various genderswitch

Firefly (Mal)

It ain’t that he’s got a problem with women in charge — his momma’d whup him good if she ever heard him saying gorram idjit things like that — it’s just that the woman who’s tryin’ to bargain his services right now — in front of his current employers, no less — puts him in the mind of a coyote, sharp-eyed and this side of too-lean. Like as not she’d seen hard times since the war, and that was liable to make anyone mean, man or woman. The black ain’t a kind place for anyone, and a woman’s twice as likely than a man to gut you goin’ down — no hard feelin’s, darlin’, just how business is. You gotta be able to stand on the weight of your own reputation, and not everyone’s hand the raisin’ Jayne’s had at his momma’s knee. He’s not plannin’ on gettin’ himself shived because on account of anyone.

Still, she’s got a mighty temptin’ offer and she looks him straight in the eye, easy as you please. She ain’t the sort who’s ever gonna back down, this Mal Reynolds, and that’s more than some of the chickenshit he’s worked for previous. If her pay’s good as her word, Jayne reckons he’s got the time to stick around.

+++++

Firefly (Jayne)

But,” said Jayne helplessly. “It vibrates. I ain’t got anything better.”

Mal stared at her. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m fixin’ to get real peeved in a moment, here,” he said. “You might be interested in makin’ yourself scarce right quick.”

Jayne cast a mournful look at the ladder down to Mal’s bunk, where Saffron was theoretically still there and still naked. She even pouted a little, and that was downright unsettlin’, especially on her craggy mama-could-love-this face. “Damnit, Mal, if you don’t want her–”

“Jayne,” he said. “Git.”

And she did, which was better’n he expected; Mal watched her go, then decided now was as good a time as any to sample more of Kaylee’s moonshine; he had the feelin’ he was gonna need it before the night was over.

+++++

Ayakashi/Mononoke (The Medicine Seller)

It is not always unusual to see women-peddlers. It becomes strange to see them out in the middle of nowhere, riding a ship to the capitol, especially unaccompanied by a man — or for her to paint her face so brightly and distinctly. The medicine seller is an enigmatic creature, tall and slim and elegant like Kayo herself still sometimes dreams of becoming. There is a perfect elegant grace to her that none of the noblewomen Kayo has known could come close to emulating.

Even out here in the middle of the ocean, where the salt-damp air bleaches out the colors of Kayo’s favorite kimono and leaves her hair in fritzing unmanageable tangles, the medicine-seller is composed and elegant, and there is not a single thing about her out of place as she takes the magnet in one slim white hand and demonstrates how it affects the compass. Kayo wants to be afraid, and she wants to be angry and jealous, but all she can do is trust the medicine-seller again.

When they arrive in Edo, Kayo finds herself reaching out, grabbing the medicine-seller’s sleeve before the other woman can vanish.

“No, really,” she says. “We’ve almost died together twice. What is your name?”

And the medicine-seller smiles. Her lips are painted the same delicate purple of wysteria blossoms, and up close she smells of old herbs and incense-smoke. Kayo sucks in a deep breath and feels immediately dizzy.

“Names are hardly important,” the medicine-seller says. She touches Kayo’s face with one slim cold hand, and Kayo draws in a breath to protest too late: a soft mouth touches her own and Kayo thinks she should protest — she should jerk back and slap the oher woman for daring because it couldn’t be right, it wasn’t right, and who would she ever become a bride if men though she was — that way —

“The truth is more valuable,” says the medicine-seller when she pulls away. There’s that look in her eyes that says she’s laughing, though it doesn’t show beyond a quirk of her mouth. “Take care of yourself … until we meet again. Kayo-san.”

Kayo watches her walk away. She touches her lips and wonders, dimly, why they burn.

+++++

tactics (Haruka)

No matter what trappings you use — ribbons or fancy clothes or a name — a beast is still a beast. Even if she is lovely as a human woman in the moonlight with her hair loose around her face and the skin of her throat marble-white, even if she is magnificent in the way dusty dry old scrolls could never capture with her wings spread wide.

A beast is still a beast.

Her eyes are almost white in her rage and her long elegant fingers have twisted and sharpened to claws; she stands crouched over her fallen master with blood on her pretty dress and growls without understanding. Poor lost thing; Ichinomiya didn’t even have the chance to free her before he died. She is lovely in her rage, but she’s no longer the Oni-Eater — she’s nothing more than a creature gone rabid.

Raikou points his bloodied sword. All he feels now is pity, seeing this once-great youkai reduced.

Still, he is a hunter, and his duties are clear. He will put her down, and so out of her misery.

+++++

Bleach (Yumichika and Ikkaku)

The most irritating part about taking Yumi anywhere is also the funniest: she does ridiculously elaborate things to her hair with pins and clips and things Ikkaku didn’t even know she had and wears her clothes hanging open, so they drape down her shoulders and show off a helluva lotta boob. She even paints her face up a bit, and there’s not a damn man in the Eleventh who’ll tell her otherwise: there isn’t one among ’em who doesn’t know better, and the Captain … well. The Captain doesn’t give a damn who does what in his division, so long as they can still keep up and beat shit up.

