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Witch, Please!

Chapter Text

Momo fears neither the darkness nor the cobwebs covering the once-grand walls of Lord Todoroki’s great hall. When the back of her neck erupts in gooseflesh and a shiver slithers down her spine, she is not concerned about the leggy creatures lurking in the dust-darkened corners of the castle’s disused chambers. It is the being who sits on a throne of burned bones that she fears and the thought of her village, in dire need of protection, that keeps her feet rooted to the spot where she stands, bartering a trade with the only asset she has left to offer.

“Take me,” she begs, head high and onyx eyes blazing. “My body in exchange for your protection from All-For-One’s hordes.”

The beast paused for a moment, face half-shrouded in darkness. His fingers strum against the dark curvature of his armrest as Momo trembles with the effort of clutching her riding cloak along her slender waist. The raven beauty’s fingers tighten around the dagger concealed on her hip.

“You think this is a fair trade,” Lord Todoroki growls. Something playful dances in the lazy way his gray eye blinks under a fringe of snow-white hair. “I could have 10 virgins brought here if I wanted, and I wouldn't have to protect their villages in return.”

He sneers and slumps backward, shifting into the shadows. When the beast speaks again, his voice is impossibly soft, better suited to the elegant blue tunic he wears embroidered with gold thread and brass buttons. “Go home to your family, girl, while you still can.”

“Then, I’ll give you my mind as well,” she pleads, startling herself with the conviction in her words. “You- You say you can have any person’s body, but would any of those prisoners be a willing companion? I will. I will stay of my own free will.”

He doesn't move - at least, not in any way that Momo can perceive. But suddenly, Lord Todoroki stands before her, just outside the light that bathes the young woman in mid-winter tones. The half of him she can see is, like his tunic, of noble origins. His features are crisp, belying the rumors that have run amok in the three years since he assumed his father's throne. But undeniably, there is another side, Momo knows, which he hides from the citizen of his lands. Some say the curse was his father’s doing and some contend that he was simply born bad.

It’s impossible to know if his affliction came by nature or nurture.

“Step into the light,” she asks as her hands release the hilt of her dagger. “Come closer,” she beckons, her voice filled with honey,” and I will seal our deal with a kiss.”

To her horror, he does just as she commands to reveal a face half-marred by scaly skin and jagged teeth. His mouth stretches wide, not unlike a sadistic grin, framed by a mop of blood-red hair split down the middle. Only his turquoise eye looks remotely human, and though she fears him, Momo steels the blood running cold in her veins and does what needs must when the devil drives.

She steps forward and presses her lips to the demon’s foul jaw without the slightest hint of disgust. A clawed hand grasps the small of her back, curling possessively around her body as if to declare, she is mine.

Chapter Text

He leaves his boots near the front door. From the kitchen, his wife shakes her head with a wry expression, miffed but not surprised.

Maes knows Gracia would prefer that he picked them up, tucking the standard-issue military footwear out of sight and mind. But Maes is a creature of habit, and this particular practice has a purpose. It reminds him that the outside world does not intrude on the sanctity of their apartment -- 1,300 square feet where Maes’s past does not exist, and his profession cannot follow. Some skeletons are kept in closets, but Maes wears his sins on the left side of his uniform in the guise of service ribbons. He shuffles that off too, piece by intricate piece, and hangs it on the back of the bathroom door.

“You’re late.”

He turns to find the slim figure of his wife leaning against the bedroom doorframe. Gracia is always congenial, an understanding companion who is wise enough to fill in the blanks when he doesn’t respond. The silences between them are loaded but never tense. Since taking up the mantle of motherhood, she’s noticeably happier, and Maes finds this attitude infectious.

“Work,” he offers simply, scratching at the back of his neck as he closes the space between them. He hugs Gracia tightly, taking in the smell of her shampoo and the size of her frame, so small when tucked into his body. She, as much this apartment, is also his home.

“Is she asleep?” Maes asks, even as his belly growls, asking for its dinner. “I don’t want to wake her.”

Gracia chuckles. “She’s pretending to sleep, but mostly playing with her stuffed animals,” she says confidently. “Go in and see her if you like.”

With a gentle squeeze of her hand, Maes releases his wife and saunters down down the hall; his socks shuffling against the hardwood floor. He reminds himself that his little girl is almost three now, cataloging her likes and dislikes with each step. She loves bath time but hates the rain. Her first word was ‘dada,’ and her favorite color is yellow. Maes pushes the nursery door open and gazes lovingly at the pastel wallpaper decorated with dancing bears.

“Is someone up past their bedtime?” he speaks into the semi-darkness. His voice is marked by a singsong inflection. In response, the toddler erupts in a fit of giggles. Little feet scamper clumsily across the floor as she flings herself into bed and pulls to covers over her head.

“My precious little girl,” Maes remarks. He pulls the covers back to reveal her sweet, round face; the child’s hair is a mess of fine curls. “Daddy’s sorry he wasn’t able to play with you today. Were you a good girl for mama?”

“Yes!” she exclaims, and Maes smiles like a fool, disregarding his memory of the blocks strewn about the house as well as the stickers stuck haphazardly throughout the hall.

He and Gracia go to bed soon after he’s taken his dinner, and they tuck into the covers together, bodies folded into one another. Maes is content and happy, relishing the feeling of clean, sandless sheets against his skin. The weight of the day sets in, and his eyes flutter shut.

Maes wakes to the sound of an ill-played reveille. His eyes flutter open, searching his surroundings for mental purchase against the thin beige walls of his tent. A breeze bursts through the entryway’s flaps, and Maes sits up to greet the Ishvalan heat. His feet make contact with the warm sand, and Maes winces as his muscles protest.

