#i miss having a not almost dried out grey highlighter
Assorted Hunters from like, a month ago fjsndnf
The first image the outfit was based on a drawing @casabuho did btw
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Home for Christmas - Part 2
December 2016 a snow storm grounds all flights out of New York City’s JFK airport and two strangers are brought together by weather, an IT blunder and a little dusting of serendipity.
Pairing: Chris Evans x Ivy Jones (OC)
Word count: 7459
A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who has liked, reblogged, commented and messaged me about this story so far, I see you all and I love you all too.
Prologue - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
December 22nd 2016
The next day dawned as cold and grey as the day before it, snow had continued to fall over night and all flights were still grounded.
Chris’ body clock had woken him up at 6 am. On a normal day he would have had a full schedule that would have started with a workout before meetings, table reads, screen tests and chemistry tests.
But today Chris had woken up with an acute sense that he had no purpose and he wasn’t the type of man who liked to be idle. Chris turned onto his back and looked up at the white ceiling. He could hear Ivy’s quiet and regular breathing beside him and he stole a look at her.
She was still laying on her side, her face turned away from him, her dark red hair was tied up in a messy bun but even in the wintery, half light in the room Chris could see how shiny Ivy's hair was, how it was a blend of deep almost browns, mid reds and coppery highlights. The loose tendrils looked soft and curled slightly at the ends, Chris could imagine they would be soft to the touch.
He took a few deep breaths to help himself wake up before he reached over to the bedside table and grabbed his phone.
He unlocked it and saw there were a couple of messages from his mom and his sister but he didn't feel quite ready to see those yet. He opened up his emails first to see if the airline had been in touch about replacement flights but nothing yet. He sighed deeply, bringing one of his hands up to his head and running his fingers through his hair.
Quietly he sat up, careful not to disturb the woman sleeping beside him. He moved back over to the sofa, putting his headphones in his ears he loaded up Netflix and picked something funny and easy to watch.
Ivy slept on for about another hour, finally waking up dazed and a little confused about her unfamiliar surroundings. She turned over onto her back and lifted her head just off the pillow to look toward the sofa where Chris was sitting, his face lit by his phone screen.
"Please tell me you didn't sneak out of the bed once I was asleep," Ivy said, her voice croaky with sleep.
Chris turned his head toward her and smiled.
"No I promise I was very good and stayed in bed all night," he replied with a grin.
"Good," Ivy said, dropping her head back to the pillow, "What time is it?" she asked after a few moments of silence.
"7.20," Chris answered, "I've not had anything from my airline, might be worth checking your emails," he added, closing down Netflix and taking his earphones out.
Ivy fumbled about and grabbed her phone, hastily checking her emails and sighing with disappointment.
"Nothing," she said quietly.
"Looks like we're here a little longer then," Chris replied, "Do you want to get some breakfast? I checked it out and they serve breakfast until 10".
Ivy smiled, “Sure, breakfast would be great,” she replied, stretching her arms above her head and yawning.
“I’m starving,” Chris commented and Ivy chuckled.
“Are you one of those awful people that just eat what they like and never gain a pound?” she asked, sitting up in the bed and swinging her legs out.
“I used to be,” Chris replied, “lately I have to spend a lot of time at the gym to keep up with my appetite,”.
“Well, it is Christmas, I guess you can indulge yourself a little,” Ivy said as she stood, stretching her arms above her head again, “I’ll be using that as an excuse until February at least,” she added with a smile.
“If I didn’t have to spend the next half a year in skin tight costumes I would be joining you,” Chris replied with a chuckle.
“Oh, tell me more about these skin tight costumes,” Ivy said playfully, “PVC or leather?” she added with a wink.
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” he laughed, “It’s more of a spandex anyway,”.
Ivy laughed and shook her head, “I’m going to get a quick a shower,” she said.
“Don’t think about my skin tight costumes while you’re in there please,” Chris said and Ivy laughed.
“Too late,” she replied as she stepped into the bathroom, “you look great in a pink PCV,” she added as she closed the door, she heard Chris laughing as he turned on the shower and waited for the water to warm up.
The hot water seemed to soothe and relax the tightness in Ivy’s shoulders as it rained down on her skin. She hoped that by tonight she would at least have a definite time for her flight to Edinburgh, despite how nice this hotel room was she really didn’t want to spend Christmas here, although she was finding Chris to be pleasant company.
Once showered Ivy roughly blow dried her hair and slapped a sweet smelling moisturiser over her skin.
While Chris waited for Ivy to finish showering he watched a little more of his show on Netflix before flicking through the hotel guest book, he noted they had a 24 hour gym and swimming pool and a restaurant so at least they weren't confined to one room.
He dressed in a comfy pair of jeans and a loose fitting sweatshirt and found his baseball cap.
"Okay, you ready?" Ivy asked as she stepped out of the bathroom.
"Sure," Chris agreed, "Let's go and see what they're offering," he added as he followed Ivy out of the room.
"I wonder how many other guests are just stranded travellers like us," Ivy mused as they took the lift down to the ground floor and stepped out into the plush lobby.
"A lot I guess, who would want to be in an airport hotel at Christmas by choice?" he countered.
Ivy laughed, "I don't know, I kinda like the idea of having Christmas totally catered, never having to cook or wash up,".
"Home cooked food is part of the charm," Chris said with a smile as they walked together into the breakfast area.
"I guess your mum is a better cook than mine then," Ivy said rolling her eyes, "at my house you never knew if half the things you were served were safe to eat,".
Chris gave the room number to the young man standing at the entrance and he showed the two of them to a small table.
"You can go first," Chris said, taking a seat, and placing his phone on the table. Ivy guessed he maybe wanted to make a call.
"Oh sure," she agreed, "Do you want me to get a pot of coffee?".
"Yeah that would be amazing," he replied with an easy smile as Ivy walked away from the table and toward the lavish buffet.
Once he was alone Chris unlocked his phone and called his mother. He had no doubt she'd be awake and waiting to hear from him.
"Hey baby," she greeted.
"Hey mom," he replied.
"Any news?" she asked, he could hear her stifle a yawn.
"Nothing yet, but maybe by the end of the day," Chris said, making his voice sound hopeful.
"I hope so," Lisa replied, "Did you want me to see if Scott would come and pick you up?" she offered.
"No he can't drive all that way in this weather, I'll get a flight mom," Chris said feeling less convinced by the moment as he glanced out of the panoramic windows and watched the snow swirling.
"If you're sure baby,".
"I am mom, I'm going to be home so don't you worry," Chris said.
"Good, I can't wait to see you," Lisa said, and Chris could hear the smile on her face, "Oh sweetie it sounds like one of the kids is up, I promised them pancakes this morning,".
"Awh I can't believe I'm missing pancakes!" Chris lamented and Lisa chuckled.
"I'll make you special ones for when you're home," she said with a laugh, "But I've got to go now baby, I'll see you soon,".
"See you soon, love you," Chris replied.
"Love you," Lisa replied as she ended the call. Chris took a deep breath and sighed..
Chris looked toward the buffet and spotted Ivy heading back toward the table with a tray of breakfast goodies. She smiled as she approached the table, he could see a big silver pot of coffee on the tray as well as two bowls and a plate.
"They've got someone over there making fresh pancakes," she said excitedly as she placed the tray on the table.
Chris chuckled, "I just spoke with my mom and that's what they're having for breakfast as well,".
"Awh well you should have some too! Even if they're not as good as your mums,".
Both Chris and Ivy indulged themselves at breakfast, both of them going back for more pancakes once they had finished off their first lot.
Ivy noticed a group of people two tables over kept glancing around and taking long looks at Chris. She caught their eye a number of times and each time they dissolved into furious whispers after they'd been caught looking.
"Chris, do you get recognised a lot?" Ivy asked as she took a bite of her pancakes.
He shrugged, "A fair amount I guess," he replied, "Why?".
"Oh just out of interest I guess," Ivy replied with a one shouldered shrug, "There's a table of 4 behind you who have definitely spotted you,".
"Yeah, two girls and 2 guys right?" Chris questioned.
"That's them," Ivy confirmed with a nod.
"I thought so, sometimes the cap and the beard don't provide enough cover," Chris said with a tired laugh.
"If they come over here do you want me to scare them off?" Ivy offered with a playful smirk.
Chris laughed, "What are you going to do to scare them?" Chris asked as he took a sip of coffee.
"I don't know," Ivy replied a little defensively but with a smile, "I'll wing it, improvise,".
"I wouldn't worry, most people are very respectful," Chris said, he stole a glance over his shoulder at the group who all immediately looked away.
"That's good," Ivy replied, finishing her last mouthful of breakfast, "I guess that's one of the things I always wondered about, like, do you enjoy being spotted in the street and stopped?".
"Most people, if you see them in the street will just look, maybe try and take a photo which can be annoying,” he replied, “and inevitably the worst photos of me will end up online somewhere," Chris added with a roll of his eyes.
Ivy laughed, "I'm sorry but I don't believe you could take a bad photo,".
Chris chuckled, "Oh trust me, there are so shocking photos of me out there,".
"Well I guess you are only human," Ivy replied as the waiter came by and took their empty plates.
Ivy glanced at the clock.
"Oh boy, there is a lot of day when you're stuck at an airport hotel," she commented.
"I was gonna hit the gym for a bit, now I've fueled the engine," Chris replied with a smile as he patted his stomach.
"Oh well, you are absolutely on your own with that," Ivy replied with a chuckle, "I guess I'll just make the most of the cable TV in the room," she added with a shrug.
"I saw they have a pay per view movie channel so maybe this evening we can get some room service and rent a movie on the airlines dollar," Chris said as he stood up.
Ivy stood too and nodded.
"That sounds like fun actually," she agreed.
That's if we're both still here by this evening," Chris added as the two of them walked out of the dining room.
"Oh yeah," Ivy breathed, "I guess we could both be on our way out of here by this evening," she added.
"Maybe," Chris said with a shrug as they headed toward the lift to take them back to the room.
Despite wanting nothing more than to be on a flight home Ivy couldn't help but also feel a little sad at the idea of leaving Chris.
Once back in the room Ivy switched on the TV and started to flick through the channels looking for something to watch while Chris gathered some workout gear.
"I'll see you in a few," Chris said as he headed for the door again, he glanced at Ivy who was settling back on the sofa.
"Have fun!" Ivy called as she found a Christmas film that was just starting.
Chris couldn't help but smile as he pulled the door closed behind himself, if he had been at home the scene might have been similar except it would have been one of his sisters putting on Christmas movies and he'd have been surrounded by his niece and nephews and they'd keep him so busy he'd have no need for the gym.
Chris took the lift down to the lobby and followed the signs for the gym. The gym space was big, open and filled with the most up to date equipment, it was also empty which Chris decided was the best thing about it.
Ivy's phone lit up with a video call from her sister. Ivy swiped up and accepted the call.
"Hey sweetheart," she greeted. Lottie smiled.
"It's so good to see your face," she said and Ivy laughed, "any news on a flight?".
Ivy shook her head, "Not yet, keeping an eye on my emails but nothing so far, maybe we'll hear later today," she said with a shrug.
"So what's going on there? I saw on the news here that thousands of people are stranded and sleeping in the airport,".
"Oh yeah, so I think I was one of the last people to get a room, actually I'm sharing it with a guy," Ivy explained, she watched as Lottie's eyebrows shot up to her hairline.
"A man? What, like a strange man?" she questioned.
"He's not strange, he's nice. There were some issues with our booking or something and we ended up both with a room allocation but only one room so we decided to share," Ivy continued.
"Oh my!" Lottie said with a chuckle, "that's exciting,".
"It's fine, we're in a huge suite and he's really nice, he's an actor actually," Ivy added.
"Oh yeah? Anything we might have seen?" Lottie asked.
"Well I've not actually asked, but he's called Chris and he seems to get recognised," Ivy replied with a shrug.
"Oh my God it's not Chris Pine is it? The guy from the Star Trek films with those incredible blue eyes," Lottie asked excitedly.
Ivy rolled her eyes, "It's not him, I would know if it was him,".
"Right I’m Googling actors call Chris," Lottie mumbled as Ivy heard her tapping away on her computer keys, "oh shit there's loads of them," she added, "right, it's not Chris Pine, it guess it's not Chris Hemsworth either, unless," Lottie looked from her computer screen back to her phone and her sister, "is he Australian?".
"No," Ivy replied with another roll of her eyes, "I guess he's American, he's trying to get to Boston if that helps at all with your cyber stalking,".
"Are you not at all curious about him?" Lottie asked as she tapped at her keyboard again.
"Not really, he's just a really nice guy," Ivy replied, starting to flick through the TV channels again now that her film had finished.
"Oh, is it this guy?" Lottie asked as she held her phone to her computer screen, showing Ivy a photo.
The man in the photo was clean shaven and wearing a smart suit but it was definitely the Chris she was sharing a room with.
"Yeah that's him," Ivy agreed.
"Oh my god, only you could share a room with Captain goddamn America and not know it," Lottie replied, bringing the phone back to show her face.
"It's like you've spent the last ten years under a rock," Lottie added scornfully.
"Not under a rock, working," Ivy shot back, "and that's why I can go on holiday to New York at Christmas and you can't," she added, sticking her tongue out.
"And when was the last time you had a boyfriend, or even saw a man naked?" Lottie teased.
"As if having a boyfriend is the be all and end all," Ivy retorted sharply.
"I was just wondering, I might be planning a hook up for you over the new year," Lottie said with a playful grin.
"Don't you dare," Ivy warned.
Lottie shrugged, "I cannot agree to that,".
"You carry on like this I won't be bothered about catching a flight home and I might just stay here,".
"Awh don't be like that Ivy! I only want you to have fun,".
"Our ideas of fun have always been different Lot,"
"But we do agree you should be here for Christmas right?" Lottie questioned.
"Absolutely," Ivy confirmed.
"I've got to run to the shop before they get crazy," Lottie explained, "please let me know if you get a flight sorted,".
"I will sweetheart, as soon as I know, you'll know," Ivy confirmed.
"I still actually cannot believe you’re staying in the same room as Chris Evans and you didn't even know," Lottie said with a shake of her head.
"Bye Lottie!" Ivy said loudly as she ended the call.
Ivy couldn't help but smile as she shook her head. Her younger sister both infuriated and inspired Ivy. Lottie had moved to Edinburgh three years before to be with her at the time boyfriend who she had split with 3 weeks after moving and since then Lottie had had a parade of attractive lovers who doted on her. Ivy on the other hand hadn't had a boyfriend since leaving university and the only dates she had been on had been disastrous.
Ivy found some Greys Anatomy on one of the channels and she started to watch that. The episode had just finished when Ivy heard the door beep as Chris entered, his t-shirt was stuck to his skin with sweat and his face was flushed red. Ivy was a little taken aback and she felt her own face flush at the sight of him.
"Good session?" she asked.
"Yeah, the gym here is great," he replied with a grin, "but my God I need a shower," he added with a laugh.
"Yeah I can smell you from here," Ivy teased.
"I do not smell," Chris said, looking offended and Ivy giggled.
"Well I don't know how else you'd explain the sudden stench of an unwashed man in the room," Ivy said rolling her eyes.
Chris shook his head, "You're so mean," he said as he gathered a change of clothes from his case and headed into the bathroom.
In the bathroom Chris stripped out of his gym kit and stepped under the steaming water. The water was hot and pelted his skin, running in rivers down his chest and the muscles of his legs.
Chris had felt a little thrill in his stomach when he'd come back up to the room and he'd found Ivy sitting on the sofa and she'd teased him.
Often women would be shy or pandering around him but Ivy seemed to not be bothered by him at all and teased him like they'd known each other for years.
After his shower Chris redressed and stepped out of the bathroom. Ivy was still sitting on the sofa, her eyes fixed on the TV as tears slipped down her face.
"What's wrong Ivy?" Chris asked, glancing at the TV screen.
"Oh god it's nothing," Ivy said with a sniff as she wiped her face with the back of her hand, "just Greys always seems to get me blubbing," she added, turning her head and flashing a smile at him.
Chris laughed, "I'm the same, I swear if a commercial is good enough it'll get me weeping," he added as he took a seat on the edge of the bed.
Ivy laughed and wiped her face again, "Do you want to watch a few episodes with me? Or we could find something else?" Ivy asked.
"I've seen a few before so l’ll watch some Greys with you," Chris agreed as he came and sat beside Ivy on the sofa.
By the end of the next episode Chris had tears running down his face. Ivy turned her head and caught his eye, the two of them dissolved into giggles through their tears.
"Okay I don't think I can cope with another episode of that right now," Chris said with a laugh as the credits rolled.
"Shall I find something else?" Ivy offered picking up the remote.
"Sure, have a flick through," Chris agreed.
"Have you checked in with your sister today?" Chris asked as Ivy scrolled through the channels.
"Yeah she video called me while you were working out," Ivy replied, "she got very excited when I told her I was sharing a room with an actor called Chris, she looked you up online and everything," Ivy added with a grin.
"Oh yeah? Did she learn anything interesting about me?" he asked
"No but she accused me of living under a rock because I didn't know who you were!" Ivy replied, taking her attention away from the TV and turning to look at Chris.
"I mean, she's right, how do you not know who I am?" Chris replied with a laugh.
"I'm sorry if I have spent my life working and not keeping up with all the latest superhero movies," Ivy rolled her eyes at Chris.
"So what is it you do?" Chris asked.
"Oh I'm a curator at a museum in London," Ivy replied.
"Oh wow, that's so cool," Chris said, his face seeming to light up, "what museum?" he added, remembering when he had last visited London how many there were, but he hadn't had a chance to visit any of them.
"Oh well at the moment I'm at the Natural History Museum in the Space exhibition," Ivy said, she couldn't help but smile, it was nice to see someone get excited about her work.
"That's so cool, I love space," he exclaimed, he seemed to suddenly be bouncing with energy.
"Yeah I saw your NASA cap," Ivy replied, "space is pretty cool but I'm planning on looking for a new role in the new year, something in a historic collection,".
"Oh yeah? That would be cool, any particular history?" Chris asked.
"Well at university I studied the early British peoples so maybe something like that, Iron Age settlements," Ivy shrugged, "but anything actually, I'm ready for a change,".
"There's this great little museum in my home town called The Concord Museum, " Chris went on to excitedly explain his local museum and the history of the town.
Ivy found herself utterly enraptured by this man, he was so erudite and passionate and easy to listen to. Ivy found herself thinking she would like to listen to him talking about anything.
"Sounds like a great little town," Ivy said when Chris paused.
"It's amazing," he agreed, "you should visit, I could show you around!" he offered.
Ivy felt her face flush pink by the easy way he said it.
"Surely you'll be far too busy being a big Hollywood star to show me around your town," she replied with a smile.
"Nah, I'm never too busy to be at home and hanging out with my friends," he said.
"Well if I can ever get any holiday l certainly know where to come,"
The day very quickly turned into the evening, the pale grey sky turning into a steely grey before going totally black. The snow seemed to have stopped for the moment and Ivy checked her phone for any emails from her airline. Still nothing.
"What do you wanna order for dinner?" Chris asked just after 7, as he spoke his stomach grumbled loudly.
"Do you have the room service menu?" Ivy replied, as she looked for the pay per view film channel on the TV.
"Sure," he said, passing her the menu, "I think I'm going to get the ribeye steak with fries and a side of onion rings," he added.
"Oh wow, the steak," Ivy commented, flicking through the pages of food. Ivy ummed and ahhed for a few minutes before deciding.
"I'm gonna get the penne alla vodka with a garlic bread side," she said, passing the menu back to Chris.
"Your wish is my command lady," he said, taking the menu and lifting the phone off the reciever.
Ivy waited while he placed the order, already feeling excited to eat again.
He hung up the phone and turned his attention back to Ivy.
"So, what shall we watch?" she asked, scrolling through the list of films.
"Nothing scary," he said as Ivy scrolled past a group of horror films.
"Do you not like horror films?" Ivy asked.
Chris shook his head, "No, I don't like them at all,".
"Awh okay, so no horror films," Ivy agreed, "shout if you see something you'd like" she added scrolling through the list.
“Something Christmas themed?” Ivy suggested as she reached a whole section dedicated to Christmas films. They all looked very romantic and Ivy wasn’t sure that Chris would be very interested.
“Hmm,” Chris made a quiet noise that Ivy understood to mean that he would rather not watch a Christmas film.
“Okay, moving on,” Ivy muttered, still scrolling through the endless list of films to a section called “retro”, “oh, maybe something from here,” she said, looking through the list of films from the 80’s and the early 90’s.
“Ooh Back to the Future!” Chris exclaimed excitedly, “I love that movie,”.
“Oh, I’ve never seen it,” Ivy replied, stopping scrolling.
“No, there’s no way you’ve not seen it,” Chris replied, his eyes wide as he looked at Ivy.
Ivy shook her head and gave an awkward smile, “Never seen it,” she confirmed.
“Put it on, you need to see it,” Chris said animatedly, almost bouncing on the seat beside Ivy.
“Okay,” she agreed with a giggle, it was like Chris had just de-aged himself 20 years and he was an excitable kid again.
Ivy started the film and settled back on the comfortable sofa. Chris sitting beside her seemed to buzz with joy as the movie started.
“You’re going to love this,” he said quietly as the first scenes started.
The film was about 20 minutes in when there was a knock on the door and a voice announced that it was room service. Chris jumped up and headed toward the door.
“I’ll get it, so you don’t miss anything,” he said as he pulled open the room door and allowed the trolly to be pushed inside.
Chris sorted the food out while Ivy continued to watch the film, but she couldn’t help but steal a few glances at the handsome man who was carefully sorting out cutlery and arranging plates.
“Thank you,” Ivy said quietly as Chris passed her a big bowl of pasta and a side plate of garlic bread.
“You’re very welcome hun,” he replied with a smile.
Hearing him call her "hun" made Ivy's skin prickle with delight, she was certain it was just a totally innocent and friendly sort of pet name but she still enjoyed it.
Chris sorted out his own food and brought his plate to the sofa, sitting down beside Ivy and placing the dish on the coffee table.
"That looks good," Ivy commented.
Chris' plate was stacked high with a thick steak, chunky cut fries and onion rings. There were also small side dishes with peas and grilled tomatoes in them.
"Oh yeah," Chris replied with a laugh, "this is exactly what the doctor ordered,".
"Are you not worried about not fitting into your skin tight costume?" Ivy teased as Chris took an onion ring and bit into it.
"Not tonight I'm not," he replied with a grin as he tucked into his dinner with enthusiasm.
The two of them ate and watched the film quietly, Chris occasionally joining in with his favourite lines. Chris kept stealing glances at Ivy while the film played, he was making sure she was enjoying herself and he also just liked looking at her. He liked the way her eyes crinkled up and her nose wrinkled when she laughed.
The film finished and Ivy turned to Chris with a smile on her face.
"That was fun," she said excitedly.
Ivy had her feet tucked under herself and her hair was tied up off her face in a messy ponytail, a few curls escaping the tie and framing her face. It was still relatively early and at a loss for what else to do Chris suggested another film.
"Oh yeah," Ivy agreed, "shall we see if they have the other Back to the Future's?" she added, scrolling through the lists of "retro" films again.
"Sure, why not?" Chris replied with a small laugh.
"Oh, they only have the first one," Ivy commented as she searched and researched the list.
"Never mind, you pick something this time," Chris said with a shrug.
Ivy let the remote hover over one of her all time favourite films "The Mummy", she glanced at Chris.
"Would this be okay?" she asked, she knew he'd stipulated no horror films but surely this wouldn't count as horror?
"Oh hell yeah, that would be great," Chris confirmed, "I love these movies,".
Ivy grinned and pressed play.
"I'm just gonna get some jammies on," she said, unfolding her legs from under her and standing up.
"Do you want me to pause it?" Chris asked, taking the remote off the seat.
"No, I've seen it like a thousand times, and I'll only be a minute," she replied as she headed toward her suitcase.
Ivy fished out a change of underwear and picked her pyjamas up from the bed. She headed into the bathroom to get changed.
Ivy could hear the movie continuing to play while she changed. Alone in the bathroom Ivy took a few seconds to just breathe, she was worried about how attached she felt that she was growing to Chris, in as few as 8 hours she might be saying goodbye to him forever, the last thing she needed was to be noticing how when he laughed he seemed to use his whole body, or how a strand of his hair kept falling over his forehead, or the exact shade of blue of his eyes.
"Get ahold of yourself Miss Jones," Ivy said quietly to herself, "boys like him are not for you,".
Ivy brushed her teeth quickly, keen not to miss too much of the film.
She noticed when she stepped back into the room that Chris had also changed, he was now wearing a deep blue pair of jersey jogging bottoms and an old, faded grey NASA t-shirt. Ivy noticed that a strand of hair had fallen over his forehead again.
"Awh your pyjamas are cute," Chris said as Ivy headed over to the sofa.
She had been slightly embarrassed when she’d seen the only nightwear she had was an old pair of faded pyjamas that were buttery yellow and covered in little cartoon bees.
"Oh, thank you," she replied with a little uncertainty, not sure if he was teasing.
"You're like a little ray of sunshine in those," he added as she took a seat beside him on the sofa. Ivy felt her cheeks flush pink, which she felt probably clashed horribly with the colour of her pyjamas.
"Uh thank you," she said again.
"I like your t-shirt," she added, nodding toward the logo on his chest.
"Thank you, I thought you'd like it," he replied, "space is your thing after all," he added with a grin.
"It is for the moment," Ivy said, turning her attention to the film.
The two of them watched quietly for a few minutes.
"Is it bad that that's kinda exactly what I picture you doing?" Chris asked as the scene where Evelyn destroys the library played out on the TV.
"Uh yes!" Ivy shot back, turning her head toward Chris and looking scandalised.
"For starters I work in a museum not a library and second ," she said, pausing to take a breath and work out what she was going to say next, "secondly, I, I wouldn’t…." Ivy's voice seemed to dry up in her throat causing Chris to burst out laughing.
His knees lifted to his chest and he grabbed hold of his chest as he roared with laughter.
“I’m, I’m much more responsible than she is,” Ivy finished through her own laughs, her eyes filling up with tears.
"I'd never go accidently raising a mummy from the grave and starting the apocalypse," Ivy added through more giggles which made Chris laugh even harder, "I would have married Brendan Fraser though," she added, wiping the tears of her laughter off her cheeks, "he was a total hottie,".
Chris laughed again and the film continued to play in the background, neither of them paying attention to it. Ivy was struck but just how handsome he was and how much she enjoyed making him laugh.
"Oh you are just such a little ray of sunshine for me right now," he said between chuckles.
Ivy felt her stomach twist and her pulse quicken and she smiled.
"I think if I'd have had to do this alone I'd have been so miserable," he added after a few moments making the knot in Ivy's stomach pull tighter.
"I'm glad we had to share as well," she replied quietly, feeling her cheeks flush hot before she looked away from his face and back to the TV.
Chris studied Ivy's profile for a few more seconds, a smile crept over his face as he noticed the flush of pink on her cheeks and the determination she seemed to be putting into focusing on the film.
Chris found that Ivy was able to almost perfectly mimic Rachel Weisz’ accent and he found no end of laughs in getting her to repeat lines, giggling and kicking his feet.
"Christopher this is all well and good," Ivy said in her best Evelyn impersonation, "but we really must turn in, it's almost midnight! A girl like me shouldn't be up so late!" she finished with a flourish.
"Alright," he agreed, it's probably time to get some sleep,".
Ivy nodded and stuffed a yawn," We’re not going to have any nonsense like last night are we?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"No, I'll sleep in the bed from the get go," Chris replied with a sheepish grin.
"Good, we might get confirmation of our flights by tomorrow and be looking at long travel days," Ivy said, a heavy sadness forming in the pit of her stomach at the thought.
"Maybe," Chris agreed reluctantly.
He checked his phone, there were messages from his mom, brother and both his sisters but no emails about flights yet.
Chris shut off the TV and the two of them went about their individual bedtime routines. Chris made a quick call to his mom while Ivy texted her sister before opening up her book again and starting to read.
Chris pulled back the sheets on the other side of the bed, slipping under the cool sheets and pulling them around his stomach. He was still wearing his jogging bottoms and a t-shirt and, as normally he would have slept naked he was a little worried about getting too hot in the night.
He glanced over at Ivy while she read, her eyes already looked like they were getting heavy but there was a look of concentration on her face. Chris unlocked his phone and went through his camera roll looking for some videos to watch. He found a few of Dodger and opened them up. Watching them with a melancholy smile.
"Is that your dog?" Ivy asked from beside him, she'd lost interest in her book and was looking at Chris' phone.
"Yeah, that’s Dodger," he replied, angling the phone toward her so she could more clearly see the video in which Dodger was chasing after a ball and bringing it back to Chris.
"Awh, like in Oliver and Company?" Ivy asked as she watched the video, a soft smile on her face.
"Yeah!" Chris replied, surprised that she'd guessed so easily, "most people think he's named after the sports team," he added.
"Oh, I don't know anything about sports teams," Ivy replied with a shrug, "but I remember bawling my eyes out at Oliver and Company," she added with a laugh.
"Oh boy, me too," Chris sighed, as he swiped and the next video of Dodger played. In this one Dodger was sitting on the porch at Chris' mom's home, just watching the rain falling in the garden.
"He's gorgeous," Ivy said, leaning closer to him to get a better look.
"He's a rescue," Chris added, "he used to be a street dog in Georgia,".
"Oh, poor little baby," Ivy breathed, "looks like he hit the jackpot with you," she added, her eyes flicking up to his face, her smile wide and genuine.
"I hope so," Chris replied, flicking the screen and starting the next video.
Ivy shifted closer to him again and Chris suddenly realised that he could smell the scent coming from her hair and feel the warmth from her skin. His own body temperature seemed to wrack up in reaction to this realization.
"Oh just look at him," Ivy giggled, seemingly totally unaware of the effect she was having on Chris.
"He's so cute!" she exclaimed, "just look at those beautiful eyes," she added with a sigh.
"Do you have a dog?" Chris asked.
"Oh God, I wish," Ivy said wistfully, " but the hours I work are so long and my landlord doesn't allow pets either. I'm hoping the next place I go to might give me an opportunity for a furry friend,".
Chris smiled as he watched Ivy watching the videos. She seemed to so genuinely enjoy them that it made Chris' heartbeat a little faster.
"This is the first time I met him," Chris said, finding the specific video where he first met Dodger at the pound, "he was called Benny back then," he added as the video played.
"Oh look how excited he is!" Ivy said, "he must have known that you were about to change his life,".
"He was trying so hard to be good and stay sitting down," Chris reminisced with a smile.
"Awh look at him," Ivy looked up at Chris, "he wants to hold your hand,".
The two of them watched all the videos of Dodger that Chris had on his phone. Ivy was now sitting right next to Chris with her shoulder pressed to his, a soft smile on her face as she watched.
"Oh Chris," she breathed, watching one where he was bouncing around in a fresh snowfall, "he must be missing you so much,".
"Nah, he's okay," Chris replied, pushing his hand through his hair, "he's staying with my sister so he's okay,".
"But you miss him," Ivy said, turning her head and looking at Chris' face, her head tilted slightly to one side.
"More than I can say," he replied as he started another video from the previous winter of Dodger running through a fresh snowfall.
"I think that's all of 'em," Chris admitted a little reluctantly as that video ended.
"Oh no!" Ivy exclaimed, turning her face to Chris' and noticing for the first time just how close their faces were.
"Oh I could watch him for hours," she added, feeling a flush of heat up her chest and neck as she held Chris' blue gaze.
