An acquaintance from school, who happens to be a Death Eater now, highlights everything wrong with all of Peter Pettigrew’s relationships.
“I have to say I’m not surprised to run into you here; you always were good at skulking.”
Peter, who had whirled at the first syllable, let out his sharply indrawn breath with a bit of a squeak when he identified the woman that had stepped from the shadows of a doorway and addressed him so unexpectedly. “Lila!” he more gasped than properly greeted. “I- I haven’t seen you since Hogwarts!” He should have stopped there, but, too nervous at this sudden encounter so close to Headquarters, he allowed the next question, and the subsequent attempt at repairing it, to slip out uncautiously: “What are you doing in this part of London? I mean, in London at all? Don’t you live in Kent?”
The witch leaned against the wall beside the smelly bins Peter had been in the process of circumnavigating when she’d appeared, and gave him the bright smile he remembered so well from school. “Is it really so strange for someone to come to London? Visitors from Kent aren’t allowed; is that it?”
“No, of course not.” Peter tried to return her smile, but his could never sunburn the way hers did. “Just a little strange to meet you in this alley. It’s a bit–” he glanced around, in part to indicate what he meant and the rest to break eye contact– “rubbishy back here.”
“Like I said, then, no surprise to find you here.” She flashed her teeth in a chuckle, in which Peter weakly joined. “But it wouldn’t have been a surprise in any case, because I suspected you’d come this way soon. I was waiting for you.”
His blood ran colder than the October chill could account for. Did she know? How much did she know? How did she know? And what was she in a position to do with that knowledge? Her intentions as a Hogwarts seventh-year had been clear, but he couldn’t be completely sure what direction she’d taken once school had ended. He certainly couldn’t blurt out his suspicions here and now, and all he ended up managing to say, faintly, was, “Back here?”
“Damp corridors do seem like the best places to find you.”
“What are you doing down here, Pettigrew?” The tone was cheerful and vaguely familiar, and, though Peter could sense the underlying bite to the words, even just the hint of a pleasant sound made the dungeon hallway feel slightly less clammy and chilly.
The face, too, seemed somewhat recognizable as its owner stopped in the doorway of the classroom she’d just been exiting. Yeah, that was right: she was in his year; he saw her in one of his double classes. Her name was on the tip of his tongue, but he had to speak sooner than he could remember, so he merely addressed her by house. “None of your business where I go, Slytherin.” It came out sounding a little less confident than he’d planned, and she noticed.
Her musical laugh echoed off the stone walls around them. “Not so brave without your swaggering friends along, are you, Gryffindor?”
Obviously she knew him better than he knew her, and Peter struggled to recall her name so as to put them on a better footing. Finally he managed it, as well as to come up with something to say other than, ‘Well, I was supposed to meet them down here for something, but they’ve never shown up.’ “No need to be brave when there’s nothing to be scared of.” He tried to make his shrug nonchalant, the way James would have done. “You don’t think I should be scared of you, do you, Sutton?”
“Of course you should.” Again she laughed, and again the sound carried two layers — ‘I’m totally kidding,’ and, ‘I’m totally serious and you’d better watch your back’ — and which he should attend to was as yet a mystery. “I’ve had a glimpse at our marks in Care Of Magical Creatures, and I know how much better I’m doing than you.”
“So?” In reality, though, Peter’s heart fell. He was only taking Care of Magical Creatures because his friends were, but by this late autumn of their third year at Hogwarts, Remus had less and less time to tutor Peter in difficult subjects.
“So,” Lila explained patiently, smile widening but eyes narrowing proportionally, “I’m a lot better than you at that subject. But even I’m having a hard time with fairy management. Since you’re down here, why don’t we go practice together? It might help us both.”
Peter hoped she couldn’t see the mixture of emotions that arose in him at the suggestion. He was surprised, he was suspicious, he was skeptical, but most of all he was interested. He’d had to worm his way into every study group he’d ever taken part in; he’d never had someone suggest to him that they might practice together. And with Remus, his usual recourse, more and more caught up in his own private struggles and with Sirius, Peter could use all the help he could get. But was she serious, or baiting him? There were other objections the idea besides.
“Don’t you have your own friends you’d rather revise with?” he asked cautiously. Most people did, after all; just because his own didn’t seem to care much whether he passed or failed didn’t mean hers didn’t.
She laughed. “I exploit my friends in other ways.” And she sounded so pleasant as she said it. “I think you have latent talents that will be useful in helping me get good marks if I can just help you bring them out a bit first.”
He simply couldn’t help smiling at her tone, even as she blatantly discussed the idea of using him. At least she was very straightforward about her selfish motives. “Do you really want to be seen with a Gryffindor, though?”
She shrugged. “I think you’re more than half Slytherin, but of course we’ll be quiet about it.”
That clinched it. He couldn’t imagine why she’d been watching closely enough to recognize the Slytherin in him, but she’d hit close to his heart. Even after two years at Hogwarts, he’d never been completely convinced the Sorting Hat had made the right choice… and if other people could see it, that meant he wasn’t imagining things. Interhouse rivalries were all very well, but if he’d gone to the wrong place, he needed to get in touch with his Slytherin side… and wouldn’t this be the best, the safest way to do it?
“All right,” he said. “But I don’t make any promises for what my mates will do if they find out.” It was more false bravado, and she knew it.
She twirled her wand dangerously, smiling brightly all the while. “Same here! Let’s go look into fairies, shall we?”
“I actually think I’m starting to get them,” Peter admitted.
“Good! I thought you might be.”
She’d taken his arm and was leading him the way he’d come with no slow steps. Now as ever it was difficult to deny her, and his mind was a blank in every attempt at coming up with an excuse for why he didn’t want to return this direction, what he was doing that he needed to get back to. He had to admit, though, it was nice to leave the alley and the smells of rubbish.
Lila had begun chatting about her shopping in London, the outlet they didn’t have in Ashford, and how she’d found just about everything she’d come up here for. She’d always been interested in fashion design, he recalled as she discussed the latest in robes and hats. It wasn’t interesting, and didn’t serve to conceal the minuteness with which she peered at their surroundings, and into the face of every passerby, and watched him for reactions to any of it.
“You must be meeting some friend around here,” she said with an ease belied by the closeness of her examination of the area. “Some of your friends did always seem the London types. You certainly did, so it’s lucky for you you’ve got friends in town.”
She couldn’t trick him that easily into mentioning where everyone was living these days and that most of them apparated over for meetings — nor how formal and deserving of the term those meetings were. But her very use of the word and her assumptive declaration that it must be nice for him to have friends in London left him a little tongue-tied. All he could manage was yet another weak laugh and a mumbled something about Sirius — who did, in fact, live here, as anyone might know.
She tossed her head. “Sirius Black,” she scoffed. “I’m surprised you still keep up with him when I haven’t heard from you more than two or three times since school.”
“Sirius has always been a good friend,” Peter protested, and forced himself not to add, “If you call treating me like an obnoxious little brother when he even notices I’m around ‘being a good friend.'”
Full well she knew, though, what he wanted to follow up with, and she shot him a bright smile. “Oh, yes,” she said airily. “Always.” She gave him a dig in the ribs; he couldn’t tell if it was with her fingers or her wand, it was so quick. “Admit it, Pettigrew: I was a better friend to you than any of that lot ever were.”
From where she lay stretched on the sun-warmed stone of the disused Astronomy Tower, having rolled onto her back and away from the book she’d previously had her nose in, Lila asked lazily, “You’ve been spending more time with your blood traitor friends again lately. Have they ever cottoned on to us?”
Not about to admit that the process of becoming animagi he and his friends had of late illicitly embarked upon required a lot more time and attention from him than he’d expected, Peter chose to respond to a different part of her question. “I’m half-blood. You think I’m a blood traitor too?”
Her tone was still languid, and so was the little laugh she gave. “Being a half-blood’s bad enough.”
Peter let out a soft breath that was like the prototype to a laugh in return. Stretching out his legs beneath the relatively giant book on his lap so his toes pointed in Lila’s direction, and noting as always how stubby and unattractive they seemed, he let his eyes fall from the Slytherin girl and his own appendages down to the book’s pages. He turned surreptitiously to the later spot where he’d tucked the Marauders’ Map, and checked the immediate area again for anyone that might come interrupt them and, more importantly, spread rumors.
He tried to be the one carrying the map whenever he was to meet Lila, but lately he felt as if he didn’t really need to be: he doubted his friends would notice his absence, his location, or his company in any case. He was still around them much of the time, but didn’t know if they noticed that either unless they were busy with the animagus process together; they were probably just relieved he didn’t need nearly as much help as in earlier years with his schoolwork. That was largely thanks to Lila, whether she believed him a blood traitor or not, and Peter wasn’t inclined to deny it. It turned out he wasn’t half bad at most school stuff; he merely needed it presented in a different manner, a lot of the time, than conventional teaching methods offered.
Finally, though, he answered her original question. “No, I think they still have no idea.”
“Gryffindors have no subtlety,” she yawned. “They’d pay a lot more attention to you if they knew how useful you can be.”
“You mean,” Peter replied a little dryly, “you help me with what I’m having a hard time with, and that helps you understand it better, so then you get better marks.”
She laughed like golden bells ringing. “You make it sound like that’s a bad thing. Aren’t friend supposed to help each other out? And Slytherins? And better-blooded families?”
Not at all sure what to say in response to this, Peter changed the subject. “So are you getting this stuff about the Arithmantic Renaissance?”
He simply couldn’t help admitting, in a quiet, reluctant tone, “You were.”
She threw him her dazzling smile and pulled him closer, squeezing his arm. “I knew it; and I knew you couldn’t deny it.” She’d never ceased her intense scrutiny of the area, and now gestured to a muggle café that stood not far off — undoubtedly a spot where she could watch through the windows for any familiar faces in the street and note from which direction they came. “So let’s have tea like the old friends we are, and try to figure out why you haven’t contacted me in so long.”
He didn’t want her there, watching through the windows for any familiar faces in the street and noting from which direction they came, but it was so hard to say no. He fixed on the best excuse he could come up with. “Do you have any muggle money?”
She waved his concern away. “We’ll just obliviate them. Come on; you look a little peaky, and I’m dying for something chocolate.”
Uneasily Peter went where he was steered, a mixture of emotions and memories not allowing him to be as assertive with her as he wished. He relaxed a little, though, when, on entering the café, they really did embark on a simple and relatively innocuous process of ordering and obliviating, and even then settled at a table not immediately adjacent to the windows. Maybe he was paranoid; maybe he’d been fabricating her significant statements and pointed looks. Maybe they could have an innocent tea together as old friends that truly had met by pure coincidence.
In an alley full bins. In a rundown area of a city where neither of them lived.
Lila dipped a spoon into her tea and cast a patronizing smile of dismissal at the waitress that had brought it out. The young woman had not been obliviated, but obviously took instructions from someone that had, and now appeared a little confused. “Muggles,” the witch said with mild disdain. “They’re not so bad as servants, but it’s a shame they’re not magically enslaved like house-elves; they’d be so much easier to control.”
Peter drew breath to contradict her, but found he didn’t have the energy to voice an opinion he’d never more than half embraced anyway.
The seventh-year ball, Peter had heard, was dropping out of favor and might soon be discontinued, but that happy event had not yet taken place, so to celebrate the end of his stint at Hogwarts he was still forced to endure an entire awkward evening of being ignored and overlooked. James and Lily were sickeningly caught up in each other, Remus and Sirius were hiding somewhere together to prevent the latter being mobbed by girls (and a few boys), and all of Peter’s remaining friends were only such through the others.
“You want to dance?” he wondered in an incredulous hiss. He threw a covert look at the group Lila had left in order to come seek him out — a rough set of Slytherins if ever there’d been one, including Rabastan Lastrange, Calliope Wheatley, Evan Rosier, Sirius’ annoying little brother taking advantage of the fact that sixth-years were allowed to this gathering, and, of course, perennial favorite Severus Snape. “What happened to keeping quiet?”