Most soldiers sleep with their boots on, but Maes cannot bring himself to do it. He leaves them beside his cot, next to the letters from Gracia and his hopes for the future. His fantasyland sits low to the ground, measuring a meager 75 inches long and 26 inches wide. It isn’t much, but it’s more than most soldiers have.

Calloused fingers lace his boots with robotic precision; restraint keeps his hand from trembling with indecision. Maes wants to run, but there is nowhere for Captain Hughes to go that isn’t fraught with desiccation of both body and soul. If given a choice, Maes knows which side of the divide he would choose to live on. He wonders, vaguely, when, if ever, he will truly wake.

Chapter Text

Marinette likes Paris best in the Fall when autumn is as much a color as it is a state of mind. The bakery reopens, and hungry customers return much to Tom and Sabine’s delight. Local Parisians help themselves to second servings of pastries, undeterred to pack on extra pounds now that bikini season has ended.

All except for a particular guy that Marinette knows. Adrien has been distant lately, gaunt and thin -- even for a model. She can hardly blame him. Not after everything that happened with Hawk Moth, his father. And for his loss, Marinette knows she is partially to blame. This is why she stashes a fresh croissant in his locker every morning, hoping that Adrien will be there to retrieve it though often he is not.

But tonight, she distances herself from her duties as Ladybug, enjoying the spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower as she sews a new set of sheets. As her fingers work yards of black silk under the needle of her sewing machine, Marinette tells herself that she deserves this moment. She’s been Ladybug since the tender age of 12. Now 17, she is tired, laden with additional responsibility as a guardian of a miraculous box.

Perhaps, Chat Noir feels the same. Perhaps, she hopes, this is why he has stayed away.

There’s a sound coming from the trap door leading to her balcony, a scratching that Marinette places as her eyes widen with hope. Perceptively, Tiki burrows herself into the pillows of her chaise lounge, and Marinette rushes to let her visitor in. The fall breeze bursts through, provoking gooseflesh across her skin, and with the wind, a familiar figure clad in black appears sporting a piercing emerald stare.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” she laughs, happier than she should be to see her partner. Sternly, Marinette reminds herself of the white lie Master Fu told him - that she is a new guardian of the miraculous, nothing more. To cover her tracks, she prepares a question to which she already knows the answer. “Is Ladybug with you?”

Of course, she is, but Chat Noir doesn’t know that. Does he?

He leaps through the door and glides past Marinette with agility befitting his name. Chat Noir lands in a cat-like crouch and slinks up to a standing position. Suddenly, he’s taller than she remembers with slender muscles and wild hair. The bell once worn around his neck has been gone for some time, replaced by a deep “v” that suits his newfound independent streak.

“No,” he says, and his somber tone tells Marinette that this isn’t a social call. She prays for a cat-pun to break the brittle tension.

“My lady doesn’t know that I’m here,” Cat Noir continues, tracing the contours of the ring on his finger, “but I’ve come to surrender my miraculous.”

The world as Ladybug knows it ends when Chat Noir begins to slide the ring from his finger. The only thing Marinette can do is to snatch the silk from her sewing machine and fling it upward to cover the green luminance that travels the length of her counterpart’s form, fizzling with eerie finality as it retreats inch by inch.

Marinette screws her eyes shut as she clasps that material around his body and buries her head in the crook of her mystery man’s neck. Even with the sheet between them, she realizes that she knows the pronounced angle of his jawline as well as the feel of his slender fingers. He presses the black cat miraculous into the palm of her hand, but Marinette rejects this bitter fruit, choosing ignorance yet again if only for a moment more.

“Paris needs you. Ladybug needs you, Chat. I-I need you.”

It’s his turn to chuckle, however ruefully, as he waits with infinite patience for her eyes to open and holds her through the sheet. “My nine lives have run out, purrincess. As all good things must, this too should end before I become the very thing we fought.”

Chapter Text

They say monsters exist only in fairy tales, but Momo has always had an eye for creatures that hide in plain sight. She catches a glimpse of him across the candlelit dance floor and follows, setting aside her glass as if the wine turned suddenly to water. Despite the ornate masks and excessive plumage of the masquerade ball, there is no mistaking Shouto’s otherworldly countenance. His mismatched eyes and hair are poorly concealed by his dark costume, but perhaps it is the very act of not wanting to been seen that makes the memory of him transparent in other’s minds.

Momo could not forget Shouto if she tried. They’ve been dancing in the dark for years now, a sultry tango predicated on a word whispered in the shadows of high society: Vampire.

He catches her as she turns a corner in the garden, and but for the finger pressed to her lips, she would have yelped in surprise. Momo’s dark eyes flutter shut as she takes in his scent. Her fingers intertwine themselves in the fine hair at the nape of his neck as his hand caresses the curve of her hips, sliding upward to rest at her waist.

“Where have you been?” she asks, too loudly for his liking. “I was worried. It’s been weeks.”

“Away,” he explains vaguely, eyes shifting to and fro. The frown on his lips is palpable, but his words ring true. “I have missed you, Signorina Yaoyorozu. Though you should be running from me, not to me.”

Undeterred, Momo leans into his touch as the fingers which quieted her lips trail across her cheek to cup her face. Where a fire seems to burn over every inch of the young woman’s skin, his touch is cold and hard. Momo’s chest falls and rises within the corseted costume she wears, white as light to offset his dark. She presses herself against him but does not hope for the telltale tick-tock of a beating heart. That longing left her not long after their affair started -- when she first became aware of his true nature.

“You must be hungry,” she whispers into his ear, without precaution or preamble.

Momo draws her hands behind her head to unclasp her black choker. The velvety fabric falls to reveal two neat puncture marks, red-rimmed and scabbed but otherwise clean and stuck somewhere between healing and scarring. Rather than excited, Shouto seems to resent the sight, and the eager grin fades from Momo’s face.