He chuckled, "Me too," he agreed, "but I do think we need to get some rest," Chris added.
Ivy sighed, "We do," she agreed albeit reluctantly.
Despite doing very little all day Ivy was tired but falling asleep meant that she'd be ever closer to getting on a flight and leaving Chris behind and that wasn't an attractive idea right now.
She was enjoying the warmth from his body too much, and the subtle, masucline smell of him. Her eyes focused on his lips, they looked soft, plump and very kissable. Ivy was gripped by a sudden desire to lean forward and touch her lips to his. Ivy tore her eyes away from him and she swallowed hard, feeling her cheeks flush pink.
She straightened up, pulling her body away from his and sitting up straight as she mentally tried to shake the idea of kissing him from her mind.
Chris was still reclining on the pillows, watching Ivy's profile for a few seconds. He had been gripped by a desperate need to kiss her. To know for certain if her lips were as soft as they looked, or if that intoxicating scent was from her shampoo or from something she used on her skin.
"Ivy," he breathed, his voice deep and hoarse.
She turned her head, her cheeks were flushed a delicate pink colour and her eyes were bright.
"I'm so glad you're here with me," he said.
His voice was so deep that had Ivy been a little further away she was sure she wouldn't have heard him, but she had and his voice had cut through her like a blade. Making her skin tingle and her stomach twist into a tight knot.
"I'm glad you're here too," she replied, her voice not much more than a whisper.
She watched a smile creep across his handsome face.
"Funny how circumstances have thrown us together," he said.
"I'm so glad it did," Ivy replied, holding his gaze for a few more seconds.
"Me too," he reached out and stroked his thumb over her cheekbone, his warm palm cupping her soft cheek.
Ivy closed her eyes at the contact, she couldn't have said how long it had been since someone had touched her like this and it made her heart thunder.
She pressed her cheek against his hand, reveling in the contact, in the heat from his body and the feeling of his skin on hers. It felt intoxicating to be touched.
After a moment she took a deep breath, opening her eyes to find Chris watching her, his blues eyes soft and a small smile on his lips.
Ivy tore her gaze away from his, turning her face away so he wouldn't see the deep, hot blush on her cheeks.
Ivy's heart felt like it was stuck in her throat and her blood was pumping so hard that surely he could hear it as well.
"Goodnight Miss Sunshine" Chris said quietly as he shifted down in the bed, dropping his head back on the pillow and flicking out the bedside lamp on his side.
"G'night," Ivy breathed, her voice little more than a whisper. She listened as he took a deep breath and wriggled just a little to make himself comfortable.
After a few seconds Ivy glanced back at him. He had his head turned away from her and his eyes closed. The hand furthest away from her was laying straight at his side and his other hand was on his stomach.
He looked so peaceful and Ivy had to fight the very strong urge that she had to lean over and kiss his cheek.
She took a few deep and calming breaths before she settled herself back on her pillow and switched out the light. Keeping her eyes open and allowing them to adjust to the darkness Ivy took a moment to take stock.
How long had she known this man? 30 hours, maybe less but somehow he'd become so incredibly important to her. She couldn't help but think of places she'd like to visit with him. She thought how much she would love to bring him to her work and show him all the behind the scenes at the museum. Or how she'd like to have a drink with him in a rooftop bar at sunset or get breakfast at her favourite deli.
Ivy knew this was just blue sky thinking and that she might never see him again but she couldn't help but imagine.
Ivy allowed her eyes to close as she pictured leading him through the deserted museum halls at night, the two of them hand in hand before they found somewhere secluded where Chris could hold her body against a wall and press his mouth to hers.
A/N : Phew that was a long one! Well done if you made it all the way to the end! Don’t forget my ask box is open and you can always drop by and say Hi!
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DYEING THEIR HAIR
HEADCANONS — miya osamu, kuroo tetsurō, semi eita
notes: this has been swirling in my silly little brain... also toying with the idea of opening hc requests.... hm we’ll see
reblogs are greatly appreciated !
MIYA OSAMU — you’re brushing your teeth, him beside you. both of you had just woken up on a sunday morning, with nothing in particular in mind for the day. “what do you wanna do today, babe?” you look at him through the reflection, toothbrush hanging out of your mouth. he runs a hand through his fading silver locks. “i think i want to dye my hair.” spitting, you meet his eyes without the reflection, “‘samu, you know i can’t do the silver from home, i’ll ruin your hair.” he looks at you, the start of a smile settling on his cheeks, “no, i want to go natural again.”
after a quick trip to the grocery store, and about twenty dollars later, you have him sitting in a chair while you run brown dye through his locks.
the dark grey had been his trademark all through highschool, contrasting his brothers blonde, you had really only seen childhood photos tell the story of your boyfriend’s natural hair color.
you’re excited, atsumu seems hellbent on the maintaining the bright blonde, so it seems as though their natural color is up for grabs, and your helping osamu claim it.
he’s got his head tilted down slightly, as you run gentle hands through his hair, parting it every which way and brushing on storebought color into his roots, saying salutations to the faded artificial color as you go.
a good hour or two later, you’ve been sure to hit all the spots on his head, and have now pushed it back and out of his face, telling him to sit still as the dye sets.
osamu finds it cute how you’ve taken up the project and made it your own, it was his idea but he’s merely become the client of your hairdressing endeavor, and he’s not hating it.
your even taking small cotton wipes, and making sure to carefully wipe any stray dye off his eyes and forehead—it’s all part of the process you tell him, as he tries to squirm out of your touch—endless he wants to end up with stained skin for a few days.
you send him to the bathroom once your phone alarm goes off, and you can barely sit still on the couch while he washes it out and dries it to get the full affect of your work.
when he emerges, you practically jump up and your hands fly to your face, a smile bursting through your features as you squeal slightly.
walking up to him, you begin running your hands through the hazel locks taking in the color and how they compliment his eyes in just the right way.
“[y/n], stop it!” he’s laughing with you, trying to pull your hands away, but your so captivated by your handiwork that you can’t contain your excitement.
“you look incredibly handsome.” you say, eyes wide. thats when he lifts you slightly off the ground to press a few kisses to your unsuspecting cheeks, and even passing your lips at one point.
“all thanks to you.”
KUROO TETSURŌ — with hair like his, you never considered dyeing it an option. however, one day when he’s lying in your lap on his phone, and your running hands through his hair, you notice how your fingertips can rake it straight up with little to no trouble. then, you notice how the thick strands run all the way back to his scalp, dark and inky, void like even. the color is untouched and pristine, its almost makes you think how his hair could be so healthy after so many years of washing it daily— so much untapped potential—presumably because his style never left him much room for it. still, an idea pops in your head, “tetsurō, how do you feel about highlights?”
kuroo doesn’t turn down the idea because if he’s being honest, he’s always wanted to do something different with his hair.
its been the same for so long, and he doesn’t hate it, but watching kenma change his hair up every couple of years, he’s almost jealous.
you have a plan, one that involves a straightener and box dye. an absurd amount of heat protectant later, his hair is finally tamable.
you try not to look at it too much while its straight, you barely recognize him as it falls flat over his face—quickly you get to work, applying steaks of hazel under each layer, creating a collection of highlights throughout his entire head.
you pray that it appears without bleach, you want to dye his hair not fry it—still its a challenge considering how dark his color is.
you make sure to use a lot of developer, and leave it on for longer than advised. it doesn’t need to be too apparent, just enough so that you and him can tell a slight change has been made.
you finish your work, before putting it up with two—or four—salon clips you found in the drawer.
this is one of the only times kuroo has had his black mop out of his face, besides when it’s wet, so you take in his eyes under the dim bathroom lights—he smirks at you as you try to commit the image of his face to memory.
your both impatient when waiting for the dye to set, eager to see whether or not it actually worked, so your wandering about doing this and that, but still checking the clock every few minutes.
eventually, its been an hour and a half, and you wash his hair in the kitchen sink, his back craned over comically as he tries desperately to lower his height.
you blowdry it, and rush to the window in the living room, trying to pick up the change in shade under the natural sunlight peeking in.
he leans forward, and you run your hands through the strands, and much to your surprise you find streaks of hazel littered throughout his head.
“i see it! tetsu’ look!” you hold up a handmirror you’d taken from the bathroom, and he follows your lead, pulling strands back—there it is, he can see it too.
of course, when he steps out of the light it looks almost entirely black again, but when under the gaze of the sun the highlights become clear to an attentive eye—you both consider it a success.
“what do you think?” you ask him, wondering how he feels now that his hair is no longer pure.
he gives you a small smile, still messing with his locks in the mirror, “i love it— like— a lot.”
you give him a double high five and he demands a kiss on the lips, proud to have you as his partner in crime for endeavors such as this.
SEMI EITA — semi has taken his hair to hell and back, all nine circles you’d like to think. between sporadic hair cuts and at-home dye jobs, your surprised it all hasn’t fallen out yet. that being said, of course you can’t help but worry when he walks through the door of your apartment with a convenience store bag in hand, and makes a b-line to the bathroom. you hear him put a familiar playlist on and within a few moments your up out of your seat to carefully peer in the open door from the hallway—you don’t plan on stopping him but your curiosity has peaked. it’s only when you see him apply dark dye on the ends of his overgrown mop without gloves that you step in.
“eita, what do you think your doing?” he looks at you through the reflection, there are boxes spread across the counter, telling you the answer, but you want to hear it from him.
“fixing up my ends?” he lifts the brush with the dye on it, as well as the opposite, bare hand he’s using as support while he applies the it.
you look at him up and down, internally you’re thinking, nah...this ain’t gonna work.
his hair has been growing out into what appears to be a subtle mullet, and every few months he applies dark dye onto the ends, creating an ombre affect for the bright silver at the top of his head, to a darker color at the ends.
its a cute look, certainly flattering, but lord knows he’ll do just about anything to his hair without a single second glance or strategy in mind—you think he’d rather be caught dead in a ditch than in a salon chair.
thats when you come in to save the day, grabbing a pair of gloves and the weapon—the application brush—from his hand you encourage him to wash before the dye stains (it already has, his palm is going to be dark gray for the next four days)
sitting him down on a small stool, he smirks as you mutter what sounds like a lecture, regarding his recklessness. his playlist is still going, which allows for entertainment as you work your way through the (extremely thick) hair that covers the back of his neck.
he dips a finger into the bowl of dye and tries to wipe it on your arm, you swat his hand and he bursts into a fit of laughter.
you want to scold him for moving his neck, but you can’t help but smile with him.
when you’re done, you add an old clip to keep it off his neck and his upper back while it sets—he almost tries to shake his head to mess with you, but your eyes are telling him not to push his luck any further.
in forty five minutes, he goes to take a shower, and you pray he doesn’t absolutely ruin the tiles in your shower while washing out the dye.
he doesn’t very careful to rinse out the color before it can stain, and when he’s done he quickly blowdries it to get the full effect.
when he’s done, he comes back into the kitchen where your scrolling through your phone. quickly turning on his heel he reveals the back of his head, where the color was applied, the ombre isn’t half bad for a quick job done in the comfort of your own home.
running your hands through it, you notice a few spots you missed, but before you could critique your work any further he turns around with a wonky smile on his face.
a stained palm comes up to your face, and he kisses you softly, “thanks for your help, babe.”
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Where Blood Roses Bloom
Pairing: Alucard/Trevor Belmont/Sypha Belnades
After Trevor gets grievously injured by a night creature, he and Sypha return to Dracula's castle to seek Alucard's help. The man they find there, however, is but a shadow of the friend they left behind.
Meanwhile, in far Styria, Hector does his best to survive in the vampires' court, a lamb amidst wolves. Little do the wolves know, the lamb has fangs of its own.
Chapter 2: Friends is up! Alucard POV, and a fair bit of introspection as he tries to come to terms with Sypha and Trevor returning after being gone for so long, and what that could mean for their (once) friendship.
Read here or on AO3! Read Chapter 1
Adrian’s footsteps ring hollowly along the empty corridor. He walks without thinking, with swift and purposeful strides that take him as far away from the room where Belmont is lying already half dead, and Sypha is wringing her hands in worry.
There is a stream of light pouring in from one of the windows along the dark hallway. Motes of dust bob and dance, shimmering iridescent in the early morning sun. Adrian walks towards it, presses his palm to the smooth, cold stone of the windowsill. His hand, he notices absently, is shaking.
What on earth just happened? What is he doing? What was he thinking, opening that damned door?
After that night —that dark mark in the series of dark marks that seem to be making up his life now— he swore he would not open that door for anyone ever again, unless it was to end them, swiftly and decisively. While sharpening the stakes that would hold Sumi and Taka’s lifeless bodies, he swore that those two would be the last to ever cross the threshold of this God-forsaken place alive. That he would remain in eternal solitude, feared and reviled, a prisoner in his own home, but at least he would be left in peace.
Barely two weeks later, and not only has he let Sypha and Belmont in, he practically carried them in himself.
Sypha’s frantic banging on the door caught him unawares. He never intended to open, not even when he realised it was them, but her desperate pleas called to him in a visceral, instinctual way. When he saw her red, tired eyes, her haggard appearance; when his eyes fell on Belmont —a miserable pile of blood-stained clothes and hair matted with feverish sweat, bleeding on his doorstep — his mind froze for a moment. There were no thoughts, not really, just shock, worry, and that deep, gut-twisting fear: please don't let him die, not him, not him, too.
And all this for Belmont. Trevor fucking Belmont, who can’t go two seconds without insulting and pushing and prodding him, even when he’s one foot in the grave already.
“Mad,” Adrian whispers under his breath. He had his doubts before, but now he is sure: he is utterly, undeniably mad. He has finally lost whatever is left of his mind.
He shakes his head as he pushes himself upright. For a moment, he wonders what in the seven Hells he’s supposed to do with them, with the mess that has been thrust in his hands. Belmont’s condition is worse than he thought. The wound is deep and ugly and festering, and unlike anything he’s seen before. It’s a miracle how the man is still on his feet; if he weren’t built like a tree Adrian is sure he would have been dead long before.
His feet take him straight to the upper floors, where he had been before Sypha and Belmont showed up. The large, dusty room with the tall floor-to-ceiling windows that his mother once used as her study is the only place he seems to be able to find any sort of peace these days. He has taken to sorting through her old medical journals; a long, painstaking process, but oddly comforting. There are still piles upon piles of leather bound books, notebooks and scrolls that she never took with her to that small cottage she had taken to living in and treating the peasants from the nearby villages during the last few years of her life. Adrian remembers thinking of taking them to her even then, mere months before she was taken, but he never did. Now he’s almost relieved, in a way, that he never did; at least he still has something of hers that the humans -those vultures- never managed to burn. As poor a consolation as that may be.
He walks to the tall cabinet made of elegantly carved dark wood that stands at the far end of the room. It is where his mother kept most of the ingredients for the medicine she used to make. It takes him a moment to find what he needs: dried wormwood and red dead nettle to alleviate pain and slow the course of infection, wild radish powder for the fever, a strange-looking mushroom that, when pounded into a paste, can stop the progression of even advanced gangrene, or so his mother told him once. Adrian takes them all to the work table that hasn’t been used in years, wipes the dust off the mortar and pestle and disinfects them with alcohol, and gets to work.
There is something soothing about mechanical tasks, about using his hands, he thinks, as he grinds the ingredients into a paste. He is so used to drifting aimlessly through the cold, dark corridors, to watching the days pass in a slow, never-ending stream, that moving with such purpose and urgency now is a welcome change, even if the cause for it is anything but.
He has something to do. The almost pleasant buzz of excitement in his stomach while he waits for the brew to boil over the old stove is a surprise.
“You’re back!” Sypha says, hardly a second before he has finished knocking on their door. The dark circles under her eyes still betray her weariness, but her smile is wide and relieved when she looks up at him. The fire that’s crackling in the hearth fills the room with pleasant warmth, and Sypha’s cheeks are flushed and rosy.
Adrian opens his mouth to respond, when a strained groan from the bed cuts him short. “Was about bloody time.”
Belmont is lying on his back, exactly where Adrian left him. He looks paler than death, his cheeks gaunt and sunken, the pillow and sheets drenched in his sweat already, yet he still manages a small, smug smile when he elicits an icy frown from him. “Thought you might have lost your way.”
“Fortunately, not all of us possess your embarrassing navigation skills, Belmont,” Adrian replies smoothly as he makes his way to the bed.
Belmont laughs hoarsely, “Excuse me? I have embarrassing navigation skills?”
“Yes. How would you call getting lost in an abandoned village of approximately ten houses, and ending up ankle deep in pig shit? That wasn’t too long ago now, was it?”
The other man groans and rolls his eyes. “Christ, it was one time. And I didn’t get lost, I was looking for booze.”
Adrian lifts a brow. “In a pig pen. Really. Even for you, that's a first.”
“What fault is it of mine that the storage room was right next to the pen? And part of the wall had collapsed, as you may remember, so I couldn’t get there any other way.” Belmont narrows his blood-shot eyes. “I don’t remember you complaining any when you drank half the wine that night. After scoffing down most of that wheel of cheese I managed to bring back, of course.”
Leaning against the bedpost, Sypha lets out a long-suffering sigh. “Leave it to you two to start bickering about something that happened months ago, and everyone else has forgotten but you.” She shakes her head, but Adrian can see the small, fond smile that tugs at the corner of her lips. It startles him how much he has missed seeing it. The warmth that spreads through him at the sight startles him even more.
It feels odd to be around them. It is odd, certainly, how easy it is to slip back into that familiar rhythm, without even thinking about it. The paradox isn’t lost on him. There was a time, however brief, that he had thought of those people as friends. Or something very close to that, anyway.
What were they now? Could he afford to trust them, like he once had? Could he trust anyone?
He straightens, his amusement dying abruptly. They are both staring at him curiously, unnerved by his sudden silence. The grey light of morning that pours in through the windows highlights the sickly pallor of Belmont’s countenance, casts sharp shadows on the concerned frown that furrows Sypha’s brow.
Adrian hands Belmont the vial, then takes a step back. “Drink it now,” he says flatly, “while it’s warm. It won't be much use, after.” That should stop the man from talking for a while, he hopes. It does something strange to him, when Belmont talks. It makes him feel —almost— human.
Belmont takes the vial he is offered without a word. He tips it over his lips with trembling fingers, winces as he swallows. The medicine is quick to work. His features swiftly relax and he sinks back into the pillow.
“Ah, that’s better,” he sighs. “Sweet, blessed oblivion.” He is fast asleep in seconds.
A tense, uncomfortable silence spreads between Sypha and Adrian after Belmont is asleep. He doesn’t really know what to say to her. He’s not sure whether he wants to say anything at all. Her bright blue eyes on him make him uneasy. They always have, a little. It is like they can see right through him.
“The wound should be cleaned and dressed again,” he says matter-of-factly. “As often as possible. The less chance of infection there is, the better. I’ll bring some fresh water and bandages, you get him out of the rest of his clothes. Can you do that?”
Sypha nods sharply, and pushes her sleeves back.
By the time Adrian returns, she has managed to remove most of Belmont’s travel stained clothes without disturbing his injury. They only exchange the briefest of words as Adrian cleans the wound and applies the antiseptic he brought, then they both dress him in clean clothes. The shirt is one of Adrian’s own, and it is a touch too snug around the shoulders and Belmont's thick arms, but anything other than what he was wearing is a significant improvement.
As he stands back to let Sypha do the rest of the work, he notices the certainty and familiarity with which she handles Belmont. It hasn’t been lost on Adrian that their relationship seems to have changed and grown since they both left the castle. When she pushes a stray lock of hair behind Belmont’s ear, and gently presses a cool, damp cloth on his fevered brow, it leaves Adrian with no doubt.
They are together.
The realisation shouldn’t have made his heart tighten like this. An ugly feeling, something akin to jealousy, something that is eerily close to despair, rises in his chest. Sypha and Belmont are together. He wonders how he didn’t notice straight away. Of course he knew upon first seeing them that, during the months they’ve been away, travelling together, their bond has grown stronger than it was before they left. It was only a natural consequence of their way of life. But this…
He stares without meaning to. He watches as Sypha tends to Belmont, as she wipes the grime and sweat away from his face with so much tenderness, and he knows that she not only cares for him: she loves him. The realisation drives those twisted feelings deeper in his heart, when he wants nothing to do with them. Before he knows it, he’s already trying to imagine what it must feel like, to have someone care about him, so much, so deeply. He imagines what it must feel like, to be with something like this, to sleep next to them every night. He pictures Belmont’s arms coming around her, pulling her against his broad chest; he pictures him smiling at her, kissing her full, rosy lips.
Adrian tries to imagine what it would be like, if it were him.
It is a quick thing, effortless. He can almost see her responding to his touch, leaning into him, resting her head on his shoulder. He imagines her laughing at his jokes, gazing at him with love and adoration, like he’s something precious, something good, and his heart aches with a sort of longing he has long thought he is incapable of feeling.
He swallows thickly and drags his gaze away. What is it to him, if Sypha and Belmont are together? Nothing. Neither of them means anything to him. As she takes her time tending to him, he only wonders idly how she has managed to stay so close to the man, let alone sleep next to him. On the best of days, Belmont smells as if he’s been dipped in stale, sour beer— among other, fouler things that Adrian doesn’t want to think about.
Certainly, the man is quite handsome in a somewhat —or incredibly— rugged sort of way. Adrian can see the appeal, if dimly. That still doesn’t change the fact that Belmont is a boor and an insufferable lout and, frankly, more stupid than mud.
“There,” Sypha says quietly, laying Belmont’s head carefully back on the pillow, as if she were cradling an injured bird in her hands. “That should do it.” She wipes her palms on a clean cloth nearby and turns to him. There is something bright gleaming in her eyes. Hope. Adrian knows that look. “Did you find a cure?”
“I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated than that.” He busies himself with cleaning his hands and pushing his shirtsleeves down so that he doesn’t have to see the hope wither on her face. “I have not seen a wound like this before. I need more time to figure out what we’re dealing with.”
“Oh.” He might not be looking at her, but he still hears the wind go out of her sails just a little. “Well. The medicine you gave him buys us time. Doesn’t it?”
“Yes, a little.”
“Good.” She nods and straightens, her jaw set in determination. “What are we waiting for, then? Let’s go.” Adrian blinks at her, and a smile tugs at the corners of her lips. “Did you think I was going to leave you to look for the cure alone? I’m going to help you.”
“That… will not be necessary,” he says, a bit too quick. “I am perfectly capable of—”
“Nonsense.” She walks to the armchair by the window and picks up her cloak. It looks worn and the hems are mud-stained, but the way she throws it over her shoulders with so much grace and purpose makes her look fierce, almost… regal.
Her large, round eyes are on him now, and the intensity of her gaze leaves him breathless. She gestures towards the door.
“Shall we? We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
He finds himself complying readily, without wanting to, and it irks him.
They don’t speak much as they walk through the empty corridors. Sypha follows him quietly- her footfalls are light, probably soundless to anyone not possessing Adrian’s heightened senses. Only the whisper of the fabric of her robes around her ankles as she walks, and the sound of her breathing. It is smooth and calm, and only a little bit heavy. It is not difficult for Adrian to tell that she is keeping herself upright through sheer will and determination. It is admirable, really, and it makes him want to reach out to her, hold her hand perhaps, but he thinks better of it.
“There we are,” he says as the wide doors of his father’s library come into view. The hinges protest loudly when he pushes them open. Adrian hasn’t walked in that place in months— no, years. He has purposefully avoided it all the time he’s been there, yet he is left with little choice now. His father’s collection of books and magical scrolls is impressive; he always had a fascination with medicine. If there is information to be found on how to treat night creature wounds it has to be here, if it is not in the Belmont library. Adrian prepares himself mentally to visit both of the places he least enjoys visiting, if he has to.
He stands at the threshold for a breath, letting his gaze sweep over the expansive room. The neatly stacked shelves, the vials and the oddly shaped instruments his father used to collect are exactly as they used to be, not one of them out of place. There was once a time when Adrian would spend the majority of his spare time there, the countless books and scrolls his only company in that castle when he was growing up. It had been a comfort for him then, yet the sight of them now just makes him feel… hollow.
It was odd, how a man as transfixed with death and blood as his father went to so much trouble to keep the art of healing alive throughout the centuries. It seems like a farce now, a joke, a twisted image of reality that has no place in that world. Yet here it is before him, staring at him, laughing in his face. It is like looking at his reflection in a broken mirror.
Sypha’s shoulder brushes his own as she takes a step forward and into the room.
“This is amazing,” she says under her breath. She spins in a small circle, gazing around her in awe. “Look at all these things! There must be something here that we could use.” She walks swiftly to one of the low tables filled with the strange apparatuses his father liked to construct. She carefully pokes a brass, bell shaped instrument with the tip of her finger. “What is this?”
“A bloodletting cupping vessel, used by Ancient Roman healers. A long, long time ago.” Adrian drifts near her, coming to stand beside her. She straightens, and as she pushes a lock of hair behind her ear, he catches a hint of peach blossoms, of jasmine. Her soap, he assumes. He takes a deep breath, trying to discern the scents. Jasmine and peach blossoms, a hint of fresh hay, and is that sweet, slightly musky smell hers?
Before he knows it, he’s taken a small, perceptible step closer to her. Yes. That scent is definitely her. Jasmine and peaches, and that faint musk that is her, sweet and sharp like fresh cream—
He stops himself abruptly, drawing back as if stung. What on earth is he doing? He clears his throat discreetly and walks away. “And this is the funnel that goes with it,” he says, feigning disinterest, nodding at another apparatus nearby. “It is to collect blood for tests.”
“Tests?” Her eyes widen and focus. It unnerves him when she does that. Whenever she looks at him like this, it makes him feel like he is the only person in the world just then. “They used to run tests, back then?”
“In a way. Some of their methods are used to this day. Well. By those that don’t believe that sprinkling goat’s blood can cure a wandering eye, or that burning dried nettles can scare away the spirits that cause gout.” He clasps his hands behind his back and looks around. “So. I believe that what we’re dealing with is a sort of hex. We would need to remove that first, before attempting to heal the wound. Any idea where we should start?”
Sypha’s enthusiasm dims only slightly. “I’m… not sure. I can use healing magic, but my inventory of spells is quite small. I could devise a new spell, I suppose… but I would need the right books for that. That could take time. Or—” she glances up at him hopefully, “—we could look for a scroll. It seems your father has quite the collection. There must be something here, some sort of spell that can remove the curse. That was what I was hoping for, in fact.”
Adrian nods, humming in thought. “A scroll would be just what we need. My command of healing magic is rudimentary at best. I doubt I could even use it, but you could certainly try.” He turns around and walks to the far end of the room, towards the bookcases that line the walls. That was where his father kept his scrolls— hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, arranged in neat stacks in alphabetical order. His father was always very particular about the correct way to store books and scrolls.
“This is as good a place as any to start,” he told her, gesturing at the shelf with the scrolls written in Adamic. If there are powerful curse lifting and healing spells to be found anywhere, that is the place.
Sypha blinks, her eyes wide and sparkling as she takes in the sheer amount of carefully rolled up papyruses. She picks one up and opens it, swiftly reading the letters on the page.
“Fascinating,” she whispers under her breath. “This is… this must be at least two centuries old. This form here,” she points at the cluster of elegant shapes written in squid’s ink, “I don’t think it’s been used since the eleventh century. At least.” She walks up to him to show him. That faint, underlying scent tickles his nostrils again; he takes a discreet step to the side.
“Yes,” Adrian says, nodding absently even as his stomach twists in knots. “It is one of the more recent ones in my father’s collection.”
“Recent?” That gaze is on him again: bright, intent, clear like a midsummer’s day sky. Her lips widen in an enthusiastic smile. “There must— oh, there must be centuries worth of wisdom hidden in those shelves! There are scrolls from the ends of the world here. I wonder how your father came by it all.”
“Sacked the towns and villages that kept them. Killed and staked those who’d written them.” He shrugs as he examines elaborate glass vials on a nearby shelf. “Or so the tales go.”
Sypha stares, then looks away."Oh. Yes, I... I suppose you're right."
A cold, awkward silence falls between them. With slow, careful movements, she places the scroll back where it belongs and drifts slowly towards the far end of the bookcase.
They don’t speak much after that.
The hours fly by swiftly, one bleeding into the next in that sunless room, as Adrian and Sypha search through the scrolls. Were it not for the large, mechanical clocks on the wall, Adrian would never know whether it was day or night outside. It was probably late evening when Sypha falls asleep, with her cheek pressed to the desk. He brings her a blanket, some tea and a piece of pie he made the previous day, and continues to work. She barely stirs. Her hears her when she wakes up a few hours later; feels her gaze on his back, but says nothing.
His eyes are dangerously close to falling shut on their own as he reads through a scroll with annoyingly small letters, when an enthusiastic cry from the far side or the room jolts him bolt upright.
“I found it!” Sypha says, walking briskly up to him. She is grinning, her cheeks flushed, “I think I’ve found it. This must be it!”
Adrian blinks the weariness away from his eyes, examining the contents of the scroll that Sypha is holding under his nose. The forms are familiar, an incantation that must be hundreds of years old. It was first written by one Yin Chunhua in a province in Northern China almost three hundred years before, and was translated in Adamic by an Arabian scholar at the end of the twelfth century. Adrian takes it from her hands carefully, brushing the tip of his finger over the dried ink.
“Are you sure?” he asks, glancing up at her. “You think this will work?”
“I think so, yes. We can try.” Her face is glowing with enthusiasm, her eyes sparkling with determination. “If it doesn’t work, we try again. And again. And again. Until Trevor is healed. I know we can do it.”
Adrian holds her gaze for a long moment, a strange warmth creeping up inside him. ‘We’, she said. Them.
“Alright,” he nods. “Let’s do it. No reason to tarry.” He starts walking towards the door, when he is stopped short by Sypha’s hand on his elbow.
He turns around. Sypha’s touch is light, careful. She looks up at him, and, once again, it seems as if everything else has faded into the background, as if there's nothing else in the world but them, gazing at each other.
“Thank you, Alucard,” she says softly. Her blue eyes are earnest and crystal clear; it's like looking at the shimmering waters of a crystalline pool. “Your help means… everything. It really does."
Adrian’s breath grows shallow. The tenderness in her voice is unmistakable. It feels so strange, being directed at him. There is something stirring within him now, stronger the more he gazes at her; something that feels dangerously like hope. Could it be that she still considers him a friend? Could it be that the bond the three of them once had, however brief, is still there? Could it be that perhaps she could… love him?
The thought withers as soon as it blossoms. How foolish, how futile it all is. Sypha and Belmont left months ago to hunt monsters, they moved on with their lives, and he stayed behind, an empty shell of a man drifting endlessly through rooms and hallways that were emptier still, consumed by grief and loneliness. It was that same loneliness that Sumi and Taka had detected, and that they had pounced on, like hounds on blood. He let them. He paid for it, dearly, and so had they. And now, one kind word of thanks from the people that left him behind and he is ready to make the same mistakes all over again.
Adrian clenches his jaw as the familiar sting of shame and anger drives through him. They are not his friends anymore; he doubts they ever truly were. It was a matter of convenience from the start that they came together, and once his father was gone, so were they. What are friends, anyway?
What are friends? He’s never had any, and he never will.
Adrian takes a step back, slipping out of her gasp. His voice is flat and icy, his features schooled to an expressionless mask when he says, “This is wasting time. Let’s go.”
He turns towards the door, leaving her staring after him. The sooner Belmont’s injury is dealt with, the sooner they will both leave.
