You blinked at him, your arms going limp at your side. Were you so despisable? That he had to leave the entire day just to figure out how to get away from you?
But where is the surprise? Even your own parents struggled to love you. All your life you had to live everyday knowing you were undeserving. Undeserving of your father’s pride from the moment you came into the world a girl. Undeserving of your mother’s affection for not being foolish enough. And undeserving of your betrothal’s tolerance. Not likable enough. Not pretty enough. Not Daphne or even Cressida.
“Y/N?”
His voice brought you back. You quickly ducked your head, rubbing away the tears that were gathering at the rim of your eyes. “Yes. Thank you.”
He paused, tilting his head to try and match your faze. “Is something wrong? Did I offend you?”
You waved him off, turning the corners of your lips upward in a show of pretend. “Not at all.”
“You’re crying.”
You sniffed. “Allergies. I apologize.”
You opened the door, “I believe your compartment awaits you. I will be completely fine, I promise.”
He walked over to the door, prompting you to take a step back and clicked it shut before you. “No,” he said, “there is something wrong. It’s my fault, isn’t it? You can tell me. I won’t be offended.”
You walked away from him, your back to him. “There is nothing wrong. There is nothing else I can say.”
“Y/N. I know you don’t trust me. But we are to be husband and wife-“
You spun around, all of your control gone. “Then why won’t you treat me so?”
Friedrich stared at you, unblinking.
“I know I am not who you expected. I am not who anyone expected,” you laughed bitterly, flicking your eyes up towards the ceiling to blink back the tears. “That much I know very well.”
“Y/N-“
You stopped him with the shake of your head. “But you must know that it is not my choice either. You don’t want to be in the same room as me yet you won’t let me leave.” Your fingers had been gripping on the fabric of your skirt. So tightly that it hurt when you yanked them away, throwing them in the air. “What must I do then? Disappear?”
“Y/N. Why do you think I did that?”
You sighed in exasperation. “You despise me!”
When your lungs were gasping for breath was when you knew you were done. Your breaths became deeper, easing the burning in your lungs but not the burning you felt in your heart. You took your time to watch him, really observe. His lips were pressed into a line as he watched you with pained eyes. Your words had slashed him but you did not know that. You did not think he would care.
Finally, he spoke, his voice barely louder than a summer breeze and calmer than a pond on a windless day. “I don’t despise you.”
“Y-you don’t...?”
He shook his head. “I got us separate rooms and I am giving you your space and your freedom because you clearly did not have in England.”
“I-“
“I didn’t have any freedom growing up either. People have a lot of input in my life. I know what it feels like to be an outsider in my own body, to want to run away and be myself. I may not have had it as bad as you but I still understand. And I am trying to give you your freedom.”
You stumbled onto the chair behind you and sat down. Friedrich sat across from you. The rounded coffee table was the only thing between you. He leaned against the arm, looking at you like he always did. But only now that you realized what exactly it was that he held in his gaze.
Sympathy.
“I am sorry if I made you feel like I despised you. Because that is not what I am trying to do.”
“No. I am sorry. I shouldn’t have lost control of myself like that. I obviously don’t know you enough to assume.”
An idea flashed in his eyes, he sat up, that excitement filling his blue eyes again. “How about we change that? I want to get to know you. And I will tell you whatever you want to know about me. Does that sound fair?”
“Fair.”
...
You were both painfully aware that there was only one bed. The both of you eyed it, wondering what you were supposed to do. It wasn’t as if any of you had any intention of doing anything other than talk. Right?
Well, you’d be lying if you said your mind wasn’t going somewhere else.
You didn’t know about him but you had been preparing yourself mentally for your wedding night ever since your mother gave you the talk. You just never thought that the first time you would share a bed with a man, your husband for that matter was to talk.
It was not that you were disappointed. You just did not know what to do. Somehow, this was more awkward than the ballet performance your father made you perform for his siblings and their children at Christmas. If there was ever a competition amongst the most humiliating instances in your life, that one would win, well, would have won.
“I will sit in the chair, you take the bed,” Friedrich decided.
It didn’t take a genius to see that the little wooden armchair was not going to be comfortable for him. Hell, you yourself had difficulty relaxing against the bumpy wooden backrest. He was essentially twice its height and had much more muscles than you. He simply would not fit.
“No, if anything, I’ll sit. It’ll be more comfortable for me.”
He quickly shut that idea down with the shake of the head. “No, I simply cannot allow that.”
“Why not?”
“Well for a start, I started this mess. You shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences-“
“I started it too!”
“You weren’t the one who placed a bet with my father, were you?”
“Bet?” What bet? He never told you about any bet?
Friedrich could see panic slowly rising in your eyes. He hadn’t meant to say it like that. It sounded as though this was all a game to him. You were probably thinking it was at that very moment.
“I,” he began, searching for the right words for a moment before he continued, “my father always wanted me to marry someone of his choice. It wasn’t ideal for me, I had had my freedom. I wasn’t going to give it all up. So I made a deal with him. If I ended up married at the end of the season, he would not be able to intervene.”
“But you weren’t married.”
He nodded.
Quietly gazing at the ground, you said nothing else and just sat down on the edge of the bed. Friedrich couldn’t see your eyes but he began to worry he had offended you.
Of course, he did. What was he thinking? He basically said marrying you was akin to being in a cell. He might as well have said that. What was the difference really?
Then, out of the blue, you apologized. An apology which felt wholly unnecessary. It sent him into a daze. “W-whatever are you apologizing for?” It was you who deserved an apology.
“I’m sorry,” you repeated, looking up, “about Daphne and about your father. I’m not sure I could have pulled myself together as well as you did at our wedding if I were you.”
Wordlessly, he sat down next to you, the both of you staring straight ahead. He didn’t think he handled it well at all. He just showed up. But then he decided against saying anything lest he ruined the conversation again.
After a little while, you turned to him with a question. “You loved her, did you?”
If you had asked him that question a couple of days ago, before he met you, he would have said yes immediately. He was very certain that he loved Daphne Bridgerton. But now that you were in the mix, he had other feelings to compare whatever he felt with Daphne to.
With Daphne, there was attraction. A lot of it. Perhaps so much that it had temporarily blinded him. There was also the pressure of the bet. Once he found someone he felt like he could love, he made the leap.
But something was amiss. There was always a concern that they wouldn’t quite connect on a deeper level. He knew that if he were to be having this conversation with Daphne instead of you, he wouldn’t have shared so much about his relationship with his father.
Yet, with you, he just knew you would understand.
“Did you love Simon?”
You shook your head, your eyes on your hands. “No, I didn’t. Not in the way I wanted to. I barely knew him. My parents did though. They were pushing me towards him when you and Daphne began to court.”
“And if they had asked you to marry him, would you have?”
The corners of your lips curled up ever so slightly. “I don’t have any other choice.”
Ever since that day at the abbey, he had suspected that this arrangement was forced upon you as well. Having it confirmed by you, however, saddened him. For you, it was never a question of this or that. It was either you did as you were told or you suffered. At least, he had a shot. You never did.
“I have no say in anything. Not even with my own performance at family gatherings,” you added, swinging your legs back and forth gently. The small smile on your lips lightened the mood. It made him smile as well.
“Me neither. It was quite the embarrassment.”
“I once fell flat on my face at Christmas trying to perform a ballet.”
“You did?”
You nodded. “And then I laid there. Like a log of wood.”
“That is still not as embarrassing as the time I got an awful grade in arithmetic. And came lunch time, it was splattered all over the papers: ‘Prince Friedrich does not know how to count.’“
You tried to hold back a laugh. But you couldn’t, your entire body was shaking with laughter. As a last attempt to save some grace, your hand flew to cover your mouth. A habit you had formed over the years living with a strict mother. Well, you weren’t sure if there was any grace left but it certainly sounded less like a hyena and more like a hyena with a rope around its mouth.
Friedrich couldn’t care less though. Very quickly, he joined you, leaning forward with a chuckle.
You found yourself looking at him and thinking how nice his laugh sounded. It wasn’t obnoxiously loud like the ones that echoed all across the estate during one of your father’s dinner parties. It wasn’t too perfectly staged either. It was simply a delightful sound. A laugh anyone would be jealous of.
When the room returned to its familiar silence, his arms accidentally brushed yours. The unexpected graze was so brief that you didn’t think he even noticed. You, on the other hand, were very aware.
To mask your increasingly reddening cheeks and clammy hands, you opted to carry on with the conversation. “I guess gossip papers truly are everywhere.”
“For an appetite so voracious, it is only fair. At Buckingham, everyone reads Lady Whistledown.”
You paused, shaking your head to yourself. “You read Lady Whistledown?”
“I must admit it is quite entertaining when it is not your name on the front page. You read it too, right?”
“Of course!” you grinned,” I am not allowed to but I find my ways. Who could dare dream of missing out on London’s latest?”
“So what are you allowed to read?”
“Nothing. Which is why I read everything I can get my hands on.”
You then continued to recount your late night adventures sneaking into the library. You seemed so proud that he couldn’t help but smile and nod along.
There was also that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach as he learned more and more about your upbringing. You seemed to know that the nonsensical rules your parents imposed on you were unusual too. But somehow, you had learned to accept it as nothing more than a fact of life. You never spoke of them or referred to them with spite. Certainly not had the same sour taste that Friedrich had on his tongue everytime he spoke about his father.
The Duke and Duchess of Clarence were damn lucky to have you as their daughter. They certainly did not deserve it though. He thought bitterly.
...
You and Friedrich ended up in bed, talking all night.
By the time dawn was on the horizon, you had both finished recounting your childhood tales, leaving nothing behind. In the end, the two of you found in this complicated arrangement so much more than either of you could bargain for. A confidant.
“Who is to say the betrothed can't be good friends?” Friedrich said, leaning against the headboard as he looked up at the ceiling.
You laughed. “Not us apparently.”
“Would you be able to promise me something?” He turned his head to look at you.
If there was one thing Friedrich learned after hours of conversation, it was that you were the best friend he had never had. And he was not going to let that go. Not even for his own feelings.
“Yes?”
“That we will remain friends even if we can’t love each other like we should.”
You grinned, sticking out your pinky. “Promise.”
...
Dear sister,
Everything is in order. All that is left to be done is for my ‘Diamond of the season’ to produce a male heir....
Bernadine closed the letter and stuffed it in her trunk of clothes at the faintest sounds of footsteps echoing in the hallway outside. Putting on the sweetest smile, Bernadine made sure she was the first thing he saw coming into the room.
“Good evening, your Majesty. How was hunting?”
The King entered the room swiftly, slamming the doors behind it. She did not jump, immediately following him and helping him with his cloak.
“Didn’t catch anything,” he said, shaking off his muddy boots onto the floors. “The weather. Too gloomy and rainy. Scared off the deers.”
Bernadine hung the fur cloak up. While the King disappeared into the bathroom, she quickly closed the blinds, of course not missing the bright blue sky and the royal garden bathing in sunlight.
“Yes, the weather has been absolutely terrible these past few days.”
When he came out of the bathroom, she made sure to cling onto his side, steering him towards the desk. “Are you feeling better, my love?”
“Much. Made sure the train stayed right here before I left. Good luck travelling with the lower-class, son.”
The King began to cackle uncontrollably at that, even had to sit down at one point. And Bernadine made sure that he sat right before the stack of paperwork sent for him this morning.
“That is a genius idea!”
“I know it was. What is this?”
“This is everything that needed to be signed while you were gone.”
The King cleared his voice, taking his quill and began to scribble his name on every page. Even the one that had nothing to do there along with the more important national matters.
A contract.
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ukrfeminism · 5 months ago
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One year of lockdown: Women reveal uniquely devastating ways pandemic has ravaged their lives
From surging domestic abuse to women being more likely to lose jobs, Maya Oppenheim speaks to women across the UK on how the last year has changed their lives
A year ago this week, when the UK was catapulted headfirst into a national lockdown, few bar the occasional naysayer and epidemiologist envisaged how much their lives would be turned upside down, perhaps forever.
And it now appears clear that women have borne the brunt or the repercussions of the Covid chaos.
From soaring rates of domestic abuse to giving birth alone, there are a plethora of ways women have been hard hit by the crisis. They have also been more likely to lose jobs or be furloughed due to being over-represented in low-paid precarious jobs and sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, such as hospitality, retail, leisure, tourism and the arts.
The Independent has spoken to some of those women who have struggled as our lives have changed in ways that would have appeared inconceivable before the pandemic.
The unplanned pregnancy
The public health crisis has massively disrupted the NHS as services that provide contraception for women have been profoundly affected by Covid upheaval.
Sexual health clinics have been forced to shut or run reduced services while staff are transferred to work with Covid patients or have to self-isolate, with the disruption leaving many women unable to access their usual methods of contraception.
Many women are struggling to get the most effective long-acting contraceptive choices of a coil or an implant due to these needing in-person appointments which have largely been suspended as consultations are conducted via phone or video call to stop coronavirus spreading.
The Independent previously reported thousands of women have had abortions after falling pregnant while having difficulties accessing contraception during the pandemic.
Megan Davenport, a 22-year-old who lives in Sheffield, had to have an abortion after getting pregnant in the middle of the pandemic. Her unexpected pregnancy came amid concerns that she would be able to secure contraception during the ongoing pandemic, she said.
Ms Davenport, who studies science communications, said: “I was quite paranoid about wanting to take pressure off the NHS. I also had heard a lot of stories about contraception during lockdown.
“Friends talked about paying for pills online. I am a student, so I don’t have a lot of money. I didn’t want to pay for something I’d previously got for free. I now know you can obviously get them for free on the NHS. At the time I thought I can’t be bothered trying just in case these services aren’t up and running.
“To cut a long story short, I had an after lockdown hook up with a good friend of mine. It was one hook up and I accidentally got pregnant. I had a freak out. I got in touch with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and they sent me abortion pills through the post.”
Ms Davenport said it was overwhelming discovering she was pregnant and then having an abortion in the middle of a pandemic, but noted the British Pregnancy Advisory Service made her feel “safe and supported”.
She added: “It felt kind of scary. A lot happened at once. The actual abortion was very painful. It was literally the worst pain of my life. It is excruciating stomach pain. Kind of like extreme period pains. It feels like a big build-up of pain which you need to release but can’t.
“I don’t want to sound unemotional, but the abortion wasn’t a traumatic thing. It just felt like any medical care really. It would have been very traumatic having to have a baby.”
She said she had heard of women struggling to get contraceptive coils fitted at the start of the coronavirus crisis due to them requiring face-to-face appointments – adding that she has currently been on the waiting list to have a coil fitted for roughly six months.
The stalking victim
In the same way, domestic abuse has soared in the lockdown, stalking has also surged The Independent recently revealed calls to the National Stalking Helpline increased by 11 per cent in the public health emergency, with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the helpline, warning stalkers appear to have ramped up frequency and intensity.
Callers dealt with almost 18,000 calls from March 2020 until February this year, up from the just over 16,000 calls the stalking helpline received in the same period a year earlier.
“It has been three years of stalking,” Lucy*, a stalking victim whose situation has been compounded by the pandemic tells The Independent. “He vandalised my friend’s car.”
The 59-year-old, who cannot have her identity revealed to protect her safety, says her stalker was not able to vandalise her own home as she lives in a flat in a gated community with heavy CCTV presence.
Lucy, who is taking legal proceedings against her stalker, adds: “He would spend his entire time waiting at the bottom of my road and circle my place of work. I would see him several times a day.
“It’s everybody's nightmare to experience that level of malice and hostility and fixation from someone. He has got absolutely nothing in his life apart from me. Nothing apart from his rage and hatred against me.
“I saw him yesterday while I was driving. I thought with the pandemic he’d be off the streets, but every single day for the last year he’s parked in this area and walked about.
“He sent me a death threat saying he knew exactly which flat I lived in. Previously he had a routine but lockdown has certainly isolated him. But he is not capable of staying home. Legally, he can’t go out, which adds to his aggravation. He has more energy to fixate on me.”
The woman hit by financial fallout
Numerous studies have suggested the Covid crisis is on course to reverse progress on gender equality due to women being hardest hit by the financial repercussions of the pandemic as they are more likely to work in locked down sectors.
While a recent report found women are twice as likely to need time off work with no pay to look after children due to schools closing under lockdown measures, other studies have revealed women have shouldered the burden of childcare, household chores and homeschooling.
Gemma Hirst, who lost the retail job she had been in for six years in the summer, has first-hand experiences of the recession.
The 26-year-old, who lives in Northumberland, says: “I got promoted just before lockdown happened. Things were definitely going up. There was nothing to worry about until Covid.
“At first I felt okay because I was on furlough. In the summer – June or July time – there were rumours, emails and phone calls about the risk of job losses. I was offered a job at another store but it was considerably less money.
“It was a different job with a different contract so I had to take redundancy. We had a conference video call. I cried. It was rather embarrassing. I did not expect I’d be affected because I’d worked there for six years at management level.
“I went on Universal Credit. Still on it now. It is not enough money. I’m lucky I live with my family. It is not nice not earning your own keep. I did have a good couple of weeks where I felt rubbish and really low. You feel worthless.
“The fact more women than men have lost their jobs in the pandemic infuriates me, especially in 2021, we should be treated equally. The government should be doing more help to women but why would they? It doesn’t affect them. They're not bothered.”
The woman who escaped domestic abuse in lockdown
Domestic violence has surged during the Covid emergency – in May, it emerged calls to the UK’s national domestic abuse helpline had risen by 66 per cent and visits to the sister website soared by 950 per cent since the nation locked down.
A report released by MPs at the end of April last year revealed domestic abuse killings in the first 21 days of the first lockdown were double the total of an average period in the past decade. On top of this, previous research by leading domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid found one in seven victims currently enduring abuse at the hands of their partners said it had got worse in the wake of the health emergency.
Daisy* has direct experience of pre-existing patterns of domestic abuse escalating in lockdown – and said being cooped up at home with her perpetrator exacerbated an already dangerous situation.
The 30-year-old, whose name has been changed to protect her safety, said: “He perpetrated essentially any type of abuse you can imagine. Sexual, physical, mental, financial. All of it. I think it is rare for someone to be abused in only one way.
“Lockdown increased all of the issues that were already there. After lockdown, I became the only person my ex was physically around. Previously, I had been able to escape in the hours we spent away from each other; now he could always reach me.”
Daisy, who previously lived in the Midlands but escaped from her ex-partner by moving abroad last spring, said the abuse she has suffered has had a damaging impact on her mental health.
“The abuse increased the terrible self-image I already had. Gaslighting and manipulation were everyday occurrences. I believed my ex, that I was not worth anything more than what I was getting,” she said.
“I have had to work harder than I ever have in my life to overcome that belief. I think there will be issues I may always have to cope with, like PTSD, but due to some incredibly hard work in therapy and being on my own now, the coping is not as difficult. I am grateful for the life I have now, every day.”
Daisy, who was helped by Women's Aid, said she still has nightmares about her ex but less than she did before and her role in the dreams has now changed.
“Dream-me handles herself better than before,” Daisy said. “But I would not be surprised if the nightmares stayed forever”.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
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burnsoslow · 8 months ago
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One Rainy Day in Valtoria Part 26: Contraction-ally Obligated
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Pairing: Drake Walker x MC (Alyssa Devereaux Walker), King Liam x OC (Riley Brooks)
A/N:  I am participating in @wackydrabbles​ prompts. Prompt #74 is “What do you want me to say?” and will appear in bold.
If you want to catch up on Parts 1-25 …
One Rainy Day in Valtoria Masterlist
This chapter is based on The Royal Heir 2, Ch. 1, and here at the Last Apple Ball, all hell has broken loose. But the problems are a little different than canon. There are no revelations about the late, great Queen Eleanor. Godfrey and Barthelemy, however, are still trash. Alyssa’s upstairs possibly in labor, and everyone’s sealed inside the palace. Problems abound.
I haven’t written this in 3.5 months, so don’t be surprised if you forgot everything.
A/N #2: Thank you to @mskaneko​​ for the stunning!!!! edit of Lyssa and Drake in the moodboard and the moodboard that closes this fic! Love you so much.
Some dialogue and all characters belong to Pixelberry except my best girl Alyssa Devereaux Walker. @bbrandy2002​​‘s Riley Brooks is used with loving permission.
Warnings: frank discussion of labor, labor complications, language
Words: 1995
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Bastien avoids Drake’s glare. “What do you want me to say? Yes, the windows are also sealed. Yes, all the secret passages out of the palace are sealed. There’s no way out at this time.” 
“Can I ask what the fuck you plan to do if this place catches fire?” 
The guard rubs his chin. “I don’t anticipate that happening.” 
“My wife needs to go to the fucking hospital!” Drake bellows. “Of all the shit Alyssa has endured since coming to Cordonia, this might be the fucking worst.” 
“We’re working on it, Drake --”
“Work harder! Goddammit!” Raking his hand through his hair, Drake walks over to a clearly-angered Liam, who glares at Isabella and Bradshaw. 
“This is hardly the time for politicking, Your Majesties!” he snaps. “I’m trying to figure out how to get my best friends to the hospital so their child -- our country’s future monarch -- can be delivered safely.”
“It’s such a pickle,” Isabella muses. “We definitely wouldn’t want to alert the media that you’re in this situation, even if they could get you some help … letting the country know that your security is this unstable would undoubtedly lead to unrest.” She smirks. “You can’t afford any more of that, can you, Your Majesty?” 
Liam fights to keep his face neutral; it’s necessary not only for the relationship between their countries but also for having a chance for Drake to stay in control. 
The king can’t imagine the worry, and he swallows a lump in his throat borne of guilt and concern. He excuses himself to text Riley. 
Liam: Darling, how is Alyssa?
Riley: still asleep. any luck?
Liam: Not yet. 
------------
A cold wetness wakes Alyssa, followed by those cramps that feel like she’s getting her period but are exponentially more powerful. She curls into the best impression of a ball she can do and moans, panic making her body tighten up until the pain passes. 
“Hey, hey, sweetie. I’m here. You’re okay.” 
“Hi, Ri,” she croaks when the pain subsides. “Where’s Drake? What time is it? Did I pee myself?” 
“10:30. You’ve been asleep for a little while.” Riley squeezes Alyssa’ shoulder. “And that’s a very, very good thing. Drake is downstairs trying to figure out how to get you out of here.” Pulling back the blankets, she tries to keep her expression placid. “I think your water broke, babe.”
“I ruined the bed. Oh God, I’m having this baby! I miss Drake.” She presses low, beneath the rise of her belly, the words spilling out. “I think that was another contraction. I’m scared. Ri, I want to go to the hospital. I want -- oh God -- ” 
“I think it probably was.” Riley takes her hand. “I think this is, too. Squeeze my hand. I want you to relax as best you can, okay? I’ll get Drake as soon as this one is done.” 
“Please.” 
Riley texts Drake and gets Alyssa into the shower; she gets a change of clothes for her friend and searches for sheets to change the bed. 
------------
Drake takes the stairs two at a time, Hana, Liam, and Maxwell following behind, albeit more slowly. “Hi, baby girl,” he says, his voice hushed as he enters the room. 
It’s clear that she’s back to where she was in the ballroom … maybe worse. She’s pale, and just as she opens her mouth to greet him, her face contorts in a grimace of pain.
Rushing to her side, he sits beside her and takes her hand. “Hey, Devereaux. What can I do?” 
“Do you have drugs?” she asks when the contraction ceases. “I don’t want to do this.” 
He puts his hands on either side of her belly. “I don’t. But I remember how to help you with breathing from childbirth classes.” 
“Okay.” 
As they sit, heads together, Drake coaches her through the pain of another contraction. 
Hana, efficient and calm, sets up the exercise ball, directs Liam to get ice chips, has Riley dipping essential oils from a stash Hana somehow had stored at the palace onto cotton balls for Alyssa’s benefit, and gets Maxwell to begin streaming one of Alyssa’s labor playlists through the room’s speakers. By the time Alyssa is through her latest contraction, the room has been transformed into an oasis of peace and quiet. Yo-Yo Ma plays softly. 
Drake strokes her face. “We’re doing everything we can to get the doors open, Lyssa. But no matter what, you’re going to be fine. Our baby’s going to be fine. I love you.” 
Her friends and husband are an unlikely birth coaching dream team. As the hours wear on, Hana gets Alyssa to sit on the exercise ball and reminds her how to breathe. “Relax, Lyssa,” she says in her magically-calming voice. “I know you want to tense up with the pain, but that makes it hurt more. We’re relaxing. We’re opening. Picture your cervix opening like a flower --”
Alyssa’s unwitting giggle interrupts Hana’s peaceful waterfall of words. “Doesn’t a cervix look like a puffy doughnut with a tiny hole?” 
Hana grins back. “I’ve never seen one up close, but in drawings, yes. So … picture your doughnut hole growing.” 
Maxwell helps her stretch. “Remember doing this in yoga class, Blossom? Did you know it would come in handy?” 
“It … does feel better,” she grunts. “Please no one take pictures of me.” 
Riley hides her phone but deletes nothing; Alyssa is beautiful even in this moment. 
Though he’s in and out of Alyssa’s room dealing with the crisis downstairs, Liam takes her for walks through the palace, showing her places she’s never seen. “Hana said it’s good for you to move,” he tells Alyssa, giving her his arm for support as they make their way down the hall. When a contraction hits, he stops with her and helps her breathe through it. “We’re so proud of you,” he says, stroking her hair. “Our little prince or princess has no choice to be fierce with a mother like you.” 
Alyssa gives him a watery smile, and they begin to walk again, Liam’s soothing voice explaining all the secrets of the palace.  
Riley makes Alyssa laugh through the increasingly-intense pain, repeatedly measures her blood pressure with a cuff they got from the palace infirmary, and gets her anything she needs. Her eyes communicate her concern at the numbers from Alyssa’s blood pressure readings even as she cheerfully talks to her best friend. “Heyyyyy baby,” she sings. “Come out and meet Auntie Riley, your favorite auntie!” She winks at Alyssa. “You have Aunt Savannah and Auntie Hana and Auntie Shannon and Auntie Noelle and Aunt Tory, but you’ll love me the most.” 
“Hey!” Hana calls good-naturedly. 
Alyssa gives a weak laugh; she’s nauseated and her head pounds. Riley switches the essential oil on the cotton ball Alyssa’s smelling to peppermint to help with the nausea and asks, “Do you remember the time you were so drunk on chardonnay you puked all over the hotel room at formal?” 
“Oh God!” she exclaims through a gasp of pain. “I still can’t even smell the stuff --” 
“I’ve never heard this story.” Drake gives his wife some ice chips. 
At Alyssa’s nod, Riley continues, “Some of our sorority sisters thought we’d be ‘fancy’ and drink wine for formal senior year. So we agreed on our wine of the night. I was drinking rose, and Lyss picked chardonnay. 
“We drank glass after glass, and our server at dinner heard Alyssa speaking French. He was from Paris, and he was so impressed that he started bringing her chardonnay by the bottle.” 
Drake raises his eyebrows. “You don’t like wine.” 
“I liked it -- a lot less after that.” 
They laugh. 
“So Lyss throws up all over our hotel room, including down the side of her bed, and when she sobers up, she’s freaked out that they’re going to charge her to clean the room. She calls the front desk and tells them she needs to report a break-in --”
“What?” Drake laughs.
“-- of a mysterious man who came in, threw up a bunch of times, and ran away.” 
“Little Blossom!” Maxwell is listening in, too. 
“She yells at them for having lax security and hangs up.” 
“It seems to be an -- ongoing theme in my life,” Alyssa says dryly through a new contraction. 
Drake is operating on a level none of them have ever seen before. He massages her tirelessly, offering counterpressure on her back with his strong knuckles. He kisses her tears and whispers constant encouragement. He has Dr. Ramirez on speakerphone and keeps her updated on Alyssa’s progress. 
The contractions are coming closer together, and Alyssa shoves a bergamot-soaked cotton ball out of her face. “I don’t want that,” she sobs. “I want to go to the hospital. I want it to stop hurting. It hurts so.bad.”
“I know, baby.” Drake kisses her hand. “I know.” 
“I can’t do this, Drake.” Her voice breaks on a hiccuping breath. “I want to stop. Please make it stop.” 
He kneels in front of the exercise ball so their eyes are level. “Listen to me, Devereaux. You’re the strongest, bravest woman -- person -- I’ve ever known. You’re amazing. You’ve never backed down from a challenge. You got this. I know it’s hard, baby.” 
“I’m letting you down,” she tells him through tears. “I’m sorry. I’m not enough.” Her body is overtaken by another contraction. 
“You are enough, sweet girl. You’re everything. And you can’t let me down. It’s impossible.” He kisses the side of her sweaty face. 