“I’m sorry,” she says, stumbling over her words. She cannot deny that she has craved the feeling of his lips on her neck, sucking at the flesh and drawing out her life force. While there is violence in the way he feeds, there is also pleasure and intimacy -- moans that rattle in her throat as her senses dull, shutting out the world and halting the passage of time. “Isn’t this what you came for? To feed?”

Shouto stares at her quizzically, and Momo can see the gears turning in his mind, testing an idea that he is hesitant to speak into being. Behind her mask, Momo blushes. She fastens the choker as fast as her fumbling fingers will allow and adjusts the band to cover his mark.

“We cannot continue like this,” Shouto states with unreadable intonation.

Momo’s heart sinks. She tries to pull him out toward the light, to enjoy a dance or walk amongst the crowd if only for a moment. But Shouto is unmoved, a perfect statue of a human being decked out in his finery.

“I will come to you soon,” he says, heterochromatic eyes flashing silver and turquoise from the cover of the shadows. Momo doesn’t believe him, but he is gone before she can protest.


Momo is lovely in her best dress. Exquisite fabric, the color of spun sunshine, pours down her sides, and her bodice is not without compliment, showcasing an elegant coupling of decorative cords and pearls. Yet, as her handmaiden ties the last ribbon on her sleeve, Momo’s frown deepens. Her eyes remain downcast as she descends the staircase.

She supposes she is lucky to be betrothed to a count, but given the opportunity, she would gladly have escaped alongside Shouto.

“Momo!” Her father’s voice fills the high ceiling of their small ballroom, beckoning her downward to meet her fate. A Yaoyorozu to her core, Momo is poised even as she feels the weight of the future settle squarely on her shoulders.

At the base of the landing, Her mother draws near, pulling Momo toward her fiance and whispering words of wisdom in her ear. “Greet your future husband, dear. He is foreign, but I think you’ll find him most agreeable.”

Momo’s solemn eyes flit upward, and she is immediately confronted by familiar shades of gray and blue. Before her stands Count Todoroki, or so her father proclaims. He is a little-known nobleman who made his fortune in trade and other such commerce. Her father explains that he suffers from a rare illness which obliges him to shy away from public life, but Momo is no longer listening.

With barely contained joy, her onyx eyes trace the outline of his strong jaw and the slicked-back ends of his red and white hair. She notes the peculiar way he’s pulled the corners of his mouth over a pair of sharp fangs and blushes when she notices that he regards her with the same passion. Before her father can utter another word, Count Todoroki grasps his intended’s hand and presses the smooth back to his cold lips. The shiver which runs the length of Momo’s spine has little to do with the temperature.

“Have faith in me, la mia bella principessa?” he whispers in flawless Italian. “It is not your blood that I want.”

Whether he is a man or a monster, Momo decides that she will love Shouto until her heart stops.

And possibly thereafter.

Chapter Text

Roy Mustang prided himself on knowing the score. He knew the periodic table by heart and could list the elemental makeup of the average human body on command -- for all the good it did him. Roy understood alchemy and had even reached beyond the veil on one occasion. What’s more, he believed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that ghosts did not exist and that whisky didn’t agree with him. But he drank it anyway and stared at the sight before him as the amber liquid sloshed precariously over the ice cubes in his glass.

“You look good for a dead guy,” Roy observed through tired eyes. Half-drunk and too proud to admit it.

The spectre of Maes Hughes shrugged in response, a maddening smirk plastered over his timeless features. Though Roy had aged, Maes looked precisely as Roy tried to remember him -- grinning broadly and whole, not collapsed within the tragic shadow of an empty telephone booth. Perceptive, even in death, Maes’s glasses glinted in the office’s low light.

“And you look like shit, Roy. Now cut the crap, and ask me your question. Your liver isn’t getting any younger, pal.”

In protest, Roy took a hearty swig, suppressing a wince as the noxious liquid slid down his throat. “Who says I have a question? I’m celebrating.”

“Suit yourself,” Maes responded. “Sooner or later it’ll come out. Always does. I just thought you might be ready to face it without the insufferable soul searching we’ve been doing as of late. But hey, I’m here, fresh from the afterlife. No big deal. Do take your time.”

The smirk on Roy’s lips faded as he surveyed the contents of his old office, a grand room befitting his former rank within the government. The paperwork strewn across his desk told a story that Roy knew too well. Before the trials, he’d authored it with blood, sweat and tears. But now the military’s authoritarian regime was all but dismantled, and the ink on their pardons for war crimes in Ishval was barely dry on the page. Pardons, he recalled, handed down at the behest of the Ishvalan survivors to end the cycle of persecution.

Roy’s curiosity overcame his common sense. “Is it possible that after all this time, she…”

“C’mon, keep going. You almost had something there.”

“Chatty little ghost, aren’t you, Maes?” Roy barked back. “If you let me get a word in, maybe I’d have said it by now.”

Hands up in mock surrender, Maes relented. From his place on the leather couch, he signaled for Roy to continue, easing back against the expensive furnishing.

Mustang’s gaze wandered, seeing untold possibilities in the mess he’d made of his life. “Do you think there’s still a chance she would want me? Riza, I mean.”

“Obviously. There’s never really been anyone else.”

“I know.”

“And I always said you should settle down with her.”

“You did.”

“So, what’s stopping you, Roy?” Maes queried. “Hawkeye will be here first thing in the morning to re-enlist. Make her a better offer, and find something better to do with your life than pushing paperwork.”

“You mean run for office?”

“You said it, not me. Be thou for the people, buddy. Your campaign slogan writes itself.”

“What’s my other option?”

“Re-enlist, drink away your evenings and die on duty. Make such a ‘contribution’ that the powers that be will be forced to erect a statue in your honor right next to mine.”

