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Snapshots (Frozen in Time)

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Texas, 1860

 

“SAY IT!” She screams, tears in her eyes, voice pitched high and heart dropped low, “If you’re going to be a coward, at least be honest about it!”

“I’m not bein’ a coward, darlin’, I’m doing what’s right, ya hear me?” His accent is even stronger, now, now that she has angered him.

“And what’s righ’ is leaving ya family in the middle of the night, no letter, no farewells? That’s right to you, Jaspa? Because I think that it just mean ya ain’t who I though’ ya was.”

His gaze falls and he isn’t looking at her now, and… Well, her Master may say she’s useless for more than field work and whoring but she’s always been clever and she knows Jasper Whitlock better than anyone else can claim.

“Oh. I see. It’s just me.” Jasper doesn’t say anything, doesn’t try to defend himself, and the tears that she’d forgotten in her anger rim her eyes once more but she does not let them spill over on to her cheeks.

He catches her eyes and she knows he can see the tears and his face contorts, just a tad, and he opens his mouth to speak –

But she doesn’t want to hear his excuses, not when her closest friend has decided to abandon her in the night without as much as a goodbye.

“Ah always figured that ya couldn’t care as much for me as ah did fo’ ya, but ya always told me ah was wrong. Ah shoulda known better,” She fairly spits her next sentence, a fear that she’s held since this… she thought it was friendship but evidently not, began, “After all, ah’m just a nigger, ain’t ah?”

His face crumbles and he goes to speak again and she wishes that it was an apology or a plea or anything that could excuse just what he thought he was doing.

But she won’t take that chance.

She turns, leaving Jasper Whitlock in the clearing they’ve called theirs for half a decade with her heart silent and cold at his feet.

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Her horse pants beneath her, pushed to its limits as she forced it to go faster and faster until they fairly flew over the well-worn dirt path. She needs to hurry, needs to warn them, because something is coming and…

And she doesn’t know if they’ll be able to stop it.

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They’ve been arguing for hours and nothing has changed except for her voice getting lower, hoarser, as his raises until her ears ring and she can feel the anger begin to wane. She almost wishes she could keep going, wishes she could continue arguing her point because she has a point, goddamn it, if only he could admit that for once in his godforsaken life, but all the arguing is doing is driving her pulse higher and higher until she can hardly hear over it.

She’s reached her limit, her threshold for his own special brand of stubborn, and she lets the anger she’s been stoking die down as he continues to scream, until all that’s left is that hollow feeling that comes with the bone-numbing tiredness that always accompanies these fights.

She’s reached her limit, now.

With both this fight and with him.

So she walks away from both.

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Unknown, Two Weeks after the Fall of Mount Weather

 

It’s the guilt that gets to her, in the end. Not the sadness, not the pain. The guilt, all the orders she’s given, all the sacrifices she’s made – all of the people she’s sacrificed so that her 100 would be safe – claw at her, burn her throat with bile, choke her every breath, sear her every thought. She’s drowning and she never did get around to learning to swim (Anya, jumping from Mount Weather, surviving everything thrown at her until she was shot by people that Clarke had just told her she could trust). She needs to do something for the guilt and she turns it over in head, thinks about it, remembers how the Grounders have kill marks, vaguely remembers something about scarification from her Old World History classes on the Ark, and makes a decision. Scarifying practices may be looked down on by her people but the Grounders obviously think it’s fine and it was accepted in the Old World, so she makes ink out of the berries Lexa the Commander pointed out to her one day, boils water to scrub her arms clean, and heats the blade of the one dagger she has on her until it’s as close to sterile as it’s going to get. Then, she cuts the designs, rubs in the ink and revels a bit in just how much it hurts because she may not like pain but it isn’t guilt and that’s all she really needs right now.

 

Three months later, Clarke's arms bloom with navy scars.

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She stared at them from across the cafeteria, fascinated by their interactions. Love oozed from their every word, every touch, every glance. They moved together without thought, automatically accommodating each other in their space, hardly having to think before trading bags so that she could dig through his for something.

It was almost disgusting to watch.

(And if she feels an ache behind her heart at the ease they share, she ignores it.)

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“What exactly are you saying, T?” She says, her voice hard and low, blending with the conversations surrounding them as they disagree. “That you’ll leave those people?”

Taylor sighs, exasperated with her friend’s lack of understanding, “This is war, Bea. There are going to be losses, losses I have to accept in order to gain an advantage. You know that. So why are you making a big deal out of it now?”

“Because this loss isn’t acceptable!” Bea hisses, eyes wild with her jaw clenched and T muses that Bea looks oddly beautiful like this. “You are letting three thousand people die for an advantage that I’ve already told you you won’t get. That isn’t okay.”

“Of course it’s not okay!” T says, voice rising the slightest bit, just enough to get a few glances before she drops it back down, “But this is what I have to do. And I need you to support me on this.”

Bea rears back and Taylor knows that she’s absolutely furious now, knows it by the set of her brow and the curl of her lips.

“I will not support this, this…” She splutters for a moment, at a loss for words because she can’t believe Taylor would go through with this. “This abhorrently callous plan. So you can do whatever you need to, T. You’ll just be doing it without me.”

With that, Bea spins on heel and disappears into the crowd.

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“Join me,” He says, as if he isn’t perpetrating every single villainous cliché ever. “Join me and you will live, join me and you will gain the power to save those you love.”

 

And Gri looks him in the eyes and sees all that he is and all he will be as power rises and falls, crests as a wave does, ebbs and flows as the tide does.

 

She gazes into his very being and chooses.

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She knows this relationship isn’t right. Knows that it isn’t normal. Knows that she should pack her bags and disappear into the ever-changing ether that is the city.

She doesn’t.

(Coward, her mind whispers.)

Her bags remain in the closet where he shoved them and she cooks dinner (and breakfast and lunch and dessert and snacks and ‘Honey! Grab me a beer, would ya?’) and she gives that sappy smile that she used to grant him so freely. (She practices in the mirror; her eyes crinkle and her cheeks dimple and happiness and contentment shine from every pore –)

(The smile drops and her eyes are dead.)

He tells her to jump and she’s in the air without asking how high.

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She stares at the produce section in unabashed horror. She has no idea how to do this! How do you know what’s good?

She steels her nerves and squares her shoulders, marching towards the apples. Apples she can do. They aren’t that hard.

She picks out two apples, taking care to ensure that they aren’t absolutely awful.

Letting out a shaky sigh, she shoves her nerves down deep.

One down, three to go.

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“You’ll be faster, stronger, more durable. You’ll become the ideal version of yourself.”

The man’s voice is rich and musical as he lays out the benefits to what he’s offering. It sounds perfect to her tiny twenty year old brain. But she didn’t grow up with a lawmaker father for nothing and she’s quick to pick up just what he’s omitting.

“And the cost?” Her voice is rough when compared to this strange man’s, her face plain compared to his striking features.

