It’s not that she prefers the Netherworld, or that she doesn’t miss Celestia; both are a lot like home, these days. She goes back and forth often enough, and while the older angels (who still remember Master Vulcanus) shoot her narrow looks and avoid her presence, the younger ones and the trainees flock around her: apparently, she’s something of a hero. Most of them giggle shyly and blush if she talks to them. Continue reading
What Mana liked to do, whenever they had a successful night and there was money enough for them all to eat, and for the adults to drink besides, was to put Allen on his shoulders and parade them through the streets, like some kind of victory march. In retrospect, Allen realizes they must have looked very strange indeed: a ragtag band of clowns and other tawdries, walking like they had just saved the world.
When Allen grew too big to sit on Mana’s shoulders, he instead became the leader of their group, a scrawny boy in a jacket three sizes too large and an awkwardly-bandaged right hand, with Mana’s black silk top hat balanced precariously on his head. They would walk, and Lily and Cassie and the other girls would sing hymns of victory, march the heroes home, march them home.
It didn’t happen that often; every year, it seemed, the world grew a little darker and more narrow, the people a little more suspicious and jealous of their money. Allen, looking back, wonders how much of that was a growing disdain of theater (as Mana always said, as the others always echoed), and how much of that was the sheer nervous fear of humanity, milling like skittish cattle as akuma crept in to punctuate their numbers. Even the most placid of animals can usually sense the presence of a predator.
In his dreams, sometimes, Allen walks those paths again, leading the way for a faceless procession — the clowns and the tumblers and the singing girls, but the only sounds he ever hears are his own footsteps, and the slow tap, tap, tap of Mana walking after him.
The trouble, it was generally agreed upon, was not so much that Yachiru was Grown Up And Noticing Boys. It wasn’t even that she’d grown up to be Quite The Looker, or even that she was disturbingly aware of this fact, flirting shamelessly to distract anyone unlucky enough to be sparring with her.
The problem, as everyone agreed, was that Zaraki Kenpachi hadn’t noticed that his vice-captain was now a stunning and vibrant young woman, and thus attracting the eyes of more than a few of the younger shinigami at the academy. If asked, Zaraki would say Yachiru still was small enough to sit on his shoulder, and therefore, was still a little girl.
When you towered over almost everyone else in Soul Society, ratios of bulk never did mean much. Continue reading
cowritten with Harukami
While Kantarou was quite pleased to be with Haruka finally, no more doubt or uncertainty between them, and though new-coupleness was quite enjoyable overall, he wasn’t entirely sure he liked how Haruka seemed to be viewing him as — well, as the wife.
Haruka raised his chopsticks to Kantarou’s lips. “Say ahhh,”Haruka said blandly.
Kantarou blinked at him, lips twisting with distaste. “Haruka,” he said. “I’m not sure this –”
Haruka shoved the rice into his mouth. “Good enough,” he said. And then, “This is supposed to be the way new couples act, right? That’s what Youko said.” Continue reading
He finds her eight years old and ready for the Academy.
She wears the black initiate’s robes, and her hair cropped short, which makes her face look very round and very young. She has her mother’s eyes (his eyes) and serious mouth; she is eight years old and still such a fountain of possibilities that she sheds them with every small breath.
He hasn’t spoken to his family in years; her eyes call him a stranger in everything but name.
And yet: he holds out his hand to her and she takes it without question, and they walk away together.
Shigure stuck his pinky finger into his ear and twisted. Maybe, he thought, he could wheedle Tohru-kun into cleaning them for him later.
“Senseeeeeei, are you even listening to me?”
At the very least he could ask her to buy more Q-tips. Though certainly if he suggested one, the other would follow. Tohru-kun was a good girl that way.
“Sensei, the deadline is in three hours! THREE HOURS! Aren’t you listening?!”
And maybe he could ask her to make oyakodon for dinner. It wasn’t his favorite, but he’d been craving it for a few days, and certainly with Tohru-kun’s cooking abilities, she would certainly be able to pull it off. He’d mention it to Yuki, or possibly Kyo-kun, so they could do the shopping for her.
Perhaps with the right dinner, he’d be able to find inspiration to finish his next novel! But before that, he would write his shopping list. Eggs, he wrote. Chicken. Mushrooms, because they were almost out.
“Sensei, I’m begging you, the manuscript!”
Shigure looked up, and then down, at the young woman curled in a ball by his feet. “Mitchan, you should be careful,” he said. “Lying like that is bad for your back.”