With heavy-lidded eyes, Roy spun in his chair and gazed out the window overlooking the parade ground. As he spotted the eight-foot statue of Brigadier General Maes Hughes in the courtyard, he remembered the day it was dedicated. Gracia Martinez had laid a bouquet of petite forget-me-nots near the commemorative plaque, holding fast to the hands of her daughter as well as her new husband. Elicia Hughes still stopped by from time-to-time in between classes at the academy, and though she favored her mother in most respects, there were moments when the familiarity of her easy demeanor nearly knocked the wind from Roy’s chest.

“Well, whatever you do, ditch the mustache, pal,” Maes added with finality. “Even your subconscious hates it.”

Again, he pivoted around to meet the slight on his appearance, and the world began to swim, the darkness blending into blackness. When Roy came to, he found himself slumped over the desk with a glass of watered-down whiskey and a headache pounding behind his eyes. For a moment, the flame alchemist floundered, struggling with the impossibility of Maes’s visit in the face of the sound logic he held so dear. And yet, as he massaged his temples and took stock of the early hour, Roy marveled that between him and his ghostly companion, they just might have found a way to make life after atonement worth living.

Chapter Text

Riza Hawkeye had had her fill of men.  She aimed low on the anatomically correct target and pulled the trigger, grinning as the bullet bit into its mark. 150 grains of lead embedded themselves lovingly between the target’s legs.  As satisfaction swelled within her, Hawkeye pulled the trigger again.

And again.

And again.

“Ceasefire!  No rapid-fire, Lieutenant, and regulations require that you aim at the center ring, not,” the flustered supervisor stumbled over his words, “lower.”

The lieutenant lowered her gun and slipped the protective gear from her ears.  Normally, Hawkeye would comply. Normally, she wouldn’t have broken the rules in the first place.  But normally, Mustang wasn’t such a jackass, Fuery’s questions didn’t annoy her and Falman could actually find his ass using both hands.

Jean alone had had the good sense to contract the flu and was absent from work.  So perhaps her entire team wasn’t comprised of idiots. In any case, this day had not been normal.

“Lay off her, won’t you, Hooper,” a friendly female voice sounded from behind Riza.  “I think she’s had enough of men telling her what to do.”

The curvy figure of Rebecca Catalina approached.  The sway of her hips and the smile on her lips obliged Riza to grin awkwardly in return.  She often rationalized that everyone noticed such things, not just men, and the second lieutenant had always had a way of capturing the imagination of all those around her.  She wielded charisma like Riza handled a sniper rifle.  

“C’mon, Ri,”  Rebecca said, gesturing over her shoulder.  “Let’s get out of here. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”


“I don’t know what’s wrong,” Riza stressed.  She unlaced her boots sloppily, without caring when she’d have to wear them again.  “It’s as if my entire team decided to be dumbasses, and I didn’t get the memo. They’ve asked repetitive questions and slacked off on their assignments.  I’m a lieutenant, not a nanny. Then, Falman has the gall to ask me if it’s my time of the month.  Mind you, that’s none of his business.”

Though to be fair, the cramps didn’t help.

“Well, that’s the most words I think I’ve ever heard you say,” Rebecca observed.  She slipped off her gym shirt and pulled on a pair of high-waisted jeans embellished with embroidered accents that delighted Riza’s feminine side.  She never had an eye for trendy details like that. Without thinking, Riza’s black turtleneck went up and over her head. The first lieutenant threw it in her locker, only realizing her mistake when she heard a sharp intake of breath.

It took a moment for the realization to sink in and for Riza’s stomach to turn over on itself.  She wanted to cover herself, to hide her back and wrap her arms around herself, but that wouldn’t remind time.  It wouldn’t erase Rebecca’s memory. There was nothing for it, but to own both the sins of her father and the shortcomings of his student.

“I knew two guys once,” she explained, “and they weren’t all bad, but they thought of me second when I always put them first.  One of them gave me this tattoo, and the other used it. I learned my lesson after that though.”

When Riza faced Rebecca, the second lieutenant's expression conveyed concern, eyebrows furrowed, highlighting a crease between her bottomless brown eyes.  “You got burned then,” she said, eyeing the scorch marks on her shoulder and lower back. “In more ways that one.”

“Yeah, but it’s not a big deal.”

Riza slipped on the first buttondown shirt she could grab, flinging it around her shoulders as her nimble fingers fidgeted with the buttons.

Rebecca stepped forward and met Riza’s eyes with unwavering support.  Her half-smile was small but sincere, and for the first time in quite a while, Riza felt seen.

“I won’t say I understand it,” Rebecca said cautiously, “and I won’t call it beautiful, not with all the trouble it’s caused you.  But I do think your scars have made you who you are today -- and that’s pretty great. To me at least.”

Heat rose in Riza’s cheeks as she considered Rebecca’s words.  They were nice; she was nice, and it was nice to be seen, scars and all, by someone so accepting.  Someone who made her feel so light inside.

“Now,” Rebecca declared, “let’s get out of here and go for that coffee before those boys can get you down again.  Or maybe wine and dinner, if you’re up for it.”

The corners of Riza’s mouth curled, and she found herself grinning for the first time that day.

“I am.”

It was a date.  Wasn’t it?

Chapter Text

The moon is high and full and bright. It hangs like hope and soothes Sokka, as beguiling as a mariner’s lullaby. Under her influence, it is easy to forget the mounting tension between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes. It is easier still to marvel at the music of the night, set to the hypnotic rhythm of the waves lapping against the southern shoreline. There’s a voice carried on the wind, and he hears her calling once more. Yue has been singing the same song for years now, but there’s a new verse tonight.

Remember me, she sings. And Sokka does.

He remembers the moment he first saw her all those years ago. Clad in the ornate finery of the Northern Water Tribe, she is the very picture of diplomacy, the essence of grace and politeness. Everything Sokka is not. But it is not her gentle disposition that Sokka holds to. Neither does his mind’s eye fawn over Yue’s flowing snow-white hair or her crystal blue eyes. These earthly sensations he could have forgotten.