The sooner he will be on his own again, in peace.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this chapter, I’d love to hear thoughts! :)
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Fated Part 2
Ares x reader
Word Count: 1230
Summary: Ares is hurt, and you are pissed.
When you arrived, Hera was nowhere to be found, but Thanatos was already waiting outside the bedroom door.
“You’re not taking him, little brother,” you warned icily.
He looked sad as he replied, “That has yet to be decided. You and I can quarrel about secrets later. You being with him will strengthen his spirit. Go.”
You kept your eyes trained on him as you walked past to enter the bedroom, but he didn’t so much as twitch from his post. The sight inside the spacious bedroom, however, was one that you knew instantly would haunt you until the end of time.
Hera stood next to the bed, a piece normally piled with comfortable red and golden throws that was now covered only in the stark white sheets that served to highlight how Ares’ normally beautifully dark complexion was a sickly grey color.
Apollo, the god of healing, was speaking to her softly not noticing your entrance. “There isn’t anything more I can do for him,” he was saying. “Now, we just have to give him time to see if he pulls through. Though with Thanatos lingering outside the way he is . . .” His tone made it abundantly clear what he thought of Than.
“Do not speak of my brother in such a way,” you ordered. “If there’s nothing more for you to do, then leave.” You’d already had a low opinion of this Olympian based on what Ares let slip about the event that drove him to Thrace in the first place; this commentary certainly wasn’t helping endear him to you.
His golden eyes--so disturbingly similar to your family’s trademark color yet so violently different in the type of glow--snapped over to you, shining brightly with his anger. “And who are--”
“She’s right,” Hera interrupted, clearly wanting to calm the brewing fight. “Ares would not want us here longer than necessary. He will be well cared for in her hands.”
“And who exactly is she?”
“The wife of Lord Zeus’s only legitimate heir,” was her lofty reply. Normally, you’d hate to hear the scorn in Hera’s voice as she talked down on Zeus’ other children, but right now you just wanted them out.
Clearly flabbergasted, Apollo finally stormed out without a word.
“Watch over him,” was Hera’s command before she, too, left.
Which left you alone and finally able to get a good look at the prone form on the bed.
As you’d noticed before, his skin had taken on a grey edge to it. Even the war paint-like streak around his eyes--already bone white normally--looked somehow paler. His armor was missing, presumably to dress his wounds, and you didn’t care enough presently to locate it. In fact, all of his usual clothing was missing; the only thing covering him from the waist down was that white sheet. You assumed that meant he had no injuries where he was covered since it would have just gotten in the way of healing him.
The thing that drew your attention after that initial scan was the line of burn-like marks diagonally across his chest, each in the shape of a link in a chain, all an angry red that almost matched the color of his eyes. An alarmingly human color on a god of Olympus. Still, the wounds at least didn’t seem to be open or infected. Apollo’s work, no doubt.
His breath was shallow as you gently brushed his light colored hair out of his face. “What happened to you, my love?”
“According to Hermes, giants. They caught him and bound him in an urn for the last thirteen months.” At some point, Thanatos had apparently entered.
Your hand delicately traced the shape of your husband’s face. You said nothing.
“The Olympians are frightened. They now know exactly what it will take to kill a god.”
“Will this?” Your voice was so painfully close to cracking you squeezed your eyes shut for a moment upon hearing it. “Kill him, that is?” Tears threatened to well up in your eyes, but you blinked them back; crying could wait until you were alone.
A gentle, cool hand rested on your shoulder. “Even I don’t know what our sisters have planned.” Thanatos hesitated. “I should have noticed. He and I see each other frequently, and still I failed him in a way he would never have failed me.”
“I am his wife, Than, and I didn’t notice. Your crime is no greater than my own.”
“Then perhaps it is no one’s fault,” he mused. “If you have not already thought of it, I’d recommend sticking to nectar to nourish him since ambrosia may prove too much for his current state.”
“Of course, sister. I must take my leave; I have mortals to collect. I . . . pray I won’t need to return.” There was another pause. “And congratulations on your marriage. For what it’s worth, I’m happy to hear that Fate worked itself out in that regard.” A bell tolled behind you immediately after that, signaling his departure.
“Thank you,” you repeated in the silence that followed.
And so began your vigil.
Your first action once you were able to will yourself away from his side even for a moment was to drag one of the room’s couches over to the bedside so you wouldn’t be horribly uncomfortable. Then you went hunting for his most prized belongings: his armor and swords. Fortunately, they were right where they were supposed to be--in the armory. Likely, they transported themselves back home while he was trapped judging from the dried giant blood caked on them and the fact that his family would never have such care for his things.
You gathered them in your arms, unflinching in the face of the seething rage the pieces emitted. “I know,” you murmured as you gathered the tools you’d need to clean and sharpen them. They calmed somewhat upon recognizing your presence. “I’m going to take care of you,” you continued. “Revenge will be yours soon enough.”
His breastplate, the most sentient piece, would need to be cleaned first. It would have to go to Hephaestus soon to replace the various torn clasps--you absolutely did not let your mind linger on how they got that way--but for now you could rid it of the blood and mud. Cleaning each piece to its original beauty, to Ares’ standards was a task reminiscent of particularly vengeful gods, but you were glad for the work. It kept your hands busy in the breaks between carefully dripping nectar into your husband’s mouth, made the days pass by faster it seemed. Your mouth never stopped moving as your regaled both Ares and the items of every passing thought that crossed your mind as you worked.
After that came the swords he normally kept strapped to his back. Still you talked. As you cleaned. As you sharpened. As you gazed longingly at his slack face. Thankfully this time passed without visits from either the Olympians or Thanatos. Your brother’s absence specifically, you took as a good sign.
Your voice was beginning to go rough from use by the time you started tending to his main weapon, the sword with the vicious curve and an edge stained red with the blood of those that’d fallen to it.
Your grip tightened on the hilt when an equally rough voice said, “When is the last time you slept, my love?”
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idi di marzo: caos e macchinazione
summary: a trip to the country, a car chase in the hills of Umbria, and rumors of a traitor in the gang put Ashton’s identity on the line.
word count: 9k
warnings: violence, mentions of anxiety and panic attacks, language, use of guns.
me, rambling: ok this is the last update from the rewrite, and then we get into the new stuff which is kind of exciting honestly. I’m ready to get to the good stuff, aren’t you? I always appreciate hearing from y’all, so if you have any comments or concerns please, please, please send them my way! literally if you reblog and put something cute in the tags I will legitimately write you a love letter. ok, please enjoy, I love you all dearly!
“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much, such men are dangerous.”
Michael does not come to get Ashton for lunch. He doesn’t come for him at dinner time either, when the faint scent of chicken parmigiana wafts down from the kitchen.
Ashton is not sure which he is angrier about, their argument, or the fact that Michael seems to be taking his fury out on Ashton by starving him to death. He lies on his bed, seething, counting the bricks next to his head, mulling over every word that had been screamed during his fight with the one person he actually saw himself liking.
“I guess that’s what you get,” he scolds himself, fuming at his own stupidity, “That’s what you get for getting too friendly with gangsters.”
He doesn’t sleep, kept awake by loud thoughts and louder memories that echo around the inside of his skull like a bullet trapped in an iron box.
Never trust a rat, he reminds himself, It’ll get you killed in the end.
His open wounds from the fight yesterday ache and he can feel the fabric of his shirt sticking to the dried blood that cakes his neck and chest.
He can feel the sharp ends of goose feathers pricking his neck where the material in his pillow has worn thin, and he can’t shake the squirming feeling that something is crawling up his back. He claws at his shirt, shaking the fabric away from his skin. He feels alien in his own body, like his own skin is turning against him, tearing him apart. Every inch of the room is closing in on him. He can’t breathe. He can’t think. He can’t-
His heart rate spikes as he bolts to his feet. The door to his cell stands wide open, Michael standing in the doorway, hellfire burning in his irises, arms crossed in front of his chest.
“Breakfast time. Get up, before I change my mind about letting you eat.”
The petty part of Ashton wants to continue lying on his bed, just to show Michael he could give a rat’s ass about his so-called kindness. The other part of him, the one that hasn’t eaten in nearly twenty-four hours and has sustained serious injury, tells him to get up and follow his mentor’s sloping back out of the room.
They take their usual seats across from Harry and Mila, both of whom are in good spirits. Mila is laughing into her glass of water over something Harry has just whispered in her ear, and Harry’s smile is so wide, Ashton is surprised it doesn’t fall straight off his face.
Wonder what it’s like, he laments, having a mentor who isn’t a raging maniac.
Michael sits down next to him, careful to leave at least a foot of space between them, and starts violently impaling his sausage with his fork. The playful air of the table dissipates immediately, leaving behind awkward murmuring. Ashton looks up to see every set of eyes turned on him. He turns back towards his plate and pretends to be very interested in buttering his toast.
He doesn’t dare look up for the rest of the meal, uncomfortably aware of the heat of a hundred stares on his hunched back and the crackling, electric rage radiating off of Michael.
At the head table, Calum stands, and a hush falls over the room. Ashton notices with subdued pleasure that the leader is moving with great hesitation, evidence of a few cracked ribs courtesy of Ashton’s fists.
“I’d like to take a few moments to congratulate the recruits that made it past their first test, Mila Baldini, Lucca Donati, Serena Renaldi, and Antoni Columbo.”
There’s a smattering of applause, and a couple whoops from Marco.
‘Yes, alright, all very impressive,” Calum waves them aside with a pass of his hand, “You all might have succeeded thus far, but just know it only gets harder from here. You may be proud of your progress, as you should be. But don’t forget that there is still much you have to learn, and even more that you have to prove.”
Ashton can feel the leader’s pointed stare burning a hole in the back of his head.
Think your injuries are proof enough, asshole. He thinks bitterly, Next time I could always just smash your head in. Would that be enough for you?
Calum continues, “Today is Sunday, meaning you have the day off. No training, no yelling. We do, however, have somewhere to be. So if you’ll all fall in, we’ll get going.”
The hall is filled suddenly with the harsh grating of chairs against marble floors and the shuffle of feet as the initiates hurry into their line. They march down the marble halls to the front gates where they stand in the gravel drive staring through the wrought iron at the streets of Rome outside.
A woman trots by in black heels with a grey poodle hot on her heels. A Fiat 500 pulls out of its parking spot ahead of a red Peugeot. Loud honking and rude hand gestures follows. A group of teenagers stroll by, chatting loudly in Italian and hooting with laughter.
Ashton smiles. It feels almost strange to see regular people living their regular lives. He feels like it’s been years since he stepped foot outside the confines of the mansion.
Their destination turns out to be a church, the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It’s a big, boxy white building, with high ceilings, and stone floors. The reflection of the blue ceilings glows in the dull shine of the marble floors, and the light of flickering candles gleam in the gilded patterns of the vaulting.
The group is shuffled into one of the rows and they all take a seat against the hard backing of the pews. Ashton is sandwiched between Harry on his left and Michael on his right. He finds himself subconsciously inching closer to Harry to avoid touching knees with his still fuming mentor.
The service drones on. The prickling scent of incense rests across every surface in a thick layer, and pulls at Ashton’s eyelashes, until he has to work to keep them open. He’s never liked church. It makes him feel like he is being watched.
The priest bids them peace and fairwell. Michael turns to Ashton and says gruffly, and without making eye contact,
“We’re meeting back at the vans in twenty minutes.”
Ashton responds with a curt nod, staring straight ahead at the crucifix, jaw set in a hard line. Once Michael leaves, he walks a straight and determined line to the row of confessionals in the rear of the basilica.
The air is choked by the hardwood walls of the confessional, making Ashton feel even more suffocated than he had been before. The stippled window allows tiny streams of light through, staining Ashton’s brow a dull yellow, glinting off his hair, highlighting his wide irises.
The door to the other side creaks open, and someone sits down across from him.
“Lovely day for a gelato.” The deep voice states.
Without missing a beat, Ashton responds with the code phrase, “I hear the place on the corner has a lovely straciatella."
Ashton takes a deep breath, looking down at his steepled hands, “Hood remains the leader, we knew that. His second is a man named Michael Clifford, and his third is a man named Harry Styles. Both have been in the gang for at least five years. Most of them seem pretty loyal to Hood, but I get the idea that a smaller group within the gang is looking to get rid of him.”
“Marco D’Ambrosio, Bruno Lazarri, and a new recruit, Lucca Donati.”
“That’s it?” the faceless agent presses.
Ashton nods, “As far as I can tell.”
“Great, so you’ll be keeping an eye on them this week.”
“And any leads on future places they plan to hit?” The agent questions.
“Not that I’ve heard,” Ashton admits, “It’s hard to overhear things, since we’re kept pretty separate. I did hear Styles mention possibly hitting Vatican City to take something from the Pope’s private collection, but I think that was mostly a joke.”
The agent grunts. Ashton can tell he isn’t satisfied. “And can you gather any sort of motive from their movements?”
“I mean, not really. It feels like things are kind of at a stand still until initiation is over. It’s hard for me to know though, as I said they keep us completely separate from gang business.” Ashton explains again.
“Well, Foster’s not gonna be happy about that.”
Ashton huffs, “Ok, well tell Foster I don’t really care. I’m busting my ass to make it into the gang to give him some actual information. Calmate.”
“Irwin, we’re counting-”
“Is Agent Hemmings on duty?” Ashton interrupts rudely, hopeful optimism leaking from every word.
“He’s on van duty outside.”
“Can I see him? It's urgent. Please.”
The wood of the bench moans as the man opposite him shifts. “What’s the reason?”
Ashton huffs. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Um… We’re not really supposed to let you-”
Ashton’s stool creaks menacingly beneath him. “Listen. I’ve been an agent long enough to know what we’re not supposed to do. I’ve also been an agent long enough to know that sometimes protocol is meant to be broken. If I don’t see Agent Hemmings in the back alley in ten minutes, I walk. Are we clear?”
His faceless friend is silent for a moment, and then Ashton hears him muttering into his mic, “Chameleon requesting audience with Cobra.”
There is a few minutes of static silence, and then Ashton hears the scratch of a tinny voice through the earpiece.
“Behind the cathedral, two minutes. You’ll have exactly seven minutes to talk, we can’t afford any more time. We can’t let you blow your cover.”
Chills of relief flood Ashton’s spine.The confirmation that he is finally going to be able to see Luke is enough to make his eyes sweat, and send his aching heart into an excited tap dance.
He stumbles out of the confessional, and makes his way, dizzy with anticipation, to the side doors off the North transept of the basilica.
The doors of the cathedral groan open under Ashton’s arms, sending him tumbling forward, down the steps and into the shady side street.
The air is thick with the smell of garbage and sewer, but Ashton doesn’t care. Because as he looks up from examining his surroundings, a tall shadow ambles around the corner, and stretches its arms wide. It’s Luke, gangly and smiling as ever, the sunlight gleaming off his blond curls with infuriating cheeriness. Ashton hates him for it.
He trips over his feet in his rush to embrace his best friend, nearly falling into Luke’s open arms.
“Whoa, easy there, partner.” Luke laughs, “S’only been a week.”
Ashton fists his partner’s shirt in his hands, holding the back of Luke’s head tight against the side of his own. He heaves a deep sigh, squinting his eyes shut.
“No it hasn’t.” He shakes his head, “It’s been ages, man. It’s been so long. Too long.”
Luke frowns, “You okay, Ash?”
Ash nods into Luke’s broad shoulders, “Yeah. Yeah I’m okay.”
Luke places his hands firmly on Ashton’s chest and pushes him away, holding him straight in front of him. “You sure, ‘cause- my God…” He finally gets a look at Ashton’s bruised face, his swollen eye, and busted lip. “What the hell happened to you?”
Ashton’s eyes are wide, his breath labored. “It’s worse than I thought, Luke. You can’t even-” He gasps for breath, leaning over and resting his hands on his knees, “They’re fucking psycho, Luke. They treat me like shit, it’s humiliating, I don’t even feel like a fucking person anymore.”
“Ok, ok slow down,” Luke runs his hands up and down Ashton’s arms, as though trying to rub away the shaking in his shoulders, and the wavering of his voice, “Jesus, Ash, what’ve they done to you?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know. I feel like nothing I do is ever good enough, and that I’m just a disappointment, and if I fail here then when I come home everyone will hate me, and I just-.”
“Ashton, calm down.” Luke’s voice is firm, “ Listen to me, you idiot, get over here. You are the furthest thing from a disappointment as it gets, do you hear me?”
Ashton’s feet carry him back and forth across the alley while his overactive mind carries his head miles above the city, where the air is thin and all he can feel is the rush of wind past his face as he falls.
“Hey! Ashton. Do you hear me?”
He is brought tumbling back to Earth with a thud upon Luke’s hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t you fucking dare call yourself that, ok? There is not a single person in that van back there, or in the entirety of the agency who thinks you’re a disappointment. The day that Ashton Irwin and the word disappointment exist in the same sentence, is the day that pigs fucking fly.”
Ashton watches an alley cat amble past a broken bottle on the stones, oblivious to the shards of glass scattered in its path.
“There are classes about you, for God’s sake, Ash. There are kids, sitting in goddamn classrooms, reading books about you, man. You’re one of the greatest this agency has ever had, are we clear? So don’t think for a second that you are disappointing any one of us, you got me?”
Ashton nods slowly, the rapid rise and fall of his chest quieting. “Yeah, I got you. Yeah.”
“Okay. And as for them,” He tosses his head of curls at the church and runs the back of his hand under his chin in one swift, violent motion. “Fuck ‘em. Fuck every single one of them. Who are they, huh? You’re Ashton fucking Irwin, man. You should be walking all over them.”
“True, that’s true.” The smell of rotting garbage is becoming more and more pronounced with each of his deep breaths. “Yeah… fuck ‘em.”
Luke nods, smiling softly now, “Ashton Irwin never needed anyone’s approval, let alone a rat’s. Soldier up, Ash. You’re the best asset we’ve got. That’s why you’re out here. We wouldn’t give it to anyone else.”
Ashton leans forward and wraps his arms back around Luke’s shoulders. Luke claps him on the back.
“Are you sure I’m not a let down?”
Luke groans, “Ashton, there is nothing you could do to make you a let down in my eyes. Not a goddamn thing.”
“You mean that?” His voice is small, tentative.
“Yes, you dumb bastard. You’re my best friend. My brother. You might make me want to gauge my eyes out on occasion, but you could never disappoint me.”
Ashton smirks at the ground, “Thanks man.” Then after a moment, “Wait, when do I make you wanna gauge your eyes out?”
Luke throws his head back in exasperated laughter, “Oh my Lord, Ash. Seriously though, are we good?”
“Yeah man, we’re good.”
They stand there, rocking back and forth on their heels, hands in pockets, refusing to look each other in the eyes. Ashton studies the patterns in the paving stones beneath his feet. He wants Luke to know just how much he means to him, that the only reason Ashton continues with this damn mission is for Luke.
“Hey, Luke,” He says, just as Luke says,
“Well I should get going.”
“Oh, ok yeah. Don’t want you to get in trouble or anything.” Ashton doesn’t try to hide the sadness in his voice.
“Yeah, and you should get back inside anyways. Don’t want you getting in trouble.”
“Yeah, God knows what would happen.”
Luke leaves him with a slap on the shoulder and a parting smile. Ashton lifts a hand to salute his retreating back, and watches until the swing of Luke’s jacket disappears behind the brick wall. He drops his hand once the tip of his partner’s shadow is no longer visible, and sighs. He wonders what Luke will do when he gets back to his apartment. What he will make for dinner. What he will watch on TV before bed. These are luxurious decisions that Ashton is starting to miss making.
He turns, startled, to see the silver zippers of Calum Hood’s leather jacket glinting in the dull light of the alley as he plunges a hand into the pockets, pulling out a box of cigarettes and a lighter.
Shit, Ashton swears, What now.
“What are you doing out here?” Calum asks, raising a cigarette to his lips, looking Ashton up and down as he lights it in a single motion.
Ashton flounders for a moment, “Uh… Came out to have a smoke. But then I realized that I’m out… so.”
“Oh, here,” Calum throws his box at Ashton’s chest, “Have one of mine.”
“Thank you.” Ashton pulls a cigarette from the box, and wedges it between his lips. It feels foreign in his mouth, the lighter bulky in his hand. He hopes Hood doesn’t notice it takes him three tries to light up. The sour tang of tobacco fills his senses, and makes the back of his throat constrict uncomfortably.
“It’s a terminal habit, Columbo. Smoking.” Calum speaks from beside him. “Shouldn’t do it, yunno.”
Ashton smiles around the cigarette. “There are worse things I could do, Signore.”
They make wary eye contact.
“I’ll tell you what,” Calum’s voice fills the alley again, “You gave me quite the beating yesterday. My ribs feel like I got trampled by a bull.”
“Sorry, signore,” Ashton says, even though he isn’t, “Not for nothing though, you didn’t exactly let me off the hook easy.” He gestures at his twice broken nose, his swollen eye, cracked lips and patchwork quilt of bruises stretching across his face. “Surprised you let me go out in public like this.”
“And now you know why I made it clear you weren’t allowed to hit me in the face,” Calum chuckles, lifting his chin, “I have an international reputation to maintain. Can’t be walking around looking like a zombie that’s been through the meat grinder.”
“Oh so that’s what I look like. Good to know, thanks.”
What the fuck am I doing? Ashton asks himself incredulously, He’s not my friend. What the hell am I doing out here?
He risks a glance at Hood who is relaxing into the cement wall behind him, hands shoved deep into pockets. He is the epitome of casual supremacy.
Pick a side. Pick a fucking side. Ashton reminds himself. He’s not your friend, Luke is your friend.
“Columbo,” Calum begins, “Can I ask you a personal question?”
Ashton widens his eyes at the wall opposite. “Uh… Sure?”
Calum takes a drag. He blows a couple o’s of smoke, watches them float away into thin air, and then turns to look at Ashton. “Why are you here?”
Ashton’s stomach lurches. His mind is suddenly wide awake, running around in full panic mode. He’s been found out, surely. “Um, I’m here ‘cause you guys brought us here… to… see Jesus?” He finishes lamely.
Calum snorts, “No, not here, here. Like in the gang. What do you want from us? From this life… why’d you pick us? Hell, with your talent, I’d think you’d work for the good guys…”
Ashton’s blood runs cold, and the cigarette between his fingers quivers a bit.
Maybe he doesn’t know, Ashton convinces himself, just keep playing. Down to the wire. Keep playing until you lose.
“Um… well, I guess I was working for ‘the good guys’ before. If you can call the military the good guys,” He spins. “ I dunno, I was deployed, active combat. The things we had to do over there… they were absolutely horrific. Like… killing innocent people left and right, raiding their houses, shooting them in front of their own children… It got to the point where I wondered, like, am I even on the right side anymore? Who are the good guys, yunno?”
It’s not a complete fabrication. Sure there have been moments in his career at the CIA where he’s questioned the reasoning behind commands, but he’s never let it get to him. He’s always known in his heart that whatever they are doing is for the greater good, and sometimes eggs have to be broken to ensure the safety of the omelette.
He takes a brief drag from his cigarette, choking down the violent coughing fit that has been knocking on the back of his throat since he lit up. “So, once my service was up, I took my leave. Came here to Rome and sort of wandered for a while. My dad, Giovanni, was an old fence. He’d always told me these stories about La Fenice, and all the incredible experiences he had with the gang. I felt like this lifestyle would fill the hole left by the war. So… called a few people… and here we are.”
Calum has been silent this entire time, blowing smoke holes into the sky, eyes boring a hole in Ashton’s shoulder. Ashton gets the feeling he isn’t satisfied.
“I wanna do something with my life, yunno? When I’m old, if I even make it that far, I want to be able to look back on my life and be proud of it. I can’t ever be proud of what I did in the service. I thought this...this lifestyle would be my chance to turn that around. I wanted to be proud of the man I am...proud of what I’m doing.” He finishes with a deep breath, tossing his cigarette onto the ground, and grinding it out with his heel. “S’all I’ve ever wanted.”
“And are you?” Hood questions, mimicking Ashton’s actions and putting his own smoke out, “Proud, I mean.”
Ashton has to think about it. Is he proud? He’s not proud of being a servant for a group of criminals, who have shown him nothing but disrespect since arriving in their home.
But is he proud of his mission and what he stands for? Absolutely, yes. It is the one thing that helps his mind settle, knowing that one day soon, the men and women around him who have done nothing but humiliate him, will one day face the consequences of their actions. When they are all behind bars, then he will be proud.
He turns to face Calum, his chest filling with air and self confidence. “Certamente. I think I have much to be proud of now.”
The leader smirks, “After yesterday, I’d agree with that. Mike is lucky to work with someone as strong as you.”
Ashton’s mother always warned him that if he rolled his eyes so much, they’d get stuck in the back of his head and he’d never see the same again. He always ignored that piece of advice.
“What, you got a problem with Mike?” Calum’s voice is laced with incredulous concern.
Ashton curses himself, “No, I mean not really. He’s just been a little pissy ever since yesterday. Thinks ‘m showing off or some shit.”
The smoke of his second cigarette is evident in Calum’s laugh. “Ah, of course he does. That’s typical of Mike.”
“Yeah, well if I’m honest, it’s getting annoying. Can’t do anything right, apparently.”
“Alright drama queen, I’ll have a chat with him. No need to get worked up over it.”
Ashton looks at him, surprised. He wasn’t expecting banter out of Hood. He’s even more surprised to see a wide smile spreading across the tan skin.
“Listen, I like you Antoni, I won’t pretend I don’t. You’re a smart guy, you’ve got skill, and you’re not a kiss ass like everyone else in this goddamn world. I’d be an idiot not to recognize you as valuable.” He trails off.
“But there are a lot of people in the gang that don’t like you, already. And you can’t afford to have enemies this early in the game. So do as Mike says, keep your head down, be careful.”
Calum’s cigarette tumbles from his fingers into a puddle that already swims with discarded litter.
“He’d go to war for you. Hell, so would Harry. Hell, so would I. But we’d rather not. We’ve got too many problems besides a big shot recruit who knows his way around a gun.” He looks up, and their eyes meet. Ashton feels like he shouldn’t be looking at all. “Understood?”
Ashton doesn’t have to answer for Calum to know his message has been received. He follows his leader dutifully back up the stairs and into the musty grandeur of the cathedral, head spinning with words that have been said, and words he wishes he could’ve said.
It is not until the car ride back to the villa that he realizes it is the first time anyone has used his alias’ first name.
Harry comes to wake Ashton up the next morning, full of grins and loud cheers.
“Rise and shine!” The door slams open, “Up up up, time to start the day!”
Ashton rolls over, groaning. He wonders how Mila deals with this kind of behavior every morning. He almost prefers Michael’s sullen sarcasm to this boisterous torture.
“Where’s Michael?” He mumbles, blearily.
“Not here. Get up, we’re going on a field trip.”
“If you get up, and get your ass in gear, then maybe you’ll find out.”
Ashton deflects the boot thrown at his face with an easy swipe of his hand. “You always like this in the morning?”
“Nope,” Harry yanks the sheets off Ashton’s body, “Decided to be extra cheerful, just to piss you off.”
Ashton’s shirt catches in the bandages on his ribs. He winces, “It’s working.”
“Good.” Harry smirks, “Finish getting dressed, meet us outside.”
For the second time, the group is ushered back into the driveway, where four black SUVs are parked next to green hedgerows.
Ashton is squashed between Harry and the cool glass of the window. He rests his head against his palm and watches the Italian countryside rush past. He wonders where they’re going. Part of him wonders if one of their tests is to find their way back to the mansion after being dropped in the middle of the Italian countryside. If that happens, he decides, he’ll desert and call Luke to be picked up.
Shut up, no you won’t, his conscious scolds, No one likes a quitter. Don’t be a fucking loser.
The wheels of the van crunch over a long gravel driveway edged by mediteranean cypress.
The house at the end of it is a terracotta masterpiece, aging yellow and covered in vines. A fountain with a spitting cherub sprinkles happily in the drive, and a sleek black Mercedes is parked behind.
The front door opens just as the cars stop next to the fountain, and a slim figure exits. He’s tall, tan, and thin as a rail with a cropped haircut and a sleeve of tattoos crawls out of his white t shirt. A cigarette dangles casually from his lips. Ashton can see why the gang is coming to see him. With his ink and nicotine addiction, he fits right in.
The gang stumbles out of the vans, shading their eyes against the bright Italian sunshine. Calum strides over to the man, and greets him with a friendly handshake, before turning to the group and announcing,
“This is Cosimo. Best fence this gang has ever had. Cosimo, tell the new kids something interesting.”
Cosimo stuffs his hands in his pockets, like a high school student who hasn’t fully prepared for his class presentation and isn’t quite sure what to say.
“Hey, my name’s Cosimo. You can call me Mo. And I’m going to be teaching you how to make fake artwork. And how to sell it. And how to get away with it.” He smiles. “So, if you’ll all come inside, I’ll get you started.”
Mo throws his cigarette into the gravel and holds the heavy oak doors open for Calum, who is followed dutifully by the rest of the gang.
The inside of the house is cool, a welcome respite from the intensity of the heat outside. It’s very clearly an artist’s home. Canvases lean against walls, furniture, and house plants. Graffiti decorates every wall. There’s a faint hint of turpentine and oil paints in the air, evidence that they have caught Cosimo in a moment of inspiration.
The artist himself leads the group through the sunny courtyard where another fountain dribbles green water from a lion’s head set into the wall. Cosimo has given the gargoyle a spray painted monocle and a red moustache.
The gang has to crouch down to make it safely down the steep stone steps to the basement. He flicks the light on, luminating several wooden tables covered in papers and paints. Cosimo instructs them all to find a table and wait for him to hand out their materials.
Ashton gestures to Mila to join him at the furthest table from the entrance. They stand, leaning against the worn wood, observing the bustle of the gang around the small space.
Cosimo has recruited Harry to carry rolls of paper and canvases to the recruit’s tables. Harry is swearing at him because everytime Cosimo adds a piece, Harry drops another. Ashton chuckles, but stops short when he notices Calum staring at him from across the room while he talks to Marcello. Ashton pretends he hasn’t noticed and diverts his attention to the marks on the table.
“He stares at you a lot, you know.”
“Huh?” He looks to his left where Mila is standing, arms crossed.
“Calum Hood. I like to watch him. He watches you. A lot.”
Ashton shifts awkwardly. He doesn’t like that other people are noticing too. “Kinda creepy.”
“I don’t know.” She shrugs, “Don’t think I’d mind if he stared at me some.”
Ashton snickers. “Yeah? Why’s that?”
“Looker isn’t he?” She smirks.
Ashton raises his eyebrows, surprised. “I guess I wasn’t really thinking about that.”
“Of course not.”
“I mean, it’s not like you don’t have men staring at you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ashton looks back over at her. She’s facing him now, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Her wild red curls are pulled back in a braid. “Well, you’ve got Harry haven’t you?”
Her cheeks tinge the color of her hair. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He laughs, nudging her with his shoulder. “Oh come on. I see the way he looks at you. Like you’ve hung the fucking moon.”
She shakes her head. “No he doesn’t.”
“Sure he does. When you won your fight I thought he might kiss you right then and there.”
She’s blushing harder now. “Stop it. He’s my mentor, he’s practically my dad.”
He’s snickering hard enough he’s surprised they’re not getting yelled at. “Oh, your dad? Or something else? Like your da-”
“Oh Madonna!” She exclaims, “Don’t even go there, Antoni, I swear to God.”
