Trick or Treat — 2007

Loveless: on gossamer wings he flies

“Oh look,” says Yuiko. “A butterfly.”

It rains all throughout the end of the month, and only on the very last day does the sun break through. It’s almost too late in the year for flowers, but a few sad bruised specimens remain along the side of the path, bowed low under their own damp weight. A pure-white butterfly rests on one, wings slowly moving as though for balance. In the sunlight, it glows like a dropped pearl.

Ritsuka crouches down to get a better look and it flutters away, its wings bright against the clear sky. Continue reading

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And Miles Yet To Go

This is something no one ever tells you: rebirth is painful.

Of course it is. You take all the pieces and parts of your life and compress them in tightly before it all gets reshaped, reformed, and who’s to say it’s still “you” who comes out in the end. It’s messy, it’s ugly, it’s painful. Birth itself is nothing in comparison.

But the baby who used to be Alice sleeps peacefully. It had cried for hours after its original body had faded to ash, but quieted as soon as Jirou took it into his arms. It weighs hardly anything; he wonders if it would simply float away, if he let it go. Even after hours of walking, it hardly feels like anything is weighing him down. A part of him thinks that if he looks down he would only find a bundle of empty swaddling clothes, just like before.

(good-night, she’d whispered to him, as though curled safely in their bed and not lying on the battlefield, her body turning to gray ash and crumbling even as he tried to hold on — even as he’d clung to her and tried to say her name though nothing but silence filled his throat oh, oh god, oh Alice.)

“My,” says a voice behind him. He would know it anywhere, and a thousand years will not be enough to forget. “After all you’ve done, they still turn you out with an infant on your back? That’s hardly civilized behavior, don’t you think?”

Jirou turns slowly.

Cassandra smirks at him, one hip canted out and her fingers tucked into her pockets. There is blood at the corner of her mouth, and she meets his eyes directly before she licks it away. Rage surges inside him, a cold hungry thing that sees that blood and wants to make it Cassandra’s own, to rip her apart and spread it everywhere until the earth is saturated with the blood. He puts his hand on his sword, and in the crook of his other arm, the infant stirs and burbles at him. It’s like a splash of cold water, and he looks down at the baby for just a moment; an instant later Cassandra is there, close enough that he can smell her skin under her perfume, clean and cold. He jerks back, but she catches his wrist in one hand, and the touch burns.

“Tsk,” she said. “Is that how you treat an old friend, Jirou? Or a lover?” She leans in so that her lips are against his cheek; he can feel every word shaped exactly against his skin. Between them, the infant breathes quietly. “What would Alice say?”

Jirou hisses and yanks his hand away from her. He has the uneasy feeling he managed only because she allowed him: he is tired from hours of walking, whereas she has the easy relaxation of the well-rested and -prepared. Cassandra’s eyes are bright and reflect all of the full moon, and her teeth all gleam in her wide smile. She reaches out again and before he can quite stop her, she has her fingers tangled in the baby’s hair. It opens blue eyes and looks up at her unblinking.

“How cute,” Cassandra says, and that’s as far as she gets, because she has to leap out of the way before he guts her right there. She licks her fingers as though stung and laughs. The baby remains silent.

“You,” Jirou says. His voice cracks. “I will never allow you to–”

“Hm?” Cassandra waves a dismissive hand, though her eyes go narrow. “Never allow me to do what, Jirou? Touch Alice? It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?” She tosses her hair. It’s utterly familiar, completely careless, and Jirou bites his cheek hard and tastes blood.

“Alice trusted you,” he says. He points the sword at her, and the blade remains steady, aimed for her heart. “You betrayed her when she–”

“She loved me,” Cassandra says. Her eyes go narrow and she smiles when he stops with his mouth open, his accusation caught midsentence. She frames her hips with her hands and licks her teeth. “You remember, don’t you? Jirou?”

(you match, she’d laughed, tying a scrap of ribbon around the ends of Cassa’s long hair, then reached to tug the matching one in his own and her eyes were bright with affection as Cassa mimes irritation but kisses Alice’s cheek anyway, pretty pretty Sage Eve and her snake-eyed beloved guardian.)