“We’re leaving school soon,” she shrugged. “I don’t think it much matters anymore.”
He sucked in a reluctant breath through his teeth, but after another moment’s thought decided, why not? He hadn’t anticipated being noticed by the other Marauders or Lily at all this evening anyway; he might as well dance with a Slytherin. And Lila was looking especially pretty tonight in a gown that went from black to blood-red, and smooth shining red stones (Peter didn’t know what they were called) in settings just a few shades lighter than her golden-brown skin.
“OK,” he said. “Let’s dance.”
Of course his skill at this was negligible, and he thought he caught more than one giggle from people around them as Lila clearly took the lead. But it wasn’t too bad. At least he would be able to say he hadn’t lacked a dance partner throughout the entire ball.
“I wanted to talk to you tonight,” Lila said as he struggled to keep up with her steps without stumbling or treading on her feet, “and this seemed like a better way to do it privately than dragging you off behind a curtain or something.”
Peter felt his face go red at the idea. “Yeah,” he said a little shakily. “Thanks.”
“You saw my friends?” She gestured with her head.
“We’re a pretty tight-knit group, and we all have similar interests.” Her tone was low, effecting the privacy she’d mentioned, but she emphasized certain words to indicate a meaning beyond their surface level. “We’re planning on sticking together after school, and doing some great things.”
He wished he could say the same for his set. But, although there was a lot of murmuring about taking a stand and using what they’d learned for good, if anyone had made any concrete plans, those hadn’t yet been shared with Peter Pettigrew the permanent afterthought. So eventually he said nothing at all.
“We’re going to be important and respected,” she pursued, “and we’re going to be winners. We’re going to be on top. Everyone else…” She gave her usual bright smile, but there was a touch of wry regret to it as well, and her shoulders lifted in a slight shrug. “I can’t say how successful — or safe — everyone else is going to be.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Peter wondered, the voice he found at last yet hoarse and quiet.
All wryness, regret, and indifference burned right out of Lila’s smile, which now shone like the sun. “Because I want you to join us, stupid. You’re not too bad a wizard, but no matter what you decide to do, if you don’t join us, you’ll be in danger. Who knows what could happen? You might die!” Her light, tripping tone as she made such a morbid prediction was utterly typical of her, suggesting jest while assuring him of her deadly earnest.
He shuddered, having no doubt in his mind of exactly what she meant by all this. And her final point had preyed on him, in the shadows of his awareness, for a few years now. Taking a stand and using what they’d learned for good made for a gorgeous castle in the clouds, but here in this actual castle, in reality, he had to wonder just how suicidal such a course might prove. Wouldn’t he be much safer, indeed, as Lila promised, offering no resistance to the way things were going? Not provoking the wrath of the important, the respected, the winners?
And wouldn’t it be nice, for once, to be important, respected, a winner?
What chance did he possibly have, though, at being any of that? If he abandoned his friends and joined Lila’s in their quest for great things — even assuming they would accept him as readily as she did, which seemed doubtful — wouldn’t he simply be trading one group that ignored and undervalued him for another? Her promises should be made to someone less invisible than he was; in reference to himself, he couldn’t believe them.
So he couldn’t accept her invitation. Simultaneously, he’d never been able to give her a direct negative, and now found himself torn in two, wordless and awkward. He stomped on one of her feet three times in a row, tried to move the wrong way, and felt his face getting hotter and hotter.
She laughed openly at him, but as always there was a sense of friendliness to her mockery that kept him from feeling the sting as much as he otherwise would have. “You don’t have to answer right now,” she said a little condescendingly. “As long as you don’t do anything dangerous–” and she flicked a look toward the end of the Great Hall where most of the Gryffindors not busy dancing were amassed– “you should be OK for a while.” None of his immediate circle stood over there, but he caught her drift.
The song ended, and Lila released him and stepped back into a mock curtsey. “Send me an owl,” was her goodbye, and then she headed back toward her cohorts.
“So what have you been busy with these last couple of years?” Lila’s eyes sparkled at him across the rim of her teacup.
Peter swallowed, and accidentally poured significantly more sugar into his own drink than he wanted. “This and that,” he said, trying to sound casual.
Lila chuckled. “And some of the other thing?” She’d seen through him, as always, and they both knew what ‘other thing’ she referred to. She bit into her chocolate tart, which silenced her briefly. It might have been the perfect chance for Peter to attempt heading her off, but, as usual, he couldn’t think of anything to say to that purpose. He feared the moment of reckoning was at hand, the moment when ‘OK for a while’ drew to its grisly close, and a cold knot of fear began to grow in the pit of his stomach.
He was right. When she’d finished her bite, Lila asked in the same easy tone as before, “And your friends? What have they all been up to?”
Peter couldn’t speak.
She leaned forward a trifle, forking another gooey piece of tart but pausing with it near her mouth. “You remember the last time we talked in person?”
He nodded. He couldn’t stop remembering it, in desperate detail.
“I have all the same friends — and more — and they’re just dying to hear the gossip about yours.”
Trying to buy time, clutching at the wand in his pocket with his free hand just in case this went suddenly from coaxing to Imperius, he gulped his tea, then choked at its hyper-sweetness. Coughing into a serviette until his eyes watered did give him several seconds, but when he’d finished the artificially extended process he found her gaze still fixed on him.
Like the tea, she was all sugary sludge as she murmured intensely, “So spill.”
And that was when realization hit.
At the Hogwarts seventh-year ball, she’d offered him a place among her proto-Death-Eater friends merely because he was ‘not too bad a wizard’ and she had a passing fondness for the boy she’d used to improve her school marks. She’d never seen any real value in him, and if she hadn’t noticed he was doing better with fairy management than she was, back in third year, her eyes would have passed right over him just like everyone else’s did. And today she’d been sent to sound him out not because she’d developed a sense of his worth, but because he was viewed, when viewed at all, as the weakest link in the Order of the Phoenix, and she’d been more or less his friend for several years.
But now, in addition to whatever value he’d had all along (something he believed in but whose quantity he’d never been sure of), he also had exactly what she wanted. What her same friends — and more — wanted.
Sirius, Remus, James, Lily, his supposed nearest and dearest, those to whom it should have been a priority to encourage and support him… they’d never seen his potential. They’d never seen him as anything but a tag-along, a vague nuisance tolerated mostly out of habit and because he never did anything memorable enough to force them to pay better attention.
Even now, when he risked his life on a daily basis to fight against the rising tide of Death Eaters and for goals he didn’t particularly care about, his sacrifice of personal safety was never recognized the way that of the others was. Oh, Sirius was a disinherited pureblood… Remus was a suffering werewolf… James and Lily had a son, and He Who Must Not Be Named was after them personally… so of course that made them and their work more meaningful than little Pettigrew, who remained in the background toiling away like a house-elf… like a muggle… and likely to get killed just like one because his so-called friends neither noticed nor cared. He probably wouldn’t even get a Dark Mark above his flat, because he just wasn’t that important.
But now he had an opportunity to be important. To be respected, a winner… and safe. The moment of reckoning was at hand, and Peter Pettigrew would be reckoned up at a much greater sum than anyone had expected.
He stood abruptly, rattling the teacups on the table, and looked down at Lila with more confidence than he’d ever used to face her in the past. Of course he had to swallow his fear at the idea of facing someone worse than merely Lila Sutton, his sunny, conniving, manipulative pseudo-friend — yet he believed, in this suddenly assertive mood, he might actually be able to say no to her for once. But for once he didn’t want to. He was taking the step at last that would make him somebody, and somebody that wouldn’t be ignored.
And Peter thought he would always remember triumphantly the startled look on her face as he finally managed to surprise her with the blunt statement, “I talk to the Dark Lord personally, or I don’t talk at all.”
Co-worker Julia gave me the following Monthly Story Prompt:
Peter Pettigrew is obviously weak minded and betrayed his “friends” and gave them up to Voldemort, then suprizingly uses powerful magic to fake his death and make it look like Sirius Black did it all. I want the moments in his life that lead up to this. Did it start at a young age? Was he jealous of his friends?
I had several immediate ideas, but how to make them somewhat interesting was the tricky part. Add to that the health issues just when I got the prompt, and this took approximately forever to write XD
For some later notes on this story, see this Productivity Log.
Sofia has a dilemma concerning her sister, and there’s only one princess that can give her exactly the advice she needs.
From the great ballroom doors into the shadowed corridor, the spilling light appeared golden and hypnotic, the spilling sound as sweet an invitation as a delicious scent to the hungry. Nevertheless, Sofia waved a negative at the herald waiting to announce her, and ducked into a side hallway under the pretense of adjusting her scarf with its huge emerald broach and the string of pearls winding through her upswept hair. Perhaps being fashionably late to your own brother’s engagement ball was not quite the thing, but she simply had to take a moment to calm her nerves and make a final desperate bid at overcoming her indecisiveness.
She smoothed her gloved hands down the rustling taffeta beneath her waist. The wide hooped skirts she’d run around in for much of her childhood were a thing of the past, and long, sleek, slender lines such as she’d often admired on classmates the Enchancia fashion now; but — aside from frequently having difficulties, even with Amber’s help, finding a design in that style that flattered her full figure — tonight the royal ladies, in honor of James’s fiancé, were all clad in voluminous-skirted ball gowns with a dozen petticoats inspired by current Avalor fashion — still designed by Amber, of course.
Amber. Sofia clenched her hands into nervous fists. There was a reason she’d requested a gown in green, Amber’s favorite color.
She checked her fan, checked her bracelets, checked her dance card, realized she was stalling, took a deep breath, and turned back toward the doors into the ballroom… and ran into déjà vu as into a brick wall. She’d mostly forgotten, but this wasn’t the first time she’d been through this precise struggle, was it? Back then she’d always worn purple, but the indecision had been the same… even if it might not have meant quite as much, to a child, as it did tonight to a grown woman. In fact it had been in this very corridor…
And as she recalled those events in greater detail, going right through them in her head perhaps as one last excuse to postpone her entry into the ballroom, she suddenly caught her breath, and heat rose to her cheeks. Because she did remember completely now, and she understood.
The music flowing from the great doors into the shadowed corridor enticed her, and the scents of the thousands of flowers Baileywick had ordered and painstakingly hung as decorations throughout the ballroom enchanted her, all calling out in hypnotic voices to come in and join the dance. Sofia, however, already late though she was, couldn’t quite bring herself to enter yet. Under the pretense of making sure she hadn’t lost her fan and that the pearls hadn’t somehow detached and fallen from her shoes, she sneaked off into a side corridor to calm her nerves and ponder one last time a question she hadn’t been able to discuss even with her mother or Clover for all she craved advice on the matter.
The fan was there, and the pearls were there, and pondering the question wasn’t any easier in this dimly lit hallway than it had been all week in various other places. With a deep and frustrated breath, she prepared to turn back and make her entrance, though she hadn’t made her decision, when a familiar warmth and light caught her attention and stopped her in her tracks. She lifted her eyes from the glowing, slightly hovering pendant around her neck, her brows lifting as well.
The woman whose figure resolved out of the shimmer before Sofia also wore a ball gown, and appeared as ready to dance as Sofia would be if she could get this question resolved. She smiled at the little princess, and had already begun swaying to the music almost before she finished materializing.
“Princess Anna!” Sofia couldn’t help smiling herself at seeing how eager her visitor was for the evening’s activity. “I didn’t think this was a problem I needed a princess’ help for, but I’m still really glad to see you.”
“I’ll help however I can!” Anna replied. “Oh, and Olaf says hi.”
“Oh… great! Hi to him too! I wish he could have come with you… I could use a warm hug right about now.”
“So what’s the problem?”
Sofia sighed. “I want to ask Amber to dance with me tonight, but I don’t know if she’ll like that.”
