The cutest thing about humans is how hard they try to ignore their fragility: they struggle to the bitter end, battering their tiny bodies of ash and dust like it could mean something. Sebastian personally finds it charming.
His tiny master is such an example: apparently without fear, he disrobes, head kept high; but there is a tremble in his fingers and wavering in his voice. His skin flinches from the cold of Sebastian’s own. His body is wiser than his mind; it would reject Sebastian, if allowed.
Still, Master Ciel shivers and says more, and a butler must obey.
Mikage laughs like there is nothing terrible in the world, and things like wars and unhappiness are nothing more than bad dreams that dissolve in the morning sunlight. He steals food from Teito’s tray and plays innocent, and never stops touching — knocking their shoulders together, an arm draped over him, kicking his foot to get his attention.
Or, at least, that’s how Teito remembers it. He awakens covered in sweat and twisted in his sheets, with a low ache in his chest and his groin and Mikage’s smile in his eyes.
He curls around all three to wait them out.
“Bad news, lightning brat,” Ban says. “We hafta sleep in the car tonight.”
The kid looks up from his coffee. “Eh?”
Ban stubs out his cigarette and doesn’t look his new partner in the eye. “No money,” he mutters. “Look, you got a problem, asshole, fucking say so–”
“It’s fine,” the lightning brat says. “I don’t mind the car.”
“Ahhhhn?” Ban stares. “Y’don’t?”
“No,” he says. “It’s shelter, right? It’ll be dry and warm, and that’s what matters.” He smiles brightly, and Ban has to look away again.
“Suit yourself,” he mutters and rubs the back of his neck.
Kadsuki opens his eyes to rain. His entire body aches with each shallow breath he manages. When he glances over, he sees Raitei, looking down at him.
“So I’ve lost,” he says. Even his voice is raw. “Were you waiting for me to wake up before you killed me?”
Raitei shakes his head. He looks young, Kadsuki thinks; without the brilliance of his lightning, there is nothing but a boy with sad eyes. The realization stuns like a blow. “Rushing to death is pointless,” he says. “I’d rather you lived.”
He holds out his hand; Kadsuki, stunned, can only accept.
The problem with Emishi is that sometimes he gets ideas, and once he does, no amount of intervention will stop him till he tries it at least once. Even Amon can’t stop him, not that he ever tries, because he’s usually a partner in crime.
Some of his ideas are better than others.
Some are much, much worse.
Makubex isn’t sure where he got the idea that “children should be constantly petted and praised,” but he’s pretty sure he’ll be much happier when the knuckle grinding noogies and falsetto comments on how he’s grown! how handsome he’s become! finally stop.
The fact was: the young men of the village had always favored Kaoru over Anna. Even among the Maryuudo, few were brave enough to choose death over life; Anna had many friends, but no suitors. Shido had vaguely approved: a Natsuki heir would be necessary eventually, but they needed healthy warriors now.
Years later, Shido watches how Emishi unashamedly throws an arm around her shoulder, like touch is nothing at all, and challenges Ryuuhou — jokingly, and yet still — over the insult in his tone. He sees the smile on Anna’s face, brighter than ever in his memories, and turns away.
The biggest problem is not actually getting anyone to take her seriously: it’s that they’re too damn afraid of her, and not a single one is willing to give her a fucking chance. It’s like they think she’ll break anything she retrieves before it’s returned, never mind that she’s been a pro for years. It pisses her off, and she has times where she’s tempted to fulfill their prophecies and just — let go. Do it.
But the lightning brat looks at her with his sad eyes and even after they’ve nearly killed each other, still agrees to go with her.
“Sensei, you’re no fun,” Minamoto pouts. “Appreciate my hard work.”
Kantarou raises an eyebrow. He lifts his bound hands. “What, all this?”
“You could try relaxing,” Minamoto says. His gloved hand rests low on Kantarou’s belly. “It’d be more fun for us both.”
Kantarou snorts. “Don’t flatter yourself, brat,” he says, as footsteps clomp heavily overhead. They’re getting steadily closer. “Haruka’s already in a bad mood, it sounds like.”
“He can play too,” Minamoto says. “Wouldn’t you like that, Sensei?”
“All I want is Haruka,” says Kantarou, as the door bangs open for the glowering Oni-Eater. “Find another playmate, brat.”
Curious, this: a human who is afraid only instinctively, in the small way of humans on the edge of death, and not of him. Sebastian stays his hand with his fingers pressed to the boy’s throat. There is hard pressure against his hip.