“Ah,” says Cassandra. She purses her lips and laughs again, a throaty pleased noise. “You do remember.” With a swagger in her hips, she comes towards him. Jirou bares his fangs and keeps the sword steady, but when she puts her hand against the flat and pushes it gently aside, he cannot find the strength inside himself to fight her. He does lean back when she comes too close, turning his body partway to put his bulk between her and the baby. Her fingers touch his face, cool and strong, and tilt him back to face her. Her smile is wide and red.

“Jirou,” she croons. “Where will you go now? Even a hero has his flaws. You don’t even know how to care for a child, do you?”

“I’ll protect him,” Jirou says. “That’s what matters.”

“Of course,” Cassandra purrs. “But who protects you, then?”

Her arm moves, lightning flash, and she catches him by the throat, spinning to pin him against a tree branch; his sword goes flying and stabs into the ground some distance away. They’re eye-level with each other, and when Cassandra leans up, her fangs flash in her mouth with each word. “I could bite you right now, Jirou Mochizuki. Wouldn’t that be the best irony? The hero of the Kowloon War, the one who defeated the Kowloon King when no one else could, changed! Wouldn’t that be funny?”

Jirou sucks in a breath and stops breathing. Cassandra’s green eyes are bright with amused madness as she leans in. Her breath is warm upon his cheek before her mouth drifts down, pressed there against the corner of his mouth. He lets out a shaky breath and wonders when he’d become so cold: after Alice’s death, surely, unless the viper’s poison had entered his veins long ago.

(Cassa kisses confidently and without fear, nothing sweet or delicate about her: she knows what she wants and she takes it, her hands in his hair as Alice giggles at the look of shock on his face.)

Pressed between them, the infant starts to cry.

Cassandra jerks back at that. Jirou sucks in an immediate sharp breath and adjusts his grip as the baby begins to thrash, sobbing like all the pain and horror of rebirth is there in its eyes again, all the things it cannot possibly remember yet. He bounces the child awkwardly and wishes for Alice’s ease with children, and isn’t that the real irony of the situation? He looks up to see Cassandra staring at the child with her teeth gritted.

She looks up. For a moment Jirou sees something he recognizes rather than remembers. Her mouth twists into an exasperated scowl.

“She always does that,” she says. “Ruining my fun! It’s not fair.”

Jirou looks blankly at her. The infant continues to cry, though softer now: its wails are dying to whimpers, and it clings to Jirou’s coat like he might simply leave it behind. “Cassa–”

Cassandra blinks, and that fleeting moment is gone. She flips her hair back over her shoulder and bares her teeth in something that is not really a grin. “Jirou,” she says. “You might want to go by boat if you’re trying to avoid my siblings. They’re quite angry about what you did to our father, you see. They’d take any excuse to get you.”

He frowns. Without breaking eye-contact he shifts a little, ready to break for his sword. “… and I’ll believe you because … ?”

She laughs and blows him a kiss. He swears he feels it, there upon his cheek. Before he can reach his sword, however, to retaliate or threaten or —

he doesn’t even know what, really

— she’s gone. Jirou pulls his sword from the ground and looks down at the baby in his other arm, who has now fallen silent and looks at him with large wet blue eyes. He can still (already?) see traces of Alice looking back at him. He touches one round damp cheek with his thumb and the baby smiles like the sun coming up — like Alice did, once upon a time. Jirou smiles back because he has never been able to resist.

“We’ll get there soon,” he murmurs. He looks up to the sky; in the distance, the horizon is still black, but dotted with stars.

Jirou sheathes his sword and starts moving.

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the wind in the trees

There is wind in the trees: listen. Shhhhhh. Shhhhhh.

There is a young man walking the road by himself. He carries a large box upon his back and walks upright. If he leaves footprints in the dust, they are blown away. Overhead the moon hangs round and full; tonight the rabbit is hard at work.

It is almost summer. The air smells like greenery and warmth; the grass is littered with brown and pink blossoms from the cherry trees. Sometimes the wind changes and the moonlight ribboning through the new leaves looks more like the edge of a woman’s sleeve. The young man never turns his head, though sometimes he smiles.

At the edge of the forest, the path diverges. One leads down to the city, where the lights are now electric and are bright enough to challenge the stars. Even here, the earth groans and flinches from the unnatural weight upon her, buildings and cars and so many *people* all compressed together.

The other path is overgrown and weed-choked. No one has gone that way a long time; none of the people in the city below knows it exists. The young man does not look at the city, but continues his own way.