It is their stolen kiss that Sokka remembers. So fragile. So fleeting. And within that embrace, she shared the life they might have lived together if not for family, duty and destiny -- the three themes which set the fast pace of their star-crossed love affair.

Not all love stories are lengthy, Sokka muses. Some are even sweeter for their brevity.

The next verse lasts longer.

Love me, Yue whispers. The aged warrior sometimes wonders if he had any other choice.

Sokka recalls his regrets, his internal anguish over his inability to save her. Like the boomerang he still carries in his belt, this shortcoming returns time and time again. He sees her spectre at the Foggy Swamp and in the dry doldrums of the Si Wong Desert. But Yue proves herself soon after, summoning a mighty tidal wave to aid the avatar. Her declaration of strength as the moon spirit is not to be taken lightly.

But she is always there, shining overhead most nights as Sokka sleeps under the stars. As he laughs with his friends. As he kisses Suki.

Suki deserves more than Sokka has to offer. She wants a pair of arms to hold her without reservation and lips that cherish her without comparing her taste to another’s. They part on good terms, and that is it for Sokka ill-fated love life. He struggles in anguish, as Aunt Wu foretold, and he realizes - begrudgingly - that most of it is self-inflicted.

And tonight there is a new verse, a new command that shakes Sokka to the core.

Dance with me, she beckons.

The thought begs him to hope as he scarcely has before. A Southerner to his core, belief in the spirits does not come naturally to Sokka, though he’s seen Yue’s ephemeral beauty and heard her calling louder with each passing year. The eternal dance is not something to be studied or learned, he knows. It is an exercise of balance, of push and pull, a phenomenon embodied by tui and la. And if she is asking him to take her hand, that can only mean…

“Sokka.”

Katara’s voice is unsteady. The rich tone of her alto range is stolen by the chilly winter wind that crosses their humble balcony overlooking the sea. Something unsettling lodges itself in his sister’s words.

“They’re asking for you at the North Pole, aren’t they,” Sokka mysteriously observes. “Something about a problem in the spirit oasis.”

“Yes,” she says, not quite as astonished or surprised as Sokka might have hoped. “I was wondering if you would come with me to investigate the issue.”

Sokka grins wryly, breathing in the night air. He surveys the frozen landscape through a pair of tired eyes and forces his mind from its malaise as if this is the last time he will ever regard his quaint hometown. Frigid waves lap invitingly at the nearby shoreline, a foreboding call if ever there was one.

“Lead the way.”

Chapter Text

Her mother once told her that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.

Perhaps, and this was just a guess, Marie “The Pulverizer” Mjolnir had taken that advice too literally.

Her sparring partner slumped to the side of the ring, clutching his midsection. His eyes were wide, and his mouth gaped listlessly, reminiscent of a fish out of water. Marie paused, breath becoming even as her boiling blood cooled within her veins. She grimaced as she watched her partner turn an alarming shade of green.

“MJOLNIR!”

The DWMA’s gym teacher screeched, lumbering toward the pair and waving her clipboard frantically. As a medic began tending to Marie’s counterpart, Professor Merryweather turned on her student. The Professor’s chubby thumb and forefinger pinched the bridge of her upturned nose.

“The assignment was to practice parrying, not to incapacitate your meister!” The English lady’s received pronunciation was magnificently haughty. “I understand that are gifted in the area of partial transformation, but in the name of Lord Death, do try and not live up to that awful nickname of yours! Hit the showers.”

Crestfallen, the hammer weapon’s partial transformation fell in the flurry of white-yellow light. She stepped out of the ring and collected her bag, hurrying from the gym as her classmates’ ill-intentioned whispers swirled around her. The Pulverizer’s physical strength might have been legendary, but beneath it all, she was still a high school student, determined not to let her peers see her cry.

Chapter Text

Riza Hawkeye's first memories were of the sea.

She remembered her mother pulling her up to peer over the bow of their ship, the Lady Elizabeth. The salt air had stung the young girl’s round face and caught the wispy ends of her dirty blonde hair. But even from the tender age of five, Riza saw freedom hanging just beyond the horizon, and she never once yearned for life on dry land. It was fair to say that Hawkeye earned her sea legs before she even learned to walk, born below deck and raised in the captain's quarters alongside a cabin boy who would one day become king of her floating castle.

At first, Riza resented her father’s deathbed decision to name Roy Mustang the captain and she the sailing master. By rights, the Lady Elizabeth was her property, but with time, she began to understand Berthold’s twisted, if accurate, logic. Captain Mustang had a dashing persona and an innate understanding of the way the world worked both at port and sea. He wielded his charism like a weapon, narrowly escaping one close call after another while Hawkeye tended to reply on the pistol tucked into her sash and the dagger hidden in her boot.

On nights like this one, Riza marveled at the way the crew responded to Captain Mustang’s confidence, even as she knew their ship was all but lost.

Lightning cracked the sky overhead as its tendrils cut the darkness to pieces. The weather had turned quickly, leaving precious little time to secure the sails and batten down the hatches, much less head further out to the open sea. Tempest winds rocked the ship back and forth, and the ship's sturdy planks groaned with the effort of resisting the melee.

“Tether yourselves to the ship,” Captain Mustang called out, “and get Furey down from the rafters.”

Disregarding his own well being, Quartermaster Havoc wrapped a length of rope around Hawkeye’s waist as she gripped the ship’s wheel and heaved it back into position. Overhead, Kain Fuery flew like a sparrow amongst the sails, as lithe as a dancer with the hardened edge of a seasoned boatswain. Only the young Elric brothers could hope to match his agility.

“Should we drop anchors, Captain?” Edward yelled. His pitchy voice strained against the wind and rain.