“Why not? You’re telling me nothing happened that night when he took you upstairs?”
“Shut up now!” She shoves him hard enough to make him stumble to the side.
“Alright, alright! I surrender!” He puts his hands up.
“Good, I was afraid I was going to have to give you a second black eye.” She threatens.
“Oh fuck off, I’m already in so much pain. You wouldn’t dare hurt your meal buddy.”
“You’re right, I really feel like we have a connection. Those silent looks across the dinner table are really the foundation of our friendship.”
They laugh together, ignoring the glares of their fellow initiates.
“You know I’m glad you beat Calum.” She decides.
“Yeah? Me too.”
“Don’t fuck up and get kicked out, yeah? I want it to be us.” She tells him with a nudge of her foot.
“Ok.” He grins at her, warmly. “Just for you.”
They’re quiet for a while.
“Can I be best man at your wedding with Harry if we make it through?”
His answer is a sharp kick to the shins.
Cosimo finishes passing out their materials, and moves to stand at the front of the room to give their directions.
“Right, so we’re going to focus on signature forgeries for now. It’s the easiest forgery, and one you’ll be using a lot.”
He hands Harry a piece of paper. “Sign this, please.”
Harry obeys, and Cosimo pins it to a piece of canvas on his easel.
“Right, so the easiest way to think about this is to imagine you’re just copying the lines of a painting. So, you turn the signature upside down, and just follow the lines as best you can. Don’t worry about how the letters are supposed to look, just follow the lines.”
With that bit of wisdom, the recruits are released to copy each other’s signatures. Mila spends about twenty minutes mocking Ashton’s scratchy signature, before Harry comes over and compliments her on her very haphazard work.
It’s Ashton’s turn to tease then.
“You could draw a dick on every single one of these papers, and I’m pretty sure that man would frame it and stick it on his wall.”
“Antoni, if you don’t shut your mouth I’m going to stick this pen-”
They spend the afternoon working on copying signatures of varying levels of complexity. It helps Ashton loosen up a bit, and he’ll admit, he even enjoys it a little. Laughing with Mila, working on a project, it’s almost like he’s back at the academy with his friends. Almost.
The driveway crunches outside. Cosimo looks up, confusion sketched in his face.
“Cal, we expecting anyone else?”
Calum’s brow furrows. “No? Why, someone here?”
Before anyone can answer, Bruno thunders down the stairs, fury beating in every footstep.
“Boss,” he rumbles, “We’ve got a problem.”
Ashton pretends to be very focused on the caligraphy he’s working on copying. He lets his ears wander to the conversation happening across the room.
“We’ve got company.” Bruno whispers, showing Calum an iPad with camera footage on the screen.
“Cazzo,” Calum swears, “How the hell did this happen?” His hands go to his long curls, tugging harshly at the roots.
“I’ll tell you how,” Marco spits from next to Calum’s shoulder, “We’ve got a fucking rat.”
“Sure, Marco,” Harry hisses, “And who the hell do you think that would be?”
“I’ve got a pretty fucking good idea.” Marco strides across the room, shoving papers and people out of the way until he reaches Ashton’s table.
Ashton is whirled around to face Marco’s purpling face, spit flying from his mouth onto Ashton’s forehead as he shoves him against the table.
“Thought you could get away with it, hm?” Marco shouts, chest bumping Ashton’s aggressively, “Thought we were blind?”
“Wha-What are you talking about?” Ashton asks, suddenly feeling light headed.
“Don’t fucking play games with me, pompinaro!” Marco shoves Ashton into the stone wall behind them, hands at his throat, “I know who you are, and what you’re here to do!”
Ashton’s words of self defense are cut off by Marco’s fingers pressing harder into his throat.
“No, shut the fuck up. You called the fucking polizia, you’re working for them. You’re not one of us, you never were.”
Shouts from the rest of the gang echo around the basement. Ashton can see Calum vaulting over tables.
“Don’t try to get yourself out of this one, Columbo. You’re not going anywhere.” Marco pulls his hands away from his victim, and Ashton collapses on the ground, struggling for air. A click sounds from somewhere above his head and a tall figure steps in front of him.
“What the fuck are you doing, Marco?” Harry thunders, hands outstretched in a warning.
“I’m saving the fucking gang, Styles! Or did you want to let the rat stick around and destroy us?” Marco screams.
“Shut the fuck up D’Ambrosio,” Harry’s voice is deep with fury, and his hands shake in front of him. “Shut the fuck up, you don’t know what you’re fucking saying.”
“Yes I fucking do!” The gun in his hands quivers as he steps closer, “Yes I fucking do, you’re just too fucking dumb to see it!”
“Bacha ma culo,” Harry spits, swiping the back of his hand under his chin, “If anyone here’s the dumb one, it’s you.”
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that, you stupid son of a cheating-”
“Stop it. Now.”
Calum’s voice is level, firm and commanding. Ashton looks up from behind Harry’s suit-clad legs to see him standing behind Marco’s broad and shaking shoulders, arms crossed across his chest.
“Marco, put the gun down.” He says, smoothly.
“No, I won’t. I’m going to protect my gang. Protect my family. Since you don’t seem to want to.”
“Put the gun down. Now.”
Marco’s hand trembles. There is fear in his eyes. The gun stays level with Harry’s forehead.
“Marco. The gun.”
The pistol lowers with agonizing resistance. Marco’s face has turned red with the effort.
“Thank you. Now hand it to Michael. Please.”
Michael accepts the gun with an outstretched hand, and turns to give it to his leader. Marco is ushered away by Bruno’s guiding hand.
“Harry, please move away from Columbo.”
“You gonna kill him? ‘Cause if you are, I’ll stay right here if it’s all the same to you.”
Calum sighs, “Harry, I am not going to kill a man for no reason. I’m offended you would even think I would entertain that idea. Please move.”
Ashton watches Harry’s heeled boots shuffle away from him. He wills them to come back. They’re replaced by Calum’s. Ashton looks up to see the leader crouched over him.
“Why are you here?”
Ashton stare into the dark irises is unwavering. “You know why I’m here.”
“Did you call the police outside?”
“Do you know how they might have found us.”
“Can I trust you?”
“Ok.” Calum rises to his feet, pulling Ashton up with him. His hand is rough, blistered, but warm.
“So that’s it?” Marco practically shouts, “That’s all you needed?”
He looks around incredulously to his fellow members. “Are you all hearing this shit??”
No one responds. No one dares even look at him. Calum rises to his feet and turns to regard Marco with a disinterested look.
“If he says he’s not a rat, then he’s not.”
Marco wrenches himself from Bruno’s hold, “You’re a fucking moron if you think he’s telling the truth, a goddamn idiot!” He points a finger threateningly at Calum’s nose. “You never gave a damn about this gang, Hood. And now you’re going to risk everything on a fucking rookie!? A fanabla, stronzo!”
If Marco’s outburst upset Calum, he doesn’t show it. The dark eyes stare back at the spitting gangster, unmoving.
“Marco, do you have any proof that this man is a traitor?”
“Well I- I know-” Marco sputters, grasping for words.
“No, you don’t.” Calum interrupts, “You have no evidence. And I see no reason to attack anyone without proof. Non sangue senza verita. No blood without truth. Right?”
He looks around to his gang. Everyone is nodding their heads slowly, unwilling to meet their leaders eyes.
“And right now we have bigger fish to fry. There’s a whole squad of police outside and we need to waste our time finding a way to escape.”
Cosimo steps in from the shadows. “I’ve got a tunnel out the back we can use. But we’re going to need a distraction. Someone’s gonna have to get them off our tracks.”
“And how are we doing that?”
Cosimo shrugs, thinking, “Got a couple cars in the garage. Fast cars. Get a chase going. Lose them on the cliffs. Double back on the main road and meet at the safehouse.”
Calum purses his lips, nodding in agreement. “Alright. We got any volunteers?”
Before anyone can say anything, Michael is raising his hand. “Columbo and I will go.”
Ashton looks at his mentor in disbelief. He’s just nearly escaped death and now he’s being shoved back into the line of fire, quite literally.
“Very well. Michael you know where to meet?”
“Of course. You’ll be at the Saturday safehouse right?”
“Yes. We’ll lie low there until we begin the next op.”
“Bueno. See you there.”
“Drive safe, brother.” Calum pulls his second in to clap him on the back.
“Let’s go, Columbo.”
Ashton follows his mentor up the stairs in silence, not daring to look anywhere but at the sloping grey stone of the steps.
The sun is setting. Ashton hadn’t realized they’d been down in the basement all day. Red and orange light drift through the windows, illuminating faces graffitied on the walls. It’s creepy, almost. Like the sunset is bringing the images to life.
“Stay low,” Michael instructs, “We don’t want them to see our silhouettes.”
No shit. This isn’t my first day on the job. Ashton gripes.
The garage smells of gasoline and water damage. Three sports cars lie dormant in the darkness. Michael descends the steps with a hop, and sweeps his arms in front of him.
“Pick your poison.”
Ashton sizes them up. A Ferrari, an Alfa Romeo, and an Aston Martin.
“We’re taking the Aston.” He decides, “And I’m driving.”
“Fat fucking chance.” Michael sputters, “I’m not letting you drive, are you crazy?”
Ashton rolls his eyes, whipping around to face Michael, “I just got a gun pointed in my face, I think I’m allowed this. Shut up and let me drive.”
Surprisingly, Michael doesn’t respond. Ashton takes that as permission for him to yank open the driver’s side door, and duck inside.
The garage doors creak open as the motor hums to life. Ashton smirks as the engine revs underneath him.
“Ready?” He asks Michael as the doors reach their halfway mark.
Michael tightens his seat belt and loads his pistol. “As I’ll ever be.”
The doors click into position. The police cars in front of them stand out against the setting sun like bulls in a fighting arena. Ashton takes a deep breath and shifts into first gear.
“Here we go.”
The Aston roars out of the garage, tires skidding on the loose gravel around the lip of the concrete.
“Where the fuck are you going?” Michael screeches, grabbing onto the handlebar as Ashton zooms towards the line of squad cars in front of them.
“Trust me.” Ashton growls through gritted teeth. They’re closing, close enough now that Ashton can see the white knuckles of officers behind the wheel of their cars.
“Are you planning on running into them??” Michael is sweating now, the whites of his eyes flashing in the orange light of the sunset.
Ashton doesn’t respond. Just before their bumper crashes into the cars in front of them, he yanks the wheel to the right, locking the parking brake into place and spraying a wave of gravel into the windshields of the cop cars. He moves quickly, unlocking the brake, and shoving the gear shift into reverse. The Aston whips through the space left open by officers that ran to get out of the way, and carries on down the drive, headlights bouncing off the stark faces of the police.
Ashton watches the squad cars light up with sirens and whistle blares before he rests his arm on the back of the passenger seat, and guides the vehicle between the cypress trees to the front gate, accelerator climbing with every one they pass.
At the gate, he pauses, waiting until he’s sure the red and blue lights are hot on their heels before he accelerates into the sunset.
“Where the fuck did you pull that out of?” Michael gasps, clutching at his chest in shock.
Ashton grins, tightening his grip on the wheel and glancing in the rear view mirror. The police are swerving all over the road a few meters behind them. “You ever been in a car chase before, Mike?”
“Awesome,” Ashton smirks, “We’re gonna have some fun.”
The Aston’s speedometer climbs to 70. They fly past wheat fields and straw bales illuminated by the fire of the sunset. Gravel flies up from the road, pinging off the red exterior of the car.
Chases, for Ashton, are like a symphony. The growl of the engine is the strings. The sirens are the wind instruments. The pound of his heart the percussion. And his one hand on the gear shift, the other on the wheel, the conductor.
“We’re coming into town,” warns Michael, “You’ll want to slow down.”
“Yes, you have to! We can’t fucking kill anyone.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. Shut up and let me drive.”
They enter a rotary. Ashton applies the e-brake with mechanic like precision, letting the car drift through the curve.
House fronts cruise by in blurs of white stone and black shutters. It’s a one lane road, with a stone wall on one side and a guard rail on the other.
“Where are they?” Ashton demands.
“Right behind, and closing fast.”
“You gonna do something about that?”
“You got a gun?”
Michael looks at him, disbelieving. “I’m not gonna fucking shoot at them.”
“Well you might have to.”
They’ve just turned a particularly tight corner, one that nearly sends the Aston careening into the guard rail, when a series of shots ring out and Michael ducks down in his seat, yelling,
“NOW are you going to do something?” Ashton bellows, yanking the car into a hairpin turn up a cobblestoned hill.
“What am I gonna do, I have a pistol and that’s it.” Michael clutches the center console as the car bumps over the stones.
“Well, that’s better than nothing!”
Michael makes a noise like a child trying to decide if it needs the bathroom or not.
“Michael Clifford!” The Aston swerves to miss another bullet, nearly taking out a line of flower pots. “Are you a gangster, or are you not!?”
“I am!” he assures.
“Then will you fucking grow a pair and act like it!?”
“I can’t kill them!”
“They shot first!”
“Oh my fucking God, you people are so goddamn NOBLE!” Ashton roars. The road is straight now, cobblestones having run out. Taking what he thinks is a safe opportunity, he flicks cruise control on. “Take the wheel.”
“What??” The size of Michael’s eyes rival that of the fat hydrangea blossoms in the gardens outside their window.
Ashton throws his hand out. “Take the fucking wheel and give me your gun.”
“You’re crazy,” Michael shakes his head, “You’re actually insane.”
“Well, you’re not doing anything and we need to get a few of them off our tail. So unless you’re going to find a streak of courage and stop being a dumb ass, hand it over!” Ashton insists.
The pistol is cool in Ashton’s clammy palm. The window glides down, and the evening breeze tickles the hair on his bare forearms. He can smell someone barbequing meat, and he can barely make out accordion music over the wail of the sirens behind him.
The squad cars are six in number, stacked one after the other. It’s a narrow road, so if Ashton shoots now, they’ll all be stuck in the cramped street. He remembers that in a few moments, the road will hit an intersection, and turn into a two way street.
He ducks back into the car. “Here’s the deal,” he tells Mike, “If I shoot now, they’ll all get stuck. We’re not far enough away from the house to lose all of them yet. So I’m going to wait until the main intersection, where we hit the two way road. That way I can get rid of a few, but there will be a better chance that the chase continues.”
Michael’s hands clutch the wheel, “And we want the chase to continue?”
“Yes,” Ashton assures, “We need to keep them away from the rest of the gang for a few more moments. Like Mo said, we’ll lose them on the cliffs.”
“Madonna santa,” Michael murmurs, “Ok.”
“We’re gonna be fine. Don’t worry.”
“Shut up and shoot something.”
Ashton grins and leans back out the window. He looks back. The cars behind them are still jostling for position. He looks forward. They’re nearing the turn, and it’s a lot sharper than he remembered from the drive in. His mouth tightens in a straight line. He looks in at Michael, shouting over the roar of the engine,
“You’re going to have to drift.”
“You’re going to have to drift! With the ebrake!”
“How the fuck do I do that?”
“Turn away from the curve, and then turn quickly back in. I’ll engage the clutch, and then you’ll pull the brake. Then turn back out of the curve until we’re through ‘till the straightaway.”
“And what if I do it wrong?”
“I’m shooting now, shut up!”
Ashton takes aim at the police cars. They’re closing in ever so slightly. He can make out the moustache on the driver of the lead car.
“Now Michael!” He slams his foot into the clutch as he hears Michael swearing loudly in the cabin. The Aston’s wheels screech as it enters the curve, sending up a cloud of smoke and exhaust as it spins into the drift.
Ashton looks back at their chasers. He sets his sights on the rapidly turning wheels and takes a deep breath.
The bullet buries itself in the front right tire of the first car. It crashes into the stone wall, crumpling the bumper against the grey rocks. Ashton watches the air bags go off into the passengers. The next two cars swerve to miss the crash, sneaking around the wreckage and through to the intersection. The last few cars are not as lucky. The fourth officer crashes headlong into the tail of its leader. The last two have to come to a stop short to avoid the same fate.
“Yes!” He pumps his fist, falling back into his seat. “Take that, motherfuckers!”
Michael is whooping next to him, a wide smile breaking across his face. “Fuck yes, that was awesome!”
Ashton takes the wheel back, and yanks the ebrake out of place. The speedometer climbs to 70, 80, 95.
“You take care of them?”
“Yeah. Still got two on our tails though.”
“Nah,” Ashton shakes his head. “Shouldn’t be. Shot their tires out. If they’re dumb enough to get killed in the crash, that’s not on me.”
Michael nods. They’re climbing now, up and away from the town, into the hills. The road is narrowing once again. Ashton prays that there are no other drivers in the mountains. Italians are notorious for their bravery behind the wheel, but it’s not every day they faced an Aston Martin cruising at 100 through twisting mountain roads.
“How far are we from the house, d’you think?” Ashton asks Michael.
“I’d say a good ways,” Michael responds, twisting in his seat to look at their pursuers. “Easily 10k by now.”
Ashton shifts his grip on the wheel. “Alright. Let’s lose these bastards.”
The Aston’s engine groans under Ashton’s foot as it climbs steadily higher into the mountains. The road is framed with brush, no guardrails stand between them and the steep drop into the valley. Ashton works hard to avoid looking over the edge as the car zooms around the switchback turns.
They hit a straight away at the top of the climb. Ashton takes the opportunity to let the car open up, watching the needle click past 150 mph. They’re nearing a turn and he can hear Michael warning him to slow down, least they continue straight through the curve and off the mountain. Ashton ignores him, preparing for the high speed turn. The symphony of the chase swells louder in his ears.
With every turn, the passengers in the cherry red Aston are flung from side to side. Ashton can feel his heart sloshing around in his chest, hammering in his ribs like the steady churn of the engine. They’re approaching the final turn. The sirens are still hot on his tail.
They round the corner to a straightaway. They’re closing in on a railroad crossing. The lights are flashing wildly, the bars on their way down. Ashton presses down on the accelerator. The car groans underneath him.
“Antoni, we’re going to die.”
“No we’re not.”
Ashton can see the train in the distance. It’s closing. They’re 50 meters away.
“Can we off road?”
“This car was not built for offroading. It’ll kill it.”
“Ok better the car than us!”
20 meters. The bar is down. The lights scream a warning.
“If we make it through this alive, I’m going to kill you.”
“Don’t be dramatic”
Ashton floors it. The car roars through the stop, crashing through the red and white bar, and hurtles over the tracks. Ashton can feel the wind from the train crossing behind them.
“Fuck yes! Fuck! Yes!” He slams the steering wheel in triumph. “We just fucking did that!”
Michael is groaning in pain next to him. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
The drive to Orvieto begins in silence. The only sound is the steady rumble of the engine, and Michael’s occasional gasp as he recovers from the afternoon’s excitement. They’re just turning off the freeway, when Michael turns to look at Ashton and says,
“You know, I’m sorry… For what I said the other night.”
Ashton looks at him, unsure what to say.
“I didn’t mean it. I was just worried about… you know. Losing another recruit.”
Ashton nods. He can understand where Michael was coming from.
“And, you did a great job in that fight against Cal. And just now in the chase. I mean you really are talented.” He pauses, “Maybe I’m just jealous.”
“Nah, man,” Ashton assures, “You’re all good. You have no reason to be jealous of me, I promise you.”
“If you’re sure.” Michael snorts. “Although, you weren’t the pussy who couldn’t shoot out a couple of police cars.”
Ashton chuckles slightly, “No, I get it. You were worried about wasting innocent lives. Sometimes I wish I could have that kind of discipline.”
“Well that’s why you’re here right?”
“I guess so.”
There’s a beat of silence. Michael instructs him to turn onto a dirt side road, at the end of which is a sunken farmhouse accompanied by a rusty barn. The kitchen light is on. Ashton can see Harry and Calum sitting at the table talking.
Ashton parks the Aston in front of the barn, and flicks the lights off. Michael swivels in his seat to face him head on.
“So we’re good?”
“Of course, man. I can’t exactly be mad at you. I feel like that’s against gang policy.” Ashton nods.
“Yeah and I can’t be mad at you. You did just pull some crazy moves back there.”
They’re met at the door by Calum.
“Good, you made it.” He greets, pulling Michael into a brotherly hug.
“All thanks to Antoni, here.” Michael claps Ashton on the back, “He’s a bad ass behind the wheel.”
“Well thank you,” Calum offers a handshake to Ashton, “We owe you one.”
“S’alright,” Ashton shakes the extended hand. “ Still worried I’m a traitor to the gang?”
“No,” Calum grips his hand, “I’m not that kind of man.”
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Fic: Ride Off Ch VIII
Yes, believe it or not I have in fact, updated this fic. I hope you enjoy it.
For those who haven’t read the rest (or can’t remeber what happened last because its been 467 years since the last chapter you can find the rest of the story, along with my other work, here
Claire never made it to the Ham Club to watch Jamie. Her two night shifts turned into four after her colleague got food poisoning. Jamie was heading straight from Ham, back to the Ridge and then heading off to Harrogate for a two day tournament first thing on Sunday morning. On Jamie’s return south, Claire was once again on nights whilst Jamie drove to Plymouth to look at a horse.
As a result it was almost ten days after Ascot before they saw each other again and their diametrically opposing schedules meant that they had only been able to grab a few snatched telephone calls. Jamie was frantic. Whilst they had made up after their heated discussion outside the Greys’ house and had returned to London and made love, Jamie felt twitchy. The separation coming so quickly on the heels of that event and his declaration of his feelings that followed had made him feel vulnerable and unsure. As a result when he discovered Claire had a weekend off he cancelled the medium goal matches he had agreed to play in and arranged to drive down to London and spend the weekend with her. He was parked outside the hospital waiting for her and reading Polo magazine when there was a tapping at the window. Looking up he spied a vaguely familiar looking woman. It took him a moment to place her before he realised she was the redhead from the bar and Claire’s friend. He rolled down the window.
“Well, if its no the wee fox cub” The redhead said archly before holding out her hand to him. “Geillis. I know we’ve met before but we’ve never been introduced”
“Jamie” He replied. “How’s Armand?” Whilst Claire might not have made it out to Ham, he knew from the other players that Geillis certainly had and that Armand was currently in the thrall of a red headed scottish lass which had led to many jokes about whether or not she was Jamie’s sister.
“Ah, he’s verra well, thank you.” Geillis smiled enigmatically. “So I hear Claire managed to talk you into a weekend in the city?’
“Aye, I canna remember the last time I spent a full weekend in London through choice” He laughed and Geillis smiled.
“Aye, well, I have to run, I am taking Armand to Brighton for the weekend. I hope ye and Claire have a verra good weekend.” She paused a second. “She likes ye. A lot. If ye hurt her I will kill you with a shovel.” There was another pause and Geillis shrugged. “A vague disclaimer is no one’s friend”
Jamie didn’t get a chance to reply before Geillis was off down the street. At that moment the passenger door opened and Claire climbed in. She looked tired, but to Jamie’s eyes infinitely radiant. She leaned over and kissed him briefly on the mouth before asking
“Was that Geilis?”
“What did she want?”
“To tell me she was going to murder me with a shovel” Claire laughed out loud.
“Yep, that sounds like Geillis. Now can you please start this car, if I don’t get into the shower in the next half an hour I might actually cry.”
They chatted idly as they drove and Jamie felt the knot in his stomach that he had carried since Ascot ease slightly. Claire lolled around in the passenger seat yawning vastly and dramatically which made Jamie laugh.
She visibly made an effort to pull herself together sitting up in her seat.
“So, what do you want to do since I’ve lured you to the Big Smoke? I don’t suppose you’re fussed for the usual tourist adventures? I mean given you actually play polo with Prince Charles AND have his phone number, a trip to Buckingham Palace probably isn’t that appealing to you is it?”
“Weeel, I have been once or twice already” he grinned looking at her out of the corner of his eye as he steered his car into his street. “How about we just do the kind of ‘city things’ that ye would usually do?” Despite speaking the phrase ‘city things’ in the same tone of voice that might usually be reserved for satanic worship or other such unknown quantities, Jamie liked the idea of a change of pace. They’d spent much of their short relationship trying to navigate his world and he wanted to spend some time with her in hers.
“Well…” said Claire thoughtfully. “Normally, I’d have a lie in and then head off to the cafe down the road. I’d usually meet Louise and Geillis, but we’ll maybe miss that step for now. Then I might do some shopping or something. It’s really not very exciting.”
“What you mean your glamourous life in the city isna all endless parties and snorting cocaine from bathroom window sills? Sassenach, I am shocked. Especially having met Geillis”
Claire laughed out loud at this. “I am afraid to say, that our lives are the exact opposite of that. Though I’m sure I can think of a thing or two that will keep you entertained between now and Sunday” She waggled her eyebrows at him in a suggestive manner.
“Aye, I have no doubt about that”
Part of Claire had been worried he wouldn’t show. She knew that she had overreacted to Geneva’s digs but it was bloody hard dealing with these women everywhere she seemed to go. Jamie had been gentle and open with her. But also hurt. And whilst they had seemingly made up, the enforced separation and snatched phone calls that followed only seemed to highlight the incredibly different world in which they inhabited. His was a life of perpetual motion, matches, horse sales, practice. She felt almost staid in her life my comparison and restless in a way that she never had before. She found herself constantly looking for something and then realising that the thing she was missing was Jamie.
She sighed with relief when she saw his blue Range Rover parked by the pavement, and only mildly concerned to see Geillis trotting away from it. She hadn’t mentioned their argument to her or Louise and Geillis, fully loved up with the handsome Armand had her own stories to tell anyway. Getting in she had been relieved to see that Jamie looked genuinely happy to see her. She felt herself relax slightly and busied herself with pointing out various places of not much interest to Jamie on the way to her flat.
“And that’s where Geillis had to climb over a garden wall to avoid a policeman after she’d climbed up on a skip and stolen several of the letters from the front of the Odeon..”
Jamie laughed and she felt the ball of tension that she had been carrying with her unravel a little more.
When they arrived at her flat Jamie had frog marched her to her bathroom, pushed her inside, kissed her softly and then retreated, pulling the door closed behind him “Have your shower, a nighean.”
Claire was torn between the desire to have a lightning quick shower and get back to Jamie and the need to wash away the smell and the feeling of the hospital. She had done a thorough hair removal that morning in case Jamie had decided to take her in the hallway. Her disappointment that he hadn’t was tempered greatly by the relief she felt at the hot water hitting her aching muscles. When she emerged 15 minutes later she felt 5 years younger and more optimistic than she had felt in a while.
After throwing on shorts and a t-shirt, Claire wandered into the front room, her hair beginning to curl again as it dried. Jamie was sat on the floor surrounded by her extensive collection of take away menus. He raised an eyebrow at her, indicating the number of paper flyers.
“This is London, my dear boy. You can get any cuisine on Earth delivered to your door providing you are willing to wait 45 minutes to an hour”
Jamie pretended to look shocked and Claire laughed.
“Tis fierce overwhelming to a mere country lad like myself. The choice, the sophistication.” Claire laughed again.
“Seriously though, Sassenach, do ye *ever* cook?”
“Honestly? Not really, and trust me when I say the world might be a better place for it. I have maybe three things I do well and the rest well, sometimes it tastes better than it looks. If the way to your heart is through your stomach, I haven’t a chance”
Jamie reached for her hand then, and pulled her down to him.
“Sassenach, I would eat pony nuts if it meant I could be with you” Claire smiled, running her finger down his cheek.
“Well, I think I can do *slightly* better than that. How do you feel about Thai?”
Jamie awoke early the next morning. Even on a residential street the noise of the city seemed riotous to someone who spent the majority of his time in a bedroom that’s nearest human neighbour was nearly a mile away. The midsummer sun was already half up, casting a pinkish glow across the room, from the gap in the curtains. He turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Much as he wanted to reach out and touch Claire, to feel the smooth warmth of her skin under his fingers he was reluctant to wake her. She’d been on nights for close to a week and the dark shadows under her eyes last night spoke of her exhaustion. He’d spent the last 10 days thinking. Whilst the last 12 hours had done much to relieve his worry that events from Ascot might still be an issue between them, he knew that it didn’t change that there was an issue. One that would become increasingly difficult to handle once he went to play for Helwater at the beginning of the new season. He knew Geneva of old and had always quite liked, her admiring her driven nature, what she wanted she always seemed to be able to achieve whether it was a successful season of eventing, a charity gala to be made a success or a polo player to be seduced. But now that drive had turned his way it seemed much less admirable and much more daunting. Geneva was driven and determined but she was also vengeful and mean. This he also knew about her. She would not stop her pursuit of him easily, because it was no longer about her wanting him. It was about her unwillingness to take the loss. And Claire could never be comfortable in a situation like that. However, he now had the faintest glimmer of hope that the situation might just improve slightly.
Although he had yet to tell Claire, Jamie had spent an hour on the telephone and another two hours in person with Lord Dunsany over the course of the last few days. Jamie had stated, that regretfully he would not be able to join Helwater in September and offered to use his extensive connections to find him another high goal pro. Later on Thursday, when still nothing had been firmly decided, Jamie’s phone had rung again.
“James, it’s Louisa here” It took Jamie a minute to realise it was Louisa Dunsany, whom he had known most of his life and was extraordinarily fond of, but to his knowledge had never once called him on the phone before now. “Louisa, how are ya?” Jamie assumed straight off that she could only be calling about his new found reluctance to join Helwater.
“I’m very well James. Very disappointed to hear about you changing your mind about joining us? William is dreadfully het up over it and is being an absolute bear. He was *so* looking forward to you joining us.”
“Aye, well…” Jamie fumbled around. He had been boxing round the real issue all week, because regardless of the truth of the matter he didn’t feel it particularly professional or appropriate to tell the man that his eldest daughter was the reason for reneging on an agreement which had been the best part of twelve months in the making.
“Oh do calm down, James.” Louisa Dunsany’s clipped accent cut across his inarticulate babble. “Anyway, on what I am sure is an entirely unrelated note, I was just ringing to mention that Geneva is going to be spending a year in Kentucky. She wants to work on her eventing and there have been whispers that if she can focus on her training she could make the Olympics. William and I are obviously frightfully keen for that to happen and given the regretful affair with Tom Christie, we have decided that if she stays her England she simply has far too many diversions.” Louisa paused here leaving Jamie in no doubt that she knew full well just how Geneva had hoped she might distract herself. “So she will spend a year in the states. She leaves in early October. Anyway James, whilst I am sure this has makes no difference to you, I thought I might tell you are news. Geneva did always so admire your horsemanship…” Louisa let the sentence hang in the air for a moment before picking up again.
“Anyway that’s our news, so I was ringing to invite you and your lady friend to the leaving do. We’ll have it during Deauville and Geneva will fly off a week or so later.” She paused again. “I do know William has plans to ring you again later, he really is hoping you change your mind. He is convinced Helwater will be invincible with you and the Greys. Plus I imagine anything must be an improvement on playing with that appallingly crass uncle of yours.” He could practically hear her nose wrinkle in distaste. “How a man like that can have been raised in the same house and Collum and Ellen MacKenzie I have no idea. Anyhoo, James. Have to dash. See you in Deauville”
And with that there was a click and she was gone.
Jamie had sat down at the kitchen table running his hands through his hair. Five minutes later his phone had run again and he took a phone call with William Dunsany where he had agreed to join Helwater for the next season.
Jamie smiled to himself in the half light. Maybe things would be ok after all.