There is wind in the grass: listen. Hush. Hush.

He walks looking straight ahead. There is a hill that once upon a time had stone steps carved into its face; now everything is covered in moss. His feet don’t slip in the dark as he steadily climbs his way upward, to where a single grandmother tree stands tall against the sky. At a certain angle, it stabs right into the moon.

She is an old, old tree. Her roots go deep. In the shadow of her roots is a weathered stone statue of a wolf. Moss grows deep in its stone eyes and fills its open jaws. Mostly, though, it remains solidly intact. He touches the stone cheek, the ears bent forward, the point of a fang. It is reverent, almost like worship.

When he finishes, he kneels in the damp dark earth before the statue.

The young man takes off his pack and sets it on naked ground. From it he pulls out a sword with a leering face, a packet of incense blended by a dragon-king’s daughter, and matches tipped with fragments of jade taken from the sun-god’s mirror.

He lights the incense and prays. Outside of the tree roots, the wind rises to a howl, like a wolf’s cry: shhhhhhhhhhhhh.

“Mother,” he says, and the wind falls silent to listen. He pulls out the sword, forged from pieces of his father’s broken blade. His shape is this, his reason is that, and his regret is now. He cuts his palm and lets his blood fall upon the earth, in a circle around the incense.

“Mother, I am ready to come home.”

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on finding a babe in the woods

“How horrible,” says one of the pixies. She nudges a chunk of bloodstained wood with the edge of her staff and shivers. “Tis revenant work here. These poor humans never had a chance.”

Melvin only half-hears her. He runs his fingers over the edge of the doorframe, then turns his head.

“Lord Melvin,” she tries again. “There is nothing to salvage here. What–”

He pushes aside the bed, the only piece of furniture intact within the cottage and picks up the sleeping baby. The child’s hair is so fine and pale that it gleams white, and he opens that are still cloudy blue. He looks at Melvin without fear before giving a gummy yawn.

The pixie makes an aghast sound. “A child?!”

“So it seems.” Melvin settles the boy into the crook of his arm, with the same delicacy as he had once held his cousin. “The assasins did not find him, and the revenants did not harm him. “Tis uncommon good luck for one so young and mortal.”

She tosses her pink hair over her shoulder. “More like a curse! A revenant doesn’t have the ability to distinguish old loved ones from anyone else! Why on earth would they leave a child behind?”

Melvin looks around the ruined cottage. He looks at the bloodstains on the wall, the broken furniture, the unhurt child. The boy looks steadily back at him, then reaches up to catch a fistful of Melvin’s long hair. He doesn’t pull, just weaves his fingers into it and holds on. The pixie is saying something else, and the other scouts have returned to add their voices to the cacaphony. The child never turns his head, steadfast and strong as Melvin’s young cousin never was at birth.

Someday, perhaps, this child will become a strong sword-arm for him; someday there may be a debt repaid. But right now there is only this boy-child and calm dignity, untroubled by the destruction.

“I will take him,” he announces. The others fall silent.

“Lord Melvin,” one of the elves says. “Tis unwise, to bring a human into Ringford. The Queen–”

“My lady aunt is a mother,” Melvin says. He tucks the child closer to his body, and the boy closes his eyes, as though satisfied. He pulls Melvin’s trapped hair to his cheek and nuzzles against it. “Are we of Ringford so heartless that we would abandon an infant to his death?” He lifts his head and looks around; not one meets his eyes. “We hold ourselves above them; so, then, shall we turn our eyes and pretend ignorance when there is no one to impress?”

Not a one among them says as he leaves the cottage, and not a one among them protests when he carries the boy with him all the way to Ringford.

Throughout it all the child sleeps.

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The Blood of Valentine

His blood is still that of Valentine, and that means magic. He can hear his heartbeat clearly over the roar of the fires around him, and that is a comfort: he doesn’t want to think about her forest burning, with all her gossamer-winged bright-eyed people burning with it.

(This part is the lie: he actually just doesn’t want to think about her burning. Fairies are durable in many ways, but they’re fragile as any other living thing in the face of the Inferno King’s rampage. Royalty is good at killing royalty, after all. Elfaria had survived a lifetime’s worth of assassination attempts before Odin’s psypher took her life.)

Pressure builds coarse and prickly in his chest. He wants to cough and lacks the strength. It’s all a waiting game, now.