“Aye, do it now!”

No sooner than the word was given than Riza heard the telltale sound of metal scratching the deck and chains plummeting into the depths. For a split second, Hawkeye glanced in her captain’s direction and graced him with a stern but approving nod. They were going to make it. The storm would not…

No sooner had Roy’s onyx eyes met’s Riza’s copper gaze than the boat lurched, side-swept by the changeable tide. Wind battered the Lady Elizabeth’s starboard side, and the chain securing the anchors strained under the pressure, working against the vessel's integrity. It was then that both the captain and his sailing master remembered the damaged mainsail as well as the purpose of their journey to Tortuga — much-needed repairs. Another gust struck the ship sideways, and the Lady Elizabeth began to falter, her rafters snapped and the craft started to fall to ruin. In a split second, Hawkeye made a decision, communicated to her captain with little more than a look as the crew’s bodies were thrown about the tipping ship heading sidelong toward the craggy coastline.

“Abandon ship!”

Experienced sailors readied the rowboats, tossing supplies and helping injured crewmates into the smaller crafts. Riza’s hands tightened on the wheel even as she untied the tether at her waist. Hawkeye braced herself for as long as she could against the pull of the tide.

A flash of green caught Hawkeye’s sharp eye, and she glanced sideways to spy the ship’s quartermaster wedged beneath a pile of fallen debris. The bright green sash given to him by his sweetheart fluttered in the gale-force winds. Jean Havoc struggled to free his legs. His panic-stricken face paled as fresh blood painted the deck.

Hawkeye moved without the memory of deciding to do so. Her boots pounded against the worn planks as her spirit raged against the storm. All the while, she thought to herself that it was bad enough to lose her mother's ship. She refused to lose Jean as well, a crewmate and her friend.

“Havoc,” Riza cried as she reached him and pushed the wreckage from his legs. "We've got to go!"

Grabbing the muscled man under his arms and hoisting him upward, Riza helped him to the port side of the ship, closest to the shore. Both seafarers gripped the banister and looked down at the last remaining rowboat as a sickening crack sounded from above and the mainsail finally gave way.

“JUMP!”

For a moment, Riza felt her body suspended in midair alongside the injured quartermaster, and during those precious seconds, she traveled back in time. Gone was the wind whipping her loose shirt and pull of trousers skimming the contours of her legs. The pistol at the young woman’s waist fell away, and it was replaced by a child’s coin purse stuffed full of spending money for the market at Riza's favorite seaside town.

When Riza looked down, she did not see Captain Mustang. Instead, her mind's eye conjured images of 16-year-old Roy, dirty-faced but strong and freshly promoted to a full-fledged crewmate. The mischievous dark-haired boy laughed as he waited with open arms to catch her, and Riza trusted that he would let her fall. She knew they would find their way again, however hard they had to work to resurrect the Lady Elizabeth from Poseidon's grasp.


“Roy!”

Riza awoke with a start and sat up suddenly, clutching a bandaged area around her chest. She gasped for breath as her mind reeled, pulled unceremoniously from the unpredictable waters of the Carribean to a soft bed in a small room adorned with lace curtains that fluttered in the gentle breeze.

In the corner of the room, a familiar figure dozed in a moth-eaten armchair. Roy’s head lolled against the wall. His clothes seemed fresh-pressed and dry though his arm was bandaged and hung in a sling.

“Easy does it, girl,” a gravely female voice sounded from Riza’s bedside, accompanied by heavy footsteps against the house’s wooden floor. “You took quite a knock on the head and broke a few ribs in your fall, I suspect. Roy-boy brought you and the rest of the crew here last night. You’ve all been lucky to wreck so close to Tortuga. All except for that blond boy. Shame that, with a body like his.”

“You mean Havoc,” Riza interjected. “Did he… Is he…”

The older lady sighed and placed a basin of water on Riza’s bedside table. Even under the pressure of Riza’s unspoken inquiries, she took her time. The woman straightened up and tucked a lock of dark hair behind her bejeweled ear. The deep lines of her aged face betrayed no emotion.

“He’s alive if that’s what you asking,” she clarified, “but I can’t say he’ll walk again. Now, clean yourself up. I’ll send Madeline in to check your wounds and redress them if necessary. Unless, of course, you’d like Roy-boy to do it. He was very insistent that no one see your back.”

At the mention of her tattoo, Riza laid back. She pressed her neck against the pillows and swallowed hard. Briefly, she searched the older woman’s face for a sign of recognition and marveled that Roy would expose the map to anyone outside their small circle of trusted equals. It was said that Van Hohenheim’s treasure was without compare, containing treasure greater than gold that could reverse death itself. Roy sought it for his departed best friend and Riza for her mother.

In response, the women merely chuckled. “Smart girl. I wouldn't trust me either,” she said, turning her back to Riza and walking toward the door, “but in this case, I think we’d both be proven wrong. They call me Madame Christmas around these parts, but you can call me Chris Mustang.”

She thrust the door of the room open, ushering in sights and sounds from the tavern below. From her perch on the bed, Riza spied a few familiar figures moving with ease around the barroom. Riza breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the comforting sound of Heymans Breda’s fiddle, Alex Armstrong’s boisterous laugh and the Elrics squabbling over the merry ruckus. The smell of beer and freshly baked bread soothed her senses as effectively as the gentle lapping of calm waves against the shore.

“Welcome to The Prodigal Son Tavern and Inn, Miss Hawkeye,” Chris announced. She threw a softer glance in Roy’s direction as he snoozed peacefully through the hubbub. “It’s nice to have its namesake back again.”

And though Riza missed the sound of seagulls and feel of the sun on her freckled skin, she was content that the Lady Elizabeth’s grand misadventure had somehow lead her to a place that felt like home.

