Madoka Mafia AU
She’s nervous, of course. To be selected as a bodyguard for the head’s granddaughter at her age, when there are those far older and more experienced who would (and have) lost their heads over this particular dream, is a great honor. It is proof that all her hard work has meant something, that the Boss had been paying attention to the efforts of even the lowliest of his grunts.
Even so she keeps her worries internal: she focuses instead on the dull ache of being forced to remain in seiza position for nearly half an hour, the distant sound of traffic, the closer ticking of the hallway clock. This too is a test.
Finally the door opens. The Boss, dressed impeccably in white as always, smiles benignly at her. She knows better than to be fooled; part of his fearsome reputation is built around that smile, which never falters even in the face bloodbath or betrayal. Those who underestimate him as soft or easy to take advantage of are often quickly and brutally educated of their foolishness.
“Ohhhh, so you came,” he says. “Akemi Homura.”
She bows her head in respect. “Boss.”
“Or rather, you came and you stayed. Did you have fun with the welcoming party?”
He must have heard the gunshots; the walls of this estate are made of high-quality rice paper, and that does nothing to muffle sounds. She does not lift her head. “They tried their best, sir.”
“But you still got through them.” The Boss cocks his head, leaving his face half in shadow. “And the servants in the hallways?”
“I respectfully told them their assistance was not required and I would find my own way.” Then she rises to her feet, ignoring the way her legs want to ache and wobble from their previous position. Her gun is in her hand, natural as a full extension of herself, and she takes aim and fires.
The Boss straightens his head. He pulls a black handkerchief out of his pocket and dabs the spattering of scarlet on his face, then examines his sleeve with a sigh. The would-be assailant lies twitching on the floor, clutching at his face. “My granddaughter is very important, Akemi Homura.”
“I feel like she has the possibility to unite everything, if only she survives that long.”
“She might make something useful out of this world.” He raps his walking-stick against the ground a few times and smiles. “Take good care of her, Akemi Homura. I will know if you do not.”
She bows low at the waist, so low that her hair nearly brushes the ground. “I won’t let you down, Boss Kaname.”
“Of course, you won’t be working alone,” he adds. “I wouldn’t allow just one person to carry the burden of my precious granddaughter’s life.” He snaps his fingers, and from opposite sides of the room two doors open. From the right is a girl with long red hair, slouching along with deceptive casualness and sharp hard eyes; from the left is a girl with shorter blue hair who walks with deliberate weight, as if unafraid of giving away her position, or who might challenge her. She looks at them both and lets them both look at her in turn. Part of her misses the weight of her gun in her hand, but she pushes the thought down and away.
“Akemi Homura, Sakura Kyouko, Miki Sayaka,” Boss Kaname says, his smile firmly in place, “from the elite few you’ve been selected, and if you wish to keep your positions, you’ll continue to impress me. Do you all understand?”
“Sir!” they chorus; it is odd to hear other voices repeat the title with the same sort of reverence she has always had. The Boss chuckles, then half-turns.
“Madoka,” he says, “you can come meet your new friends now.”
The girl who walks out of the shadows to stand next to her grandfather is tiny and delicate-looking, sparing a glance for the dying man on the floor and pressing her lips together in what looks like genuine regret. Like her esteemed relative she dresses nearly all in white, with accents of pink to match her pigtails. She looks like she might blow away in the next strong breeze–and she looks like she could wait out the lifespan of a mountain, unmovable.
She bows to each of them in turn.
“My name is Kaname Madoka,” she says. “Let’s work together from now on.”
HomuMado! Alternate endings.
If there is something you want more than anything else, if there is a dream or a wish or a fantasy that consumes your life–wish to me! Believe in me! Take my hand and your dreams will come true!
“So, Akemi Homura,” Kyubey says, “what sort of wish will you throw away your normal life to see come true?”
Homura lifts her head and breathes in deep.
“All right, class,” the teacher says brightly, clapping her hands. “We have a new student today! So let’s do our best to welcome her, all right?”
There’s an excited buzz as the door opens, most of the class straining forward to catch a glimpse of the new student. Mitakihara Middle School doesn’t get many transfers, especially midway through the year, and everyone else is curious. In the back of the room, however, she sits with her hands clasped, chewing on the inside of her cheek and waiting.
“Here we are,” the teacher trills. “Would you like to introduce yourself?”
The girl at the front of the room smiles. “I’m Kaname Madoka,” she says. “Nice to meet all of you!”
At lunch the new student is swarmed by her classmates.
“Your hair is so pretty,” one exclaims. “The ribbon’s cute, too! Where did you get it?”
“This? It was a present.”
“Ah! Kaname-san, does that mean you have a boyfriend? Oh no, did you leave him to move?”
“E-eh, no, nothing like that–”
“What sort of clubs were you in before? Music? Arts? Sports?”
“I wasn’t really good at anything like that …”
Homura remains hovering at the edge of the crowd, watching and listening to Madoka talk. There is a very tight lingering wistfulness in her chest. For all that she has learned, she finds that in this moment she is speechless. Madoka is close enough to touch, if she could just reach out–
She turns and leaves the room.
“Ah– Akemi-san! Akemi-san, please wait!”
She almost keeps walking. She almost breaks into a run. Instead, Homura stops and turns. “Kaname-san,” she says softly. “May I help you?”
The other girl skitters to a halt before her, panting, one hand to her chest. “I just,” she begins, then laughs a little, perhaps embarrassed at her breathlessness, “I saw you leaving, and it just seemed sad. I wanted to know if you wanted to have lunch together.”
“Lunch? … With me?”
“Mm!” Madoka beams. “Akemi-san is a lot easier to be around than everyone else, somehow. Ah, but keep it a secret, okay? I wouldn’t want to hurt feelings.”