To Alyssa’s face, Drake presents as upbeat and cheerful and proud, thrilled about the life his wife is about to bring into the world. Away from her, their friends see the toll it’s taking on him: the way his face falls immediately when she’s not looking, the tension in his body, his clenched fists with every cry of pain. 
“Maybe a bath?” Hana suggests. “Lyssa, honey, would you like to get in the tub? The jets might feel good.” 
“Okay,” she whimpers. “Drake, will you sit with me?” 
“Of course I will, baby.” He looks around at their friends. “Take a walk for a little while, okay?” 
Hana has prepared the jacuzzi bathtub to be warm but not hot. Drake steps in first and lifts Alyssa into the tub, sitting behind her and cradling her. 
“Ohhhh, this is nice.” She leans against Drake.
They sit in the tub timing contractions until Alyssa asks to get out; Drake stands up and scoops her into his arms, setting her safely on a bath mat and wrapping her in a towel before grabbing one for himself. 
They’re dressed and back in the room when a powerful contraction hits; Alyssa lets out a tiny mewl, her eyes roll back in her head, and she pitches forward on the yoga ball. Maxwell only barely catches her in his arms before she hits the floor. 
“Jesus, Jesus Christ!” Drake grabs her out of Maxwell’s arms and carries her to the bed. “Devereaux, baby.” 
She opens her eyes slowly. “I don’t … feel good. Can’t see.”
Riley takes Alyssa’s blood pressure again and shows Hana the numbers. They exchange a look of pure fear that Drake doesn’t miss. 
“... Drake?” 
“What, sweetheart?” He’s rubbing her hands and arms, desperate to keep her awake, to keep her with them. 
“You take care of Baby Walker, ’kay? Love you ...” Her eyes close again. 
“No! Lyssa! I love you so much. Stay with me --” Drake scrubs a hand over his face against sudden tears before facing his friends. “I can’t lose her. Do you understand? I can’t! I fucking won’t! We’re getting her out of here no matter what the fuck I have to do!” He storms out of the room, leaving Maxwell, Hana, and Riley staring worriedly after him.
While Hana picks up the phone and fills Dr. Ramirez in on the upsetting development, Riley decides to follow Drake. “Hold Lyss’ hand,” she directs Maxwell. Taking a breath, she steps out of the room. 
Part 27
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Permatags: @bbrandy2002​ @sirbeepsalot​  @ao719​ @dcbbw​ @mskaneko​​ @axwalker​ @debramcg1106​ @emichelle​ @plumeriavibes​ @zaffrenotes​ @bitchloveskcbaseball​ @alyssalauren​ @tinkie1973​ @ramseyswifey​ @kimmiedoo5​  @princessleac1​ @graceful-leah​ @openheart12​ @ofpixelsandscribbles​ @rigatonireid​ @jamesashtonisbae​ @sweetest-marbear​ @bebepac​ @mom2000aggie​  @texaskitten30​ @kat-tia801​ @queenrileyrose​ @gkittylove99​ @mrsfox79​ @sammie0220​ @chappela​ @queenjilian​ @gnatbrain​ @mvalentine​ @masterofbluff​ @forthebrokenheartedthings​ @msjr0119​ @choiceskatie​ @whimsicalreader​ @gardeningourmet​   @maurine07​ @charlotteg234​ @sfb123​ @secretaryunpaid​ @kazdog75-blog​
TRR/TRH: @drakeandkatherine​​ @marshmallowsandfire​​ @moneyfordiamonds​​  @janezillow​​ @cordonianroyalty​​ @thegreentwin​​ @kingliam2019​​ @walkerswhiskeygirl​​ @twinkle-320​​ @ladyangel70​​ @marshmallowsaremyfavorite​​ @nikkis1983​​ @furiousherringoperatortoad​​ @annekebbphotography​​ @pink-diamond13​​ @silverofdreams​​ @gibbles82​​ @jessiembruno​​
Drake x Alyssa: @no-one-u-know​​ @moonlightgem7​​ @lucy-268​
One Rainy Day in Valtoria: @kelseaaa​​
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myluciferiscody · 7 months ago
Text
Class Fight (p.3)
pairing: teen!dandy mott x teen!reader
word count: 3,559
warnings: language, jealous dandy, slightly au!dandy, all characters are 18
part 1 part 2
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1.
You led Dandy into your bedroom, gently clicking the door shut as to not alert your mother. She trusted you, but the motherly instincts couldn't be helped when it came to safety with boys. Dandy glanced around your room, having not been up here since you were in elementary school. He noticed you still had the teddy bear he gifted you in fifth grade when you fell and scraped your knee so severely it required stitches.
You wasted no time, turning around as he took a seat on your bed, "I need an explanation from you!" you said, giving him a glare as he smirked at you. "Dandy, why are you causing fights with my friends?"
"You two really are friends, then?" he asked, very pleased with your answer. "I don't see us coming to an agreement with what I have to say."
You crossed your arms, your glare worsening as Dandy just smirked at you. You tried not to be distracted by the fact he was starting to grow into his looks, and you were beginning to notice. "That's not fair."
"Of course it isn't, but neither is life, y/n." he shrugged. "I don't regret what I did. I never liked Jason, we're rivals by default."
You frowned, "What are you talking about?"
Dandy stared at you, wiping his hands on his clean pants. "You don't remember the story? The Deans and the Motts were business partners before we were born. Jason's father stole ideas and were selling them someplace else. Ended up losing the lawsuit after my father found out. Not long after, your grandfather helped grow our business, and eventually yours."
Of course, how could you forget such an essential detail in your family history? It was only ingrained in you since birth. Despite the temporary setback, the Deans found their fortune in cars. Frozen foods weren't their strong suit, it seemed.
"Jason isn't his father," you defended him, coming to take a seat next to Dandy. "That's not fair to him."
"And I'm not my father," Dandy countered. "I go way back with Jason, y/n. Neither of us ever liked each other, and not for reasons due to our parents. He's a stuck up, spoiled brat."
You thought it was funny that Dandy, of all people, could call another person a spoiled brat. You knew he changed plenty since you were kids, but he was always the one kid in the entire grade who had a tantrum once a day in each class.
"It's not fair to me!" you said, springing back up. "I don't pretend to like everybody, Dandy. However, I don't want my relationships to suffer because two of my friends hate each other. If Jason had ulterior motives I have yet to see them!"
Dandy laughed loudly, and you found yourself with the same unamused expression as before. He didn't falter at your glare, instead grinning widely and standing up, easily towering over you.
"y/n, I don't talk to a lot of people. You know that." he approached you, and you stood your ground, feeling your legs become jelly at his close proximity. "And because of it I hear everything that is said in that school. If I wasn't concerned about you, I would have punched the shit out of him just for the shoes he was wearing yesterday."
"What about what I want?" you questioned, causing him to arch an eyebrow. "I never said I was interested in him. If he thinks something is going to come out of this, he's wrong."
Dandy nodded, smiling at you. You felt chills run down your spine as his eyes twinkled with curiosity. "I like your attitude. You always knew how to take care of yourself."
You nodded slowly, swallowing the saliva pooling in your mouth. "I guess you taught me a thing or two growing up."
The silence between you was deafening. You noticed Dandy's jawline was more pronounced than you remembered. Dandy realized your lips were fuller than before.
"y/n, I want you to promise me that you'll come to me if you change your mind." he said, and you could hear the genuine concern in his voice. "I don't trust him, but I trust you."
You nodded; however, any thought of Jason was pushed to the back of your mind.
Dandy smirked at you and took a few steps backward. "I'm afraid I have to go."
You blinked, realizing that he had you where he wanted you. You glared at him as he headed to your door before turning to look at you.
"You're still not going?" he asked, a rather smug look upon his face as he wiggled an eyebrow at you.
Before you could answer, Dandy walked out your door. You heard him descend the staircase, with a farewell to your mother, then the front door shut.
You sat on your bed, hand clutched to your chest as you silently begged for your heart to stop beating so fast. Your mother had appeared in your doorway after a few minutes, and she was grinning ear to ear.
"y/n, you still have time to make the dance." she gave you a knowing look before leaving.
You stared at yourself in the mirror across the room. You did have a few dresses with the tags still on them that would pass nicely as a formal gown.
"He wants me to go," you muttered to yourself. Dandy had been dressed nicely, but he always was. He was also soaking wet.
"But Jason might be upset.. But I'm mad at him too," you groaned, plopping down on your back. "What do I do?"
"You get the hell up and stop moping around!" you screamed, kicking your legs as Winter posed in the doorway, grinning at your reaction.
"Why are you here!?" you stood up, still panting from the scare.
"I started feeling better yesterday. Oh yeah, your mother called me and said you were having a crisis. So here I be!" she walked in the rest of the way, pulling a suitcase behind her.
"What is that?" you asked, your voice stern as she knelt on the floor, unzipping the bag. It was filled with makeup, professional kits like you were about to appear on television.
"Your plans canceled, so you're coming with me. I never got a date and with Zoe having a date, I'm not being the third wheel."
You watched her set up and realized this is why you were friends. Partying was okay on some occasions. You rarely went to school dances, to begin with. This was your Senior year. How often in the future would you get the chance to just let loose for a night?
"Okay." you shrugged, and Winter gave you a knowing smirk.
2.
You were excited until you arrived at the school in Winter's car.
The rain had since stopped, and she dragged you to the entrance of the school as couple upon couple poured into the double doors. You were nervous now, knowing that both Dandy and Jason were probably already inside. You weren't supposed to come tonight.
"y/n! It's fine, babe," Winter said, holding your hand as you finally kept pace with her brisk walking. "We'll have a good time."
"It's not really us I'm worried about," you replied, and Winter had a look on her face that told you she already knew what happened. Your mother.
"If it helps Jason is supposed to have a date tonight. Which means he's not your problem right now."
"It's so embarrassing.. Everyone knows about the fight, and people won't stop staring!" you said, glaring at a group of Junior girls who were watching you from a corner. They quickly diverted their eyes, and Winter scoffed as she pulled you into the gymnasium.
It was decorated nicely, a live band already taking stage as kids piled in and found empty seats, many running over to the food to get first dibs. Kyle and Zoe have yet to arrive.
You found a table, sitting down and taking a quick glance around. Your heart stopped when you saw Jason arrive with his arm looped with Madison Montgomery, the most popular girl in your grade.. and the entire school. They fit together almost too well.
"You weren't kidding," you commented to Winter, who shrugged.
"I know my gossip, y/n," she said.
It wasn't long before Kyle and Zoe joined you. Zoe was ecstatic at the sight of you, pulling you into a hug and whispering that she was happy you decided to come. It made you feel good.
You had sat back down, pulling a ballot from the small pile on the table. You completely forgot about Homecoming King and Queen nominations.
Boys:
Jason Dean
Kyle Spencer
Matthew Nylund
Dandy Mott
You paused, glancing across the room to see Jason staring directly at you. You immediately looked away, reading the girls' list.
Girls:
Madison Montgomery
Zoe Benson
Natascha Langdon
Violet Harmon
You pushed the ballot aside, already knowing who you were voting for. You were relieved your name wasn't on the list. It was funny; Dandy and Jason always seemed to be selected for nomination. As far as you knew, Jason won once.
Winter nudged your arm, and you looked at her with an arched brow. She nodded towards the dance floor where Zoe and Kyle were dancing and asked if you wanted to join her.
"In a bit," you replied. Winter smiled, nodding in understanding before standing up and pushing her chair in.
You avoided making eye contact with Jason, who was also dancing with Madison. Everyone already seemed to be having a good time. You were just observing, debating on if you truly wanted to be here or not. It seemed like a good idea at first, but now you remembered why you always felt so out of place.
You jumped when someone pulled out Winter's chair, and you breathed a sigh when Dandy sat down, already smirking as you glared at him.
"You did decide to show up," he commented, a rather accomplished look on his face.
"I wouldn't look too excited. Winter came over and convinced me to go." you said, only lying a tiny bit. Dandy picked up your forgotten ballot, his eyes reading over the names before setting it down. His eyes were sparkling, but you were positive it wasn't from seeing his own name.
"Who are you voting for?" he asked casually, also looking around the packed gymnasium, also looking very out of place. There was just something about the Mott family genes that stood out from everyone else.
"I think Zoe and Kyle deserve to win together," you shrugged, and you saw Dandy's lips twitching. "You voting for yourself?"
Dandy shrugged, a smile now touching his lips. "I haven't decided yet. I've never asked to be Homecoming King."
You chuckled, seeing Winter talking to a boy you didn't recognize. Zoe and Kyle were getting something to drink as the band started to play a slow song.
Dandy watched you quietly, his eyes flickering from Jason Dean to your face. He stood up, watching you look at him with interest and almost longing for him not to leave your side.
"Would you dance with me?" Dandy asked, holding his hand out to you.
You didn't hesitate to take it, almost embarrassingly so. Dandy didn't smirk or make a sarcastic comment. Instead, you walked hand-and-hand to the floor, turning to face each other as Dandy placed a hand on your waist. It brought back memories of you being children, both of your mothers having enrolled you in dancing lessons. You were never paired with Dandy, which he would have appreciated a lot more. He was forced to dance with the girls who could never get it right, causing him to throw a fit and claim he was the best dancer in the whole world.
The thought made you smile, shaking your head as Dandy watched you, wondering what was on your mind. You looked as beautiful as he had ever seen you, and you've always been attractive.
You were unaware that the kids were staring at you, some of them whispering the latest gossip, while others were either jealous or unwilling to admit they thought you two looked cute together. Zoe and Winter were giggling, sucking down their fruit punch with Kyle.
Jason had taken a seat next to Matthew while Madison went to the bathroom for a touch-up. Matthew was smirking, eating a plate full of cookies, while Jason did his best not to stare at you.
"I thought she wasn't coming?" Matthew teased him, sticking an entire cookie in his mouth.
"She wasn't," Jason responded sourly, crossing his arms.
"It sounds to me you've been rejected," Matthew grinned.
"y/n wouldn't lie," Jason said defensively, "Her plans were probably just canceled. It's fine, I'm thinking of asking Madison out."
Matthew rolled his eyes, knowing perfectly well he was jealous as fuck.
Dandy enjoyed having you in his arms, and you felt the same. You laid your head on his chest, and you completely forgot all the dancing couples and people around you. There was a safety that came with being around him that you couldn't exactly pinpoint why that was.
The song had ended, and you unwillingly pulled away from Dandy's warming embrace. The band immediately jumped into a fast-paced song. He wasn't pleased about this, but he was quick to pull you out of the way when a mob of screaming girls nearly stormed the stage.
"Y/N!" You gasped when Winter ran and gave you a hug, giggling wildly in your ear. "Watch out, someone spiked the punch- BYE!"
You stumbled over your feet as the boy with a rather interesting mustache whisked her away, both giggling hysterically as Dandy helped you keep your balance.
"Your friend is interesting." Dandy commented, a slight smile on his lips. He'd tolerate anyone you truly cared about.
"Yes she is," you sighed, finding yourself intertwining your fingers with Dandy. He kept his cool, wanting to give Jason Dean a middle finger to the face.
You had both eaten and got some punch, talking and ultimately enjoying yourself. You were thrilled you decided to come now, feeling like you weren't going to be alone the rest of the night. You danced with Zoe, while Kyle sat awkwardly at the table with Dandy for a break. Zoe whispered in your ear that Winter will be gone for the rest of the night before you both giggled.
In the middle of Jailhouse Rock, Principal Harmon grabbed the microphone, causing the boy band to lose their rhythm and many kids to boo.
"Alright, alright, its time to collect the ballots for King and Queen! Five minutes to get to your tables, complete the ballots, and then the Senior Student Committee will come around to collect them."
You followed Zoe back to the table, taking your seat as Dandy was folding his ballot. He handed you the pencil, and you almost hesitated as you filled it out. A part of you did want to vote for Dandy, but who would you pair him with? Madison Montgomery has tried digging her nails into him many times. Zoe would be a good fit, but she deserved to win with Kyle. Natascha openly despised him, and Violet probably hated that she was even nominated. Her disposition wasn't exactly sunny.
You ended up voting for Zoe and Kyle like you originally intended. Dandy peeked over your shoulder and seemed pleased with your nomination.
The ballots were quickly collected, and it took another fifteen minutes to accurately count them. The band hadn't returned to the stage. There was a lot of chattering about who voted for who.
You hadn't been paying attention to the table directly behind you. The girls who had been staring at you when you had arrived had been talking about you and Dandy. Dandy was listening, his hands clenching at the awful things they were saying about you. He was doing his best to not cause a scene on your behalf. It was bad enough he and Jason both had bruising that was a constant reminder to the students what already happened.
All the nominees had to go stand on the stage. Zoe looked uncomfortable, but you gave her a reassuring smile, which seemed to ease her mind. Winter sat next to you, and you gave her a questioning look. She only grinned and waved you off. Dandy stood next to Jason, both boys beat up but as handsome as ever.
Principal Harmon announced Madison as the Queen. She gushed while he placed the crown on her head, and the elderly receptionist placed a bouquet of roses in her arms. She beamed at the crowd, waving as if she were pure royalty. You and Winter clapped unenthusiastically, but you knew deep down Zoe wouldn't take it too hard.
"And for the King," Mr. Harmon said, opening the envelope. The silence was awkward, and you could feel the tension in the air. "Oh no-"
Mr. Harmon glanced around, his eyes settling on the student committee kids who only shrugged, nodding their approval.
"Well it seems we have a tie," he continued, scratching his head. "Dandy Mott and Jason Dean."
There was a ripple of laughter and disbelief as students yelled for a recount. Dandy was smirking, but Jason didn't look the least bit amused. Madison was pouting.
".. This has never happened in my twenty years of being principal," he said awkwardly into the mic. "Where do we go from here?"
"I back out," Dandy announced proudly.
"Oh! That was easy!" said Mr. Harmon, "In that case, I present to you, King Jason Dean!"
The crowd roared as he placed the crown on Jason's head. He smiled sheepishly, briefly meeting your eyes as Dandy and the others walked off the stage. Zoe and Kyle hugged, both smiling in good humor. Dandy sat beside you as Jason and Madison started their dance to Frankie Valli.
"That was kind of you," you whispered to Dandy.
"It's nothing, I could care less about winning."
Dandy put his arm around the back of your chair until their dance was over. They took a few pictures before the band returned back to the stage, promising a few more slow dances to all the couples before the night was over.
Winter gasped when Jason approached your table; Madison running to her friends and fawning over her flowers and tiara. He ignored Dandy entirely, focusing only on you.
"Could I have a word?" he asked kindly, offering his hand to you.
You nodded, feeling Dandy tense by your side. You placed your hand on his leg under the table in reassurance before taking Jason's hand, following him to the dance floor. You realized at that moment that you knew where your heart belonged.
"I was surprised to see you tonight," Jason said, bringing you in close.
"My plans didn't work out. Winter talked me into coming." you laughed nervously, and he smiled at you.
"I'm happy you came, we don't have many of these left, you know," he chuckled.
"I'm happy I came too," you replied before looking at him. "I'm sorry about everything."
Jason frowned, raising his eyebrows as he spun you around. "Why are you sorry?"
You shrugged, "I've known Dandy my entire life. He's very protective of me and I wish you two never got into that fight." You made your point by glancing around at the few people trying to catch glimpses of you.
"It's not your fault, y/n," Jason said in disapproval, "It was a misunderstanding, Matthew isn't the sharpest tool in the shed and doesn't think things through when he speaks. Mott just heard the worst of his ignorance."
"Well, I think it's safe to say it won't be happening again," you said, watching as Madison came back from the hallway, pouting at the sight of you. "I think Madison really likes you."
Jason glanced back, a smile on his face. "Is it too much to admit now I really like you too?"
You smiled shyly, "That's very sweet of you."
Jason nodded, "I think it's clear who you really like, and he's very lucky," he said, now watching as Dandy stared at the pair of you.
"Yeah.." you agreed, almost liking the jealous looks being thrown your way. "I hope we could still be friends."
Jason was pleased to hear that, and he promised to call you sometime after the song ended. You watched as he walked to Madison, whose eyes lit up at the sight of him. You quickly walked back to your table, pulling up Dandy, who was surprised by your urgency.
"Did he say something?" his nostrils flared, looking as if he was about to murder someone.
"Nope," you said before cupping his cheeks and pulling him down to meet your height. You kissed him deeply, and you heard Winter say, "Holy shit!" while Zoe squealed with her mouth full of cake.
Dandy pulled away, his hands on your waist as he blinked in surprise. You grinned, pulling him towards the doors as the group of girls watched you with their mouths hanging open.
"Sorry for your loss!" you chirped at them, smiling sweetly as Dandy followed you in a daze.
School drama just does not change.
taglist: @daisychainsinknots​
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jbrizzywrites · 8 months ago
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Massachusetts’s Favorite Son
A/N: Hi y’all! What started off as an even exchange of one-shots with @ramp-it-up has seemingly turned into a mini-series featuring Political Candidate!Chris Evans.
It was inspired by this post. 
As always, a huge thanks to everyone who reads, reblogs, likes, and leaves comments. You guys truly motivate me to keep writing. 
Chapter Note: Chris’s speech is italicize. I felt that helped make it clear it was the speech he was delivering and helped the chapter flow better.
Pairing: Political Candidate!Chris Evans x Nina Williams (Black Original Character) (AU Story)
Masterlist
     Chris looked at the monitor that was set up in the backstage area. The cameras panned over the huge crowd that had gathered, the shirts and hats that donned his name and slogan. The signs that proclaimed his future candidacy. He tried to block out the morose looks on his supporters' faces. He knew they were trying to prepare themselves for his entrance to the stage and his announcement that he was officially withdrawing his bid to be the new Senator of Massachusetts.
He wasn’t particularly disappointed in having to drop out. It had been a long shot from the very beginning. Especially since he’d pledged to run his campaign without any money or backing from any PACs, something his counterparts had no issue taking full advantage of. The fact that he had outlasted three other candidates was a down-right miracle. But the numbers coming out of the counties that had already voted couldn’t be overlooked. He’d had to accept that keeping his name on the ballot would only split votes that, rightfully, belonged to someone who actually had a shot at winning.
But damn if he didn’t hate having to disappoint all the people who had campaigned and supported him. He’d been crazy to run—after all, he wasn’t a polished politician. He was just a man who felt his city, his county, his state, and his country deserved better than they were currently getting. And all of these people, well, they’d been just crazy to believe in him. He only hoped his speech would soften the blow. Would allow them to know and believe that they hadn’t thrown away almost two years of their time and their money by following him. 
“Ready?” Lori, his campaign manager asked as she appeared beside him.
“Is anyone ever ready to let down thousands of people?” he lobbed back
“You had a good run, Chris. You have nothing to be upset about,” Lori assured him. “All those people out there are still going to be behind you even if it looks different from what we originally envisioned.”
Nina, the campaign’s media consultant/crisis manager, walked up in time to hear the end of Lori’s affirmations. She was able to fill in the blanks for the part of the conversation that she had missed. 
“She’s right.” Chris and Lori both turned towards her and she continued, “When I first came on board, you were dead last in the polls. We were able to turn that around and that was because of your leadership.”
He shook his head, “You sure it wasn’t because of your brilliant ability to spin?”
She laughed, causing her curls to bounce, “While I’m sure my ability to spin helped, I know it was mostly you. I can use all the tricks in the book to sell an image, but people have to like what they bought once they get beyond the surface. You give them something they don’t want to return.”
Chris could feel his ears heat up at her compliment and he was grateful for his beard’s ability to hide that he was blushing, “Thank you, Nina. That means a lot.”
She softly smiled and nodded, silently accepting his thank you.
Dean, the campaign’s communications manager, strolled over to the trio, “You ready for me to go out and introduce you, boss?”
Chris sighed and buttoned up his suit jacket, “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Dean held his hand out for a fist bump and, once it was returned, he headed out onto the stage to introduce Chris.
“Max already has the speech on the podium so you’re all set,” Lori offered up as the trio listened to Dean speak.
“Remember,” Nina spoke up, “These people love you. They believe in you and even if you didn’t give them a traditional win, you’ve helped give them the ability to dream and hope again. To want more from and for themselves, their neighbors, and their country. That’s nothing to turn your nose up at.”
“You sure you don’t want to give this speech instead of me,” he joked.
She placed a hand on his arm, “I would, but you’re the head coach. No one wants to hear from the water girl.”
He squeezed her hand but didn’t have a chance to respond as Lori began to usher him on stage to deliver his speech.
    Chris walked over to the podium as the crowd roared. He was known to cry when feeling overwhelmed. As he took in all the Evans 2020 signs, he felt his heart constrict and he only hoped he’d be able to make it through his speech.
All he had to do was get through the speech and then he’d be whisked away to his favorite bar he’d rented out for the evening. It was owned by one of his childhood best friends, and he could wait to be able to spend the night drinking and commiserating with his team and his family.
Dean shook his hand and Chris decided to pull him into a quick hug. 
Dean gave him a quick squeeze and whispered, “Good luck.”
As his communications manager exited the stage, he took his spot behind the podium. Loud cheers rippled throughout the crowd and, not for the first time, Chris was incredibly humbled that all of these people were backing him.
Not bad for a theater nerd from small-town Massachusetts. 
Once the applause had died down, he began to speak.
“Thank you. Truly, thank you.
As I look out on this crowd tonight, I am struck by how lucky I am to have grown up in such a great community and such an amazing state. For the past 22 months, I've had the honor of traveling through every county in Massachusetts. I have seen how so many people came out to listen and engage and show up for me and this great team I got to lead.”
The crowd roared and he had to pause, knowing they wouldn’t be able to hear him at their current level. He took the moment to take a sip from the glass of water that was resting on the podium for him. Once the crowd had quieted down, he took a deep breath and continued. 
“It was inspiring seeing so many of you who were willing to partner with me in dreaming about becoming the next Senator of Massachusetts. I know that many would call this a loss, and, by the textbook definition, it is. 
But I have a hard time calling all the hard work that so many people in this state put in and how they made their voices heard a loss. I am filled with hope for the future of Massachusetts politics, both at the state and federal level. 
Tonight’s loss does nothing to diminish the way I feel about Massachusetts or this country.”
Nina watched him through the monitor and felt a sense of pride swell across her chest. She’d be lying if she said that she had believed they’d make it this far when Lori had cashed in her favor to bring her onto the campaign. 
She wasn’t overly full of herself, but she knew her worth and what her services could do. And as Lori had filled her in on who Chris was and what he wanted to do, she’d wondered why Lori was willing to cash in her favor for a campaign that was, essentially, a pipe dream.
But then she’d met Chris and it made sense. She’d heard him talk about his vision for Massachusetts and for the Nation, as a whole. And while she still hadn’t been sure of his chances, she’d find herself wanting to bet against the odds and do all that she could to get him on Capitol Hill. 
Everybody loves a good underdog, after all.
“Seeing all of you tonight and being with you reminds me of why I threw my hat into the ring in the first place. So much of politics has become defined by who you aren’t and what you don’t believe in. When we started, I asked all of you who were coming along for the ride to let this campaign be defined by who we are and what we do believe in.
We worked hard to be defined by our ambition, our aspirations, and the fact that we worked so hard to achieve those goals will forever be my fondest memory of the past months. The work that you've put in didn't go unnoticed and we will continue to do the work to transform this country into a Nation that we can all be proud of.”
Chris made the mistake of looking out into the crowd and seeing his AP Civics teacher from high school, looking up at him. The pride and admiration clear on her face, even under the bright lights that blinded most of the crowd from him. He had to pause for a moment and take a few breaths. He took another sip of water, trying to tamp down the waves of emotions that were crashing over him. He gripped the sides of the podium as he returned to his speech.
“I have now had the opportunity to talk to Senator Ashcroft as well as the rest of the candidates running in this race. While we have our differences, I wish them all well going forward. In the coming days, I'll announce an endorsement and, if they'll have me, I'll be joining their campaign. 
But know this, no matter who becomes our Senator in November, I pledge on behalf of all of us, if there is anything we can do to help ensure that Massachusetts helps lead the country in a way that unites us all so we can achieve the goals set before us--whether that is making sure we are safe from any threats, foreign or domestic, against our country or that we find a way to show up for every single person who needs a helping hand so their full potential can be realized, whether that is through healthcare, education, housing, and financial stability. 
Our country is at its best when every citizen has a real opportunity to thrive.” 
At that line, Lori and Nina looked at one another, both of them beginning to feel the full weight of the loss and the tragedy of the fact that this man wouldn’t be on the ballot come November. Max had done a fantastic job crafting the framework for this speech, but they were always blown away by the bits and pieces he added. That line hadn’t been in Max’s draft but it clearly showcased Chris’s greatest vision for the future of the Nation. 