Anna’s smile did not alter, but her eyes seemed to take on a serious depth that had previously been nothing more than a sparkle of excitement on hearing the music from the ballroom. “Seems like all you need to do is ask,” she offered, “and then you’ll know!”
“Yeah, but I don’t know if she’ll even like me asking,” Sofia said awkwardly. “Most princesses don’t dance with their sisters at balls… Most princesses don’t even dance with other princesses at balls! It’s just not what princesses do.”
“Oh, wow.” Anna was nodding. “I think I know why I was summoned to help you with this one.” And she dropped unceremoniously to her knees, billowing skirt and all, and reached out to take both of Sofia’s hands. She wore gloves that matched one of the lighter greens on her dress, which clashed with the purple of Sofia’s… and looking at the colors combined to such ill effect made the younger princess more uneasy than ever.
“Why do you want to ask Amber to dance so much?” Anna queried earnestly.
This was easier to explain. “I love dancing with Amber! She taught me how to dance in the first place, and it’s so much fun! I don’t mind dancing with dad or any of the princes, but Amber’s my favorite person to dance with in the whole world. She’s so graceful and beautiful, and we can talk about anything while we’re dancing!”
Anna gave the same nod as before, the one simultaneously impressed and pensive. She squeezed Sofia’s hands. “All right, your little highness, here’s what I think.” And Sofia focused hard on whatever advice she would give, knowing it must be especially pertinent if Anna believed she knew why she in particular had been brought here tonight. “I can’t tell you whether Amber will like you asking her to dance, or whether she’ll say yes or no. That’s all on her end. But for you–”
She suddenly jumped to her feet — no mean accomplishment without tripping over her gown! — and whirled Sofia around like a partner in a particularly vigorous Avaloran salsa. Sofia giggled as she spun, but still caught the rest of Anna’s statement: “If dancing with Amber is what will make you happy tonight, don’t miss out on it because you were afraid to ask! She might say no, but she definitely won’t say yes if you don’t ask!” And Anna spun Sofia back toward her and into the warm hug she’d just recently been wishing for.
After a few moments’ thought, the Enchancian princess accepted the advice she’d just recently been wishing for as well. “You’re right,” she said as she stepped away from Anna and nodded decisively. “I have to try. What’s the worst that could happen, right?”
“Right!” Anna pumped a fist in encouragement. Then she sobered, and her expression turned somewhat distant. “There’s one more thing I need to tell you.”
Sofia focused in again, which made Anna smile.
“This is actually advice for when you’re a lot older; you won’t really understand it now, and you may not even need it then. But if you do need it someday, think back to what I’m about to say, and maybe it’ll help.”
A little puzzled, Sofia said, “What is it?”
“It’s all right to love your sister more than anyone else in that ballroom. It’s all right to love your sister more than anyone else in the world. It’s all right to love her more than anyone else around you expects you to.”
“But why would anyone expect me not to love Amber?”
Anna’s expression was both kind and mysterious. “I told you you wouldn’t understand until you’re older. Maybe not even then. Just don’t forget what I said, in case you need it later!”
Again Sofia nodded decisively. The counsel seemed strange, and perhaps a little unnecessary or even redundant, but she thought she could keep hold of it until she understood.
“Now! Ready for some dancing?” Anna gestured toward the ballroom doors with a grin.
“Thanks to you I am!”
“Should I come in with you and show everyone how it’s done?”
Sofia giggled. “I know my family would love to have you as a guest, but I think it would be kinda hard to explain when the amulet sends you back.” And in fact, when she turned from the light spilling out of the ballroom to face Anna once again, that had already happened.
The great domed space shimmered from every wall, while the spinning forms of the dance about to end created a blur of gorgeous color. Sofia hardly marked her name and titles from the herald’s lips as the orchestra, now so much closer to her ears, called her again, this time inexorably, with stirring voices. Guests that stood still, like a garden seen from afar, lacked detail just as much as those dancing; the only clearly visible figure at the ball to Sofia at that moment was Princess Amber, resplendent and graceful seemingly at the end of a rainbow tunnel of light and sound.
“There you are!” Amber’s eyes swept her sister from toe to head, in the end meeting her gaze with an approving set to her chin at Sofia’s dress and accessories. “You could have made a flashier entrance, you know, if you’d waited until the end of the opening waltz.”
Even through her lingering nervousness, Sofia couldn’t help grinning at this very typical remark. “I didn’t want to make a flashy entrance. I just wanted to get to you before all the princes started crowding around asking you to dance.”
“Oh, they already did that.” Amber smiled smugly, but her wave was dismissive. “My card is completely full.”
Sofia’s heart sank. “Then why aren’t you out there now?”
“Because Prince Zandar claimed the first two dances and then disappeared,” Amber sniffed. “He probably wandered off to look at the Hall of Armor and lost track of time.”
This was it, then. The second dance would soon begin, and, with Amber fully engaged, now was Sofia’s only chance. Thanking Zandar from the bottom of her heart for his absentmindedness, trying not to show how deep was the breath she took, she screwed up her courage. She’d faced worse trials than this.
“Then…” She dropped into a deep curtsey, fanning out her skirt with one hand and holding the other up toward the gold-clad princess before her. “I would be honored if you would give me this dance.”
“Oh!” Amber seemed unusually tongue-tied after that one surprised syllable, and as Sofia lifted her eyes she found an expression of some confusion on her sister’s face. And even in the midst of the flowers and glittering lights and luxurious ballroom attire and happy visages all around them, the blush that then spread across Amber’s royal cheeks and the hesitant smile that grew on her perfect lips as she reached for the offered hand had to be the loveliest sight Sofia had ever seen.
For some author’s notes on this story, see this Productivity Log.
Well, it’s been, like, six months since my last Productivity Log, so I hardly know what to say XD There’s no way I’ll remember everything I’ve wanted to mention about everything I’ve worked on, so this is likely to be a little random and scattered. Here we go.
“You’re always so honest. I feel like I could come to you about anything.”
Spike wonders whom to ask to spend Hearts and Hooves Day with him. Applejack may know.
“Prop that there log up under here, would you, Spike?”
Proof of the little dragon’s trust in Applejack was the readiness with which he seized the piece of firewood in question and hopped down into the awkward hole beside her in order to squeeze it under part of the enormous tree stump she was holding partially up with her forehooves. If she were to lose her grip, the thing would swivel down on top of them, retaking its place in the gap in which they stood and crushing them without a trace.
As it was, once Spike had wedged the log in place and vacated the hole, Applejack eased the stump down to test it; and when it held, standing perpendicular to its usual position propped on the other piece of wood, she made a satisfied sound and also jumped out.
“Hey, Applejack!” was Spike’s belated greeting.
“Hiya, Spike,” replied the amused pony as she positioned herself just at the edge of the hole.
“Can I talk to you about something?”
“Sure thing, if you don’t mind me workin’ on this gol-durned stump at the same time.” She turned her back to the object in question, looking over her shoulder to adjust her angle.
“OK,” said Spike, then took a deep breath. His next phase came out all in a rush: “I need some advice about Hearts and Hooves Day.”
With great precision and all the force she could muster, Applejack bucked at the stump, hoping with the motion to disengage the two stubborn and inconveniently deep roots that yet held it in place. Unfortunately, all it actually did was dislodge the log from the stump’s jagged underside and bring the latter creaking inevitably back down into its former home. “Darn it,” Applejack muttered. Then she turned to Spike, who had watched with interest. “You need advice on how to ask Rarity to spend Hearts and Hooves Day with you?”
“Well…” Spike traced a pattern in the dirt with one clawed foot. “Not exactly. See, I like Rarity… I really, really, really like Rarity… but…” He gave a hopeless sigh. “She still thinks of me as a kid.”
“Rarity is real sophisticated,” Applejack admitted. “I think she’d prefer somepony older.” She didn’t mention, as unhelpful, how little it improved matters that Twilight always referred to Spike, however affectionately, as a ‘baby dragon’ — which, though it might technically be true in terms of years, proportionally speaking, gave an inaccurate impression of Spike’s level of development and maturity.
“Yeah,” said Spike, wistful and admiring. “So sophisticated.”
“Won’t do any good to dwell on it,” Applejack said with matter-of-fact sympathy. “Who’re you gonna ask instead?” She was studying the stump from all sides again, trying to determine, since bucking hadn’t worked, what would be the most efficient method of getting it out of there.
“That’s…” She could hear him pawing the ground again, but presently this was overridden by a brief belching sound and the rustle of paper. “…actually what I want your advice about.”
She glanced over to find him holding a scroll that, as it unrolled, proved longer than he was tall. Stifling a laugh she commented, “You’ve been workin’ for Twilight for too long.”
“Do you think so?” Spike asked somewhat anxiously. “Just, she’s the first pony on my list…”
Applejack had gone back to examining the troublesome roots. “Just a joke, Spike,” she assured him with a grin. “Twilight’s a genius when it comes to organization, and that’s been useful to everypony in this town.” Moving to the wagon in whose bed her tools waited (not to mention a huge heap of firewood from the tree she’d felled), she hopped up. As she tossed her shovel shoes down over the side, their brief presence in her mouth muffled her subsequent words somewhat: “But for Hearts and Hooves Day, dontcha think you might like somepony a little more spontaneous? She’d probably put you on a tighter schedule than you’d really enjoy.”
Spike made a note on his list (she had no idea where he’d been keeping the quill) as Applejack jumped back down from the wagon. “Well, there’s Rainbow Dash,” he suggested, hovering the tip of his pen over another spot on the paper.
Applejack chuckled. “Can’t get better than Rainbow Dash for spontaneity!” Adjusting her shovel shoes and slipping her forehooves into them, she added, “Rainbow’s a lot of fun, too. You’d have an excitin’ Hearts and Hooves Day with her! She might wear you out, though; she doesn’t always notice when ponies around her don’t have as much energy as she does.”
“True,” Spike agreed with a nod, and jotted something down. “But I bet I wouldn’t have to worry about that with Fluttershy!”
Applejack had begun driving the blades now attached to her feet into the earth beside one of the problem roots. She would never be able to get at the stupid thing with a saw, but if she cleared the dirt down to a point where the root wasn’t so stubbornly thick, she could try an axe. And as she dug she replied to Spike’s latest proposal. “No, you’re right about that: Fluttershy’s always sensitive to ponies around her. You might have a sweet old time with her.” She paused in her vigorous attack on the ground and looked over at him with a rueful expression. “She really is shy, though, obvious as that sounds to say. She might be too bashful to enjoy anythin’ y’all decided to do together that day, if she even agreed in the first place.”
Spike nodded decisively, evidently accepting this assessment, and made another mark on his list. “You know who’s not shy, though?”
“Pinkie Pie?” Applejack speculated as she returned to her digging.
Spike sounded startled. “Yeah; how’d you know?”
“Lucky guess?” Digging down the sides of the root was proving somewhat tricky, and she was coming at it in bits and pieces from various angles.
“Well, yeah, then, what about Pinkie Pie?”
“She knows how to have fun if anypony does!” Applejack replied, the thought of the broadness of Pinkie’s definition of ‘fun’ making her grin. “And she can always come up with things to do, so y’all’d never be bored…”
As Applejack trailed off in the relative silence of the shovel shoes’ continued scraping thunks into the ground, Spike wondered, “But…?”
Somewhat reluctantly Applejack answered, “But dontcha think an entire day with just Pinkie might get a little… crazy? I’d never want to insinuate an earth pony wasn’t down-to-earth enough, but sometimes Pinkie Pie…”
“‘Possible sensory overload,'” Spike muttered as he scribbled.
Applejack gave a laugh of agreement, but found her smile turning to a faint frown as she looked at the dragon and his lengthy paper. “Now, just how many more names do you have on that there list?” she wondered warily.