She stares for a moment, then says, “Homura.”
“You can call me ‘Homura,'” she repeats softly. “I don’t mind.”
“Ah, Homura-chan, then!” Madoka’s smile grows wider. It feels almost blinding to look at. “Then for me, just ‘Madoka’ is fine, too!”
The faintest ghost of a smile touches Homura’s lips. “… Madoka.”
Madoka reaches out and grabs one of Homura’s hands in both of her own, which are soft and warm. She squeezes a little. “Let’s be good friends, Homura-chan!”
“–Shit, what the hell is this?!” Kyouko swatted away a fluttering, whispering thing with her spear. “What happened to that girl?”
Mami sights the figure in the center with her rifle, then pauses, lowering it, and shakes her head. “I think we’re too late, Sakura-san,” she says softly. “They’ve already nearly completely consumed her.”
“Shit,” Kyouko snarls again. “There’s nothing we can do??”
“At this point, I think she has more of their poison than her own blood inside of her,” Mami says quietly. She lifts the rifle again, and though her hands tremble for a moment, they steady by the time she has the gun resting on her shoulder. “We can at least see her off to a peaceful end. Cover me, Sakura-san.”
“As if you really need something like that.” Kyouko snaps her wrist, letting her spear separate into its component pieces. A moment later she’s in midair, staving off the demon’s minions before they can get too close. Mami takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, positioning her rile for a headshot.
“I’m sorry, Akemi-san,” she says quietly. “I hope you’ll find something better than this.”
She pulls the trigger.
“–Did you hear something?”
“Hmmmm?” Madoka doesn’t even bother to open her eyes, cuddling closer. Her hair smells like department store perfume and generic shampoo. It’s the nicest smell in the world.
“I thought I heard … never mind.” Homura curls an arm more firmly around Madoka’s naked back and closes her eyes. “Must have just been a dream.”
“When I was a boy,” Kantarou says, exhaling smoke with his words, “I once saw a nekomata raise the dead.”
“They have a habit of that,” Haruka agrees. “It’s an annoying one.”
“It’s in their nature!” Kantarou pauses to shake his pipe briefly at Haruka. “Just like it is in a tengu’s to steal anything shiny.”
“It’s collecting, not stealing.” Haruka is placid, though he does lift a hand to block the pipe and nudge it aside. “Anyway, what of it? You’ve been getting involved with youkai all your life. What’s so special about this?”
Kantarou huffs and resettles, pressing the stem of his pipe to his lower lip. “It was for their new year’s celebration,” he says. “There were so many of them, more than you’d think could ever be gathered. They’re still cats, in the end.”
“Which makes them annoying.”
“All right, all right. Go on.”
Kantarou inhales deeply this time; his words come out scented by smoke and curling whitely in the dusk, as if these carried the weight of his normal spells. “It was because their king had died, I found out later. Cats don’t believe in rulers, but they do like luxury, so they contribute a little every year, hoping that they’ll be the next one selected to be the king. But only for a year–the nekomata king always has such a short lifespan after ascending. It’s sad, isn’t it?
“It was basically a battlefield. The entire graveyard was torn apart by these nekomata trying to posture and show off their abilities. Everyone had to outdo the hopefuls that came before them, you see. They forced those skeletons to dance–soldiers in their uniforms, oiran in their kimono, children in between them all. I was very quiet, so they didn’t notice me, but one person …”
He stops then, picking up his teacup. Haruka waits to see if he’ll continue, and when Kantarou doesn’t, he rolls his eyes and says, dutifully, “One person what?”
Kantarou beams at him, drawing on the pipe again. “One person stumbled in by accident. He wasn’t an old man–he was young and strong, the sort of person you wouldn’t expect to be anywhere near a graveyard, right? But he was there and he saw all of it, and he screamed. Ah, how he startled those cats! Bones fell everywhere as their spells faded–you have to concentrate hard to make something that much bigger than you move, don’t you know? Mm, and they were angry too, because they’d been celebrating and showing off, but now they would all have to start over.
“So they fell upon him. Ahh, it was terrible, a whole swarm of angry cats, deprived of their celebration of their own pride! That poor man didn’t stand a chance. He was caught up and swept away and by the time the cats were done, there was a brand new skeleton for the party, stripped clean of its meat and down to shiny gray bones only.”
“Why didn’t you help him, then?” Haruka raises an eyebrow. “You’re the one who’s always on about not hurting or killing anyone, are you telling me you just stood there and watched this and didn’t do anything?”
“I told you, I was a boy at the time.” Kantarou meets Haruka’s gaze evenly, unfazed by the implied challenge. In the deepening dark his red eyes are dark, more the color of dried blood. “Seeing that changed everything for me, you know. I realized what it could mean to be careless with someone’s life. That’s when I decided that sort of thing was terrible, actually. I never wanted to be part of that sort of thing ever again.”
“You …” Haruka snorts, eyes narrow. “How old are you, anyway? No one will believe anything like that even if you tell them.”
“Does that mean Haruka doesn’t believe me?”
“I’m old too,” Haruka says. “I know the sound of a story when I hear it. Especially from you. Knowing you, you somehow talked those cats into doing the dirty work for you because you disagreed with that other guy.”
“Haruka’s mean,” Kantarou sniffs. “Always suspecting the worst of his poor master.”
“If you don’t want me to, tell me a more believable story that makes you look good,” Haruka says. Somewhere in the distance, a cat yowls. Kantarou sighs and turns his pipe over, tapping out a small pile of ash.
“Most of my stories aren’t that good,” he says quietly. “Haruka will just have to make do with what he gets.”
Oakcest, masquerade party
“It will be good for you,” the princess says, her eyes wide, “to at least relax for an evening. I know you have your own worries, but surely for a single evening it is all right to set them aside.”