Still. It’s pretty fucking annoying, because it takes Yumi fucking hours to get ready. She’ll spend at least two fussing over imperfections in the mirror that aren’t even there, and Ikkaku sometimes suspects she’s just making it up. What’s wrong with plain old yukata and a wrap around your boobs, Ikkaku’s still not sure.

“It’s because you have no class,” Yumi sighs when she brings it up. “If you’re this beautiful, it’s a sin not to take advantage of it.”

“The fuck is the point,” Ikkaku says crossly. “It’s not like you’re going home with them.”

“Of course not,” Yumi says, like that’s a terrible insult. She puts down that damn powderpuff she’s using and slinks over to hook their arms together, and fuck if she’s not wearing that one perfume Ikkaku really really fucking likes. She leans up and presses her lips to Ikkaku’s ear. Her hand, deceptively slim and delicate, curls to the curve of Ikkaku’s breast. “But what’s wrong with giving you a bar full of jealous men to fight as foreplay?”

“… Got a better idea,” Ikkaku says, and slings a lazy arm around Yumi’s hips and drags her in. “We skip all of that, and get straight to the sex.”

“Bitch,” Yumi protests, all wide-eyed and innocent and totally faking. “I wanted to show off my new yukata tonight.”

“Fucking tough,” says Ikkaku, and kicks the door shut behind them.

(She ends up with a fuckton of kissmarks in really obvious places — including the back of her head, the FUCK, Yumi — which Yumi makes her explain to the Vice-Captain. That night, Ikkaku just fucking says nothing at all when Yumi takes three hours to get ready and beats the crap out of the night’s bucket of bastards a bit harder than usual.)

+++++

Bleach (Zaraki)

The old Captain of the Eleventh Division was a pompous old bastard, some distant inbred cousin of some noble house-or-other. She doesn’t know; she doens’t care. He dies easily enough, squealing on his back. It makes Yachiru giggle to see him flop around, so she maybe drags it out a bit longer, ’cause fuck knows you gotta raise kids right in this world. Mental stimulation’s important, says the fruity one, and fuck if anyone’s gonna tell her she’s raising the damn brat wrong.

So she kills the damn bastard and maybe a few of his little doggies that come yipping at her heels for it. It ain’t her fault if a man’s head’s stuck so far up his ass that he can’t accept the consequences of losing a fight. They give her a fancy coat and a fucking title, though she’s gotta shred one before she can fight properly in it, and the other’s just lame till she realizes hey, she’s got a bunch of pansies she can teach to fight right. Fuck the rest of ’em assholes in Soul Society, she’s here to fight and at least this way, she doesn’t have to worry about fuckers whining about the ‘law’ — ’cause she fucking IS the law, now.

If nothing else, the rest of the morons she’s gotta deal witn in this division’ll be good practice for Yachiru. The brat’s gettin’ older, and she needs to move on to better dummies than low-level Hollows, anyway.

+++++

Heat Guy J (Daisuke)

There are times when Shun despises the fact that he takes after his mother — that he has her pale skin and fine bright hair and he sees her every time he looks in the mirror. There are times when he wants to take a knife, forget scissors, and hack the lot off until all that’s left is his too-pretty face–

(“I like it,” said Dice, her chin on her hands and her eyes bright. She was always laughing at something, his precious little sister; she had no idea how filthy the city around her truly was. “You look better with longer hair, Bro,” she added, and the sun was bright in the dark-gold curls against her cheek. She took the mirror from his hands and set it aside. Shun wanted to grab her back when she turned away, to tie a red string from her wrist to his, so that she’d never stray too far and he could keep her close, out of the filth of a world that was forced to bow its head to the whim of the Celestials. He wanted to protect her from the blood that was already inside of her, this light-stepping bright-eyed girl who looked at the world and just laughed.

“Well,” he said, and in a voice that never wavered. “Perhaps I’ll let it grow out, then.”)

“Sir,” says Phia. She’s smiling, but it’s different from Dice’s smile — Phia is older, of course, and she might be Shogun’s cats-paw, but she understands just how precarious their places in the world are. Phia smiles like it’s a knife in the back; Dice still hasn’t learned that the great joke of life is the one played on the living. “Your sister’s on your way to see you. She sounds a bit put off.”

“I’m enrolling her in the screening process SECT has for their new machine,” says Shun. He laces his fingers together and rests his chin atop them.

Phia’s expression never wavers. “I’m sure she’ll do well,” she says. “Because she’s your little sister, after all.”

Shun snorts and turns away to the window. “Let me know when she comes,” he says, and only half-hears Phia’s agreement and the door closing behind her. He looks at his vague reflection in the glass and sees only his mother staring back at him.

+++++

Heat Guy J (Clair)

When Daisuke Aurora returns to Judoh, it looks almost exactly how he left it. Kabuki Road has been rebuilt and even expanded; the scars and burns of his brother’s attempted coup cleaned up and patched over. He takes off his helmet and looks around, then takes a deep breath that smells like home.

Then he ducks a potshot taken deliberately wide at his head. It pings off the brick wall behind him and showers dust atop him. He straightens and shakes out his hair a bit, unable to help the wry smile that crosses his face.

“Is that any way to welcome a friend home?” he asks.