“Oh, tons,” Spike replied. “There’s Cheerilee, and Rainbow’s friend Gilda, and Time Turner, and Vinyl Scratch, and Lyra, and Big McIntosh–”
Applejack was afraid she would have some disqualifying news about more than a few of the ponies Spike was considering, but on this topic as well as the conspicuous lack of one particular name she had no comment as yet. What she wanted to know next, gently interrupting the recital, was, “And why’d you come to me about this, Spike?”
“Because,” the dragon replied earnestly, lowering his paper and looking at her with big green eyes, “you’re always so honest. I feel like I could come to you about anything, I guess.”
“Well, you keep right on feelin’ that way,” Applejack told him with a smile that probably concealed very well the bittersweetness of this turn in the conversation. “But why this in particular?”
“You can tell me exactly what would be great about every one of our friends… and what wouldn’t be so great… as a special somepony for Hearts and Hooves day.” His looks and tone became despondent as he added, “And it seems like everypony has something about them that wouldn’t be so great…”
“Aw, Spike, you can’t think about it that way,” she chided kindly. “If I made it sound like any of our friends wouldn’t be a great choice for you to ask, I didn’t mean it. Nopony’s perfect; you’ll never find somepony who won’t have some problem. That’s the thing about havin’ a special somepony, even if it’s just for one day: you gotta work together to have fun in spite of everythin’ that ‘wouldn’t be so great.’ It takes a lot of hard work sometimes, but that just makes it better.”
“I guess,” he said a little doubtfully, looking down at his list again.
Applejack too returned her eyes downward. She’d made good progress on the root, but it was going to take as long again to render it accessible to an axe, and even once it was severed she would probably need to dig further along its length to free it from the constricting earth in order to lift the stump out. And then there was the other root.
“I think we could both use a break,” she said at length. “Wanna ride to the house for some cider before we tackle this again?”
“Sure!” With an air of some relief, Spike rerolled his paper and fire-breathed it back to whatever hiding place, hopefully safe from Twilight’s sharp eyes, it had originally come from (and perhaps his pen with it?).
Applejack, meanwhile, shed her shovel shoes and stretched out her forelegs. When she found the little dragon standing next to her, she reached out to grip between her teeth the spines just south of his neck and toss him up over her head and onto her back. His innocent laughter at the stunt energized her, and she crouched slightly, tensed to run. “Time me!” she commanded.
“All right!” His little clawed hands gripped her mane just beneath her hat. “Ready? Set? Go!”
There was a certain type of withholding of information that was not a lie by omission, but rather a recognition that the truth had not yet matured into an appreciable form. Though he might not be a kid, precisely, Spike was still young, and had a lot to learn, both of universal constants and specific possibilities, not to mention of himself. It would never do to try to rush him. And Applejack, for all Spike might value her honest advice, probably had a thing or two to pick up as well. They could figure it out together, given time.
For now, they just galloped off through the trees.
This story, which I’ve rated ,was for MangoFox’s November Quick Fics 2017 prompt, “MLP fic where Spike has multiple romantic interests. So he goes to Applejack to get advice on whom to choose. But it turns out that Applejack is actually the best choice for him.” I did not watch a single episode to prepare myself for writing this, none of Spike’s sarcasm ever happened, much to my sorrow, and the implied Applejack & Spike ended up kinda vague. Ah, well.
For some further thoughts on this fic, see this Productivity Log.
Prison of Their Own Making
“Does that bloke out there know who we are?” Daniel wondered.
Tom Felton organizes a silly little reunion, and it gets sillier.
Prison of Their Own Making
When Tom stepped from his car into the parking lot to meet his friends, he was a little dismayed if not particularly surprised to find a grand total of two people waiting for him — only Daniel and Emma, the ones he saw most routinely anyway — at the specified time.
After hugs and handclasps of greeting, Emma looked around curiously and commented, “I thought you invited everyone.”
Tom shrugged. “I guess everyone’s busy.”
“I’m very busy,” Emma replied in a mock huffy tone, “and I’m here.”
With a laugh Tom put a comradely arm around her shoulders and hugged her again. “It’s really good to see you guys.”
Daniel too was scanning the area. “It is,” he agreed, shrugging slightly as he turned back without having found a trace of any of their other friends. “So what are we doing, exactly?”
Tom frowned across the lot at their destination, then threw one last, futile glance at the empty parking spaces nearby. “Well, I’d like to wait and see if anyone else shows up, but we’re scheduled for 4:00, so we’d better go inside.”
“That doesn’t actually answer the question, though,” Emma pointed out as they crossed toward the tinted glass doors awaiting them.
Tom grinned. “You’ll see inside.” The others rolled their eyes at this pointed but pointless mystery, but didn’t hesitate to accompany him.
They did see inside, and the continued rolling of eyes and a certain amount of gaping once they were there prevented any further comments from Daniel or Emma as Tom got them checked in. “Felton?” the attendant was saying, flipping through pages on a clipboard. “Yeah, we’ve got you down for four, but I thought you were going to have a lot more people with you?”
“Seems like all our other friends are gits who can’t show up on time to a reunion get-together,” Tom explained. “I thought we’d get started, and if anyone else arrives you can let them in, all right?”
Although this arrangement didn’t entirely seem to suit the attendant, he nevertheless agreed; Tom had paid him a decent amount of money. After some picky business with waivers the man didn’t even look at once they were all filled out, he ushered them down a narrow hallway to where a set of lockers stood across from a dark door. Once he’d allowed Emma to stow her purse in the former, he drew their attention to the latter and began giving instructions. These dragged on for what seemed an unnecessary length of time, perhaps because the only one of the three to respond and confirm he was actually paying attention was Tom; the others maintained a dubious silence. But finally the man finished his dissertation, handed each of them a large round button with a pin on the back for attaching to one’s clothing, and stepped past them to open the door and allow them to enter.
Inside what proved to be a cramped but high-ceiling’d entry or antechamber, the moment the way behind them was closed, Daniel and Emma rounded immediately on Tom with expressions of skeptical amusement and demanded almost in unison, “A Harry-Potter-themed escape room?”
Tom’s grin was part sheepishness and part cheek. “When I saw they had one, I couldn’t resist.”
“Of all the silly things to drag me away from everything I was busy with…” Emma was rolling her eyes again, but she laughed as she said it.
“Does that bloke out there know who we are?” Daniel wondered at about the same moment.
Tom shrugged. “I don’t know. You’d think he would, but it’s been so long…”
“Well…” Emma turned away from them to examine the tiny room. “We only have an hour, right? Since we’re here, we might as well get going on it.”
The nature of the first puzzle was immediately apparent. A big wooden door with an old-fashioned wrought-iron handle and lock blocked their path, the keyhole gaping at them like a taunting mouth. And above them, too far up to be reached even with a skillful vertical spring, myriad winged keys dangled on strings from the distant ceiling. A fan seemed to be running up there, for the keys spun and jostled and clinked together in not too bad an imitation of the scene from the film.
Finished peering into the jingling dimness, Daniel dropped his eyes to the more accessible parts of the room again. “There’s no broom…”
“And this is reality,” Emma reminded him. “How were you expecting to fly up there?”
Now it was Daniel’s turn to look a little sheepish. “I thought if I could find a broom and sit on it, the right key might fall down.”
“It’s sure to fall down if we do something,” Tom mused.
At that moment the door behind them opened once again, and they were joined by Rupert, who came bounding into the small space and immediately clapped Tom on the back. “All right, guys? Tom, you’re a genius! I would have never guessed this was your idea! How did you find this place?”
“Online, of course,” Tom told him, returning the slap on the back.
Daniel winced even as he moved to take his turn greeting Rupert. “You look at Harry Potter stuff online?”
“So what are we doing here?” Rupert wondered before Tom could answer the somewhat loaded question.
“Trying to get the right key to come down to open this door,” Emma explained as she hugged him in her turn. “And before you ask, there’s no broom.”
“Well, and this is reality anyway,” Rupert allowed.
“It was the natural first thing to look for!” protested Daniel.
“But there is a wand over there.” Everyone followed Rupert’s pointing finger, wondering how he’d noticed when he’d been in the room a fraction of the time they had.
Emma moved to snatch the prop from the little wall-mounted shelf where it lay beside a vase of fake flowers. Examining it, she said, “This is one of those official replicas. I think it’s Draco’s.”
“Let me see,” said the admitted Draco expert. And when he too had studied it for a moment he confirmed, “Yeah, this one’s mine. But I don’t remember the fetching-things spell.”
“Accio,” Daniel supplied with a grin. “I should really know.”
Tom thanked him and pointed the wand upward. “Accio key!”
Emma’s amused reminiscent murmur of “Swish and flick!” was drowned out by the sound of the shelf from which they’d retrieved the wand crashing from its supports down against the wall and the vase that had previously rested upon it — apparently made of nothing more delicate than plastic — falling to the floor.
“Oh, crap, we broke the escape room,” Tom muttered as he lowered his wand. He looked guiltily toward the door, expecting the attendant to enter at any moment and demand what they were playing at not five minutes into this challenge.
“No, I think that was supposed to happen.” Daniel bent thoughtfully to pick up the fallen vase and gather its silk flowers. “That was sort of like what happened when I — when Harry tried to use a wand that wasn’t right for him. Remember?”
“That’s right!” Rupert pointed at Daniel enthusiastically as he agreed with the theory. “We have to find a different wand!” And he began poking into the room’s darker corners.
As they all searched, the main door opened again and admitted Evanna into what was by now a very crowded space indeed. Hugs were getting difficult, but they managed them, and then the newcomer wondered what they were all looking for. Once Tom explained, she shook her head with a smile.
“But it won’t be a different wand. It’ll be the same wand, only somebody else has to use it.”
Their foolish looks at each other indicated their concurrence with this idea they wished they’d thought of sooner.
“We could all try it,” Daniel suggested reluctantly, glancing around. “There’s not much else to destroy in here if we get it wrong.”
But Emma said suddenly, “No, I get it! It’s Draco’s wand, so it can only be used by whichever of us got assigned Slytherin — that’s you, Dan.”
They all looked down at the buttons they wore. Tom had fastened his on without really paying attention — the attendant had still been talking at that point, and all he’d said about these accoutrements was that they would provide valuable clues — but now as he handed the wand over to Daniel he remarked, “I always did rather fancy Hufflepuff.”
This time when Daniel pointed the wand upward and confidently said, “Accio key!” nothing in the room around them fell apart… but if there was a more positive effect, they all missed it, for just as he spoke, the entrance opened again and Bonnie came in.
There was now barely room to move in here, and as everyone shuffled awkwardly around trying to greet their friend, it wasn’t even clear who muttered, “We really need to get this door open.”
“And what are we doing to get the door open?” Bonnie asked. With a glance at the dangling keys that evidently apprised her of the situation, she added, “I guess we can’t fly up there with a broom in real life.”
It was clear who snorted at this.
“We were trying to summon it,” Rupert explained.
“That… usually doesn’t work in real life either,” Bonnie pointed out with laughter in her tone.
Daniel just raised the wand again, nearly taking Evanna’s eye out as he did so. “Accio key!”
“Try pronouncing it ‘ax-ee-oh,'” Tom suggested. It was getting pretty hot in here, and he hoped uneasily that everyone was wearing antiperspirant.
And when the altered pronunciation too produced no results, Emma wondered, “Are we sure this is right?”
Evanna said, “I think you need to be more specific with the spell.”
Bonnie agreed. “Yeah, you have to say which key you want.”
“I can’t see any of them clearly, though,” Daniel complained, gently head-bashing Rupert as he craned his neck to look upward. “What should I say?”
“Which key was it in the film?” someone asked.
“I wasn’t even in the studio when you guys filmed that scene.” Tom started to shrug, then, finding his two arms pressed up against Emma’s back and Rupert’s side, respectively, thought better of it.
“I wasn’t even in the franchise when you guys filmed that scene,” Evanna put in.
“But there was a line about it,” Emma insisted. She added at a mutter, trying to remember, “What was it?”
“I’ve done a lot of other films since then,” Daniel said helplessly.