“And, on top of that, it would please me greatly if you came.”
Hakuren slumps a little and sighs. “Very well,” he says. “As my lady wishes.”
He dresses with the themes of white and gold: the colors of the First Princess Rosemanelle Ouka Barsburg, and the colors of the church he left behind. His boots are new and a rich brown that could pass for gold in certain lights; his trousers and shirt are white, as are his cravat and gloves. His frock-coat is nearly the same color of his boots with properly gold buttons. His mask is the most extravagant part of the costume, and that was provided by the princess herself–a white domino mask trimmed in gold, the patterns of leaves stitched on in white floss. It has been a very long time since he has worn anything remotely this fancy, and he feels more awkward than he would like to admit–but when the princess sees him she smiles widely and declares that he is quite handsome, indeed.
The party itself feels no different than any of the dozens he can remember from his childhood–at first everyone is stiff in their masks, but as the evening loses some of its new sharp edges and as the alcohol is distributed, people relax and speak more freely. Barbed poison lies veiled in most of the pleasantries exchanged, and in some places outright gossip flowers sharp and hot with jealousy. Most of it trails after the princess, who takes it with grace and poise. Hakuren is pleased to see how lightly she makes her way through the crowds, never letting their invective drag her down. He himself stays out of it mostly–with his mask in place, he is at least just another anonymous good-looking man attending the party; enough of his face is hidden that he can’t be immediately pegged as an Oak. He takes a small glass of water for himself and drifts to the walls, where he can stand and watch his princess unobstructed.
Only one other person seems to have the same idea of drifting away from the crowd–a young man his own age, dressed in black and silver, striking with his pale hair. From the way his shoulders are braced Hakuren judges him a soldier–but from the expression, half-sneer and half-scowl, that pulls his lips, also nobility. His first instinct is to move away–the last thing he wants is to possibly engage with another spoiled nobleman’s military son–but the princess occasionally glances around until she finds him and meets his eyes, and he thinks that, if he is at least standing with someone, she won’t be quite so disappointed that he isn’t socializing as much as she would hope. So he goes to stand next to the stranger, just nursing his one cup of water, watching as young man after young man approaches the princess and bows, leading her out for a brief dance. She is gracious to them all, but picks no favorites; every young man gets one dance and no more.
“They’re only interested in the favors she’ll be able to do their families,” his neighbor says, suddenly. His voice is hard and somehow, naggingly familiar. Hakuren straightens a little and glances aside.
“I beg your pardon?’
“Those men.” His neighbor gestures once, short and sharp, as if his hand were a weapon in and of itself. “They’re all panting after her heels because they think she’ll actually pick one of them as a favorite. She has a fiance but they want to be the royal lover, because then she’ll give them favors.”
It’s the last thing he expects to hear from anyone, let alone someone who holds himself as if he has lived an entire life of privilege. He lifts a shoulder in a single eloquent shrug. “Her Highness is a smarter woman than that,” he says. “See, she’s not playing any favorites at all.”
“Good for her.” His neighbor crosses his arms abruptly, lips twisting in an outright pout. “They don’t deserve it, none of them.”
Hakuren raises his glass but doesn’t drink. “Most of this court doesn’t deserve Ouka-sama’s consideration,” he says finally. “Everything’s become corrupt. People only worry about and for themselves. Even when they inquire for other people, in the end, it’s for something that will benefit them. However …”
He trails off deliberately, and the boy next to him finally turns to look at him. “However?”
“Ouka-sama herself isn’t like that at all,” Hakuren says simply. “Her heart is pure. I believe that with someone like her leading the country, the Empire will become a place worthy of the glory it takes for itself.” She’s looking for him again, and he raises her glass to her in a small toast when she finds him, which earns him a bright, genuine smile from all the way across the ballroom floor. “I believe that, and that is why I’ll follow her.”
He can tell his neighbor is staring. “People that generous don’t really exist,” he says finally, slowly, as if he doesn’t quite believe it himself. “Everyone–you said it yourself, everyone only worries about themselves. Even when someone does something good for them, they only care about the inconvenience if it stops …”
“Ouka-sama will change that,” he says, with all of his conviction in his voice. “I believe that.”
“That’s stupid, that’s completely stupid.” The other boy doesn’t sound quite as convinced, though. “Why should I believe you?”
“Maybe not now,” Hakuren says, and straightens off the wall. The princess is making her way slowly towards the door; he intends to meet her there and leave. “But you watch and you’ll see. And if I’m not right, I’ll apologize to you on bent knee.” He turns and he pulls off his mask, which makes his neighbor recoil a little with surprise. “On my honor as a man.”
“And not as an Oak?” the other asks, something wavering in the challenge.
“The Oaks will need to relearn their honor before I swear by that,” Hakuren says. “Will you accept?”
For a moment there’s no answer, his neighbor staring at him long and steady, as if memorizing the features of his face. Hakuren almost repeats his proposition when the other leans forward, grabbing his wrist and tugging hard; before he can do anything to protest, the other boy kisses him hard, teeth in sharp on Hakuren’s lip. He tastes metal, but not quite blood–and then the other pushes him away as hard as he’d been pulled in, breathing hard.
“All right,” the other boy says, blue eyes burning behind his mask, “you prove to me that’ll happen. I’ll be waiting, so you had better promise.”
“I–” Hakuren blinks a few times to try and clear his head, then nods, meeting the other’s eyes. “I promise.”
Princess Tutu main cast, reunion
Once upon a time there lived an elderly knight who had long ago traded his sword for a far mightier weapon. He lived in a small cottage by the edge of a clear lake, both quietly and unremarkably. On Tuesdays a boy from the village would bring him a basket from the market and take manuscripts down to be mailed off for a penny, but other than that, the knight kept primarily to himself.