(This is also a lie: it’s been a waiting game all of his life. Ever since his grandfather wrapped gnarled hands around his mother’s throat and choked the life from her, he’s been waiting.)

He hopes Velvet is safe. He hopes the pooka has found her, or will find her before the end. He hopes–

(and this part isn’t a lie)

–that his queen will forgive him, if he just closes his eyes and rests for a bit, before he goes to meet her.

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but it’s not a metaphor for romance

On one rainy Tuesday morning, there was a box of kittens outside of the school gates.

They were small with milky blue eyes and tiny, tiny voices: two ginger, one white, two black. When Soubi knelt beside them with his umbrella, three looked up at the sudden shelter, but the two black kittens remained curled in the corner of the box, wrapped around each other and asleep.

He looked up at the school. Class would not be over for another half-hour. Ritsuka didn’t sit close enough to the window to be visible. He imagined it anyway. This late in the day, most students would already be distracted, and even Ritsuka might look to the sky and ignore every other word of his teacher’s voice. Continue reading

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Birthday Mathoms — 2007

Ahiru finds Fakir in his studio, tottering in on the new legs he has written for her. She keeps a hand pressed to the wall for balance, watching as he goes through the long arching stretches of warmup. Without looking at her, he says, “You’d better do this, too. You’ll be too stiff otherwise.”

“Huh?” She withdraws a little. “For what?”

He glances back over hs shoulder, an eyebrow raised. “Dance, of course,” he said. “You haven’t forgotten that much, have you?”

“Huh? But–” She flails her free hand for a moment, almost near panic. “I can’t, I mean, I haven’t in years, and I wasn’t even that great to begin with, that was all Tutu, and then it was your writing, I can’t–”

“Ahiru,” he says. He does not make the proper gesture, but he holds a hand out to her. Before she can stop herself, she pushes off the wall towards him, feeling ridiculously weak and off-balance. Her human body feels so strange after years as a duck: the center of balance is shifted, there’s more of her to trip over, she’s all knees and elbows and bony wrists … Continue reading

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Thirteen Facts (for thirteen gods)

1. Yomigami ages with the changing of the year, and on the last day he turns his brush on himself, painting over the wrinkles that line his face, the pouches of fat that roll off his belly, the tremor in his clawed hands. When the ink fades, the milky film is gone from his eyes and his scales shine like the stars, and by the time he puts his brush away, no traces of the old man he will become remain. At the same time, “revival” is a misleading term: he can only fix objects that have been broken, and lives — human, demon, or god — are forbidden to him as to all others.

2. No enemy has ever taunted Tachigami’s size and lived to tell the tale. Even Kabegami gives him a wide berth.

3. Truth be told, he’s awful fond of Nuregami, and not just ’cause the brats like her too — she’s always real patient with ’em, even when they’re climbin’ all over her and gettin’ her pretty white kimono covered in prints. They like her ’cause she’s good to ’em, like the mother they never had. Bakugami, though, likes how water’s always drippin’ from her clothes, and always provides a convinient snuff for the fuse of his bombs when he’s not lookin’ to blow things up.

4. They don’t think of themselves as three separate beings, they three Hanagami, even with their individual names. Even when separate they’re the same, so when one is returned to Amaterasu-okami’s side, really, they all have been.

5. Nuregami dislikes fighting more than anything else; she would much rather diffuse and distract than actually fight. Not even for her mother will she compromise that, and it is her shameful relief that she has never been called in that capacity.

6. Originally Yumigami served honored Amaterasu’s brother, and came to Takamagahara with those of the moon tribe who fled their homeland, to be their envoy and their guardian, and part of him still expects to someday be recalled home. He’s still not sure what he will answer, when — if — that day comes.

7. Kazegami takes a very fierce pride in her speed, faster than the wind that is her name. The only one who has ever outdistanced her is Mother Amaterasu herself, and for that, and for the gracious win, she accepts the bridle and follows as obedient daughter.

8. In her pipe there is a single lit ember that never goes out — no matter the weather, it burns, ready to flare to life with a single breath. It’s a piece of herself, and as long as it remains — as long as the sun makes her way across the sky — Moegami knows she will never die.

9. Kasugami knows what each of her brothers and sisters is like as a drunk and will tell stories in lurid detail if asked. She also knows how Mother Amaterasu is in her cups, and that is a secret she’ll never tell.