“That’s a very bad habit,” he admonishes. “You’re not a pervert, are you?”
The boy laughs. It’s a bright mad sound; he covers Sebastian’s wrist with both hands. “Maybe I am,” he says. His English is good, if accented: Japanese, at Sebastian’s guess. “If I was?”
“I must regretfully decline,” says Sebastian. He smiles. “Perhaps another time.”
It should shame him that his last thought before unconsciousness is not of Shinshu, sobbing hysterically from somewhere close by, but of the ayakashi.
–“It’s cute, isn’t it?” he says. “You should wear it,” and he laughs at the look it earns him–
–“You are utterly ridiculous,” says the ayakashi, his pretty wings spread in the sunlight. “That smile pisses me off–”
–“I don’t even think I’m actually real,” he says, and can’t even look up–
–And there are no words, just dry lips against his and gone again–
Ginshu closes his eyes.
His hands worry him. They’re rough and so stained with dirt that he’s pretty sure a hundred washings wouldn’t turn them white again (if they ever were). They’re clever enough, but they’re human hands, and can’t ever be any more. And really, he’s all right with that for the most part; he’s never been particularly brave or beautiful or smart, but he is reliable, and his hands are the same.
Still, reliability isn’t really much when compared to someone who was born preternaturally beautiful, and elegance and grace are natural as breathing.
Heihachi rubs his palms together and dreams instead.
Her body aches; all she wants to do is close her eyes and sleep. Duty compels her forward, though, till she drags herself from the water and rises, shaky, to her feet. The princess is weeping; the raven is watching. They all have their parts to play in this tragedy.
And though a knight must keep her place, apart from royalty, she lifts a hand to touch the prince’s cheek. His eyes remain unfocused. Perhaps there’s nothing left inside; she doesn’t care. Some things go deeper than love.
“For you, my lord,” she whispers, and draws her sword. “For you.”
Once upon a time, there lived a man who wrote stories and kept company with a duck. The neighbors would shake their heads about him, but kept their gossip indulgent; he’s been living in the village as long as anyone can remember, and was quite handsome in his youth. Now his hair is white as snow, and he walks with a cane and slow dignity.
Every morning, he can be found out by the pond, feeding bread to the ducks. If you manage to get his attention, he will tell you this: a happy ending is of your own making.
There are things Gil would have rather gone to his grave without learning: the weight of a gun in his hand and its recoil, the pattern of blood and brains upon the wall when a man is shot, the icy oily presence of Raven weighing heavily upon his heart. He wishes he could have lived his life without his brother’s cold smile and the familiarity of failure.
More than anything, though, he wishes that he wouldn’t look at the paleness of his lady’s neck or the delicacy of her tiny hands, and be so hungry to wrap himself around her.
He dreams of waking up on a summer day with the sun in his eyes; someone’s coat is folded under his head, and a book open on his chest. Someone speaks, but her voice is blurred, as though filtered by deep water. He shades his eyes and props himself onto his elbows; a tiny hand grabs his and pulls. He lets himself be led forward to where the light grows brighter and brighter, till he thinks he might be blinded.
There is a voice–
–and he wakes.
His brother perches on his bed, smiling.
“Gilbert,” he says. “Good morning.”
It feels a little bit like betrayal to his own lifestyle to admit, but Dean likes Michael Carpenter: likes the certainty and strength and the unwavering faith that holds his family together. Dean likes that Michael has a family, with the smoking hot wife and cute munchkins; he likes how this is a family that has seen the darkness and held together. He’s only a little jealous, especially when Sammy’s off bitchfacing in the corner somewhere and little Harry’s being coddled by mother and father both.
Mostly, though, he’s happy. He’s allowed to share a little slice, and that’s enough.
They take shelter beside the largest tree in the newly risen forest. The first night they sleep, too exhausted and injured to care for any potential dangers.
When Gwendolyn awakens, there is food. It is still warm, and though she wants to distrust, her empty belly compels her regardless. She sets a portion aside for Oswald, still sleeping, and eats. It tastes like something straight from the destroyed Pooka Kitchens. She ponders this mystery later: it was said Pooka were immortal to time. Perhaps they could also survive the end of the world.
Oddly comforted, she watches the sun rise.
The hardest part is after.
Masahiro falls asleep almost immediately, though he clings to Guren like he hasn’t since he was an infant. It’s hot and uncomfortable and hard to breathe, and Guren thinks he might rip apart anyone who tries to move him.