She looked up at him, with tears streaming down her cheeks. “Sensei …”
“Besides,” he said grandly, “you should learn to put things into perspective. Not having the manuscript isn’t the end of the world!”
Her eyes went huge and sparkly. “Does that mean you –”
“Go home and have a nice dinner,” he said. “Maybe a little wine, and relax! Life is too short for this sort of worrying, Mitchan, you’ll be bald before you’re thirty, and that’s never attractive.”
She looked ready to cry. “Sensei …”
“Also,” he said, “I have a package I need to be delivered. If you could mail it for me? It’s on the kitchen table.”
Her mouth opened, then closed, working silently. After a moment, she sighed, her shoulders going limp. “This is awful,” she muttered. “Sensei, you should take this more seriously, this is how your paycheck and mine is taken care of …”
“Have a nice day, Mitchan,” he said as she left, then turned back to his desk. Tohru-kun and the others would be home within an hour or two, so if he wanted to plan out a menu, he would have to get started on that soon.
From the kitchen, Mitchan started sobbing again. Shigure considered going to comfort her, and decided the manuscript would be enough. Really, she worried too much about little things; it was the bigger things — like in his novel, his first foray into science fiction, where monsters and giant robots ruled the world in the wake of the Apocalypse — that were really important.
At the end of his shopping list, he wrote Q-tips, and then set it aside to wait for Tohru-kun and the others to arrive home.
Secretly, Ginji doesn’t like hotels.
Oh, the beds are nice, and the food is good; it’s good to be able to stretch out completely, uncramped by the tiny car. He likes the fact that being in a hotel means that they’ve been successful at work — they’re not begging for scraps, even if it’s only for night.
But in a hotel, he can’t roll over and be inches away from Ban’s sleeping face; if he reaches out in the middle of the night, all he finds are cool sheets under his fingers.
At least they’ve never been able to afford separate rooms. If he holds very still, he can hear the sound of Ban breathing, but … it’s just not the same. There’s no closeness to it, no tobacco and dust smell, which lingers around Ban even when he’s freshly-showered.
And Ban loves hotels — he loves their cleanness, their space, and when they have the money, they go to Western-style hotels and they buy sushi, sake, and Ban just grins and grins. Even if the desk attendant isn’t a pretty girl, it doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
“This is only a first step,” he says, toasting Ginji. “Sooner or later, Ginji, we’ll get the money we’re worth, and then we can be like this every night.”
And he has to admit, it seems like a good idea, living in comfort all the time, especially when he’s spent his entire life in the slums and worse, but there’s a part of Ginji that’s still reserved, not quite certain he likes the idea.
When he sleeps in a hotel bed, he’s lonely. The air of the room isn’t close and warm and cramped; it doesn’t smell of old cigarettes and stale food. If he has a nightmare, he wakes to his own gasping, not Ban’s hand on his head, telling him he’s being stupid, and he needs to quiet down and just sleep.
If they someday have the money for an apartment, they’ll have separate rooms. And Ban might bring home girls, or he might just be content to sit with Ginji in their living room and eat sushi, fighting over who’d get the last piece. Whether he does or not, though, he’ll sleep somewhere else, and he’ll be there, but he won’t, at the same time.
He thinks it might be nice to sleep in an actual bed on a regular basis; he thinks it’d be nice to be able to afford meat for dinner every night. Sushi could be a special thing. It would be nice to have a place that was their own, where he didn’t have to sleep with one eye open, waiting just in case someone tried to slink out of the shadows and come after them.
But they’ve got the Ladybug, and while she’s not the biggest or best of accommodations, she’s where they belong.
So when they spend the night in hotels, Ginji rolls around and around in the cool sheets, and listens to Ban breathing, and thinks, We’ll be going home soon.
The Liche smelled like dried leaves and stale water.
Kurtis sat with his hands on his knees and watched it, waiting. He could hear soft voices singing, maddeningly faint — red moon, red moon, wash away the sins of those who bear them — and the words prickled at his skin, and worse yet when the Liche finally drifted over to him, its features lost in shadows.
“You cannot come with me,” it said, and he felt the words rather than heard them, echoing hollowly in his skull. :Sinned, you’ve sinned.:
For a moment, he wanted to snarl back — yeah, tell me what I don’t know — but he bit his tongue and waited.
Between his bent knees, a small glowing ball of light appeared. Surprised, he pulled back. “What … ?”
“Sinned,” the Liche repeated, emotionless. “The Red Moon wanes.”