She knows that isn’t a fair comparison though. Were this creature human, he would have been easily dismissed, an average, rough looking man with little to remark upon. As it is, he contains an untouchable sort of beauty, as if looking upon a statue, an appearance too perfect to be human. Everything about this man is remarkable, which is one of the reasons she is so suspicious of him, of how he has cornered her in an alley with an offer of being better.

His eyes burn the color of blood and looking into them has shivers going up and down her spine.

“The… cost…?” He says, low and pitched so that she can just barely hear him. He leans in close, too close, and now she can see how his chest does not move, does not draw breath, and all at once she knows the price of becoming a demon.

“The cost, my dear, is the loss of all but what you carry with you.”

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It’s unsettling, the effect he has on her.

Lust and love and trust and the warm fizz of surety that he will not abandon her meld with an instinctive, half-remembered fear that dogs her footsteps, follows her in the lines of the silvery bite scars that decorate her neck and chest, sinks deep into the long-healed fractures where newborns had gotten enough leverage to get their hands on her and pull until she started to come apart at the seams.

And she knows he would understand, should she decide that she can no longer be in his company, knows that he would not blame her should the uncertain fear that he inspires overcome her tolerance and she flee from him. Flee from the memories that he brings to the forefront.

That knowledge, that he would not blame her for leaving, that he would think it only right for her to run from a monster such as himself – that knowledge is what stays her feet. She stays by his side through it all not because she fears the repercussions if she did not but because she knows that there would be no repercussions.

And so she fights past that leap of terror when Jasper appears from nowhere by her side, when he buries his head against her neck, when his mouth presses to her skin and she tenses for the surge of agony that is sure to follow from his venom flowing into her skin; she learns it, shapes it, and buries it down deep.

She does not leave.

(He loves her all the more for it.)

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She had never been a particularly motivated person. Oh, she was smart, smart enough to be able to skip through grades with ease and be great at whatever she set her mind to.

Being able to do something and actually doing something are two very different things.

At first, she did what would make her father happiest. She loved the look of pride in his eyes as she brought home straight A’s, as she soared through elementary school math, as she devoured books like she needed them to breathe.

Then her father died.

She’s sent to live with her aunt, a woman she’s only seen once before, during a screaming match that had only ended when her daddy had shoved the woman out the door and yelled at her not to come around again until she was sober.

That’s when everything begins to go downhill.

She’s in high school, a freshman two years early, when she starts doing what she has to do. Her grades drop from A’s to B’s and hover there, occasionally dropping down to a C before she hauls them back up by the skin of her teeth.

She stops reading, starts drawing instead, misses entire days because she wanders into the forest and does nothing instead of learning things she’s already mastered. Her aunt doesn’t care. The only reason she’s getting away with everything is because her aunt is often too busy or too drunk to bother caring about her dead brother’s brat.

She doesn’t skip any more grades, her aunt not around enough for her to talk about moving up another level, and her GPA is slowly descending from sky high to average.

She tries not to think about it.

(It… bothers her, not doing her best. It turns into an itch beneath her skin, constantly nagging at her. There’s a reason she never gets C’s. B’s, she thinks, are acceptable. B’s are above average. C’s are not. She can’t muster up the energy to care anymore than that.)

She doesn’t care much about her aunt, but she doesn’t want to get tossed into the system so she takes care to keep the attention away from her. Decent grades, average attendance.

She’s bored, though, her brain underutilized and so she keeps drawing and starts reading again, only this time she has no focus, reading anything that can grab her attention. She learns Latin in her free time, starts picking up French and Spanish when she’s fourteen, a junior and bored out of her skull with her coursework. She takes summer classes the summer between her junior and senior years, gets enough credits to leave a semester early.

She graduates high school at fifteen and all she feels is numb.

It’s not like she doesn’t want to do things. She wants to do so much, wants to travel, wants to make friends, wants to join clubs and have new experiences. But then she’ll try, will sign up for a class or see an opportunity and flake out at the last minute, exhausted down to her bones.

She just doesn’t see any point, there’s nothing impelling her to do things, no goal at the end. Grand goals she has to work toward look dim and far away, vague goals such as getting a college degree are lost amongst the quagmire of confusion that comes with trying to find some kind of discipline that seems interesting and sustainable enough to follow through with.

So she just... floats. Numb.

 

Then her aunt moves them to Forks.

 

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Texas, 1867

Major Jasper Whitlock, Second in Command of the Newborn Army of Maria of the South, stood motionless in the hayloft of a rundown barn, gazing down into the crowd of Newborn vampires below him.

“Circle up!” He bellows, and the newborns scramble to follow the Major’s orders.

“First fight! Priscilla and Quincy!”

Major watches, bored, as the newborns tear at each other, grappling for a killing blow. It takes a minute, but finally Quincy gets his arms around Priscilla’s neck.

“Dead! Next pairing…” Major pauses, a flash of hesitation passing over his face for a fraction of a second before it clears and he calls out the next pair of fighters, fast enough that none of these wild newborns notice the delay. “Ophelia and Ulysses!”

Ulysses J Jackson is a tall, broad man, with the large bulk that comes from working in fields. Standing at six feet, five inches he is the largest of this current batch of newborns, as well as the strongest. Meanwhile, Ophelia Laurens is a small woman of twenty-two with wild brown hair that falls down her back in riotous curls. She is short with wide hips and a generous bust, coming up only to Ulysses’ sternum.

The two vampires step into the circle and the Major shifts his weight forward and watches.

He can feel Jackson’s spike of delight at the sight of his opponent; he has been trying to get her alone for weeks, wanting to touch that tight little body of hers, and she’s been avoiding him just as studiously. Ophelia’s satisfaction rises too, wanting to put this pig of a man in his place – kissing her feet.

Ophelia moves fast, darting around Ulysses and taking quick bites of his arms as she moves around him, knowing that if she lets him get a hold on her the fight may end too quickly.

The fight draws out, taking longer than the previous pairing as Ulysses slowly but surely loses his temper with Ophelia’s taunting.

Eventually, someone makes a mistake.

Ophelia overextends her leg as she goes to kick him in the face and he gets a hold.

Ulysses gets a hold and pulls, fractures forming in Ophelia’s thigh as he takes his time and removes her limb torturously slow. Jasper shifts forward yet again, his worry spikes and is then forcefully smothered – the Major feels no worry, as the Major has no care for the Newborns under his command.

Whitlock tilts his head, looking over the fight carefully as he feels Ophelia flash with warm satisfaction even as her leg is thrown away from her, out of the circle.

He sees her plan just as she moves.

Jackson is flush with victory, silently gloating about his success and that is why he falls.

Because he is distracted, too distracted to catch the way that Ophelia shifts her weight before flinging herself up and over, landing perched on his broad shoulders with her single leg braced and her arms wrapped about his head.

It’s a kill blow.

The Major doesn’t call it.

Ophelia darts a quicksilver glance at her Major’s face; when she sees nothing but impassive expectation, she rips.