“What, isn’t it?” a voice drawls. Daisuke tracks the sound up, and there’s Claire Leonelli, perched atop a half-crumbled wall with a smoking pistol in one hand. The years have been kind to the Vampire: she looks settled into her own skin now, languid and fully in control of the madness that brightens her pale eyes. Now she just smirks, tapping the muzzle of the gun briefly against her lip ring. “Oh, my bad, then.”

Daisuke laughs again, though it may be just a little annoyed. “Give me a break,” he syas. “I just got back.”

“It’s not my fault if those three years made you soft,” Claire retorts. Her mouth stretches into a toothy smirk. “Didn’t you miss me, ‘Dice’?”

“Pet names, from you? I’m a little shocked.” Daisuke swings off his bike, but remains leaning against it. He tracks the line of Claire’s body — lean coiled tension, with her breasts almost aggressively thrust forward; the first two buttons of her shirt remained undone, showing off a wide vee of pale skin. Someone has taught Vampire to use her sex as a weapon, and Daisuke would laugh if it wasn’t actually pretty effective.

She giggles. He definitely remembers that sound. “Maybe I missed you,” she says. “I’m feeling a little sentimental.” She straightens and drops down from her perch, one hand tucked into a pocket and the other hanging loose, still with the pistol. “What about you?”

“I came back, didn’t I?” Daisuke remains still as she approaches. “You been taking over Judoh while I was gone?”

“I rule with an iron fist,” she assures him, and presses the muzzle of the gun to his belly. “Everyone goes through me now, instead of the Shop.”

“Good to know,” says Daisuke. He leans forward. “I’m thinking of setting up an agency to investigate potential crimes, myself.”

Claire laughs. It’s lower than her usual giggle. She leans forward and bites his ear hard enough to bleed, then steps back.

“I’ll look forward to it,” she says, and saunters off.

Daisuke puts a hand to his ear, then looks at his bloody fingers. He rubs them together and shakes his head with a faint laugh.

“It’s good to be home,” he says.

+++++

Okami (Waka)

“–besides, you’re probably just a total qua– whoa,” said Issun.

Amaterasu sat down and cocked her head. She whined.

“I mean, uh,” Issun went on. “That is. We’re. … what was I saying again?”

The prophet tossed her head and laughed. It made her chest do interesting things. “My little friend,” she said scornfully. “Will you let yourself be distracted by things such as this?” She gestured at herself, and Issun (and Amaterasu) looked as directed. “C’est stupide! You will not get very far that way!”

“Um,” said Issun. “I’ve got no idea what you just said, babe, but do it again.”

Amaterasu whined. Her ears perked up, then lay back again.

“Hah!” The prophet lifted her head. Her eyes narrowed, and then she suddenly was where she’d been standing beore, and Amaterasu yelped as she scrambled to dodge a sudden high kick. That did pretty interesting things to the prophet’s chest and the short cut of her jacket. She had very long legs. “And you say that you are Amaterasu revived?” She pulled the flute apart to reveal a green-glowing sword. “I shall cut you to pieces for your folly!”

“… Ammy,” said Issun. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but. Could you try losing for once?”

Amaterasu growled and pawed at the ground with one foot.

Issun sighed and slumped dramatically over his head. “Oh, well,” he said, more to himself as Amaterasu leapt aside to avoid another kick. “It was worth a shot.”

+++++

Godchild (Cain)

When Riff brings tea as requested, Lord Briddlestone is definitely sitting closer to the young Hargreaves heiress than before, and she — heavy-eyed and red-lipped — is leaning right into him, her voice pitched low and intimate. She acknowledges Riff with a brief glance and a nod just as she slides one dainty gloved hand across Lord Briddlestone’s knee. Riff curls his hands into fists on the tray for a moment, then makes himself let go. His lady would never thank him to play her knight.

Half an hour later, a maid catches his sleeve and tells him the lady requests his presence in her sitting-room. He returns and finds her reading, though she puts the book aside when he enters the room.

“Miss Eve,” he says. He bows just a little, one hand to his chest. “You called?”

Eve rises languidly from the low loveseat. On light feet she glides over to him, pausing only to smile coyly up at him through her lashes. “Riff,” she says, and lays her hand upon his arm. “Oh, don’t frown so! Were you jealous?”

“It is hardly my place to judge, my lady,” Riff says. He keeps staring straight ahead. Eve just laughs and leans into him, her body soft against his arm.

“You shouldn’t, you know,” she says. “Edward Briddlestone isn’t too long for this world, I fear.”

Riff starts in spite of himself, jerking back to look at her. “My lady–?!”

Eve laughs, her voice low and rich. She presses her fingers briefly to her lips, which are pale naked pink; in her other hand is a handkerchief blotted red with lipstick. “He gave into temptation,” she says. “He can’t blame anyone but himself for that.” She leans her head against his shoulder, and he wants to put his arm around her thin shoulders and make all sorts of absurd promises.

Instead, he says, “Matron Gillepsie will be glad to know the man who ruined her daughter is punished.”

Against him, Eve goes still, then pulls away slowly, like regret. “Indeed,” she says. “Lilian is a good girl, however, so I wonder if she will thank anyone for his suffering.”

There is no paint left on her mouth, but Riff imagines there is a far greater danger than poison if he followed Lord Briddlestone’s path to temptation. He closes his eyes and says, “Perhaps a bath tonight will help you feel better, my lady.”