10. Of all the brush-gods, Kabegami is the only one not born directly of Amaterasu. She was adopted in when her parents threw her away, and loves fiercely for that: not the strongest or smartest of fighters is Kabegami, but she is the most loyal, and thus treated with respect.

11. If pushed — and he, Gekigami, doesn’t like to admit it, because favoritism is an unseemly thing for one whose heart follows the path of the bow — he will admit his favorites are Tachigami and Kabegami. Something about the way those two are put together — so very tiny compared to him — makes his heart flutter.

12. Even on the hottest days, Itegami’s breath comes in misty ice crystals; he can often (if asked very nicely) be convinced to cool drinks for his siblings, or to stand guard against the heat as his mother sleeps trustingly in his shadow. He does not mind: it is an honor to serve.

13. As a mother, she loves all her children equally; as a protector, she will turn none away; as a goddess, she acknowledges responsbility for all.

But as herself, when she sleeps in the long cool grasses of Takamagahara, she finds the most comfort in the sound of a flute, playing old brief melodies from the tribes of the moon.

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Tomorrow’s Not The End Of The World

Narugami never brings it up, so Yamino hardly thinks it’s polite to mention it himself.

Even so, he’s continuously aware of it, some part of himself that writhes and hisses every time one of the Norns show up with Ragnarök on her lips. It would be easier if they could be more like Loki and Heimdall, always sidestepping each other with insincere courtesy at best and outright aggression at worst. The understanding between them goes both ways: Heimdall is mostly reduced to parlor tricks and unlikely schemes, but there is a grain of true desperation in them, as there is in each of Loki’s returning volleys: if I kill you now, I won’t have to face you at the end, I won’t have to die as well … Continue reading

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Slowly Making Change

The first time he changes, she’s scared because she should be: after all, she’s a young girl and he’s still mostly a stranger, a wild rough guy who turns into a strange shuddering creature, all gangly limbs and eyes of horror. She clings to her Bible and mutters prayers, hits the creatures that come too close, and when all is said and done and he changes back, she runs to his side, catching his arm as he stumbles with healing spells already tripping off her tongue. Under her hands, he’s warm and heavy as any human man.

The fifth time he changes, she’s a bit surprised, but after the initial startled triphammer of her heart and the adrenaline of battle, she isn’t so afraid. He turns his face away from her when he changes back, but for just a moment when she puts her arms around him for support, he leans against her and breaths quick and hard against her hair. When he pulls away, muttering redfaced excuses, she touches her cheek and smiles. Continue reading

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she comes to make war

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, princess,” her father tells her, bouncing her on his knee. “You’ve got people will fight for you.”

+++

The first time Kairi disarms Sora, she drops her own Keyblade and hurries over to him, wide-eyed and surprised. She fusses an apology, but Sora laughs it off and rubs his wrist. There’ll be a bruise there later, purple-brown and dotted with red under the glove, and the next time they spar he pushes a little harder, a little faster, and grins for the sheer joy of the sunlight off her hair and her strong tanned arms. Continue reading

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a heartbeat close

On the ship there is no time or reason to waste on frivolities of dress; it’s been long weeks since Anita has even thought of her makeup. She has shed all her fine dresses and jewelry: she belongs to a different world now.

But in the morning, long before crew or Exorcists wake, when she thinks of her mother and General Cross and the earnest boy lost to them in China, Mahoja combs her hair. The salt and damp has turned it ratty and knotted, but Mahoja is patient and steady, working the knots gently out. Anita has seen her crush men’s throats with her bare hands, but for her all that tremendous strength is gentled: she feels it still in every careful pass of the comb in her hair, sees it in the corded hard muscles of Majoha’s long arms, and never once does she fear. Even when faltering Mahoja is nothing but control, and she touches Anita with such delicate grace.

It could be frightening: for all her size, Mahoja has the speed of a pouncing tiger, and if she wanted — and oh, she does want, Anita has been trained to recognize this —

Instead what she does is close her eyes and let herself sink into the comfort of repetitive motion, the draw of long graceful fingers against her scalp, and dreams of a world where she could take the hand that trembles against her skin and smile and say, Yes, I understand.