“Know that I haven't just paid attention to those who support me. I have seen the crowds and heard the concerns of those who have backed my competition. Know that I am committed to working with our future Senator and anyone else, anytime and anywhere to make sure the same way you have been here for all of us campaigning, we will be there for you. Not as Chris Evans supporters or Republicans or Democrats but we will show up for you as representatives of our entire state and loyal Americans. I want to make sure that this community that raised me and made me who I am, where my siblings are fortunate enough to be raising their kids now, that we offer our experience, perspective, courage on the issues we know best. We will form something powerful, magical.
Despite how this is ending, I do not feel I have anything to apologize for. I know that our community’s best days are ahead. I am confident that our future Senator will govern not out of fear, but out of confidence and strength, and the policies and laws they craft will reflect the amazing people who make up this great state.”
Chris looked out at the large gathering. He’d needed to glance at the speech for the previous parts, but he knew the next bit by heart. When they’d drafted the speech a few days prior, having made the decision that he would concede if he didn’t win at least one of the next three counties that were certifying their votes, he’d wanted the beginning of the speech to continue to rally the troops. To let everyone who had backed him to know that it hadn’t been in vain.
But the end of this speech was a pure love letter to his state and the people who had worked so hard for him. A love letter to all who had given so much of their time, their money, and themselves to pushing the ball down the field in his name.
And a commitment to honor all of that sacrifice with a few of his own.
“Massachusetts, I love you so much. I am so proud of this state, the communities that make up each county, and what this state means to the rest of the country. I will never forget the kindness and generosity that you have shown to me, my family, my team, and our campaign. I am amazed by the way my supporters have treated me, but I am even more blown away and humbled by the respectful way people who disagreed with me treated me when we came across one another. It’s amazing. That is why my faith in this state and country is not diminished. 
I know that we, as a state, will continue to work and come together to make sure that we live up to the promise of the potential of this country. I know that because I have met with and broke bread with you. I know that because I have listened to you, all across this state.
I want to thank my family, all of whom are here tonight, for supporting me, loving me, and giving me the strength and encouragement at every step, making sure that we could finish this thing as strong as we started it. I love you all.”
He took a moment to look off stage at Lori, Dean, Nina, and Max, who had joined them at the monitor and nodded slightly. Then he looked directly into the camera, knowing that there was a bar full of campaign staffers who were waiting on him to finish his speech and join them.
He believed in moderation, in all things, but he hoped his people drank their fill tonight. The tab was on him as were the Ubers that would take them home. 
They’d more than earned it.
“I want to thank this amazing campaign of people, who celebrated our wins as if it was them who would end up behind this podium and lamented our losses as if they had the highest stake in doing so. We did this thing without a single dime from a single PAC. You guys showed the country how this could be done, of the people, by the people, and for the people, with all the honesty, transparency, and integrity that we should hold all of our elected officials and their teams to. 
Lori, Nina, Max, Dean, everybody who worked on this campaign, every volunteer and ambassador, everyone who knocked on doors, everyone who made phone calls, everyone who allowed themselves to be inspired by one another and to hope and believe that we could pull this off. Who took that inspiration and turned it into action and into votes. Because of you and your work, we managed to do something that no one thought was possible. 
We built a campaign comprised of people from all walks of life, coming together, and deciding that what unites us is far stronger than the things that have come to divide us over the years. We came together and decided that the color of our skin, who we love, who we pray to, if we pray at all, if our family had been here for generations or if we just got here yesterday, who we voted for last time didn’t have to separate us if we committed to being the best version of ourselves. We, collectively, decided that it no longer had the power to divide us from loving and showing up for one another.
This campaign showed that the power truly lies with the people if we’re willing to come together and make our voice heard and our aspirations known. This campaign will forever hold a special place in history. Every single day, going forward, it has been shown that you don’t need corporations or PACs to garner the attention, favor, and votes of the people. You have made that possible.”
She hadn’t expected a shout out. Would have understood if he’d only thanked the other three considering how difficult she’d made her first few weeks on the trail. But Chris had never failed to meet her skepticism and doubt with kindness and a willingness to explain his plans, his visions, and list all the reasons he had hope in the people of Massachusetts. 
Lori had called her in two months into the campaign. For the past 20 months, she’d watched the man on stage pound the pavement. She’d seen him be right in the midst of the people he wanted to represent. He may not be their next Senator, but there was no doubt in her mind that he’d managed to elevate himself to the status of Massachusetts’ favorite son.
Nina heard Lori sniffle beside her and, while she was able to keep her emotions in check, she understood exactly what she was feeling. She couldn’t wait to be whisked away to drink with the staffers who would understand exactly how hard they had fought and how tough this concession was.
She was usually the type to nurse a glass of wine all night, but this night called for whiskey. 
Double. Neat.
“This team of which we are all members, in some way is going to stay together and continue to seek to do great things. It may come through individual races and communities. It may be more community-minded and removed from politics. But each of us will seek to work together to find ways to make life better for everyone in our communities. There are so many great candidates who will come out of this campaign and I look forward to supporting and following and cheering them on. 
Please know this: I am forever changed in the most profoundly positive way. I am forever indebted to every single one of you for taking a small dream I had many moons ago and surpassing all I had ever hoped for it to be. Every single one of you made this possible and I will not forget one moment of this, not one day, I swear.
I believe in you and I believe in Massachusetts and in this country.
Let’s continue to make sure this Nation starts to move towards being kinder, greater, and a place where every citizen can thrive. Thank you.”
Chris took a step back from the podium after he concluded his speech. He moved around to stand in front of the podium so he could see the crowd better. He waved at his supporters, taking in their cheers one last time before he walked off stage and brought his campaign to its official end.
After a few minutes of waving to the crowd, he knew he was close to letting his emotions get the best of him and he didn’t want to fall apart on stage. He waved one last time and turned to walk off the stage and down the stairs to where his team awaited him.
He reached out his hand to Max and pulled him into a hug, “Hell of a speech, Max.”
The speechwriter clapped his back and then released him, “I wrote an okay speech. You made it amazing.”
“Hey, don’t downplay your talent,” Chris corrected, shaking his head, “I always give you an overarching theme and you give me back the bulk of my speech. I add in personal touches so it sounds more like me, but your work always inspires me to elevate my own writing. I’ve grown as a writer because of you.”
Nina couldn’t help but smile at Chris’s admonishment. Chris had a habit of seeing and speaking to the potential of everyone he happened to come across. He, somehow, managed to never come across as condescending and, by the end of every interaction, you’d walk away believing he was your biggest fan.
But knowing Chris? He probably was.
It’s a trait that used to annoy Nina. She could admit that she was jaded by her time in politics. She trusted politicians to be as sincere as she could throw most of them and she’d been utterly irritated by Chris’s ability to put every single person he came into contact with at ease.
She’d quickly discovered that his schtick about not being a politician was far from being a gimmick and, not for the first time, she wished she could go back and redo her first month on his campaign.
Not that he held any of it against her.
 Holding a grudge wasn’t in his nature.
A hand on her shoulder startled her out of her inner musings. When she realized that Max, Dean, Lori, and Chris were looking at her, she realized she had missed something, “I’m sorry. What?”
Chris gave her shoulder a soft squeeze before he removed his hand and asked, “Are you ready to go? The car is here for us.”
“Absolutely,” Nina nodded. “I know your friend owns it. Remind me what bar we’re going to again?”
Chris looked up at the sky and shook his head, “21st Amendment.”
“Oh, Chris,” Nina started to reach out to him, but let her hand fall. 
A strained smile worked its way across Chris’s face, but after a deep breath, it morphed into an earnest grin, “I know, but luckily for you, I’m no longer a candidate which means I can get a little tipsy and you can hear my very long rant about the fact that the amendment process exists and why that means no one should be for a strict interpretation of the Constitution.”
His team laughed as he offered an arm to Nina and Lori. Lori looped her arm through his. Nina followed suit and tried to ignore the butterflies that took up residency in her stomach as Chris looked down at her.
“I can’t wait,” she replied as they all headed to the hired car that awaited them.
      Taglist:
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punkofsunshine · 7 months ago
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Neoliberalism, conformity, and the monetization of individuality
Hey guys, I’m back! Ready to get into some more heavy topics, this week it is the topic of neoliberalism, also known as the modern capitalist system.
First. What is neoliberalism? 
Essentially, it is what was initiated under the Reagan/Thatcher administrations which “freed the market” and allowed corporations to globalize more than they were already. As some may know, capitalism subverts democracy by placing power into the hands of people with money, not those who are supposed to have control over legislation (the government). In that way, capital has more say in our political system than anyone/anything else making America a modern day oligarchy which is an extension of a traditionalist system of governance; monarchy. The (western) heads of the neoliberal governance are sometimes called “new world kings” due to their vast swathes of wealth and influence in governmental affairs, but it also became the reigning ideology among the people as well, however “unleashing the market” turned out to have disastrous consequences even until today. A research article by Vicente Navarro states  “. . .[pharmaceutical] companies that systematically prioritize their objective of maximizing profits over any other ends, such as preventing and/or curing illnesses (which, by spreading, may turn into pandemics – as we are witnessing in the current crisis). Many other sectors of medical care show similar behavior. And it is this commercialization of medicine and prioritization of private interests over public ones that have affected very negatively the health and quality of life of millions and millions of people (see my book Medicine Under Capitalism, 1976). These behaviors have been accentuated in the neoliberal period, which started in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Western world.” This specifically discusses the neoliberal economic system and how it effects us here and now during the COVID-19 pandemic (which at time of writing *15/02/2021* is still going on in the US and various other places).
Due to the rise of the neoliberal mindset, punk and Gothic styles gained quick popularity among the outsiders of modernized society, as did a sub-genre of punk (specifically in the 80′s-90′s), cyberpunk. Cyberpunk imagines a world controlled by corporations, climate change, rampant crime, and no heroes to save the day. Real life cyberpunks didn’t adhere to the aesthetic we think of now, during the rise of the internet they were/are the code monkeys, the people who knew how to navigate commonly uncharted space by the rest of the people online at the time. As good as it all sounds, that’s where the problem begins however. As technology progresses so do the ways to exploit the people using that technology, same thing goes with everything we use now. Just as the outsiders created their own thing, a capitalist will find ways to sell that to you packaged as individuality, the good thing is that punks accounted for this already and are big users and advocates for DIY. However the Goths got the short end of the stick when their style got repackaged and put into malls, thus mall goths were born. I say all of this because now, when in pursuit of individuality one must be aware of whether it’s truly fringe and custom or just another re-branded aesthetic like mall goth. In other words, true individuality doesn’t come from what you buy or how you look, it comes from who you are. Conformity doesn’t come from how you look, but how you act.
Now why did I talk about mall goths and punks? Have you seen how much Gothic and punk style clothing costs? That’s the monetization of individuality, at least physically speaking. This also is applicable to Cottagecore, maximalism, plant parenthood, and other aesthetics/movements that cost money. To hear more about that click here to read about Marxian alienation, capitalism, and the commodification of the individual. And no, this is not me saying that if you have that style you’re a conformist, it’s just marketed heavily towards those who want to oppose capitalism and our blatantly imperialistic government, which is incredibly ironic. I personally know punks who made their clothes by themselves instead of buying clothes from fast fashion companies. If you don’t, don’t sweat it, although it’s really useful to learn those skills, sewing specifically. Just keep in mind that they’re trying to sell you rebellion. Anything that can be sold, will be sold.
Sorry for rambling so much this time, I try to not make it a habit. I hope you learned something though.
This has been punkofsunshine, have a good one and stay safe.
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illusionsofdreaming · 5 months ago
have you— have you read new 662 chapter?... like i just did and idk if i should scream or straight up die
and r u ok with stuff like that?? since ur blog is clearly not tcf blog and i dont want to litter ur ask box with unnecessary stuff
first of all, yessss, I welcome all talk on this blog regardless if it’s requests or plain discussion on any of the fandoms celebrated here! 
so this took a while for me to answer because not going to lie, I had not caught up to the most recent chapters because I can easily consume a hundred chapters in a sitting, I decided to let it accumulate - anyways I only had 60 or so chapters to catch up on so now that I’m all caught up - let’s talk business.
But before that.
SPOILERS! In case that wasn’t obvious! Please don’t read ahead if you don’t want to be spoiled about MAJOR PLOT POINTS in TCF!! 600+ chapters and above!
━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━◦○◦━
can I first mention about how it feels like we’re quickly speeding towards the end of TCF and BOY. do I feel sad about it already. I can already feel the emotional drop from finishing a really good series from miles away and I’m sadly not looking forward to it. I always had a hard time parting from series and I already know TCF will hit hard. Perhaps when that time comes, I’ll have to drown my sorrows and release it out through stress writing.
aw man but where to even start? not from where I picked up because WOW author really packed A LOT in 60+ chapters and phew, this will turn into a thesis if I went and commented on it all- so Chapter 662- actually chapter 663. Because by the time I started writing this a new chapter has been updated so-
Right. Where to even begin?? First thing first will be to address the niggling issue at the back of my mind- because I’m a bit confused and not sure if I’ve understood it correctly. 662 really unpacked a lot of information.
So basically why White Star looks like Kim Rok Soo in TCF is because technically when he reincarnated again for Xth number time, he took over Kim Rok Soo’s TCF baby body, which forced out Kim Rok Soo’s soul to leap to Earth 1 and be born there instead. Now Death God decided he’s going to fix this anomaly (and TCF world) by offering to OG Cale Henituse the chance to regress + switch places with Kim Rok Soo, which essentially brings back Kim Rok Soo’s soul back to his original world albeit into a completely different body.
Now, here’s my issue. If this is fixing something, technically Death God fixed nothing? Because technically Kim Rok Soo wouldn’t have been the only soul that has been forced out by White Star in his many, many times of reincarnation cycles. Wouldn’t that mean there would’ve been other ‘Kim Rok Soos’ floating about on other Earths? So what I’m seeing is that, because TCF Earth is facing a crisis, he decided you know, since this world’s gone up in flames might as well try to salvage it by picking the most convenient dead soul- Oh look, a dead Cale Henituse! Great! Here, go to Earth 1 and that lost soul can return and fix this mess! Am I confused? Yes. I hope it will get answered in the future, about what happened to all the other souls that got pushed out of TCF because of White Star and Death God’s true motives.
At 660 chapters +, Author really did try to fit more plot into TCF didn’t they? I appreciate it haha
Next up Thames Family’s dark history - Are they modern people? TCF people? Variables themselves? Half immortals? Or are they the lost souls that’s been pushed out by White Star and brought back to TCF thanks to X God? I can appreciate that Author tried to lighten up the heavy mood with that little bit of humor in 663 (really going to make us think that Drew didn’t leave a single good clue for our dear Cale huh?) and finally, we get some flash backs to the world tree and the dangerous stick they handed over to Cale. Everyone sensing the ‘I’ll stab myself and it’ll turn into the strongest weapon’ moment coming towards us like an oncoming freight train.
Alright, give me your thoughts and your screams about the most recent chapters up to 663 guys. Remember to tag spoilers because we want to protect all our sweet new readers joining the TCF fandom! Meanwhile, I’m going to let TCF sit and accumulate for another 60+ chapters.
Peace. -drops mic-
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southeastasianists · 8 months ago
Link
Last September, I drove for four hours from Jakarta to a small town in western Java, staying one night in a Javanese-styled hotel at the foot of Mt. Ciremai, a 3,000-meter volcano on Java. When I got to Cisantana, I journeyed down a stone path, looking for the Mother Mary shrine. It was a welcome surprise to see this Catholic shrine, equipped with a tropical version of the Via Dolorosa—the route believed to have been taken by Jesus through Jerusalem to Calvary—and supported by electricity coming from a nearby Islamic boarding school.
The presence of such a shrine was all the more surprising in West Java, one of Indonesia’s most conservative Muslim provinces, where attacks against Christians, Ahmadis, and other religious minorities frequently make headlines in local news. Attacks against women’s rights, private gay parties, and transgender crowds are not uncommon.
I continued walking past avocado farms, a banana plantation, and cornfields and finally came upon an open space where a handful of Sundanese women and men were working to construct a tomb.
They were very pleasant. “It’s a quiet day today,” an elderly man said to me. They were taking a break and welcomed me to sit in their bamboo hut with a fire stove.
A woman showed me phone videos of the work they did with more than 100 volunteers, who used wooden poles and bamboo to bring several huge stones from a nearby river to this spot, which is inaccessible by road. They called the tomb “Batu Satangtung” or the “Human Stone,” intended for their elderly religious leader and his wife.
I imagined the makers of Stonehenge might have used similar methods two or three millennia ago in England.
The Sundanese people are from West Java, a province of about 40 million. They are the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia, after the neighbouring Javanese. The volunteers I met are not only Sundanese but of the ethnic-religious group Sunda Wiwitan. The name literally means “early Sunda” or “real Sunda.” Its practitioners assert that Sunda Wiwitan has been part of the Sundanese way of life since before the arrival of Hinduism and Islam.
Why were they building the tomb here? Ela Romlah, the woman with the videos, told me that in 1937 and 1938, when Mt. Ciremai was expected to erupt, Pangeran Madrais—then the leader of this group—and his followers climbed the mountain, carrying a set of gamelan instruments. He and hundreds of his musicians played the gamelan on the mountain for months. They believed their music and prayer stopped the eruption. “They then set up a camp at the foot of the mountain. It was here in Curug Goong.”
Madrais was an inspirational cleric, interpreting old Sundanese and Javanese beliefs. He helped establish the community in 1925.
The Dutch colonial officials in charge at the time were not amused to see this kind of independent behaviour. They tried to prevent hundreds of Sundanese people from staying at Curug Goong. But they said nothing when Mt. Ciremai calmed down.
In August 1945, at the end of World War II, Indonesia’s independence leaders adopted a constitution that vowed to protect all Indonesian citizens equally. But they also reached a political compromise with conservative Muslims, including Wahid Hasjim, the chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama. The agreement, designed to avoid setting up an Islamic state, established the Ministry of Religious Affairs to be “the bridge” between Muslims and the state. The compromise was called Pancasila.
In Garut, about four hours’ drive from Curug Goong, Islamist militants were not satisfied with this and declared the Darul Islam (Islamic State) movement in August 1949, vowing to implement their version of Sharia in Indonesia. From 1950 to 1958, Darul Islam conducted a failed guerrilla campaign in West Java that nonetheless attracted some popular support. They attacked not only the Indonesian military but also religious minorities.
In response, Wahid Hasjim, the minister of religious affairs, adopted a 1952 decree to differentiate between “kepercayaan” (faith) and “agama” (religion). In Indonesian vocabulary, “aliran kepercayaan” is officially used to cover multiple minor religions and spiritual movements. Hasjim decreed that “aliran kepercayaan” are “dogmatic ideas, intertwined with the living customs of various ethnic groups, especially among those who are still underdeveloped, whose main beliefs are the customs of their ancestors throughout the ages.”
Meanwhile, “agama” was defined according to monotheistic understandings. If a community is to be recognised as “religious,” it must adhere to “an internationally recognised monotheistic creed; taught by a prophet through the scriptures.” In this way the decree discriminates against non-monotheistic religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism and hundreds of local religions and spiritual movements in Indonesia.
In West Java, the Sunda Wiwitan people faced two serious challenges: the Darul Islam militants, who repeatedly intimidated and attacked them, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which actively tried to align “underdeveloped religions” such as theirs with Christianity or Islam.
In 1954, Darul Islam militants attacked the Sunda Wiwitan base in Kuningan. “They managed to burn our paseban (communal spaces) including the kitchen and the garages but fortunately not the main hall,” she said. “They forced our members to convert to Islam,” said Dewi Kanti, a great granddaughter of Madrais.
Similar intimidation and violence took place in neighbouring regencies Tasikmalaya, Banjar, and Garut. Dewi’s grandfather, Pangeran Tedja Buwana, who succeeded Madrais, fled Kuningan to Bandung.
Darul Islam also sent militants into Jakarta. On November 30, 1957, President Sukarno attended a school function at which a Darul Islam militant threw a grenade. Sukarno was unharmed, but six schoolchildren died.
Even after Darul Islam had been militarily defeated, eight Darul Islam militants mingled with a Muslim congregation during a prayer service inside the State Palace on May 14, 1962. They fired shots at Sukarno but missed, hitting one of his bodyguards and a Muslim scholar instead.
Muslim conservatives continued their opposition to smaller religions and spiritual movements. To placate hardliners, Sukarno banned the Indonesian Freemasons (Vrijmetselaren-Loge) along with six so-called “affiliates,” without providing evidence of any illegal links: the Bahai Indonesia organisation, the Divine Life Society, the Moral Rearmament Movement, the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, the Rotary Club and the Democracy League, a non-religious organisation considered to be critical of Sukarno. The Rotary Club was accused of being a Zionist group; this was essentially  a conspiracy theory intended to connect the Freemasons to the six organisations.
In June 1964, the Kuningan authorities declared Sunda Wiwitan marriages illegal. The Kuningan prosecutor’s office later detained nine believers—a priest and eight young grooms who married in Sundanese Wiwitan rituals—for several months.
Anticipating increased hostilities, Tedja Buwana, who had returned from Bandung, left the Sunda Wiwitan faith, joined the Catholic church and used their paseban as a church. His move prompted 5,000 Sunda Wiwitan believers to convert to Catholicism, according to a researcher, Cornelius Iman Sukmana, himself a Catholic in Kuningan, who wrote a book about the Sunda Wiwitan and the Catholic church.
“It was an important decision. My grandfather saved thousands of our members from accusations of atheism,” said Dewi Kanti, referring to massacres of the communists between 1965 and 1969. “We can’t imagine what would have happened if he didn’t do it.”
Decades later, when the situation finally calmed down, many of these Sunda Wiwitan people, including Dewi Kanti, openly, but not offficially, re-converted to Sunda Wiwitan. Many who converted away from Christianity still go to Sunday mass and wear a cross around their necks. But inside their pockets, they also have Sunda Wiwitan pendants (a mountain, an eagle and two snakes).
“It is common in Kuningan to meet a single family with several religions,” said a vendor near the shrine.
As I walked down from the tomb, I wondered if these conversions and re-conversions prove that religious identity is not a zero-sum game. Identity is somehow imagined like a container with a fixed volume; if you have more of one identity, you have less of another. The Sunda Wiwitan people showed me that they could expand the container and have multiple identities. Thinking of it from this perspective, it is no surprise that I found a tropical Via Dolorosa and an Islamic boarding school near the tomb construction.
The 1965 Blasphemy Law
In downtown Kuningan, I drove to the paseban area, looking at the beautiful wooden hall and sipping a smooth ginger-lemon tea while chatting with Okky Satrio Djati, a Catholic Javanese, who had married the Sunda Wiwitan leader Dewi Kanti almost two decades earlier.
Djati and I used to work together in a newsroom during the Suharto era, publishing online samizdat and managing a mobile internet server. He went to Kuningan in 1998 when President Suharto was facing the mass protests at the height of the Asian economic crisis and helped hide political activists fleeing trouble.
Djati is now a Sunda Wiwitan member, speaking Sundanese, burning incense and sometimes performing midnight prayers in a nearby mountain. “He seems to be more Sundanese than me,” said Kanti, with a giggle.
Djati helps his wife deal with the discrimination that many Sunda Wiwitan members face. “My husband chose Catholicism as his official religion,” Kanti said. “But he practices Kejawen faith. If we insisted on marrying with our own (real) religions, we wouldn’t have birth certificates for our children, or at least, not with my husband’s name on them.”
Under Indonesia’s legal system, an ethnic believer cannot put their kepercayaan on the agama column of their national ID cards and thus cannot legally marry unless they change their kepercayaan to a recognised religion. In these cases, they leave a blank space in the religion column of the card and the civil registration office does not recognise paternity because the couples are not officially married.
Problems for religious minorities escalated in January 1965 when President Sukarno issued a decree that prohibited people from being hostile toward religions or committing blasphemy, which is defined as “abuse” and “desecration” of a religion. Sukarno decreed that the government would steer “mystical sects … toward a healthy way of thinking and believing in the One and Only God.” The decree, which gave official approval only to Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, was immediately incorporated into the Criminal Code as article 156(a), with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. This has had disastrous effects until the present.
After deposing Sukarno, Suharto and his regime enforced the 1952 decree, which also requires a religion to have a holy book, leading to many bizarre stories of “religious alignment.” In Kalimantan, Dayak tribal leaders created the Panaturan –a collection of Dayak ancestral wisdom compiled into a single “holy book.” This required the creation of a clergy, so Dayak priests were trained. Religious rituals once held in fields and homes were moved into new worship halls called Balai Basarah. But most importantly, Kaharingan religious leaders had to choose a permitted religion to align with. They chose Hinduism, and thus became “Kaharingan Hindu.” But do not ask them about Ganesh or karma!
President Suharto’s wrote about his own Javanese Kejawen faith and Islam in his 1989 authorised biography. He described the syncretism common among the Javanese, conducting his Islamic prayers and celebrating Islamic holidays while also meditating in the sacred places of the Javanese traditions when he wanted to make major decision.
On September 7, 1974, three months before the East Timor invasion, Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam met Suharto in a villa in Mt. Dieng, Java Island, where Suharto was meditating in the Semar Cave, which is named after a mythical Javanese character with whom Suharto identified. That cave is still regarded as sacred. When I visited in 2019 it was locked—the villa is now a museum where photos of the Suharto-Whitlam meeting are displayed. Showing a more open mind towards religious minorities, in 1978, Suharto created a directorate within the Ministry of Education and Culture to service these local religions, telling the Indonesian parliament, “These kepercayaan are part of our national tradition, and need not to be opposed to agama.”
Yet even under a strongman, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, technically in charge of religions, resisted and maintained its opposition to local religions. They have refused to include kepercayaan within their domain and have promoted the inclusion of these believers into monotheistic realms. One reason Muslim groups refuse to recognise kepercayaan is their concern that the percentage of Muslims (88 percent) in Indonesia may decline, threatening their majority status.
In Kuningan, the new atmosphere under Suharto prompted the Sunda Wiwitan to re-convert to their native faith. Some of them legally left the Catholic church. Some maintain the practice of two religions, living with multiple identities. In 1982, the faith registered with the Ministry of Education and Culture’s directorate, seeking government services along with President Suharto’s accommodation of ethnic believers.
During the weekend I spent talking with Kanti, Djati and other Sunda Wiwitan believers, young and old, women and men, I witnessed the pain of the discrimination they faced and the cost of religious intolerance to people full of tolerance themselves.
It is fascinating to see a small religion resisting the power of the state. While Suharto took some important steps to protect religious freedom, it would have been better still if he had shown the moral courage to rescind the blasphemy law and the idiosyncratic and dangerous definition of religion from the Sukarno era. Sadly, Suharto’s successors have also failed to find the necessary political will.
Post-Suharto Discrimination
Jarwan is the only Sundanese man who stays overnight to guard the Sunda Wiwitan tomb in Curug Goong. He is a well-built man, keeping a motorcycle and several guard dogs in the bamboo hut.
“Someone has to stay here,” he said. “I am the youngest of the elders.”
In July 2020, the Kuningan government sealed off the tomb, declaring that the Sunda Wiwitan group had no permit to build “a monument.” Dozens of Sunni Muslim militants accompanied government officials to seal the tomb, saying that “the monument” is idolatrous.
Sunda Wiwitan members argue that the construction is not a “monument” but rather a “tomb” prepared for two of their elders, Dewi Kanti’s parents, Pangeran Djati Kusumah, and Emalia Wigarningsih. “It’s built on their own land. There is no regulation here to ban anyone to have cemeteries on our own land,” Djati said.
This is not an unfamiliar scene in many Muslim-majority provinces in Indonesia. Rights monitors have recorded hundreds of incidents like this involving Sunni militant groups, whose thuggish harassment and assaults on houses of worship and members of religious minorities have become increasingly aggressive. Those targeted include Ahmadis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. To give just one grisly example, on May 13-14, 2018, Islamist suicide bombers detonated explosives at three Christian churches in Surabaya. The bombings killed at least 12 and wounded at least 50 people. Thirteen suicide bombers also died.
In 2006 the government introduced regulations for building permits for houses of worship, prompting Muslim protesters to demand the closure of “illegal churches.” Hundreds of churches were closed. Some Christian congregations won lawsuits allowing them to build, but local governments simply ignored  court rulings. GKI Yasmin Protestant Church in Bogor was shut down in 2008. The congregation won the case at the Supreme Court in 2010 and then-President Yudhoyono asked the local government to reopen the church, but the city government defied the orders, without consequence.
By contrast, in 2010 the Religious Affairs Ministry listed 243,199 mosques throughout Indonesia, around 78 percent of all houses of worship. Recently an ongoing government census using drones and photography has registered at least 554,152 mosques, suggesting that the number of mosques has more than doubled in a decade.