“I’ve been driving an ice cream truck.” This was apparently all Rupert had to offer.
Tom advised, “Just try everything you can think of.”
“Accio correct key!” Daniel jabbed the wand toward the ceiling again. “Accio the key we need!”
“Try colors,” someone suggested.
“Accio black key! Accio brown key! Accio silver key! Accio rainbow key!”
“That’s a lot of keys!” came another voice from the newly opened door — the statement and a slight, very refreshing breeze from the orifice were the first indications of James’s presence.
“Yeah, do we really need all of those keys?” Oliver wedged himself in beside his brother, cheerfully eliminating the very last of the available space. “Or would just the rainbow one do?” And as the entry closed behind the twins, verbal pandemonium broke out.
Far above the reunited group now packed like sardines into the little escape room antechamber, unseen but not unseeing, seated on the fluffiest of clouds overlooking the bustling Earth, two winged men shared a bowl of celestial peanuts. These came up honey-roasted for one, lightly salted for the other, as each preferred, and now the elder of the two — though it was difficult to distinguish ages in this context — plucked one nut from the container and flicked it down toward the subject of their entertainment. It faded away into nothingness as it fell, unlike his chuckling lament, “They’ve wasted twenty minutes on just the first puzzle!”
“‘We’re looking for a big old-fashioned one,'” the younger man quoted. “‘Probably rusty like the handle.’ ‘The one with the broken wing.'” And he shook his head with a wry smile.
“Now, Alan, you have to remember that they don’t have nearly as much freedom as we do to marathon all eight films whenever they please.”
“You still think they can make it?”
“They always worked together well in the studio.”
“I think you’re going to end up owing me twenty wingfeathers, Richard.” Alan rattled his own angelic appendages in satisfaction.
“Bets aren’t binding in Heaven,” Richard replied piously.
“Which is why we came down here to watch,” said Alan with a grin. “Look, he’s trying the spell again.”
And with another handful of peanuts apiece, the two divine messengers returned their attention to the scene below and their friends’ sporting attempt at finding a way out of a dark, crowded, sweaty, and ridiculously appropriate prison of their own making.
This was for my very own mother’s November Quick Fics 2017 prompt, “The child actors that play the HPworld characters do a HP escape room. Although maybe as adults.” I was not expecting any RPF prompts for this, least of all from my mom XD Hopefully nobody that reads this piece knows how any of these people actually act or talk, since I purely made it all up. Also, at the time it may have been Too Soon re: Alan Rickman, but there it is.
I’ve rated this story . For some author’s notes, see this Productivity Log.
Happy 12/12. It’s so awesome that my longtime favorite number took on even more significance to me when I discovered the joy of Heero and Duo ^__^
I have been goodly productive lately. I have written some on my Christmas story every single day since I started it, and things are looking promising for having at least one if not both of my music videos done for Christmas as well. If things keep progressing this nicely, maybe I can has fanart too. That would be pleasant.
Plastic progress has also been good. The other day was Zombie Girl’s last final of the semester (and now she has an insanely long break), so to celebrate I worked on the Quatre/Trowa sex scene that she’s been waiting so patiently for all this time (she being more of a fan of that pairing than of Heero and Duo, shame on her). After her final, she arrived at my house at a particularly bad place to cut off in the middle of a sex scene, and then we went to Denver to go to the Cheesecake Factory and read all that I’d written on the way. It was awesome ^__^
Also I finished that Silent Hill fic that I’ve had kicking around forever, because scacao inspired me with her awesome awesome awesome H/D horror story. So that’s pretty great too.
Here are some thoughts I wrote down the other day while playing WoW. I don’t actually have Cataclysm yet (and, to be honest, really shouldn’t be subscribed to the game at all) because of being unemployed, but there are still plenty of changes we unfortunates can enjoy, and I comment at random upon thems.
OH GOD KOLTIRA AND THASSARIAN. They were already wonderful in Wrath, but now it’s like Sylvanas says, “KOL STOP BEING SO GAY WITH THAT HUMAN I WILL FIX YOU.” It won’t take, Lady, I promise. Those two are SO DESTINY.
Terenar Sunstrike is my fabulous new best friend. We were killing zombiestyle items together and he kept laughing like a maniac, and it made me giggle my ass off. Plus he’s totally gay, though that is probably the most redundant thing you can say about a blood elf. But seriously, his thing with Gidwin?? ZOMG. Also, I am tickled to death that these two are following me around for quests at the moment. I don’t know how long it will last, but I LOVE IT. I play this game almost exclusively solo, and I wish there were a lot more opportunities to team up with NPC’s for stuff. Admittedly these guys are the WEAKEST PALADINS EVAR, but I still love them.
Amylya has this super badass helmet thing that I do not remember getting even in the slightest bit. Seriously, check her out.
Is it just me, or are Elites tougher now? I mean, the rule of thumb used to be “three or four levels above their declared level,” but now they all just seem to kick my ass XD
I’ve already made decent progress on my Christmas story, and I worked on a music video all day yesterday, so my plan for the rest of today is to work on Plastic. Actually that will probably turn into MV workings again later, because I can’t stay away from that, but at least I will try to get some good stuff done on Plastic first. Oh, but isn’t there a Christmas party or something tonight… hmmm… Well, whatever. Plastic.
James may think he no longer needs Pyramid Head, but what if he hasn’t really learned his lesson?
The TV was painfully bright in the dim room, the radio’s moaning static agonizingly loud. As he staggered up from the chair, he saw almost nothing but ghost-images of the snowy rectangle wherever he looked, and heard only echoes of her pain from the noisy device and words of a conversation he almost didn’t remember having, which seemed impossibly distant though it had only just occurred.
“Mary’s gone… she’s… dead…”
He stumbled from the room, leaving both television and radio behind, unaware even of what route he took through the maddening hotel, unconcerned about what he might meet on the way out, wishing only to escape from that place, the returning knowledge, that bright scene…
“I killed her…”
He clutched at his head, squeezed it, clawed at it, ripped out bits of hair, but all to no avail: the memories, now that they had returned, were stark and unrelenting…
…her equivocal requests, the inconstant desires of a woman suffering endlessly, physically and emotionally, that had driven him to the edge…
“She was always waiting for you… why…? why…?”
…his hatred for her, for what his life had become thanks to her, that grew steadily beneath the cover of a love that rotted slowly, love that he yet professed until the bitter end…
“I’m… sorry… The Mary you know… isn’t here.”
…the feeling of the pillow in his hands, of her weak, ineffectual struggles…
“No!” he roared, sinking to the ground. “No…” He came to rest on hands and knees on filthy asphalt as the world around him seemed to darken. Blackness spread in throbbing patches until he could see nothing, nothing but the bright, stabbing memory of what… what he had…
Another cry burst from him, inarticulate and strangled as he ground his face against the street as if somehow he could scrub out the images in his head. There was nothing but darkness and pain and memory, but the former could not overcome the latter that shone so brightly.
“I killed her…” It was like staring into the sun; it beat at him, stabbed into him, unrelenting and unjust brilliance.
And that was when he saw it.
His eyes snapped to it at once: another source of light. Thin and pale and dim by comparison, yet visible in the darkness even in the face of the first light. And any reprieve was welcome. He bent over it hungrily, desperate to bring it into better focus. It kept fading in and out, and after a moment he realized that this was merely because of his own blood dripping onto it and obscuring its glow.
It was a faint, meandering silver line on the ground that ran off into the blackness before him like a quiet and yet compelling guide. Guide to where? It made no difference to him; if he had a choice between the glare of his memories and this pale distraction, there was no question which he would take. Willing his reluctant limbs to move, he crawled after it.
He seemed to hear her voice — the voice that had haunted the crackling radio and that had haunted his dreams and that had haunted his waking life for three years — but in no physical sense; it merely resounded in his head, an inescapable conversation.
“Didn’t you want to see me?” Each word sent a shock of bright light through his consciousness like a strobe. And it was a conversation, simply because it wasn’t a memory of anything she’d ever actually said.
“Of course I wanted to see you…” It was an immediate reply, one that seemed very much like all those empty professions of love in the last days.
And her reply was also immediate, colder and harder than the plaintive question had been. “That’s not true, is it? You killed me.”
He crawled on, clinging desperately to the sight of the silver trail just as he clung to his answer, the answer he’d been giving silently all along: “I couldn’t stand to see you suffering…”
“Don’t make excuses, James.” Her voice was twisting, becoming something he didn’t recognize, an audio representation of the painful brilliance that was the memory of what he’d done. All the greater then became his focus on the other light, his only distraction, his only salvation. But her words throbbed on in his head. “I know I was a burden on you. You must have hated me. That’s why you got rid of me.”
He told himself not to answer, not to admit the truth, but when the discussion was only in his mind there was no hiding it. “Yes, I hated you! Don’t you realize what your illness did to you? What you became? It wasn’t my fault — how could I help hating you?” And maybe things would be better now that he’d said it, now that he’d acknowledged his real motives and how he’d languished during those years. He didn’t deserve any of this; it hadn’t been his fault.
“That’s not enough.” By her cold, bright, hard tone, Mary didn’t seem to agree. “You killed me, James. You killed me.“ And now her voice, surreal though it was, rose to a tight shriek in his mind: “James… do you really think I could ever forgive you for what you did?”
He reeled, crashing momentarily to his side on the ground, as echoes of her castigation flashed through his head, his entire body. But the next moment he was crawling again, moving faster, as if he could leave behind the pain and sorrow and bright light if he just found what lay at the end of the little glowing path beneath his eyes. I don’t deserve this, he found himself thinking over and over; he didn’t deserve to suffer like this; it had been more than he could handle; it hadn’t been his fault.
And suddenly the trail ended.
For a long moment he remained entirely motionless, frozen as if time and space no longer progressed, his mind refusing to comprehend the abrupt cessation of all his hopes. Then…
“Didn’t you want to see me?”
Rising up to his knees, he clenched his fists and howled. The memory was stabbing at the back of his eyes, white-hot and merciless. The pain on her face, in her voice… the snowy television… the pillow… For a second time, he clutched at his face, at his head, wanting nothing but to be rid of this bright light, and screamed until his voice gave out. Then he fell forward again onto his hands and then his chest, groveling on the asphalt, helpless, abject.
It was then, when his thoughts seemed to give way and shut down and only the vague sense of his surroundings and that light remained, that he noticed the difference in the air. Before him, within arm’s reach as he stretched out to test what he thought at first might be some sort of delusion, the air was in motion: thin, rising currents, now hot, now chilling, always bearing a filthy, sharp, metallic scent that wrapped around him and pulled at him.
In something resembling a panic he dropped his hand, searching for the ground… and discovered that not a foot in front of him, it ended entirely. Reaching back, he found its jagged edge, and noted that his trail, his light, his guide — it didn’t end, it merely plunged into this unknown abyss. Salvation was yet possible, escape from the brutal memory that even now tore at his mind like a gleaming, serrated blade. He rose again to all fours and threw himself forward.
He seemed to fall for a very long time, but it was the fall of a dream: no gravity pulled at him, and he feared no harmful collision at the bottom — he fell because he meant to fall. Already, knowing that he had another chance at following the silver light to its end, his mind was clearing a little. He wasn’t defeated; he didn’t deserve this bizarre punishment, this world, and he would escape it yet. By the time he hit the ground, this thought had heartened him to the point where he was ready to move on almost immediately, despite the fact that there actually was a considerable amount of pain associated with the conclusion of his descent.
Dragging himself slowly up, his entire body aching from the impact, he looked around — for he found he could see again, and not merely the blessed silver line that continued on before him into the shadows. It was clear he was lucky not to have been eviscerated during the fall, for he’d entered a confusing tangle of twisted chain-link and barbed wire. It was as if all the fences in the world had been rusted, mangled, deliberately set into an impossible maze, and laid at his feet.