Her fingers tighten on his arm — she must know what he thinks; she knows him far too well otherwise — but all she does is nod and step away.

“Yes,” she says. “Perhaps one would.”

+++++

Dresden Files (Harry)

“Now, if you wanna make it really effective,” said Bob, “you’ll use a drop or two of mensutral blood to tie it all together.”

I stopped with my hand outstretched towards the rows of glass-bottled ingredients I kept. “Come again?”

“You wanna make sure this love potion works, right?” Bob said, and for someone who had no eyebrows to waggle, he did a pretty good job of conveying the image. “C’mon, it’s not like it’s a nonrenewable resource, you’ve got plenty–”

“Bob,” I said, as evenly as I could manage, “you’ve got about thirty seconds to unsay that before I decide you meant it after all.”

He tsked. “Haley, you know, there’s a lot of power in this sort of thing — you should take advantage of it since you’ve got immediate access–”

“Bob. Fifteen seconds.”

He sighed, so tremendously I kind of expected to see his skull rock with the force of it. “Fine. Fine. Red wine will do as an acceptable substitute. The good stuff, Haley, none of that cheap crap.”

“Right,” I said. “Like I’ve got anything like that hanging around.”

“If you’d just do what I first said–”

“Bob.”

“Right, boss. Shutting up.”

+++++

GetBackers (Emishi)

There are no warriors left.

Haruka knows it in her bones as she pushes past the other women, huddled in stoney, stoic silence, to the entrance of their shelter. She is still a woman of proud Rouran, even if it languishes in exile, and she knows what she will see before the door slides back.

The earth is dark and wet with blood; buildings and vegetation all around have been charred to crumbling back. Bodies are littered everywhere: some burned beyond reconition, some torn to shreds, and some that simply look like they’ve fallen over. These are the worst, faces both familiar and not staring blankly in the final companionship. Some part of Haruka wants to gag and recoil, but she steps outside into the red light of sunset and the wind catches her hair, whipping it roughly around her face. She walks, and knows that some of the others follow her — and they are the ones who weep, finding husbands and sons and brothers who’ve gone ahead.

She finds her father in the center of the village. His body barely more than charcoal and ash, but she recognizes the line of his profile. It makes her glad that he died this way: a true Rouran will use their blood for a final strike rather than simply let himself be taken.

In his hand is his whip, dark coils gleaming in the dying sun. Haruka kneels beside him. She touches the whip, and like magic, it seems, his stiff burned fingers snap open and the weapon curls smoothly into her palm. She takes it and leans back on her heels.

“Father,” she says, and swallows several times to get her voice to work properly. The creature of ash and bone doesn’t answer her, though she almost expects it for a moment. She looks at the whip in her hand: here she holds the souls of ten thousand Rouran women who came before her, a weapon embedded the memory of their rage and power and the dozens of Rouran warriors who bore it previously. Haruka sniffs, rubs her dry eyes, and laughs.

“All right, Father,” she says. She gets up. “They’ll complain, but all right.”

Coiling the whip to hang it from her belt — like she’d seen him do so often before — she goes back to meet the rest of her clan.

+++++

GetBackers (Ginji)

“Shido-san,” Madoka says one night. They’re sitting together on her back porch, and his animals are scattered across her wide backyard, content in their places. The night is pleasantly mild. Shido himself is more content than he has been in years; it’s amazing how much her very presence soothes him, and he makes a brief noise to acknowledge her voice.

“You and Ginji-san used to work together, right?” She doesn’t sound upset, merely thoughtful. “Were you and she ever …”

She trails off delicately. It takes Shido a few seconds to process what she’s asking; when he does, he sits bolt upright. “–What?”

Untroubled by his sharp tone, she shrugs. “You and Ban-san never get along,” she says. “The two of you are at each others’ throats. And with him and Ginji-san, I … well. I wondered.”

Shido hesitated. He suspected even someone as eloquent as Kadsuki would have a problem putting Raitei into words — that awesome terrifying power balanced alongside razor-edged fragility. Kadsuki had once compared her to Amaterasu, divine grace and wrath — the warm mother to those who rested beneath her wings and burning away those who did not without second thought.

How to say, really, that she’d been mother and queen and still someone to be protected, whose sadness moved her Kings more than any whipcrack? Shido remembers quite clearly how much he had once been willing to sacrifice for Raitei — how much he still would, if she called for him. To see her bow her head to a snake like Midou, cold-blooded and selfishly keeping her to himself, when all she must be to him is a convinient source of warmth …

“Shido-san?” Madoka says, and it breaks apart his train of thought.

Shido shakes his head and makes himself lean back again. “No,” he says. “She’s a good friend, but Ginji and I were never … like that. She was one of the first people to believe in me. I don’t think Midou gets how lucky he is.”

Madoka reaches out and rests her hand on his arm. He likes how she smells up close, warm and sweet and untainted by chemical perfumes. He can see a smile on her face even in the dimness.

“Ginji-san is lucky,” she says. “To have a friend like Shido-san.”

He stares at her, and is glad she can’t see his blush.

“But,” she goes on, “I think that Ginji-san knows her own heart very well. And Ban-san doesn’t have the face of a traitor.”

Tell that to Himiko, he wants to say, but keeps his tongue; Madoka sees things with her fingers that only animals have ever come close to sensing. “You think so?”