Then there came a year where the winter came early and fiercely; a late-night snowstorm raged on into morning, until the drifts stood as tall as a man’s hip. The knight, bent over his latest manuscript, hardly noticed for the first couple of hours. Roughly around noon, however, there came a faint rapping from the window. He looked up and saw nothing but the snow whirling past. Three times this pattern repeated itself: the knight would manage a few words before something invisible tapped at the window for his attention.
After the third time, though, the knight looked up and saw the faint outline of a bird huddled against his window. He rose to his feet and went to the window to open it; what he pulled inside was a tiny yellow duckling, shivering and nearly as cold as the snow itself. Something like nostalgia, bitter and sweet, unfurled inside of him.
“What did you think you were doing, stupid bird,” he said. He went to his bed and took his thin blanket and wrapped both himself and the duckling in it before going to sit by slowly-dying fire. One hand he kept against the bird’s side so that it was pressed to his chest; the other he used to smooth carefully over the damp matted feathers. He looked into the flames and said, “I wrote so many stories about this sort of thing. The magic never came back to me. She died as she lived and now I write stories about that sort of thing instead.”
He closed his eyes. And he dreamed.
He dreamed that he stood up, and that all the years he’d accumulated slipped off like a discarded blanket. He no longer was in his small humble cottage, but standing before a magnificent castle of marble and pearl, glimmering in the sunlight. Beside him was a maiden whose smile was as brilliant as the sun itself, with her long red hair unbound and her little white feet bare in the grass. Before him was a prince with a princess, who even after so many years were not yet king and queen. And the prince smiled and held out his hand.
“My old friend,” he said, in the voice of memory, “dance with us.”
And the knight, with tears in his eyes, took his lord’s hand.
On Tuesday, when the boy from the village came from his weekly basket, trudging through the deep layers of snow, he received no answer at his knock. Wading his way around the cottage to the back windows, he found one wide open and a spill of snow and ice that led to the frozen huddled figure of the old knight, holding a pure white feather against his chest.
He was smiling.
“In ancient Greece, they said that the echo comes from a nature spirit who was cursed by her master to only be able to repeat the things that others said to her. That’s why ‘echo,’ because that was her name.”
“And?” Haruka raises an eyebrow. “You’re telling another pointless story again.”
“No, no, it’s very sad,” Kantarou says. He doesn’t look up from the newspapers he’s shuffling through; a frightened old man had come to visit early that morning, begging for their help to locate his missing granddaughter. She claimed to be able to see spirits, and I never believed her, he’d said, with tears in his eyes; but the last night I saw her upon the road and when I called her name there was a tremendous gust of wind that forced me to look away and when I turned back, she was gone. I fear she has been spirited away. Kantarou had listened to the story with sympathy, murmured to Youko to make an actual fresh pot of tea for the old man, and agreed to help as best as he was able. “Because she fell in love with a man who was so vain that he could love no one but himself. Even so, she was happy. She followed him everywhere and repeated all his words of self-praise back to him, and so she encouraged his delusional love in an attempt to get him to notice her. Don’t you think that’s sad?”
“I think it’s foolish,” says Haruka. “She had no one to blame but herself in that case.”
“Herself, and her loved one’s vanity,” Kantarou says. He hums briefly, pulling out a paper from the stack and scanning its headlines. “It’s a very tragic story. Even though she was powerful, she let herself be captured by someone who didn’t even notice the gift he’d been given.”
Haruka makes a face. “Are you trying to make this a parable,” he says flatly. “You really have bad taste sometimes …”
“Haruka, pay more attention,” Kantarou says, more sternly than normal. He carefully flips through the pages of the newspaper in his hands. “I’m trying to say is that I think this is what happened to Fujimoto-san’s granddaughter. What did you think I was talking about?”
“I wonder.” Haruka watches him, narrow-eyed. “So? What makes you think that? And what are you going to do?”
Kantarou sighs. He closes his eyes. “Nothing,” he says.
“–Nothing?” Haruka’s eyes narrow. “The old man paid you up front. Have you really progressed to the stage where you’re going to cheat an old man out of his money?”
“It’s more that there’s nothing I can do,” Kantarou says quietly. “I can arrange for them to meet one last time. But when you accumulate a certain amount of weight on your karmic burden, even if you ask someone powerful …” He shrugs a little without opening his eyes. “Not all stories end happily, Haruka. Echo’s story is one of them. This is another one. I think if you asked the old man for more details, he’ll tell you there was an accident a while ago–mm, not more than six months. And the granddaughter that should have died then somehow walked away, though someone who should have also survived didn’t.”
Haruka sits up a little, shoulders hunched up and tense. “So you’re saying–”
“You can only escape for so long,” Kantarou says. He opens his eyes, dark and dim. “But like Echo, if you can’t give something of your own self … one day, you’ll also fade away.”
Fuuma and Hakuren + questionable morals
Years later, an errand sends Fuuma to a world where the cities are situated on floating islands, divided roughly up into seven districts. The delivery takes him to a small chapel in the so-named First District. The young woman who greets him at the door is both bemused and flustered when he turns on the charm, stammering a few basic answers to the questions he has. He’s given a small room “for the course of his stay” which is hardly larger than a prison cell, but overlooks a lovely little garden. It’s quaint and charming in its own way, so he kicks up his feet to relax.
Nearly two hours later, he wakes to the sound of footsteps down the hall, but doesn’t open his eyes until he hears a familiar voice: “You didn’t even take your shoes off first. That’s messy, you know.”
He opens his eyes and smiles. “I’ve missed you too.”
Hakuren Oak crosses his arm and glares. The years have been generous to him: he has gained some height, though not much more bulk, and other than the glasses perched halfway up his nose, there are few visual cues of time having passed for him. “I didn’t say that.”