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Women’s Intuition

As an Exorcist, and as a trainee before that, he’d seen a lot of strange things: a woman whose body unraveled into ribbons that would wrap around a man’s limbs and pull him apart, a pair of twins who melted into a single two-headed monster that howled in dual voices, his own father’s skeletal arms come slicing down over his eye. He’d watched his master cut down a man who sucked the life out of people with a single touch, an old woman who’d sprouted eight spiderlegs from her back and spat acid, and some ragged shivering creature who reeked so badly of garbage and worse that Allen had nearly passed out just watching. The Earl’s ability to design new and strange weapons for each AKUMA was admirable, in a sort of sickening way: the human body twisted and stretched to accommodate the mecha stuffed into the fragile skin.

This, though.

This was going entirely too far.

Ravi took one look at him and nearly killed himself laughing — his head made a loud clunking sound when he hit the ground, and Allen had been more than happy enough to finish the job if necessary. Rinali interfered at the last moment, pushing them apart before herding Allen out of the room. There was nothing to be done for it now, she’d said, and the best they could do was hope they found the AKUMA responsible and see if it would play the same trick again — or that the effect would wear off eventually, which was still a legitimate possibility. And she’d kept her voice low and patient the entire time, but he’d still caught the glimmer of amusement in her eyes as she added, We look about the same size, maybe you should borrow some of my clothes.

He opened the bag she pressed into his hands and wondered if perhaps he could just — spontaneously stop his heart and not have to deal with this any more.

“If you need help with the bra, Allen,” she says, and it’s kind of amazing how she can keep a straight face like that, “just let me know.”

+++

Ravi started calling him “Ellen” instead of Allen by that evening.

The next morning he had two black eyes and Allen had no guilt at all.

+++

It was actually something of a relief that the Gatekeeper recognized him.

“I know what you’re trying to do,” it sniffed. “You’re trying to trick me, aren’t you? Changing your face like that, so I’ll be lulled into a false sense of security. Hah! I’ve still got my eye on you, Allen Walker, and I don’t care how you disguise yourself.” It huffed a few times for emphasis and stuck out its chin far enough that Allen had to sidestep it, wobbling a little as he did. It continued to glare as he walked around it and inside, too, and that was also kind of nice.

He managed to sneak to his room without getting caught — Rinali had promised to distract people as long as possible, but Allen sort of hoped to have a little more warning before the inquisition started. He closed the door and leaned back against it with a sigh, then plucked a little at his shirt, making a face at the flesh underneath. Rinali’s estimate of their sizes had been generous: his new breasts were small and flat, his hips jutting out at bony angles rather than any softened curves, and the smallest of her spare uniforms still bagged on him.

Allen let go of the shirt and thumped his head back against the door. It wasn’t the first time he’d been alone, but now there was stillness settling into his bones and a growing certainty of how he’d changed, what he’d become, all the strange new curves and angles and juts of the body he’d used to know. He pressed his left hand to his heartbeat and counted the beats — that was how Mana had taught new performers to deal with stage-fright, swallow down nervousness by replacing that with the steady knowledge of the closest available rhythm. Under his palm, his own flesh was soft and alien.

“It’s not that different,” he muttered aloud, and winced at the sound of his voice, high and teetering just on this edge of terrified. He’d never had the deepest of voices — before, and now that he was changed, it was nearly an octave higher (or was that just hysteria finally setting in?) and shaking just a little. “You’ve dressed up as worse. You’ve volunteered to perform worse. Mana let you get away with it–”

His voice hitched. Mana’s face and the cheap costumes and plaster jewelry the company carted with them seemed distant and faint, like smoke that his fingers would pass through if he reached out. Allen opened his eyes and looked down at himself, small breasts and awkward hips, and took a deep breath.

“Not that different,” he said, and bit his lip at the sound of his voice again. “Right.”

+++

To his surprise, Komui was neither flippant nor evasive, and that worried Allen more than anything. He looked at Allen over the rim of his favorite mug, eyes hidden behind the glare of his glasses, and said, “Allen, have you tried to invoke your Innocence since this happened?”

Allen blinked, his hands tightening on his borrowed cup. “… No,” he admitted. “There wasn’t any need — Mr. Bookman thought we should hurry back after what happened, and we didn’t run into any trouble along the way …” He swallowed and looked up. “Why?”