She smiles and leans her head against his shoulder, a warm soft weight. He thinks he might like to stay this way forever. “I know so,” she says.

“… oh,” he says. He can’t quite bring it in himself to be pleased about it, but … “Good.”

+++++

Princess Tutu (Fakir)

Fakir thinks perhaps she should feel awkward, born into the wrong body — the Prince’s Knight was a man, broad-shouldered and strong, able to wield his sword in one hand when it takes her two. She should feel rage towards that on top of every other burden from her destiny: that she’ll fail her Prince again, that she’ll die cleaved in half by the Raven’s claws as Princess Tutu turns to dust and light and fades. Like this, she’s nothing special, and she’ll die soon enough.

Instead, she stays close to Mytho and lets their apparent closeness foster rumors that keeps most of the other girls away — there’s Rue, of course, but even she cannot get close enough to sink her claws into the Prince. There is a taint of darkness to her, something that smells like the dusty coolness of bird-feathers, and Fakir doesn’t trust that. Sometimes she catches Rue staring with hard-eyed bitter jealousy in her eyes, and Fakir is never the one who looks away first.

Mytho lies with his head in her lap, his gold eyes open and staring blankly; from a distance, they surely look like the perfect couple — the white Prince and his dark Princess; even those who are envious whisper admiring rumors behind their hands. Fakir hears them all and it’s all she can do not to laugh — Mytho’s true Princess is out there somewhere, all eiderdown and moonlight, searching for the pieces of the Prince’s shattered heart.

Fakir is not a Princess, too rough-hewn and blunt, her hands callused from a blade she has never used in this lifetime. She is the Knight, and she will duty to her prince, even if she has to die trying.

+++++

Princess Tutu (Mytho)

In stories, it is always the dashing Prince who saves his Princess, perhaps aided by the kindhearted and brave companions he meets in his journey. He is noble and true, and he flies unerringly to the side of his Princess when she is in trouble. Rue had read these stories when she’d first entered school, and they taste like milk curdled with blood. The first few books she ripped apart in her fury at their smug condescenion; later she wrote scathing retorts detailing the failures and fallacies the stories never take into account; these pages she tucked into the books before returning them.

A Princess is better, surely; Rue arranges for Mytho to be her roommate, smirking at the foolish Knight’s impotent rage — boys are not allowed to even enter the girl’s dorms and vice-versa, so Mytho is as out of reach to him as the moon.

That’s good; that’s how things should be. A Knight might swear fealty and love to his Princess, but there is a gap that they cannot traverse; better that he understand this now, by how Rue keeps Mytho close and pets her downy white hair and kisses her soft cheeks. She crawls into Mytho’s bed sometimes, and arranges them until they lie with their arms around each other, and Rue has her head pillowed upon Mytho’s small breasts.

“Say you love me,” she murmurs in the quiet intimacy of their room. This is a place only for the two of them. No one can interfere. “Mytho, say it.”

“I love you,” Mytho says, her voice equally soft. Rue can almost pretend she hears something affectionate in that tone. “Rue, I love you.”

Rue closes her eyes and smiles. “Good.”

+++++

Princess Tutu (Ahiru)

“You — you’re”–?!” Fakir gapes, her jaw hanging. “But Princess Tutu–”

I don’t know!” Ahiru squawks, hip-deep in the water. “Herr Drosselmeyer has a sense of humor! Besides, just because I’m not a girl doesn’t mean that — you know, I don’t want Mytho to suffer! I want to help him!” He begins to slosh forwards, towards shore. “No one deserves to lose their heart like that! You’re supposed to be his friend, how can you just–”

Put some clothes on, you moron!” Fakir roars. She grabs up the uniform jacket lying at her feet and balls it up before flinging it into Ahiru’s face. It hits with a surprisingly loud smack, and Ahiru pinwheels his arms for a moment, squawking. Fakir turns sharply away, covering her mouth. “Oh god,” she says. “I can’t believe that you’re–”

“Fakir?” Ahiru asks. His voice is gentle. “Is something wrong?”

“You saw me–”

Ahiru pauses and thinks. Fakir is pretty sure she can tell the exact moment he remembers, because he draws in a sharp breath. “Oh, you mean about you crying–”

“Shut up!” Fakir whirls to glare, and Ahiru’s put the coat on; it reaches barely past mid-thigh, but thankfully it’s enough. “I can’t believe you were — and you saw –”

“It’s all right,” Ahiru says, holding up both hands like he expects another attack. “I mean. If you feel bad, you’re allowed to cry! This has been tough on you, too, I bet. I’ve cried, and I’m a guy — I mean, no offense! But if girls cry, it’s okay –”

Fakir growls. Ahiru immediately shuts up. They stare at each other for a few long, awkward minutes, and then she sighs and turns sharply away. Damned if she’s going to let him see her like this, fading and fluttery as a useless woman — she’s supposed to be the Knight. She has someone she has to protect.

“Come on,” she says. “We have to find Mytho.”

+++++

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle (Syaoran and Sakura)

She expected her lessons with Kurogane to end once they left Outo: she’d learned to deal with her handicap, and if not well, then at least enough to carry her own weight in a fight. However, they next land in a world without any feathers, and Kurogane announces that they’re going to stay for a while before ordering Mokona to “spit out” Souhi and Hien.