Vicious satisfaction floods the room as Ophelia removes Ulysses’ head, infusing Jasper with battle lust.

The next time Ophelia glances at her Major, she sees the tiniest smirk dance upon his lips.

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She’s soft-looking – sweet and nice with looks that can only be described as pretty and cute. Skin smooth, lips plump, eyelashes long around big, wondering eyes. She’s pale, looking more like porcelain than anything else, and short, the top of her head barely scraping five foot two. She’s a doll with auburn hair and dark green eyes.

She’s soft-looking.

Like prey.

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There’s someone standing in the middle of a clearing, now, cloaked in shadows. A male, tall and well-built, but details are lost in the midnight woods. He’s still, silent, waiting for something only he knows.

Hooves thud along the ground in the distance, getting ever closer, and there’s a flash of white teeth bared in a grin.

A carriage bounces along a dirt path, moving loudly through dark woods, not knowing just what lurks in the dark.

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“Gina.”

His voice is low, deep in all the best ways as he drawls out her name and lust balloons in her chest as her breath hitches, catches in the back of her throat before starting up again, heavier than before.

“Marcus,” She says back and she hopes that her voice comes out smoother than she feels. “Been awhile.” And it has been awhile, but they both know that, she’s just filling up empty space, talking to fill in the silence that shouldn’t have been as awkward as it was.

It is awkward though, because this isn’t Before. This is what happens After.

There isn’t much to say to Marcus. Not anymore.

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Leia’s head is lolling, her neck feels as if it is made of flimsi and she can’t quite focus her vision; the Imperial officer in front of her appears to have a twin and she knows that it’s only the two of them in this cell.

(It’s only the two of them in this cell. Oh, gods.)

The officer tsks condescendingly. “You refuse to be cooperative, Your Highness. As such, it seems that we will have to graduate to more… extreme measures.”

The door slides open and an Interrogation Droid floats in, buzzing ominously as several needles slide free from its body.

It advances toward her and Leia’s eyes slide shut against the pain.

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“You’re pretty good at this, huh?” Glenn asks, eyes a bit wide as he raises his eyebrows at the number of supplies she’s brought to their meeting point.

Gri hums noncommittally, bending down to wipe her knives free of walker blood. “Oh, yeah. I’m sailing through this apocalypse bullshit."

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“Ya any good with a knife?” Deputy Walsh drawled out, hands on his hips as he looked at her. She could see by the look in his eyes that he didn’t expect much of her, that he thought she was yet another liability.

Good.

She’s been playing to other’s expectations of her for so long that it’s become her thing. She knows how she looks – short, pretty, delicate – and uses it, playing to the mildly intelligent, pretty city girl who might as well have never seen a forest before for all the hunting experience she has. That’s what people expect, especially men, and she revels in the look of shock when she defies their expectations.

Grey thinks back on days spent at her uncle’s house during his all-too-short leave, running through the maneuvers he’d learned as a military man. Thinks back to long nights and longer days spent in her room, practicing with the military grade KA-BAR that her uncle had given her when he saw just how much she’d taken to blades. Thinks back to the summer spent hunting and camping and learning to survive with only the supplies she could grab in the two minutes her uncle had given her before he hauled her out into the forest, given her a compass and a shitty, hand-drawn map and told her to find her way back after a week.

Thinks back to getting notice her uncle had died, killed in the line of duty, and channeling all her grief and rage and all-consuming sadness into perfecting her aim with the throwing knives that he’d given her just before he’d left for what would be his last tour of duty.

“I do alright,” Grey replies, and tries not to laugh at the disbelief that settles into his gaze.

It’s fine with her if he underestimates her. It just makes the moment she hurls a dagger past his head, into the eye of the walker behind him, from 20 feet back even sweeter.

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Leia Organa has brown eyes.

This is not an unusual fact; brown eyes are the most prevalent eye color for human/humanoid species. It is included in her Imperial Database profile – brown eyes, brown hair, 155 cm tall.

Leia Organa has common, not particularly noteworthy, brown eyes.

This doesn’t stop them from flooring Darth Vader, Sith Lord, Heir to the Imperial Throne, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy, when he looks into them.

Because those eyes belong to Padmé.

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“Well, well, well.”

She’s tall and strong and lithe as she near glides down the stairs of her throne’s exquisite dais.

Heels click on cold floors of black marble, veins of gold inlaid in such a casual show of wealth that it makes the part of Jay that never left the slums want to curl up and bemoan the waste of it all.

The Χαρος standing behind Jay tightens their grip, ensuring she cannot make a move toward Their Lady as she stalks ever closer, a tiny blade dancing between her fingers.

“Who have we here?”

The blade flashes and digs into the tender flesh under Jay’s chin, tilting her head up to meet the Lady’s eyes.

The sharp edge digs into Jay’s skin, opening the smallest cut. Pain and disgust flash through her at the thought of this woman leaving a mark on her, even one as minuscule as this.

Jay knows the bitch has seen Jay’s emotions in her eyes when a smirk tilts her lips.

The Χαρος speaks then and says, “Jessamin Chavros, my Queen.”

The Lady knows full well who Jay is. She may be a horrid, awful, evil bitch but that has no impact on her intelligence, on the genius of her spy networks. They haven’t met face-to-face, not before this moment, but the Lady knows Jay’s face, the face of the rebel who has been damaging supply runs and derailing prisoner transports. Just as Jay knows her face, the face of their ruler, the one who seized power in a grab so well-executed that no one knew it was happening until it was too late. Knows the face of ruler well-loved by the citizens, even as people gathered in the backrooms of musty pubs and rundown houses and plotted to overthrow her, only to by crushed beneath her heel and made into criminals in the eyes of the public.

Everyone knows the Lady’s face. It’s near impossible to escape her – the Lady of the Lake.

Nimue.

The Lady smiles down at Jay, a shark grin filled with too many teeth to seem anything but predatory.

She smirks back, because what else is there to do, really? She’s a rebel that’s been causing far too many problems for the new regime to abide by her continued freedom.

There aren’t many ways for this to end.

“Jessamin Chavros…” The Lady says, drawn out and slow, considering. “My, what a pleasant surprise. I have heard quite a bit about you, the little rebel terrorist going around and attacking my citizen’s supplies, freeing dangerous prisoners. Very good at fleeing, though, I’ll give you that.”

The blade disappears up the Lady’s sleeve and her hand pats Jay on the cheek, patronizing, and Jay takes the opportunity, lunging forward in an attempt to latch her teeth around Nimue’s slim fingers.

It doesn’t work, naturally.

“Ah, ah, ah. Don’t be like that, Miss Chavros. We wouldn’t want things to escalate, would we?” There’s amusement flaring in the Lady’s eerie blue eyes and Jay loathes her.

The Lady turns on her heel, sharp with an unnatural sort of balance, the golden heels of her stilettos peeking out from the slit in the dragging train of her dark plum dress as she stalks back to her gilded throne.