“You wouldn’t have come to meet me otherwise.” He sits up, swinging his legs off the edge of the bed. There is indeed some mud now caked on the sheets. “Alone, too.”
Hakuren’s eyes narrow just slightly. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” he says. “And I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Your young man seemed like he would argue that,” Fuuma points out, still amiable. “Loudly, and with rude gestures.”
“He still trusts me. Did you want something?”
“Package for you.” He jerks his thumb at the wrapped parcel leaning against the wall. “A special request from an old friend. Of mine, not yours, don’t worry,” he adds with a laugh when Hakuren’s brows draw together in a frown. “I was supposed to give it to ‘someone sensible’ and I suppose you’ll have to do.”
“I am terribly flattered for that stunning recommendation,” Hakuren says dryly. “Is that all? Just a package?”
“And instructions,” he agrees. “Not much of them, though, just–‘use this when the time is right.’ I suppose you’ll just have to use your own judgment for that.”
“Thankfully, my judgment is good.”
“Is it?” He smiles pleasantly when Hakuren slants a sharp glare his way. “I’m just wondering. If you’re the sort of man who’ll walk into another’s bedroom without knocking …” He gets to his feet and is pleased to see he’s still a good head taller. He saunters forward and is not terribly surprised when Hakuren holds his ground. “Are you sure it’s all right for you to be out here?”
“Of course it is,” Hakuren says. His voice is still even and just the smallest bit disapproving. “Just like it’s all right for you to leave your door wide open when you’re in a strange place, like you’d be willing to invite anyone in.”
“It’s been many years,” says Fuuma. He takes the last step forward until they are very nearly touching. “Things change.”
“Things do. But some things won’t.”
“Is this one of those things, then?”
“It is,” Hakuren says evenly. “Either you can agree to come visit for dinner, during which I will expect you to at least behave yourself, or you can stay for the meal here. I am fairly sure you’ll like what I can make far more.” His gaze flickers to the package where it lies against the wall. “I’ll also thank you to leave anything too questionable in safer hands than mine.”
Fuuma raises an eyebrow. “You don’t think you’re the sort of person who’ll use it ‘when the time is right’?”
“Rather,” Hakuren says, with a smile, “I suspect that my ‘right’ time is very different from that of the mysterious benefactor. I don’t believe in sacrificing little things for the greater good unless it’s my own work to give up.”
It starts a laugh out of him, loud and genuine, and he shakes his head. “Fair enough,” he says. “I’ll come to dinner, and we’ll see about sending this thing off to someone else.”
Break and the Lainsworth women, table manners.
“Xerxes,” says the Lady Cheryl, “what on earth are you doing?”
Break blinks at her, upside-down, then stuffs the lollipop back into his mouth. Around it, messily, he says, “Waiting for my Lady to be finished with her lessons, of course.”
“Of course,” Lady Cheryl echoes with a sigh, putting a hand to her cheek. “Our dear little Sharon is still going to be several hours yet. Her penmanship is improving, but she’s still young enough that she needs quite a bit of practice.”
“I’m quite happy to wait.” Break pulls the candy from his mouth, brandishing it for a moment like some small sugary sword. “I promised my Lady I would accompany her on a walk after lunch today. I wouldn’t like to disappoint her.”
“Lunch …” Lady Cheryl tilts her head, her hand still pressed to her cheek. She seems slightly troubled, like one might be by the tiniest of niggling doubts. “What, like that? Sprawled over the table? Where on earth will you put the plates to eat?”
“Perhaps we’ll have a picnic,” he says. “I will leave that discretion to my Lady.”
“Setting an example like that?” Lady Cheryl’s tone becomes arch. “I wonder what sort of things you’ll end up teaching her.”
He pauses halfway through the process of rolling around on the table, peering up at her. “Ah–”
“Displaying yourself like that,” she sighs. “Though you’re part of the noble Lainsworth House, and carry the burden of our pride on your shoulders. It would be one thing if you were a scullery-maid or a cook, but my daughter’s put quite a bit of trust in you. You’re practically a member of the family itself at this point. Did you learn nothing from her?”
“My Lady Cheryl–”
“Shelly was perhaps a little softhearted,” she muses. “But that’s fine as well; that is why I loved her. But for the sake of her daughter …”
“I assure you, I would never do anything untoward to the Lady Sharon–”
Lady Cheryl snaps her delicate fingers and a maidservant seems to practically materialize at the sound, dropping a low polite curtsey. “Mary,” she says, “be a dear and when my Sharon comes out of her lessons, inform her that I’ve absconded with Break for a while. I promise I shall return him by dinner-time.” She smiles at Break, who, already pale, is left to do nothing but chew on his lolipop to show his sudden nervousness. “I am sure it will take no longer than that.”
Mary curtseys again and murmurs her acquiescence. When she trots out of the room, Lady Cheryl turns her widest and most sincere smile on the man sprawled over the table.
“Well, Xerxes,” she says, “let’s do our best, so as to not disappoint Sharon by being late for dinner. You could show off everything you’ve learned to her. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
He doesn’t know what it is that draws him to the churchyard at that particular point. Elise is still laughing in pleasure after their last triumphant revenge, and the shrill sweet sound of her laughter echoes loudly in the otherwise still air. He falls in step next to a traveling fiddler who shivers and crosses himself at the chill they bring, and on a whim März follows him to his final destination: the quietly-hanging body of a woman newly-crucified. Her dress and ridiculously fine–a wedding-gown for the final bridegroom. Even in death, though, there is something lovely about her face.
“So why have you come here?” he wonders aloud, drawing his baton. Settled in the crook of his arm, Elise curls her tiny fingers in his shirt and remains silent. “Now, sing for me.”