“Let’s try this again,” he says to her, as he hands her his sword. “This time without any crazy game interfering.”

She takes the sword and chews briefly on her lower lip. “Kurogane-san,” she says. “This is very kind of you, but–”

“But nothing,” he says. He points Souhi straight at her; the tip is close enough that she can feel the pressure of it, though it doesn’t touch her skin. “You’ve got someone to protect, don’t you?”

In spite of herself, she glances aside. Fay-san and the prince are sitting on the grassy knoll beside them, watching. Fay-san waves enthusiastically with both arms; the prince smiles shyly and waves with only one. She blushes and looks back to Kurogane-san, who’s watching her with one eyebrow raised and a wry knowing look.

“You got something to protect, you gotta learn how to do it right,” says Kurogane-san. “Whether you’re a man or a woman, if it’s that precious to you, you learn to fight. Got it?”

She nods and adopts the stance that Kurogane-san taught her before — the one she secretly has been practicing, whenever she can. “Kurogane-san …”

“The Empress of my country can cut through a full battalion in about five minutes flat,” Kurogane-san says. “That’s a bit ambituous for you now, so we’ll start with the basics.”

Again she nods; she glances again at the prince, who sits with Mokona in his lap and is now laughing at something that Fay-san has just said. He’s beautiful enough to make her heart ache, and the weight of her failure stings again. Resolute, she stiffens her back and turns back to Kurogane-san, who nods his approval.

This time, she thinks, this time, she will keep her prince safe; she will return all of his lost feathers back to him.

No matter what it takes.

+++++

Triple Strike (Alan)

“Soooooooo,” says Jiordson, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and so annoying. “You got, uh. Anyone who’s gonna come after you for a rescue? ‘Cause I gotta tell you, that’d be a total pain and we’re not actually that well-equipped for a full space battle, so like. Uh. You don’t, do you?”

Ellen Baringer drew herself up as haughtily as any matron she remembered from her childhood and glared down her nose. Judging from the way Jiordson cringed, it was rather effective. “You could save yourself quite a bit of trouble, then,” she said icily, “if you would just release me back to my family once we reach the nearest port.”

“Can’t!” Jiordson chirps, and god, does the man always have to be so annoyingly cheery all the time? “Uh, ’cause the nearest port’s Hedge Beta, right? And, uh, the last time we were there, ummm.” He makes flapping motions with both hands. “We may or may not be banned for life! I never checked, you know, ’cause I was busy running for my life at the time, but Valt later said–”

Ellen pinches the bridge of her nose and forces herself to breathe slowly. Really what she wants to do is punch Jiordson for that bright and utterly infuriating smile, but she is still a noblewoman and a member of the Elite; even if there’s no one else around but pyreans to impress, she would not let herself be dragged down to their level. “Then the next one,” she growls. “Past Hedge Beta, but as soon as possible–”

“Jeeze,” Jiordson says. He flops down onto the bed beside her, utterly careless about personal space; his hand lands on her skirt as he leans back to prop himself up. “Don’t be such a worrywart, Ellen! Why not stop worrying about it and just go with the flow?”

She grits her teeth. “Jiordson–”

“Think of it as a vacation!” he says brightly. “It’ll be awesome!”

“Jiordson …” She eyes him sourly. “What part of ‘return me at once’ do you not understand?”

“I understand the whole thing!” he chirps. “You’re the one who doesn’t get the ‘we can’t do that’ part.”

“I–” She pauses. “That is. I’m. Jiordson, you –”

“Are you hungry?” he asks brightly. “I’ll get us something to eat! Wait here, ‘kay?”

He’s gone before she points out she can’t go anywhere anyway. Ellen stares at the door for a moment, then sighs and rubs at her face.

This, she thinks, is going to be a long journey.

+++++

Odin Sphere (Oswald)

The law is that a Valkyrie crippled or otherwise dishonored in battle must be stripped of her armor and presented to a brave warrior as his wife. She bears him children that in turn will be strong and brave and devoted to the cause of king and country, bound to her husband by a love-spell.

By law and magic she is bound; by love and loyalty she is rendered helpless. Even the king’s daughters cannot flee their eventual destiny.

However, it is also not unheard of for Valkyrie to choose a lover from among her wing-mates. It is said that the woman who bore both Griselda the Terrible and Gwendolyn the Witch was such a Valkyrie, a proud and bloodthirsty fighter who would bow her head only to her king. Certainly Ragnanival has never known a queen, and now Griselda has fallen and Gwendolyn–

She trembles once when Elaine touches her wings, slides cold fingers through the pinions and then separates them to the down underneath. Then she forces herself to stillness, lifting her chin and saying not a word. For a woman who has killed enough to be the envy of any Valkyrie, the Shadow Knight’s hands are oddly gentle, and conversely that kindness drives home her own humiliation. That she, Odin’s Witch, must subcumb to her enemy — that she may not even be called “wife,” but simply the spoils of war …

“Relax,” says Elaine. Her voice is low and pleasant to the ear. “I will not hurt you. You have a choice in this.”