She seats herself, crown perched on her dark head as something glints behind her eyes. It clears before Jay can identify it.

The smirk that seems to cling to the Lady’s crimson mouth sharpens and something sinks in Jay’s chest even as she feels the walls behind her eyes firm themselves.

“Now… How shall we proceed, Miss Chavros?”

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If there is one emotion Tom Riddle is familiar with, it is hate.

He hates the orphanage, with the cruel, useless matron, Mrs. Cole, with the awful children who avoid him [fear him] because he is different, because he can make strange things happen, because his intelligence is unnatural and freakish. He loathes the bleak grey walls of Wool’s Orphanage, the bland slop they serve as food, the scratchy wool uniforms that never fit quite right because they’ve been passed from child to child for years.

He hates Dumbledore, the one who introduced him to this new world, to his birthright with flames burning his only belongings and condemning words about thievery and bullying. Hates Dumbledore who took an innocent question about the rarity of speaking to snakes and told him he was not normal, not even for a wizard. Hates Dumbledore, who does not understand him and does not wish to.

Tom hates the wizarding world for their condemnation, because they hate him for his muddied blood, hates them for their stifling magicks that they never explore, that they imprison people for exploring.

He hates the students at Hogwarts for being the same as their muggle counterparts even as they boast their superiority, hates them as they hate him. Tom hates the teachers for being so prideful, for being so easy to bend to his whims. Hates them for sending him back to the orphanage, year after year, even as the Germans bomb London and young Tom Riddle, tall and far too skinny, eats scraps in the shelters, claustrophobic in the stifling press of bodies, the damp air of the bomb shelter.

Yes, Tom Riddle knows hate well.

[Is it any surprise that Voldemort arose after that?]

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It’s not an easy mission. The Avengers have been fighting AIM for over a year now, that’s nothing new, but this is the first time that the fight’s lasted this long, dragged out over an hour. Their strength is flagging and there’s a seemingly endless stream of these little bots. They’re nasty things, able to swarm over a target, try to cover them long enough to bring ‘em down before another bot – larger, slower, with more firepower – comes over and kills whoever was trapped.

Natasha and Clint are flagging, their lack of armor and above-average but still unenhanced stamina causing them to droop, make moves a little bit slower, leave just a few more holes in their defenses; they’ll drop soon if the fight doesn’t finish.

Tony’s strength is waning too. He’s in the armor though; he can let it take over a bit more of the heavy lifting, can let JARVIS cover more of his blind spots while Tony keeps his focus on twisting and turning.

Clint leaves a hole just a bit too wide and the bots are on him, swarming him, and Steve calls out over the comms, tells the Avengers that someone needs to get to Hawkeye now. Everyone’s busy but Barnes is closest – he runs over, bashes some of the bots off Clint with the stock of his rifle, grabs more with his metal arm, crushes them in his fist – there’s a cry, over the comms when a couple of bots short themselves out in a last attempt to bring Hawkeye down.

 

They can’t keep this up.

 

Tony stops, moves JARVIS away from controls, tells him to focus on locating the controller. A swarm like this, with bots these small? These are short range, the swarmers are too small to carry a long range transmitter; they haven’t found the controller yet, which means it’s here. They’ve looked everywhere else. The controller is hiding somewhere is the god-forsaken huddle of the most annoying goddamn antagonists that Tony’s ever seen.

 

Eventually, four more near misses later, JARVIS finds it.

 

The controller is up high, where a ton of the swarmers are flocking together, presumably to give a mass run. The Avengers are fading fast. They won’t make it through a mass run, not with the amount of bots that Tony can see up there.

 

Sometimes, Tony feels like Fate is conspiring against him.

 

But, no. It’s just fucking AIM.

 

Tony doesn’t want to risk it, not with the suit as damaged as it is, but the only flyers are him and Wilson and of the two of them Tony has the best chances, damaged suit or no.

 

So, Tony’s the smart choice.

 

He goes, flies up, revels in the speed even as his mind smooths into the familiar motions of a hard fight.

 

And then…

 

Tony’s falling.

 

Tony’s falling fast and he can’t help it when the darkness of space flashes across his vision, can’t help but remember the last time he was falling, just like this, when he saw the void and blew it up only to drift back and then fallfallfall.

 

Every flight ends.

 

Tony Stark’s was never going to land gently.

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Hariel gives an easy flick of her wand, banishing the cushion her Charms class is practicing with into the large circle marked on the floor.

“Look here, everyone! Miss Potter’s done it!”

Next to her, Ron gives a disgruntled look to his own pillow, frustration marking his every movement as he aggressively performs the wand movements for the Banishing Charm. His voice is low and petulant as he speaks the incantation, only for the cushion to give a sad little twitch as its only response.

On Hariel’s other side, Hermione’s hair starts to frizz as she determinedly goes through the movements. As she speaks the spell, her cushion moves through the air to land just inside the circle, barely making it inside. Regardless, Hermione gives Hariel a smug look, as though she’s proved something somehow.

Harrie rolls her eyes as Hermione turns away.

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Her beauty is dangerous.

It shares the beauty of broken glass, in a way. Gorgeous from a distance, only to slice you open should you touch it.

It’s odd, how lovely she is. It’s obvious, glaringly so, noticeable as she speaks, how she speaks, how she moves, in the way her mouth shapes her words and the sly meanings behind them. She could inspire such grand loyalty, lead armies, launch ships in her name, make men fall to her feet and husbands leave their wives simply because they were spared a whit of her attention.

The worst, or perhaps the best, part is that the wives would not blame them, for they would want her too.

It is for the best, then, that she is so unaware of it, that she is oblivious to the panting breaths of the men who drool over her, of the adoring looks of the women who both want her and wish to be her.

[Oh, pity those amusing fools. She is not the one caught unaware.]

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“Who dares intrude upon my private quarters?” The King bellows.

There’s a quicksilver grin in the dark, a woman moves in the shadows, jewels disappear into a buyer’s pockets.

A noblewoman enters the castle; a thief is the one who exits.

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“Ma’am. Ma’am!” The doctor called, brow furrowed at the delayed reaction of the woman reclined onto the hospital bed. “Ma’am, we have to induce labor; if we wait much longer the baby may not make it.”

Foggy brown eyes peered at him. God, she was so tired. She just wanted to sleep.

“’Kay,” The woman slurred out, tongue heavy and solid in her mouth, “Save the baby. Ya-You gotta save my baby girl.”

“Ma’am,” The doctor called, alarmed by the woman’s exhaustion. “Ma’am! You have to stay awake! Keep your eyes open, okay?”

“So… tired…” She mumbled.

Her eyes slid shut and she knew no more.

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“Don’t go finding trouble, Tony,” Pepper said, her voice stern but her eyes full of fondness.

“Finding trouble?” Tony gasped, dramatic as anything, his hand flying up to cover his Arc reactor, “Pep, I never go looking for trouble, trouble finds me! It waylays when I’m out on my lonesome, a hapless superhero who is only doing his civic duty!”