The sound of her voice is pure and lovely as her face and the circumstances of her unrighteous death lend her words a soft, almost gentle weight. Even the way he has become, März can’t help but feel some genuine pity for her–it is admirable, of course, that she would love so strongly that she would sacrifice her life for the sake of this absent lover, but it is still ultimately foolish. “Would he really be happy, knowing that the price of your faith was your life?”
Her revenge will be the most dramatic yet, he thinks–retribution against the suitor who tried to force her to betray her true-love, and against the brother who had forced it to become a matter of life and death. All he needed was her consent and he would destroy the two men who put their own pride over the wishes of the woman they held helpless in their power. He could bring down a revolution on the prince who styled himself as if he were an emperor and the guillotine’s kiss to them both. There was no way to return the truly-dead to life, but at least he could send her to her final fate with that comfort, and maybe that could strip some of the sadness from her fate.
Fire and swords, he thinks, a rain of both from the heavens and from the earth. Brass and drums, and the shriek of the violin–a mad wild final dance to bring some kind of smile to her face. If she smiled, then he knows he could as well–the way he had for each of his beloved corpse-princesses before her, taking satisfaction in avenging each in their own unique way. A military march as the armies descended upon a castle and tore it apart stone by stone. He will revel in it as well, he thinks, as long as it brings her joy. “Shall we begin your revenge-play?”
“No. I wouldn’t wish for anything like that.”
Hakuren and Burupya, bathtime
“How did you even–ah, no, never mind. Don’t tell me. I don’t really want to know.”
Gingerly, Hakuren picked the tiny dragon up from the mess on the floor–the shattered pieces of stone from the inkwell, and the sticky black mess spreading from those broken parts. “What were you even doing, wandering off on your own like this?” he murmured, more to himself. “Where’s Teito?”
“Brrrrrrrrr,” Mikage said helpfully. He flicked his tail, leaving a spattered trail on the floor.
“No, no, I said never mind,” Hakuren sighed. “Let’s get you cleaned up. It’s time for a bath.”
It wasn’t that Mikage hates the water, Hakuren knew that; he’d seen the baby dragon playing in the fountain with Razette and paw at the water in the basins the acolytes were meant to use to wash their faces and hands in. The few times it rained and Teito escaped outside to watch it, the baby dragon enjoyed frolicking along the wet stones, chasing raindrops like a cat might a yarn mouse.
Like any child, though, once the word “bath” came up …
By the time he’d brought Mikage back to the bedroom, Hakuren’s white robes were spattered the entire length with black–some of it from Mikage’s tail, some from frantic little paws, and some from when he had given up on simply carrying the baby dragon a distance apart from himself and had to wrap the squirming little things in his arm to keep it from escaping. There was ink on his face and in his hair, and his expression was so stern that even the nuns he passed in the hallway didn’t dare giggle until he was long out of earshot.
In the end the most effective tactic seemed to be scruffing Mikage firmly and pressing his chin against the basin. The edges were too smooth for tiny paws to really gain any good purchase for freedom, and though Mikage thrashed and squalled protest, it left most of his body in the water. Hakuren said a mental prayer of penitence and used his sleeve in place of a washcloth, scrubbing under wings and through the soft fur and between the longer pinion feathers. Mikage, for his part, wailed dramatically and thrashed as best he could (though at least he didn’t spit fire for it) until by the end, when the water was murky with black ink, he appeared to have exhausted himself, lying flopped over the rim of the basin.
“That’s the first part, at least,” Hakuren said critically. “Now again, with soap.”
By the time Teito crept back into their room, sometime after dinner, he found a large wet spot on his pillow and a damp bundle of feathers sulking under his covers (and another matching wet spot). “M… Mikage?”
“PYA,” Mikage informed him, flicking a sulky tail, and turned his back deliberately. “BurrrrrUUU pya.”
Teito jerked back, stunned. “Mikage–”
“Better water than ink,” Hakuren says, from his own desk. “Honestly, Teito, next time, keep better track of him.”
“Hakuren?! What did you do to him–”
“I gave him a b–” Hakuren pauses when a rolling noise of discontent rises from the sodden pink bundle of fur and feathers on Teito’s bed. “A b-a-t-h.”
Mikage wails and sits up just to fling himself down again dramatically. Teito rubs at his temples. “He’s that upset about that–?”
“It’s probably better if you got him more used to that,” Hakuren says, mildly. “Perhaps bathing once a week. He’s very young, after all, he should develop the habit when young.”
Teito looked at Mikage, sprawled on his bed, little feet and tail-tip twitching. “Mikage,” he said. “… I’m sorry.”
Amaterasu in Aather
On Day [xx] the sun did not rise, though she did come for a visit. She graciously allowed herself to be petted by the handful of people who’d actually witnessed her arrival (a tumble and a doggie barrel roll across the Ring that ended with scrabbling claws and her still tumbling off the edge) and accepts treats (two apples, several pieces of dried meat, and some vaguely-mangled thing that had probably once been a leather shoe) before she struts off to take a look around the area. Flowers spring up in her wake, haphazard and bright against the dull grass, and most linger for long moments before they crumble away.
A few stay.
At one point she climbs to the highest point available and stretches herself out to roll around and then fall asleep. Of the people who find her up there, only one attempts to disturb her by aiming a halfhearted kick at her back and ends up physically blown back by a sudden strong flower-scented wind; subsequent attempts end with the troublemaker being pushed further and further back until even the attempt to climb back up the hell is met with definite immediate resistance.
By the time dusk rolls around, soft and gray, the sun has woken up from her nap and is waiting. She lifts her nose and sniffs the air, then thumps her tail a few times against the ground, sending up clouds of seeds that drift off into the growing dark.