Kurtis wanted to protest he didn’t understand — but just like that, he did. He swallowed, and looked down. In his hands, the ball of light had become a familiar costume. “You mean I can’t … ?”
“Sinned,” he heard it say again, before it faded away. He was left staring down at the costume, feeling ridiculous as he tugged at it — it was too small, he thought, and there was no way he’d fit. His sins were too heavy for a spirit to carry him to heaven, and for a moment, he felt crushed by that — the reunion he’d hoped for had never seemed so far away. For a morose moment, he wondered if, just maybe, she’d finally stopped waiting for him.
“Two choices,” the Liche repeated. His head snapped up, but when he looked around, he was still alone. “Two choices, in Celestia or the Netherworld. Two choices.”
Kurtis looked down at the costume. It looked like a kid’s toy, pale green and tiny.
Gordon was in the Netherworld, and Jennifer, with that Overlord kid. In Celestia was that strange bastard with the white wings — Carter had believed he’d been an angel, and planned accordingly. Kurtis himself wasn’t so sure.
Two choices, the Liche said, but really, there was only one. Kurtis slipped his hands into the wings of the costume, and found that it fit surprisingly well, despite how tiny it seemed, when he held it away from himself. Closing his eyes, he pulled it the rest of the way on, and felt the zipper down his back move up of its own accord. When he looked again, the world had shifted and changed, nothing like he remembered it to be.
“Two,” the Liche said again, and he could see it now, floating at the edge of his vision. “Two choices, until the Red Moon waxes full.”
“Once choice,” he said, and turned to face it fully; for a moment, he thought he saw narrow red eyes gleaming in the shadows of its heavy hood. “I’ve still got work to do, as a Defender of the Earth.”
The Liche remained still for a moment, then nodded and turned, drifting slowly away. Kurtis followed, wobbling for a moment on his new peg legs, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. He could already feel something falling away from him as he walked, hope rising in its wake.
Just wait, he thought, as he followed the Liche through a glowing blue portal, as they make their way back to the material plane. Just wait, and I’ll find my way back to you, if I have to make the path myself.
He stepped through the final gate, and the Liche disappeared, leaving him alone in a fragrant green place, watching as the white-winged bastard vanished, leaving demons in his place.
But he was a Defender of the Earth, and a true Defender never laid down his weapons as long as something still threatened world peace. And a brother in arms was still family; Gordon and Jennifer needed his help. He had plenty of time before the Red Moon came again.
Kurtis walked forward, and left the sound of singing behind for later.
Rem dreamed of a world that was green, that’d be lush and beautiful as the holodeck simulations aboard the ship. Rem dreamed of a world where there were flowers, and not just the red ones — some were yellow, like his hair, or blue like his eyes, and purple, and pink, and all colors he wasn’t sure could appear in nature.
Rem dreamed of a world carpeted in grass, where someone could lie back and stare up into a gentle blue sky.
She’d dreamed of a lot of things, but a sandblasted desert had never been one of them, not with its craggy edges and cliff faces, all stark and bare stone. She’d never dreamed of death by fire, or thirst, or of being forgotten.
“We’re the shepherds and heroes of these sleepers,” she’d said once, with her face shaded blue by the computer screen. “All of us here on the crew, whether or not we live beyond the landing, we’ll be their originators and their ancestry.”
(“You know,” Wolfwood says, as he fills their small tent with cigarette smoke, “they say we used to live on a planet so green that you could pick weeds and use ’em as good luck charms.”
Vash puts his chin on his folded hands, blinks the sting from his eyes. The sandstorm outside shows no sign of diminishing. They’ve got enough water for two more days, and he thinks it’ll be enough. “I’ve heard that too,” he says. “Sounds weird, doesn’t it?”
“Weird’s not the word, broomhead,” Wolfwood says, and stubs his cigarette out into the sand. It makes a soft hissing noise. Vash can see the scars on Wolfwood’s knuckles, souvenirs from a short brutal lifetime, even when he’s not fighting. His palm on Vash’s shoulder is rough and warm against the night-desert air. “Impossible’s a better one.”
“Impossible is sometimes closer to the truth than ordinary stuff,” Vash tells him, and sits up as well. His hair is tousled down, and full of sand. “Look at me.”
“Look at us,” Wolfwood returns, and outside, the wind howls louder.)
Once, shortly after the landing, he’d found a small, isolated area where one of his little sisters had taken root. In her great shadow, small patches of green had sprung up, lush as anything aboard the ship. Vash knelt there, and marveled at the feel of cool grass, which once upon a time, he’d taken for granted.