“Do I?” Gwendolyn says. She finally looks down at her new — keeper — and curls her lip. “I am bound to be yours by your agreement with my father. I am a criminal who broke the laws of my kingdom and raised my spear against my king. What choice do I have in this matter?”

Elaine’s lip twists. She rises up now, and while standing she and Gwendolyn are of a height, now Gwendolyn is pushed among the bedclothes and staring up.

“I will not force the unwilling,” she says stiffly. “I had hoped — perhaps — but you are only newly-awakened. I have been … unfair to you. I apologize.”

Gwendolyn stares. “I am no delicate fairy to be courted or treated gently, lest my wings break,” she says. “I am a Valkyrie, and I do not need your pity.”

“… Pity,” Elaine says, and her mouth twists as though upon the taste of something sour. “If that is what you see this as, then I must bid you good-night, Gwendolyn.”

“You–!”

Stiffly Elaine bows and leaves the room; Gwendolyn is left staring, with the taste of something bitter lingering upon her lips.

+++++

xxxHolic (Yuuko)

“Well,” Clow said, in a voice heavy with amusement. “Don’t you look comfortable.”

Sprawled among a lavish pile of pillows and deep velvet blankets, Yuuhi only stretched, supple and lithe as a cat, and blinked his eyes open. “Oh,” he said, unconcerned by his state of undress — a lavish robe only loosely closd at the waist, with no undergarments beneath — or by Clow’s proximity. “It’s you.”

“I do hope you’re not greeting customers this way, my dear,” Clow said. He held up a dusty, dark green bottle. “Shall we have a drink?”

“Oh, you do love me,” Yuuhi sighed. He twisted again, rolling onto his side; the movement let his robes slide open further, exposing a long expanse of slim white thigh. “There are cups on the shelf behind you, do be a dear and get them, won’t you?”

“I live to serve,” Clow said, and bowed low and proper as any English gentleman. Yuuhi laughed. The sound was rippling and warm as he sat up, the robe sliding down his shoulders and showing off the narrow clean lines of his bare chest.

“You lie,” he said. “You lie, but you’re very pretty anyway, and you have good taste in drink. Bring it here.” He extended a hand and waved languidly till Clow poured them both a measure of deep-red wine and handed him a glass. “So what business do you have today? You’re not thinking about messing with that poor Leo boy’s head again, are you? He’s already so ahead of his time, it’d be cruel to torment him with those things he’ll never say.”

“You, accusing me of cruelty!” Clow said. He smiled. “How times do change.”

“I simply think it’s in bad taste, that’s all.” Yuuhi shrugged, rolling his glass idly in his long fingers. “But you wouldn’t have come unless you wanted something.”

Clow smiled. “I have a book I need you to keep for me.”

Yuuhi went still. His lashes lowered, but he glared up at Clow from beneath them regardless. “… Oh,” he said tonelessly. “Is it already that time?”

Clow continued to smile. He shook his head. “I’m tired, my dear,” he said. “I have been for a while now. You know.”

“If you think that will excuse you, you’re an idiot,” said Yuuhi. “Don’t act like I might someday forgive you.” But he sat up anyway and pulled the robes higher around his shoulders, cinching it shut. “All right. Give me your damn book, and let’s get it over with.”

+++++

xxxHolic (Himawari)

There’s a boy in his class, Watanuki Kimihiro, that most of the other students avoid. He talks to thin air like he’s seeing things, gossip says; he’s a little bit crazy. His parents died when he was young, so he grew up by himself, and he copes by pretending there are others around for him to talk to. He’s really easily excited and the more you work him up, the louder he gets. He usually eats by himself.

Hiroshi likes him, though. He’s funny, and very nice when you take the time to talk to him — he starts bringing Hiroshi lunch, and it’s amazingly good; it’s better than most of the instant that he eats at home. (Father and Mother working too-long hours, trying hard to keep going before bad luck catches up to them as well — just in case, because life is unpredictable that way–) They might have been friends in another lifetime; Watanuki-kun is so eager to get along, and calls Hiroshi his best friend when they’ve really barely know each other. All he really wants is a kind word and a friendly face, and Hiroshi knows how that is. He knows very well.

That’s just Watanuki-kun’s bad luck finding him, though, Hiroshi thinks vaguely. If Kunogi Hiroshi is the only kind person he’ll know in his life, ah, it’ll catch up to him soon enough.

+++++

Kingdom Hearts (Kairi)

“How peculiar,” Xehanort says.

It’s quite late — the clock-tower has already chimed two hours past midnight — but they have just lit fresh candles, and it will be hours yet before their studies are over. Braig stifles a yawn with one hand and says, “What’s peculiar?”

“The data,” says Xehanort. He turns the next page of his report, and a brief crease appears on his forehead — which really is the equivalent of wide-eyed shock in anyone else. “That nephew of His Majesty …”

“Kairi?” Braig leans his chin on his hand. “Cute kid, sure. What about him?”

Silently, Xehanort hands his papers over. Braig flips it open, ignoring as Dilan and Ienzo lean to look over his shoulder. He reads silently for a few minutes, then feels his eyebrows shoot up when he looks back at his fellow apprentice. “You’re kidding me.”

“I would hardly ‘kid’ over something like this.”

“But — Kairi isn’t even –” Braig flops back in his chair; Dilan rescues the report from him before he can just toss it into the air. “I thought only girls could be like that. That’s why they call ’em ‘Princesses of Heart,’ right?”