Jamie and Claire took their time getting up that morning spending several hours reacquainting themselves with each others bodies, once they did rise however, they spent a riotous afternoon in the wine bar down the road, where they drank far too much and ate far too little and finally staggered out just as the sun was starting to set. Wandering down the street, hand in hand with her, Jamie felt young in a way he hadn’t since before his accident. In this moment, he wasn’t Jamie Fraser with a string of ponies and grooms relying on him, he was just Jamie Fraser, boyfriend of Claire, a young man who had slightly too much to drink on a Saturday walking down the street with the woman he loved.
He turned to her, “Sassenach, how would ye feel about coming to Deauville with me?” Claire looked unsure. “I don’t know Jamie, whilst I know I can’t avoid the polo scene forever if we are going to keep seeing each other, the idea of being trapped in France with no one but the polo scene isn’t hugely appealing to me. Not right now. Its, it’s just too soon, Jamie.” She sounded sad and Jamie sighed with resignation. “Aye, mo nighean, I understand, would it change ye mind at all if I told you one of the parties would be Geneva’s leaving party? Before she heads off for a year in the States.”
Claire rounded on Jamie. “Oh My God? What happened?”
Jamie filled Claire in on the full story as they strolled down the streets, Claire laughed out loud when he got to the bit about Louisa’s phone call.
“Subtle as a sledge hammer, I can see where Geneva gets her tact from” She pulled Jamie closer to her side as she linked her arm through his, enjoying the warmth of him in the cooling evening air.
“Aye, I think when you are as posh as Louisa you dinna actually have to have any” They both laughed at that. And Jamie put his arm around her.
“So, will ye re-consider Deauville. Just come down for the last weekend. If I am in the final ye get to witness my moment of glory…” Jamie said this with a wryness that made Claire smile “...and if I’m not I’ll take ye sightseeing then show ye off at the Dunsany’s party.”
“I’ll think about it Jamie, let me see what work is like.” Although Claire was warming to the idea, she still had doubts and was determined to think it through properly before committing herself to even a weekend of the Genevas, Arabellas, Maxies and Chessies of this world.
“Aye, just promise me you’ll do that” They had reached Claire’s front door and as Claire opened the door he drew her to him once again placing a soft kiss on her forehead. “Let’s go upstairs now, my Sassenach. Let me love ye.”
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Bad Vegetarian | Feeding Habits #1
Hey People of Earth!
As you can see from the title, not only do we have a new series of writing updates, we have a new series of writing updates for a whole new novel that was! not! supposed! to! happen!
For any of my friends who miss Moth Work (aka myself), guess who started writing a sequel literally no one asked. :)
I’ve had ideas for spinoff stories for Moth Work (as if MW wasn’t enough of a spinoff) and was peer pressured into starting this novel by @sarahkelsiwrites and I’m really happy about it! I have yet to come up with a title, but the moment I do, shall inform you, but for now, we’re calling this MW2!
This book (if it even ends up being a book) starts with chapter one, Bad Vegetarian. Unlike MW, MW2 starts in Lonan’s POV (not sure I’ll switch but I’m sure it’ll be inevitable), and I’m here for it!
I’ve been wanting to explore Lonan and Eliza’s relationship in more detail since having them come together in MW by complete fluke, and oh! is the tea piping!
This chapter really illustrates how truly dysfunctional this relationship is on both sides. Here’s a break down by scene:
Lonan is paint shopping with Eliza who has just gone vegetarian (which is the def the most normal thing she’s spontaneously done lately). Eliza feels like celebrating by painting their entire kitchen red.
Lonan particularly is drawn to blues, but since this ain’t what Eliza wants, they go with a brilliant red.
Lonan lines the kitchen with painter’s tape as Eliza bothers their neighbours for paint rollers, while trying to convince himself this relationship is still somewhat okay.
While doing this, he gets his weekly call from Unknown Woman who he’s been in contact with for the last few weeks. What for? We don’t know! They talk in code, and he realizes Unknown Woman’s situation is getting worse, and impromptu, tries to do something about it.
Lonan and Eliza bump into each other as he’s exiting the apartment and she’s entering, and have a short, strained conversation about why he’s leaving (she’s not aware of top secret phone calls that make this book feel lowkey like the old dystopians!)
Lonan attempts to drive to Unknown Woman but only knows she lives in Arizona (not great for directions lol). While in the car, he realizes it’s essentially impossible to get there without knowing where he’s going, and eventually gives up and heads home.
Lonan re-enters the apartment only to find Eliza “bleeding” in the kitchen. She’s actually just being wild and this “blood” is wall paint.
If we haven’t already seen the dysfunction, oh does it get worse! As Lonan and Eliza try to have a *moment* Eliza has a conversation by herself and gets a lil gaslighty.
Halfway through this, Lonan gets a phone call from Unknown Woman who we finally find out is his ex-girlfriend Glenne. Sounds like tea but he’s genuinely only helping her out of her toxic situation (which will be clarified later) though Eliza’s skeptical.
This chapter was a lot of fun to write! I wrote a majority of it today, and am really happy to have a *chill* project. While I love my other books (the three I am apparently now working on at once), it’s nice to have a place to dump my ideas with characters I know very well in situations I’m comfortable in whenever I feel like writing but don’t have tons of time/ideas/energy.
Here are the opening three paragraphs! The first sentence sets up the POV a little weirdly, but I think it works with a later sentence that sort of mimics this “reminder” kind of style:
There are no rules, just remember, Eliza is vegetarian. She’s into earth tones, neutral tones, leafy greens, root vegetables. It’s all new. The day she announced her diet change, she also announced a desire to repaint the kitchen, to fit the new aura, to fit the new ethics, but she wants to paint the kitchen blood red, and Lonan is still a meat-eater. He reminds himself: there are no rules, just remember, Eliza is vegetarian.
In the hardware store he thumbs paint chips. They’re set up in an array, almost like checkers, dissolving in a gradient from reds to purples. Eliza wants red, “Not necessarily earthy, but the root of organism, of life,” so Lonan looks at the blues. They’re all a variant of a seaside theme—Sea Breeze, a cloud-like blue, Beach Umbrella, a wispy aqua, Seafoam Serenade, muted like the soft side of a turquoise. Repainting the kitchen matters little to him, and so do the blues, but the red section, devilish, makes him shuffle his blue deck faster.
Radio from the store’s intercom tins through the speakers, dampened by the hustle of carts, the thud of bodies against the concrete flooring. He holds many cards up to the light, Secret Getaway and Parisian Summer almost the exact shade, but still he flicks through, until half the pile is indistinguishable, and the other half are blues he likes and not reds, like Eliza’s asked.
The next excerpt sort of highlights the last six months of Lonan’s life as he’s been on this whirlwind of keeping up with all the things Eliza has tried. I have added kudzu pudding and other kudzu food just for my pals @sarahkelsiwrites and @shaelinwrites (rlly want kudzu pudding):
Her sudden vegetarianism is not confusing to him. Eliza tries new things all the time, something he’s learned after living with her for half a year. One time, she brought home four different kinds of dried beans to make into tea, and together they drank it atop the balcony, the Vegas strip across them somehow tasting better. One time, they ate a variety of kudzu foods for a week because Eliza said invasive species had to be killed somehow, and so they spooned kudzu pudding into their mouths, kudzu root powder into their water, kudzu salads with salted almonds. One time, she put them on a warmth ban, and they ate only frozen peas, potatoes, raspberries, turned the thermostat down until every surface crackled. She liked the feeling of subtle frost on the countertops, how it jolted her when she touched it accidentally in the morning. He found her many mornings awake before him, transfixed to the table with both palms soldered to its surface, like she’d forgotten she wasn’t a part of it. One time, she paid to have the furniture in the house rearranged, not good enough for her spirit, and then reverted it two days later. “The couch doesn’t like being so close to the refrigerator,” and he could’ve asked “did you ask it?” but said, “Understandable. It shouldn’t be forced to catch a draft.” So her vegetarianism is normal. Already, she’s switched their meat supply to beetroots, chickpeas, tofu she rips apart bare-handed. For the last three mornings, they’ve both taken a shot of spinach and gingerroot, a liquid that burns to make you feel alive, as if you weren’t already.
The next excerpts kind of surprised me with their amount of humour! Not something I expect from Lonan, but I’m glad he has some sass back lol (CW: some upsetting animal imagery):
There is nothing wrong in this relationship. Everything is Eliza’s new favourite adjective—stunning. Everything is scrubbed with kitchen bleach, glittering like a plasticky pool float in the shallow end, stunning. Everything is planned, put in a calendar, a notebook, a flitter of receipts, but always planned, stunning. Everything is better, even better than better, a better that can only be described as stunning.
Lonan uses this word frequently now, rolling out a strip of blue painter’s tape and trying to find different ways it stuns. Sticks when he sticks, peels when he peels, keeps its edge when it needs to keep its edge, so it’s stunning. The bubble television is turned onto a channel about sheep, and as he lines the baseboards, outlets, catches glances of a sheer buzzing against skin, sometimes a hunting knife slicing until there’s blood.
Eliza is asking a neighbour for paint rollers because they bought four cans of wall paint, two paint trays, a box of garbage bags, three rolls of painter’s tape, and a small paintbrush each for both of them but forgot the rollers. Stunning.
The following excerpt highlights that Lonan has a cellphone! Is Fostered just a bizarre alternate reality of a time period that doesn’t exist? Perhaps! (CW: some upsetting animal imagery):
Today, they’ll prime the cabinets, the walls, and tomorrow, scroll a coat of red onto both. The kitchen will look more like the inside of an anatomical heart, the sinks and drawers like ventricles, but this is Eliza’s vision—her tastes come alive.
The sheep are being herded by a collie. As Lonan rips another strip of tape with his teeth, he stares at the screen mounted in the corner, at the almost-naked sheep dashing across a field. How many will be slaughtered, he doesn’t know. The narrator must’ve said that, but there is no plan, really, for death. Even for sheep.
He kneels toward the kitchen vent, the tape roll linked around his wrist, and smooths a line of tape down. Eliza doesn’t want to paint the vent—it wouldn’t complete her vision—and so it will remain the original wall colour, a square of cream so worn, it’s almost grey.
Here we have some hints at Eliza’s weirdness:
He straightens and looks at her. She’s bundled in her fur coat even though she has always insisted she’s good at even Vegas’ warm winter. Since going vegetarian, she’s insisted it’s fake, even though he’s read the lining tag—100% mink. He doesn’t know why she’s needed her coat when she’s only walked up a few flights of stairs but doesn’t care to ask.
She approaches him with her thumb out, and when that thumb presses into his eye socket, he flinches.
“What happened here?” she smooths the dip of his under eyes, her fingertips cold. He smells her perfume, different today, always different, a smell like cloves and lavender. “Are you sleeping?” She presses onto her toes, examines the other side, and her frown deepens. “This doesn’t look like eight hours.”
“I’m sleeping,” he says, though they both know this is a lie. It’s taken her two weeks to notice.
“I can run to the pharmacy,” she says. “If you need a refill.”
“I didn’t notice this morning—I would’ve given you another energy shot.”
Here’s a line I like because of a) skin and b) sun:
Lonan goes nowhere. This is not his plan. Asphalt whips under the skin of each tire, the setting sun wringing him blind.
Fully sharing this for the verb zags (and also because I accidentally roast cities tho I love them I am one of these blink-less people):
He doesn’t know where he’s going. Arizona is the only thing he knows about her, doesn’t know if she lives in an apartment, a duplex, a house—fully detached, semi-detached. As he pulls into a residential neighbourhood somewhere along the vague line he’s drawn on the map from Las Vegas to Arizona, he watches for all these options. In the distance, a jogger zags across the street with her golden retriever, children play basketball on a driveway, still in their school uniforms, another woman clips the wilted stems off a magnolia bush.
It’s when he gets closer to the apartments that the sameness is noticeable. High-rises with pearlescent windows that go pinkish in the sunset—all of them identical. Each building evenly spaced, more like a board game than a place to live. Even the space around each building is the same—the same rose hedges, the same iron fence, the same people bustling in and out, all wearing some variation of the same pantsuit, all holding some other hand—child, partner, lover. The same haircuts, smiles, eyes like marbles, as if there’s a store somewhere that sells copies, a catalogue for eyes that don’t blink. He’s been looking into the sun for too long, there must be a difference, but the longer he looks, the more indistinguishable they become.
To get out of explaining where he wants to go when he and Eliza bump into each other, Lonan says he’s visiting his sister (Reeve), and because she’s iconic and must make an appearance, here’s a line ft. our queen:
He could make the lie true. Reeve is somewhere in the country, he imagines, dancing in a faceless city, living in a motel room, tipping everyone well.
(^^ all true)
Here we have Lonan identifying with the animals more than anything else for the second time in one chapter (TW for more blood imagery):
Lonan hooks the car keys onto the lanyard by the front door and slings his coat across the couch. The television is set to the same channel as before, though the program has switched from sheep slaughter to birdwatching. On screen, a heron perches by a riverbed, opalescent in the sunshine.
“Did you hurt yourself?” he asks, the heron now frisking up the white bark of a tree. He glances at the fluorescent red dripping between her fingers, pattering against the tile.
“I was opening the paint cans.”
“With a kitchen knife?”
He gestures to the blade on the counter, blood-free, newly sharpened.
“It’s all I had on hand.” She pulls her wrist closer to her, runs her index finger along the injured area.
“I washed it, Lonan.”
This next one has some blood imagery so TW for that!
The heron has moved closer to the riverbed. It watches the water knowingly, its subtle simmer of movement, and after a moment of watching, strikes its beak down so it spears a trout. He misses the part where it eats. Eliza’s clicked off the TV from behind him.
She slams the remote onto the counter so hard, its back clatters off and onto the tile. “I cut my arm with a kitchen knife while opening paint cans. It happens.”
“I don’t see a cut.”
“Why would I make that up?”
“I don’t see a cut.”
She walks toward him. He expects her to shove her wrist in his face, but she doesn’t. She just holds it, some of the blood fluorescing pink, splashes onto her toes.
“You got to see your sister?” she asks.
Eliza clucks her tongue, examining her wrist, and then she extends her arm, revealing the full patch of pale skin gone red.
Lonan takes it, and with his fingernail carves a line through the red to reveal the healthy patch of skin, painted, uncut.
And finally, here’s the last line of this excerpt that essentially explains where the title comes from ft. predator VS prey symbolism:
He’s reminded once more of the heron, how it plunged into the riverbed with ease, and the trout dangling in its beak, its commitment to life most fervent the moment before being consumed.
So that’s going to be it for this update! I don’t know how frequently I’ll be writing this, but it’s been a lot of fun so far. I’m excited to explore more relationships I haven’t turned over in a while as a little side project while I do other things! Hope y’all enjoyed!
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What Paints are Good for Historical Miniatures Beginners
(This article is credited to Jason Weiser. Jason is a long-time wargamer with published works in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers; Miniature Wargames Magazine; and Wargames, Strategy, and Soldier.)
Having been a wargamer for 37 years and a miniatures (tabletop) gamer for 34 of those, I tend to get one question from a lot of novices - “What’s a good paint brand to use?” The truth is, everyone has their favorite brand, and everyone has their likes and dislikes. Some paints are, confessedly, better than others. At least, in my humble opinion, they are. But you are reading this because you did just want my opinion, right?
I am going to stick to paint brands I am familiar with. And the first thing I am going to tell you is the first rule of paint selection I learned and never forgot in 34 years as a miniature wargamer.
USE ACRYLIC PAINT!
Acrylic paints are just better all around. They mix easier, are cheaper overall, and clean up a lot easier than oil-based paint. Your cleaning solvent for acrylic paint is as close as your sink tap! However, don’t get any on the carpet. No paint is coming out of that easily! Also, another tip: Use flat paints. Gloss does not look good on historical figures, or any sort of wargaming figures for that matter.
So, with that, let’s get started.
Vallejo is, to me, the best general-purpose hobby paint line out there. Most of the line comes in 17ml eyedropper bottles and are clearly labeled as to the contents. (Pro tip: Put the Vallejo stock number on the cap, as it’s a good way to know what’s in the paint bottle). The paints themselves are of a good quality, but you have to be careful how much you load your brush as they aren’t pre-thinned. You’ll need a palate to use the paints, but that’s a plus as a bottle can go a long way. Many of their Model Colors and Panzer Aces lines correspond to historical colors, which is also a plus, and many tutorials have the Vallejo Model Colors or Panzer Ace stock numbers as default color listings, so matching colors to the cool tutorial for “How to paint your Bolt Action 28mm Hungarians,” for example, is a snap.
Vallejo is my go-to brand, and I really recommend it for the novice painter. They also come in sets with everything you need for a given subject (in fact, Vallejo even markets specific sets for Flames of War and Team Yankee. A big plus for you guys!). However, be careful of the Model Air and Game Air sets, as they’re meant for airbrushes and do not take well to brush painting. That said, if you have an airbrush, they’re a good solid set of colors to start with.
One of the other things I like about Vallejo is it’s a full-service line. They sell primers, spray paints that match their Model Colors and Game Colors (Fantasy) lines, and just everything you might need. As your painting and techniques improve, they have the product for you. You just cannot go wrong with Vallejo.
Army Painter is another fine beginner-friendly line. I use a lot of their specialty products (their ready mixed tones and washes and their tools), but their paints are awesome.) They offer a good pigment and also come in the eyedropper bottle, like Vallejo. I am a little bummed they don’t have direct matches (or attempts at matches) to historical colors, but I really like their reds. It’s a really vibrant color that stands out on a figure (Pro Tip: Use grey primer instead of black.
It’s a lot easier to paint red, yellow, or even white against, useful for those yellow Spanish or White Austrian Napoleonic uniforms). You also get a little more for your money at 18ml of paint in a bottle. The paint lines also come in beginner-friendly sets and tend to be a bit cheaper than Vallejo. Get the Warpaints Starter Paint Set pictured below:
It comes with your ten basic colors, a brush, some shading which will do wonders for the looks of your models, and a very handy instruction manual. If you’re a novice painter who’s never picked up a brush, this is the set to get.
Reaper is also another line of paints where you “can’t go wrong.” I find their flesh tones very high quality and would recommend them over any paint line outside of Foundry (more on that later). Reaper also has paint sets, and it will take a lot of work to match them to historical colors, but it can be done.
Their eyedropper bottles come in a little smaller than either Army Painter or Vallejo, but the paint is also a bit cheaper in the States as Reaper is an American company (Vallejo’s based in Spain and Army Painter is mostly based in the UK). Reaper has its own beginner sets, and while they’re fantasy-oriented, the paints work as well for virtually anything. It also has its own carrying case.
They’re slightly more expensive than the Starter set Army Painter puts out though, but you do get a lot more for your money with a carrying case, 11 bottles of paint, two brushes, and an instruction guide. You also get an empty paint bottle if you want to preserve mixtures, and a few free fantasy minis (gotta practice your historical schemes somewhere, right?). It also has a very useful instruction manual that will give you some useful tips on how to paint.
While both lines are great and have a lot of specialty options, these really aren’t paints for the beginner model painter. Heck, it took yours truly a while to crack the code on both colors. Are they good colors? Yes. They both have the nice eyedropper bottle setup and are just wonderfully pre-thinned paints that brush on or work well in an airbrush. And they both have a ton of specialty colors that match the historical wargamer’s needs (especially 20th-century conflicts). However, they’re not for beginners. But once your skills increase, give them a try. Trust me, you will love the results (Pro Tip: They look especially good with an Army Painter wash).
I rather like Foundry, especially their non-Caucasian flesh tones. Often, their other colors are a bit off. The paint is a bit thicker than Vallejo, but if you thin it out just right, you get some really vibrant results. Moreover, I love their “Triad” system, where they sell the same color in three different shades including a base, a shade, and a highlight. While this means they don’t sell singles, or at least I haven’t seen it, it does mean you get a system that works well for a lot of subjects. They even wrote a book about it by Kevin Dallimore (who’s probably one of the best painters out there).
It’s a weighty tome, but it’s worth it, and it has a wealth of historical subjects and details on “how to paint them.” My biggest complaint about Foundry? The bottles. I really do wish they’d go over to the eyedropper model. I don’t love paint pots, though you do get a lot of paint per bottle (20ml). The cap can become hard to close the more you use the paint, which then leads to dried out paint.
Solutions to the problem include either:
Getting a pipette set, empty eyedropper bottles from Reaper or Army Painter, and transferring the paint,
This idea from Dr. Tabletop.com, where with a bit of work, you remove the cap, snap on the spout and voila! Instant eyedropper bottle.
Many people swear by Citadel as an option for beginning painters (especially with their new Contrast system.) More often than not, though, Citadel is as hit or miss. Sometimes, like with some of the Contrast colors, you can get a really nice shade and wash pattern (the reds in the system, for example, would do well for British uniforms from the 17-19th Century, for example), but less vibrant colors, such as greens or greys, don’t do as well in the system. And, you have to prime white with Contrast colors, or at least a light grey. This means, if you miss a spot, it’s going to be rather obvious.
That said, there have been good results with some figures (especially science fiction projects, but that shouldn’t differ from Historical miniatures). The main issue is this, Citadel has two major problems. One, it’s expensive, especially the Contrast paints at $7 a bottle for 18ml. And second? The bottle design. In two words? “It stinks.” The bottle is topsy-turvy and top-heavy that spilling is almost a guarantee. Considering what you pay for Citadel paints, this wasn’t a particularly good move on Citadel’s part. I’d recommend either, again, transferring the paint, or getting Dr. Tabletop’s toppers. Either way is going to save you a lot of aggravation and money.
Also, keep in mind, Citadel is made for fantasy and gothic sci-fi, so the names of the colors are lurid, to say the least. That said, they do have beginner-friendly sets:
At 45$, it’s pricy, and there are cheaper, better alternatives for someone just getting into the historical side of the miniatures hobby.
Tamiya is one of the old stalwarts of the model building community and was one of the first Japanese model makers to market kits in the US. They have a really good line of paints in rather large bottles. If you’re not going to go eyedropper, then this is the way you package your paints. Everything just fits together in terms of the bottle, including the price of the 23ml of paint you receive. The paints fill historical needs very well (especially for Cold War and Modern subjects, or WWII Japanese), and they are of good viscosity.
Like Vallejo, they also have a complimentary spray paint line, but you don’t get as much for your money, so unless you need a specific color, it’s not worth the cost. Other than that, I don’t have any complaints about them. I tend not to use them as my go-to, save for certain applications like NATO 3 tone woodland camo for 1980s American and West German Tanks. They play well with other colors as well, but they are bit pricy. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone just starting out in the hobby, but as your first paint line to step up from? You could do a lot worse.
Lifecolor is an Italian company, and I only have one set of theirs. Their bottles aren’t the greatest, but I am happy with the quality of the paint. The choices of colors abound, but I would recommend Tamiya slightly over Lifecolor, even though I think the latter may have the edge in choices of colors and the breadth of historical subjects is as wide as you can imagine. If you want it, Lifecolor probably makes a set to cover it.
Surprisingly, you get 22ml of paint from their bottle, but the bottle is all plastic. The paint is pre-thinned, but slightly thicker than Ammo or MiG, but I still think it’s not really something I’d recommend to the beginner. That said, they’re a great set of paints if you’re ready to make the leap to the advanced level.
Privateer Press (aka P3)
P3 paints are a solid, workmanlike choice for the beginner. They are bright, vibrant colors, that, while flat, they go on solid and have no real sins to speak of. They come either in sets of six or individually. I have a bunch of them, but to be honest, I don’t use them as much as some of my other color ranges.
Despite their perks, P3 paints do suffer from the same problem as the Foundry paint line, where they have subpar bottles. They have 18ml of paint, which is about average for the industry, and I do like their Pig Iron color for a lot of gun barrels and other metallic items. It’s a solid set of colors for a beginner, but I really think you could probably do better with Army Painter or even Foundry.
A Word About Craft Store Paints
You can find them at Michaels, or Walmart, or just about any other craft or big box store out there. They’re cheap (ranging between $1-$1,50 a bottle, whereas your average hobby bottle ranges around $3), acrylic, and you get a lot of paint (the average craft store paint bottle is 59ml). And, you get a squeeze top, which is darn nice to put paint into the palate with. But, as they say, you get what you pay for.
I have come home with paint I was looking forward to using from Michaels only to find out the paint was separated (pigment and fluid have come apart) or it’s become rock hard. That said, I have wargame buddies who only use craft store paints, including one guy who painted some very nice 28mm German WWII Fallschirmjagers (Paratroopers), and I have to say, I can’t tell it was all craft paint. Just know what you’re buying and don’t buy some glossy glitter bomb paint by accident.
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I didn’t know where else to go
Chapter 2: Rhysand
I had an unconscious detective on my couch and her blood on my hands.
It was a quiet evening, cleaning one of my guns with Friends reruns on in the background, shattered by a barely-there knock at my door. Ready to chew out whoever decided to disturb a crime boss on his night off, I had only cracked open the door to see her there, blood coming from a nasty cut on her head and practically bent in half from pain.
It was reflex to catch her as my name slipped from her mouth along with those damning words.
“I didn’t know where else to go.”
Feyre Archeron. The detective who was hell-bent on arresting me. Who had managed to resist my flirting, much to my chagrin. Who was now on my couch but not how I pictured it happening.
Why I couldn’t get a cop out of my head for the past few weeks? I wish I knew the answer.
I watched the even rise and fall of her chest, grateful that whatever had happened to her wasn’t truly life-threatening. At least that’s what I told myself as I waited for her to wake up.
Thankfully she stayed out cold while I stitched up her face, I was fresh out of painkillers from my recent injuries. The glorious life of the head of the underworld, if only they knew how much work it took, then maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with so many hot-headed insubordinates.
Whatever had happened to her probably warranted a hospital visit but no way was I showing up with my face all over the news and a bloody cop in my arms. I did as much as I could for her wound but didn’t risk checking the rest of her body. A small smile played on my mouth as I imagined the foul words that would surely come from her if she found her other injuries tended to.
A sharp intake of breath followed by a small whimper of pain cut through the TV in the background. I froze in the most non-threatening pose I could think of, crossing my left leg so that my ankle rested on my right knee and slinging an arm over the back of the chair, dangling the glass of dark amber liquid that was keeping my nerves in check.
Feyre’s eyes cracked open, even surrounded by darkening bruises, the intense blue-grey still made my breath catch in my throat.
“How is it you always look like you own the world? Even in Deadpool PJ pants?”
A startled laugh barked out of my chest, the bourbon nearly splashing out of my glass with the sudden movement. In my haste to patch her up and unwillingness to leave her alone, I hadn’t changed out of the comfy clothes I had put on as soon as I stepped through my door.
“Years and years of practice, darling.” There it is, the fire returned as her eyes became clearer, taking in the room.
From the outside, my apartment didn’t look like much, all cold stone and steel. The inside was much more hospitable, warm wood floors nicely complemented the exposed brick, tasteful furniture that you could still relax in took up most of the space. The harshest part of the room was the wall that was covered in guns, big and small and a few illegal in the country, but I liked to live on the wrong side of the law.
Open curiosity rested on her face, making her look years younger than the small frown that was there most of the time. It returned when she took in the weapons, reminding her that she showed up to her suspects' house and promptly passed out, leaving her at his mercy. She forced herself to sit up despite the obvious pain that would linger for weeks, her face guarded again.
I found myself immediately missing the side that she hid from me, where she was an actual human and not someone out to destroy all my plans.
We regarded each other silently for a few moments, taking in the other in their current state until she blushed and looked away.
A few words mumbled from her mouth, too low and unintelligible for me to understand.
“I’m sorry, what was that, darling,” using the nickname she so clearly hated.
“Thank you, prick,” she spat out, wincing at how her muscles pulled at her stitches.
“You’re welcome,” I leaned forward, “but who did this to you?” putting as much concern as I could into my voice.
“I’m surprised you don’t know; it was your men that drugged me and had me beaten.”
The accusation was a slap to the face, my teeth gritting at the venom she threw at me. “My men would never fucking do this to anyone, cop or not.”
Her eyes burned, leaning forward much as her balance allowed until we were only inches apart.
“I went to the bar I know you frequent; the bartender gave me a club soda laced with something and the next thing I knew, some assholes were dragging me out back and kicking the shit out of me. Who else would have given orders like that?”
I forced my breathing to stay even, to not grab her and shake some sense into her. For all the crimes I had committed, not one single fucking person had been harmed in the process. Was she willfully ignoring that fact or was she so convinced that I was a truly evil motherfucker?
“Did you recognize any of them?” My question caught her off guard.
Her eyes flicked up, trying to sort through recent hazy memories. “No…”
“That’s what I thought. You’ve been after me and my organization for so long, I’m sure you have every one of my peoples’ faces memorized. So why did you think that I would have such a lovely, dedicated, hardworking civil servant drugged and beaten?”
“I don’t know,” she mumbled, having the grace to look ashamed as she leaned back into the soft couch cushions, attempting to rearrange herself into the least painful position.
“I’m sorry but I don’t have any painkillers, and I’m not sure where else you’re hurt, I didn’t check.”
“It’s fine, it’s my fault for showing up on your doorstep anyways.” She lifted her shirt, carefully picking at where dried blood had plastered it to her chest. A patchwork of black and blue was settling on the skin, but no lacerations at least.
“I don’t think anything is broken, just really fucking sore,” she surveyed, taking in the damage. I was too worried about her injuries to notice the black bra edged with lace that perfectly hinted at the curve of her breasts.
Ok maybe I was worried, but it didn’t completely escape my notice.
I almost whined when she dropped her shirt but managed to contain it as she settled deeper into the cushions. She froze, realizing that she was getting too comfy at basically her arch enemy’s place.
“I need to go,” but she stood up too quickly, swaying and unable to catch herself as she pitched to the side, heading straight for the solid corner of my end table.
By the grace of the Caldron and a bit of luck, I managed to catch her, pulling her close to me to steady us both. She let out a yelp at the handling, but it was her fault for trying to move too fast with her injuries.
“That’s twice I’ve caught you, would you like to make this a habit?” I purred, my mouth on the shell of her ear completely not by accident.
A shudder she couldn’t suppress or hide skittered down her back, slightly arching her body into mine.
All too soon her reason returned to her and with a surprisingly firm shove, she distanced herself from me and promptly plopped back onto the couch, refusing to acknowledge the electricity that just flowed between us.
“Prick,” she seethed.
“Don’t say what you don’t want.”
Confusion that morphed into fury consumed her. “If I wasn’t so fucking injured, I would kick your ass right now.”
“You’ll have to give me a rain check then,” parting my lips in a feline smirk. She blushed even harder and looked away, looking utterly pissed that she couldn’t leave.
“Would you like a glass of bourbon? I promise it’s not drugged or anything, and it’s much better than what they serve at that bar. And it will ease the pain a bit.”
I wove fluidly around a chair to the bar cart that was tucked into the corner next to the TV that was still somehow playing the aimless show when much more interesting content was playing out right in my living room.
I poured her a generous knuckle worth of the expensive liquor, maybe this would make up for the lack of painkillers. Hopefully whatever she was given was enough out of her system that it wouldn’t react badly.
I returned with the drink in hand, passing it to her waiting hand, she still refused to make eye contact with me.
This was too good of a situation to mess with her. I sat in the middle of the couch, forcing her to either stay where she is, contact points connecting up the sides of our bodies, or to move to cram into the corner closest to the TV, making her crane her neck to see the screen.
She chose the latter and decided upon ignoring me as much as possible with less than a foot of space between us.
We sipped our drinks, intermittently paying attention to the show, punctuated with our derisive snorts at the characters' shallow problems.