Pepper hummed, skeptical. Dry as dust, she said, “I’m sure,” before ducking down and pressing a kiss to his cheek.

“No finding trouble.”

Chapter Text

“Think it through? What is there to think through, exactly? We save them or we don’t. There’s no choice there.”

“What is there to think through?” Her voice was dark as she shoved him, pressing his larger frame back against the concrete wall of the stairwell. “There’ll be a cost, Steve. Saving them isn’t free.”

He pushed forward, moving her back with the bulk of him, and said, “Money? That’s what you’re worried about, Nat? God!”

Her eyes narrowed, face shuttering as she took in his words. “The price isn’t always money, Steve.” She backed away from him then, shaking her head at his hardheaded ignorance. Natasha turned, moving up the steps. Just before she left the stairwell, she paused, looking blankly at the door in front of her.

“You’d do well to remember that.”

Chapter Text

You are older, a not-as-young thing of seventeen, when something you’ve been dwelling on for years finally sinks in.

 

Papa is wrong.

 

Papa has unrealistic expectations and unfair punishments. You should not be covered in welts and scars, you should not spend hours after school learning and studying until letters blur and your eyes slip shut from exhaustion.

 

You are seventeen when you realize that what your father has been doing to you is wrong.

Chapter Text

“I see you’ve turned since I saw you last, darling. Can’t say I’m surprised, really. Hanging around my sister is no good for anyone’s health, let alone a human’s.”

Ásta turned abruptly, blinking at Kol bemusedly. She didn’t know him, not well. He was her best friend, Rebekah’s, older brother; they didn’t interact often, unless Kol was hanging around to annoy Beks. She frowned as she went over his words again, actually taking them this time.

“Turned? Human? You…” She stuttered and trailed off, uncertain. “You know what happened? What I am?”

It was Kol’s turn to frown at her now. “Well, obviously. I could hear the change in heartbeat from down the street. How are you liking the upgrade, darling? Fangs working out for you?”

Tears welled in Ásta’s eyes and she used her new strength to tug the man into the alleyway they were standing next to.

“What happened, Kol? I-I don’t know what happened, I woke up and my neck hurt and then there was a man and I killed him and I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” Her words devolved into sobs and she crumpled forward into Kol’s chest, oblivious to both his discomfort and his distaste.

He stared down at the top of her head, bewildered by this turn of events, before he sighed, rolling his eyes as he realized that the pretty little thing had no idea what happened to her. And it looked like he was the first to find out about it.

He reached up and snapped her neck, letting her fall to the ground unceremoniously. Looking at her for a moment, he groaned.

“Bloody hell.”

Chapter Text

“Having fun?” Madeleine asked teasingly, looking down at Damon.

Damon looked up and huffed at her, raising his arm to wipe off the sweat that had accumulated while he redug his father’s grave.

“Oh, yeah. I’m having a ball. Who doesn’t love digging up their dick of a father to try and find a witchy cookbook that’s been lost for over century?”

Madeleine cackled loudly at his sarcasm and Damon continued to dig.

Chapter Text

Your tribe gets shipments of coarse grain and metals and produce from merchant ships. They come in their large wooden boats, with brightly colored sails and the banner of the merchants’ guild flying on the mast. You love those days when they come, when they dock off the glacier’s coast and row ashore in their many rafts. You have not stepped off the sea ice [sand shifts beneath your weight, a storm howls through the earthen tundra, miniscule grains shear flesh from bone-] and you yearn for their stories. Tales of the great Earth Kingdom who stand strong and firm, the kind Air Nomads who dance with the winds and never touch upon the ground, the loyal Fire Nation who knows a dragon’s loyalty to their very bones.

 

You cannot leave, not at a mere twelve [thirty-three winters lived and you bleed for the desert-], so you live through what stories you can gather, clutch pearls of knowledge to your breast and never let anyone close enough to steal them.

 

You wish you could leave but you cannot – for your age and for your people, who protect and nurture without thought to family bloodlines – there istribe and there is not-tribe for your people and you have found tribe.

 

Fire Nation soldiers come on a raid when you are fourteen. They have heard of another waterbender, born into the South and hidden. [Katara, no, how could they know?] Your people fight. Warriors fight and die and blood splatters on snow-

 

There is a breach and a bender makes it to the chief’s home. Chief Hakoda’s wife, Kya, is there, his daughter, Katara, is there and a bender makes it through the fight.

 

Katara is nine when she sees her mother killed for protecting her.

 

You hear Katara’s broken shriek, see the shattering glacier, bowing under an untrained, grieving bender –

 

They have hurt the tribe, you think, before your world goes bright and golden.

 

[MINE! The all-too-primal part of you, the one you always try to tamp down so as not to make the tribe uneasy, screams. MINE! TRIBE! PROTECT THE TRIBE! PROTECT YOUR HOARD!]

 

Kya falls and Katara screams and a dragon’s roar splits the sea.

Chapter Text

“Oh, ho!” He singsongs, his eyes as dark as his voice is light, “Look at you!”

She stands there, trembling, letting him circle her and she’s reminded of sharks, circling in the sea. He would make a good shark, she thinks. Intelligent, bloodthirsty… He comes back around her front and stares into her eyes with that awful, maniacal grin on his lips and she thinks that he has the eyes for it too.

Flat. Dead. Chilling.

“Lila. Hunter.” His voice is lilting and the Irish in it is more evident than ever as he tucks his hands inside the pockets of his ever-so-carefully tailored Westwood.

Hunter,” He repeats and she wonders just how this will end. “Doesn’t really suit you, does it, love? Hunter means predator and we both know that you are much more suited to prey.” His voice drops on that last word and trepidation begins to build further in the pit of her stomach.

He coos at her, no amusement in his face and all the more mocking for it, “Look at you! So nice, so kindhearted, so ordinary. It’s adorable, really.”

He pats her cheek, twice, and the amusement blooms back into his eyes when she just stands there and takes it. “Oh! I think I’ve found a new pet!”

Lila just stands there and keeps wondering how long he’ll leave her alive and wishes she could run. She can’t though. She may not know much, but she knows this – Moriarty isn’t someone you run from.

Chapter Text

You take a soft step back, tears welling in your eyes as a low, punched-out noise tears itself from your throat.

 

“Hey, listen to me –“  Jim says and you’re too devastated to hear the tiny wobble in his voice or notice the desperation lurking in his eyes. You’ve always loved his eyes, always been fascinated by them – how they look like toffee in the sun and can go flat, pitch black when he’s shut himself down. You can see his moods in his eyes, usually, but tears are blurring everything and all you can hear is the echo of his yelling voice, harsh like it normally isn’t with you.

 

“GOD! I don’t know why I’m even bothering with you! The whole pet thing has run its course, don’t you think?”

 

A pet. You’d been with him for years – a decade as friends and nearly two years as something more – and now he tells you that you’re just a pet. Something small and stupid to amuse himself with, that’s all you’ve ever been to him.