“Regardless,” Ienzo says quietly. “If he is, then–”

“It explains why Master Ansem brought him here,” says Dilan. He flips through a few more of the charts and shakes his head. “This is …”

“He’s just a kid,” Braig protests. “What, younger’n Ienzo, even.”

“… Thank you,” Ienzo says dryly.

“We’re not seriously thinking about — you know — with a kid, are we?” Braig folds his arms on the table and leans forward, scowling. “Seriously, now.”

“We will do as we must,” Xehanort says, serene as always. “Our studies of the heart are of the utmost importance. If young Kairi can help us, even by being an anamoly in the pattern …”

“Yeah, and I don’t like it,” says Braig. “It’s crap, dudes, we shouldn’t–”

“Ah,” says Xehanort. Behind him, framed in the window, clouds move away from the moon and leaves it unveiled and full in the sky. Coupled with the candlelight his face is half-wreathed in shadow and nothing kind. “Braig, it’s already too late.”

+++++

Kingdom Hearts (Sora, Riku, and Kairi)

There was an emptiness inside him that he couldn’t quite explain — the one time he tried, Tidus and Wakka only ended up staring at him funny, like he’d begun speaking in another language.

“You only hung out with Riku, Kairi,” Tidus had said. “And I mean, she was cool and all, but … there was only one of her.”

“No, no,” said Wakka. “There was another girl, I remember! Uh. I forget her name, though.”

“What did she look like?” Kairi leaned forward, something breathless and tight in his throat. “The other girl?”

“Huh? How would I know?” Wakka shrugged. “She … gosh, she musta moved away or something. I can’t remember at all.”

“It’s not that big a deal, is it?” Tidus asked. “I don’t even remember this kid! Are you sure you’re not making her up?”

“Make this up,” Wakka said, and grabbed Tidus’ lunch — and that had degenerated into a wrestling match that Kairi had kept well out of, lost in his own thoughts.

Sometimes, when he dreamed, he could remember Riku clearly: taller than most of the boys on the island and willow-thin, with eyes green as the sea and silver-white hair fanning across her narrow face. He remembers that she was never afraid of anything, even the terrific lightning storms that would sometimes churn the ocean to white foam; he remembers that he misses her. He wonders where she went.

It’s the other girl, however, that haunts him the most — the empty place in his chest resonates with that other girl’s absence, though all he can remember is a smile that seemed like it could swallow up the entire sky with its joy. He thinks he might have promised this girl something — something important, something he shouldn’t have let himself forget, but …

Both of them are beyond his reach, at least for now and he can’t help but feel this is so very, very wrong — even if no one else realizes this.

So when the flame-haired man in black appears on the island, smiling with all his teeth white and exposed, Kairi makes himself reach out and take that hand — he’ll take this first step, and he’ll chase after Riku and the girl (Sora, Sora, Sora) he can barely remember, and maybe, someday, he’ll catch up.

And when he does, he’s never letting them out of his sight again.

+++++

Phoenix Wright (Phoenix)

“Nicky, seriously,” Larry said. “Edgeworth? Him?”

Phoenix slumped a bit in her seat and slurped irritably at her noodles. “What, why not,” she muttered. “It’s not my fault we fell out of touch — I tried.”

“Yeah, but.” Larry looked around and leaned in. In a voice that was probably meant to be subtle — and sounded more like a wheezing stage-whisper than anything else — he said, “You know. Edgeworth isn’t … into that sorta thing.”

“Into?” Phoenix blinked. “What are you talking about?”

You know,” said Larry. He looked at her, wide-eyed and utterly sincere. “I mean, it’s Edgie. Miles Edgeworth!”

“… I know who we’re talking about, Larry …”

“He’s not — he’s not, right?” Larry made vague wavy motions in the air; Phoenix suspected it was supposed to mimic a woman’s figure — though any woman shaped like that would probably terrify her to meet. “Into. That sort of thing.”

“So?” said Phoenix.

“So? So?! Nicky! He’s going to take one look at your little double-X self–”

“I’m taller than you, you know.”

“–and he’s just going to be — no! No thank you! No sir! Nickyyyyyyy.” From apparently out of nowhere, Larry whipped out a handkerchief and began to chew on it. “I just don’t want to see my little Nicky’s heart get broken!”

Phoenix stared, noodles dripping from her mouth. “Larry,” she said. “It’s not like that.”

He blinked tear-bright eyes at her. “It’s okay, Nicky,” he said. “You don’t have to play strong! I understand! You–”

“I just want to see him again,” she said over him. “Because we were best friends, you know? I just want to see him, maybe catch up. That’s all.”

“Nicky–”

“That’s all,” she repeated firmly. “It doesn’t matter to me if Edgeworth isn’t … into. Um. Girls. I just want to see him again.”

Larry looked at her steadily for a moment. It was about as serious as she’d ever seen him — and then he opened his mouth and ruined the illusion: “When he breaks your heart, you can come crying to me, okay? I promise you, Larry Butz will be your man!”

“…” said Phoenix, and sighed. “Yeah,” she said, and couldn’t help a smile; Larry never did change, and that was comforting, at least. “I know, Larry. Thanks.”

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