The hardline Islamist preacher, Rizieq Shihab, has just returned to Indonesia from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia. He then called on his supporters “to behead blasphemers;” on November 27 an Islamist group attacked a village in Sigi, Sulawesi island, beheading a Salvation Army elder and three of his relatives. The attackers also burned a Salvation Army church and six other Christian-owned houses. No action has been taken against Rizieq for inciting violence, although police arrested him for breaking coronavirus restrictions.
Threats and speeches that incite violence are facilitated by Indonesia’s discriminatory laws and regulations. They give local majority religious populations significant leverage over religious minority communities. Compounding this, institutions including the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) under the Attorney General’s Office, the Religious Harmony Forum, and the semi-official Indonesian Ulema Council have issued decrees and fatwas (religious rulings) against members of religious minorities, and frequently press for the prosecution of “blasphemers.”
Recent targets of the blasphemy law include three former leaders of the Gafatar religious community, prosecuted following the violent, forced eviction in 2016 of more than 7,000 members of the group from their farms on Kalimantan. A more prominent target was former Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, sentenced to a two-year prison term for blasphemy in a politically motivated case in May 2017. His longtime friend and ally, President Joko Widodo, simply stood by, afraid of the wrath of radical conservatives.
Violence against religious minorities and government failures to take decisive action negate guarantees of religious freedom in the Indonesian constitution and international law, including core international human rights conventions ratified by Indonesia. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia acceded to in 2005, provides that “persons belonging to…minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion.”
Throughout there have been occasional and modest examples of progress. The Rotary Club began operating again in 1970 after Sukarno died. In 2000, President Abdurrahman Wahid, the eldest son of Hasjim Wahid, cancelled President Sukarno’s 1962 decree banning the Freemasons and alleged associate organisations. After more than a dozen members were detained under the law during the New Order, the Bahai community has since been able to revive their network; however, they have been denied permission to build a temple so they continue to worship in private homes.
A major reform took place in 2006 when President Yudhoyono signed the Population Administrative Law, which no longer requires kepercayaan believers to convert to official religions to be listed on ID cards. But many civil servants are still not aware of or ignore the law, so religious minorities face problems if they refuse to choose one of the six religions that these officials recognise. “They simply say you’re a godless woman if you want to keep the [religion] column blank,” said Kanti, whose ID card has a blank space after the word agama.
In Kuningan, Indonesia’s Ombudsman finally helped mediate the dispute between the Sunda Wiwitan community and the local government, prompting the local authorities to lift the seal on the site and permitting the group to continue constructing the tomb.
The Ombudsman’s Office also helped the Dayak Kaharingan, pressuring several local governments to drop decades of discrimination. Ombudsman Ahmad Suaedy said in a webinar: “The key issue is that they [local religious groups] should get public service. The religious minorities should take courage to report their difficulties.”
In 2017, four Indonesian citizens petitioned the Constitutional Court, demanding the right to have their religions listed on their ID cards. They represented four Indigenous religions including the Marapu  (Sumba ), the Sapto Darmo (Java ), and the Parmalim and the Ugamo Bangsa Batak (Sumatra). On November 7, 2017, the court ruled in their favour.
But the Ulama Council objected to the decision. The Ministry of Home Affairs, which issues and manages ID cards, has since failed to implement the court decision. The Ulama Council argued that the ruling “hurts the feeling of the Islamic ummah,” but it is not clear on what legal grounds the ministry refuses to do its duty.
Separately, the Constitutional Court rejected three petitions to revoke the blasphemy law between 2009 and 2018, declaring that religious freedom was subject to certain limitations to preserve public order (former President Abdurrahman Wahid joined the lawsuit in 2009). Those limitations, the court stated in its 2010 decision, were to be defined by “religious scholars,” thereby outsourcing the rights of minorities to unelected members of the majority religion.
There are more than 180 ethnic-religious communities spanning from Sumatra to the smaller islands in eastern Indonesia. They are estimated to encompass around 10 to 12 million people, although the 2010 census recorded only 299,617 people or 0.13 percent of Indonesians claiming to be exclusively ethnic believers. It is still hard and even dangerous to publicly declare one’s religion in Indonesia.
Indeed, it is gruelling work to battle against both government officials and the Sunni ulama. Spineless politicians, feckless government bureaucrats, and narrow-minded ulama officials hamper the development of democracy and human rights in Indonesia.
Jarwan in Curug Goong knows very well that he cannot rely on the government or anyone else to protect the tomb he stands guard over. “We have seen this mistreatment and intimidation for decades. We must guard our sacred places ourselves.
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taiblogcomics · 4 months ago
Text
I Can’t Pet Force You To Read This One, But...
Hey there, high school crushes. Well, it's finally here. Can you believe it? Yes, counting from the original Xanga site (which, yes, still counts. It's like our own Golden Age publication or apocryphia), this is our 10th anniversary of reviewing comics. That's fantastic. I'm excited, can't you tell? I can tell, since I'm writing this preamble a good two months before the actual anniverary~
So, last year we reviewed the absolute pile of dreck that is Heroes in Crisis. And while that was worth ripping into, I'd rather not spend the 10th anniversary hating on something. I'd like to do something actually meaningful to me. I've teased about this one for many years, probably for as long as I've been doing this blog, and I think it's time we stopped pussyfooting around and reviewed some Garfield. But not just any Garfield. It's finally time, my friends. This... is Garfield's Pet Force.
I dunno how many people will remember this one. Maybe you recall the direct-to-DVD movie adaptation from 2009, or at least advertising for it. I never saw it, but apparently it differs a bit. They also appeared a few times in those Garfield comics from back in the day. We even reviewed a couple (some were on the Xanga blog). But what we're looking at here are the original novellas published between 1997 and 1999. So yeah, these really are from my childhood. And since I've long espoused that Garfield was always funnier 20 years ago, this must be actual premium Garfield content, yeah? By golly, I hope so, because we got five whole books here today. So we should probably get into them~
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Book 1: The Outrageous Origin
This is a classic sort of superhero cover. Standard team shot of poses, and that's fine for a first volume. In fact, that's great. Later editions of this would replace the lightning-filled gradient background with a pure white one, but I have this original version. We'll get to specifics about these characters in the meat of the story, but let's talk about the costumes for a bit. Very classic early-'90s sort of look, before the Dark Age kicked in. Reminds me a lot of Jim Lee's X-Men designs, actually. Making all your characters visually distinct is important in a team book. The heavy lean into secondary colours is unusual for heroic characters, but not unwelcome.
So we actually start with a cold open in the superhero universe. This is pretty much to introduce us to the characters as soon as possible, and thus I'll do the same for you here.
*Garzooka, team leader, super strong, has a razor-sharp claw, and can shoot radioactive hairballs from his mouth. That's... at least a unique power, I don't think anyone on the Justice League can do that~ *Odious, the dumb muscle with the accent on the "dumb". Possibly even stronger than Garzooka, and possessing a "super-stretchy stun tongue", an elastic tongue that can scramble the minds of whoever it adheres to. *Starlena, the team girl. She can fly, and she has a siren song that can put those who hear it into a hypnotic trance. Garzooka is the only one immune to its effects, for reasons that are never explained. *Abnermal, the kid-appeal character. He has ice powers, forcefields, and an ill-defined "pester power" that means he can annoy people on a greater scale than normal folks. It's pretty much only used for comic relief, but that could be a brilliant power in the right hands. *Compooky, the brains of the operation. Other than flight, his powers are limited to super intelligence, which means he's usually the exposition guy. There's probably a reason they left him out of the movie adaptation~
You got all that? Don't worry, we'll introduce you again later in the book. What actually happens in the intro chapter isn't really important, it's just setting up the universe. In fact, it's all taking place within Pet Force #99, a comic just enjoyed by Nermal. Yes, we quickly cut over to the main Garfield universe ("our universe", the narrator calls it), where Pet Force is just a comic book. The Garfield gang is all outside, enjoying a cookout prepared by Jon Arbuckle. Nermal is extremely enthused by his comic book, and brags about how he has all 98 previous issues sealed and polybagged, and this one will soon join them. Sorry, Nermal, this came out in 1997, the speculator boom already went bust~
Garfield dismisses comic books as stupid because you can't eat them or use them as a blanket, and declares that none of the stuff that happens in the comic could possibly happen in real life. Uh oh, irony! Because these things can happen, and do! It's a parallel universe, baby! This might be one of my earliest introductions to a "parallel worlds" concept. Much like Earths 1 and 2 in pre-Crisis DC, the events of the comic are essentially the real life adventures of their super-powered counterparts in another dimension. Most of the action in these stories will take place there~
So here's the setup: Vetvix (the parallel equivalent to Liz the veternarian) is an evil sorceress and scientist, who essentially wants to experiment on animals in peace, and possibly subjugate the universe while she's at it. You could argue that Liz is an odd choice for villain, since our universe's Liz isn't particularly evil. But then, our universe's Garfield isn't particularly heroic either. She operates out of a deadly space station called the Orbiting Clinic of Chaos, and at present she's waiting for the arrival of her henchman, Space Pie-Rat, who is a six-foot-tall anthropomorphic rat dressed in stereotypical pirate getup. Vetvix has just finished inventing a levitation ray, and she'd like Pie-Rat to go out and use it to steal all the food in the universe. Vetvix doesn't think small, is what I'm saying.
The counter to Vetvix is Emperor Jon, ruler of the planet Polyester. He's kind and benevolent, even if he's a little dippy and his fashion sense atrocious. Having gotten wind of Vetvix's latest plan, he contacts Pet Force in their ship, the Lightspeed Lasagna. Upon learning the problem, Pet Force gives chase to Pie-Rat. They eventually corner him on some desolate planet, landing and entering an abandoned factory. Unfortunately, they're not safe amongst the dangerous machinery, because this turns out to be a trap. Vetvix has been busy as hell, because she's also invented a metal that's impervious to their powers. And that's not all, because she's also basically invented the Phantom Zone, where she traps Pet Force forever. It specifically mentions it doesn’t kill them, because it wouldn't be kosher to murder the heroes in a Garfield book~
The Lightspeed Lasagna has both onboard cameras connected to the heroes' belts as well as automatic return protocols, so within two days, Emperor Jon knows exactly what's happened to Pet Force. He needs help, so he calls upon his most trusted and powerful advisor: Binky the Sorceror. Binky's just as loud and obnoxious as in the main universe, but he's also a powerful magician. He conjures up a spell for Emperor Jon that lets him pierce the veil between universes. It's basically Equestria Girls rules: parallel universes have similar characters between them. So to replace Pet Force, they need the nearest genetic equivalents from another universe. And that's the versions of Garfield, Odie, Arlene, Nermal, and Pooky that we know and love~
Back in the main universe, it's another day entirely. Another cookout is taking place, and Nermal has received his special anniversary issue of Pet Force #100. The cover's really special, dripping with '90s cover gimmicks like glow-in-the-dark and embossing. A rarely used one, though, was "portal to another universe". That was pretty expensive to print, so you won't find many comics like Nermal's. Maybe he had something there with the collecting after all. The cover glows, and while Jon is distracted by the grill, Garfield and Friends disappear~
They reappear in Emperor Jon's wood-paneled throne room, now transformed into Pet Force. Emperor Jon and Sorceror Binky try to explain the situation, but Garfield--now Garzooka--is disbelieving of the whole thing. In fact, even the idea that Jon can now hear him talk absolutely floors him. Since he's about to deliver the exposition for everyone, can we talk about Compooky for a minute? This spell has just granted sapience to Garfield's teddy bear. I don't expect deep philosophy from a children's novella, but the ramifications of this are really under-explored. Like, never mind the whole idea of a teddy bear having the same genetic makeup as an alternate universe equivalent. He goes from inanimate object to fully conscious being, and he just rolls with it.
Anyways, once everybody gets caught up on what's going on and accepts the new reality, a training montage ensues so the group can all learn to use their powers without killing each other. Once at least reasonably trained, the reborn Pet Force is sent out to stop Pie-Rat. He's gotten sloppy in the times with Pet Force dead, so they track him down easily. After a brief scuffle where Garzooka takes his eyepatch, Pie-Rat flees in his ship. They follow Pie-Rat back to the Orbital Clinic of Chaos, but they can't go in the front. That led the original Pet Force into a trap. Finding an unguarded maintenance hatch--standard on any big space station--they enter Vetvix's lair for a final confrontation!
After dealing with the Waiting Room of Doom, which slowly fills with outdated magazines, they enter Vetvix's inner sanctum. Frustrated with Pie-Rat's failure, she uses her magic to turn him into an ordinary mouse. Vetvix then attempts to use her same weapon on this new Pet Force, but thanks to story contrivance, it only works on beings born in this universe. As other dimensional visitors already, they can't be banished to another dimension. She then pulls a Dr. Claw and runs off cursing Pet Force's name while her base self-destructs. Vetvix is a very "discard and draw" sort of villain, it seems. Pet Force, of course, makes a harrowing escape just in the nick of time.
Returning to Emperor Jon, they vow to be ready to return whenever they're called on, since evil never stays dormant for long. Odious even gifts Emperor Jon with the mouse-ified Pie-Rat as proof of their victory. Well, I'm glad they remember that, so they didn't accidentally murder a major villain in their first superhero outing. They're returned to their own universe, and the time differential between them places them back with Jon having not had time to even look up from the grill. Garfield begins to doubt the adventure even happened--until that night, when he finds Pie-Rat's eyepatch still on his person. Ah, definitive proof of... eyepatches, I guess~
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Book 2: Pie-Rat's Revenge!
You have to wonder where, in a space-faring superhero setting, Pie-Rat got the inspiration for his classic pirate motif. It's a little incongruous is all I'm saying. And hey, remember when I said earlier that Garzooka's purple-and-green colour scheme was odd for a hero? Well, here he is as a villain! That'll catch your eye. This would be a terrific comic cover, which is what you want in a series like this.
The book opens with a brief recap of the previous story's events, then moves into the new plot. See, Emperor Jon has opted to keep the polymorphed Pie-Rat as his pet. How very Ron Weasley of him. That's pretty apt, actually, because similarly Pie-Rat has maintained his intelligence in his new mousey form. Pie-Rat gets sick of being Emperor Jon's pet and plans a daring escape, exploiting the emperor's dimwitted and loving personality against him. Pie-Rat jams the lock with a food pellet and makes his escape that night.
Once free from his cage, he encounters Binky's cauldron, still left in the throne room from when the sorceror summoned Pet Force from Garfield's universe. Figuring he has nothing to lose, Pie-Rat jumps in the leftover brew. Suddenly he finds himself growing. He returns to his original anthropomorphic state--but with a twist. He's now twice his original height, a staggering twelve feet tall. He scoops up the rest of the remaining potion for later, and sneaks out of the palace as best as a 12-foot rat can sneak. Desiring revenge on both his former employer and his longtime foes, he steals Pet Force's ship and makes his escape from the planet, headed for Vetvix's newest base.
After his guards help Emperor Jon put the pieces of the problem together, they decide they must once again call upon the powers of Pet Force to recover their missing vehicle and stop the newly embiggened Pie-Rat. Fortunately, Garfield and friends have been watching movies all weekend, so Jon doesn't notice when his pets disappear from the living room in a bright flash. Of course, once returned to the alternate universe and the situation explained, they still have a problem: how do they give chase to Pie-Rat when he's got their ship?
And speaking of Pie-Rat in their ship, he's followed the trail of a mysterious energy output, and it's led him right to Vetvix's new base, the Menacing Moon of Mayhem. See, this is why you don't blow up your base: the backup base is never as good. if it was, it wouldn't be the backup. Given that it's such a shoddy base, Pie-Rat is easily able to get inside and get close to Vetvix. She's expecting a technological attack, so she's unprepared when he pulls out that vial of magic potion and sprinkles her with it. And naturally, the potion that made him grow 12 feet tall makes Vetvix shrink to 5 inches. It's magic, we don't have to explain it!
Pie-Rat takes the magic crystal that Vetvix uses to fuel her powers, which of course didn't shrink because magic is just bullshit. See previous paragraph's last sentence. And while Pie-Rat takes over the base and begins plotting a further revenge against Pet Force, we cut over to them. They're at Sorceror Binky's own castle, and it's clear he's a bit of a hoarder. This is to their advantage, though, as they eventually piece together a working spaceship out of old car parts and other things, all patched together between Compooky's know-how and Binky's magic. This seems like the sort of book where I could use that "it's magic" quote every other paragraph. But craft a new--if small--ship they do, and speed off in the newly christened Planetary Pizza.
The rickety little ship does eventually find its way to Pie-Rat's base, saving him the trouble of being proactive as a villain. The magic thing keeps happening, and Pie-Rat basically becomes Discord for a bit while he fights them, doing things like turning Starlena's siren song into actual living music notes. One by one, the members of Pet Force are taken out, with only Garzooka is left. He and Pie-Rat struggle, while Pie-Rat tries to aim the magic crystal at Garzooka. Garzooka uses his claw to rip the crystal from Pie-Rat and defeat him.
Unfortunately, here's where the cover comes in. It seems the moments Pie-Rat was focusing the crystal during the struggle affected Garzooka's mind. He puts the crystal around his own neck. which turns him evil. He helps Pie-Rat to his feet, and the pair escape in the Lightspeed Lasagna. While Pet Force pursues them in their ramshackle ship, the new criminal duo strikes the storage planet of Deli to steal their food. Pet Force manages to catch up as the villains celebrate their spoils, and use a magic blast from the systems Binky installed to short out the Lightspeed Lasagna. This enables them to dock with the ship and climb aboard for a contfrontation.
The group fights, and once again the bearer of a bullshit magic crystal subdues the heroes easily. Annoyed now, Garzooka takes hold of Starlena and prepares to kill her or something. She taps into the one thing she has left: she's not fighting just Garzooka, but Garfield in his body. She drops some heavy put-downs, which resonate with Garfield, and he hesitates long enough for her to cut the crystal off him. The crystal hits the floor and shatters, undoing its evil magics on Garzooka's mind as well as on all his teammates. With Pet Force reunited, Pie-Rat is easily subdued and locked up.
The group waits for the ship to power back up, then speed off to apologise to the planet Deli. Following that, they head back towards Vetvix's moonbase. That night, though, the magic that was making Pie-Rat 12 feet tall wears off, and he escapes from his cell. He steals the remaining shards of the crystal, climbs into the Planetary Pizza, and makes a getaway. As a bonus, he also repeats the power-down spell against the bigger ship, giving him ample time to escape. And he's not the only one. Over on the Menacing Moon of Mayhem, Vetvix also returns to her proper size, and abandons this base as well. And when Pet Force fails to find her, they simply return to their own universe, ready to be called on once again in the future~
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Book 3: K-Niner: Dog of Doom!
Another very basic comic book-style cover. K-Niner is a much more typical villain in style. This one's actually a wrap-around, and features the rest of Pet Force reacting to K-Niner on the back cover. Which is good because, other than the first cover, the covers all have a heavy Garzooka focus. Which makes sense for a book series, I suppose, you wanna assure the kiddos that Garfield's gonna be in the book. But as a comic book series, this would be a bad look for a team book~
So after our standard introduction and recap, we start off with Vetvix in yet another new base, the Floating Fortress of Fear. I'm sure it's very intimidating, if she can keep hold of it for more than a single book. She's picking up from the epilogue and putting the last touches on K-Niner, mostly enhancing his intelligence. Now, you look at the cover and tell me what kind of voice you'd expect. Some sort of German or Austrian accent, like the doberman on Road Rovers? Does anyone remember Road Rovers~? Anyways, but no: he speaks with a posh British accent. You know, the "I say, good chaps, looks like we're in a bit of a sticky wicket, eh wot?" type. Trust me, you can tell. But just because he sounds refined doesn't mean he's not evil.
I also love that after the initial "trapped them in the Phantom Zone" bit, the villains just go whole ham. K-Niner here demonstrates that he is indeed evil by threatening to rip out Vetvix's throat. Let your villains be villainous is all I'm saying. She's pleased he's so vicious, but feels he needs to learn his place as well. She force-chokes him until he complies. She then gives him his assignment: she thinks dogs should be liberated. The Boy Mayor of Second Life would approve, and so does K-Niner. Turning pets on their masters is just his style.
K-Niner takes a portable evolution gun, and immediately sets off. He begins on the planet Kennel. Isn't it neat how every planet is named after an English word that describes its function? K-Niner quickly takes over the dog population and turns them against their masters, because boosting their intelligence also makes them evil, of course. They use enslavement collars on their former owners, and within a few days, the dogs now run the planet. We cut over to Emperor Jon on Polyester, where a man has crash-landed a ship. He's an escapee from Kennel, and he's here to report the events so we can get the plot moving and once more summon Pet Force!
And summoned once more they are, Garfield and Friends once more conveniently disappearing in a split second while Jon's back is turned (this time they're outside playing volleyball). And once back in the parallel universe, Emperor Jon fills them all in on K-Niner's dastardly doings. Garzooka, naturally, takes great offense to dogs being in charge, and takes his duties as a hero completely seriously for once. Pet Force takes off for a confrontation with K-Niner in the Lightspeed Lasagna. And speaking of Pet Force's ships...
The Planetary Pizza, piloted by Pie-Rat, plants its pads down on polar planet Glacia. Pie-Rat is here seeking a way to restore his magic crystal and regain his mighty magic powers. He's sought out the home of a legendary evil wizard, who's known by the name of... Barfo. I see why Barfo keeps his location a secret. But anyway, Barfo is the one who made the crystal, so naturally Pie-Rat reasons he can restore it as well. Suprisingly once on Glacia, Barfo's evil lair is pretty easy to find. His manservant, Hobart the Gnome, brings Pie-Rat before the wizard, and within moments the crystal is restored! Pie-Rat turns to thank Hobart, but Hobart suddenly turns into Vetvix!
Yes, Vetvix knew all along that Pie-Rat's quest would lead him here. And as she was once Barfo's student in the ways of evil magic, she knew she could get the old coot to go along with her plan. Barfo returns the crystal to Vetvix, restoring her powers. And so Pie-Rat, a recurring villain in three whole books, is unceremoniously done away with, as Vetvix teleports him inside an asteroid, trapping him in solid rock. Even if the asteroid were hollow or he displaced the interior when he teleported in, no doubt he'll suffocate within moments. That's pretty harsh.
With that over, we rejoin Pet Force as they approach Kennel. K-Niner's battle cruiser spots them incoming, and shoots the ship down, even in spite of Abnermal's forcefields. Pet Force bail out of the ship, and Abnermal uses his powers to make snow to cushion their fall. Upon landing, a contingent of mutant animals attack. The mooks aren't much, but K-Niner himself puts up an impressive fight. However, one of the mooks pulls a gun and points it at Compooky. This is why Compooky usually stays aboard the ship, but that wasn't an option. Rather than let their friend get hurt, Pet Force surrenders.
Pet Force is held prisoner separately from Compooky, with both the cell's technology making it freeze-proof and threats of "don't break out, or we'll shoot your compatriot". Their imprisonment is not long, though, as suddenly the power goes out. Pet Force takes advantage of the situation and make their escape, quickly running into Compooky. K-Niner didn't think the hyper-intelligent teddy bear needed a high security cell, and just locked him in the basement. It was easy for him to then break out and shut down the local power grid. This also has the side effect of turning off the control collars the humans were wearing. How convenient!
With control of the planet now tilted in their favour, Pet Force now has time to both fix their ship and reverse the polarity of the brain-boosting weapons, turning the dog population of Kennel back to their normal selves. Though the experience did change the pet owners of Kennel. Having experienced life in their pets' shoes (so to speak) for a bit, they've resolved to treat their canine companions a bit more equally. More being allowed on the furniture, less stupid tricks for treats. Still, Pet Force can't stay long, and they head off in pursuit of K-Niner's battle cruiser. This is why most superheroes don't have spaceships (Jedis don't count): if your enemy also has one, they can flee way more easily than on foot.
Not willing to let another place go to the dogs, as it were, Pet Force catches up with K-Niner. With his previous success, Vetvix has stepped up the timetable and sent him after Polyester right away. Emperor Jon is in danger! They enter the planet's atmosphere, and are attacked by fighter craft. They fend them off, but their weapons system is damaged in the fight, so they can't simply use the reverse brain-rays and solve it quickly. The team splits up instead: Garzooka and Abnermal will go after K-Niner, while the other three will find the planet's power source and knock out the collars, since that worked so well the last time.
The two heroes quickly make short work of K-Niner's guards, and then turn the battle to deal with the Dog of Doom himself. While the struggle goes on, the rest of Pet Force reach the planet's power grid. Using a clever tactic, Compooky overloads the power and causes and electrical storm that simultaneously undoes the brain-boosting effect and shorts out the enslavement collars. There's only a few pages left, after all, and we have to wrap this up.  K-Niner is reverted back into an ordinary dog, and the emperor is reverted to an ordinary non-enslaved person. The day is saved!
And now once again, Pet Force prepares to return to their own universe. However... when the spell clears, the five heroes are still standing there. Something is blocking the passage between dimensions, and Pet Force is trapped. And while Pet Force's adventures have taken place between mere moments in their own universe, they have always returned quickly enough that Jon didn't notice a thing. But this time, as Jon retrieves the volleyball and turns around to his pets, he's surprised to find they've all vanished into thin air...
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Book 4: Menace of the Mutanator
This one's very striking because of its more painted look compared to the heavy black outlines the rest of the covers have. Does this one count as having the whole team on the cover? Because, spoilers, that's what the Mutanator is: the rest of Pet Force mashed up into a villain. Again, though, that's definitely a striking image that'd draw in readers to a comic cover. In fact, while Garzooka may be over-used as a cover focus, several of these also show him imperiled in some way, and that's nice for character stuff. That helps balace it a bit~
I wanna say, before we start, that I'm impressed by the continuity for the series as a whole. They could've just written each story as a standalone, but for a series of 100-page children's novellas starring Garfield characters as superheroes, things happen in these books. Like, maybe not sweeping status quo changes, but events affect the plot of each next book down the line. And that's where we pick up! Right where the last book left off, with Pet Force now stuck in the alternate universe, unable to return home to Jon. But if they can't go home to Jon, well, maybe then events will conspire to bring Jon to them~
Yep, because Jon happens to wander into the room where they keep the copy of Pet Force #100 that acts as a portal to their universe, he gets transported into the Pet Force universe. And since Emperor Jon is still an extant entity, there's just two Jons now. Jon, of course, is a bit freaked out, and it takes several pages to explain the whole deal to him, and also have a showcase of all their powers to pad out the book some more. Eventually, they decide to call in Sorceror Binky to examine the problem. When he has a go of it, a sudden tornado emerges from the cauldron and whisks away Pet Force--save for Garzooka, whose prodigious strength keeps him anchored.
Garzooka heads out in the Lightspeed Lasagna to track Pet Force's signature, glad to get away from a double trouble Jon. And while he's searching, the scene cuts to Vetvix's Floating Fortress of Fear. Hey, one of her bases actually lasted more than one book! This is where Pet Force has been transported to, once more in a power-proof cell. Vetvix monologues to the heroes, as she is wont to do, explaining that she's the one who cast the spell to keep them from returning home. And further, she's brought them here to mutate them into her servants.
While Emperor Jon exposits about his backstory (turns out he is not of royal blood, and has about as much legitimate claim to the throne as you or I do), the search continues. Sorceror Binky detects Pet Force, giving them all a view of what happens next. The trapped members of Pet Force are literally broken apart and reassembled: Odious' body, Compooky's brain inserted into the chest, Abnermal's hands, and Starlena's head. She christens this beast "Mutanator", and it is soullessly obedient. I also wanna say, Mutanator's kind of a non-binary icon, aren't they? (The comic uses "it", but it was 1998 and alternative pronouns weren't really a thing yet.) Muscular, masculine body, but confident enough to still wear lipstick. It's a look, is all I'm saying~
Mutanator continues to possess the combined powers of Pet Force as well. Vetvix sends them to attack the planet Armory to gear up before attempting to conquer Polyester. And meanwhile, thanks to the convenience of being able to scan all of Compooky's memories now that his brain is part of Mutanator, Vetvix has the perfect trap to spring on Garzooka--or should she say Garfield. Yes, she really knows the whole origin for Pet Force now, and now she knows all Garfield's weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and probably blood type and other dating profile stats~
Thus, when Garzooka receives the coordinates from Emperor Jon and arrives at the Floating Fortress, he finds himself menaced by giant spiders. Vetvix couldn't think of a way to get Mondays to attack him, so the Giant Spider Invasion will do. Spiders are apparently very formiddable foes, Garzooka's personal fears aside. They can swat gamma hairballs out of the air, they can construct webs as quickly as certain Marvel heroes, and their hairy exoskeletons are resistant to both claw and strength. But despite his fear and Abnermal's running commentary, Garzooka manages to trounce the spiders with a carefully applied flame--taking Vetvix's blueprints with them.