Komui got to his feet, his mouth set in a grim line. “Come with me,” he said, and Allen found himself on his feet and following before he could think to question. He kept his left arm cradled to his chest like an injury as he trailed Komui down long dark stairs, down to where Helbraska slept. As always, a strange cold shiver went down his spine as the creature lifted hir feathered head, the eyeless face swinging towards them.

Somewhere in the depths below the platform, where the unsynchronized Innocence slept, was a dry whispering sound, like the rustling of a thousand wings.

“Allen … Walker,” Helbraska whispered, hir heavy lips shaping the words with determination. Echoes of hir voice caught and shivered back up along unseen walls until it seemed to form a complete chorus. “It seems … you have changed … since we last met.”

He took a deep breath, hugging his arm to his chest again. “Y– yes,” he managed. “There was an AKUMA–”

“Hel,” Komui interrupted, his voice clipped and precise as it rarely was. “Will this affect his ability to synchronize?”

The rest of his sentence dried to ash in Allen’s mouth. He looked down at the arm he held to his chest — one of the few things that had not changed when the rest of him had, still with a broad palm and black nails against blood-red flesh. The cross cut into the skin winked faintly, catching and reflecting the glow of Helbraska’s feathers. It didn’t feel any different either — just his arm, hardly normal, but still his own. He looked up as Helbraska’s head swung towards him and just barely refrained from flinching as hir head bowed down, their foreheads touching as they had long ago.

Allen drew in a quick breath and held still as possible. Below him the sound of moving feathers grew louder and all he could see were Helbraska’s layered, luminescent feathers.

Long minutes passed. Allen flexed the fingers of his left hand slowly, feeling the give and shift of muscle.

Then Helbraska sighed, rearing back, long neck curving into a sinuous “S.” Hir face turns blindly from Allen to Komui.

“You … needn’t worry,” ze sighed. “Allen Walker is … the same as he’s always been.” Hir lips curved into a faint smile. “Enough, anyway, for the Innocence.”

And just like that, Komui’s serious expression melted away. He beamed like the sun coming up, whacking Allen heartily on the back a few times. “Ah, I see, I see! That’s great news, Allen! You should be happy, you’ll be able to carry on as you have been! Isn’t that nice?”

“But,” Allen said, and gestured at himself and all his new wrong curves. “What about tihs? I can’t–”

“We’ve got people working on that,” Komui said breezily, and whacked Allen’s shoulder again. “Don’t worry! We’ll have you back to normal in no time!” And then he laughed, loud enough to drown out the shush of feathers and drier things in the dark. As Allen gaped, Komui put both hands on his shoulders and began to push him back up the stairs, chirping out a happy farewell to Helbraska as they went. Allen glanced over his shoulder and saw hir sinking back down into the darkness, and it seemed that hir heavy mouth was smirking just a little before ze vanished from sight.

+++

He walked back to his room with his arm still cradled to his chest, watching his feet. It hadn’t taken him very long to regain this much equilibrium, but it would take a bit more practice before he could properly–

“Oi, beansprout.”

In midstep Allen paused. His shoulders twitched. He turned his head slowly and looked back.

Khanda stared back, flat-eyed and deadpan. His uniform was travelstained, and there was a fresh bandage taped under his right eye. “Don’t walk so slowly. You’re blocking the way.”

Allen felt a vein in his temple begin to tic. He dug in his heels and very pointedly didn’t move.

“Oi, I said.” The corner’s of Khanda’s mouth turned down into a scowl. “Move.”

“I’ll go at my own pace,” Allen said, through gritted teeth and icy politeness. “The hallway is big enough for you to go around me.”

Khanda’s eyes went wide and for a moment Allen gloated, pleased with himself — and then he stopped and considered the sound of his voice, higher-pitched than normal — almost shrill, really, with his irritation. He resisted the urge to clutch at his throat.

“Beansprout,” Khanda said, his voice strange, maybe a little thick as well. “You–” He strode forward, one hand on Mugen’s hilt and the other rising to point. “What happened to you–”

Allen locked his knees before he could take a step back. He even lifted his chin a little, matching Khanda’s stunned look with a scowl. The fingers of his left hand twitched before he forced them into a balled fist. “It was an AKUMA,” he said irritably. “All right? I just messed up a little, they’re going to– hey!” He leaned back as Khanda leaned forward, into his personal space. “What?!”