After taking this in with a brief, impassive glance, he dropped again to his knees and continued to follow the light. It was difficult and bloody progress, for the silver trail did not always take the path of least resistance; sometimes the decaying steel around him encroached so close that, no matter how carefully he tried to wriggle past it, it still caught and tore. Soon his clothing was in shreds, and his flesh seemed likely to fare no better. It occurred to him that, rather than a maze, this was more like a vast cobweb of sharp points and hard lines… but whatever spider he might find at its center was irrelevant if the light led to it.
His next pause was not in response to any change in his guide, but in the scene he came upon in following it. It seemed typical of what lay around every corner in this bizarre and horrible world… but somehow more meaningful. More ominous, he might have said if he’d felt even the slightest apprehension. He stood still for some time, having lost track entirely of the silver line, staring, his eyes stinging with the unblinking intensity of his gaze, hardly breathing in his fascination and horror.
The pavement within the little clearing he’d entered was stained with blood in varying shades, from the glaring crimson of freshly-spilt to the decaying near-black of long-dried, and in the midst of this mess lay a half-clothed, headless corpse. Its limbs, the pallid blue-veined flesh like that of a drowned man, bore patches of the same colors that marked the ground, and it was curled up tightly in a fetal position, unrelaxed even after decapitation. He could make out tense ropes of muscle seemingly ready to burst free across the bare back, as if it had died in the throes of some monumental effort and never unclenched. But somehow, despite what he speculated must have been the fate of this unhappy victim of this terrible place, he couldn’t bring himself to feel any pity.
Abruptly the figure shuddered and slowly uncoiled, climbing to its feet, and with a shiver James suddenly recognized the spattered butcher’s apron it wore. Unencumbered by its usual hinderments, it moved with greater speed and agility than he had expected… but he found himself rapt, fixedly studying the blackened edges of the severed neck. It hadn’t been a clean cut, and it seemed to have been scorched besides.
Finally tearing his gaze from that inordinately fascinating sight, James looked around somewhat wildly, and noticed that there, indeed, half-obscured by a tangle of the ubiquitous wire off to his left, lay the triangular helmet or head the creature normally bore; and nearby the impossibly huge knife, its edge glinting dully even in the shadows. And in the moment it took him to take note of these things, the creature was on him.
Though he had good reason already to know the hideous strength of the muscular body, still he was surprised at the force with which he was flung to the ground. At the thought of what that strength might be capable of doing to him, knife or no knife, he began to struggle… but it was too late. The bone-crushing grip of one gloved hand was enough to keep him down while the other tore at his ruined clothing, pulling it off in shreds.
In James’s mind the consideration formed that there was really only one reason the creature would strip him… only one reason… but, like electricity along a broken circuit, the thought couldn’t seem to get any farther than that. Only one reason, only one reason, it told him, but never what that reason was. This state of incomprehension lasted as long as it took for his skin to be bared, and no longer. For at that moment the creature pulled aside the lower half of its apron to reveal a huge, erect, blood-stained penis.
This galvanizing sight made James struggle even harder — and even less effectually, for the creature’s strength seemed to grow the nearer it came to its gruesome goal. With a few iron-hard blows it neutralized his struggles, immobilized him; in fact, the stunning pain might have caused him to collapse onto his face if the creature hadn’t been holding him. He might even have given up and gone limp if he hadn’t known now what his fate was to be.
There was no preparation, physical or mental, that could ready him for this, and none was offered. In one agonizing moment he was penetrated fully, ripped open and violated in a single movement. The swiftness of the motion was no relief, however; the real torment had just begun. The creature’s strength and speed were evident here as well as in wielding its more conventional weapon; as it began its impossibly painful thrusts into him, it held him inexorably where it wanted him with a single steely arm around his chest.
Besides excruciating to the point where James thought he might faint (and wished he could), the irregularity of the driving cock was jarring, and prevented even the remotest possibility of acclimatization. Every time the creature shifted even slightly, the next thrust was at some new unbearable angle, finding some new sensitive spot inside him to torture and tear.
I don’t deserve this… oh, god, I don’t deserve this… Somehow this was for a while his single and overwhelming thought until he was screaming it aloud, and with each repetition of the sentiment the creature pounded into him harder.
And… yet… the pressure was…
It was a completely different type of pressure, but still it reminded him, took him back… in his head, somehow, the weight of the creature bearing him down was the weight of his shoulders as he held a stark pillow down over his wife’s face.
No, he told himself in a sort of mental groan, it’s not the same… that was nothing like this… maybe I deserve something, but not this…
At this the creature’s arm and hand seemed to tighten as if hoping to crush him, to crack his ribs and drive them right into his lungs until he drowned in his own blood and slowly expired. Maybe it would prefer to be fucking a corpse, being something of a corpse itself… or maybe this was simply the embrace of one murderer for another.
Though the pain had not lessened, even his screams died as he choked and struggled to breathe. He felt compressed, smothered, and as all the air was squeezed from him he began to see tiny shifting points of light not unlike the condemning sun behind his eyes… and perhaps this was not so inappropriate a punishment after all…
Then the crushing arms slackened, and he gasped in the acrid, sex-scented air and coughed twice as the stars began to recede. The creature still held him, however, keeping him stationary for its continued hammering into his ass. But though James found himself able to scream again, he found himself simultaneously less inclined to protest this treatment, and the only sound that escaped his lips was a low moan of continued pain.
It seemed to go on forever, the tireless headless body violating him with endless, patternless brutality, slowly and methodically beating out of him any desire to deny that he deserved this. As the last of this desire faded, he was overwhelmed by an impression of sudden change. The air seemed abruptly fresher — or, rather, the stench of blood and sweat and filth and desperation seemed somehow less unpleasant than it had — and as he took a deep, shuddering taste of it, he began to feel… aroused.
Yes… yes… this was as it should be… this was what was due him after what he’d done… for what he was… Yesssss… He felt his own cock growing hard, painfully hard, as the creature continued its relentless pounding. It drove into him just as he’d driven down on his helpless wife, robbing him of choice just as he’d robbed her. And though this brought him more pain than pleasure, yet the pain, because it was so right, because he deserved it so entirely, brought pleasure. His next moan was distinctly one of enjoyment, even ecstacy; and he squirmed against the iron grip now not in any attempt to escape but in carnal revelry — and also perhaps in some emulation of her futile struggles as he’d killed her.
And then the creature gripped him tightly again, crushing him once more, this time even harder, and its muscular body stiffened as it gave one last, savagely deep thrust and seemed to explode into and around him with the force of its orgasm. Feeling his ribs creak and as if he were being incinerated from the inside out, James roared with an agony that was more heavenly right than anything he’d ever felt, and found blackness blossoming in his eyes. Soon he could see no light but the stabbing brilliance of his guilt, and even that presently began to fade as he toppled hard onto the rough, blood-stained ground.
The throbbing of both his erection and the sharp pain in his bleeding ass and elsewhere eventually awakened him. He dragged his eyes open sluggishly and tried to fight off the sort of haze, glowing with that same horrible light, that filled his vision. Rusty, twisted shapes were all he could make out before him, which was only to be expected, but where was the creature? Slowly he stirred, delighting in the pain every movement occasioned throughout his body, and looked around for his punisher.
It really did seem to have actually exploded, for nothing remained of it but copious amounts of blood, random spatters and gobs of blackened gore, and shattered bits of bone… and the apron, which was draped across James’s back where it must have fallen when the creature dissolved. It slid stiffly off him as he sat up, and he reached out for it. Holding it, he smiled vaguely.
He got slowly to his feet and stretched leisurely. He had gone, and remained, unsatisfied, and his need for release was even greater than before, but he knew that could easily be remedied; he could sense sources of satisfaction everywhere around him.
Within, everything was gone, he noticed. Everything, gone. Everything except the brilliance that was Mary. She was still in his head, but that didn’t matter; he knew what to do. As he pulled the apron strap over and fastened the ties at his back across what remained of his tattered clothing, his smile grew.
The helmet was heavy — very heavy — but, somehow, despite having anticipated no such weight, he lifted it without trouble. It fit easily and well, bringing with it that perfect, perfect darkness. There was only one source of light he needed; he had no need for that bright memory in his head, so it could just —
A wrenching snap like a bear trap’s closing echoed in the space around him, and the memory was — gone. The light, gone. The guilt and the pain and the awareness of any events past… gone. His body twitched, staggered half a step, then straightened. Blood gushed from beneath the metal edges only for a moment before flames roared briefly within the confines of his new world.
He rolled his shoulders, settling the pyramid more comfortably, then cast a slow look around at the flawless darkness. Crouching, his hand went unerringly to the hilt of his knife, and he dragged it up as he straightened. It, too, was heavier than he had expected, and his gait was jerky and slow. Nevertheless, it was with perfect satisfaction that he walked away. The barbed wire snapped, whipped, flailed before him, and the knife, screeching behind him, scraped a meandering line of glowing silver on the pavement in his wake.
Duo and Relena aren’t going to let a little thing like romantic rivalry get in the way of their friendship.
Relena didn’t have nearly as much attendant staff these days, but still it was damn hard to catch her alone; he’d followed her for hours, in fact, before he managed it. It probably wasn’t even necessary to talk to her privately — most of her aides surely knew who he was anyway — but old habits died hard.
“Delivery for you, ma’am,” he said in his casual-professional tone as he held out the envelope in her direction.
She was emerging from a bathroom (such the expedient to which he’d been driven), but if she was startled either by his sudden greeting, his playing a delivery boy again, or his presence in general, she didn’t show it. Accepting what he offered with barely a glance at him, she stepped out of the way of the door she’d just let swing shut behind her and opened the envelope.
He thought she probably was surprised to see him, as her reaction was just a little too politic. If she hadn’t been at all surprised, she would have greeted him; her first remark would have been more like, “Oh, hello, Duo; how long have you been in town?” and less like, “Who is this from?” as she looked at the all-day-pass to the local fair that the envelope had contained.
“Oh, did I…?” Duo patted himself down in an exaggerated fashion and pulled out his own ticket. Flipping it over, he nodded in understanding. “I put the wrong one in there. Pretend you never saw that; this one’s actually for you.”
With a somewhat skeptical smile, she accepted the trade and examined the new ticket. It was identical to the first, of course, except that on the back it read, How about a day at the fair with some old friends tomorrow? –D.M.
“I fail to see the point of writing a note on the back when you knew you’d be delivering it yourself,” she smiled. “And do I even want to know how you knew I had a clear schedule tomorrow?”
“Probably not,” he replied with a grin. “And I wasn’t planning on delivering it myself, but my other plans fell through. Good thing I did!”
She glanced at the pass again, and when she looked back up at him she had a slight, hopeful spark in her eyes that had not been there before. But her tone was merely curious as she asked, “‘Old friends?'”
“Yeah, Heero’s here too,” replied Duo, perfectly casual. “Unfortunately…” He held up the third day-pass that was still in his possession. “Convincing him that having fun is OK sometimes is something I just can’t do.”
The barest tilt of head and narrowing of eyes was all the indication Relena gave that she didn’t miss the unspoken addendum ‘yet.’
“You two are here together?” she asked. Duo might be good at making casual statements simply because casual was one of his basic modes of conversation; Relena was good at making casual statements because she’d become so practiced at all modes of conversation. Of course, when they both knew that the casualness of the statements they were making was deliberate, the entire meaning was altered.
“Naw,” he answered, not letting the light informality slip a jot. “We both have assignments here, so we’ll be in your hair for a while, but we’re not ‘here together.’ I had to track him down just to try — and fail — convincing him to come to the fair with us.”
“You might fail convincing me too,” she warned.
“How could I possibly fail twice in a row?”
“Tomorrow is my only free day before the conference, and I really can’t think of anything less relaxing to do than spend the day at a fair with you.” Her smile and friendly tone took any possible sting out of the words.