At some point, a comment was made, leading us into a conversation about what we hated and loved about this show or that. Sharing new series, daring each other to watch them in our little free time.
The alcohol loosened our tongues and worries about the other ulterior motives, simply existing in the moment.
She was incredible. So amazingly opinionated and alive and passionate. If she had seen something he had, she questioned his every motive for liking or disliking it. If she hadn’t seen it, endless questions poured from her mouth and promised to watch it soon.
Hours ticked by and more liquor was poured. The show completely ignored, our bodies had turned toward each other, knees grazing, and body heat slowly being shared. She laughed at something, I’m not even sure what I said, too caught up in the music she made.
Once she stopped giggling, I couldn’t bring myself to continue the conversation. I could stay here for hours, simply taking in the red that graced her cheeks, highlighting the freckles that were gently dusted there. Her eyes seemed to shift between blue and grey depending on her current emotion, full lips punctuating every statement.
Those lips in question parted. We were so close now, her legs practically slung across my lap, her arm across the back of the couch, brushing against mine often.
The lapse in chatter grew, neither of us attempting to restart it.
One of us moved forward, only the Caldron and its forgotten gods knew who moved first.
Careful to not put too much pressure on her injuries, I cupped her face in my hands, molding my lips around hers.
Just as I had too often fantasized, they were soft and fit perfectly with mine, the sharp taste of my bourbon tinting them with dark desire.
There was no hesitation on her part, only enthusiasm. If she was in pain, there was no sign of it now.
Soon it became too uncomfortable for our bodies to stay far apart with only our heads meeting in the middle. I slid my hands down her neck, gently resting on the curve of her waist, a request she responded to with straddling my hips, effectively sealing her fate and mine.
We were both so, so fucked.
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Vergil in kinbaku, unable to touch himself or you. Reciting poems while you tease him, if he misses a beat reciting you punish him. Maybe wax play too? 👀💙
“Recite a poem for me, my lovely,” you murmur into his ear, rubbing your hands over his tied up titties. The royal blue cotton rope constricts his meaty pecs, lifting them up and making them bulge out from his chest. Making his nipples spear out so deliciously. “I want to play with you while hearing your voice.”
Vergil bites his lip and huffs, his lashes fluttering as he thinks of a poem - any poem - to recite. Alas, your fingers and your mouth are distracting him, pulling his mind from his memorised poems to the feeling of you pinching his uber sensitive nipples and nipping at his earlobe.
“Y-you’re distracting me-” He grits out.
“Mmm,” you purr and grin, circling around him until you’re perched primly in his lap, feeling the rope binding his thighs and his pelvis under your butt. “You have the greatest self-control of anyone I’ve ever met. Are you telling me you can’t concentrate past this?” You trace your finger over his plush lips, dipping into his mouth ever so slightly until he opens them, welcomes you into his warmth.
He licks at you while maintaining eye contact, closes his lips around your finger. Sucks. Laves. Suckles like a babe at a teat and opens his mouth long enough to display how well he can worship your flesh with his tongue. It’s dirty, it’s seductive, and it’s tempting you to keep his mouth busy.
“Now you’re distracting me.” You pout and take your finger away, much to his consternation. Vergil actually tries to follow you with his head, but the rope connecting his collar to the chair stops him before he gets too far. “Recite a poem for me.”
Groaning, Vergil tips his head back and swallows thickly. Squeezes his eyes shut. Picks the first poem that comes to mind.
Never seek to tell thy love
Love that never told can be
For the gentle wind does move
The rhythmic tenor of his voice creates a perfect background for your actions. The words offer a beat to which you move - lighting your candles, placing them on the table, tipping his head back so you can expose his perky nipples.
I told my love I told my love
I told her all my heart
He braces himself for that first little droplet of wax, for the heat to hit his flesh and bring with it a great sensation.
Trembling cold in ghastly fears
Ah she doth dep-depart
Vergil’s rhythm stutters when you dribble a whole line of wax over his chest to connect his nipples.
Soon as she was gone from-from me
More drip on his nipples, building the heat to near unbearable levels. Forcing him to squirm. Forcing him to screw his face up. Forcing him to take a breather to remember where he stopped.
A traveller came by
The sound of teeth grinding makes him grind (hah) to a halt, his eyes screwing shut when you let the wax drip drip drip down his abs. To his happy trail. To the base of his cock where he bucks his hips.
His cock bobs and twitches, actually catching a drop right near the slit of his pisshole and Vergil actually yelps, baring his teeth. Heavy panting fills the air instead of words, growing in volume and speed the more you pour on the base of his cock and balls. The highlight, though, is whenever you drip a bit of wax on his thick, fat cock, he jumps and bucks and dances.
I told my love-
“Ah ah ahhh~” you sing and pour a nice, long line down his balls and over his inner thighs. “You made a mistake~”
Vergil grits his teeth and hisses lowly, trembling from the mix of pain and pleasure that muddles his normally sharp mind. “I didn’t.”
“I believe it was supposed to go ‘Soon as she was gone from me/a traveller came by/silently invisibly/o was no deny’.” You tilt your head and smile meanly, tipping the candle back up and putting it aside. “Start from the top again, baby.” Now you pick up a candle with a higher heating point. “A different one, this time.”
By his mother’s grave, you’re going to kill him by teasing the hell out of him. The wax on his cock has cooled and dried, stretching his skin sweetly and making his cock bob up towards his belly. The ones on his balls are still warm, still making him tingle and arch towards you.
“Hey, focus!” You grin as you drip the hotter wax down on his nipples. But not before you scrape the existing hard wax off with a fingernail roughly, making him moan shakily and tremble. The combination makes Vergil let out a feral growl, his back arching and his pecs twitching, making his nipples stretch and for more wax to pool in the cracks. “I’ll make it easier on you, honey. Give me ‘When early morn walks forth in sober grey’. That’s one of your favourites, isn’t it?”
His pale lashes flutter and he licks his lips, cleaning up the drool starting to trail down the side of his mouth.
Oft when the summer sleeps among the trees
Whisp’ring faint murmurs to the scanty breeze
His eyes roll in their sockets as you pile on more hot wax on his abs and his thighs.
I-I walk the village round; if at her side
A youthful doth walk in stolen joy and pride
Nails rake off cold wax, more pour on his body, decorating him in a myriad of colours that stand out against his pale skin. Over and over you do this, dripping more on his cock until it weeps precum. Precum that looks more creamy than it does clear.
“Are you going to cum, baby?” You bite your lip and stroke his cock quick and dirty, opting to pour the wax on the tip of his cock drip by drip. Some hitting your hand and some hitting his cock, but it has the same effect. He’s blushing badly, panting and eyes rolling like he’s feeling light headed.
“Yes,” Vergil growls lowly, his hips bucking up into your hand. Begging for more. Begging for you to drip more wax.
“Then finish the poem.”
I curse my stars in bitter grief and woe
That made my love so-so-
He throws his head back as you drip a whole load of wax on the tip of his cock and slip and slide your hand all over, the candle set aside so you can focus on his perfect, perfect dick.
That made my love so high, and me so-so LOW-!
The last word is yelled out in a strained tone, his eyes narrowing as he cums so hard his voice breaks, his spurting seed breaking past the seal of wax on the tip of his cock to dribble down his pulsating shaft. To follow the line of his prominent veins as his cock grows impossibly thicker.
Vergil almost bucks you off his lap with his movements, his jagged thrusting making you bounce on his thigh. When his orgasm finally subsides and he can see more than black and stars sparkling in his eyes, Vergil blinks and stirs, lolling his head around to see you looking at him with great satisfaction in your eyes. The pride in your face makes him feel as warm as the wax did. As warm as your soiled hand on his face.
“You did so well, Vergil,” you croon and kiss his slick lips. Kiss it over and over until he reacts and kisses you back hungrily. “Now what do you say?”
“Thank you, my love,” Vergil smirks against your lips. Closes his eyes and focuses on your soft lips massaging his. Your tongue tracing the seam of his lips. Melting the smug expression from his face until he goes soft and melts against you. “Now let me go.”
“Awww,” you pout and pick up another candle. “I wasn’t done. You can hold out for a little longer, can’t you?”
Ohhhh that’s his favourite candle. He clears his throat.
Once a dream did weave a shade
O’er my angel-guarded bed...
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Strange Times - Part 2
Bucky x Reader Series
Summary – You have a certain type - smart, charming, and handsome as sin. For years you've been in love with the only man you thought possessed all of those traits, but a chance encounter with a Strange individual sends you and a certain ex-assassin on a journey of self-discovery. As you try to find a way back home, will you also be able to uncover the perfect man hidden beneath layers of guilt and self-loathing
Warnings – Angst, definitely a curse word or ten
Word Count – 2.4K
Notes: This was written before Black Panther and Infinity War, so keep that in mind as you read!
The club was loud and the lights were beginning to hurt her eyes. For some reason, the club owner thought it would be cute to make the lights pulse along to the rhythm of the so-called music blasting from the speakers high overhead. YN was just glad that her shift was almost up. She shot a glance down the bar and saw Nat leaning over to flirt with some men who were more interested in gawking at her cleavage than listening to a word she said. YN shook her head in annoyance, but she knew that was the kind of behavior that got them the most tips, and right now they could use all the money they could get.
Taking a deep breath, she plastered a come-hither smile on her face and sauntered up to the bar to take another round of drink orders. Leaning over as Nat had done, she felt her shirt slide down her chest and mentally cursed having to debase herself like this just so she could afford a roof over her head and food on the table. It could be worse, though, she thought. At least she and Nat weren't out on a street corner right now, although most of the men in the club treated them like prostitutes anyway.
She'd just finished popping the tops on a round of beers when she noticed a man in the crowd who seemed out of place. This club catered to the hipster scene – men in skinny jeans with ankle boots and denim jackets over graphic tees or button down flannels – so when she saw a man in relaxed fit black jeans and an dark army-issued jacket, she paid attention. He was tall, with long dark brown hair, and for some reason he looked familiar to her. It wasn't until he turned around and his piercing blue-grey eyes met hers that she realized who he was.
Taking a step back, she shot a glance toward Nat at the other end of the bar, but her attention was centered on another man that didn't seem like he belonged in this club, either. His face was hidden from view, but YN was sure she didn't know anyone with shaggy blond hair and a beard. Worried that they'd been found by the wrong people, she grabbed a cocktail peanut and lobbed it at Nat's head to get her attention. Their shift was up and the next round of bartenders were already taking orders, so YN nodded toward the employees' exit and hoped that Nat would follow her. Racing to her locker, she grabbed her coat and bag and was about to head out the door when Nat called out to stop her.
"YN, wait," Nat said as she reached out to stop her from leaving.
"Barnes is here with some other man," she told her friend. "I think they've found us."
"He's here with Steve," Nat said with a sigh. "I don't think he saw me. . ."
YN shook her head and interrupted her. "Barnes saw me. I don't know if he'll remember me from Germany – I'm definitely not dressed like a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent right now. Why are they here?"
"I don't know," Nat said, pursing her lips, "but they're wanted fugitives just like us."
"Unless they've switched sides and came here to turn us in."
"Let's hear what they have to say and then if we need to, we can fight our way out," Nat suggested. "Or don't you think we're a match for a couple super soldiers?"
The door to the employees' lounge opened and YN realized that the choice had already been made for her as she saw Steve and his friend walk in. Planting her feet, she balled her fists at her side and waited for the fight she was terrified would ensue.
"We just want to to talk," Steve said, raising both of his hands in surrender when he saw YN's defensive stance.
"How did you know where we were?" Nat asked, trying to look at ease, but YN could see the tension in her shoulders as she also prepared for a potential fight.
"It wasn't easy, but eventually Fury told us where you were," Steve said, trying to keep his voice calm and level so he wouldn't spook them. "He's been keeping an eye on you two, just in case Ross decided to come after you."
"So, you're not working with Ross?" YN asked. "How can we be sure we can trust you?"
Steve cocked a brow and gave them a smirk. "Do I look like I'm still a part of any government agency? Bucky and I are both just trying to lay low until Tony can get some amendments made to the Sokovia Accords."
YN's whole demeanor changed in an instant. "You've spoken to Tony? How is he? How's Rhodey?"
Nat exhaled loudly and shook her head. "I think you're forgetting that Tony isn't on our side, YN."
"C'mon, Nat," YN pleaded. "It's Tony, and if Steve says he's trying to fix things, then maybe. . ."
"I seem to recall the last words that man said to you were 'Go to hell,'" Nat reminded her.
"Ouch," Bucky said with a pained look.
YN's glare turned from Nat to Bucky in an instant. "Who asked your opinion?"
"Enough," Steve said, pulling out his Captain voice. "We didn't come here to start another war. Tony needs our help and he asked me to bring you two in specifically."
Nat's eyes narrowed as she studied Steve for signs of deceit. "Why now, and why us?"
Steve pursed his lips and gave YN a long look. "Tony didn't really say, but he did tell me that it was imperative that I bring YN back."
Hope again swelled within her, but she tamped it down as she reminded herself that he and Pepper were back together. "What if we don't want to go back?"
"Then he told me to tell you that Mordo has gone rogue," Steve offered with a shrug. "Don't know what that means, but he thought it might mean something to you."
YN took a step back as her heart began to race. Mordo was a name from her past – a past she'd worked so hard to forget, but now it looked like her carefully guarded secrets would soon come to light. "We can't talk about this here."
YN turned to walk out the door, so she missed the looks of confusion the rest of the group shared with one another. They had no idea who Mordo was, but just the mention of his name had caused a look of fear to come over YN, and that was enough reason to for them to worry.
Nat hung back with Steve and Bucky, letting YN have a few moments to herself as they walked back to their apartment. She'd known that YN had secrets she didn't want to share, and Nat had always respected her privacy enough not to go snooping. She'd trusted Fury when he'd vouched for her years ago, and she'd learned to trust YN as their working relationship evolved into friendship. She'd always wondered if YN would ever confide her secrets to her, but she'd never pushed. Now she thought that maybe she should have.
YN could feel three sets of eyes boring into her back as she hurried along the busy streets. She'd removed herself from the world of magic a long time ago, and she'd hoped that she'd never have to go back again. Learning that her mentor had turned broke her heart, but it also worried her – he was one of the most formidable men she knew, and in his hands, the magic could become deadly for anyone who tried to stop him.
Turning the key in the lock, she let herself into the tiny apartment and shrugged off her coat. She could hear the footsteps of the others behind her, but she still wasn't ready to face them yet. Heading to her shared room with Nat, she pulled some leggings from a drawer and grabbed a long tunic top from a hanger in the closet. Shimmying out of the tight-fitting clothes she'd worn to work, she quickly changed and headed to the bathroom to wash her face.
As she scrubbed the last remnants of the makeup off, she raised her head and met her own gaze in the mirror. The last few months on the run had taken its toll on both her and Nat, but the haggard look in her eyes hadn't been there a couple hours ago. This was the result of her past finally catching up to her. She heard the bedroom door open and glanced over to see Nat rummaging through the drawers for a change of clothes.
"I know you wanted some space, but I needed to get out of this spandex," she told her as she quickly pulled her shirt over her head.
"It's okay," YN told her as she dried her face and leaned against the door jam.
"You want to talk about this privately before you fill in the boys?" Nat asked once she'd changed her clothes and turned back around to face YN.
YN shook her head. "No, it'll be better to only have to go through this once." She raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders. "At least for now. I'm sure if we head back to New York, I'll have to go over it all again."
Nat nodded and waited until YN moved toward the door before she followed her out. Steve and Bucky were sitting on either end of the threadbare couch they'd picked up at a flea market for a few bucks the first week they'd been in town. YN grabbed one of the folding chairs from the card table they used in lieu of a kitchen table and carried it over to set in front of the couch. Pulling her legs up to her chest, she braced her heels on the edge of the chair as she wrapped her arms around her shins and rested her chin on her knees. Nat grabbed the other chair and angled it so she could see both the guys and YN at the same time.
"It's a long story, so I'm just going to give you the highlights," she began. "When I was a kid, I fell in with the wrong crowd. I know, typical teenaged American sob story. Anyway, my parents decided that I needed to get away from my troublemaking friends, so they hired a tutor and sent me on a trip around the world. I guess they thought that a little culture shock was in order to set me back on the straight and narrow."
"Were your parents rich?" Nat asked, as she looked at YN in disbelief.
"Yeah," YN confirmed. "Buffy and Fitz came from what you would call 'old money,' and I guess I was the stereotypical rich kid who was bored with her pampered life. Anyway, my tutor, Millicent, decided to take me to Kathmandu. That's where I met Mordo." She took a deep breath and tried to figure out the best way to explain the next part. She looked at the faces staring back at her, patiently waiting for her to continue. "He saw something in me and decided to take me under his wing. He introduced me to the Ancient One who showed me a world that I could never have imagined existed. I sent Millicent back to the states with a message to my parents that I had decided to stay in Nepal. I'm sure they thought I'd joined a cult, but I didn't care – I just wanted to learn everything I could about magic."
"Magic?" Nat asked, interrupting her.
"Like what Loki can do?" Steve asked, trying to get a grasp on what she was saying.
"Not like Loki," YN said with a shake of her head. "It's hard to explain, but basically I was taught how to harness the dimensional energy to manipulate what we think of as reality. The Ancient One showed me how the Multiverse interconnects us all – I wish I could explain it better, but its one of those things you just have see to understand."
"Why did you leave?" Bucky asked, breaking his silence.
She shrugged her shoulders. "I was still just a kid, and it was a lot of responsibility. I'd only stayed because it seemed fun at the time, but I wanted to live a normal life again."
"This is what you consider normal?" Bucky asked as he looked around the dingy apartment.
A wry grin spread across YN's face. "I guess normal just isn't my thing."
Steve's eyes narrowed. "How did you end up with S.H.I.E.L.D.?"
"Director Fury actually approached me himself," YN said with a look of disbelief on her face. "He'd heard rumors of Kamar-Taj and the Ancient One, and when my parents raised a fuss about me joining a cult in Nepal, he took notice. He wanted inside information, but I refused to talk about my time there. At that point, my parents had kicked me out again, and I was desperate to find somewhere to belong. He sent me to the Academy without pressing me any further, and I'd assumed that I'd left that part of my life behind me for good."
"So, this Mordo – how dangerous is he?" Nat asked.
YN looked up at the ceiling and took another deep breath. How to explain her mentor? "He's brilliant, and extremely talented in the world of magic. The Ancient One always said that his soul was rigid and unmovable – he only sees things in terms of black and white, and that's his biggest flaw. As long as he thought he was on the side of good, he'd be an asset, but something must have happened to make him see the use of magic in a different way. I don't what it was, but if the Ancient One has reached out to Tony, then things aren't looking too good right now. I just don't understand why she wouldn't have come to me directly."
"I don't know," Steve said. "But Tony wants us back in New York as soon as possible."
"How are we going to get there?" Nat asked. "I'm sure our photos are hanging up in every airport around the world."
"We have a way around that," Steve said with a smirk.
Thank you for reading Part 2 of this story! I hope you enjoyed it! After seeing the Infinity War trailer I haven't been able to get Bearded!Steve out of my mind! That trailer also sparked the inspiration for this story once I saw Tony with Doctor Strange. I'd love to hear your theories on what you think is going to happen in this story! I look forward to your comments!
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My latest Sander’s Sides fic and the first one I’m pre-planning as a multi-chapter. So far, I’m planning 4-5 chapters, but that number may fluctuate upwards as I have more ideas or down as I write stuff out. We’ll see. For now, just buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Title: Anxiety and Deceptions Chapter 1
CW: In this chapter, Angst, Deceit, and Manipulation. Also, foul language. In future chapters, it’s going to get worse and probably turn more abusive. If that’s going to be a reason for not reading, I don’t recommend getting invested in this fic.
Tagslist: @moose-squirrel05, @didsomeonesayprince, @readeatfightlove13
Everyone in Thomas’s mind knew the change was coming. Conscious and Subconscious traits alike had felt the mindscape shifting, changing, growing. Much like Thomas himself was, what with the onset of puberty. The reason for the change was clear. Someone was going to be promoted. One of the Subconscious traits would be moving upstairs to become a Conscious trait. The upstairs traits seemed less than happy about it. Creativity’s voice was easy to catch and follow to its source.
“One of those heinous, inhuman fiends is going to be coming up here. They’re going to be up here, more powerful, and spreading their disease-like influence into Thomas’s ever day life. How can you two just be okay with that?”
“Now Roman,” Morality would caution, “we don’t even know which one it’s going to be. Maybe they won’t be so bad.”
“Patton is correct, Roman.” Logan would interject coolly. “There is little purpose in making these judgements until the trait moves up here. For all we know, they are being promoted because they will fulfill some important role in Thomas’s day to day life.”
Deceit could hardly keep the grin off his face. Technically, none of them knew for certain which trait was being promoted. The mind had sealed the room off until it was completed, so there were no clues to be gathered there. But Deceit was certain it would be him. After all, which trait could possibly be more useful to the gay teenage actor who was slowly turning into an adult. There were so many deceptions to take place in Thomas’s future. Of course, Deceit would be promoted. All of the other Subconscious traits seemed to agree it would be Deceit.
Naturally, Selfishness had been envious. Apathy didn’t really care. Rage had been frustrated it hadn’t been him. Exploitation said he didn’t care as long as Deceit would help him get some influence in every now and then. He was looking forward to taking advantage of every opportunity presented, even when it worked Thomas to the bone doing it. Deceit had easily agreed, assuring all the Subconscious sides that he would insure their voiced were heard and heeded more often. Well, Deceit had made this statement in the presence of all but one.
Anxiety was… well, Anxiety was different. Deceit didn’t like him. In part because his constant paranoia, skepticism, and overall anxiousness made him far less susceptible to Deceit’s manipulation. But that alone wouldn’t have been enough to incur Deceit’s distaste. All of the Subconscious sides were tricky to manipulate, them being so much more familiar with Deceit’s antics. No. The real kicker was that Anxiety didn’t really care if Deceit manipulated him. He was timid and passive in all aspects regarding his own person. The only thing Anxiety ever cared about was Thomas. And when he was acting to protect Thomas, well, Fight or Flight has two halves.
Anxiety was more like the Conscious sides, the “Light Sides” as Creativity liked to call them, than he was the Subconscious sides. He cared about Thomas. He used names instead of titles. He barely even had any inhuman attributes. All the Subconscious sides had something. Deceit had his half-snake face. Rage had literal fangs and claws and eyes the color of dried blood. Apathy was ghost-like; sometimes solid and there, other times not so much; with solid white eyes, no pupil or iris to be seen. But the only thing Anxiety had was a pair of dark wings, black with deep purple highlights. Not only that, but more often than not, Anxiety shape-shifted his attribute away.
Anxiety was weird and unpredictable. He didn’t act like a Subconscious side, but he didn’t act like a Conscious side either. He was this big grey area that never ceased to irritate Deceit. Luckily, Deceit was good at hiding it. It took a lot of work. The other Subconscious traits were constantly having to hide their true natures from Anxiety. Not that they couldn’t take care of him if it came down to that. But if it did come to that, Anxiety was the most likely to spill the beans to Thomas on the Subconscious sides’ existence. Sometimes, the things that trait did, the power he had in the grips of fear and panic, they were honestly astounding. It was infuriating that Anxiety would only get like that for Thomas. But Deceit was nothing if not manipulative. With some hard work and a carefully woven web of lies, Deceit had Anxiety convinced that all the Subconscious traits cared for Thomas as much as he did. Now Anxiety was putty in Deceit’s hands. Tough, partially dry putty, but putty nonetheless.
And now, Deceit was on the verge of promotion. There would be perks to being a conscious side. Perks like constant, instant access to Thomas. None of the other Conscious sides would be able to banish Deceit’s influence to the subconscious mind. He would always be working at the forefront of Thomas’s mind. On top of that, free travel between the conscious and subconscious mind. Easy access to the Conscious traits, ripe for manipulation and corruption. All Deceit had to do was get upstairs and the way would be paved for him to take over and do whatever he pleased. Speaking of.
The day was upon them. Everyone knew it. The mind had finally finished constructing the new room. Everything was ready. All that was left was for the mind to pick up the promoted trait and drop them off in their new room upstairs. All the Subconscious traits had gathered in the Subconscious center. Deceit had worn his best, cleanest clothes. His was bidding farewell to his fellow Subconscious traits. They really were a sort of family. All but Anxiety, hanging on the fringes. Deceit walked up to him last. “Well Virgil, the day is here.” Deceit hated using the name, but doing so had been part of that web of lies Deceit had ensnaring Anxiety.
“Yeah.” Anxiety responded gruffly. His eyes roved around, always searching for danger. After a moment, they landed on Deceit. “Take care of him, yeah? Whatever you do, take care of Thomas.” Deceit forced a convincing smile.
“Of course, Virgil. What is a personality trait for, but to take care of the person?” Virgil watched him skeptically, searching for the lie, but too blinded by Deceit’s masterful manipulation to realize it was standing right in front of him. Not finding anything but the same Deceit he had always known, Anxiety nodded.
“Yeah… I’ll, uh… I’ll miss you. You were, always easier to talk to than the others.” Deceit laughed.
“Jeez, Virgil, you make it sound like I’m leaving Thomas’s mind. I’m just going upstairs. We’ll be able to visit each other.”
“Yeah, but you’ll have a lot of responsibilities taking care of Thomas. Probably won’t have as much time for us down here.”
“I’ll make time. I’ll always make time for my family.” Deceit didn’t miss the subtle sheen in Anxiety’s eyes, indicating he was getting emotional. Deceit struggled to keep up the façade and not be sick. Thankfully, a flash of light caught his eye. A beam of energy was moving across the Subconscious, clearly searching for something. Or rather, someone. A grin stretched across Deceit’s face, though he was careful to hid its maliciousness in Anxiety’s presence. “There it is.” Deceit turned his back to Anxiety, facing the light. For half a moment, he felt warm arms and even heard the tale-tell ruffle of feathers encircling him in a hug. Deceit almost gagged, but held it in.
“Goodbye.” The hug was broken and Anxiety stepped away. The light was right in front of him. He closed his eyes, waiting to be enveloped by the mindscape energy. He waited one beat. Two. Three. Four. “WHAT THE FUCK!” The startled shout brought Deceit to open his eyes. He expected to be hovering yards above the others, but he was still on the ground. Behind him, Anxiety was kicking up some kind of fuss. He turned around, but Anxiety wasn’t there. He chanced a look upwards and there he was. “No. No! NO! I’M ANXIETY. I’M NOT! THIS IS WRONG! NOT ME! I’M ANXIETY!” Anxiety’s double layer voice echoed across the subconscious. His eyes were wide and panicked. His wings were fanned out around him, but Deceit blinked and Anxiety had shape-shifted them away again. Deceit was incredulous. More than that, he was furious. Anxiety looked at him and Deceit quickly wiped the emotion off his face. He forced a hearty laugh.
“Well then!” He called up as Anxiety was lifted higher and higher. “Guess we were wrong! See you around, Virgil? Don’t forget about us down here! We want to be able to help Thomas, too!” Anxiety opened his mouth to respond, but in the next moment, the light intensified ten-fold, then vanished, Anxiety along with it. The Subconscious traits all stared at the place he had disappeared, facial expressions ranging from shocked to angry and of course, apathetic for Apathy. It was several moments before anyone spoke. Exploitation was the first.
“Fan-fucking-tastic. Now who’s going to get us up there to influence Thomas?”
“I am.” Deceit said coolly.
“Oh really?” Demanded Rage. “And how do you plan on doing that? You weren’t the one who got promoted.” Deceit gave him a cold look.
“Come now, comrades. You’re talking to Deceit. Master manipulator extraordinaire. I’ve got a plan.”
“Care to fill us in?” Apathy dead-panned.
“Patience. It might be a long game, but it will be worth it. Have I ever let you down before? I mean, think about it. I’ve been keeping us hidden from Thomas for all these years. And I managed to get Anxiety on our side and keep him there ages ago. Trust me. I’ve got a plan. You just go about your normal business and let me do my job.” He really didn’t have a plan. Not yet at least. But his silver tongue was enough to get them off his back until he could come up with one. Everyone dispersed, but Deceit remained, glaring up at the spot Anxiety had disappeared. One thought was running clear through his mind. ‘Oh boy, Anxiety. You are going to pay for this. Screwing with my plans? Big mistake.’
Y’know, if ya hit me up with some of that sweet feedback, I am more able to take that into consideration while writing the next part. Just thought I’d put that out there.
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Humans. Pet, Protégés or Predator? Part V. Ancient truths.
Omega draconis, Omega homeworld. Five days had passed since Cerin's... experience. He had decided to take some time off, due to obvious reasons. The vote concerning the humans had proved useless, since they had opted out of an inauguration, and instead had simply asked to form a coalition of sorts, in all but name exactly the same thing, but in the humans paraphrased words: "but this was our idea."
He couldn't really blame them, young as they were, it's like watching hatchlings try to catch their first rekkh, (a lava-living snake, 2 ft in lengt, often kept as a pet) absolutely convinced no one had ever done it before. Well it had been four million cycles since any egg had actually hatched, but still. The humans were so... for lack of a better word, childish. But at the same time, one of the most tenacious, inventive and dangerous creatures to ever sail the cosmos.
His mind wandered far, as it does when one has nothing to do but wait. He thought of a story his father had told him when he was little. The story of The First Four.
In the beginning there were Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. Alpha and Gamma were female, Beta and Delta were male. Alpha was blue, Beta was red, Gamma was green, and Delta was yellow. The story went on to describe the many great things they did, Alpha had lain thousands of eggs, and she cared for them all, for she was the Brood Queen. Beta was the Father and Teacher, he had shown them how to hunt, and taught them speech and writing. Gamma was the Caregiver, she who gave them heat and comfort. Delta was a trickster, mischievous and inventive, he had found all kinds of new things, like the magma caves they most often slept in.
This is of course considered pure myth by some, and there is no scientific evidence that they had ever existed. But Cerin was a believer, and as such he drew his heritage from Gamma. His thoughts trailed to the fragile creature that slept below his feet.
The female Omega had spoken very little, she answered with yes or no, or a few words together, she had even forgotten to tell him her name, but there would be time for pleasantries later. He had brought her home, not in any way because he felt any obligation for either of them to mate, but simply because it was her home.
He had offered her food several times on the journey home, but she insisted on not feeding until she stood on Omegan soil again. He had obliged her, considering the circumstances, Omegans that hadn’t fed in a prolonged period became irritated and sometimes aggressive, and he didn’t want to provoke her. When they reached his home she had devoured not one, but two whole karrahk! (Imagine a crossbreed between an crocodile and a sabertooth tiger) and for a creature not even five feet tall, that was unbelievably impressive.
After she had fed she needed to digest, so naturally he had offered her one of the volcanic caverns beneath his dwelling, which was for that purpose after all. So she slept, for four days so far, but he had no idea of how long she had hibernated inside the Obelisk. They could hibernate for millions of cycles, but encased in stone? That was new to him. New to anyone. They did need to breathe after all, even though they could ingest oxygen or sulfur through their scales, it was far less effective. But solid rock? As far as he knew, that wasn’t possible. They could swim in lava, but not breathe in it. Should one be trapped in hardening lava or in the vast emptiness of space, you would die.
But that wasn't what occupied his mind at the moment. She would be ready when she was ready, questions could wait until then.