Garzooka heads out once again to track down the Mutanator, leaving his less-than-all-together friends in the safety of their forcefield prison. While he's off, we return to the perspective of his target. Using their combined powers, the Mutanator swiftly conquers the planet Armory and sets their sights on Polyester next. It's not a bad plan, honestly. With the stockpile from Armory, not only will the Mutanator be more powerful, Polyester won't be able to use the planet for backup. Fortunately for the two Jons, though, Garzooka intercepts the Mutanator before they can leave Armory.
The fight's actually pretty good. Very back and forth. But even despite Garzooka's great strength, the Mutanator wins in the end. Thankfully, Vetvix puts her conquest of Polyester on hold to take the time to retrieve Garzooka and add his power to the Mutanator. This, of course will be her undoing--in a completely ridiculous way, of course. For back in the palace, our universe's Jon is watching Pet Force's struggles with the scrying cauldron. And he leans in a bit too close. Sowhile Vetvix is prepping the machine to divide Garzooka's body like she did the rest of Pet Force, Jon suddenly tumbles through the dimensional warp caused by the cauldron and lands on Vetvix, which causes her to put the machine in reverse. A real Jonnus ex cauldrona there, eh?
The Mutanator disappears, their existance as a unique being wiped out as their pieces return to their proper Pet Force owners. With Pet Force reassembled, Garzooka takes out Vetvix with one of his gamma-radiated hairballs while she's distracted by Jon. Pet Force decides that the vile veternarian should have a taste of her own medicine, and stick her in the body-splicing machine with some of her guards. This divides them all up and mixes them into bizarre combinations. It also has the side effect of disabling Vetvix's magic, so they can return to their own universe now.
The book wraps up here. Pet Force first returns to Armory to both return the stolen weapons and also make repairs on the buildings that were damaged in Garzooka's fight with the Mutanator. That's the sort of thing I'd like to see in more superhero stories in general. The two Jons part ways, with the Emperor believing the other Jon's heroism to have been deliberate. And thus are Garfield and friends returned home. And just like the end of their first adventure, where Garfield couldn't be sure if it really happened, so too is Jon's memory fading. Had he really witnessed all that? Only his pets know for sure--and in this universe, they can't talk~
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Book 5: Attack of the Lethal Lizards
This one's another wrap-around, showing the rest of Pet Force engaging the remaining Lethal Lizards on the back cover. This is one advantage books have over comics: a front and back cover you can use for your story-telling. The Lizard designs are pretty good for a villain group too. Like Pet Force, they don't adhere to a particular theme, but they do look good individually. Garzooka roasting a hot dog on a stick might be a bit too comedic for a superhero story, though. It sets the tone wrong. How "lethal" can they possibly be if Garzooka is out here roasting hot dogs in the middle of battle?
So here we go, last book. After the usual recap, we open with Jon explaining to Garfield and friends his latest plans: they're going to WackyWorld, a theme park dedicated to Jon's favourite cartoon, The Wackies. Both Garfield and Nermal think the show is lame, and if those two agree on something, you know it must be so. In less lame universes, however, trouble is once more a-brewing. So it turns out Vetvix's Floating Fortress of Fear has been orbiting the swamp planet Reptilius this whole time. And her various experiments in the last two books have been radiating the planet in magical energy...
From that magical power, three reptiles find themselves uplifted in intelligence and granted fantastic powers. Please say hello to our three main villains for this book: Snake, an enormous snake (the only one without an anthro design) with stretching powers; Chameleon, who can shapeshift; and Dragon, a komodo dragon with fire breath and the bad attitude to match. While Snake and Chameleon figure out their powers, Dragon declares himself the leader as he's clearly the smartest, strongest, and most powerful. They name themselves the Lethal Lizards and start plotting how to rule the planet.
After that exciting intro, though, the book kind of slows down. First we get a whole chapter of Emperor Jon also deciding to go on vacation, to planet Funlandia. With Vetvix out of commission for a while, there's no better time. In short, he's out of the castle and Sorceror Binky is in charge. This is followed by a chapter of Jon and his pets at WackyWorld. It's certainly an accommodating amusement park to allow pets on its grounds. Garfield at least gets along with the food, but if you know anything about amusement park food prices, the amount Garfield eats will make your wallet weep. Jon takes his mind off it by dragging the pets along to a ride. Surely they have to be under the height restriction~
Fortunately, we get back to the actual stars of this book, and we see a bit more of their dynamic. Snake is the sort who sucks up to whoever's calling themselves "Boss" at the moment. Dragon is power-hungry, and it's clear he'll sell out his allies at the drop of a hat. Chameleon is Starscream. Anyway, they trek through the jungles of Reptilius until they find a downed spaceship. Reviewing the logs reveals it was a scout ship from Vetvix, and they also learn of Vetvix and her mission. However, they don't know where Emperor Jon lives, so they crowd into the the newly christened Rapacious Reptile and set course for the stars.
The first planet they come across is a world called Klod. Quickly the Lethal Lizards beat up the populace and find the local government. Chameleon shapeshifts into a dignitary, pretending to be an advance entourage for Emperor Jon, schmoozing with the governor until he learns both what Jon looks like and the name of his planet. With this information secure, Chameleon nips out suddenly, and the trio sets forth towards Polyester. Governer Klutz calls up the palace as soon as the reptiles depart, and reports the incident to Sorceror Binky.
Binky wastes no time, and he dials up Pet Force. Since all five are in one place, he's able to pull them through even without them being near the gateway through issue #100's cover. Convenient! Pet Force, however, does waste time, as a lengthy comedy scene eats up several pages before we just get on with it. Eventually, the situation is conveyed, and they figure it's safer to keep Emperor Jon on Funlandia for the time being. Compooky stays behind to help plan some strategies, while the rest of Pet Force boards the Lightspeed Lasagna to intercept the Lethal Lizards before they even arrive.
Pet Force spends the next few minutes both scanning for incoming ships and bickering with each other, so I'm very glad when the Rapacious Reptile appears on their detectors before too long. Dragon threatens the ship, telling them to move or he'll knock them aside. It's a spaceship, dude, you can move in three dimensions. The ships trade shots, and while Chameleon's piloting is actually pretty good due to his independently-rotating eyeballs, eventually both ships crash land on whatever planet is nearby.
Both ships crash right next to each other, which is improbable but less ridiculous than some of the contrivances in these books, so I'm okay with it. Now you'd think what with the enemies being reptiles and Abnermal having freezing powers that this battle would be over really easily, but no. In fact, Garzooka and Dragon are pretty evenly matched. Snake turns out to be immune to Starlena's siren song because snakes don't have external ears. See, now there's a contrivance I find a bit weird. Snake swallows Abnermal whole, and Chameleon and Odious get literally tongue-tied. The Lethal Lizards actually live up to their name pretty well.
As the fight continues, half of both sides are laid out when Compooky comes rushing up, saying he has an urgent message from the emperor. And that's when he sucker-punches the team. It was actually Chameleon in disguise, having gotten knocked away when he and Odious separated. So yeah, round one goes to the Lizards, and they make their escape first. Pet Force regroups, and they give chase. The Lizards have enough head start to really lay siege to Polyester before Pet Force arrives, though. They even get access to the palace using Chameleon's shapeshifting, leading to Sorceror Binky letting slip the real location of the emperor just as Pet Force arrives.
Another fight ensues--see, now it's really a superhero story--and the Lizards leave again 2 and 0. This time Snake uses his venomous fangs to attack Starlena. This leads to the weirdest contrivance yet. Maybe not the worst, but definitely the weirdest. They have only minutes to save Starlena. So how do they do it? Well, they notice that Odious drools quite a lot. It's very "fluid output". So they have Binky magically reverse Odious' drooling, so that he has "fluid input" on his tongue instead. It becomes a big suction sponge and sucks the poison out of Starlena. They then restore the drooling, and he just harmlessly drools out the poison. What.
With their teammate saved, Pet Force pursues the Lethal Lizards to Funlandia. They get there just in time to rescue Emperor Jon from their clutches, with Garzooka and Odious combining their strength to literally rip a kiddie ride out of the ground. Starlena corners Chameleon in a hall of mirrors, turning his own trick against him. Snake is undone by Odious' strength. And Garzooka fights Dragon to a standstill, finally trapping all three on a roller coaster still operating. When the ride comes to an end, Abnermal freezes them all until the authorities can retrieve them.
Naturally, Emperor Jon thinks it's all part of the show (because Jon is dimwitted in any universe). The Lizards are sent to a lizard-proof prison (seriously, it specifies this), and Pet Force returns to their own universe. As usual, Jon didn't notice his pets go missing during the dark amusement park ride. The book concludes on an ominous note, however, as the ship carrying the Lethal Lizards makes its jump to lightspeed just as it passes the Floating Fortress of Fear. The shockwave knocks over some debris that reactivates the combining machine, restoring Vetvix to her full evil might once more!
The end!
No, really. Those five books are all there was. I hear it may have continued into the comics, but I don’t know how accurate that is. I didn’t really look into it.
But boy, what a ride, huh? Let’s dissect the books one at a time, since it only seems fair to take them as individual stories.
The Outrageous Origin: It’s a fairly basic origin story, I’d say. It kind of has to be. I guess my main gripe is that, like Rita Repulsa’s entire run on Power Rangers, the heroes never fight the main villain directly. In fact, there’s barely even an evil plot in this one. You have henchmen and some traps, and that’s about it for the menace.
Pie-Rat’s Revenge: A cautionary tale about why you treat your minions with respect. This one’s pretty good, but the events depicted on the cover make up such a small part of the book. Wouldn’t it have been more fun if Garzooka was turned at the beginning of the story? Book 4 would at least do the reverse of that, so it’s not a major complaint~
K-Niner, Dog of Doom: I think this one’s about as middle of the road as you can get. What a coincidence that it’s also the middle of the series! Like I said in the recap portion, it’s a shame that Pie-Rat’s story ended here. This one definitely feels more “villain of the week” than most.
Menace of the Mutanator: This one might be the best book in the series. Garzooka, alone, battling against the best parts of his team? That’s gripping stuff. I guess the main problem is that the Mutanator isn’t really a character in and of themselves. Like, K-Niner, he may have been a generic rent-a-villain type, but he had a personality. Mutanator is little more than an extention of Vetvix’s will.
Attack of the Lethal Lizards: I’m a bit split on this one. The bits with the titular Lizards are great. They steal the show! But the parts where it focuses on either Jon kind of drag, and Pet Force is a bit too jokey here. Like, I get the point is that they’ve relaxed into their roles now, and there’s not much point of doing it as a Garfield story if they don’t actually use the character personalities, but... I dunno. It’s good, but it could have been better~
And that’s it! Like, I dunno how to wrap this up. Pet Force was neither my first exposure to superheroes nor my first introduction to the Garfield brand (you can thank Saturday morning cartoons for both of those). But for some reason, maybe just the absurdly goofy premise, it always kinda stuck with me. And I think that’s a good enough reason to make it my 10th anniversary review, don’t you~?
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ampleappleamble · 3 months ago
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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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resinatingbeauty · 4 months ago
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In Memory of The Best Friend I Ever Had - RIP Shadow (assumed)- 4/30/2021
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Shadow showed up at my parents house where I lived at the time, one night back in 2016. I had just gotten home from working at a local country club late in the evening, tired, and physically burnt out from working 40+ hours a week on top of going to college for my associates degree. I saw something pass by the driveway out of the corner of my eye. Something massively fluffy, tail straight up in the air, trotting along. There are many feral cat colonies in this town and many cat owners that lived on that street. Needless to say, I didn't expect this one to whip back around and start chirping at me, rubbing my legs after I called to her.
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My mother was adamant when my last two cats had past 8 or so years prior that she wasn't looking for any more pets. My mom loves animals, but she also loves her home and was thinking about doing renovations before adopting any new companions. I knew I was in trouble when this cat came to me with nothing but affection, clearly malnourished, but strangely well groomed. I knew she had to be owned by someone, I had no idea who.
That night I went inside after spending some time enjoying her company. At the time, I was calling 'Charlemange'' as a play on 'Charlemagne'. I had been taking a medieval humanities course at the time and the name seemed fitting enough considering how much scraggly fur she had. Huge paws. Big, fluffy tail and mane. I had never seen a cat so gorgeous around the area. All the feral cats are short hairs, reinforcing my notion that she had to be someone's pet.
I watched through the window slit of the front door as Charlemange played with the moths and other bugs that were attracted to the lamp post my parents have at the end of the driveway and regretted leaving her out there.
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I simply thought that Charlemange would return home where she belonged. When I went out to my back screened in patio, whom do you think was waiting for me? Meowing? Charlemange. To my mother's horror, she would launch herself at the screen and hang there to get our attention. Imagine this big ass cat hanging from your screened in porch you've been trying to renovate by all her claws.
She was persistent and Charlemange NEVER returned home, wherever home was.
Eventually, I sealed the deal, low key giving her a can of tuna. Now you see how Shadow went from Charlemange to Shadow.
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For about a month, all I had to do was make a high pitched noise and Shadow would come out of wherever brush she was stalking, running and talking until she found me. One evening, I went to give her her dinner, and she shot in the front door.
Mortified, I watched as she scooted right into the one place that I dreaded her to go. My parent's room. That night, as a 20 something, I received a lecture from my father about how my mother felt about pets. 'She isn't a kitten, you know,' he said, 'thats a grown cat. Someone else's cat.'
I just listened and acknowledged what he was saying. I knew there was no point trying to explain what exactly happened. When my dad got done going off on the back porch and went back in to bed, I heard a meow from the patio door. Shadow had been standing at the door, waiting for him to leave , almost like she was saying, 'Hey, I'm really sorry about that, sis,'
Shadow would go on to live in or around the property for nearly a month. I made an effort to find her owners and return her to no avail. Eventually, a single mom I had been working as a private tutor for as a side hustle agreed that she would take Shadow. This would only last for a few months. The family had another cat, Karma, whom had been declawed (I abhor this) and two little girls who had no respect for animals (especially cats) because of this. I knew how the oldest handled Karma and my only solace in handing Shadow over was that I knew she wouldn't be hit by a car, would be fed, loved to a degree, and would scratch the shit out of them if they fucked up.
Their mother ended up calling me, giving me money to bring Shadow in to the humane society, saying she was a wonderful cat, just not the best fit for the girls. I could only imagine what Shadow went through at that house, because the time there changed her. The collar I had on her was returned to me snapped in two. It looked like it had been pulled off. I cringed thinking about it and never put another collar back on that cat. At the time, a woman had been busted hoarding 100+ cats that had all been relinquished to the humane society and local rescues. The humane society's solution for most was euthanasia and I wasn't about that for Shadow. Back to my backyard she went.
Eventually, Shadow won over my mother and my father, especially my father, whom you would never think would love that cat so much. When my mother brought Shadow to the vet, we were surprised to find she had a chip in her ear registered to someone on our block. As per protocol, animal control was sent out to investigate. The woman told animal control that she didn't want the cat. All she did was run away. Shadow's real name was Holly, but she was still Shadow to me.
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Shadow became the best friend I ever knew. Not a night went by where she wasn't under my covers sharing the pillow with me, laying stretched out on her back or side as the little spoon. If she wasn't in my bed, she would sit at the door to the bedroom, guarding me or in a chair next to me, always watching. I could do no wrong in that cat's eyes. She was the highlight of my day when I got home from every crappy job I had since. A furry coat to soak up the tears shed during long nights of insomnia and depression. An inspiration for my art and spirituality. My familiar and kindred spirit. If I would talk to her, she would respond with chirps and meows like she knew exactly what I was saying. If someone else was in the room giving her attention and I walked in, she would perk up and run toward me like they never existed. Shadow was the second cat that chose me. I have never chosen a cat from a shelter or adoption / rescue facility. This is how I acquired both my childhood furry friend and Shadow.
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It all began when I noticed Shadow's fur was sticky and stiff, like she had been sitting in honey. Just the end of her tail at first. She always had this silly habit of sitting in her food tray, so I cleaned it and her and thought nothing of it until the drooling started.
Shadow had always been a drooler, but not to this extent. Drool bubbles would pop from her left lip. One night, when I came home from work before I started my leave to focus on my Etsy shop, I was horrified to find her sitting on the couch with a bloody chin. Now, there wasn't a large amount of blood, but this alarmed me significantly. It was time to see a vet, like, yesterday. Thankfully, my shop sales had been great and I didn't have to fret over the bill- I was ready to pay whatever it was to make her feel better.
The vet confirmed what I knew deep down and didn't want to acknowledge because the thought was just too painful. Cancer. No chance of survival even if I wanted to go through the hell of treatment, which involved removal of the tongue and jaw. I brought Shadow home and cried, hoping for the best -that the antibiotic would work. The vet said she had been wrong before, it could just be an abscess and it would heal. Shadow was still doing cat things. Shadow was still my best friend, she still loved me, she was still trying to cuddle me at night and surrounding me with the reminder of death in the odor of her breath.
Yesterday, I brought Shadow in to be put to sleep. The decision was made when I looked up from making a rune set and saw puddles of blood on the floor, a stream of it from her face as she was sitting in the window sill. I have never felt so heartbroken. Not even at a family member's funeral. I asked to bring her home, burying her under the tree where I buried my last cat and childhood familiar, Elmo. When I saw the standard biohazard bag peeking up through the dirt, I knew that was where she belonged. With her sister. Yesterday, my heart was buried with that cat. Eleven years was not long enough but each one filled with so much love and happiness. I stood with her until the end. The only peace I feel is that I know that she is no longer hurting. I know she knew I loved her.
I miss you Shadow. To those of you who have recently lost your best friend, your familiar or the love of your life, my heart goes out to you. I hope that someone else can read this and share my pain. I understand that there was nothing I could do but love her. Love your pets. Love them as long and as well as you can- nothing is immortal. We accept this when we commit to caring for our (mostly) furry (sometimes scaly or feathery) friends. This doesn't mean that it hurts any less when we lose them.
To my customers, who have been patiently and diligently awaiting orders while Etsy forced hiatus on my shop, preventing sales during this crisis in addition to my sister in law's wedding and me poking my own eye out back and February- you all are really the best turn of luck I've had. You do not know how much I appreciate you allowing me the time to spend these last few precious moments with her. It truly means the world to me and I hope at the end you receive something worth your time and patience. I have not forsaken fulfillment, and orders are still shipping. Unfortunately, I NEED to reopen and accept new orders, as Etsy is demanding payment for $600 worth of shipping labels. My shop is still appearing as in hiatus at the moment, but I ask for all the support my friends, supporters and followers can offer at this time as I essentially will be working for free when I reopen to pay these fees. Great, right?
If you are awaiting refunds, there is literally no money in the account associated with Etsy. However, as the funds become available, I will be processing refunds / cancellations. I'm sorry for the delays, I never thought I would say I found success at the worst possible time. I urge the rest of you- if you have a deadline for your order for the love of goddess TELL ME. I am getting a little frustrated with buyers (who are frustrated with me, understandably, but still, my item descriptions are clear about relaying deadlines) who are upset or complaining about meeting gift deadlines or other deadlines I literally had no idea about. I'm a decent psychic, but not perfect.
~ Samantha
(Owner/Designer/Creator blursedbaubles.etsy.com)
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365days365movies · 6 months ago
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March 7, 2021: Onward (2020) (Part One)
Finding Nemo.
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That’s my favorite Pixar film. Real talk, no arguments, and today’s movie? NOT dethroning it. This movie is so hard-wired into my brain, that the second I typed the words of the title, the theme song ran through my head, where it lives rent-free. It will be a cold day when I don’t find an excuse to shout “NEMOOOO!!!! I HAVE TO FIND MY SON!!” at any opportune moment. I will never stop swimming. Whenever I catch a Chinchou or Lanturn in a Pokémon game, I name it “Goodfeeling’sgone”.
SHARK BAIT OOH HA HA
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YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE DEPTHS OF MY LOVE FOR THIS MOVIE.
...Ahem. So, yeah, I love FInding Nemo. For the record, the sequel ain’t bad. And also for the record, there’s only one Pixar movie that I consider to be bad, and it’s the one you’d think. You know, the one about ageism. The one where somebody dies by torture? The bad spy movie?
...the second one about cars?
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Which means, YES. I DON’T THINK The Good Dinosaur IS THAT BAD! Not exactly good, but its gorgeous, and just kinda boring, not outright terrible. That Styracosaurus, though...that dude is great.
Anyway, off of Pixar for a sec, huh? What about fantasy? I’m a big tabletop RPG nerd, and I’m currently the GM for a Pathfinder campaign, a Pokémon RPG, and a Mutants and Masterminds game, while also playing in a Pathfinder game as well. Yeah, I’m a busy dewd. But what I’m saying is, this movie should be preaching to the choir for me. I’m a Pixar lover who plays RPGs. I’m ready for this. I’m ready for CGI Bright. Which is another way of saying, I’m ready for a version of Bright that doesn’t suck.
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So, why haven’t I seen it until now? I mean...COVID-19. This film got FUCKED. But, no matter! It’s on Disney Plus, I’ve got Disney Plus, so let’s get this baby STARTED! Let’s get updated on some Pixar! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
Recap (1/2)
OK, immediately digging the soundtrack over the Disney logo as we jump in here! Very ethereal, very fantasy, very LotR, I LIKE it, I LIKE it! And then...long ago, the world was full of wonder!
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We get a view of the world of olde, with magic and many mystical, mythical creatures living together and adventuring. However, as magic wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to use, it eventually gave way to technology, fading away in a world now very similar to ours.
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Basically, it’s about the same as our world, except for a few different races, and the fact that dragons are basically dogs, and unicorns are basically raccoons, which is fuckin’ fantastic.
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We enter the home of teenage elf Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) and introverted now-16-year-old who lives with his mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt). Barley’s a tabletop RPG nerd who’s also a fan of the magical past. Said obsessions cause a strain on his relationship with Ian, and with that of his mother’s boyfriend, centaur policeman Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez).
After a discussion about Barley’s recent attempt to protect an old magical monument from destruction, he accidentally damages the sweatshirt that Ian is wearing, which was owned by their late father, Wilder. Ian rushes out, flustered, despite Barley’s attempts to bond with him. Well, looks like we have a sense of the plot for this one.
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On his way to school, Barley stops to get some food when he meets Gaxton (Wilmer Valderrama), an old college friend of his father’s. From Gaxton, he learns things about his father that he never knew, like that he was bold and standout. From there, Barely pledges to try and be more self-confident, like his father.
Whiiiiiiich, doesn’t exactly work once he gets to school. He fails to stand-up to a jerky guy at school, he fails in his driving class, and he fails to ask other high school kids to his birthday party. But to be fair, Barley helps a bit with that last one when he shows up with Guinevere, his busted-ass van with a unicorn painted on the side. Which is supposed to be uncool...but I kinda dig it, not gonna lie.
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After that, Ian completely flubs the invitation bit, confusing the people he was talking to, and disappointing himself in the process. He gets a ride home with Barley, and goes home to talk to a tape recording of his dad. Which is...beautifully sad, and somehow very easy to identify with. So, yeah, it’s gonna be that kind of Pixar movie.
Ian talks to his mom about his father at his age, asking if he was ever unsure. She says yes, but couples this with a surprise: a gift from his late father, who died of a terminal illness shortly after Ian’s birth. The gift is for both Ian and Barley, and was meant to be opened when they were both over 16.
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She gets it from the attic, and they unwrap it, where it’s revealed to be a wizard’s staff. Which is weird, because Wilder was an accountant. In a pocket of the wrapping cloth, there’s a letter written by Wilder with the narration from the beginning of the film (that “Long ago” bit).
Also included is a spell, written by Wilder so that he could see who his sons grew up to be. This “Visitation Spell” would appear to be a way to bring Wilder back for 24 hours. Barley, being the magic-lover that he is, tries multiple times to cast the spell with the staff, but fails to do so, much to his and Ian’s great disappointment.
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However, when Ian tries to read the spell out of curiosity later, the staff begins to react, and the spell begins to work. Barley comes in as this is happening, and the spell works...halfway. It starts to fail, and Barley offers to help, but Ian pulls the staff away, and the spell stops as the Phoenix crystal inside it shatters.
Looks like another bust, but it’s not a complete failure. And if you’ve seen literally any trailer for this movie, you know what happens.
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Although it’s just his legs and feet, it’s still Wilden Lightfoot (Kyle Bornheimer...technically). The boys decide to try and complete the spell, but need another Phoenix Gem to do so. According to Barley’s “historically accurate” TTRPG, Quests of Lore, they will be able to find one by accepting a quest from the place where all quests start: the Manticore’s Tavern. And so, the quest begins!
The brothers and their half-dad board Guinevere and drive to the Manticore’s Tavern. On the way, Barley convinces Ian to practice some spells from the games rulebook, but they don’t work because Ian’s not invoking his passion (or his “heart’s fire”, as Barley calls it). Meanwhile, Laurel figures out where they’re headed, but doesn’t know exactly why...yet.
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After the journey, they make it to the Manticore’s Tavern, which is now essentially a themed Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant, owned and managed by Corey (Octavia Spencer), a very overworked manticore. Which is pretty great, not gonna lie.
They try to get the actual map to the Phoenix’s Gem from her in order to conjure their Dad, but she no longer sends adventurers on dangerous quests, mostly because she doesn’t want to get sued by any injured adventurers. When Ian argues with her about this, she IMMEDIATELY DIVES INTO AN EXISTENTIAL CRISIS/MID LIFE CRISIS!
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It’s, uh...it’s kind of amazing. Having completely lost it at this point, she basically tears down the entire building with her bare hands and fire-breath. Unfortunately, the map to the Phoenix Gem is burnt in the process of Corey’s literal meltdown. However, as Wilden’s about to be crushed by a couple of falling beams, Ian taps into his heart’s fire.
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Nice. They get out of there, and head out for the Gem, using a child’s placemat replica of the real map to make their way to a place called Raven’s Point. However, rather than just follow the goddamn map, Barley decides to go on much more dangerous road known as the “Path of Peril”, once again following the “call of adventure” and his gut.
Which...yeah, Barley’s not really considering the reality of this whole situation, which fits his personality. He’s a dreamer, despite the rational and reasonable solution in front of him. And, in case you weren’t sure, I’m pretty sure that isn’t a good thing.
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Ian points out the correct point that what actually matters is that they send enough time with their father, and they do indeed take the straightforward path. Good! Barley listened to Ian’s suggestion after all. However, they hit another snag when the car breaks down, completely out of gas. Problem.
Meanwhile, Laurel makes her way to the Manticore’s place, only to find it on fire! She meets Corey, who tells her that she’s met her boys, and told them about everything...except the curse. Also, there’s a curse. Laurel, who is the best movie Mom ever, tricks a policeman interviewing Corey to diverting his attention away from her, and smuggles her into her car to help find (and maybe rescue) her sons. 
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Stuck off the freeway without gas, a desperate Ian asks Barley if there are any spells that can get them more gas. They concoct a plan involving a shrinking and growing spell, but that immediately goes wrong as Barley tries to instruct Ian, only frustrating him further, and causing him to fumble the spell and hit Barley with it, making him tiny. 
They decide to head to a gas station, where a group of pixie bikers has just arrived. This backfires when Barley, lacking basically any common sense, ends up insulting the biker leader, Dewdrop (Grey Griffin) and her ancestors. Nice one, Barley. As they escape from the pissed off pixies, the tiny Barley is unable to drive, forcing the driver’s anxiety-riddled Ian to drive, overcoming his fears from earlier by force, being chased by the pixies all the way. It’s a pretty good sequence, to be honest.
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Well, they escape the Pixies...but not the cops. And I think that’ll be a good place to pick up in the next part! See you there!
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austarus · a year ago
Text
Harry Wells x Reader Crisis of Infinite Wells (Part 4 of 5)
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**A/N: The picture/edit/gif does not belong to me. It belongs to @moonymartell​ and @countlesswells​
** *Insert angel face emoji*
Word Count: 7267
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 5
‘Systems Online,’ a pop-up signal had indicated on the tablet you held with flashing red and white lettered lights. But the adrenaline in your veins would not subside. Taking in a breath of rushed air, you walked towards the monitors on jittery feet with the notion of checking on Nash. Looking back up at him, his eyes were shut, and his lithe body was reclined in the chair with machinery hooked up to him. You dread ball up in the pit of your stomach as silence hung in the air.
“Did it work?” Ralph questioned, glancing to everyone then back to you; confusion written on his face.
“Is there something that should have happened?” Barry followed up beside Ralph.