Chapter Text

It was hard to afford a decent apartment in the city. It was harder still to find a roommate who filled the Kyoka-shaped hole that Momo’s best friend left when she moved in with her boyfriend, Kaminari. But as fate would have it, Kyoka’s room didn’t stay empty for long. Within a month, a new set of furniture filled the second bedroom. A blue toothbrush found its way into the cup by the bathroom sink, and a set white boots mysteriously appeared by the front door. All told, Momo’s new roommate was a rare find — quiet, considerate and generally tidy. But that didn’t change the fact that…

“...you’re living with your high school crush!”

Momo nearly clapped a hand over Mina’s huge, pink mouth, and the everything heroine flushed crimson, fidgeting in her seat at the cafe. Ever since Todoroki had moved in, Momo’s living situation was the hot topic of conversation at their weekly Sunday brunch.

“Shh! Keep your voice down, Mina,” Momo urged, stirring the straw of her bubble tea nervously. “It’s not like that anymore. The rent’s high in my area and my parents are rich, not me. Todoroki just transferred back from abroad, and it makes sense. I feel only friendship for him. I swear.”

Momo meditated on the image of an iceberg. Cold, stable and utterly unmoved by the massive amount of lingering attraction which resided below the surface.

“Which is totally why she has a whole folder on her laptop filled with some of Todo’s most risque press photos,” Jirou added with a sly grin. “Oh, the benefits of a destructive fire quirk. Any word on if the curtains match the drapes, Mo?”

The young woman choked, nearly having to spit out her drink. “Kyoka!”

Creati had vowed to never commit a crime, but a rather large part of the woman inside the young pro hero fought a sudden compulsion to throttle her best friend as she sunk down into the floppy collar of her turtleneck sweater. That night, in the privacy of her bedroom, Momo renamed a certain folder on her laptop and encrypted it for good measure. Her lips twitched into a smile as she keyed in the simple password - IcyHot.

Their lease was only six months long. What was the worst that could happen?


“Oh, God! Oh my God, Shouto, I’m so sorry.”

Momo slammed the bathroom door closed almost as soon as she had opened it. Damn that see-through shower curtain. Damn the fact that he never remembered to lock the door. They had spoken about it last week.

And damn… Hot damn.

Those photos didn’t do Todoroki justice.

He had stood under the steamy spray with his fingers threaded through his dual-colored hair and a six-pack so cut that it almost shredded Momo’s self-control. Between the lazy way he parted his lips, the delicious battle scars and that bobbing Adam’s apple, the young woman almost lost herself in all things Shouto, her first love, her roommate.

The door to the bathroom opened again, and humidity spilled out. Todoroki appeared with a towel wrapped around his waist. Concern collected within the pretty irises of his gray and turquoise eyes, but Momo found herself distracted by the deep v carved into the flesh of his abdomen. She tried not to watch as lucky droplets of water tricked lower. And even lower. And…

“Is something wrong, Yaoyorozu?”

Most people thought Momo was accustomed to nudity. They took one look at her hero costume and made assumptions about her reasons for bearing it all. Yet, however comfortable she’d become with the female form and however much she had studied the human body, looking at Todoroki was a different matter entirely. It was…

“... the greatest thing that has ever occurred under that roof,” Kyoka pronounced. She passed her best friend a celebratory croissant and leaned in to continue the second most awkward conversation of Momo’s life. “Finally, some clothes are coming off! You guys have been dancing around each other for months. What happened next?”

Momo shrugged, clutching her coffee cup and rolling the slick sides between her palms. “Nothing really,” she confessed. “I continued to apologize, and he said he would remember to lock the door next time. We handled the matter like adults.”

The excited smile fell from Jirou’s face faster than a super speed quirk. “You can’t tell me it’s a coincidence that Todoroki conveniently ‘forgot to lock the door,’ and that you, in turn, ‘didn’t hear the shower.’ At least you got a look at the goods, right? I’ve had a bet with Mina going since he first moved in. Is the hair, you know, his natural color?”

Where seconds before Momo was cold, heat burned through her body as she considered Kyoka’s question. Inappropriate as it was. Roommates didn’t think about each other like that. Good roommates respected things like boundaries and closed bathroom doors and towels that smelled like a mixture of sweet sweat and his cologne.

“It happened so quickly; I didn’t see.”

“You sure about that?” the hearing hero quipped.

“Yes,” she said, but honestly, Momo wasn’t so certain anymore.


It was the coldest winter Momo could remember. That year, they broke out the kotatsu before the first flurries fell, and Shouto traded cold soba for something decidedly warmer. Crime rates had declined as the temperature dropped, and the roommates found themselves home more often during the long winter nights, enjoying each other’s company alongside steaming mugs of chai tea and endless conversation.

It felt right to enjoy her evening meals with someone who understood both the demands of hero work and the exacting expectations of successful, if opinionated, parents. It was nice to sit by his side on the living room sectional as he flipped idly through the news channels while she perused a new novel. And if their fingers happened to brush while doing the dishes or he stared a little too long when she bid him goodnight, well that was to be expected. Familiarity bred intimacy, though nothing Momo would ever act on.

But when there were less than 30 days left on their lease, Momo decided she had to make the most of her time with Shouto. She wouldn’t miss a moment come hell, high water or even stormy weather, though perhaps this was easier said than done.


It was the biggest snowstorm the city had seen in five years, and Momo’s patrol ran long on that fateful night. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the temperature followed suit. Frigid wind bit at the everything heroine’s face as she pulled the collar of her cloak to cover her nose and mouth. A storm brewed in the clouds above, and Momo raced home without changing into her warmer street clothes. She tried to beat the blizzard, navigating the winding streets and rethinking her hero costume with each strong gust of wet, wind-driven sleet.

Teeth-chattering and thoroughly chilled to the bone, she made it inside just in time.