The news of the events that had taken place on Titan had been live broadcasted throughout the universe. Trillions had seen this unassuming little green lizard, barely five feet tall, increase in size tenfold, and turn into a fairytale monster mothers would scare their young with. He had seen the images of it, and it had left him speechless. But reporters didn't worry him the least, since the atmosphere on Omega is toxic to anyone who doesn't breathe or can at least tolerate high levels of sulfur and sulfuric acid rain, and Omegans weren't that interested in him.
But the news of an Omega female had quickly spread far and wide, and most Omegans had returned home to see this legendary being. That was what bothered him the most. They had never been especially numerous, but this, this was truly horrifying. At their peak there had been around 400,000 Omegans. Now, on their entire planet, there were 172 Omega. Even worse, was the fact that of the few who had survived, over a hundred of them were so old they probably didn't have many cycles left in their hearts. He felt sorrow for his many sisters and brothers that lay sleeping in the eternally churning magma below. But there was nothing he could do for now, but wait. He painted. He slept. He hunted and prepared the meat. And then slept again. But eventually he got terribly bored.
He decided it was a good time to see if he could transform again. He tried everything he could think of, even hitting himself to induce pain, but to no avail. For two full days he experimented, before deciding it must be involuntary, and simply gave up. It was almost morning, he had fed a little, and was just about to get some rest when he heard the soft rasp of scaly feet traversing the tunnel from the magma caves.
He had heard the old ones describe young fertile females, the way they had exaggerated their beauty had made him believe their old age had made their minds... slightly less trustworthy, to not speak ill of the dead.
But their words fell oh so short in light of this creature before him. No words could describe her beauty. Cerin had most certainly fallen madly in love with this, for him, unobtainable goddess. The shape of her body enticed him in ways he had never felt before.
He watched as she slowly crawled up out of the tunnel in the floor, not completely awake by the look on her face, but he undoubtedly saw she had shed her skin. Considering how long she had hibernated it was probably long overdue. It explained the excessive feeding as well as the long sleep.
Before, her scales had been a very dull light blue, almost grey. At risk of being insulting, he would have described her as boring. But now... She took his breath away. The now fierce blue tint of her scales revealed she was a direct descendant of Alpha, one of their First Four. He had never seen such strong coloration of scales before. It was a deep, dark midnight blue, and the shimmer on her scales was mesmerizing.
The red jagged lines that before had been barely visible, now had spread across her cheeks, highlighting her feminine snout that now glowed with heat, indicating she must’ve slept very close to the magma.
He remained still, certain she would notice his presence, unwilling to startle someone that had just awoken. She took no notice him, instead she walked into the storage room, where he had hung meat to dry. He felt slightly insulted, but decided to give her some leeway, and sat down at the carved stone bench that was as round as the main dome of his dwelling. The fire pit in the middle had gone out, but the sun would soon heat the surface to a more pleasant temperature. She returned from the storage room with a dried karrahk hind leg, with a large chunk already missing from it. He watched her silently as she made her way around and sat down at the opposing side. She ate in silence, and didn’t even acknowledge he was there. This confused him.
“Ssheeyak sha rasshassh ssherr?” (Did you sleep well?) He asked in their ancient native language. He had missed speaking it, to speak to someone of his own kind.
She had apparently not noticed he was there. She quickly looked up, startled, and swallowed hard, and immediately looked down at the floor.
“Forgive me, I did not see you Guardian, please forgive my faults and be lenient in my punishment.”
“Punishment? Why would I punish you? And why do you call me guardian?”
He couldn’t see her face, but her hands moved nervously, and she stared at the floor. When she spoke, she whispered so low he could barely hear her.
“You... you are of Gamma. You are Guardian. I... forgive me Guardian, I do not understand...” He could hear in her voice that she was close to tears.
He stood up and walked to her, and kneeled at her side. He put his claws under her jaw and lifted it so she would face him, but she shied away and turned her head, as if he would strike her.
“I may be of Gamma, but I will not harm you in any way. I would never do that.”
He paused briefly. He could see that she listened.
“My name is Cerin. The only female I have ever seen died when I was only a few hundred cycles old. She was the last female that lived.” He hesitated, not sure what effect his next words would have.
“No eggs would hatch after that, and most of the remaining males grew old and died. We may have forgotten many things, but I would never punish you for not seeing me, and I have never heard of a Guardian. Now, please, look at me.”
As he begged her to look at him, she slowly turned her head to face him, with disbelief and tears in her eyes. He knew not how old she was, but he knew she must be ancient, to have lived under such a rule.
“Please, speak to me. Why don't you start with your name? And if you can, please explain why you were inside the Obelisk."
She hesitated. She wanted to speak, but couldn’t control her voice just yet.
“Take your time,” he said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
He heard her breathing and hearts slowly returning to normal.
“My name is Amara of Alpha.” He looked into her deep blue eyes. He was utterly lost. He would give anything at her whim, be it his life if she wanted, he wouldn’t hesitate. As she continued he sensed the pride in her heritage, being Alpha is to be the Mother amongst children. Alpha leads, all others follow.
“I am the oldest hatchling of my den. I was encased in The Obelisk because the stone would protect us when all others died, to preserve us deeper than hibernation. My mother and her sister was among the first to die. After that my father made the obelisks to protect me and my sisters.”
“There are others?” He didn’t dare hope there were more like her.
“There were,” she answered. “I don’t know if they remain. We were nine sisters. My father made nine, pillars of rebirth he called them.”
“Your father, how did he make them?”
“With fire, like yours, when you saved me from the stone. I never thanked you.”
He bowed graciously. He saw a hint of a smile.
“You were calling my name from within the Obelisk, then I transformed into... whatever that was.”
“A primordial.” She answered. “How do you not know this?”
“We forgot so many things... We forgot how to transform.”
“Shapeshift.” She corrected. “You are a shapeshifter.”
"Please tell me, you called me Guardian. What did you mean?"
"You are the Guardian. You are a descendant of Gamma.”
She sat before him, confused. Tears fell from her bright blue eyes and trickled down her thorny cheeks. When she spoke her voice cracked with despair.
"So much knowledge lost... Gamma was the first Guardian. The Protector. The Keeper. She was also the first shapeshifter. She guarded our lands, our people and our knowledge."
She fell silent, tears streaming down her face.
Cerin softly wiped her tears away.
"You speak of her as if you actually knew her."
She shook her head and took his hand in hers, holding it softly.
"No, I never got to know her, but I remember her from when my father took me to see her as she lay down for the longest sleep. She was beautiful. You have her eyes... Cerin of Gamma."
He sat before her with a look of absolute disarray on his face. He struggled to fathom the age of this fragile creature before him. And to have met one of the First Four. He was speechless.
"She really lived? Do you... So long you must've slept... How old were Gamma? How old were you when the Sundering began? I have so many questions."
She put her hand on his studded cheek.
"I will try to answer all your questions, but there is something you must do for me first."
He nodded. "Anything."
“There is something I want to show you, but I don’t remember where it is, I only know there is a colossal door at the foot of one of the biggest volcanoes.”
He frowned his snout in thought. “I don’t know of any doors, but the biggest volcanoes are on the other side of the planet, the sleeping ridge. I don’t have a ship here and It’ll take weeks to get there.”
She smiled very lightly, which is the only was an Omegan can smile, since their taut scales allow very little movement, making them masters of face and body language.
“What?” He looked insulted, he didn’t understand but her face told him he had said something incredibly amusing.
“Cerin, you may be older than I in years lived, and one should always show respect for the Guardian, but in my time you would have been called “sshasscheesh”.
He chuckled to himself. Village idiot, hm?
“Well,” he spoke softly, “had there been anyone as beautiful as you here to teach me, I would’ve known even less, as I would’ve only gazed into your bottomless blue eyes.” Her eyes widened and the red lines on her snout blossomed in color, as she turned her face away and closed her eyes.
He was surprised by her reaction. “Forgive me, did I insult you? I apologize. I meant not to hurt you.”
She gazed upon him under halfclosed eyelids. “You did not insult me, Cerin of Gamma, you made me blush.”
“Ah... well, I do not regret it. You are a very beautiful female, but I have only seen two. But I... I feel different when I’m close to you.”
She smiled again. “I know Cerin, your cheeks are practically glowing.” He quickly felt his cheeks, they were warmer than ever, he quickly walked to the mirrorpond, and gasped at the sight of his face. They were glowing!
“What does this mean? I have never...”
She had without a sound walked up behind him, she put her hand on his shoulder, and turned him around. She stood much to close he thought, so close he couldn’t move.
“Amara, what...” she interrupted him. “Shh... You have never, and neither have I, but my mother told me I would know when I found my mate. You make me happy, you make me feel beautiful, and you have already saved my life. I know I want to be with you. From now on, Cerin of Gamma, you are mine, and I am yours, until the end of time, if you will have me.”
He was absolutely stunned. He couldn’t speak, he tried but couldn’t form a single sound. Her smile made his knees weak, and he felt he could drown in those beautiful eyes.
“Cerin, are you all right?” She asked. He could barely nod.
Something inside him had awakened, something he had never felt in his long life. Lust. Desire. Love. He didn’t know what to call it, but her, confessing her feelings for him had given him all he could ever want. He lifted her into his arms and carried her into the magma caves. He carefully placed her on the biggest stone in the cave, her eyes glinted in the glowing light of the bright orange magma. The heat in the cave made him tremble, his hands were shaking. His breath was hot, and his hearts pounded in his chest.
“Easy,” she whispered. “Cherish this moment, it is the last of our lives as children. We will be reborn, as it has always been.” He didn’t understand, and his expression reflected it. “You really have forgotten everything haven’t you?” He thought for a second and nodded.
She sighed. “I will teach you all I know, and we will teach our hatchlings. And they will teach all our people. But for now it is just you and me. Lay with me, my love, and see what happens.”
She pulled him close, and in the bright orange glow of churning magma, they made love for the first time.
Cerin woke slowly, he felt different somehow, but the feeling of Amara’s warm scales pressing against his body made his hearts beat faster. He put his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him.
“Your breath tickles,” she mumbled. He rubbed his chin against hers, feeling the warmth she radiated.
“Feeling you-“ he interrupted himself, shocked to hear his own voice, and sat up quickly. He had not expected to hit his head on the ceiling of the cave that he had walked down into, and he hit it hard.
“What? Why do I sound like this?” His deep growling voice scared even him.
She laughed, and the sound echoed of the walls. She sounded differently too.
“I told you, my love, you would see what happened.” She sat up and turned towards him. She looked very much different, but still the same eyes. He touched her face, and in the orange glow he saw his hand. He could barely recognize it, the scars he had earned was there, but this was not the hand he had been born with. The six fingers were longer and thicker, the claws sharper than karrahk teeth.
“Wait until you see your face my love.” She crawled of the stone, and had to crawl out of the cave. Had the ceiling caved in? He didn’t understand, a feeling he was getting used to. And what was this about his face? He rolled of the stone and crawled towards the entrance to the cave.
Amara had already crawled up, he saw light from above as he started crawling through the tunnel. Halfway up, he got stuck. There was nowhere near enough room for him to get out, he reached out with one arm and could feel the floor of the dwelling above.
He sighed. “Amara, I’m stuck. How can I be stuck? This makes no sense! And why do I sound like a karrahk male in heat!?” She looked down from up above. “It’s fine my love, just dig in your claws and pull yourself up.” He grunted, tried to twist himself around to get a better angle, and pressed his claws down into the massive stone floor, and pulled. He heard and felt the stone around him crumbling, his shoulders and back scraped against the jagged rocks. Finally his other arm came loose, he dug down in the floor and pulled his way up. When he stood up he looked around himself, baffled by how different everything looked. Everything was so small! “It isn’t your dwelling that has changed my love, it is you. And I.”
He turned around, and the sight before him made his cheeks warm. Amara was changed, her tail was longer, her body more curved than before, her legs looked longer, yet she was shorter. She came closer and embraced him, she barely reached to his chest, where she before had been almost the same height as him. She looked up at him. Her cheeks were wider, her snout smaller, and short fur covered her scalp. “Why are you shorter?” He asked. She laughed. “Oh my love, I’m not shorter, it is you who are taller! Look in the mirrorpond if you do not believe me.” He turned around, and the insight hit him like a rock in the head. The mirrorpond that had earlier reached him to the chest, now didn’t even reach his waist. He bent down and gazed upon his face. The pond was too small to let him see his entire face, but what he saw scared him. It was the face of the monster, the Primordial that stared back at him. The elongated snout and jaw, teeth made to kill, the bony ridges around his eyes, oh and the eyes, if those eyes didn’t scream murder he didn’t know what did. He quickly turned to Amara again.
“Please tell me this is a dream. It cannot be real! I am a monster!”
“Oh it is very real. When there is no Queen or Guardian anymore, our bodies sense it, and when two lovers mate, they evolve into what is missing. When the last Queen and Guardian died, our world was made wanting.”
“Now it is our turn, our responsibility to fill that void. And we will fill it, with our hatchlings, and they will fill it with theirs. But we will be Queen and Guardian for the rest of our lives. This is our time, my love. And you are not a monster. What you was before was a child. Now, you are the Father.” She caressed her stomach. “In here lay your children, for now. Come, feel them.” He knelt down before her, and in her abdomen he could sense them, he could see them. Small glowing pods of slumbering fire. “There must be hundreds!” He beamed with pride and joy. He stood and swooped her up into his arms in one sweeping motion, intoxicated by her, by himself, and the things he had learned.
“I love you, my Queen.”
“And I love you, my Guardian. My terrible fire breathing monster.”
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Requested by Anon.
Includes: Bellamy Blake x Reader.
* Please do a reader and Bellamy request where they get kidnapped and held hostage so they get to know eachother, and become really close. So when they are rescued they dont like how they live so far from eachother and cant sleep. So Bellamy turns up at her house with love confessions and filled with fluff pls
* Bellamy x reader imagine where Bellamy has hypothermia so reader unabashedly keeps him warm like taking off her clothes for skin to skin contact. And Bellamy's all freezing and flustered
Note: Not my best, nothing ever really is, but I put them together bc they would have been too short otherwise and I didn't really know how to write it. HOW THE HELL DO I END IMAGINES??
It wasn't the same, and you doubted that it ever would be. For almost a week you had forced yourself to stay awake, because you didn't want to wake up one day and realise that you were still stuck in that place, that being rescued didn't happen, that you weren't back home and safe, but rather in the small cage that you began to rot in for almost two and a half months. A shallow and shaky breath escaped your dry and split lips as you laid on your back, above the blankets, on the bed. It was cold, the rain fell heavily with large hailstones, and the wind blew against the walls of your home loudly, howling and whistling in a high pitch. There was an uncomfortable stinging sensation from your eyes as you willed them to stay open. There was no doubt that they were bloodshot and bruised from the trauma that you were forced through.
But dark circles were the least of your problems.
The others in your clan grew worried as you shut yourself away from them, avoiding any confrontation. They knew that you stopped eating, fearing that they had done something to your food like the other people in that place did. Their haunting gas masks and heavy breathing was all that you could see and hear every time you stared down at a plate of food. The effects of sleep deprivation, and the hallucinations that followed, caused you to see the food deflate in the wooden bowl and ooze out a light grey colour that filled up the bowl and overflowed until you dropped it and rubbed at your eyes, only to see that, when you reopened your eyes, the freshly cooked meat, recently picked berries, and small potatoes, from the small garden, was knocked over on the ground, and covered in mud.
They tried to help, they tried to get you to talk about it, but they only made matters worse. Every time you thought about it, it only resurfaced the old memories that you wanted to forget and keep hidden. They had to give up trying at some point, they knew it was only putting more stress on you, but they didn't want to let go of it completely because they knew that would be worse than making you talk about it straight away. It wasn't something that you could ignore forever, they wanted you to realise that, but for now, it wasn't time to open up and hold hands with everyone to tell them what happened.
They had to give you space until you were ready.
When you were rescued, you hadn't been rescued alone. One of the members of Skaikru, a group that you hadn't known about as you had been held prisoner during their crash landing, had been in a cage next to you. Bellamy tried, to the best of his abilities, to fill you in on what happened, but of course, there were some facts missing and he didn't know a lot about your clan. You weren't surprised, you knew that Ingranrona Kru didn't get involved in a lot of Coalition activities, preferring to stay to themselves. So, when you had been rescued, your people were quick to take you back to your village and keep you far away from any more possible dangers.
But they might have been quick to judge.
It was unavoidable that you would have grown close to Bellamy. He was the only person you had been around after being alone for over a month before he was brought in. You didn't even see the people who kept you prisoner for more than five minutes a day. So, when you were back home, you struggled to feel safe anywhere. Bellamy had often tried to get the people who held you both prisoners to leave you alone, risking his own life for yours, despite not knowing you. He kept telling you that everything was going to be okay, that you were going to be rescued, that you weren't going to die in a cage surrounded by dead rats and small bones. He even managed to get his arm through the gaps of the cages to get to you, holding your hand in his tightly, rubbing this thumb across your skin as he reminded you that you were going to get out of there, you both were.
It wasn't until a month and a half later before his words became true.
A soft knocking at your door caused you to blink, escaping your memories for even just a short moment. With furrowed eyebrows, you sat up, swinging your legs over the side of your bed before you lit a few small candles, heading towards your door. When you pulled the door open slightly, keeping your body close to it so it couldn't be opened more than a few inches, you saw Bellamy standing outside in the rain. The water caused his curly hair to fall straight, his clothes hung heavily and his teeth chattered while his body shivered. He opened his mouth, having to talk loudly, over the rain and the wind.
"I know it's late, and I know it's been over a week, but…"
He couldn't finish his sentence, a shiver ran through his body uncomfortably and he tried wiping the water from his face, causing his hair to move back, showing the cut on his forehead. You moved away from the door and pulled it open, grabbing onto the soaked sleeve of his jacket, pulling him inside before you closed the door quickly. As you turned back around to face him, the dim light from the candles highlighted his own bruises, his own dark circles and the cuts along his skin. Bellamy tightened his fists together, not wanting to lose feeling in his fingers as he continued to talk.
"I can't sleep, I can't… I—"
"Take it off," you interrupted, watching as his lips began to turn blue, his skin growing pale.
You pointed to his clothes. "They're making you worse."
"I will light a fire, just—" You motioned to his clothes again, glancing down at the floor as a small puddle of water collected beneath him. Without hearing what he had to say, you walked over to the small fireplace and placed some dry logs inside, lighting a small match before you flicked it inside, poking at the logs with a long metal poker, keeping an eye on it as the flames began to engulf the wood. The sound of heavy, wet clothing dropping to the ground echoed from the front door. You turned around as saw Bellamy only shrugged off his jacket and shoes. "What's taking you so long?"
"Oh, you meant—" Bellamy pulled at his shirt and you nodded.
"It's soaked, take it off."
Bellamy nodded and pulled the back of his shirt of his head, he was grasping at the material, mumbling to himself as he struggled due to the lack of feeling in his fingers. Quickly, you grabbed his jacket from the floor, hanging it up on the wall for the water to drip off. He threw his shirt on the small clothes string next to it before he fiddled with his belt, shaking and occasionally losing some balance as he stood. You moved his shoes and placed them near the fire, stuffing strips of paper inside to absorb the water. Bellamy cursed to himself quietly, moving his hands away from his belt to breathe warm air on them.
"Do… Do you need help?" He turned to you, noticing how you didn't keep eye contact with him for more than a second. Bellamy nodded his head, hating the feeling of the water dripping from his hair to his back. With a nervous nod back, you walked over and quickly undid his belt, allowing him to pull it through the belt loops before he placed it over the small wooden chair by the wall. After you turned back to the fire, Bellamy quickly got out of his trousers and shivered, hanging them up before he noticed you hesitantly taking your own clothes off.
"What are you doing?"
"It will help warm you up faster."
"Not like that, just… sit."
Bellamy sat down in front of the fire, noticing that you placed a thick woollen blanket down just in front of the fire. He picked it up and unfolded it, wrapping it around his shoulders before he quickly placed his hands in front of the fire, rubbing them together while you got out of your clothes and picked up a small towel to dry his hair. His skin was ice cold to the touch as you sat next to him, drying his hair as he tried getting more feeling to his fingers. He shivered again, closing his eyes tightly, clenching his fists together as he breathed out deeply, gritting his teeth together.
"You'll warm up soon."
He didn't respond to you straight away, only turning his head to glance at you with red cheeks and tired eyes. "I know. I know I shouldn't have come here so late, or at all, but—"
"It's fine, Bellamy. Just focus on getting warm, okay?"
"Okay." He nodded, turning back to look at the fire, staring intently as you dried the rest of his hair as best as you could before you threw the small towel over to the wooden chair. Bellamy was quick to wrap one side of the blanket around your shoulders as well. He tried keeping his eyes on the fire, but every so often he found himself glancing back over to you, looking at the bruises on your legs that travelled up to your stomach. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"For what?" You asked, keeping your arms around him to help warm him up faster.
"I should have tried harder to stop that from happening to you."
"You didn't know they were going to do that."
"I should have. I've seen it happen before, at Mount Weather, I lived through it. I even inflicted it on Lincoln and one of my own people."
"That's not who you really are though, is it?" Bellamy knew it was rhetorical. His cheeks only grew warmer, which was either from the fire or because of how close you were to him. "Do your people know you're here? Or will they wake up and think you were taken again?"
"I left a note."
"How long will it take before they find it."
"I left a big note," he corrected himself. "I wrote it on the wall of my room."
With a nod, you rested your head on his shoulder, watching as he kept his hands out to the fire to warm them up and bring feeling back to them. Bellamy still shook lightly, but it wasn't as much as before, and he stopped chattering his teeth, there was, even more, colour to his lips as he ran his tongue along his bottom one before his jaw clenched as his eyes glanced to you before flickering back to the fire.
"I, uh…" Bellamy cleared his throat. "I don't know about you, but, um, I haven't been sleeping. Like at all," he admitted, swallowing the lump that formed in his throat. "I also don't trust people like I used to, and even the people that I did trust, I'm scared of letting them get close to me. I don't know what happened to us there, or what they did to us, but I hate it."
"I can't sleep either. I don't want to wake up and find out that I'm still alone, that I'm still a prisoner."
"I just want things to go back to how they used to be."
You moved your head away from him, feeling the cold air at your cheek again, sending a shiver up your spine. "I don't think it ever will go back to how it used to be. I want it to as well, but realistically?" Bellamy nodded. "I think I'm just too broken to be fixed."
Bellamy frowned. "I know what you mean."
"I'm just so tired," you whispered quietly.
"I will watch over you if you want?"
"I can't ask you to do that, you even said it yourself, you haven't been sleeping either."
"I don't mind, I just want to be here. I want to know that you're okay." You smiled faintly, breathing deeply as you looked at him. He turned his body to face you instead of the fire, his hands took hold of yours, they were a lot warmer now. "I'll stay, okay? If you'll have me, then I'll stay. I just need to be with someone that I know I can't trust. I just need it."
Bellamy continued to look at you, waiting for an answer. If his people did worry, then they would know where he was, he said it himself, he left them a big note. It was probably something that you both needed. After all, he has been the first person that you've spoken to for longer than a minute since you got back. After a few more seconds of silence, you gave him the answer he was hoping for, a softly spoken whisper of the word, "Stay."
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Welcome Back Ch. 1
(This is a pet project I’ve been toying around with for much longer than I should have that I’m sure has been covered a million times over. Sarcasm aside, this intends to be a mutiichapter series where Mark reintroduces himself to his egos one at a time, with maybe a bonus second ego thrown in for fun. It’s a lot of banter, and way longer than I wanted it to be, but I hope it turned out okay!)
The darkly-stained oak door had been an impressive start. It stood tall and menacing amidst the rather bland hallway, laced with riveted black metal designs and twisted bars that not only made it stand out all the more, but told tales of warning that would have deterred all but the most brave, or perhaps ignorant, of souls.
The black knob was cold and large, escutcheon plate adorned with a large keyhole that could only be the destination of a key of equally impressive, and perhaps a little showy, character. Naturally, it creaked when it opened, but the sound was quieter, more of a well-maintained feature rather than from the neglect that would normally accompany such an iconic sound. It created chills, or perhaps that was from the blast of cold air that hissed around the edges of the door like a long standing seal being broken.
First impressions of the room were not particularly welcoming. It was dim, every window papered over with only a few sun beams slipping through. They, by themselves, could afford some form of light, but the majority of it was given off by a few bulbs, bare and hanging by a single wire, strewn across the ceiling to create spot lights of light here and there throughout the room, highlighting various areas like a museum showcase.
If, of course, that museum was instead a library.
The entire room was a maze of shelves and bookcases that touched the ceiling, the same dark color as the door, so that it added to the sense of cramped dimness that one got from within. The echo from his footfalls on the polished wood floor, however, suggested a much bigger area that one had yet to see, hidden away behind the large structures that were piled high with books of different sizes and colors. They even seemed to give off their own unique smell, something detectable amidst all the other sensory heightening aspects of the room.
It was prominent, but not overpowering. An old smell, archaic and nostalgic, filled with chemical sweetness and promises of both good adventure, and terrible deeds. It filled every corner of the room, aroma mixing with the weathered smell of old wood and dried ink. It almost soothed the spirit in the way only something of such long standing could. A ghost of time's past; of promises for the future.
A contradiction to all things presented prior that left the mind dizzy from all the conflicting information.
This was all by design of course. The Host may not have been as flashy as he once was, but he could still appreciate a well set scene, even if he himself could not physically see to enjoy it. He felt it well enough in the reactions of others, and that delicious sense of unease and wonder satisfied him just fine. And if it acted as a deterrent to the wayward, bothersome soul, well, all the better.
Another smell entered the fray, warm and rich with herbal tang. With a few soft words and a gentle click, he reached over to turn off the hot plate and poured not just one, but two cups of tea. Earl Grey with light honey. A personal favorite, and one that could be easily agreeable enough to someone who did not partake in drinking tea frequently. A tragedy truly, for tea was a cure for all ails. It soothed the temper and quieted the mind. Both things that the Host cherished deeply when he found a moment of respite.
Where narration was his calling and precognition was his curse, complete mental silence was a very special kind of lull that he did not take for granted. And tea was the perfect thing to bring forth this inner peace. Just holding the warm ceramic in his hands was enough to have him relaxing into his chair.
Unfortunately, it did not seem to have the same effect for his current guest who simply held his cup flat on one palm, fingers barely gracing the handle. Poison seemed to be the word echoing in the man's mind and while Host could have made a compelling argument, it really wasn't worth the effort. His loss honestly.
But, Host supposed it was a little hard to find your center when the racket of the various inhabitants of the building amalgamated together to make as much noise as possible, even from the secluded and general deadened stillness of his library. The building shook for the second time in as many minutes and his guest jumped like he had been electrocuted.
Host could have made a joke about the man's choice of occupation in relation to the scare, but he highly doubted Mark would have appreciated such humor with as tense as he was. The man was at least trying to be subtle, but Host could ‘see’ it in the way his knee bounced with barely suppressed nervous energy. He was like a tightly coiled spring on the verge of spilling some very good tea.
"Apologies," Host started, resting the cup, along with his hands underneath it, on the table that separated them. There was a vintage Continental typewriter pushed off to the side along with a thick stack of linen paper - pages both blank and filled - to make room for the guest he had foreseen coming. "It seems you picked a rather hectic day to show up here."
"What the heck are they doing down there?" Mark asked, a hint of concern laced in his suspicious words.
"I believe Wilford and Bim are at odds in redecorating the studio." Host may not have been able to see Mark's face, but he could feel the man's stomach go cold. "Don’t worry, they are both being overseen. One cannot leave two reality warpers to their own self-absorbed devices."
Mark made a derisive noise, but made no further comment about it. Host could feel the man’s eyes watching him, examining him. Host’s every breath, every movement, every nonchalant sip of tea. He wasn’t even trying to be subtle anymore, but he supposed the man would consider it of no need. Host understood. He knew his presence to be unnerving, even to the most brave of souls. It was a feeling Host wasn’t fond of, but one he was very much used to. He could almost hear the questions without the man saying a word.
Host humored the silence, and subsequent scrutiny, for a little while longer before clearing his throat lightly. Their creator was here for a reason, and prolonging the silence was only taking even more time out of both of their days. "If I may pry, what brings you here today? Quite out of the blue, might I add."
"Nothing in particular," Mark starts, sounding mildly uncomfortable. He’s drumming his fingers against the side of the cup with no beat and it’s starting to irk the writer. “It’s not like I could have called ahead anyway.”
Mark is here reluctantly. Host didn’t need eyes to see that. “Miss Amy has the entry desk number.”
All activity from the man ceases and Host vaguely wonders if that was perhaps too forward. Cautious silence reigns for only a little while before Mark, in a low voice, asks: “How did you know that? How do you even know about Amy?”
“If it assuages some concern, she has never actually contacted any of us.” Host offers calmly, before adding: “Just because you have stopped watching us, does not mean we ever stopped watching you.”
The monotonously spoken sting seems to have an effect and Mark, with a moderate sigh, leans back into his chair. There is no guilt in the action, and Host would never ask him to have any. To be honest, Dark wasn’t the only ego with a serious chip in their shoulder at the human’s neglect, but Host didn’t particularly care one way or another where this went. He had his writing, and that had always been enough.
“... Amy wanted me to get to know you guys again.” Mark relented, seeming to have calmed enough to attempt his tea, quickly pulling a face right after. Lukewarm probably. Such a waste.
"Does she?" Host takes a small amount of amusement from this, a soft breath escaping his lips that could have been a laugh. "That’s nice of her. However, you did make us. Hard to know someone more than that."
“Hey now,” Mark frowned, placing the tea cup on the table to resist gesticulating with it. "You know that's only partially true. I might have had a hand in making you, but you've evolved into your own beings while I was... gone. You all have my face, but I don't feel like I'm looking into a mirror anymore."
Host hummed at this, a small smile ghosting the corners of his mouth. “That’s a refreshing perspective. Am I to assume Miss Amy feels the same?”
Mark made an exasperated noise, looking off somewhere to the left of Host. “Okay, okay, you caught me. Amy was the one who wanted to be here today. It took me an entire hour of trying to talk her out of it before I convinced her that I would like to…” He trailed off, searching for a polite word.
“See if it’s safe,” Host completed helpfully. Mark winced, but Host was not offended. “Very wise. There are more than a few here who might accidentally do something we would all regret.”
As if the two egos ears were burning, another boom sounded, rattling so hard that some books fell off the shelf near the door. Mark had to snatch up his teacup to prevent it from spilling.
“Aren’t you afraid they’re going to take down the whole building?!”
“No,” Host replied simply, looking wholly unbothered. “But, if it makes you more comfortable…” Host cleared his throat, setting his empty teacup aside and leaning forward to clasp his hands over the table before he began to speak; soft, rapid words that Mark had to listen very closely to in order to understand.
“‘The two egos looked to each other fiercely; a combative and creative fire burning in their eyes. One desired of colorful chaos and the other of impressive order; both seeking to satisfy their massive and wildly unnecessary prideful natures, but there is a pause in their fighting, one that tells of the need for a break. They both suddenly realize they have been going at it since four in the morning, and perhaps it is time to stop.’”
Host took a small breath, pulling back as if finished, when a small irritated frown pulled at his mouth. The narrator, leaning forward predatorily, suddenly continued in an irked tone: “‘And they now realize they have been bothering the Host this whole time and that if they don’t stop, he will send them to the far reaches of the universe where they can make all the noise they want in the cold, unforgiving, depths of space.’”
Mark watched as Host waited patiently, still as a statue, most likely waiting for assurance that he would not have to follow through on his rather frightening threat, before sitting back up when it seemed he was satisfied. The two tv personalities could be frustratingly thick, but both had a fair sense of self preservation at least.