“We’re getting closer,” Beauty says to her softly, laying a transparent hand just above the space where the sun’s head is; out of courtesy, the sun does not ruin the illusion. “Every day.”
Overhead, the moon is rising.
Mikage/Shuri – master/servant
“The worst trouble I ever got into?” Mikage blinks, then shrugs. “When I was fourteen. I found where my dad kept the key to our employer’s liquor cabinet and I got into it. Worst trouble, and also, the worst headache I ever had.”
Teito snorts, but there’s a laugh somewhere hidden in the sound. “Bet that showed you.”
Mikage chews on his lip for a moment, thoughtful, then says, “Yeah.”
“Ehhhhhhhh?!” Shuri’s eyes were wide as saucers. “You did what??”
“Shhh!” Mikage clapped a hand over the other boy’s mouth. “If my brother hears us–” He glanced around, just in case; when Kokuyou doesn’t swoop magically out of thin air, he relaxes and let go before pulling out the heavy brown bottle from his coat. “C’mon, it’s yours too, isn’t it?”
Shuri fidgeted, staring at the bottle. “Well, obviously,” he said, though he was clearly uncertain. “Since it’s Papa’s, technically, it’s also mine …”
“Exactly!” Mikage grinned. “That means they can’t get mad, ’cause who’d get mad at someone for drinking what was theirs?”
“… Do we at least have cups …”
“Nah, I couldn’t get them to fit. Don’t worry! I’m not sick!” Mikage grabbed Shuri’s hand and tugged. “Come on, let’s try it!”
“Who did you guys work for, anyway?” There’s a rustling as Teito rolls over; his voice is sleepy now, and the question sounds more for the sake of continuing the easy conversation than actual curiosity.
“A pretty famous family,” Mikage says. “You’ve probably heard of them.”
“Geh, you mean, like that Shuri’s family?”
Mikage huffs a laugh that’s barely more than a breath. “Yeah. The one and the same.”
“I feel funny,” Shuri whined. He tugged at his shirt weakly, though he didn’t move his head from where it was pillowed on Mikage’s leg. “It’s hot and my head hurts. That was a bad idea.”
“Mmmmmgh,” Mikage agreed. His tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth, like it no longer fit quite properly. “Yuck.”
“This is your fault.”
“I’m not stupid, you’re stupid. I’m the master, so you have to agree with me.”
“Nuh-uh.” Mikage groped for a moment before he could find Shuri’s head without opening his eyes. He wrapped his fingers in that soft fine hair and tugged–not hard enough to hurt, but enough to punctuate the statement. “I’m the one who’s sitting still. So–so–it means I’m tougher. So. So I’m the boss right now.”
Shuri rolls a little, whining again, and opens his eyes. “Stoppit.”
“Nope, right now, I’m the boss.” Mikage grinned, muzzily pleased with himself. “So you gotta do what I say, not the other way around.”
“You’re just–a servant.” Shuri goes cross-eyed a little, trying to look up at Mikage’s face. “You don’t know how to give orders.”
“So prove it.”
“What was it like?” Teito asks after a moment. “Working for the Oaks?” Was it terrible is the implied question, and Mikage can hear the curl of distaste in his voice.
“… Actually, it wasn’t really that bad,” he says thoughtfully. “I mean, any time you have to work for someone, there’ll be ups and there’ll be downs, right? But it was good solid work. My dad and my brother are still working there. I’m the only one who decided to do go down another path, but that’s not because I hated it. I told you why I wanted to join the military–it’s not that I hated it, I just wanted to do differently.”
Shuri’s mouth tasted like whiskey without the attendant burn. He was obedient enough for the kiss–startled by it, maybe, but also properly yielding, his hands settled on Mikage’s knees for balance. It was a clumsy kiss but Mikage liked it anyway–it felt comfortable and it felt good. When he tugged at Shuri’s hands and leaned away, Shuri made a surprised noise but didn’t argue when Mikage pushed him back.
“Look, see,” he said brightly. “That was a good order, right?”
“–That doesn’t count!” Shuri protested, blushing. “That’s wasn’t an order, that was you asking–”
“A request can still be an order,” Mikage said. “Okay, how’s this: I’m gonna kiss you again.”
Shuri blushed harder and pouted and said, huffy, “Fine, all right.”
“They found us–me after I fell asleep,” Mikage says, laughing. “My dad and my brother, I mean. Boy, they were mad! You’d get how scary that is if you knew my dad–he doesn’t get angry about everything, but he sure was angry when he found me! ‘How could you, that was the master’s prized whiskey! What were you even thinking? Idiot son!'” Mikage punches his fist into his palm. “Ah, but he didn’t actually hit me. He said the hangover would be punishment enough.”
“Yeah.” Mikage rolls onto his stomach, pillowing his head on his folded arms. He can hear the wistfulness in his own voice, but knows Teito won’t catch it, drowsy as he is, unused to regret that has anything to do with the softer, warmer things in life. “At the same time, I’m glad I did it.”
Mikage closes his eyes. “… Yeah.”
Sherlock interaction with a small child!
To see Holmes with any of the Baker’s Street Irregulars is a unique experience to anyone who knows the consulting detective otherwise: he is still sharp and short-tempered, his brilliant mind skipping from clue to conclusion with hardly a pause in between, fast enough to bewilder anyone attempting to follow his logic before he lays it out in an orderly fashion. The boys who make up the Irregulars, though, are perhaps more used to dealing with Holmes than the jaded members of the Yard. Tonight’s snitch is a tiny scrap of a thing who at first glance cannot be older than twelve and so filthy that there are actual pale streaks of skin visible under the dirt, revealed by the outside downpour. He is perched on Watson’s own chair, chattering excitedly with a Cockney accent so heavy that everything seems to come out as a single slurred word. And yet Holmes, for all his impatience and his short temper, sits and nods and listens and has every appearance of understanding–even interjecting, now and then, to ask for clarification. As the urchin’s story continues it picks up steam, accompanied with wide pinwheeling gestures of his arms.