“Well if there was a big bang sound, followed by multiple spontaneous sparks flying everywhere and the room’s electricity short-circuiting along with small fires combusting from the machinery then we’d be in trouble.” You watched Nash’s neurological and physiological vitals rise and fall within homeostatic values on the monitors. Normal. Stable. “I- According to my theoretical calculations- yes, I’m getting science-y right now-,” you exhaled while you gestured with your hands as you spoke, “each psyche that had manifested itself into Nash’s being should have effectively split from his psyche and returned to their respective bodies in each dimension harboring a Harrison Wells doppelganger. Harry and the others hypothesized that their bodies must be unconscious, but alive in order for their psyches to remain intact within Nash’s mind.” The others looked unsure. You rubbed your exhausted eyes. “It’s just like how when you and Iris used the Mindscape Machine to enter into Nora’s mindscape when she went into Grace’s mind. Sherloque said you both would enter with your psyche’s and they had to be intact in Nora’s head in order to ensure you’d be able to return to your bodies unharmed. If the psyche is harmed and killed in any way, then the body essentially dies,” You took a step towards them away from the monitors with the tablet held close to you. “The reverse should be correct as well. If the psyche is absent from the body, the body must be preserved at stable levels in order for the psyche to return and realign itself in its proper body. That’s what we’re relying on. Hopefully they all made it back to their respective bodies.”
“In this case, it’s the multidimension of Wells,” Chester interjected, lowering his voice to a whisper. “So freaking cool.” Allegra rolled her eyes as she continued to cross her arms.
“Nash would have felt the absence of a Wells in his psyche if another doppelganger’s psyche had deteriorated due to its unconscious body not surviving. Wolfgang would be able to pinpoint who it is because he has a neurological roster of the Council of Wells that he had implemented into his own mind, therefore his own psyche.”
Iris spoke up after you finished, running a hand over her forearm as she resisted the urge to itch the patch of skin. Side effects from remaining in the Mirrorverse for too long. “So, they get back to their bodies. Then what? How are they going to get here?”
“Each Wells should be able to use their intelligence as well as tapping into their own resources on their Earth and use the dimensional coordinates they have to get relay their dimensional coordinates and the states of their Earth’s back to Earth-Prime,” You answered in a heartbeat with a snap of a finger. “Sherloque, Harry, and Wolfgang should be coming as soon as they wake up. They work fast and everything.”
“Ugh,” Cisco groaned in irritation, throwing his head back, “not Herr ‘off-you-go’ Wells.” The rest of us giggled at impending misery. “I swear if he makes one snide remark.”
“Wait, how do you know if we’ve got all the Wells and their dimensions? Is there some sort of algorithm the satellites are tracking?” Kamila added from beside Cisco. You watched his eyes melt a bit at the fact that she takes interest in understanding his areas of expertise like how he does to her photography and artistic nature.
You gave Cisco the honors of explaining that one. He turned to his lovely girlfriend. “My babies up in the heavens, god bless my mechanical genius, are calibrated with the finest technology to identify any molecular or subatomic shifts produced by any wave of dark matter or antimatter.” Kamila grinned at him as he continued. “But we won’t know for certain until Grumpy Cat, Tea Leaves, and Herr Prim-Posh Pants summon themselves through to correctly calibrate the DCP (Dimensional Communications Projector) to the actual dimensional values. You know, the Wells touch and all. God, but I swear if they break anything-”
“-They’re not,” you giggled as you cut off your annoyed friend, “I already told Harry that this area would be a ‘No Throw’ zone. The guys know better than to throw things that aren’t theirs too.”
“What about Nash?” Cecile pointed at the unconscious man.
Right, this part. “I will stay here to monitor any changes to his vitals until he wakes up. I already have a universal blood sample from our very own speedster in case Nash’s body were to start entering a state of flux. Barry’s cells should be able to repair any damage in Nash’s body if that were to happen. Just like he did to Ralph.”
“But Ralph’s body is pure elastic. It can bend and readjust itself to anything. Nash’s human.” You make a very excellent point, Cecile.
“Don’t worry, I’ve already run tests on myself and Cisco in order to ensure that the small blood transfusion would work on non-metas.” You fist-bumped your bro, who nodded approvingly. “Tiny increments should be able to do the trick.” Cecile nodded at you, giving you a motherly proud look before it contorted into a pointed one. You knew what she was going to say, but before she had a chance to say it the meta alarm went off.
“I guess that’s our cue to leave things to you,” Barry smiled at you, before nodding everyone to the direction of the door.
“Don’t die out there,” you teasingly yelled at their retreating figure.
“We’ll try not to.”
“And Barry, you need to do a prognosis physiological and biochemical report on your body from using the artificial Speed-force. Can’t have you losing your speed halfway through the day.”
“Yes, mother, I’ll be home before dinner to do homework,” Barry snickered, as he waved you off as he left with the others.
You rolled your eyes playfully at your antics with him and the others. Taking a seat in front of the monitors, you gave Nash another look. No matter how many times I can joke around with the others, I still feel the weight of their lives on my shoulder. You chewed on the inside of your cheek as your eyes flickered onto the screens. You need to wake up soon Nash. Running a hand through your hair as you set your head against your arm which leaned on the metal table. I need to know I didn’t kill you.
***
An hour had passed, and you felt your head was down to its last brain cell. You blinked slowly as you laid it against the cool metal. Nash was still unconscious, and you were starting to get worried. His vitals were still substantially at equilibrium. You shut your eyes for a moment. Allegra strode in with an annoyed look on her face as her eyes landed on Nash then to you.
“I don’t get why you care about him,” her rushed voice caused you to lift your head up. She continued while you quirked an eyebrow at her. “Why you’re wasting time watching over him. I mean after everything he’s done to me and the rest of us. Hell, he took your boyfriend away from you for some shit myth-busting. How is it that you still try to make yourself available to help someone like him?” It pisses me off and so does his existence!
“Allegra, Nash’s a human being too.”
“Ugh, whatever.” The young adult padded over to where some tech lied in attempts to obtain the thing that Cisco had described he needed.
“Ok, no. I can’t do this today.”
“Excuse me?” she narrowed her eyes at your change in tone. What’s got her panties all in a sudden twist?
“I’m am so tired of your bullshit attitude towards him,” You threw out, standing up from your chair with flared nostrils. “Your incessant whining when we don’t tell you every little detail about us, and how you treated the rest of us like dirt as if we haven’t been trying to stay by your side.”
“I haven’t-”
“Do you honestly not remember the way you treated Joe and Cecile? With rudeness and hostility and utter venom? When they had tried to get you to trust them to keep you safe from your cousin? How you were so pissy at Iris for not telling you about Team Flash? How you sneered and lashed out at Frost for trying to help you with your boy problems? We’re just going to sweep all that under the rug and call it a day?” You rhetorically asked with utter frustration. “And Nash, what is your problem with him? That he didn’t tell you that his adopted daughter who died right in front of him is your doppelganger? That’s your reason to emotional and mentally abuse him?! Boohoo, he didn’t tell me the truth. I’m a journalist I have to know the truth.”
“I don’t know wh-”
How can one person be so selfish? “Yes, you do. I’m a family practitioner, I know the signs of abuse even if it isn’t physical. 1) The silent treatment you give him whenever he tried to approach you to see if you were alright or if you needed help. 2) Not taking any responsibility for your toxic behavior towards him. 3) Pushing him to the point where he questions himself and his sanity because of how much you openly despise him. 4) Leading him to believe almost everything that goes wrong around you is his fault when it’s not. That’s gaslighting. 5) Using shame and his guilt to make him feel worse about himself regarding problems he already deeply regrets and works every day to make up for it. 6) Appearing indifferent when he’s clearly hurt/sad/upset. That’s called lack of empathy. And 7) ignoring him when he’s trying to express his feelings or trying to explain himself to you, but obviously because of all of the above you never gave him the fucking chance.” I get that her upbringing was rough but isn’t it hypocritical of you to pry at everyone’s hidden secrets when you have some of your own. We barely know anything about you other than the CCPD records and your meta abilities.
You had taken a few steps closer to her, seething and seeing red. Allegra struggled to retaliate, “I didn’t know-“
“No, you clearly didn’t because every time he tried to talk to you, you always shot him down harshly. Nash tried to give you time and space, always hoping that you would be ready and one day just listen to him. Do you not know how hard it is to wake up every morning to see the doppelganger of your dead child? Do you not understand how hard it is for him to relive the memory of her death over and over again? How much grief he’s carried in his heart and all of a sudden, by a stroke of chance his daughter’s doppelganger is part of Team Flash on this Earth?”
“…”
“You call yourself a journalist, but only when you don’t get what you want. You used that card so many times against Iris, especially when you snooped on her computer and found out about the crisis.” You took in a breath from your heated speech to calm down. Your headed started to pound even more Never in your life have you gotten this ballistic. You counted to 10 and regained control of your breathing and your tongue. Allegra was downright speechless, stunned in her spot at your ebullient words. “I’m not sorry for everything that I’ve said. You needed to hear it to wake up from that closed off and childish world you live in. Because whether you like it or not, he’s family too. And he’s here to stay, just like you. That’s the truth. You have trust issues, even when you’re with us. All of us. You doubt yourself and hesitate. That’s another truth. And you just use him as a punching bag to let out your frustration and pent-up annoyance on someone who only wants to protect you. Penance for not being able to protect his own daughter.”
“I didn’t ask for him to protect me. I’m not helpless.”
“We don’t ask for a lot of things in life to happen, but they do so anyway. Barry got struck by lightning. Frost and Caitlin watched their father die. We’ve lost so many precious souls. But life goes on. Is Iris helpless when Barry saves her? Is it true when vice versa happens? Frost distracts the baddie in time for Cisco to work his tech magic. Is he helpless? Is Ralph helpless when Sue took down those assassins even though she knew he was Elongated Man who is more than capable of handling a few bullets?”
“I- No?”
“Having another person around isn’t a sign of weakness, but strength. Surrounding yourself with people who love you, who you can call family isn’t an exhibition of helplessness. Allegra, you have a home now. A family that will always want the best for you whether you choose to trust us or not. And no matter what happens, Nash’s resolve is to ensure your safety even though he knows you are your own person. For his dead daughter’s sake. That’s how he believes he can redeem all that he’s done. Is that wrong?”
“But he manipulated me and then basically started the crisis.”
“Then I guess you don’t know the full story about that either,” you mocked her. Some reporter, huh. “First off, Nash told you about Team Flash before Team Flash told you about Team Flash. Why? I can only assume that he wanted you to know before you found out the hard way. Meaning if something where to happen to you unexpectedly like Blackhole targeting you because of your affiliation with Iris. He wanted you to already be aware of them and to know who to go to in case things got rough. Secondly, he gave you the push you needed to not fear your powers. To trust yourself. He foresaw that you’d need your powers and so would the others. So, where in all of that does Nash win and leave you for ruin like Eobard Thawne has done to the others? Was it wrong for Nash to indirectly help you in his own awkward bargain-y kind of way?”
Allegra ran a hand through her hair as you spoke, wanting desperately to prove you wrong that Nash was just using her. “It’s just… weird. I’m her doppelganger, I’m my own person. I’m not… her. I don’t even know her name.”
“Her name is Maya and if you asked Nash, he’d be more than willing to tell you about her, and you’d see for yourself that you and she are not the same.”
Allegra nodded at your words, looking as if she would contemplate it. You hoped anyway. The man didn’t need to be broken further. “How do you know all this?”
“It’s honestly pretty simple to push his buttons a bit before he spilled his pent-up feelings to me after we exorcised Eobard out of him. And I’m pretty sure Harry’s been giving him hell for Nash’s unsuccessful attempts with talking to you.
“Who’s he again?”
“An evil murderous speedster that has a thing for ruining Barry’s life and ensuring his existence in the timeline. Not the first time that’s happened, but the crisis allowed for us to do an exorcism was very… eye-opening.” You grinned mirthlessly to yourself causing her to smile a bit. You sighed and took a seat, gesturing for her to take it. Rubbing your eyes, you spoke up, “Nash isn’t the only one.”
“I don’t understand”
“4 years ago, Zoom was terrorizing Earth-1 and Earth-2. A speedster that could breach back and forth if all 52 breach-points weren’t sealed. It was terrifying to say the least. Barry, Cisco, Harry, and I breached over to Earth-2 with a 24-hour time limit in saving Jesse. She’s Harry’s daughter. His pride and joy, his one weakness but his true.”
“You sound like she’s yours too.”
In a way, she kinda would be if- “She’s a brilliant young soul who rivaled her father in intelligence and had a high-spirited personality. Later on, she was accidentally gifted with speedster abilities when Harry and the others tried to regain Barry’s speed. Abilities that Harry still dreads to this day because he’s an overprotective grouch. You’d like Jesse if you met her. Any who, I’m going off topic-” You laughed to yourself. “We had a strict time limit to find her before Zoom and his meta-minions expunged us off the multiverse. And Barry, he went undercover after kidnapping his nerdy doppelganger- “
“-so, Barry basically kidnapped himself- “
“-Yeah. A lot of weird shit goes on with us, but those are all stories for another time.” You waved the thought off before continuing. “So, he was undercover, and he met up with Joe and Iris’ doppelgangers on Earth-2’s Jitters. Barry couldn’t help himself when it came to protecting them when Earth-2 Killer Frost and her boyfriend crashed the little party in search for Barry and us. In the name of Zoom, they were sent out to kill of the breachers. Barry got involved when we were supposed to be incognito getting in and getting out. He sped E-2 Joe to the hospital and E-2 Iris away before she could shoot at E-2 Killer Frost. Even though, Harry told him that these doppelgangers were not his Iris and Joe, that he shouldn’t get involved with the people there. Barry saw the differences and, I kid you not, yelled at Harry that even if they were doppelgangers, they were still his Joe and Iris. He had a sense to protect them, just like Nash does for you.”
“That’s…”
 “It’s a lot, I know. We’ve all been through a lot in these past 6 years. Just… just think about it. Give Nash a chance to talk to you. To explain everything to you from his point of view. Because deep down, he knows you are your own person, but that you’re special just like Maya. Just as what Barry saw on Earth-2 with Joe and Iris’ doppelgangers. Lives worth risking for.”
You watched as Allegra took in a breath, really letting everything sink in before nodding at you. The gem that Nash had given her was still in her jacket pocket. It amplified her UV powers into mentally confusing the person in front of her. She fiddled with the tech in her hands. “I need to go give this to Cisco. He’s probably wondering if I drowned or not.” You nodded at her with an understanding smile as she retreated out the speed lab. Sighing harshly, you allowed the tension to leave your body as you reclined back in your seat. You shut your eyes. I hope I made the right decision to speak my mind to her.
“Didn’t think you thought that highly of me.” Your eyes fluttered open as you took a sharp intake of breath. Nash chuckled to himself at your dismay. His head felt incredibly murky as he blinked the dark spots away. He remained reclined as he rolled his head to the side, the feeling of his limbs returning to him as he urged his fingers to twitch and curl.
“Nash?! You were awake the entire time?!” Nash just smirked languidly at your embarrassed outburst, ignoring the slight throbbing sensation in his head. “Why didn’t you chime in?”
He watched you slowly sit up with worriment. Nash noted your continued exhaustion. “I was intrigued on what you had to say on my behalf.”
“Worried I’d tell her to UV your existence off the planet?”
“No, you wouldn’t do that.”
“And how do you know that? I can be pretty mean.”
And pretty bossy when you berate me for running into danger. But in either case, still pretty. “I understand. But then the question begs, why would you go to such great lengths to defend me?”
“I didn’t defend just you, Nash.”
“But almost the entirety of the conversation revolved around me and how I felt. My regrets and intentional self-punishment. You could have told her that you didn’t care and that she could continue to give me the cold shoulder… but you didn’t. Isn’t that right, little lady?” Nash coyly mocked you, causing you to roll your eyes at the Wells doppelganger. “Like you said, I’m a human being as well.”
“And a dumbass,” you muttered in a hushed voice to yourself as the taller man moved to stand up, he swayed not quite oriented yet. You were on your feet at once to steady him back into his seat. “Let’s do a couple of tests before you do any gallivanting across the city.” You checked over the monitors, noting that some vitals had dropped below normal which could be due to him waking up from the psyche-neural mental surgery.
“Do you want to take Barry’s blood?” You held up the syringe of speedster blood O-.
“Pass. I’m not a vampire.”
“I know you’re not a vampire, you idiot! This should speed up your body’s biochemical processes for you to retain homeostatic levels and for your mind to reorient itself to the psyche-neural splicing.” Nash stubbornly agreed to the blood administration. He rolled up his sleeve while you pulled out the necessary equipment to work your medical magic. You were just about finished when the geological myth-buster spoke up.
“Thank you… I owe you a favor.”
“Huh?”
“I said, thank you.”
“Sorry, just one more time. I don’t- I don’t think I… caught that correctly.”
“How does Harry even put up with you?”
“You can ask him yourself when he gets here,” you responded cheekily with a huge toothy grin on your face. You won’t lie and say that your heart didn’t jump that Harry would be coming soon. “Now what’s this about owing me a favor?”
Geez don’t smile like that at me. Nash pushed away those pesky thoughts. “I honestly really hoped you wouldn’t catch that, but,” He paused for a moment to collect his words as he sat up, now not taking for granted the silence within his own mind. “After you put the Psyche Segregator on me, I realized something. The favor you owed me, protecting Allegra, it’s… a favor without an expiration date.”
“So?”
“It wouldn’t be fair if I did not do the same.”
“I’m not following.”
“Gods! What I’m saying is, that I owe you a lifelong favor. But only one.”
He owes me a favor. A lifelong favor. A favor that’s lifelong. A favor that doesn’t expire. An expirationless favor. I get a lifelong favor. A dumbass owes me a favor. “…”
“What’s it going to be?”
“… I can’t think of anything right now.”
Nash only blinked at you. “Seriously, you can’t come up with something in that ditzy head of yours?”
“Hey, I take great offense to that!”
“Good, it’s the truth.”
You put away the medical equipment and disconnected the screens that held his vitals. While you were up, you gave him a water bottle and some food to help with the dizziness. Nash felt his strength return to him as the blood transfusion allowed his body to work faster in restoring itself. “You never told me; did it work? Are they…?” You trailed off pointing to your head as he stood up.
“No mo-”
Swouush, swooush
The crackling sounds of atoms and the fabric of this dimension cut you off. You turned around to see two breach-like holes open up in the middle of the speed lab, familiar and friendly faces exiting safely. They pocketed their newly synthesized dimensional extrapolators.
“Vhy don’t you take ein gut look, schatz?”
“Oui, we’d be more zhan ‘appy to answer zhat for Nash.”
You greeted them cheerily with a hand wave as they approached you and Nash. Wolfgang nodded at you before making a beeline to where the DCM remained. Sherloque tipped his hat to you before nodding at Nash.
“You guys made it safely.” :D
“Zhat we did, petit fluer. A few bumps on zhe way, but nozhing eizher of us could not ‘andle,” Sherloque piqued up,
“Then that means-,” You pulled out caramel vanilla flavored chap stick out of your pocket and applied it to your lips. Your heart waited in anticipation not even wanting to waste time to even fix your hair. Harry will be here soon. The boys just watched you carry on with a dumbstruck smile on your face as you stood in place and waited for a breach to open up. Wolfgang resumed working on recalibrating the DCM for the others.
“Did you just put on chap stick?” Nash asked with quirked eyebrows and an incredulous look.
“Well, yeah? When I see Harry, I’m going to wanna kiss him, duh.”
“You didn’t get enough from-”
“-Sherloque, don’t-”
“-when you were making out wizh ‘arry in Nash’s ‘ead?”
You shut your eyes and groaned, blood rushing up to your face as you covered it with your hands. “They did what?? Seriously, in my mindscape?” Nash’s flare-up caused Sherloque to snicker as he smirked at your bashfulness.
“Ja, zhey did zhat.” Wolfgang sighed, pulling up new schematics one the computer screen. He worked diligently with any piece of technology at his fingertips. “Alzhough, Sherloque vas zhe unfortunate one to valk in on zhem. Gott sei Dank bin ich es nicht.”
“Oui, zhey were getting very ‘ot and ‘eavy zhat it took Wolfgang and moi to interrupt zhem from what people on zhis Earth would say ‘rounding zhe bases like deux ‘ormonal teenagers.”
“Sherloque, stop! Please!”
Your cheeks were on fire and you know they could see the colored hues. Sherloque and Nash continued to tease you while you attempted to ignore their playful jabs. No Harry yet. It’s been… 15 minutes. Don’t panic. He’s ok. Probably held up or something at his Labs. He’s ok and he’s with Jesse. Just breathe. “I-I should probably run some small physiological diagnostics on you guys since you just crossed over and we don’t know if the dimensional travel will negatively impact you or not.”
“Great, she gets nervous and all of a sudden to distract herself, the little lady wants to run tests.” Nash facepalmed while Sherloque just gave you a look.
“Hey, I’m not nervous! How many times are you going to offend me today?”
“As many times as necessary.”
“Everyzhing zhat you’re doing right now are common gestures of being nervous. You keep playing wizh your fingers and biting on your bottom lip. You did zhat last year whenever we were discussing Cicada.” Sherloque added much to your chagrin.
You pouted with crossed arms. “I don’t do it often.”
“Yes, you do.” Both Nash and Sherloque responded simultaneously and you felt yourself shrink a bit under their combined blue gazes. Before you could say anything, Wolfgang let out low whistle. The three of you turned to him as he began to speak.
“Systems are all online und fully functional. Zhe ozhers should be sending us zheir dimensional coordinates und ve can commence vizh zhe cataloging soon.” The German man continued speaking as he finished typing up a few more algorithms on the computer. “I’ve already uploaded ein copy of zhe roster from my mind zhat vay ve could check zhe ozher Vells off Stück für Stück.
You nodded at Wolfgang’s words, but felt your stomach squeeze in your lower abdomen. “What about Harry?”
“Ve vill just have to vait until he shows up, schatz.” Wolfgang adjusted his glasses as he gave you a brief glance. You weren’t the only one to notice that since arriving on Earth-Prime that Wolfgang wouldn’t meet your eyes. “Do no vorry, Harry vill come.” Your shoulders sagged at the idea, an action Sherloque picked up on which prompted him to give his two cents.
Mh, une distraction semble être de mise. “(Y/N), Wolfgang ‘ere told me an interesting story about ‘is Earzh and a particular person ‘e ‘ad come across. Say, your doppelganger for instance.” The Frenchman took off his fedora to card his fingers through his dark locks whilst Wolfgang momentarily froze. Nash stretched fully before retreating out of the room, knowing he wouldn’t be needed and wouldn’t allow himself to be psychoanalyzed by the one and only Sherloque Wells. Sherloque smirked as Nash left and Wolfgang’s reaction. Il n’y a pas de mal à partager des histoires.
“Nein, halt- Ich-”
“-He told you or did you deduce it from him like you do to everyone else?” You questioned your friend slyly before turning your head back to the German Wells. “Wolfgang, you knew my doppelganger?”
“Ja, ve… ve used to be close in university.” His cheeks dusted pink as he fumbled about with the wiring of your Earth’s extrapolators. “She vas zhe one zhing zhat remained constant zhrough zhe years.”
“What happened to her? You’re talking as if-”
“She passed avay. Ja, she did. She vas terminally ill… Multiple Sclerozis.”
So that’s probably why he doesn’t like to look at me for too long. “I’m sorry. My brother- he died a few years ago from Multiple Sclerosis too. I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the family tree even across the multiverse, huh?”
“Ja.”
Ok (Y/N), way to make it super awkward. “I should- leave you to your sciencing. Sorry about that.”
Wolfgang just nodded his head in thanks before sending a glare to the detective while Sherloque advised the both of you to venture out to the breakroom for to make drinks. With a smug look on his face, obviously. Qu’est ce qui retarde ‘arry? The same thought echoed hauntingly in your mind as well. You allowed the French detective to pull you down the corridor for some coffee and tea, but your mind could not for the life of it let go of Harry.
***
You waited. Patiently, if I might add. It’s been 2 days since Wolfgang and Sherloque had popped over. Obviously you had gone home to shower and change before coming back with some snacks. The cataloging was running smoothly. Wells one by one projected themselves over via the DCM and recounted their dimensional coordinates as well as establishing the state of their Earth in this new dimension. But you grew uninterested in the different variations of your boyfriend. Each second ticked away at your heart. Like a fool you’d look up at the different sounds that would come from the center of the Speed Labs only to be met with disappointment. Sherloque eyed you as you waited around like a lost puppy for the Earth-2 man, even at points getting up and pacing. The detective saw the anxiety ooze from you at the fact that Harry hadn’t arrived yet, so he did his best to distract you from your worries and thoughts. But he was running out of stories of Earth-221, interesting cases, and discussion topics to tell.
Barry had sped in a couch for you and Sherloque to sit in as you waited for Harry to make an appearance. The detective calmly sipped at his new flavored tea, one that you had provided. Wild Raspberry Hibiscus. You blinked the sleep from your eyes, willing yourself to be alert. You had already consumed 4 cups of coffee with espresso yesterday, but those sleepless nights were slowly pushing against you. The two of you sat in silence with only the hums of working electricity and noises from the DCM.
“I zhink,” Wolfgang took a step back from the computer monitor, “I should retire for zhe nacht.” The German took off his glasses and rubbing his closed eyes. Es war eine mühsame Aufgabe, aber sie musste erledigt werden. “I’ve reprogrammed zhe system in order for it to catalog incoming Vells automatically.”
“I’ll keep my eye on it,” Sherloque piqued up, gesturing with his porcelain teacup to the DCM and subtly side glancing at you. Wolfgang only nodded at his doppelganger.
“Yeah, you should go rest. Sorry if it seemed like I was keeping you here,” you stood up and stretched, walking over to the German Wells.
“Nonsense, zhink of it as a favor to Harry,” Wolfgang waved off your statement. You offered your hand to the platinum-haired Wells which he shook gently before bidding your goodbyes to each other as he strode through the dimensional breach. Which reminds me. You scrunched your face and blinked a few times over then turned back to the seated detective.
“Sherloque, you don’t have to say here. You should go back home to Renee.”
“I- Comment puis-je lui dire? … Renee and I didn’t exactly work out. Encore.” You observed him as he set his teacup down, Sherloque chuckled sadly to himself. Je ne sais même pas pourquoi j’ai voulu recommencé ca va faire 8 fois.
“You deserve better. You really do, Sherloque. Love will find you.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“Hey, head up,” You found yourself sitting beside the now cynical man as you wrapped your arms around him in a comforting hug. “It could even literally run right into you one day when you least expect it. But it doesn’t mean you can run yourself ragged from sleep loss.” He sighed, shaking his head slightly and reciprocating the gesture of affection. You knew he had no problem with loving, it was the fact of having that love fully reciprocated without it becoming superficial.
“I cannot, I promised ‘arry I would not leave your side in zhe case zhat zhere would be some sort of delay on ‘is end.”
“He asked you to do that for me?”
“Oui”
“Do you think… something happened to him?”
“I wouldn’t worry. ‘e’s a capable and determined man, plus ‘e ‘as ‘is daughter wizh ‘im. Now come on, I believe zhe bozh of us deserve a change of scenery.”
“I’m feeling the need for Jitters coffee actually.”
You pulled said man off the couch and moved towards the direction of the door. Sherloque raised an eyebrow at you incredulously as he scrunched his nose in disgust at the prospect of coffee. “Coffee at zhis hour? Its 10 PM.”
“WHAT?”
“Well you’ve been on zhe Netflix entire time, peeping up every once and awhile to see if ‘arry come or not. I’m not surprised you lost track of time.”
“I guess I can drink some hot chocolate from the breakroom.”
“No need to get up,” Nash’s voice caused your head to snap up as he stepped into the Speed lab with a cup of hot chocolate in hand, “I figured you’ve had too much coffee in your clumsy existence within the past 12 hours.” In truth, Nash had made, dumped, and re-made hot chocolate 7 times in the past 2 hours because he had no idea on how you’d react when he’d make it. He had no idea why he impulsively decided to make one of your favorite drinks instead of letting you waste away at the prospect of coffee. The adventurer talked and scolded himself because you clearly don’t need him to help you out. You’re a capable, independent ditz after all with a war veteran of a boyfriend on the way. Although, Harry’s delay did ease the unsettling feeling in the pit of Nash’s stomach. Finally, the myth-buster had made a decision and added some peppermint extract to give it more flavor with some marshmallows. Fuck it, I’m going to do it anyway because… I secretly want to see her smile at me while it lasts. FuCk.
“I resent that statement, but I do thank you for the hot cocoa,” you hummed in contentment of the fresh brew. Nash saw the weight momentarily leave your shoulders and your body visibly relaxed. You saw him eye you oddly but chose to shake it off as you took another long sip. “Mm, I never got to ask, but have you met any vampires?”
“What?”