He could blame others: Kazane, Ryuusai, even Masahiro himself, but he’s already spent this long being a coward. He no longer has an excuse. The sour smell of exhaustion and grief is in Masahiro’s skin; he put it there himself.
Forgiveness is sometimes as terrible as its opposite. This time, however, he will prove himself worthy.
Spring comes early one year; before the snow fully melts, the cherry trees have all bloomed. They’re particularly lovely on the Abe estate.
Seimei sets out a second dish of sake, and sits with a mask in his hands. He doesn’t look up when his guest sits beside him.
“You have done quite well for yourself,” says the guest.
“I’ve had time to grow old,” Seimei huffs. “And your lady?”
His guest chuckles. “Ma cherie is off playing tag with your cute grandson. But I thought I would come see my old friend instead.”
Seimei bows his head and smiles.
“What the hell,” said Kurogane.
The wolf cocked her head and whined. It sounded like a question.
“Look,” he hissed. “This is Amaterasu’s palace, got that? You shouldn’t be here. Shoo.” He made sweeping gestures with both hands.
The wolf’s ears perked. Her tail wagged.
“I mean it! Shoo!”
She bounded to her feet, stretched playfully, and, to his horror, barked.
“If Amaterasu finds you, she’ll skin you,” he growled. “Don’t you get that?!”
With a huff that sounded like laughter, she reared up to put her paws on his shoulders, licked his face, then bounded off as he sputtered.
“Now that,” protests Ushiwaka, “is cheating.”
The goddess Amaterasu only laughs, bright and loud, throwing her head back as she does. “Is it, now!” she says, as a peach drops eagerly into her outstretched hand. “I recall no such rule that said I could not make my own gifts.”
He pouts. “Ma cherie,” he says, “how on earth am I supposed to win you if you can make yourself everything I offer?”
“You don’t,” she says. She bites into the peach, then grabs his collar, pulling him close to her. Her lips are wet against his. “You become mine, instead.”
“Dance with me,” the AKUMA croons. She has a doll’s face, cracked in half, with blood drooling from the corners of her mouth, and doll’s limbs, jointed and creaking. “Come on, Exorcist, dance!”
Rinali swallows. A family is cowering behind the AKUMA — a grieving widower and his one remaining son; she can see a lifetime of nightmares developing in their faces. The AKUMA laughs, its voice shrill and high, as Rinali gets to her feet. The Boots sing to her, their power sinking into her bones. She stares at the AKUMA.
“Fine,” she says, her voice even. “Let’s dance.”
Alice lets Yuri sleep with his head in her lap while she reads, and rests her hand upon the curve of his skull. He snores (which he denies when awake) with his mouth open and sometimes drool at one corner of his mouth. If she moves just so, then without fail he will turn to press his face to her belly and wrap an arm around her waist and won’t let go for a slow ten count.
Awake, Yuri postures and poses — years in an isolated village have not changed him — but asleep he’s quiet and hers, and Alice smiles.
Sven has a list.
He’s not sure when he started thinking of it as one; it wasn’t something he’d done on purpose. He has it, though, and checks it occasionally: a list of things he’ll show Alan before he lets him go, which Sven means to. He really does.
But there are monochrome auroras and cat’s eye nebulae and sand surfing and starphoenix trails and a thousand and one other things to see first.
(And maybe, just maybe, if he shows enough, Alan will even forget that he wants to go back to his old human life.
Sven can hope.)
“I can’t, I won’t, I’m not,” says Sen’s voice, from somewhere within a pile of blankets. “You can’t make me.”
Roy says nothing, though he turns off the heat when the kettle begins to whistle. He takes down two mugs and fills two separate tea strainers. Into one cup, he pours a spoonful of honey and squeezes a lemon slice.
“I refuse,” Sen added. “This is ridiculous.”
He brings the cup over to her and waits. Finally, after long minutes, Sen emerges from her cocoon, red-eyed and pale and scowling. She coughs pathetically, then whines.
“Just drink,” Roy says kindly.
There are old stories among the Maryuudo of the sun walking the earth in the form of a great white wolf; Amon hadn’t believed until now.
Out of courtesy, he kneels to her eye-level, swallowing nervousness. There are things he’s supposed to say — “All hail Amaterasu, origin of all that is good and–”
She licks his face from jaw to hairline before he can finish. It startles him into laughter, so he’s an easy target when she headbutts him and sends him rolling into Emishi behind him, and he swears it feels more like a mother’s gentle nudge instead.