 

You’ve thought that yourself, more than once. Your self-esteem has never been the best, swinging wildly between untouchable perfection and useless pile of trash, but you’d always told yourself that Jim – your Jim, who was so smart and so soft with you when he showed nothing but ruthlessness to others – wouldn’t have wasted over a decade on something that didn’t matter to him.

 

God, you’re so stupid.

 

You’re nothing but a goddamn pet.

 

So you blink furiously, trying to keep the tears from spilling over – one drips from your lashes and spills down your cheek but you mostly succeed.

 

“You know,” You say, and you pretend that your voice isn’t choked, “I actually believed you when you said that you cared, James.” You pause and clear your throat; your voice still wobbles. “I was so fucking naïve.

 

A deep breath, then, and you don’t even choke on the bitter self-loathing that rises in your throat. “I should’ve known better. Of course you don’t care.” You whisper, speaking to yourself rather than him, “Of course he wouldn’t care, idiot. Should’ve known better.”

 

You don’t see the way he blanches at that. You wouldn’t believe it if you had.

 

Another tear streaks down your face. You turn and walk out the door.

 

[Jim Moriarty stares after you and knows that he’s just ruined everything.]

Chapter Text

God, this is boring.

 

Unfortunately, not literally, a massacre could at least involve some entertainment. What she’d give for some slaughter.

 

She doesn’t even know why she’s here. Or, well, yes, she does know. Her father is finally dead and her family thought to throw a ball? A rave would’ve been more appropriate, really, Mikael would’ve loved this – a ball is all strict rules and proper behavior, just as Father loved. He would’ve hated raves, all drugs and drinking and losing inhibitions. She toys with compelling people to start drama but who knows if that would even work; Mystic Falls is crawling with supernatural and who knows who’s in the know and therefore on vervain. She doesn’t want to have to deal with that, especially when she can’t even kill them unless she wants to deal with Mother, Finnr, and Elias.

 

Odin, just the thought of the lecture…

Chapter Text

Her fingers are white, clenched around the handle of the supposedly decorative knife.

It’s a beautiful thing, this knife, all sweeping lines and gleaming steel, tempered metal forming rainbow waves on the blade. The handle is a thing of marvel, inlaid with mother of pearl as it is.

It’s a beautiful thing, this supposedly decorative knife. Even covered in blood as it is.

Chapter Text

“What’ll you do once we get outta here?” He asks, quiet in the emptied hospital hallway.

It’s been a week, now, that she’s been stuck inside this godawful cordon. One of twelve officers inside, she’s been working near-constantly, evidenced by her sweaty, stained tank. Jake Riley, another officer, one that’s been given point on cordon operations and who she’s spent the most time with during the quarantine, is in much the same state.

Kat sighs, letting her head loll on her neck until she can see the man. He’s staring straight ahead, blue eyes locked on the grey wall opposite. Knowing he can’t really see her, not with more than peripherals, she lets her eyes lock on the edge of his jaw, sharp and covered in a scruff that honestly looks great on him. His throat works a bit, adam’s apple bobbing and she thinks that Jake Riley may be a bit of a dick, one who needs to work on his anger at that, but at least she’s stuck in here with some eye-candy.

Good eye-candy at that, she muses, watching the play of muscles in his arm as he throws a rubber ball at the wall he’s been staring at for the past ten minutes.

Kat’s silent for a moment too long and flicks her eyes up to his just as he turns to face her. She doesn’t blush, or let any guilt, or sheepishness, cross her face – not only does she not feel any of that, it’s the best way to show that you have in fact been staring. If Riley asked she’d tell him – she’s never been one for tiptoeing and she truly has no problem saying that she thinks he’s a dick with anger issues but that he’s really quite attractive.

He doesn’t ask – she sees a smirk twitch his lips and something is in those eyes – but he doesn’t ask so she doesn’t tell him.

“Step One -,” she says, overly grand, “Sleep for a week.” He sighs out a groan and she knows he’s thinking of sinking into an actual mattress – she’s thinking of the same. “Two – I’m going to do a shit-ton of baking.”

“Why baking?”

“Stress-relief.” Kat feels a bit of a blush in her cheeks, which is ridiculous. “You should’ve seen me in the Academy; no idea how I didn’t explode, I must’ve made a few dozen breads.”

He doesn’t comment on the blush, though he may not see it – her skin takes after her mother’s and blushing is a bit hit-or-miss. “I’m awful at baking – cooking too. I’ll have to try yours sometime.” It’s casual and she wonders if that’s because he doesn’t want to commit to it – to seeing her after the cordon, in anything outside a purely professional capacity – or if he doesn’t want to seem pushy.

She doesn’t ask, smiling a bit at him and moving on to part three of her Freedom Plan. “And Step Three – taking all my unused vacation time and going somewhere sunny near the sea. Preferably nowhere near Atlanta.”

“How much vacation time do you even have saved?” Riley’s voice is a bit incredulous and Kat knows exactly why. “We only get a week. I know it’s cumulative but I’ve been with APD for four years and I’ve got six days.”

Kat smirks a bit because – “Riley – I’ve been a cop for six years and I’ve used exactly three vacation days. Everything else is saved up. This quarantine goes down and I’m fucking off for no less than the max amount of accrual days.”

“I don’t even know the maximum, are you kidding me?”

“I just hit six years, Jake. Literally two weeks ago. That’s thirty five days off for me – actually, might save ten or so, for the next disaster, but no less than three weeks in something not a uniform for me.”

The jealous look that he shoots her, then, makes her day.

“Don’t pout, pretty boy,” She says, smirking a bit at his surprise at the pet name, “I’m sure I’ll be bored out of my skull before too long.”

Chapter Text

“J-Jake...” Her voice is weak, choked with blood and tears as it is. She doesn’t cough and Katie’s heart drops.

“Hey, hey!” Katie says, harsh as she slams her hand against the glass separating her from her sick friend. “Don’t you dare close your eyes, Evie!”

Evie blinks, once, twice, eyes half-lidded as she does her best to focus on her best friend. Her gaze keeps skipping, sliding away as if it’s too hard to keep them still and Katie lets out one of the sobs she’s been keeping back.

“Don’t you dare.” It’s little more than a breath but it brings Evie back regardless.

“I’m… s-sorry, Katie Kat.” She says, low and rough.

The brunette whimpers, “You don’t get to die, One.”

“It’s not looking like I’ll have a choice, Two.”

Eve rolls onto her side, hunching over on arms just barely strong enough to hold her, coughing blood into a puddle on the cold, concrete floor.

“I love you, you’re my sister, fuck blood, I choose you, okay?” She blurts it out because she knows this meager strength, the one that’s letting her talk almost clearly now, is going to fail any second and she has so much to say but so little time to say it.

She’s glad Quentin isn’t here. He already has to deal with everything that’s happened inside the cordon – he shouldn’t see his favorite [only] aunt die in a pool of her own blood.