He leaned forward and placed his palms against the ground; his sister’s welcome crept through him like an old friend. For just a moment, her voice sounded like Rem’s, lifted in song. In spite of himself, he smiled, and let his fingers curl a little. They sank into rich dark earth, not dry, loose sand.
“Hey, there,” he whispered. “Do you mind if I take just one? I can’t stay, but …”
She laughed at him, her voice whispery. But she didn’t argue, and so he searched among the sprouted seedlings, her children (his children), and pinched one tender stem in two. For a moment, he paused to marvel at the faint green stains left on his fingertips, then tucked his souvenir carefully away.
The rest of the day, he slept in her shadow, and when he left, she sang farewell to speed him on his way.
(“I don’t know what I’d do with a world that was all green,” Wolfwood says. His back is a warm smooth expanse under Vash’s arm, rising and falling slowly, slowly, with his breath. “Be fucking confused, really.”
Vash is silent, and then he says, “It’s not so bad, really. You’d get used to it.”
“You can say that, broomhead,” Wolfwood snorts. “You adapt to everything. I’m a priest — my job is to change things so that they’re the way I like ’em, not change myself.”
“That’s not true –”
“Well, that, and help people. Go to sleep, broomhead. You’re keeping me awake, with your wondering.”
Vash doesn’t say anything more, but closes his eyes, and listens to Wolfwood breathe, the soft sounds almost drowned out by the sandstorm. He thinks about the blue sky and gentle sunlight on Rem’s hair, and the smell of cut grass, and the delicate stains on his fingers.
He doesn’t remember what happened to that weed, that one little present his little sister allowed him with laughing grace; he thinks he may have lost it sometime before July. He wonders if she’s been covered by the desert, swallowed whole by a sun that allowed no quarter.
Luck and the impossible exist in the extraordinary, he thinks. The plain, the everyday, the drying stalks with their tiny three leaves — they hold nothing but determination, the desperation to withstand old despairs and new memories.
He once met a man who claimed killing was art, that the sculptor of a single human death was to be elevated, exalted as a creature to be venerated and emulated.
This man believed, with the bloodshot eyes and spit-flecked lips of the faithful, that the world had been created as his canvas, each human being nothing more than artistic potential. In the end, he only valued them as tools, worth nothing more than a painter’s palette or brushes. In Doctor Jackal, he believed he found himself a kindred spirit.
“You–could bring them to me, yes,” the man pleaded, his fingers cool on Akabane’s slim wrist. There was a covetous sort of lust in his pale eyes, and a reverence to his gentle touch. “You could bring them to my side, and I–I could make them beautiful.”
Akabane carefully removed those clinging soft fingers. “I’m sorry,” he said calmly. “The truth is, I have no interest in this sort of arrangement.”
Not everyone could be the GetBackers, after all, and find a happy medium between two such different people. Akabane found no appeal in playing the role of final shepherd for this person. He took a degree of pride in his own work, but he did not agree that beauty came from the death alone.
Beauty came in the fighting leading up to the death, the stress and strain that always ended too soon–the fury and the movement and the poetry of muscle over bone–
(beauty was the blankness of Amano Ginji-kun’s large eyes, as kindness and warmth bled away and exposed the lightning-violence of the ruler underneath)
–and beauty came in the purity of the final moments of death, when aggression and battle arrogance found itself cut short and bloomed into silence, the exact moment of and every stifled heartbeat after that–
(beauty was Midou Ban-kun’s consuming rage, the blood-scented aura that flared around him when the serpent was roused to killing fury)
–which meant the intricacies of torture simply held no interest for him.
The man wept and clung to Akabane’s coat, bleating like a lost lamb when it finally pulled out of his grasp, and the transporter agent disappeared into the night. It felt much like one of those silly daytime shows that sometimes played, the occasional times he watched TV. He tried to imagine Ginji-kun in that man’s place, just for amusement’s sake, and dismissed that as ridiculous. Ginji-kun, without Raitei’s blood or not, had much more dignity than that.
Polite to the end, Akabane tipped his hat to the man as he left, and wished him luck in finding a more suitable partner for his specific needs.
He once met a man who killed to create the beauty otherwise lacking in his life, and had not killed him when that man became too familiar.
There was no challenge to killing a man who could only express his appreciation for death when the victim was helpless, no enjoyment to be taken from snuffing out one small sad life, too lost in its own complexities to threaten anyone who was not tied down.
The irony of that still amused him, even now.