“Vampires. You said you weren’t one and I obviously know that, but I’m intrigued if you’ve encountered any on your travels through the multiverse. Cisco accidentally met one when he saved Breacher a year ago.”
“Do you always come up with bizarre questions to ask?” Nash poked your cheek as the three of you moved back to the couch. You batted his hand away. Sherloque baby blue eyes followed the banter between
“I don’t know if I should take it as a compliment or a criticism.”
“Take it as you will. I honestly don’t care.”
“Well?” You asked with furrowed eyebrows as you were seated in between Sherloque and Nash on the couch. You blinked a few times and shook your head a bit.
“Well, what?”
“Have you caused any trouble with any vampire?”
“Why is it that you think that I always cause trouble?” Nash countered your question with his own. He ignored the mockingly smug look on Sherloque’s face.
You shot Nash a look before retorting and Sherloque held in a laugh. “I’m not even going to answer that, Nash.” Nash stammered a bit before succumbing to that determined look on your face, the sparkles hidden in your eyes as they twinkled with curiosity.
“There was this one time-”
“-I knew it!-”
“-Would you let me finish before judging?” He lightly scolded you as you took another sip of your hot cocoa, your head started to throb against the hardness of your skull. “Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted,” but you did not look in the least regretful, “this was before I met Maya. I had… overheard in a tavern on a dark Earth rumors of the Alexandrite Crown or better known in the dark legends as the Queen’s Crown. A crown thistled with alexandrite gems but infused with Thallium and Platinum. Poisonous according to the naturally occurring substances on that Earth.”
Nash continued painting the pictures to his adventure and his encounter with a Vampire Clan in a clash over the Alexandrite Crown and the mystical way of obtaining Chrysolite in order to cleanse it from the noxious spirit that’s locked away within. You hung onto each word as you pushed away the blurriness in your vision and the hazy state of your mind. With each second your head got heavier, feeling like lead and your eyes threatened to droop, but you needed this distraction from worrying about Harry’s wellbeing. Taking one deep breath, you shut your eyes as your body went out of commission. The geological adventurer breathed a sigh of relief, lowering his voice to a stop as your head gently lolled to the side, resting against Sherloque’s shoulder. Both men observed your breathing pattern relax to soft puffs of air.
“Sleeping powder, impressive and you even stalled until it took effect. Maybe zhere’s hope for you just yet,” Sherloque smugly spoke up as he readjusted you to rest your head onto his lap.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nash narrowed his blue irises at the detective.
“Non, nozhing. What else did you bring?”
“Huh? What-I didn’t-”
“I’m a detective Nash, I notice zhe most miniscule of things. Bring over zhe pillow and blanket you ‘ave ‘idden in zhe vacant room beside zhe corridor.”
“How did you…?”
“Skill, mon ami. Skill. Just because I’m not in your ‘ead does not mean zhat I cannot see zhrough your pure intentions.”
Nash sighed in defeat as he pulled up the blanket and pillow. He first covered you with a fluffy blanket, ensuring that he would not meet Sherloque’s eyes. “She gets cold when she falls asleep.”
“And zhe pillow?”
Nash handed his doppelganger the pillow, who placed it on his lap before setting your head on it to sleep comfortably. “You already know so I’m not going to even say anything.”
The detective quirked a teasing, but knowing eyebrow at the explorer, “Be honest wizh yourself, what prompted you to essentially drug her?”
“Okay, with the way you’re saying it, you’re sounding as if I’m going to do vile things to her. And you know what? I’m not going to even pretend to not be offended by that.”
“Well in reality you technically did drug her, but zhat’s beside zhe point.”
“She hasn’t been sleeping well. You know it. I know it. Hell, everyone on Team Flash noticed, but no one had the will to reprimand her to take a day to rest.”
“You mean ‘zhe ‘eart’ to.”
“Whatever!-”
“-Shh!-”
“-The little lady needed to sleep. She can’t be running herself ragged while making sure everyone around her stays safe and healthy.”
“Zhat’s very noble of you, Nash. C’est ironique, non? Elle ne peut pas être tienne mais tu ne peux pas t’empêcher de désirer quelque chose que tu ne peux pas avoir.” Ta logique t’a réprimandé pour avoir préféré profiter d’un instant avec tes amis. Tu vas devoir apprendre à t’en contenter.
“What did you just say?”
“Nozhing!” Sherloque just gave the other man a mysterious smile as he took off his fedora and tossed it onto a spare and vacant table on the side. “You know it’s nozhing to be ashamed of, right? Caring about ‘er and ‘er safety, zhat’s what zhis team does to a person. It doesn’t make you weak. You should know zhat by now.”
“…”
“You just need to know not to tip over zhe line.” Sherloque knew his doppelganger didn’t like being deduced, didn’t like his actions thoroughly analyzed to told what and how he was feeling. But sometimes, he needed a little push in the right direction by the detective in order to fully face the intentions behind his actions. That was one of Nash’s flaws. The ability to push aside all the pain and emotions behind current actions in a little box and thrown out the window in order to press on with the adventures that he lived on. Sherloque had discretely gone through some of his recent memories and noticed it occur with not just you and Allegra, but with the members of Team Flash as well.
“I know what I’m doing,”
“Zhen I believe you have some… patching up to do wizh a certain teenager.”
“She’s not a teenager, she’s a young adult.”
“All in zhe same wizh ‘ow she was acting.”
Nash left with a slight huff as he had every intention of turning in for the night, mentally contemplating a few things. Rubbing his eyes, the explorer took one glance back from where he stood in the corridor. He dismissed the skilled detective’s words, but yours had echoed in his mind. The detective reclined back on the couch, his own mind wandering in the depths of his own nightmares and regrets. He took one look at you before shaking his head. Sherloque smirked as his ears perked up to familiar sounds causing the detective to tilt his head back.
“Eh bien il était temps”
German and French Translation:
Deux - Two
Mh, une distraction semble être de mise - Hm, a distraction seems to be necessary right now
Il n’y a pas de mal à partager des histoires – There’s no harm in sharing some stories.
Qu’est ce qui retarde Harry? - What is taking Harry so long?
Comment puis-je lui dire? – How do I say this?
Encore – Again
Je ne sais même pas pourquoi j’ai voulu recommencé ca va faire 8 fois – I don’t know why I tried an 8th time.
C’est ironique, non? Elle ne peut pas être tienne mais tu ne peux pas t’empêcher de désirer quelque chose que tu ne peux pas avoir – It is ironic, no? Even though she cannot be yours your heart can’t help but to secretly desire something dangerous
Ta logique t’a réprimandé pour avoir préféré profiter d’un instant avec tes amis. Tu vas devoir apprendre à t’en contenter. – Your logical mind scolded you to relish with your friendship instead. Something you will have to learn to become content with.
Eh bien il était temps - Well it’s about time.
Mon Ami – My friend
Stück für Stück – Bit by bit
Es war eine mühsame Aufgabe, aber sie musste erledigt warden - It was a tedious task, but it needed to be done
Gott sei Dank bin ich es nicht – Thank God I didn’t
Schatz – sweetheart
Petit Fleur – Little Flower
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medxclusive · 8 months ago
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COVID-19: We Peaked Once. NYC Should Take All Precautions to Avoid A Second Wave
Vishal Shirke. December 3, 2020. 
[December 11, 2020. UPDATE: Mayor De Blasio confirms NYC in 'second wave' of COVID]
Abstract:
The COVID-19 pandemic called for different measures to help stop its spread within communities. Such measures included the cancellation of any events or gatherings that included a large group of people, distance learning for schools and colleges, shutting down of non-essential businesses, mandating mask-wearing in public places, and enforcing social distances, to a name a few. We saw the COVID-19 cases reach their peak -- the first wave -- from March 2020 to May 2020. The hospitals were overwhelmed during this time and the mortality rate due to COVID-19 during these months (compared to other months) told the tale. As of December 2020, we are seeing an increase of cases again; and with this paper, I hope to shed a light on the first wave that happened -- the horrific number of cases and the higher mortality rate -- to help people see the devastation of it all and how we should take all necessary precautions to avoid a second wave.
Introduction:
1.1 Topic
According to the New York City data, since the end of February 2020, there are a total of 307,268 COVID-19 cases with 19,619 deaths so far that the city has seen. The city saw its first wave of pandemic -- the highest cases -- from March 2020 to May 2020. And after that, with effective measures that were taken, the cases count subsided. Unfortunately, we are seeing a sharp increase of cases in the month of December and the fear of second wave looms. 
Disclaimer: The data used in this paper is up until December 3, 2020. [The recent daily cases count is still showing a surge in the month of December as of today - December 11, 2020.]
1.2 Data
The data used in this paper comes from New York State database -- which only included cases from New York City. It is a complete data, and no data cells were missing. The data consists of all the COVID-19 patients in the city from 2/29/2020 to 12/3/2020. The data does not have any discrepancies as they were directly reported by hospitals and COVID-19 testing sites. The data is complete, valid, and accurate.
New York City (and the world) has been through a lot these past months due to a pandemic that is difficult to contain. The target population within the analysis is the total number of COVID-19 cases in New York City. On the other hand, the reduced target population used is the total number of COVID-19 cases in the city during the first wave of pandemic only. This sampling scheme was done through convenient sampling and the data represents multistage sampling scheme. The primary stage is all hospitals in New York City, the secondary stage is all hospitals with COVID-19 cases, and the tertiary stages is all hospitals with COVID-19 related deaths. The data was taken with equal probability because each hospital is required by the law to submit the COVID-19 data.
2. Exploratory Analysis
As of December 2020, New York might be heading to another COVID-19 wave - its second. I hope that the analysis of the daily COVID-19 cases compared to that during the peak (first wave) makes people understand the necessity to not let the second wave become a reality. New York City saw its first wave of COVID-19 during April 2020. For the sake of comparison and convenience, both the target population and reduced target population analysis are done simultaneously to clearly show the horrors of a pandemic wave.
2.1 Observing one Variable from Target Population and Reduced Target Population
The one variable that I would like to focus on is the daily COVID-19 cases. Comparison of daily COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic and during the peak will help us see the dire picture of a pandemic during its peak. At the same time, at the beginning of the pandemic, the hospitals in New York City were also not ready for such a rise in cases - due to the lack of PPE, ventilators, other medical equipment, COVID-19 beds, and the limited capacity of hospitals. That said, the other variable that I would like to briefly expand on is the mortality rate - the percentage of total death counts to total case counts -- and compare it to the mortality rate during the first wave when the hospitals were not prepared.
2.1.1 Measures of Central Tendency
The central tendency values will help us understand the difference between the COVID-19 cases as a whole compared to during the peak (first wave). The average of total number of cases in 279 days compared to the average of cases in 46 days of the peak.
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The daily average COVID-19 case count during the first wave was almost four times higher compared to overall daily average COVID-19 case count. This is also a good example of the fact that the simple average is not always completely satisfactory -- especially since the data is so spread out.
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Table 1 shows, as expected, that the mortality rate was almost +3% higher during the peak when the hospitals were not prepared for such pandemic and were also at capacity. Hence, it is important for health officials and leaders to keep this mind as we prepare for a second wave or any future health crisis -- we need to have enough stockpiles of PPE, ventilators, necessary medical equipment, and possible solutions to create more beds if the need arise.
2.1.2.1 Range
As discussed above, we expect a huge range for both target population and reduced target population (target population little more compared to our reduced target population). 
Target Population:  Range: Highest Daily Count - Lowest Daily Count = 6353 - 0 = 6353. 
Reduce Target Population:  Range: Highest Daily Count - Lowest Daily Count 6353 - 1003 = 5350.
2.1.2.2. Unadjusted Variance 
Target Population:  The population variance is 1,867,102. This massive number tells the tale of a pandemic wave. The cases went from zero to thousands and then to hundreds (due to measures taken by the government) and it shows in its distribution of the data.
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Reduced Target Population:  The reduced population variance is also very high at 1,890,887.
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2.1.6 Plot of Data 
Target Population:
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Figure 1: This scatterplot shows the first wave (with the peak) initially, followed with the cases slowing down with all the measures and restrictions in place. However, at the end of the graph, we see an increase -- a start of a new wave -- that we should be worried about. 
Reduced Target Population:
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Figure 2: This scatterplot shows only the first wave. With our calculations before, we know there is a lot of variation here as well, however, note that no daily case count is less than 1000.
2.2 Sampling Distribution 
Initially, with my reduced target population, I wanted to stick with the pandemic wave at N=46 -- to show the impact of a wave. However, here, I would like to reduce it further to N=8 -- with those eight days being the ones at the top of the peak. 
These days (N=8) and their daily COVID-19 case counts are as follows: 3/30/2020 = 6130, 3/31/2020 = 5459, 4/1/2020 = 5449, 4/2/2020 = 5748, 4/3/2020 = 5670, 4/4/2020 = 3865, 4/5/2020 = 3781, 4/6/2020 = 6353. 
A sampling distribution is created using this data points of N=8 by creating combinations of values to make samples of n=3. This sampling distribution was created with equal probability without replacement --> 8C3 = 8!/5!3! = (8x7x6)/6 = 56 different samples. For each sample, mean is calculated, and the Table 2 is called the sampling distribution of sample means.
Table 2. Sampling Distribution of All Sample Means
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2.2.2 Plot of Sampling Distribution of Sample Means
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Figure 3: The histogram of the sampling distribution of sample means does not represent a shape that is approaching the shape of the familiar bell curve. The graph shows a negative skew, with tail on the left. This skew means that as the sample mean got larger there were more samples with those means -- this was expected as the reduced population is from the first wave of the pandemic.
3. Discussion 
3.1 Results and Conclusion 
The results showed us the effect on mortality rates when the hospitals are not prepared for a pandemic. Initially, with a lack of necessary medical equipment, we saw the mortality rate due to COVID-19 cases rose to 9.00%. Due to this, there has been an awareness among politicians and healthcare leaders about the need of being prepared for a pandemic -- stockpiling necessary medical equipment and revising protocols on how to deal with such an increasing number of cases. 
The dispersion of the data was as expected. The data is spread out quite a bit, and it showed in the results of the range, variance, and standard deviation for both target population and reduced target population. However, the key statistic within the results was the comparison of the overall average of daily COVID-19 to that of during the first wave. The average overall daily cases (which included the first wave) was 1101.32, while that during the first wave was a whopping 3693.46. As the cases have begun to increase again at a rapid pace, it is important to look at these results of the first pandemic wave -- not only the number of cases were more than three times the overall average, but the mortality rate was also +3% greater. With more cases during a pandemic wave, the +3% means a lot more deaths. 
Hence, it is necessary to take the appropriate steps to keep this pandemic under control. Especially now, with COVID-19 vaccines rolling out, the next few months will be crucial that will test our NYC health systems. I know that people are fed up with masks and restrictions -- but this is not the time to be short-sighted. With effective vaccines, the end of the pandemic might be near -- but it is still quite a few months away -- and hence, we should not let our guard down and we should be proactive in keeping the COVID-19 cases down. This is the time we need to watch the infection rate meter before making any decisions so that we do not trigger the second wave of new infections.
Data Reference: 
COVID-19 daily counts of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths | NYC open data. (n.d.). https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Health/COVID-19-Daily-Counts-of-Cases-Hospitalizations-an/rc75-m7u3
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overwatch-does-stuff · 10 months ago
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The Torbjorn vs. Mina Liao rant.
Mina Liao was introduced to Overwatch to lampshade out Torbjorn’s intended role in the greater lore. Here’s the deal:
(Obligatory disclaimer, since I know how this fandom can get sometimes: I don’t hate women. I don’t hate people of color. Me hating Mina Liao and defending Torbjorn is not because I hate women of color and worship white men. There, we good?)
In Torbjorn’s comic Destroyer, Torbjorn is making it his business to take down an Omnic titan that’s currently in the process of razing a city to the ground. While he sneaks onboard the titan, he gives us a very compelling monologue about why he’s here. 
“I helped design the beast. I weighed in on a ton of research and development during my days in the Ironclad guild. The initial vision behind the titan was to create a mech that could build high rises, not destroy them.”
This comic, the comic that establishes Torbjorn into the lore of Overwatch, leans very heavily into the idea that Torbjorn feels personal guilt over his role in designing the Omnics. It sets up this guilt as Torbjorn’s character arc, his personal mission. The writing makes it clear that this was his motivation to join Overwatch from day one. The man learned about this Omnic attack a day ago, for heaven’s sake, and he had already traveled to the scene to take it down. That’s dedication!
And now, in 2020, we’re introduced to Mina Liao.
Who is Mina Liao? Why, she worked directly for Omnica! None of this middle-man Ironclad nonsense! She helped develop the Omnics. She felt guilty that her work on the Omnics was used for evil. She joined Overwatch because of this guilt. 
Boy, doesn’t that all sound awful familiar?
Even worse, we’re told this in a cinematic that isn’t even supposed to be about her. Liao is supposed to be just a footnote in Echo’s story. But instead, almost the entire animated origin short is dedicated to giving us Liao’s story. Why?
Look, it’s no secret that Torbjorn is not a fan favorite character. He’s gruff, doesn’t like Omnics, and the worst sin of all: he’s short. Because of his height, he isn’t taken seriously by the fanbase. He’s a meme character, the butt of all the jokes. He’s considered ‘pervy’.
What’s even worse is that Blizzard is leaning into the joke. Every voiceline that they’ve given him last year has been some variation of “too hot for you?” or “try my meatballs!”. And I get it- characters get joke voice lines from time to time, but with Torbjorn, they’re a constant.
I think what Blizzard has learned is that no one takes Torbjorn seriously. As a result, they don’t treat him seriously. But because they need that essential figure in the lore- the regretful builder of Omnics -they made a new character who they thought would be taken seriously, copy-pasted the backstory, and let it run.
The only reason they got away with this was by killing her off in the origin short.
But that’s not the end to Torbjorn’s erasure from future intended storylines. No, it gets worse. Much worse. Why is it so much worse? Because it robs the story from not only Torbjorn, but Bastion as well.
Enter the comic Binary. It’s the first time we’ve seen Bastion since their animated short. They’ve wound up in Sweden. Torbjorn sets out to deactivate them permanently. But along the way, he remarks about how odd Bastion seems,
“Never heard of a rust bucket running. They’re programmed to fight against any odds until they get shut down. Something’s not right.”
Torbjorn then directly confronts Bastion and is confused when Bastion doesn’t try to defend themself. However, interrupting the perfect moment is a bunch of other humans. Torbjorn shouts at them,
“I’m asking you as someone who’s spent many long years fighting these things. This Bastion is different. And if it can change. . .”
Again and again, the narrative hammers the point home about how the Last Bastion is different. They are not like other Omnics. Why? Because their programming changed. When Torbjorn realizes this, the idea alone is enough to cause him to betray the local law enforcement to protect Bastion. 
The law enforcement agents try to protest against his actions, saying, “Don’t you have enough blood on your hands?”
And Torbjorn replies, “Enough for a lifetime.”
In this line, Torbjorn is implying that he thinks Bastion could be the solution to Omnic troubles. By not dismissing the question, he’s addressing what he’s done. So what other reason would he help Bastion go free if he didn’t think that they could help solve his ‘lifetime’ of guilt?
This sets up Torbjorn and Bastion to be the keystone to the entire Overwatch narrative. One of the biggest mysteries in the Overwatch universe is what caused the Omnic Crisis and what still causes Omnics in Russia and Korea to be violent. Through Bastion, an old Crisis Omnic who learned how to change, Torbjorn could have figured out!
But then, but then. . . Echo comes along.
She’s a specially built Omnic built by Mina Liao, our newer and cooler Regretful Builder Of Omnics. Echo is not like other Omnics- she’s special! All of these other Omnics are just pretending to have a learning AI. She’s the only one who actually has it. She’s a super uber top secret project that’s the key to reversing the legacy (yes, the legacy, it’s clearly mentioned in her origin short) of all other Omnics. She’s so important, the McCree and Ashe short got hijacked to introduce her into the narrative!
Okay, enough snide comments. But Echo’s introduction in the Reunion animated short places a lot of narrative weight on her. The fact that it was her introduction, instead of her origin story, tells us that Blizzard intends for her to be a serious player. 3D animation ain’t cheap, fellas, and they wouldn’t have wasted the eight minute animated build-up on some minor character. 
It isn’t just the narrative similarities either. Even her character feels like a copy. She’s portrayed as naive and curious about the world, just like Bastion is. She is thought of as a ‘dangerous’ Omnic by the more anti-Omnic characters, just like Bastion is. The only difference is that she has a direct relationship with McCree, a known fan favorite, as her way in to the rest of the grander narrative. That’s the equivalent of rolling out the red carpet for her arrival. Oh, and she can talk. That’s another difference. Because mute characters are just too much effort to portray in visual media, apparently.
We had Bastion built up as a unique Omnic, only for that to be swept aside by our showstopper Echo. We had Torbjorn set up as the face of the inventors of the Omnics in the lore, only for that to be swept aside by Dr. Liao. Is this really just a coincidence? Two sets of characters that fill the exact same narrative role?
I don’t think so. And I’m going to die mad about it.
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rustandyearnings · 5 months ago
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How This Ends
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Loan Tran
Two weeks into quarantine I read an article in The Atlantic titled, “How the Pandemic Will End.” It still felt wildly early to make any predictions about the future and the course of the virus. It has been now over a year that I have been trying to write a response to what I read, not because of any substantial disagreement but I foresaw then what I know now to be true, that after nearly a year of pandemic life: none of this simply ends. 
There are no numbers and statistics, CDC guidelines, or even well thought out epidemiological reports that captures the depth of what it means that over 2.75 million people have died from COVID-19; over half a million of them alone in the U.S. We have witnessed a year that has made everything that was terrible before, much, much worse. And we know how we got here—especially being in the belly of the beast— we know all too well what regimes of power are capable of in their commitment to greed and profit. If you are like me or if you love people like me, you may know too that the world has come to an end many times before. What is different about this ending? If anything? 
It was mid-March. My partner and I were on our way to the beach for her birthday. During our drive, we got news that the airports were starting to shut down and we were uncertain of the rumors about the National Guard being deployed to ensure compliance with stay-at-home orders. The beach was still there, and still sweet as always. We celebrated her the way we love each other; we ate delicious food, we laughed. She made her family’s shrimp: Lee Adam’s Shrimp. Which is comical, she says, because this was the only dish he would ever cook, and he got it named after him. Meanwhile, the family functioned because of women who made everything else possible. Such is our lives. 
The Atlantic Ocean on the coast of North Carolina in mid-March is wind-swept, vast, very quiet. The sand becomes these large mountains to be trekked over before the water meets your eyeline. But once you see it, you know exactly where the ocean departs the sky. It was terribly cold. Yet, I was grateful to be by the water as our world began to shake us into conference calls and organizing meetings. Within just a few short hours of our Governor declaring lock down, we had formed the United for Survival and Beyond coalition. And knowing the year we were going to have and coming out of years of pavement pounding work, we were already exhausted. Deeper than the exhaustion is the truth that we must stick together, and we must find a way to continue on, especially now, with the cards so clear on the table: some of us will live and some of us will die. And there will be no logic to the madness.
The political work is instinctual to me; it makes sense in any crisis to bring together as many people as possible to understand a situation and to then take action. But the political work is also sometimes slow moving, even when we are all speeding and incredibly busy. So, I did other work that I felt, by my own standards, was more tangible. Like organizing a group chat of the queers I know who need medication on a regular basis. Or joining the local Mutual Aid Groups (and then promptly leaving all of the groups, which was simply a matter of exiting the Signal threads). Making a phone tree that was unreasonably the size of a phone book itself was an early action, too. And of course, cooking. There have been gallons upon gallons of pho. And gumbo. And at least 1,000 meatballs. Anything to attempt at satiating what I knew would become a growing hunger inside of me for a normalcy that still has not yet returned.
Things were deteriorating quickly all around me. By March’s end, my mom and I are on hold with her retirement company. She wants to get her money out of her account before the stock market steals it all away. This economic system routinely comes tumbling down for her; and often does it too line the pockets of the already ultra-wealthy. She has earned her retirement from working at the same alterations shop for over 20 years. She is paid for the time it takes to hand sew sequins onto wedding gowns that cost more than her year’s entire salary. She makes the inseam of your boutique jeans go from 32” to 30” with you never knowing the difference. She helps make people feel good, never questioning their own frivolousness in paying someone else to replace a missing button on their jacket. Her job has treated her well. This pandemic was beginning to test it as she’s filed for unemployment, without assistance from her bosses. The alliances that had shaped her life up until this point were beginning to fall apart, as is the case for so many of us. 
It would become easier in the summer, but even then, the sweaty walks and the sitting outside in the beating sun just to eat a meal with someone who I wasn’t also sleeping with most nights began to tire me. I was unsatisfiable. I am lucky to have eaten many good meals, celebrate even more pandemic birthdays, and have extra money to keep supporting my parents’ and sister’s bills in between our socially distanced visits. Things would seem relatively calm for some weeks, when I felt like the weather wasn’t badgering on me. Which is to also say, that when things felt turbulent, it really just meant I was incredibly sad. 
As I’ve been writing this piece in my mind, mulling over—as I usually do—which details feel relevant enough to evidence in words, the world around us has danced to the precipice of something new and back again. In between it all, I have had some of the most elaborate dreams of my life, the dreams at the heart of how I wish life could be. 
I am home in Viet Nam. The sky is a dreamy pink, small stripes of orange and some residual blue as the sun sets and the moon takes over. I am sitting by the water and before me stretches a few miles of the bay. On the other side, mountains: spotted gray from granite and green from trees. I think to myself, “this is beautiful” and I take out my phone so I don’t forget what this looks like. My mom is here with me and it is quiet and perfect. Standing in line waiting to buy coffee from a street vendor, I think to myself, “wow, I get to be here,”; there are children and their parents who look my kin weaving around my stillness on the side of the road. I smile at someone I clock to be like me: a little odd, short haired, sweet looking in the face, stern and tough but kind in spirit. Then I wake up. It’s a dream. And all I know is that it’s a beautiful, perfect dream. 
While time stretched and I could dream and I could travel in my mind, buoyed by my memories, telling stories that after the 3rd or 4th re-telling feels almost untrue, time also pulled me back to reality. To the everyday where I had few answers for the big question of: what now? 
So what of time now? What is its worth? And what is worth it? I wear a watch every day still and I check my calendar still. And I still want Fridays to feel how Fridays are supposed to feel, still: they should release me. I still want to wake up slow on a Sunday, my favorite day, still. Things feel numbered and open all at once. Do I measure the worth of my life in this way or that? Do I consider tragedy to be where we start or is it having a witness to it that makes the clock run? Do I count the pints of soup I have made? What about the distance between us? There have been more cardinals than usual, but I’m really not counting. I do miss the children in the streets and the laughter beaming from their hands. Making sense of quiet and calling this place, my ever-growing city of just nearly 270,000 people, a ghost town seems a little defeatist; some days it seems just right, and some days it feels like an opening: to stop counting the time. 
There is a slowness of this period that I have come to appreciate, even as it frustrates me. The slowness to remember and reconsider and re-learn the basic unit of relating: care; to care for each other and to care for ourselves. And we are being subject to the realities of care’s absence: there are millions of people—while they toil and make our world turn, even against the heaviest measures of despair—are disregarded as undeserving of housing, of health(care), of food, of life itself. 
These systems of violence and domination continue to evolve, as showcased by this next phase of neoliberalism, with its elite colors and sloganeering. Coca-Cola racial justice investments and Nike’s you can do it to end racism and NFL’s $250,000,000 check to shut it (what, exactly?) down. Our task is more urgent than ever, yet there is still, simply this: you and I making a road where perhaps previously there was not, where perhaps previously there were, and it had been bombed or torn apart.
I am on the eve of my second pandemic birthday. And between the last time I dared contemplate how this ends and this moment now, there have been attempted coups and multiple mass shootings; there have been more vaccines distributed in the 1st world and essentially none for our sisters, brothers, and kin to the global south. Schools in my city are reopening and the people who suffer are made to blame each other.
A pandemic of this kind, through which a virus has served as the vehicle sounding the sirens of human plight, has the potential to lure us towards conclusions about the ever-deepening crises of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism that will be regretful for us in the long-term. Namely, while it is true many things are outside of our control, like how a virus may mutate or transmit, there is so much more that is within our control.
We have witnessed that even in the middle of a pandemic, our people have risen up across the globe to declare that there must be another way to live. What deserves to be said again and again is that on one hand there is the science of this pandemic and the science of greed which profits on sickness; on the other is clear the science of solidarity; the science of organizing; the science of returning people back to each other; a sense of attention, a regard for care, an interest in ourselves and each other and the planet as people and places worthy of a world different than what centuries of violence and domination have conditioned and forced us toward.