“Tell Quentin, too, tell him about me, make sure he knows I love him, alright? If I could stay for him I would.”

“STOP IT!” Katie screams and there’s tears in Eve’s eyes because she doesn’t want to die but she is and she hates how much this is hurting Kat. “You aren’t going to die, you can’t, Cannerts is so close with a vaccine, or a medicine, or something and you won’t die.”

She shakes her head and the tears are coming again, now, and all Eve really wants to do is curl up in a ball and sleep [sleep forever] but if she does that she won’t wake up. And she has one more person to talk to.

“Katie. Katie, look at me.” She waits for the sobs to quiet and those familiar brown eyes to lock on hers. “You can’t stop living. I’m gonna die, but you aren’t, and Quentin isn’t, and Jake won’t. So you gotta keep going. Promise me.”

“Evie, I –“

PROMISE ME!” It’s as close to a yell as she can get with blood crawling back up her throat and her nose stuffed and a fever searing her to the bone.

“I promise.” It’s weak and it’s a whisper and those brown eyes are shattered but Katie promised and she won’t break a promise. She’ll be fine.

Evie musters the last of her strength; she's going to go soon, she can feel it, and her eyes keep slipping shut but she hasn’t said anything for Jake, yet, and she needs to.

She stands and immediately staggers, dropping to a knee. Katie shrieks, shrill but she ignores her [“What are you doing, sit down, conserve your energy, you moron!”] and she pushes back up, presses her hand to the window. It leaves blood behind but she doesn’t care, focusing on keeping her balance where she’s leaning on the cinderblock wall.

“Tell Jake…” She trails off and Katie fumbles for her phone, ignored for days in her pocket. She puts it on record and holds it up to the glass. “Tell Jake I love him too. If – if I had a choice, and I could keep myself out of this god-awful cordon, I’d march right back in here if it meant I met him. He’s worth it, he’s worth so much, so much more than he thinks.” Eve coughs up more blood and feels herself start to slide down the wall.

It’s a whisper, again, when she starts back up. Katie leans in closer to the window, her forehead pressed to the glass and tears streaming. “I don’t mind that he ran because I knew he would. I didn’t care, okay? Tell him that I didn’t mind. I know he’s coming back and I know he cares and he’s so good, Katie.”

“I know he is, baby.”

“I want him to move on. Don’t stay on me, don’t be stuck.” Her eyes are glazing over and won’t stay open.

“A-Anything else, Evie?”

Her eyes are slits but she still sees the phone and she says, “I’m going to have to raincheck that trip, the one we talked about. I guess… I guess we’ll have to see the cliffs some other time. Really think you'll like them.”

It’s silent and her eyes slip shut. They don’t open.

"I wish we had more time." It’s a murmur, just loud enough for the phone’s mic to pick up. She continues, too weak to sob but feeling like she's breaking apart anyway, “I think he’s the one, Katie.”

The battery’s low, it hasn’t been charged in ages.

It lasts long enough to pick up the way Eve’s breath rattles in her chest before it stops, the way Katie sobs.

It lasts long enough to hear Jake Riley come down that hallway and scream.

Chapter Text

“God, it’s fucking freezing out here.”

She rolls her eyes, swiveling on her heel to face her annoying best friend.

“Don’t whine, I checked the forecast special for you. Someone’s got to make sure you stay intact, babe, and clearly it won’t be you.”

Kai sighs, ignoring the smile he can feel tugging at his lips. It’s… different, having someone who cares about him. Josette does, in an abstract kind of way; most of his siblings do. Only if their parents aren’t around though. Only if they know that they won’t be punished for going near the family abomination.

It’s not like this, not like having someone check the weather just so they know that you won’t be too cold.

He is cold, either way and he knows why.

“I can take care of myself. I wouldn’t be cold if someone hadn’t stolen my hoodie.”

Her grin is a flash of white teeth in the dark but he knows the way her eyes crease and the way her nose wrinkles without seeing it. She should look ridiculous wearing his jacket, overly-large on her frame, under her leather one as she is but she looks oddly endearing instead. He doesn’t pause at the thought, the way he would have if she were anyone else. Thoughts like that are… normal with her. Only with her.

“Be a gentleman, Kai, come on!” She laughs, turning, and he lunges at her, arms wrapping around her waist. She shrieks as he picks her up, using his height to drag her up off the ground. She’s letting him, obviously, but it doesn’t make it any less fun for him to do stuff like this. She curls up, bringing her knees half up to her chest and letting him take her weight. There’s no hesitation and he’s almost used to the odd, warm feeling that bubbles in his chest at her easy trust.

He doesn’t worry about siphoning her, not like he does with his family.

He knows that she wouldn’t mind if he did; she already lets him do it as often as he needs.

His face is half buried in her hair, the brunette curls wild and when he speaks it’s into the curve of her neck, his lips almost brushing her skin.

“A gentleman? You don’t even get cold, little miss bloodsucker,” He teases, hefting her a bit higher.

She snickers before jabbing her fingers into the space between his ribs. She shrugs out of his arms at his reflexive twitch, hand going to the zip of the hoodie in question. His hand on hers stops her and she looks up at him, only a few inches shorter in her chunky heels.

Kai’s eyebrows raise in question, not having expected her to concede. Not until it was an actual complaint instead of half-hearted whining, at least.

“You wanted your jacket back, Kai. I can’t have my favorite fragile human give out on me, now can I?”

His expression of offense, mostly fake, is comical and she huffs out a laugh. She does that a lot with him, she’s found. Laugh.

“Excuse me. I’m a fragile siphon.” His finger wags in her face for a moment, her eyes crossing to track it.

She catches it between her teeth because of course she does. He shouldn’t be surprised, really, but he’s still kind of shocked when she scrapes a fang across his knuckle, light enough not to break the skin.

She lets him go and grins at him again, this time with the veins under her eyes dark and her fangs out. She’s still gorgeous.

“My favorite squishy siphon. Better?”

“I am not squishy!”

She shakes her head and lets her vampiric features fade away, turning to keep walking.

“Of course not, dear.”

Chapter Text

Her head snaps around at the scent, spicy and fruity in a way that settles in her nose and doesn’t leave. It’s something that she hasn’t smelled before, she knows, because she wouldn’t have forgotten something like this. Fangs itch at her mouth and it takes more effort than it has for years now but she fights them back. There’s a tingle behind her eyes and they would be lit up if she would only let them. Her control stretches taut.

The smell floats on a fresh breeze and it’s pepper and pomegranate and something that feels like eternity and she just knows that this is going to change her life.

She’s turning, scanning the street and then there’s a girl, a few years younger but grown, and the girl is looking around in a way that lacks all subtlety and their gazes lock.

Everything stops.

Chapter Text

It’s dark.

 

[“Fucking sleet, what the hell, I should’ve stayed in Georgia.”]

 

It’s cold.

 

[“Yeah, babe, I'll be there in ten.]