As he took a calming breath, Host could sense an interesting feeling radiating from the creator, a trepid familiarity, one that spoke tales of past experience. The man could probably remember what happened when people resisted Author’s stories when it was still just him playing a character. Seeing it in action may have finally made it visceral and Host could only imagine how chilling that might be.
Mark cleared his throat with an apprehension that Host did not miss. “I thought you said someone was watching them?”
“Yes, me.” Host responded flatly, feeling renewed warm wetness collecting on his eye cloth near his nose. It would have to be changed soon. Mark seemed to be mulling the answer over if his sudden silence was anything to go by. He had something to say about it, as was evidenced by his renewed fidgeting, and Host supposed he could humor him. “You’re curious.”
“Not about the omnipresence, no,” Mark replied without missing the implication.
“But that is part of it,” Host tutted, giving the man a small, if slightly bitter, smile to indicate that his current train of thought was okay. “Go ahead and ask. You wouldn’t be the first.”
Mark nibbled his lip for a second, seeming to deliberate on how to ask without being offensive. It was kind of him, if unnecessary. Ultimately, the man seemed to decide to avoid the touchy subject and instead asked: “Do you watch everyone?”
Host hummed thoughtfully. “That question could mean a great many things, but I supposed the general answer to your general question is yes. I watch all the egos. I watch all of the people of this city. I watch an unsuspecting family over in Beijing. They have a fascinating life. Their book is on the shelf near the door.”
Mark made a displeased face. “You mean all of these books are people whose lives you’ve ruined?”
“Not at all. Some of them were doing just fine ruining it themselves.” Mark didn’t seem to appreciate the dark humor, so Host saw fit to amend. “Not to worry, that part of my life is over. I am simply a Host to the world now; an observer turned scribe, and I make sure their stories live on even if they don’t happen to. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Very noble,” The human remarked dryly.
“If one chooses to take it that way.”
“I don’t remember you ever being able to see that far,” Mark commented absently, and then had the sudden awareness to be embarassed for the slip, talking about the very real ego in front of him like he was still a character being played. Host found amusement in his floundering, but decided to withhold commenting to allow the man to continue unpressured. The human cleared his throat before pressing on to clarify. “We, uh, never really got into the finer details, but I know your control was limited to more or less a single city’s boundaries. And you were required to write the change for it to work.”
“You’re speaking of the previous me,” Host clarified, the consonants in his following words popping with resentment. “I believe I’ve had some events happen since then.”
And if Host focused hard enough, he could still feel the burning agony that that bullet had inflicted upon his side on the day of his death. He would never forget the helplessness and fear he felt in those final moments. But Mark didn’t seem to be interested in the how. He knew, and Host knew he knew, even if the reasons were different for both of them. The inherent knowledge was eating away at the human, and it was manifesting as a strange sense of sudden irritation. Host knew exactly what Mark was going to get at and spoke before he could.
“He appeared before me when I had nowhere else to turn,” Host said quickly, his tone a no nonsense clip. “A trap certainly, but I had already been dying before the bullet ever left that gun.”
“But how could you let him do that to you?” Mark asked, touching his own cheek just under his eyes, and Host could sense the pit the human felt in his stomach, but the narrator had no tolerance for this brand of critical sympathy.
“Would you like to enlighten me about your own deal?” Host replied venomously, startling the man with his sudden ferocity, quiet and calm as it was. Mark seemed to be trying to find a counter-argument that Host knew for a fact did not exist, when something shot across the barrier of his mind, pulling the narrator away from their current conversation with jarring suddenness, making him tense, and forcing his power to surge upward to fill the space.
“Hey, are you okay?” Mark’s concern managed to bleed through the intrusion, but it was mixed with an overwhelming amount of sensory input that would have brought any other being to their knees. The narrator could not respond, not directly. Instead, with practiced precision, he narrowed his focus and allowed the words to fly from his lips with a near breathy quickness that Mark struggled to keep up with.
“Sneaking quietly, footsteps muffled by the carpeted halls, the ego crept down the corridor with horrible purpose. They had looked in every room the building had to offer before finally managing to narrow their search to the one place he was sure the maker would be. And they had every intent to make full use of this opportunity to...” Host broke free from the hold with frown and turned to Mark grimly. “You need to hide.”
“Wha - from what? Who?” Mark demanded, standing up so swiftly he almost knocked his chair over. Host simply shook his head and lost himself again.
“They reached out and knocked - one, two, three times,” Three quick, sharp taps echoed amidst the bookshelves. “Before testing the, unfortunately, unlocked door. They peered in cautiously, unable to see beyond the immediate maze of bookshelves, an arm hiding behind their back in a manner they considered inconspicuous. The hidden hand held something small and clean that glinted fatally in the low light.”
That was all Mark needed to hear before he, after a moment of frantic searching in the unfamiliar territory, found a somewhat dark alcove between a burgundy leather couch a wall that housed a small alcove with ever more books packed into it. As Mark ducked into the spot, Host tamped the overbearing power back down, remaining in place and simply pulling the pushed aside typewriter right back in front of him.
“Hosty?” Came a trepid, but still familiarly deep voice, just a tad closer than Host was expecting.
“I’m here,” The narrator responded in a nonchalant tone, pecking away at the keys of his typewriter as if he had never stopped. The footsteps came closer and closer until, after a beat of hesitation, a shock of bright red hair peeked shyly around the last shelving unit before the opening. “Greetings, Yandere. Are you looking for a book?”
“Uh, no, not today,” The ego muttered, sounding hesitant, but his eyes were sharp as they voraciously scanned every detail of the room for what - or who, Host knew - he was looking for.
“Then what brings you by?” Host pressed, pretending to be oblivious to give the ego a chance to turn back of their own accord. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Nothing much,” Yandere replied, easing a facade of well practiced casualness into his tone that Host saw right through. “I’ve just been busy with a few... projects.”
“As am I,” Host hinted, hands gesturing to the mess atop the table that he lamented having to organize once more in the near future. Instead of taking the clue as Host hoped he would, Yandere instead stepped around the bookshelf fully. Host could feel a very specific type of displeasure radiating from Mark who, he guessed, had hazarded a chance to peek.
“Oh yeah? Whatcha writing?” Yandere asked with feigned interest, walking around in what would have been construed as a casual manner if Host didn’t know better.
“A young couple in Denmark. Secret lovers by starlight, absolutely wretched people in the sun.”
“Oh, that sounds so romantic!” Yandere gushed, a sigh of lament leaving his lips. “I wish I could write. Then maybe senpai would actually notice me.”
“Senpai has not noticed any of us for a while,” Host responded with such disdain that he felt Mark grow even more uncomfortable in his corner. “I would dare say he’s probably left us for good.”
Yandere made a noise in his throat, a sort of chuckle, but it was wrong sounding. “Now that’s not true. A little squirrely told me he saw senpai walk in the front door not too long ago.”
Host grimaced in his head. He would be having words with the woodland monarch later. “King says many things; some of which pertain to the idea that the Google’s are the four horsemen, Silver is secretly a lizard under his costume, and that Ed can’t find anyone to sell his son to because he doesn’t actually want to. You ought to know better than to take anything he says seriously.”
Host waited for the rebuttal, the insistence that he knew more than he was letting on because everyone knew he always did, but it didn’t come. Instead, the dangerous ego suddenly paused in their searching, head slowly cocking to the left with quickly growing delight as his eyes fell upon a terrible, horrible clue.
The second teacup.
That damn idiot.
“Expecting someone?” Yandere asked darkly, picking up the ceramic cup delicately by the rim with the tips of his fingers, waving it lightly to watch the tan liquid and tea leaf particles swirl within.
“You, naturally,” Host retorted smoothly, unmoved in his nonchalant nature while preparing a very specific narration to spit should the ego decide to pull anything unsavory. “Although, I imagine it must be cold by now.”
“Still experiencing lost time?” The response was good-natured in tone, genuine concern laced in it even, but Host could sense the frustration brewing just beneath the surface. He was countering Yandere faster than the stalker could find reasons to push, and the building tension had the obsessor twisting the poorly hidden knife between his fingers in agitation.
“I suppose I do get a little absorbed here and there. Would you like me to warm up another for you?” There was a bout of silence, one filled with Yandere casting one more scrutinizing glance over the small area, before, with an unsatisfied frown, he sighed through his nose and placed the cold ceramic cup back on the table with a soft tap.
“No, thank you,” Yandere didn’t even bother to hide the disappointment in his voice now. “I have some other… things I need to attend to.”
“As you please,” Host bid warmly. “You know you’re welcome anytime.”
As Yandere turned to leave, skirt twirling behind him, he paused, a hand reaching out to grip the dividing bookcase with a firmness that Host knew would leave nail marks.
“Hosty, you would tell me the truth if you’ve seen anything, wouldn’t you?” His voice was soft, vulnerable, manipulative, and wholly convincing if it had been to anyone other than Host.
“Haven’t I always?” The narrator replied with a soft smile, fingers poised above the keys of the Continental in a show of eagerness to return to his current project.
There was a tense moment where the stalker stared him down, searching for the lie that had to be there, when, with an unsatisfied farwell, Yandere finally disappeared behind the bookcase entirely. Host waited a few minutes after he heard the door close before letting Mark know it was safe to come out. The man was slow to rise, a curious mixture of caution and stiffness in his movements as he looked around.
“I’m guessing Yandere is one of the ones holding a grudge?” Mark said after a moment, resting a hand on the back of his chair, but not quite ready to sit back down. He looked a little shaken and that nervous energy was most likely going to, understandably, keep him on his feet for a while.
“Quite the opposite actually,” Host responded, his tone flat and lightly serious as he pushed the typewriter away once more in favor of leaving room for his hands. “He’s been looking for you for months.”
“Comforting,” Mark bit back sarcastically, running his fingers through his hair.
“Not to worry. It’s been a mutual effort of us all to be evasive around him. While a good few of us may not like you, we do understand how important your existence is.”
“Actually comforting. Ish.”
“But, as much as I am actually enjoying this chat, I wouldn’t recommend you tarry much longer, lest you prefer a visit from someone else.” Host was certain he wouldn’t have to say who. He knew every ego there would all like a piece of the man at some point, but having them swarm all at once would certainly have nothing but negative consequences. And he very much liked the state his library was currently in, thank you.
Mark sighed deeply, and Host could hear every bit of worry and future weariness in it. “How on earth am I going to do this…?”
“Perhaps an arrangement can be made,” Host offered, and couldn’t help the playful smile that spread across his lips when Mark gave him an alarmed look. “I don’t require much anything in return, except for a promise of peace of course.”
“What kind of peace?” Mark asked cautiously, and flinched a little when Host stood slowly, reaching out and offering him a hand across the table.
“The kind where we can clear up any and all hostilities, and work together on good terms,” Host remarked as if it were obvious, not at all put off by the human’s suspicion. “Assuming that your sudden resurgence means we aren’t going to be closeted anymore, I’ll set the grounds for your return in our next meeting. This should be enough that you don’t need to be smuggled into each floor, and keep the others from… well, being themselves. More than fair, I think.”
“Especially since you don’t require my soul,” Mark joked, reaching out and taking Host’s hand firmly. “Thank you, that’s very generous.”
They shook once and Host smiled lightly at him before, without warning, he yanked Mark forward, forcing the man to find balance on the table between them with his free hand, while Host leaned into his shoulder so close that their cheeks almost touched.
“Be warned though,” Host growled in his ear. “If any of this falls through, and all your presence does is disrupt what we worked so hard to achieve here… let’s just say I don’t need permission to ruin someone the same way Dark does.”
Host felt the quiver that shot through the man’s spine in his shaky grip. He probably hadn’t needed to threaten Mark - he’d really been more than accommodating thus far - but Host had finally found found a place for himself amongst equals and he’d be damned before he let it all be stripped from him once more by some careless mistake. Never again.
As they parted, Mark cleared his throat, pushing away his obvious discomfort in the action. “I promise that my being here isn’t only to test the waters.”
“I should hope not,” Host remarked, all traces of threat gone from his tone as if they had never been there at all. He could tell by Mark’s words that he meant what he said, and his intent was enough to give the writer cautious hope that their future might be a bright one, if the groundwork was laid carefully of course. How everything was set would determine whether this endeavor would succeed brilliantly, or fail with dire results. At this point, only time, and Mark’s future actions, would tell.
“I appreciate your help in this. Really. Thank you for not smiting me as soon as I walked in the door,” Mark smiled, and Host couldn’t help finding himself returning the gesture.
“Of course. It wouldn’t be pertinent to reject potential amends. Now, go on,” Host said with a light bow and a palm up gesture towards the door. “I believe there is a female eagerly, and rather anxiously might I add, awaiting your return home. Oh, and Miss Amy too.”
Mark actually chuckled at that and didn’t bother asking how Host knew about Chica. It all finally seemed to be sinking in, and Host was glad to know that already not everything between them would be met with suspicion.
“Thanks again,” Mark bid cheerily, Host simply nodding in return as the man moved past him and disappeared behind the bookshelves towards the door, pausing only to put away the fallen books from earlier. Incorrectly, but the gesture was still nice.
As Host returned to his seat, he reached over to the keys of his antique typewriter and smiled widely as the final words to his most recent story found their way out not only on paper, but through his lips as well.
“And Mark,” The narrator called over the clicking keys, making the man pause with his hand just on the doorknob; Mark looking back even though he couldn’t see the writer behind the bookshelves. Host chuckled a little, feeling a sense of unease brewing in the human as Host’s amusement was broadcast through both sets of words. He only waited a moment longer before uttering, with a touch of playful wickedness:
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Deaths Assistant | Prologue
Blood doesn’t necessarily soak into snow like it does in the movies. It doesn’t wick around the crystals of ice, only to melt into the frozen ground below. It sat on top, sticking out like a rock concert during a craft expo. Something that caught attention, but he wrong kind of attention.
Right now, it looked almost fluorescent under the parking lot lamp. The kind that highlighted the snow storm that was underway. It stood out in a sharp yellow compared to the velvet darkness of the sky; carving out a golden cone that made it possible to see the very blood that seeped across the concrete and white powder.
Everything was overwhelmingly metallic, the scent almost like chewing on the business end of a key. Sour and burning as I tried to control my breathing- tried to stop the sobs that so desperately wanted to escape my lips. My hand pressed against the edge of my forehead, sweat beginning to form on my brow despite the frigid night air.
“Fuck,” I shook, not sure if it was the drastic temperature or the fact that I had just done the unthinkable. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
No one was there to listen to me apologize, or beg to forgiveness. This was a damn blockbuster parking lot. A building that sits desolate as the water damage that leaked through the roof spread deadly black mold to the rest of the structure. In the summer, long weeds slinked through every inch of the concrete, making it look worse than usual.
No one rented videos now-a-days. Not with Netflix and Hulu, or whatever.
Either way it left me next to alone in this place. There were tire tracks leading away from our simple mini-van, their car having speed away as soon as the gunshots broke the silence in the air. Before the gunshots broke everything.
My chest heaved up and down, fingers tingling. I was hyperventilating. A familiar feeling. One that I always got before a huge test or daunting speech. This time it happened after the fact; granted I had no idea Addison would take a bullet right between the eyes.
She looked graceful, even with scarlet syrup soaking into her blonde hair, tinting it orange instead of its usual color. Her eyes were shut, thank god. I couldn’t bare seeing the pain that no doubt radiated from those slate irises.
I always stared at them. They had the innate ability to shift from a deep forest green to a bright ocean blue. Most of the time they stayed grey though. Grey and warm, just like her personality. She wasn’t one to put herself out there, or draw attention to herself; even though she always got it. She’s beautiful.
She was beautiful.
My hands shook as I stared numbly at the phone in my hand. I had unlocked it about a hundred times but never brought myself to call the police. I couldn’t. What would happen then? Lie about a drug deal gone wrong in my mother’s 2002 Ford Windstar?
I ended up shoving my phone back in my pocket, opting to not call anyone at all. I had seen enough Law & Order. I had listened to enough podcasts. I knew that they could track anything today with enough effort and time. The sheriff had nothing but time.
The cold bit at my skin as I knelt down and wrapped her in my coat, trying to stop the blood from spreading any more than it had. The snow had already collected in her hair, small flakes accumulating against her blue lips.
I choked back another sob as I pulled open the van door. She was heavy, her whole weight leaning against me as I got Addison into the backseat. Got the body into the backseat. She laid as if she were blackout drunk and not completely gone. Blood had soaked into my shirt, my wool gloves already soaked through.
My breath was the only thing that I could hear through the purring of the cars motor. It was loud, struggling to warm up as the sour scent of blood filled the cab of the car. My fingers tightened around the wheels as I drove, headlights highlighting the van every once and awhile.
I needed to get to the graveyard, and fast. The roads being mostly empty but mostly iced over. I was always a cautious driver; not one to get speeding tickets often, or ever. I was pulled over once for missing a stop sign the first week I got my license. I got off with a warning, but my anxiety was enough to keep me in check since then.
The cemetery was as desolate as the parking lot. It was darker though, my eyes quick to adjust to the night haze as I scanned the area surrounded by the iron fence. There was a tent up in the middle of the yard, the fake grass covering the snow-covered ground. There had been a funeral earlier that day. They left the large flower covered wreath up, the sign for the deceased already sopping wet and peeling at the sides.
My focus was on Addison at the moment, Addison and the shovel that was left right by the freshly dug grave this morning. My pure adrenaline pushing through my veins as I shut off the headlights and pulled her from the car.
Warm tears flooded down my cheeks and pressed against my collarbone, they dried up almost as quickly as they formed as the wind continued to sting my cheeks. The lump forming in my throat as I stared at the freshly dug grave.
I fought back bile as I made the first dip into the mud. It was almost frozen solid from the snow at this point, but was still lose enough for me to make a sizeable dent. Everything about this was against my moral code- if I still had one left at this point.
This was all Addy’s idea. She claimed to know who to get weed from. Claimed to know that just smoking a little bit would calm my nerves and make finals not so unbearable. Neither of us knew that they would want more than just fifty dollars for a few grams- neither of us knew they held guns and expected to take everything off of us.
They got her cell phone before she resisted and got me where I was today. Got her where she was. In a way, it was all my fault. I should have stopped her. Should have kept her quiet while they robbed us. Just like I always had.
I had read somewhere that the best place to hide a body was where most of them end up in the first place. That’s the only reason I was here; why I was desecrating the poor grave of a sweet old woman who worked in the local library for the past forty-five years.
I had to bury my best friend. The girl who got killed while I stood and watched. The girl who changed my life forever.
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Stanley McGucket Bonus Story - Sally and Mearl
Last night, I was inspired outta nowhere to write some stuff about Sally McGucket (nee Turner). So here’s her backstory: meeting Mearl McGucket, falling in love, having kids, and finding out one of her children was trans. It is way longer than I meant for it to be. Enjoy.
Sally Virginia Turner grew up in a house that expected a lot of her. Luckily, she had everything her parents wanted. She had brains, beauty, and enough charm to fool even a fox. She never wanted for anything, never got her hands dirty, and rarely struggled with anything she faced. At least, until she met Dulcimearl McGucket.
Sally had made the decision to study law at school. Of the fields her parents wished her to go into, it seemed the best suited for her. She had a silver tongue that could turn as sharp as a dagger when it needed to be. But all her wits and charm left her when she saw a dirt-covered farmer peddling his wares at the farmer’s market.
“Howdy there!” the man said cheerfully as she approached.
“Howdy,” Sally replied.
“Are ya one of the students at the school?”
“Yep. Studyin’ law. What ‘bout you?” The man laughed.
“My fam’ly don’t have the funds to send me to school. Barely got the gas money to let me drive into Little Rock every week.”
“Yer not from ‘round here?”
“Nope. I’m from a lil town called Gumption, ‘bout an hour away. What ‘bout you?”
“I’m from Tennessee.”
“Ya look awful young to be on yer own, in an unfamiliar state,” he said. Sally shrugged.
“My folks home-schooled me. I finished and graduated ‘fore most other folks.”
“My folks home-schooled me, too. But that was so’s I could help out ‘round the house more.” Sally put her elbows on the man’s trestle table and leaned forward.
“Sounds like ya had a much dif’rent life than me.”
“Well, given yer dress, I’d say that yer city folk.”
“Yessir. Born and raised in Nashville.”
“I ain’t got any city in me. Minin’ and farmin’ fam’ly.” Sally’s eyes widened.
“Wow.” The man laughed.
“That ain’t the usual reaction city folk got to farm folk. Most folks tend to look down on farmers an’ miners.” He smiled at her. “The name’s Dulcimearl, but ya can call me Mearl.”
The highlight of Sally’s week rapidly became when she would see Mearl at the farmer’s market. Her classmates were derogatory towards her, but Mearl never treated her poorly.
“It’s just how I was raised,” he said casually. “In my fam’ly, everyone gets taught manners. Like common courtesy. ‘Course, with how many of us there are, if there ain’t manners, nothin’ gets done.”
“How many siblings do ya have?”
“Three.” Sally smiled at him. “An’ I thought I came from a big fam’ly. That’s nothin’ compared to yours.”
“…Would ya like to meet ‘em?” Mearl asked shyly. Sally beamed.
“I would love to.”
Unfortunately, it would be some time before Sally could meet Mearl’s family.
Fortunately, by the time she first visited the McGucket farmhouse, Mearl was able to introduce her as his girlfriend.
“So, yer studyin’ law at that school in Little Rock?” Mrs. McGucket asked her.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s nice to be in a place small like Little Rock, especially since it’s far away from my folks.”
“Ya don’t have a good relationship with yer folks?” Mearl’s older brother, Bassett, asked. Sally shrugged.
“It’s all right, I s’pose. I like ‘em well enough. They just put a lot of pressure on me.”
“That’s too bad,” Mrs. McGucket said kindly.
“Can I point out that Little Rock ain’t small?” one of Mearl’s sisters said. Sally couldn’t remember her name.
“Compared to Nashville, it is,” Sally replied.
Later that day, Mearl pulled Sally to the side.
“So, what do ya think of my fam’ly? Ya can be honest.”
“I love ‘em!” Sally said enthusiastically. “Goldarn, I wish my fam’ly were half as welcomin’. Any time some boy showed interest in me, my folks would sit me down and tell me not to settle.” A strange expression crossed Mearl’s face.
“Do ya think yer folks would say the same thing ‘bout me?” he asked timidly. Sally realized what she had said.
“Oh! No, no way. Those boys, I didn’t care ‘bout ‘em. But I love ya, Mearl.” Sally took a hold of Mearl’s hands. “My folks would understand.”
“How many times do we have to tell ya not to settle?” her father demanded. “Ya really thought ya would fall fer some farmer? Ya could land a doctor, easy as pie!”
“I don’t care!” Sally shouted. “Anyways, I ain’t settlin’. I’m bein’ with the man I love.”
“You’ll just be a farmer’s wife, poppin’ out kid after kid! You’ll be cooped up in a farmhouse all day!” her mother said sharply. “Do ya really want that, Sally?” Sally nodded, determined.
She repeated those words to the love of her life at a ceremony. None of her family attended, but the McGuckets (she was one now, she reminded herself) more than made up for it.
Her mother was right about one thing. Sally had more kids than she ever dreamed she would.
Sally was nineteen when she got pregnant with her first child. Needless to say, she wasn’t planning on this, but she decided to…ignore it, for the time being. She went to class, took notes, and struggled with the worry that she would have to abandon her education once she became a mother. Mearl wasn’t much help, being equal parts supportive and nervous. After all, he was going to be a young parent, too.
But May eventually rolled around, and the day after she finished her last final of the semester, Sally went into labor. On May 8, 1942, she and Mearl welcomed their first child into the world.
“We should name her Lynn,” Sally said softly, stroking her daughter’s bright red curls.
“How ‘bout Violynn?” Mearl suggested.
“My fam’ly has a namin’ convention. But if ya want, we don’t have to do that. Lynn is a perfectly lovely name on its own.”
“No, I like it. Violynn.” Violynn made a small sound and Sally held her tighter. She looked at her husband. “But we ain’t havin’ any more kids ‘til I’m through with schoolin’, okay?” Mearl kissed her on the forehead.
They had two more children while she was pursuing her law degree. Harper, born in 1945, and Sebasstian, born in 1948. The day she took the bar exam, Sally McGucket kissed her children on the way out the door. Violynn and Harper wished her good luck, but Basstian, being only a grand total of four months old, merely waved chubby arms at her as she left.
She passed the bar exam.
But she didn’t do anything with her degree.
Sally was content to sit at home with her children, and be there for the moments that she’d had to miss while she was at school. Her friends asked her why she seemed happy with being just a farmer’s wife, a housewife.
“My law degree was fer me, and me alone. I never wanted to use it; I just wanted to learn everythin’ that came along with it,” she replied. “And now, I want to learn everythin’ that comes along with this part of life. Bein’ a mom, and a wife. And maybe legal counsel if’n one of Mearl’s cousins gets caught riding a cow down the highway while drunk. Again.”
After Basstian was two years old, they tried to have more children, with no success. Finally, after two years of attempts, and a rough pregnancy, they had their second daughter, Viola, in 1952. Eventually, they would learn that Viola wasn’t their daughter. But that was some time away.
Lute followed, a whisker over a year later, in 1953. By this time, the multiple pregnancies were leaving their mark on Sally, who was beginning to regret marrying a man from a very fertile family.
“I love ‘em all,” she said to her sister-in-law, Banjolina (Banjey, for short). “But Lord, there’s so many of ‘em!” Lute, a few months old, grabbed at her hair eagerly. “Ouch!” Banjey took Lute from her.
“Yer tough, even though yer city folk. My parents weren’t completely sure ya could handle two Gucklings, let alone five. McGuckets are notoriously exuberant as children, and usually, only folks from big fam’lies can raise ‘em without their hair turnin’ grey in their thirties.” Sally frowned.
“Why are ya tellin’ me that?”
“To make a point. Yer tough, Sally. Tougher than ya give yourself credit fer. You’ll be a great ma to all yer kids, no matter how many there are. And if ya ever need help, I’m only a phone call away.”
As Lute got older, Sally began to feel a sadness. Sure, she’d had some issues during the last pregnancies, but she was rapidly running out of time to have another child. Violynn was eleven years old, and Sally didn’t want a significant age gap between her children. So she made the split decision to have just one more.
Mearl supported her.
“I always wanted lots of kids,” he said gently, feeling his last child kicking in his wife’s stomach. “An’ ya know how I am ‘bout numbers. Havin’ an even number of kids, why, that’s perfect.”
“Yer a goon, Dulcimearl.”
“I’m yer goon, Sally.”
They welcomed their last child, a daughter, on April 1, 1955. Complications resulted in an emergency C-section. The doctor told Sally that she shouldn’t have any more children.
“I mean, you can. I just would not recommend it.” Sally laughed.
“It ain’t a problem, doc. I’m fine with just the six kids.” They named her after Mearl’s older sister, who had always been there for Sally and Mearl when they struggled with their many children.
By 1968, Sally was confident that she could handle anything her large family did. Sure, the youngest two were over-eager, hyperactive, and could be clumsy, but Viola was responsible enough to make up for it. Home life almost ran on its own, to the point where Sally had taken on a job teaching law at the community college in the nearby town of Hog Swill. After all, she had been itching to use her law degree for quite some time.
It was while she was doing the dishes one night that her sweet, quiet daughter walked into the kitchen.
“Sweetheart, could ya help me out a bit?” Sally asked without looking up. “These need to be dried.”
“Actually, Ma…” Sally picked up on the nervous tone in her child’s voice. She looked up.
“Oh, Lord! What happened to yer hair?” she gasped, drying off her hands. Sally gently guided Viola over to the table and sat down with her. “Did one of yer younger siblings do this to ya? Was it Lute or Banjey? Was it both of ‘em?”
“Ma, relax,” Viola said softly. “No one did this to me. I- I did it to myself.” Sally ran her hands through her daughter’s roughly chopped hair.
“I can’t have long hair no more, Ma, I can’t! It don’t sit right with me!”
“Oh, shush, darlin’, it’ll be fine. We’ll get this trimmed, and turned into a bob all nice-like.”
“No! I can’t live like this no more. I-I hate it when I look in the mirror.” Sally’s heart sunk. She’d done her best to ensure all her children had high self-esteem, but things were bound to slip through, particularly with Mearl’s mental background.
“Sweetie, yer a very pretty girl,” she said reassuringly, rubbing her daughter’s back. Viola took a deep breath.
“That’s the thing, Ma. I ain’t a girl.” Sally blinked.
“I’m- I’m a boy.”
“Sweetie, what are ya talkin’ ‘bout?”
“I know it’s confusin’, Ma, but it’s who I am,” Viola said in a rush. Mearl walked into the kitchen.
“There’s my girls!” he said jovially, giving them each a kiss.
“Pa, I ain’t a girl,” Viola said. Mearl froze. He very slowly took a seat at the table with Sally and Viola.
“What do ya mean?”
“I’m a boy.”
“A boy? I think we would know if you were a boy, hon. We were there when you were born. Doctor said ya were a girl and everythin’.”
“The doctor was wrong, Pa. I ain’t a girl. I’m a- a trans-gender.” Mearl took a deep, steadying breath.
“Is that anythin’ like bein’ a homosexual?”
“N-no, Pa. It’s a dif’rent thing. But I s’pose it is the same, in that it means I’m dif’rent from most folks.”
“Sweetheart, yer pa and I ‘re goin’ to need some time to handle this,” Sally said gently. “But know somethin’. No matter who or what ya are, we love ya. If ya want to be a boy-”
“I don’t want to be a boy!” Viola interrupted. Sally blinked, surprised by the outburst from her normally well-behaved child. “I am a boy.”
“Don’t raise yer voice at yer ma,” Mearl scolded.
“Mearl, it’s fine,” Sally said quickly. “If yer a boy, then we still love ya and support ya. Right, Mearl?” Mearl nodded. “See?”
“And if yer lookin’ fer a boy name, ya can use the one we planned fer ya before ya were born,” Mearl said. “The one we’d give ya if ya turned out to be a boy.” He cracked a small smile. “I guess ya turned out to be a boy after all.”
“Fiddleford. It’s a fam’ly name.” Viola nodded.
“I like it. Can y’all call me Fiddleford, then?”
“‘Course, sweetie,” Sally said. “But darlin’, could ya leave us be fer a bit? Yer pa and I will need to talk ‘bout this.”
“In the meantime, don’t tell Lute and Banjey. They’re too young.”
“Okay, Ma.” Sally gave her child one last kiss before she- no, he got up. Once he’d left the kitchen, she looked at Mearl helplessly.
“What are we goin’ to do?”
“Support our child,” Mearl said simply. Sally nodded.
“If’n she- he sticks with this, we’ll need to get her- him some new identification.”
“Good thing yer a lawyer, then, ain’t it?” Sally smiled at her husband.
“I knew that law degree would come in handy for things other than teachin’ classes.” Her smile faded. “But, Mearl, this is goin’ to turn everythin’ upside down. We’ll need to change things.”
“So what? We can do that. We’ve done it before.” Mearl put an arm around Sally’s shoulders. “When we became parents, we promised to love our children. We promised to take care of ‘em, support ‘em. Just ‘cause this changed, don’t mean that has to change.” Sally blinked rapidly as her eyes filled with tears. She laced her fingers with Mearl’s.
“Yer right, darlin’. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He kissed her. “I love ya, Sally.” She kissed him back.
“I love ya, Mearl.”
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