At last, I do not know what the end of this pandemic means. But it seems to the hopeful, revolutionary optimist in me, that we have tried our raggedy best this year. I have appreciated more than ever our attempts at an honesty we may not have been willing to demonstrate. It seems to me that I haven’t been the only one to lie about how much I don’t know. And if you are looking for a script right now, about how to be, or how to cope, or how to regard yourself as belonging to those around you who do not look like you or speak like you or understand as you understand, I hope you’ll remember that there is no one else to make the future but us if we are to see ourselves in it.
I am embarrassed by my desperate need for things to return to normal. I am so desperate that I lay awake at night: wanting something I know I cannot have and the intelligent part of me knows that if I could have it, it would not be good for me or the people I love. The desperation is also a grief, fear, fatigue. But I also lay awake some nights taking audit of my gratitude; that beside me is my lover deep in restful sleep, that somehow in the morning our hands always find each other; and when we get out of bed, to make breakfast, or step outside: there is another day that affords me the time to learn how to be more human, and perhaps that is what this is worth. And those of us who still have it in us, and even those of us who feel that we have lost it, we must help this situation by becoming more and more human, as that is the only way I would want this to end. 
This piece is dedicated to my dear friends who have kept me this year, in particular Zaina, Mindy, Margo, and Nadeen. It is also dedicated to our beloved Elandria (E) Williams, may they continue to rest in piece and know that we are taking their mandate for us to care, seriously. It is dedicated to the best pandemic pal and partner I could have ever asked for, who has also vowed to return the favor next pandemic, Chantelle. This is dedicated to the streets, to the uprisings, to all people everywhere who believe life doesn’t have to be this way, that we are so much more—these people include city workers, educators, youth and students, organizers, healthcare workers, and more. Thanks for the example of your lives.
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g0dspeeed · 7 months ago
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Unconditional Positive Regard, 1
Distractions can never be a factor in a mission, gig, or side job. It will lead to recklessness, failure, or worse, a tainted reputation. And to Adam Smasher a tainted reputation is not something he could possibly afford.
But what if he found something, someone, worth risking that reputation for? What if he learned what it meant to be understood? To be known?
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Referral
The evening air had a dankness to it, a sort of wet smell concocted of synthetic chemicals, shit, and sulfur. Such is the nature of the outer fringes of Night City, where all waste is excreted from its bowels and into the air of its most impoverished. The scent could sting the nostrils and cause others to recoil in disgust, but not the being that navigated through the maze of storage containers with such razor-sharp focus. Whatever his body was processing from the rank stench around him, the information dissipated into white noise.
Distractions can never be a factor in a mission, gig, or side job. It will lead to recklessness, failure, or worse, a tainted reputation.
And to Adam Smasher a tainted reputation is not something he could possibly afford.
Despite his heavy frame, he traversed the area like a shadow. Cybernetic eyes constantly scanned the dark environment, making note of every heat signature and change in moisture levels. His optic implants were the sole giveaway of his presence as they lit the way to his objective in their red glow. He prowled towards a mass of fiery hues in the back corner of the yard, a new sense of cautiousness stirring his mind.
The yard was quiet. Wasn’t surprising considering how far out the area was from the crowded, rowdy streets of the metropolis’s entertainment districts.
There.
Loud cackles of laughter broke the tension, a chorus of rasped, mechanical voices.
Adam sneered immediately.
Their brash voices along with the crude application of their cyberware made it easy for Adam to identify who exactly he was messing with that night.
Maelstrom.
Not that Adam ever utilized much of a moral compass himself. Like any other hired gun in Night City the merc followed the glory and the eddies with reckless abandon. Getting his hands dirty for the promise of good payment? Same shit, different day.
As much as he worked to set himself apart from the herd, he wasn’t blind to unfortunate similarities. A stroke of humility, he guessed.
Still, there were hard limits for Adam. Microscopic, but there. Though he rarely took inventory of them, Adam turned down jobs in the past based on some form of internal code, some ethics that never sprouted to full fruition since his youth. Maelstrom on the other hand, didn’t seem to give a flying fuck.
If he were a weaker man, he’d probably reflect on what those limits of his were.
But of what stock he took in that conscious inventory of his, a stubborn denial of vulnerability was in abundance.
His focus centered on the group by the fire. Three men and one woman.
Without an ounce of flair, a frag grenade was activated and tossed from his place around the corner. There was only a brief grunt of surprise from one of the men before the grenade detonated, a burst of flames swelling from an explosion that had enough force to rumble the earth below Smasher’s feet.
The mercenary walked through the smoke without fear. Dirt and rock crunched under his heavy steps, bits of flesh and bloodied cyberware mixed in like mulch.
Initial scans came up empty. A small itch of agitation started to irritate Adam as she scoured the area for what he bothered coming to this shit hole for in the first place.
An exhale through the nose.
Another intake of foul air. Smelt like copper now.
Another scan.
Ah, there it was.
Scuffed, but intact was a large, black case, the red Arasaka emblem in plain sight. Another scan and it was confirmed that the cyberware past the armored panels was unharmed.
His mechanical hand gripped the case tightly. As he picked it up from the ground, a broken groan sounded from behind him.
One of the Maelstrom thugs had stirred despite the blood that caked his head and optic implants in thick, dark clots. Part of his calf was missing, leaving behind a smoking, blackened hole that sparked and twitched involuntarily.
Adam watched as a gnarled hand, whatever was left of it, slowly crept across the ground in a pained effort. Tracking his futile path, the merc sighed at spotting a pistol.
With the same amount of flat enthusiasm, Adam approached the dying man. Fear from the sight of Adam’s large body pushed the man to stretch out towards the weapon with a new vigor. It wasn’t enough. Slowly, Adam’s heavy foot stepped down on the man’s hand. With every passing second, Adam allowed more and more of his weight to crush him. High screeches of pain cut through the night air. The man’s fingers snapped under the merc’s weight, splintering through the skin as his knuckles became mush.
Something rewarding filled Adam, a familiar sense of satisfaction at destroying any barrier to his job’s success, to his own success. Music to his ears.
His own fingers reached to grip the man’s pistol. The cries had stopped, replaced with an irritating whimper. After inspecting the weapon briefly, Adam pointed the barrel at the man’s temple. Their eyes locked. He pulled the trigger without a second thought.
Jobs such as the one in the storage yard were not impressive to Adam. Not like they used to be. True, they raked in eddies, maintained his reputation, and put in a good word to Arasaka. Another step in the right direction. But ultimately, Adam craved more. The understanding that there was another rung in the ladder, another step up that hung above him almost teasingly motivated him, drove him to remain in Arasaka’s good standing, but also made these smaller jobs feel mundane.
Hope, or perhaps intuition, pushed Adam to accept more and more gigs with the major corporate company. In turn, they welcomed his skillset with open arms. He was in good favor with Arasaka to say the least. His cyberwear and mods made him a walking advertisement to the company’s tech ingenuity. Ever since someone from Arasaka saw potential in Adam and essentially saved his life, he owed them, but not in a way that would cause any bitterness. They didn’t hold it over his head. No one dared remind him how close Adam was to death so many decades ago, how the fact that he was still up and around to carry out these small gigs was something short of a miracle.
No, there was a sense of duty. A sense of service.
A loose leash. One that could only be held respectfully by the highest level of the executive board or the Arasaka family itself. They knew to hold it right, hold it in a way that didn’t shift that steady servitude to rebellion.
Any tighter and he’d give ‘em the middle finger, founding family be damned.
This isn’t all to say that he’s happy. An existential crisis, perhaps? A crossroads. He valued his freedom as well as the power to say ‘No’ far too much to allow a corporation to have a leash around his neck, yet here he was. The hypocrisy stung on some days. Oh, he was aware. Adam didn’t oppose heavily modifying his body with the best combat and weapons tech eddies could buy. His limbs were implants, as well as his eyes and parts of his skull and spine. However, at this point Adam was made up of more cyborg than human, and the corporation was still pushing for more modifications, more upgrades. With their direction, he made for a powerful ally and an intimidating enemy. Arasaka was utilizing his hunger for power to their advantage, something that Adam was aware of and allowed. What haunted him most was the knowledge that if his younger self, the version of him that started out poor and desperate in New York, if that kid saw who he had become, who he served and got his eddies from, that Adam, that young and confident kid would be absolutely disgusted. A sellout. A corpo slave. It was easier to ignore on most days, especially after a job well done that was full of action and dominance over NC’s most brutal whose reputation countered his own. The night he took down the likes of Johnny Silverhand? A chef’s kiss to his success.
Yet, the self-loathing was there. It came when he arrived home when the door closed, and he found himself alone.
It settled in like a parasite, eating him from the inside out.
Whatever that feeling was, the one full of drive and promise, it brightened when he debriefed with one of the Arasaka executive assistants a few days after the yard gig was closed. Adam stood squarely in a polished conference room at Arasaka’s Night City headquarters, his frame towering over a finely-dressed man on a floor that was likely cleaned every day, his own reflection glaring back at him.
“Your continued service is much appreciated by Arasaka and its associates,” the man read from a tablet in his hands. Manicured hands. Smooth to the touch, they looked. Probably didn’t do a day of hard labor in his life, thought Adam.
Adam’s focus shifted back to the face of the messenger. A light sheen of sweat was forming.
“Our s-satisfaction,” continued the assistant, “Leads us to consider future opportunities. We have a task of great importance to the Arasaka family and the company.”
At that, Adam’s curiosity piqued. Strange. Normally these messages were short and to the point. This message seemed more formal, more alluding.
“While we are and will be considered your client for the entirety of this transaction, including the provision of any and all financial compensation for your time and services, another party is responsible with insuring that your efforts are specific to our request and uphold our standards.”
His mood soured instantly.
There it was.
The other shoe.
“Why the hell would ‘another party’ be necessary?” he questioned.
The man flinched.
“Um,” he mumbled. “W-What I know, Mr. Smasher, sir, is, um, that the third party is being contracted by Arasaka’s research department, specifically, and um, Mr. Yorinobu Arasaka thought it best that they themselves explain the nature of their contract and expectations, sir.”
Adam glowered down at the sweaty messenger before stalking towards a nearby window. As he gazed out towards the city, his mind wondered at all that he heard.
“Is Yorinobu Arasaka coming to Night City?” he called out to the man.
“No, sir.”
“Then why is he interested in a third party here? Why not one in Japan?”
“I-I’m not privy to that answer, sir.”
Adam scowled.
Yorinobu Arasaka wasn’t someone who ever contacted or had anything to do with Adam’s role in the company. It was all new territory, and frankly it irked Adam to be in the dark, much less rely on someone else, this ‘third party’ as it were, to make sure he was doing his job correctly.
Why the bullshit?
Why complicate a simple thing?
The rest of the message consisted of the time and place in which Adam was to meet the unwelcomed third party.
“Just send me the damn address,” snarled Adam as he stalked out of the conference room door.
What the man responded with Adam had no idea. He was already slamming the door shut behind him. The frame rattled.
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argylemnwrites · a year ago
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Fight or Flight - Chapter 4: Commitment
Pairing: Drake Walker x MC (Riley Liu)
Book: The Royal Heir (canon divergent from the end of book 2)
Word Count: ~3900
Rating: PG-13 (brief language)
Summary: Two and a half hours since The Walker Absconding
Author’s Note: This series follows the Walkers, their friends, and Cordonia as a whole after they flee the country with their daughter during Barthelemy Beaumont’s attempted coup. To catch up on this series, check out it’s masterlist. (link can be found via my bio - sorry, Tumblr is once again not putting my posts with links in tag searches)
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Drake paced along the gravel at the side of the road, glancing over at Riley frequently. She was hunched into the back of the town car, the back door left open as she used the back seat as a makeshift changing table. 
He felt sick to his stomach. Everything was going wrong. He was surprised he hadn’t thrown up, to be honest. Olivia’s warning made everything ten times more real. And things had already felt pretty damn real.
They were a dozen or so kilometers into Greece, but he wanted to go back to Cordonia. Getting charged with treason… the thought was so upsetting. And yeah, he wanted to be there to support Liam through this crisis, too. If they all worked together, they could stop the coup and stop the threat of Bridget being taken from them at the same time. But Riley didn’t want to hear any discussion of turning around and returning from Greece. The second he’d mentioned needing to make a decision after Olivia had hung up the phone, she’d gotten defensive. Raised her voice. Told him he never should have come along if he was just going to change his mind, because her plan was final.
They hadn’t been screaming or anything, but they’d both gotten loud enough to wake Bridget, and she’d started doing enough screaming for their entire family. She was hungry, antsy, and probably a bit crabby from sensing their frustration with each other. After several minutes of her wailing, Ray had pulled over to the side of the road and rolled down the privacy divider. He’d offered to walk into the nearest town, which was only about a kilometer away, to pick up a couple of bottles of water so that they could prepare Bridget some formula, as well as some dinner for the three adults. Drake suspected he also was trying to give them some privacy as they discussed next steps. He had to have heard Riley and him getting louder with each other. It’s not like the divider was completely soundproof.
But instead of having the conversation they needed to have, Riley was essentially giving him the silent treatment at this point. She’d taken Bridget from him when he ducked behind some bushes to relieve himself, and since he’d returned, she hadn’t said a word to him. He was at a loss as to how to handle it. He knew she was panicking. He knew she was terrified. He knew she was just focused on keeping Bridget safe. But she wasn’t thinking clearly. And if he couldn’t make her see that, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
After a few moments, Riley scooped up Bridget, tucking her against her hip as she stood up, stretching her back and twisting her neck from side to side. Drake knew he had to broach the topic again.
“Look, Riley, I know you-”
“Drake, I do not want to hear this. I told you already - Bridget and I are not setting foot on Cordonian soil until we have confirmation that no one is scheming to take her.”
Drake ran a hand over his face as he let out a massive sigh. He’d never struggled this much to get through to her before. Even in those early days, when most of their conversations were all snark without any underlying friendship or affection, he’d always felt like she was at least willing to hear him out, even if she’d thought his warnings had been over dramatic. It’s weird how he was now the one arguing the opposite position, trying to convince her to put her faith in at least some of the Cordonian nobility.
“Riley, can you at least explain to me why Olivia’s plan is something you won’t even consider?”
She shot him an annoyed glare and rolled her eyes, but then she said, “If Barthelemy takes over Cordonia, Olivia is not going to be able to protect us. How can you not understand this?”
“Olivia will still be the Duchess of Lythikos, no matter who is acting as monarch. If she wants to offer us amnesty there, that is well within her capabilities.”
“But how do we know that she will be allowed to keep that title? Don’t Cordonian monarchs have the power to strip nobles of their titles if there is suspected criminal activity?”
“What are you talking about? How is Olivia a criminal?”
“I’m pretty sure aiding and abetting traitors and kidnappers is a fucking crime, Drake.”
“But Riley, we’re only going to be charged with those crimes if we flee the country. Or I guess if they figure out we fled the country at this point. If we go back now-”
“Yeah, I’m sure Barthelemy will just accept us keeping physical custody of Bridget if we go hang out in Lythikos. No way we can get charged with kidnapping her there if he decides he wants to take her and we say “no,” because being on Cordonian soil will magically protect us.”
Drake paused, rubbing the back of his neck. She had a point there. If, god forbid, Barthelemy’s plan was successful and he was able to get himself named king-regent, the issuing of treason charges for the two of them would probably be a matter of when, not if. As long as they insisted on keeping Bridget with them, which was obviously not up for debate, they likely would be charged and named as enemies of the state whether they were in Cordonia or in Greece. 
“Okay, let’s say there’s no way to prevent us being named traitors. I still think it’s worth considering that if we stay in Lythikos, we have a support system. We have a roof over our heads. We have food and clothing and money. We have friends who will help us. We don’t get anything like that if we stay in Greece.”
Riley shot him a look that was so withering, he wished he could crawl out of his skin. “And how do we guarantee that Barthelemy won’t freeze Olivia’s accounts and strip her of her title unless she turns us, known traitors and criminals, into his custody?”
“Again, she’s a duchess and head of one the the five major noble houses. Why are you so convinced that he would be able to have so much control over her legally guaranteed powers?”
“Because of what happened with Godfrey when we confronted him about Eleanor’s death.”
“He wasn’t just accused, Riley. We know he killed Liam’s mom.”
“But he wasn’t found guilty or anything. The king’s accusation was enough, right?”
Drake frowned and tried to remember the details of how things worked. He’d never bothered to pay that much attention to the intricacies of the nobility’s power structure during his schooling. After all, it was never going to matter to him. “Actually, I’m pretty sure the reigning monarch can strip any noble of their title for any reason. The noble in question can challenge it if they gain the support of the majority of the major houses, if I remember things correctly.”
“That makes it even worse, Drake! Are you telling me that Barthelemy, if he’s acting as king, could just strip Olivia of her title simply for not supporting him?”
He shook his head. “No, that would be unlikely. The Nevrakises can trace their lineage back past the birth of Cordonia. They are the longest standing major house, and they have made sure their family is well protected by the law. I can’t see Olivia losing her title.”
“But you can’t promise that she’s safe!”
Drake wanted to roll his eyes. The thought of anyone attempting to take Olivia’s title from her and walking away without serious bodily injury was laughable. But he knew that Riley was dangerously close to spiraling into a panicked mess again. So he tried to keep things steady.
“Riley, do you picture Olivia just sitting back and letting someone take Lythikos from her? I am sure her title is safe. Like I said, there are a lot of bylaws and exceptions that protect the Nevrakis family. Besides, a no-confidence vote in Liam is going to draw criticism from a decent amount of the people. He’s not an unpopular king. If Barthelemy removes a monarch and a duchess from a major house in quick succession, he’s going to risk a citizen uprising. Particularly in Lythikos.”
“But that won’t happen instantly, Drake. And Barthelemy could spin this, make Olivia look like she’s a traitor.”
“The citizens of Lythikos won’t buy that.”
“So what? Our plan is to count on a civil war where the citizens of Lythikos are willing to fight for Olivia’s right to shelter us? That seems like a far worse plan than just hiding out in a different country.”
Drake tried to suppress a sigh as he shook his head. “I think you are getting way ahead of yourself, here. We have no reason to believe Olivia will lose her title.”
“And again, I’m telling you that’s optimistic bullshit. Unless I just hallucinated Liam stripping Godfrey, a member of another major house, of all of his Cordonian titles when he was accused of a crime. Guess I got confused while I was almost dying while having to deliver a baby with almost no medical attention in a frickin’ palace bedroom.” Riley sank down on the side of the back seat, a hint of exhaustion noticeable behind the fire in her gaze.
Drake didn’t like to think about those hours before Bridget was born. He’d been scared shitless, trying to keep it together as it seemed more and more likely that there would be no medical care and that Riley or his child… or both might die as a result. They were some of the darkest hours of his life. He’d honestly had no recollection of slamming Bradshaw against the wall when Olivia had mentioned it hours later, everything just a giant blur of fear and anger and desperation, all without wanting to make things worse for Riley by letting her see how stressed he was.
But then Dr. Ramirez was there and in the blink of an eye, Bridget was crying in his arms, and Dr. Ramirez was acting like Riley was out of the woods. The earlier fears and struggles seemed so inconsequential as they held their daughter close. Saw her face. Wrapped her up and held her tight. And maybe naively, Drake had assumed with everything Riley had physically been through during her labor and delivery, that she’d kind of forgotten how dicey it had been since everything turned out okay. But hearing her now, it was clear she carried a lot of pain and fear from that time, even if she never had mentioned it before.
“Riley…” he started, crouching down in front of her, bracing himself on the open car door as he gently placed a hand on her knee, “I’m sorry.”
“It wasn't your fault,” she said with a little shrug.
Drake nodded, “Still, you should have never been in that position.”
“We should have never been in that position, Drake. Maybe you’re just blinded to how fucking bizarre this all is, because it’s all you’ve ever known, but half the things that have happened since I’ve been here are insane. And while delivering her in a palace under lockdown was one of the scarier ones, it isn’t the only time I’ve been in a position that I shouldn’t have had to handle.”
He knew she was right. Assassination attempts, photographers paid to catch her in her underwear, marriage alliances. All of it was kind of bullshit. But they’d always gotten through things together. He didn’t understand why this time she wanted to run and refused to face the problem head on. He didn’t know what to say, so he just gave her knee a squeeze he hoped was comforting and pushed himself up to standing, leaning against the side of the car next to her.
Riley bit her lip, bouncing Bridget on her lap. Bridget was getting crankier. Drake could see it clearly. They’d given her some of her rice puffs, the only snack they had in the diaper bag, which had helped placate her a little, but she was still obviously hungry. Add to the fact that she had been confined to their arms for hours, and it seemed like she was teetering on the edge of a total meltdown. She wanted to be set down, to crawl around and explore. She had no patience for being on the lam.
“Do you want me to take her?” Drake asked, holding out his arms, but Riley shook her head.
“No, I’ve got her.” Her arms tightened slightly around Bridget as she responded.
Drake frowned. Part of him was scared that if he pushed Riley any further right now, she might just bolt. But a bigger part of him knew that if they didn’t address this, that it was only going to get worse. And if they decided to stay in Greece, they were only going to have each other. Not trusting each other fully wasn’t an option.
“You don’t trust me with her.”
Riley swallowed slowly before glancing up and looking at Drake. He hadn’t exactly phrased his statement like a question, but Riley treated it as one anyway. “You’re oversimplifying things. It’s not that straight forward.”
He just shook his head, pushing off the car and resuming his earlier pacing. “It is, Riley. If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to that, well then you obviously don’t trust me.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you with her,” she said, her voice cracking slightly, “If you want to, you can hold her.”
Drake let out a sigh. “I’m not trying to turn this into a power struggle over who gets to keep her in their arms. That’s not… You’re acting like you’re the only parent here. You’ve decidedly unilaterally that our child has to leave the country. And that’s not fair.”
“You want to know what’s not fair, Drake?” Her voice was high pitched and fragile sounding, but her words were sharp and clear. This wasn’t her panicked ramblings of a couple of hours ago. This was a speech she’d held in her heart for a long time. “What isn’t fair is that your best friend showed up on our honeymoon, asking us for a wildly inappropriate favor with a heavy dose of guilt thrown on the side. What isn’t fair is that you agreed to it before even speaking to me about it. What isn’t fair is that if I hadn’t agreed to it, I would have been the bitch who rejected a guy when he was down on one knee and then forbid the guy I married, his best friend in the whole world, from helping him out.”
“Riley… I-” Drake wanted to try and soothe her, to acknowledge how much rougher everything had been than he could have envisioned when Liam showed up, solemn and resigned, with his request on that beach. But Riley wasn’t done.
“You called it an honor, Drake. That was how you phrased it. Tell me, was it an honor watching the press hound me for months, wanting to know every detail about my body? Was it an honor having to fend off two foreign powers who wanted some archaic marriage alliance with your unborn child? Was it an honor to feel backed into the corner and agreeing to one of those alliances to save my life? To save Bridget’s life? Was it an honor dragging her to balls and galas and events when she wasn’t even vaccinated yet? Because as I see it, this whole scheme has brought our family nothing but struggles and stress and sadness.”
“Of course all that shit sucked! But you don’t get to sit there and act like you are not complicit in almost every part of it. You agreed to it. You don’t get to blame me forever for a choice we both made.” Drake knew his phrasing was harsh, but it wasn’t fair for her to act like he’d forced her to do anything. If she had given him a firm “no” back then, that would have been that.
“You’re right - I should have fought you on this earlier. But I’m not going to just continue to roll along with it when it keeps hurting my child over and over again. So, I’m taking a stand now. I’m saying enough is enough. I’m done. I am not going to keep quiet about it anymore. I should have never agreed to name her heir. Hell, I should have never accepted the duchy.” There were tears trailing down her cheeks, but she held his gaze, steady and sure of her decision. Her arms locked tightly around Bridget as she squirmed on her lap, but she wasn’t distracted.
“Riley, if you had just told me-”
“Drake, I was clearly a reluctant participant from the start. Anytime I started to voice concerns, you just reassured me over and over. You never wanted to hear it.”
It was like the wind was knocked out of him. She really thought he was ignoring her serious objections intentionally? As far as he’d been able to tell, she had just wanted reassurance that she was still a good mom, in spite of all the royal pomp and drama. “Why was this the one fucking topic you decided to be coy about? Literally anything else on the planet you’ve always been blunt and direct with me. You’ve never beat around the apple tree. You called things as you saw them, at least when it was just the two of us. How was I supposed to know you were suddenly shy and reserved when it came to the biggest decision we have ever made?”
“I was afraid,” she said with a little shrug, her face downturned as she dropped a kiss to the top of Bridget’s head
“Of what?”
“Of making you choose between me and Liam.”
Drake let her words wash over him for a few moments before he responded. “Afraid about making me choose or afraid of what my choice would be?”
Her eyes flitted upward as she blinked out a few more tears. “Both, I guess. I felt bad enough that I was this… elephant in the room when it came to your friendship with him, but… I guess part of me was always a little worried that if I really drew a line in the sand, you would feel like you had to stick with him.”
Her words hurt. There was no point denying that. But at the same time, he understood. Not that he thought he might have ever picked his friend over his wife, but that feeling that others would always be more important, the fear that everyone would always just focus on Liam? Well, he got that feeling better than anyone, probably. Combine that with all her fears of abandonment, and he understood how she could have gotten to that point.
“Riley, if I wanted to put Liam’s needs first, I would have proposed to him, not you.” She let out a watery little chuckle at that, so Drake kept going, hoping he was on the right track. “You are my family. You are my whole world, okay? Bridget is the only one who’s as important to me. I love Liam like a brother, but I didn’t exchange vows with him. If you tell me you need me for something, that’s it.”
Riley tucked Bridget back against her hip with one arm and reached her other out towards Drake. He grabbed her hand and tugged her up to standing, wrapping his arms around her and Bridget tightly as she looped an arm around his neck and tucked her face against his shoulder. They stood like that for nearly a minute before Riley loosened her grip and let her hand slide down, her fingers playing with the collar of his shirt.
“I get why you want to turn around and go back, but it doesn’t feel safe to me,” she said, her eyes focused on his shoulder. “We don’t know if Barthelemy has power or not. If he does, we are going to be labeled as traitors anyway, and Olivia’s protection might not be enough to keep our daughter safe by our sides. I can’t knowingly take that gamble, Drake. I just can’t.”
Drake nodded, sliding a hand up to the back of her head and holding her even tighter against him. “You know that we are taking the much more difficult option here, right? We could probably go back and renounce our titles and Bridget’s claim to the throne without any of those fears coming to pass.”
He felt Riley nod against his shoulder. Her voice was muffled as she said, “But do we even have the power to essentially abdicate for Bridget at this point? We were included in that no-confidence vote along with Liam.”
Drake leaned back slightly, needing to look Riley in the eyes. “I don’t know, Walker.”
She bit her lip and nodded again. “Then I can’t take that risk. I would rather face a crazy uphill battle as a family than watch her get ripped from our arms surrounded by Liam, Hana, Maxwell, and Olivia.”
“We’ll stay in Greece, then - on one condition.” Riley frowned at him, so he kept going quickly before she could imagine up all sorts of horrible restrictions he could throw at her. “From now on, we decide our next steps together. If we’re doing this as a family, you and I have to be on the same page. Because Riley, I don’t think we can count on anyone else’s support going forward. And this is going to be hard enough without us doubting and second guessing each other.”
He didn’t bring up the issue of trust again, knowing it would be a moot point. She was going to have to learn to not let her fears override her trust in him, because going forward, there wouldn’t be another option. Hopefully, he would be able to show her he meant what he said by sticking by her side. 
They held each other for a few more moments, but then Bridget started doing her crabby, whiny babble, unhappy with not only being forced to stay in their arms, but even more confined between both their bodies. So they broke apart, but Riley clutched his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thank you, Drake.”
He nodded at her, keeping his hand locked on her hers. Squinting, he thought he could make out Ray, coming back down the road, a shopping bag in one hand. “We should probably come clean to him at some point.”
Riley followed his gaze and sighed, but nodded. “How pissed is Olivia going to be?”
“I think she already suspects we crossed the border. But as for us not turning around?” Drake started, but his thought was interrupted by a buzzing in his back pocket. With his free hand, he tugged out his phone. “Well, I think we’re about to find out,” he said as he showed Riley Olivia’s name across the screen.
He took one last deep breath before swiping to accept her call. “Hey, Olivia.”
“It’s just me and Hana here,” she said, not sparing any time for pleasantries, “so you need to honestly let me how stupid you guys were. Did you guys leave the country?”
“Yes. We were already across the border before I called Liam.”
There was a brief pause before Olivia continued, “And what’s your plan now?”
He locked eyes with Riley and nodded at her before he responded, “I’m sorry. But we aren’t risking coming back.”
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