 

There’s a tree.

 

[“Be careful on the roads; they get pretty slick.”]

 

There’s a body.

 

[“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”]

Chapter Text

He stares at the mess of yarn and tries not to cry. Yina would know how to fix it, Yina would guide his fingers through the motions and coach him through it and Yina would –

Yina would-

He bursts into tears.

Chapter Text

He can ignore it, is the thing.

He can ignore the way his heart sways when she’s there, when she laughs, when she smiles, when she lights up in a blush.

He can ignore the way he feels when he’s with her.

[The only thing that comes close is flying.]

He can.

He doesn’t think about her lips on his, he doesn’t think about the way she pulls her lip between her teeth, he doesn’t think about how her hands look as she fixes his ship and he doesn’t think about what might happen if one of her missions goes wrong, one day, and she doesn’t make it back.

He doesn’t think about the way either of them could die, here, now, in the stars or in some back alley on an Outer Rim planet, he doesn’t think about it.

He doesn’t.

Because she’s his friend, okay, and it’s normal to worry a bit but it isn’t normal for him to fret and stress and constantly, constantly wonder if she’ll back it back, this time. Or the next.

It isn’t normal to wonder if they’ll both make it to the end of this war and it isn’t normal to wonder if his dad will like her and it isn’t normal to wonder if he’ll take her to Yavin IV, one day, and it isn’t normal to wonder how his mom’s ring would look against the deep blue of her finger.

People don’t think like that about their friends and that’s what they are, friends, not lovers, they will never be lovers, they will never be anything more than friends.

He doesn’t think about the faint tug his chest gives when he sees her and he doesn’t think about the way her lips curve as she smiles and he doesn’t think about the way her hand feels, wrapped around his wrist, and the way she always feels cool to him and the way he can read her eyes now, black and so, so bottomless. He doesn’t think about how he smiles when he thinks of how well he knows her, well enough to read those eyes, and the way she lights up, and the way her lips cock and the way she twists her fingers when she’s nervous and the way she hums to herself when she’s bored and the way her hair curls when she’s let it dry in the heat of D’Qar.

Because he shouldn’t feel like that, not with her, not when she’s amazing and awe-inspiring and she’s twenty years his senior and she’s friends with Chewbacca and she’s friends with Princess [General] Leia Organa.

But she can trill in Binary to BB-8, who adores her, and she’s good with a blaster and  terrifying with a vibroblade but in the best way and she hates piloting but she’s good at it, one of the best, and it feels like she’s perfect but she’s not, just like he’s not, just like nobody is, it’s just that he loves appreciates the way she’s just a bit too blunt and he thinks it’s cute when she struggles with emotions and he doesn’t mind the way she snaps at him, sometimes, because he snaps at her too and-

-and.

He doesn’t think about the way he wants to hold her, he doesn’t think about the way he wants her to hold him.

He doesn’t think about a lot of things, with her.

Poe can ignore it, is the thing.

Chapter Text

He lingers on the battlefield.

Saxons line the ground, made muddy by the blood spilled. The fallen Norse have been collected, to be set in mass pyres the next day. Their treasures remained in their hidden hoards, in their homes far from England, but they would join the fallen in Valhöll nonetheless.

He sits in his chariot, motionless. He breathes in deep, lets his head drop back as the scent of decay comes to him on the breeze. He smiles at the sky, a baring of teeth. He has honored the gods, he knows, with this victory. He had not followed traditional warfare, a decision looked down upon by his fellows.

He is clever, is a genius, and so he had put aside tradition and brought victory. Others had scoffed at him; it is nothing new. He has been looked down upon, both literally and figuratively, for all his life.

And this? This victory, where he took down an army?

[An army of Saxons, true, but it is still an army.]

This is just the beginning of his legacy.

Soon, the whole world will know and fear him. Ivar the Boneless.

Chapter Text

Her heartbeat is steady in Matt’s ears, as steady as the finger that’s on the trigger.

He asks, “Why are you doing this?” and thinks of Frank Castle and his finger steady on the trigger, his heartbeat steady in Matt’s ears. The Punisher huffs a bit of a chuckle and Matt knows Frank’s thinking of the same thing.

The woman, tall and lean, muscular, healthy, says, “I used to be a mother.”

There’s a pause.

“Now, I’m not.”

Frank’s heartbeat speeds up behind Matt and he takes a step forward. His gun doesn’t drop because he’s too well-trained for that, but Matt knows that he doesn’t particularly want to shoot at this woman.

He will, if he has to.

But if there’s one thing Frank Castle understands, it’s revenge.

Chapter Text

Ivar wakes as he has since childhood; one moment he is sleeping. The next, he is not.

His brothers do not wake as he does. They yawn and laze and blink sleep from their eyes. They groan and mumble and stretch and only gradually do they become aware.

His brothers have never had a grieving mother attempt to kill them in vengeance. It shows.

Ivar wakes. He stays limp, assessing. He has never been captured; he has never been on travels where people have had the opportunity to try. He has been told the basics, however: play weak, play stupid. Wait for an opportunity. Patience.

[It was Lagertha who taught him that, on one of the very few occasions she had visited Kattegat. His father had fled before teaching him, his mother would never tell him, viewing him as fragile, and Floki taught him of the spirits, not strategy. It was Ragnok’s first wife that had sat with the crippled son and told him of strategy, of battle. Who had walked alongside him as he crawled through the dirt and answered his questions.]

[He treasures those few lessons. He does not speak of them. He does not dwell on them.]

Sand clings to his scalp. Waves crash on the shore. There are no voices. There is no sound beyond the sea.

Ivar opens his eyes.

He is alone.

Chapter Text

He has to do this, he does, it’s in the agreement, he has to do this.

He doesn’t want to, please, don’t make him…

He steps onto the stage, he takes his mask off.

It’s so silent, and then it’s not, the reporters are yelling and there’s a wall of sound and he wishes he could go back and change things but he can’t.

His mask is off and he wishes it wasn’t but it is.

He did it. He had to.

It was in the agreement.

Chapter Text

Zuko is late. And, granted, he’s sixteen, being late is not necessarily a cause for alarm but…

Zuko is a prince who grew up with Ozai as his father. He is not late. Not ever.

It’s the Day of Black Sun and Zuko is late and Shila is panicking.

Shila paces and gracefully resists the urge to bite at her nails; the eclipse would protect him, the Fire Lord wouldn’t be able to bend and Zuko had his swords. He was fine.

The relieved sigh she gives when a small war balloon appears on the horizon is so hearty a flicker of flame joins it.

Chapter Text

Zuko sets down the balloon and Shila is so happy, so grateful, that he’s there, that he’s okay, that she vaults over the basket’s railing and glomps him in a hug before he’s said hello.

It’s one of those good hugs, the deep ones, where you melt into the warmth and you hold tight and your bones go melty in comfort [in relief]. And then Zuko is drooping into her and holding her tight and he’s okay.

He’s okay and he’s made it out.