Khanda continued to stare. “I don’t believe it,” he said, and his gaze tracked down to Allen’s small breasts. “Beansprout, you–”

With a growl, Allen smacked away the hand reaching for her face. “It’s temporary,” she said, fiddling with the edge of his shirt, trying to find a way to pull it so that it wouldn’t lie so obviously over his breasts. “I won’t be like this for long. Why are you looking at me like that?”

Khanda blinked and pulled back as though burned. He even stumbled a little before he caught himself. He drew up to his full height (which, really, wasn’t that much taller than Allen either), glaring down his nose for a moment. He opened his mouth and took a deep breath, his lips moving soundlessly.

He looked, Allen thought in surprise, like he was terrified.

It was hidden well enough, but there was still something — there in the back of Khanda’s narrowed eyes and contorted scowl, and in the draw of his brows together. He looked half-ready to bolt, kept in place only by his idiot pride.

… In fact, he was possibly even blushing. Just a little.

Allen looked at him and just resisted the urge to smirk.

Before Khanda could rally himself, Allen shifted his own weight and leaned forward, squaring his shoulders and pressing his chest forward, aggressively as possible. It was a pose he’d seen women from Mana’s old troupe use, emphasized posture and swagger, pointedly drawing attention down front. Khanda made a strangled noise, and he was definitely blushing at that point.

Allen took a step towards him, adding a bit of Rinali’s strong-legged confidence, and if he couldn’t copy it entirely or exactly, it was enough to freeze Khanda again, until now Allen was in his personal space, reaching up to place his right hand against Khanda’s thin chest. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at the obvious start that earned him and leaned up onto his toes, using Khanda’s own body for balance.

“Don’t worry,” he added, right against Khanda’s ear, and this too he remembered from childhood, when he’d been young enough to sit on Mana’s knee and watch as troupe ladies flirted extra drinks or a pastry for their little boy. His eyes half-closed at the memory, at Mary’s smile and the sweep of Victoria’s arm in its long sleeve, and it had been years since he’d performed any part, but it was easy enough to fall into again. He’d seen all manner of strange things, and now he was a strange thing, so really: why not?

“Don’t worry,” he said again, and exhaled softly in a rush; his mouth brushed skin for a moment. He put his other hand on Khanda’s shoulder, close to the neck, curling his fingers until they brushed skin and hair. “I’m not contagious.”

Khanda made a strangled sound and shoved Allen back, a hand clapped over his ear. For a moment he looked so shocked and off-balance that Allen felt the first twinges of guilt start. He even drew himself up with a breath to apologize.

And then Khanda drew Mugen in a whistling rush, his face going an unnatural shade of red, and the bellow of BEANSPROUT made the halls echo and bits of dust drift from the ceiling.

+++

“What did you DO to him?!” Ravi demanded the next morning, with something akin to awe in his eyes. “I’ve never seen Yuu that freaked about — anything! At all!”

Allen looked up from salting his eggs and blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“You SHOULD be.” Ravi waved his fork. “I mean, what am I doing wrong? This is Yuu Khanda — he’s not scared of anything! But man, the look on his face! I mean, really!”

“Bad?”

“HILARIOUS,” Ravi mourned, and slumped forward across the table, staring mournfully at Allen. “I want to be able to do that too. What the hell’s your secret, huh?”

“Oh.” Allen considered, then began buttering his toast.

“Women’s intuition,” he said.

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So She Knows

Kairi is fifteen years old and starting to remember.

Something about this castle sings to her, standing majestic against a backdrop of sheer nothingness and lit by the golden light of Kingdom Hearts itself. Though far darker inside than out, she found that none of the sharp turns or closed doors made her stumble; the thought strikes that she could close her eyes and walk unasissted. She knows this place, though she knows she has never been here before in her life. Continue reading

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(The Power) Behind The Throne

The Superior’s quarters are spare and cold — a bed, a desk, a chair, and nothing else; there’s only a single white sheet on the bed, which never appears rumpled. The smell of darkness is so strong that it coats the back of the throat, and clings to the skin closer than clothing. The Superior himself appears untroubled by this, and he is often sunk so deeply in brooding over Kingdom Hearts that he seems hardly aware of the world around him at all. Even when he deigns to notice another’s presence, his gold eyes are narrow and distant, looking through his surroundings and into something else. Continue reading

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