Finally, though, Holmes holds up a hand. “Stop, stop, all right. You’re certain it was the same man?”
The boy nods, so fast and numerous it’s a wonder his head doesn’t fly off. Holmes nods and reaches for his purse, from which he extracts a shilling. He holds it up and waits for the boy to stop nodding, and says, “This is for your day’s work. If it turns out this is the villain whom I am pursuing, I shall put in a word to Wiggins to send you back this way. Understand?”
Another enthusiastic nod, this time accompanied with a slurred thankeesir and a wide smile of yellowed teeth. Watson cringes a little at the sight. He grabs the coin from Holmes’s hand, keeping it tight in his grubby little fist, then trots out of the room; a moment later Mrs. Hudson can be heard exclaiming as the front door opens and closes again. In that brief space of time Holmes has left for his feet, seizing his jacket and swinging it on with a flourish; he grabs a hat and fixes it to his head with great determination. There is a brightness in his eyes that is dearly familiar to Watson.
“Come, my friend!” he cries, and is already half out the door. “We’ve a man to see about a murder!”
Shuri/Mikage — master/servant
When Mikage is ten years old, he comes down with a terrible cold. It’s bad enough that his parents shoo his siblings away and that even the master of the house notices: Mikage wakes up one evening in a feverish haze and hears a familiar deep voice speaking with his father. Deeply confused, he tries to get up to properly greet their esteemed guest and ends up tumbling to the floor in a tangled heap; a moment later the door opens and his mother sweeps him back into bed, hovering until he sleeps again.
The next time he wakes there’s someone else by his bed. Mikage squints his eyes and can’t open them completely, though he can see short-cropped pale hair, so he hazards, “K–ohaku?”
“Wrong!!” the boy next to his bed shrills. Mikage cringes back from the volume, and the next time Shuri talks he lowers his voice a little as if in deference. “I thought I would come and see what’s kept you so long. You’re supposed to be tending to me, you know!”
In spite of his aching head and sore body, he manages to dredge up a smile. “Sorry,” he croaks. “I’ll get right on it.”
“You had better,” Shuri sniffs. He slumps back in his chair, his posture nearly defensive, his lower jaw set in something close to a pout. “I’m expecting it of you! Who’s going to bring me my tea the way I like it? Your brother doesn’t put enough sugar and your papa doesn’t put any at all! What good is that then??”
“Dad doesn’t drink tea at all,” he says, barely over a raspy whisper. “He drinks coffee.”
Shuri makes a horrified face. “That’s terrible,” he says with genuine distaste. “It’s bitter and black and it smells like mud. My papa drinks tea. That’s a civilized man’s drink.”
“S’why mine is a steward,” Mikage agrees, closing his eyes again. “An’ yours is a general.”
“That’s how it’s going to be for us, too,” Shuri says. “I’ve decided this.”
“When we grow up,” Shuri says, “I’ll be a general, just like Papa. You’ll be the steward that runs my house, and you’ll bring me tea when I come home from important meetings.”
“Important general things, obviously.” Shuri kicks the side of the bed, though not hard; Mikage hears it more than he feels it. “You’ll do important … housekeeping … things. Like bringing me tea with the proper amount of sugar.”
Mikage laughs even though it makes his throat hurt worse. “Two lumps.”
“Right! So …” Something tugs at his blankets, and Mikage opens one eye just enough to watch Shuri struggle with their weight, tugging them up where they’ve slipped, to Mikage’s chin. “That’s why you have to get better. I won’t accept anyone else! It has to be you.” He pokes Mikage in the shoulder once as if to punctuate his words. “All right??”
Mikage closes his eyes completely and ducks partly under the blanket to hide his smile. “All right,” he agrees, “Shuri-sama.”
Road/Allen, “sweet dreams”?
These days, any time he starts to drift off, he can hear a voice singing a lullaby.
It’s one that he knows very well by this point–one he knew even before he began to hear it in his sleep. And so the boy fell asleep.
He is tired and aching from so many days running. Everything has begun blurring together until he can hardly distinguish one day from another. All he knows is that he still has to keep running–that there is still something out there that he has to find. It’s important–maybe more so than anything else he has ever done in his life. Maybe more so than anyone, ever, has tried to do.
Until he discovers it–whatever it is–he can’t stop. He’ll keep going.
Sometimes, though–sometimes it’s hard enough to be painful. He hurts and he’s lonely; he misses the warm places and the familiar people he once knew. Some days he even misses the prison cell and the constant sub vocal hum from the wards that had been placed in multiple layers around him. It’s still too early to go back, though. It’s not yet time, when he hasn’t found the thing he has been so desperately trying to find. Once he does, though–once he does–
I will continue to pray that this child be granted love–
Even when he knows himself to be completely alone–the only time he can allow himself to relax enough to even consider sleeping–he can still hear that voice singing to him. It’s soft and it’s sweet, like the voice of a mother–or perhaps a lover–and part of him yearns for it even as part of him shies away. He knows the singer, though he doesn’t know where she lurks. Maybe she’s just another figment of his imagination, grasped in place of every other crazy betrayal he’s known in his life–someone who loved him enough to disappear for him, when he doesn’t even know if the other who claimed to love him even saw the person he was under the one they were waiting for …
He should be wary, he knows–he should distrust the comfort she offers him and the promises of sleep that her lullaby tempts. He can’t make himself go that far, though: everything else in his world has been turned upside down; he will take what comfort he is provided while he can.
With a kiss for these joined hands …
Allen Walker sleeps.