“Less relaxing??” He threw his arms out in astonishment. “How could anything be more relaxing than pretending to be a normal person for a day?! We can wait for rides and complain about how hot it is and how our sunscreen smells and how long the lines are like it’s the worst problem we’ve ever faced! Or moan about the concession stand prices or how much it costs just to buy a stupid baseball hat — ’cause the day-pass only gets you unlimited rides, not food and stuff, you know! And wonder how anyone can get drunk in the middle of the day on cheap fair beer and puke on the roller coaster and then decide not to go on that particular roller coaster and go on some kiddie ride next to it instead and get strange looks because we barely fit in the seats! Come on, seriously, how could you not think that’s the greatest way to spend your day off you’ve ever heard of?”
By the end of this little oration she was laughing, and raised her hands to ward off further persuasion. “Well, I’m not sure how, with that description,” she grinned, “but you’ve convinced me. I should hire you to write speeches for me.”
“It’s more the delivery, I think.” He returned the wide smile, his somewhat triumphant.
“With enthusiasm like that, it’s no wonder you scared Heero off.”
His eyes narrowed slightly. “Who says I tried that approach with Heero?”
Hers did much the same. “I wouldn’t trouble you to tell me what you try with Heero.” And there followed a sudden silence that, though brief, was palpably tense.
Finally Duo said, “So, meet me at opening time?” continuing the conversation naturally as if there had never been a break of any sort. “That’s eleven. And don’t come in a limo, OK?”
With a mildly skeptical look she answered, “Only if you promise not to come in a mobile suit.”
“No, that’s reserved for very special occasions,” he said aloofly.
“Like the limo.”
He grinned. “See you tomorrow, then!” And, pulling down over his eyes the cap he’d lifted to talk to her, he turned and sauntered victoriously away.
Duo was a little early the next day, or so he guessed by the fact that Relena was not there when he arrived at the sidewalk just outside the fair gates. He’d lost his watch, and therefore couldn’t be entirely sure that he wasn’t actually incredibly late, but the last clock he’d seen had only said 10:30 so he figured he was OK. He leaned against the wall beside the gate in the shade of a tree growing out of a square patch of mossy earth in the asphalt and waited.
While thus engaged, he couldn’t help noticing a somewhat gawky girl, perhaps twelve or thirteen, pass by at least three times — mostly because each time she did, she threw such a look of longing onto the fairgrounds as to be downright heartbreaking. She was wearing the kind of sensible, unfashionable clothing that spoke of guardians that, while not necessarily badly-off, were definitely on the frugal side; probably the type that would never even consider going to a fair unless somebody else paid, or perhaps for a once-every-five-years family treat.
The fourth or fifth time she stopped and peered around the ticket booths at the colorful hints of towering rides beyond, Duo fished through his pockets and stepped up to her. “Here you go,” he said in something like a conspiratorial whisper, and put the third pass into one of her open hands before she had time to register his presence. “Have fun,” he said, ruffling the girl’s hair and moving on almost before she could understand what she now held.
He found Relena watching him as she approached up the sidewalk from the bus stop on the corner, and ran toward her, waving. The expression on her face indicated that she’d marked the exchange. “How nice of you!” was her greeting. “That girl looked like you made her whole week.” Her tone was somewhat forlorn, for some reason, as her eyes followed the progress of aforementioned girl through the turnstile.
“You say that like it’s something you wouldn’t have done,” he protested, scratching his ear.
“But you do it so freely… It’s more like camaraderie than charity.” She smiled ruefully, shaking her head. “From me it would seem condescending. I think your kindness is easier for… some people to accept than mine sometimes is.”
For the sake of fairness he replied, “Well, if mine’s freer, that means yours is worth more, right?”
Her smile turned slightly amused. “Let’s go in. Something came up for this afternoon, so we only have a few hours.”
With a shake of his head, “Why am I not surprised…” he murmured.
As he’d told her yesterday, it really was pleasant, every once in a while, to pretend to be an innocent tourist with no more interest in people’s destiny than who was cutting in line at the slushee stand and no more pressing concerns than accidentally stepping on chewing gum and feeling slightly grossed-out. So, through an almost dizzying succession of rides and the obligatory hot dogs and giant pretzels, he teased her about having taken the bus to get here — what did her staff think of that?? — and having worn slacks — had she ever worn jeans in her life? — and she gave him what news of the area she thought would be good (or at least somewhat entertaining) for him to know.
At last they came before the appropriately- if inelegantly-named Snake-Knot, the largest ride in the park, an impressive roller coaster boasting some supposedly phenomenal number of loops at some unheard-of speed. As if by one accord they paused before its monumental gates and stared.
“Scared?” Duo asked after a long moment.
Relena gave him the same mildly skeptical look she’d used for his limo comment yesterday.
“Well, let’s go, then!” And he dragged her to where the line began.
It definitely resembled a knotted snake; it had twists and g-forces and white knuckles and all the traditional roller coaster creaking and rumbling… it just wasn’t all that much fun. Beside him, though, he could hear Relena laughing breathlessly throughout most of the ride. She never shrieked like the girls in the other cars did; she was obviously affected, but it would take more than a little shakeup like this to get such a childish reaction out of her. Her laughter was infectious, though, and her genuine pleasure a treat to watch; it enhanced and enlivened what would otherwise have been a rather dull experience.
“That was fun,” she remarked with honest enthusiasm as they were disembarking.
“You didn’t enjoy it?” she wondered. “I would have thought that was just your type of ride.”
He made a well-what-can-you-do? gesture with his hands and then put them both behind his head as they moved away from the machine. “I guess after piloting a Gundam, rides like this just aren’t the thing. Sure, nobody’s shooting at you on the ride, but that whole element of mortal peril really makes a difference, you know?”
Laughing softly, she said nothing for a moment, but then remarked quietly, “Heero would probably agree with you.”
Duo nodded slowly. “Yeah, he probably would.” Unwilling to let it go at that, though, he gave her a sidelong glance and added, “But he’d probably enjoying watching you enjoy it.” He shrugged again and grinned. “I mean, I did.”
Without answering, Relena was looking toward the next ride on their theoretical list; Duo followed her gaze and saw to his dismay that the line was twice as long as the one for the Snake-Knot had been.
“I don’t think I can handle that right now,” she almost groaned.
“I knew you were scared,” he grinned in triumph.
“No more than you are,” replied she in mock haughtiness.
As they were already ambling somewhat unconsciously toward a shaded bench rather than toward the next ride, Duo decided to let fate run its course and agreed with her. “Standing in line shouldn’t be nearly so tiring,” he complained as he sprawled onto the seat, threw his head down over the back, and stared wearily into the sky.
“Standing anywhere for a long time is tiring,” Relena said; her tone was just as worn-out, but also very knowing. And he reflected that she should know; she probably did more standing still on any given day than he’d done his entire life.
He sighed and closed his eyes, relaxing the same way he did everything else: as if it were the most important thing he could possibly be doing at the moment, making rest into an almost active pursuit. As such, it was doubly effective, and after not too long he straightened and looked around again.
Relena was watching him with a neutral expression but an eye that didn’t appear to be missing any detail of his figure. She seemed to be studying every part of his body as she might study some do-it-yourself equipment she had to put together… or maybe take apart. He grinned at her and, leaning into a new, different lazy pose, returned her scrutiny with interest.
She was so poised, even sitting here on a dirty bench at a fair wearing the most casual clothing he’d ever seen on her; the way she held herself was just so quietly elegant and yet somehow tense, ready for anything. There was something about her expression that said simultaneously strength, experience, innocence, and purity. He had no idea how she pulled it off.
Then her body was so nice too, for a woman’s. Nice limbs, good proportions, trim but not unhealthily thin. And her face was beautiful, what with expressive eyes, kissable lips, cute little ears, and all that. There was just no way an intelligent person could fail to have their eye caught. It was disturbingly possible that few intelligent people could fail to be attracted. If they were into women.
“I really like your hair,” she said suddenly, “you know that? I always have.” And she smiled at him.
He flipped his braid casually over the edge of the bench and returned the smile. “Thanks. But yours is nice too; that cut you’ve got now looks really good on you.”
Her smile widened slightly. She knew he didn’t lie, so she was able to accept the compliment exactly as it was meant — that is, on both levels. “Thank you,” she nodded.
“Hey, son, why not buy your sweetheart a souvenir?” called a barker from a nearby stall. “Don’t just sit there talking her to death!”
After glancing over at the man, Duo looked back at Relena; as their eyes met, they both smirked slightly. It was no surprise: anyone observing the previous exchange, even from a distance, would have instantly misinterpreted the tension between them.
“Well, fine.” Duo jumped up. And he sauntered to the stand to look over the logo-chocked keychains, pencils, stuffed animals, and whatnot arranged there. “A souvenir for my sweetheart,” he announced, picking out the ugliest item he could find (the fair’s anthropomorphic frog-mascot really didn’t add any appeal whatsoever). After paying for the overpriced whatever-it-was, he shoved it into his pocket and turned away. Then he stopped with deliberate abruptness and turned again. “I guess I’d better get her one too,” he said to the barker, tilting his head in Relena’s direction.
“Oh…” the man said, chuckling in some abashment, and accepted Duo’s second payment for another incredibly unattractive bit of nonsense.
“That was unnecessary,” Relena chided upon Duo’s return.
He presented the keychain with a flourish. “And I don’t really have a sweetheart.”
Taking it and looking it over with open skepticism she murmured, “Then you lied to the gentleman.”
“Oh, no,” Duo protested, “as long as I just hang onto it until I do have a sweetheart to give it to.”
“If it’s as ugly as this one–” she twirled his magnanimous gift around her raised pointer finger– “someone should do your intended sweetheart a favor and keep you away.”
His eyes narrowed somewhat as he reached out a hand to help her up. “They can try.” Oops, that was too blunt, wasn’t it?
She took his hand and stood, facial expression acknowledging his slip but words moving on: “Let’s ride the ferris wheel.”
“Good idea.” He hadn’t planned on the ferris wheel, given that he knew it from painful experience to be the most brain-crushingly boring ride ever invented, but now he realized suddenly that it was about the same as sitting around on a bench — so they might as well.
“I want a blue one,” he mused as they stood in line watching the ponderous circle move through its slow paces.
“I don’t think we get to choose,” Relena replied. He thought she was watching a blue one too, though. It was almost the right shade, even.
They were out of luck, ending up in a car the color of vomit, but once inside it didn’t really matter as the color was no longer visible. Ascending in silence, they gazed out opposite windows and felt the increased wind as they approached the highest point (except for some Doom Tower thing not far off) of the entire fair. Beyond the latter’s walls and fences the city was visible: alive, indifferent, gratifyingly peaceful.
As the wheel rotated slowly, giving each car its minute at the top, Relena finally broke the silence, though in such a soft, light tone that she almost hadn’t. “So he’s out there somewhere, is he?”
“Yeah.” Duo glanced at her, but she was still staring out the window on her side of the car not looking at him. Shaking his head, he returned to his own view.
“Do you ever wonder what he does?” she asked. “When you’re not around, I mean.”
“Not really; I pretty much know the gist of it.”
“Not what he’s physically doing… what he’s…” She laughed faintly. “It’s hard to describe what I mean. When he’s around, do you ever get the feeling… that he’s alive there… for you… but that when you leave he… shuts off somehow?”
So all of a sudden the subtlety had been completely abandoned; was that it? There was, somehow, an oddly pensive and almost mournful atmosphere in the small car as they hovered above the city and both looked out for the same absent person.
“You mean like his human side comes out when you’re around,” Duo continued for her, figuring he might as well, “and you get the feeling not many other people ever see it? And you kinda hope that maybe it’s actually for you that it happens?”
“And it hurts thinking of him thinking he has to live that way?”
“And you hope that maybe you can become what he needs to realize he doesn’t?”
“Why did you tell me he was here?”
They were descending now, and Duo watched in pensive silence as the ground, and the multitude waiting for their chance at mind-crushing boredom, approached gradually. This hadn’t been that boring after all, though — little as the actual ride had to to with that.
“Duo,” Relena persisted, reaching out and taking his hand so he was forced to pay attention, “you didn’t have to tell me that Heero was here too. We could have done this without him today and I would never have known.”
“You know, I thought about it,” he admitted. “But…” He shook his head and gave her a relutctant grin. “Somehow him and me both here, right under your nose, without you knowing… it felt like a lie.”
Almost mimicking his movement and expression, Relena also shook her head and smiled. “What a good sport,” she murmured.
At that moment the ride attendant opened the door to their car, and gave them a knowing (or, rather, mistaken) look at the sight of Duo’s hand in Relena’s. The latter two exchanged another amused glance and disembarked.
“I wanna try that Doom thing,” he pointed.
“More simulation that can’t compare to reality?” she wondered with a raised brow.
“Two friends at a fair,” he pontificated, “are going to have fun no matter how lame the ride is.”
“Though it’s probably more fun if you both have that reality in your experience to compare it to.”
“Not necessarily! Sometimes it’s more fun to be with someone who hasn’t ever…” He scratched his head and ended somewhat lamely by half-quoting her, “…’had that reality in their experience.'” And he laughed at himself. As if the few minutes spent in the ferris wheel had been sublimely lifted above the entendres and unspoken ripostes, the subtlety seemed to have returned the moment their feet touched down on the ground again. Not that Duo minded — it seemed kinder this way, and it was rather entertaining… he just wasn’t very good at it.
The Doom Tower actually turned out to be somewhat fun on its own merits, and Relena’s reaction to being lifted 150 feet and dropped again made the experience better than it would otherwise have been. But looking at her watch after it was over and once she had her balance back, she frowned slightly. “We don’t have much time left; I don’t think we’ll make it through any more lines before I have to leave.”
“Aw, but I was looking forward to standing in more lines!” he complained facetiously.
“I know you were,” replied she in mock sympathy. “But let’s play some of the games instead.”
“I guess that’s kinda like standing in line…” he allowed with a show of reluctance.
So they took turns paying to throw rings at bottles and fake shuriken at wooden targets. Partly as a handicap and partly just because it was fun, Duo did them all with his eyes closed or after spinning around several times. Relena laughed, but eventually ordered him to do the next one properly.
“Yes, ma’am,” he acknowledged, snapping off a salute, before taking his place at some sort of rifle-contraption that shot a stream of water at a hole that filled up a balloon somehow. It obviously wasn’t designed with people like Duo in mind; the attendant glanced at him rather skeptically when he practically aced it almost without trying, and her tone was very grudging as she said, “That’s the highest score we’ve had all day.”
“Yeah, I figured,” Duo replied with a lopsided smile.
“You can pick any prize from the second row down.” The attendant gestured at the almost painfully colorful set of stuffed… things… available for his perusal.
“What?” demanded the young man, “Not the top row??”
“You’d have to get that same score three times in a row to get something from the top.”
Duo waved away the suggestion that he spend even more money on this kind of thing. “Well, that’s not worth it. Give me…” He scanned the hanging animals thoughtfully and finally pointed. “That one.”
“Do you always choose the ugliest thing on purpose?” Relena wondered as they walked away from the booth.
“What??” Duo pulled an exaggerated expression of wounded surprise. “You think it’s ugly?? I got it for you!”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?”
Examining briefly the large, shiny, blue and green bear that looked like it could burst its cheap seams at any moment, Duo handed it to Relena with a full-fledged bow this time. “You’re supposed to give your prizes to the girl,” he informed her in a tone that suggested she really should have known that.
With a defeated gesture and an amused half-roll of eyes, Relena accepted the second hideous gift. An expression something like nostalgia passed swiftly over her face before the latter reverted to the same casually friendly smile she’d been wearing most of the day.
“I may not always be so generous,” he added, wondering what she was remembering.
Her eyes narrowed slightly, though her smile didn’t change. “You may not have occasion to.”
She was steering them toward the exit now, so obviously playtime was over. Duo pondered whether that should extend as far as their conversation as well, and couldn’t quite decide. It turned out he didn’t need to, for as they left the fair gates behind them (he with a stamp on his hand in case he wanted to come back later) and approached the bus stop, Relena turned toward him suddenly with a serious expression.
“We’re friends.” The inflection said ‘statement,’ but her eyes said ‘question.’
“We’re not the closest friends, but still I think we’re strong enough to stay friends through just about anything.” Now those gentle, purposeful eyes were almost challenging, but there was still something ineffably insecure about her expression. How many friends had she lost in the struggles and twists of life of war? And was she to lose Duo, whom by her own admission she hardly even had, over this unspoken rivalry? Funny thing was, he would be very surprised if the exact same look wasn’t in his own eyes.
His grin in reply was a little softer than usual. “That sounds about right,” he said.
Immediately the smile of the day was back on her face, though the friendliness of the expression had perhaps deepened somewhat. She extended her hand. “Let’s shake on it,” she suggested mildly.
He complied without hesitation. “It’s a deal,” he said.
The bus pulled up in front of them, and Relena released his hand and jogged toward it. “Thanks for the day, Duo!” was her goodbye.
“Thanks for coming!” he called back. “Have fun at your conference!” And he waved as she climbed aboard; she waved back, and then was out of his sight.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, he turned and ambled away from the bus stop. The fair really had been fun; he could even go back now if he wanted. But it just wasn’t the same alone. He knew how it could be even better, though, than it had been with Relena, and was pondering a second attempt at setting up that particular situation.
He might as well, he reflected with a grin. The starting gun had sounded, after all; it wouldn’t do to stand around and let someone else win the race.
This was my first Gundam Wing story, and was intended as a friendship fic disguised as a rivalry fic. Did it work as such? I’m not sure. I’ve rated it .
On Sunday night I had some good old insomnia even after a sleeping pill… then last night I had it worse after two sleeping pills. I may have developed an immunity to this type of sleeping pill and it’s time to switch. But tonight will be the third night of insomnia, and then I should be able to sleep OK tomorrow night.
Pyramid Head Silent Hill 2 for being the first thing to get me to work on something other than Heretic’s Reward. My Pyramid Head SH2 fic about Pyramid Head James is, like, half Pyramid Head finished, and I have a real title for it finally, which means I can resist the urge to call it Pyramid Head Destruction James, which has been its working title.
I have other stuff to tell about, but I’m so tired I don’t feel like it.
Horohoro realizes and comes to grips with the true nature of his feelings toward his sister.
From a recumbent position that wasn’t likely to change any time soon, no matter what happened or who insisted that breaktime was over and they should all get back to their training, Horohoro watched languidly the interaction of a trio of figures not far off. The largest — standing solid and unperturbed by the heat as usual — was not particularly interesting; the other two — the slender, elegant woman and her scowling brother — held the teenager’s attention now as they often did.
Ren was so clearly excessively devoted to Jun… It had surprised Horohoro when he’d first noticed it, and had not ceased to fascinate him since. Ren, who didn’t seem to care about anyone other than himself, think about anything other than his own pursuits, or (understandably) feel even the smallest connection to his odd family, yet appeared to put everything second to his regard for his sister. It made Horohoro grin, among other reasons because it proved that Ren had decent emotions and the capacity to be concerned with something that relatively normal human beings thought about; additionally, it reminded Horohoro very much of himself and Pirika.
He’d been gloating up until now that Ren wasn’t as different from him as the pointy team leader would like to think… but gradually, as he lay watching them over there, his grin faded. For the more he observed the way Ren and Jun interacted, the more he saw that they really weren’t much like him and Pirika. Despite the curtness that Ren showed even to her, it was obvious that his esteem for Jun bordered on worshipful, that he wanted to protect her above all things… Horohoro couldn’t think that Ren’s mental images of Jun were consistently naked, or that they’d ever shared a bed.
This, of course, forced the Ainu very seriously to examine his attitude about his own sister. He sat up, crossed his legs, and frowned.
It was not entirely strange that he’d never thought about it before, as he’d apparently been pretending all along that he’d forgotten they were related — and therefore his potentially questionable feelings for her hadn’t raised any objections in his mind. Whether he objected now, he wasn’t sure. The shaman fight was designed, among other things, to hone the participants who lasted by making them face themselves as well as others, question the way they lived… but Pirika was the one who’d gotten him to this point; it seemed like betrayal to question his relationship with her. On the other hand, she must have understood that, and had sent him nonetheless; and if she accepted that he must question, was willing to risk it, it almost seemed cowardly not to question.
He growled and tugged on his hair. He was twisting himself into knots here! What use was it questioning whether or not he should question?? He was already questioning! Should he face the fact that his feelings for Pirika might not be entirely appropriate, or keep on pretending that their relationship was perfectly normal?
Kororo landed on his shoulder, wondering if he was all right, and Horohoro realized he hadn’t stopped pulling his hair. “Sorry,” he mumbled, patting her. “I don’t mean to make you worry… just thinking about some stuff.”
She hugged his face and flitted off, and he had to smile. It faded quickly, though, as he considered that to make one of his dreams come true, he might well have to give up another. And was he man enough to handle that? Oh, but why should he?! Why couldn’t he have both? …because it wasn’t normal to pretend your desire for your sister was innocuous, all the while wishing out loud for a girlfriend but knowing subconsciously, complacently, that you’d never get one because you didn’t really need one. It wasn’t right.
But couldn’t the Shaman King determine for himself what was normal and right?
This was still a stupid and frustrating debate, especially since he wasn’t really considering the real issues. He turned and looked again at Ren and Jun as a sort of distraction. An inneffectual one, though, as they were what had brought this to mind in the first place. A little bitterly, he projected his dilemma onto them: what if Ren had……. that same kind of feeling for Jun? (No, Horohoro could not define it clearly just yet; that was part of his problem.) What if she returned it? Well, Ren never let anyone else dictate the way he should live, so the two of them would surely act on those feelings. Horohoro wasn’t assigning a concrete definition to that either, that action, but there was no denying that the idea made him feel… good… warm… happy. It was a sweet concept, and didn’t seem at all wrong. Was that because his thinking was warped by his own situation, his selfishness? Was it time to admit his weakness and stop pretending?
But his earlier reflection, that Ren didn’t and wouldn’t let others tell him how to live, now hung before him like a challenge. Was he to be repressed by a world that he already wanted to change? Was he to let even a hypothetical Ren live more freely, live better, than he did? Was the future king of all spiritualists to let his destiny be guided by a blind and arbitrary code?
No, more pretending was fine. Because he shouldn’t have to define it at this point, but he shouldn’t have to give it up either. So until things took their natural course — until he faced and admitted what he wanted, or until it faded, or whatever the case turned out to be — he would pretend, and he wouldn’t regret, because the world was big enough for things like that.
No, there is no mention of the potential Yoh/Horo implied in the first story simply because Horohoro is utterly oblivious to that possibility XD
I’ve rated this story . What do you think of it?
Had to call off work. I hope I don’t get in trouble for it… there’s half a million snows outside, and while snows are not too unpleasant to walk through, there’s also a wild howling wind that is less fun. P was going to drive me, but she got stuck not far from her home so badly that some people had to push her car about to get it free. She said there’s no way she could have gotten here. Actually, she hasn’t made it back home yet. I cause so much trouble. Gregory called off too, it turns out. He thinks the place may actually be closed. I don’t think it ever actually closes, and I have no doubt that if I’d gone in they’d gladly have let me work my shift… but mayhap I shall not get in trouble. That would be good. I wish I’d known I wouldn’t make it to work before I’d done my hair, though… I would have slept in some. But once my hair is done, no way am I going back to bed and smashing it.
I started a Silent Hill fic yesterday. I always have so many randomfandom ideas in the shower. Today methinks… well, I don’t know what I will do. I am a little burned out on my Top Secret Project, but an unexpected free day to work on it is difficult to pass up. I need to work on my wrapping paper too, though, and Letlet’s picture present. So I dunno. We shall see. I may just end up playing video games all day XD