“S-Shouto!” She called out, still clutching her cloak for warmth. The young pro hero slumped against the door to push it closed and crumpled into a ball on the seasonal welcome mat Shouto had bought last week. Momo smiled weakly as she spied her roommate’s white boots near the entrance while she kneaded her fingers, willing feeling back into her chilled digits. Her vision blurred just as he turned the corner to greet her.

“Momo!”

Upon later reflection, the everything heroine couldn’t quite recall the sequence of events which lead to her cuddling her strictly platonic roommate in front of the fireplace, half-naked. She remembered, vaguely, that he’d scooped her up bridal style and carried her to the couch, tearing away her cloak and replacing it with a blanket warmed by his quirk. And when the blankets had not satisfactorily warmed her, he took off his shirt and pressed her against his left side.

Perhaps, Momo had sighed when she felt the sensation of his warm skin pressing against her, thawing the gargantuan glacier of repressed attraction until it culminated in an avalanche of thoughts turned into actions. Who was to say who made the first move? Though Momo couldn’t be sure who kissed whom first, she relished the way Shouto pressed her back into the sectional’s plush cushion as his mouth captured hers in a searing liplock. The half and half hero’s left hand glided up her thigh leaving heat of all kinds in its wake. Instantly, Momo became addicted to the taste of Shouto’s lips, responding in kind with feverish moans as she tangled her fingers in his trademark hair and shifted to straddle him.

“I was worried about you,” he gasped as she sucked and nippled mercilessly on the soft flesh of his neck. “What made you walk home in a snowstorm like this? That was reckless.”

“Our lease ends in less than a month,” she panted. Shouto’s hand gripped the small of her waist as his head dipped to pepper her chest with gentle love bites. “I didn’t want to miss a night with you when we have so few left.”

At that, Shouto straightened up, and Momo quashed the verbal protest that rattled in the back of her throat, sorely missing the feeling of his lips against her skin. His fingers were quick to thread themselves through her disheveled hair as his gaze met hers with an intensity that burned cold and brilliant. The look he gave her lit up the night and sent goosebumps prickling beneath the scant fabric of her hero costume.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he vowed, suddenly grasping her hips tightly and standing up to take her to bed. His bed. Her bed. The wall in the hall. For once, Momo found herself without a preference. “I’m staying right here…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“... for the foreseeable future,” Momo announced proudly as she sipped her tea. “And I’m thrilled to announce that Todoroki and I have also decided to pursue a romantic relationship.”

“That’s it?” Mina asked. “This is your big announcement. You and Todoroki and have decided to ‘pursue a romantic relationship’ like it’s some boring contract negotiation?”

Momo stood her proverbial ground, refusing to jump at the bait her friend dangled in front of her. “I think starting a relationship by defining expectations and setting boundaries is a wise decision.”

Kyoka also took the opportunity to weigh in. “Yeah, but there had to be some fireworks, right, Mo? Even if you don’t want to tell us everything, you could settle the bet. Unless you haven’t followed Todo’s happy trail to the land down under, in which case we need to have a very serious talk.”

Momo paused for a second and took a sip of her tea to buy some breathing room. She looked between her friends, as good as they were, and thought of Shouto. While certainly Momo knew the answer and had, as it were, made a few round trips to the land down under and back again, she took a different tact, one she hoped her friends would understand.

“Frankly,” Momo stated, as cool as a cucumber with a sly smile on her lips, “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

Momo placed her teacup back in its saucer, careful not to spill a spot of the scalding hot goodness within. Mina and Kyoka exchanged flabbergasted, but elated looks before dropping the matter entirely. The three friends moved on to another topic and never once looked back.

Chapter Text

The black cat miraculous had crossed many paths, wiped a handful of cities off the map and commanded a lot of camembert.  Admittedly, brie would do in a pinch, but that was one of Plagg’s secrets. He had a lot of those, more than any other kwami he knew and with good reason.

Black cats brought bad luck, plain and simple.

Not that Adrien cared about his own luck, and that was just the first of many surprises concerning the latest user to channel Plagg’s power:  The consummate sidekick Chat Noir. 

In fact, it was fair to say that the kwami had never met anyone like Adrien Agreste before.

By the look of things, the wunderkind male model had it all — looks, book smarts, fame and fortune.  Not to mention an endless budget with which to purchase said camembert. (The kwami rested well knowing that the price of cheese would never be too high.)  What more could someone like that want out of life, and why would they want to run around Paris in a skintight catsuit? It occurred to Plagg that Adrien the model could have gotten paid to do that, and yet, here they were.

But as Plagg had realized early on, appearances were often deceiving.  Adrien Agreste was the rule, not an exception, and as if on cue, the kwami’s holder went about proving him right.

“It’s quiet tonight,” Adrien said, and as the words left his lips, he smiled, but he wasn’t happy.

Adrien’s fingers danced across the keys of the piano; yet, his mind was not on his nocturne.  Neither could his loneliness be consoled by the lux amenities of his home, though he had every creature comfort known to man or kwami.  And no amount of obedience could mend the broken love between father and son, though inevitably Adrien kept trying and hoping in vain. Any other kid might have glued themselves to the couch, taken a deep dive into the world wide web or played foosball to pass the time on a free evening.  Not Adrien.

He was happiest when Paris was in peril and genuinely content to put his life on the line time and time again for the girl he liked, the one person who was never far from his thoughts.

“Ladybug,” Adrien mused, and Plagg inwardly snickered as it was the first honest thing to come out of his Chat Noir that evening. “I wonder if she went out on a patrol.”

Such a liar, but not a very good one.

“You know that she isn’t out there tonight,” Plagg reminded him.  “Relax while you still can, kid. Before you know it they’ll be akumas and sentimonsters swimming up the Seine to get you.”

“Isn’t that the problem, Plagg?” Adrien countered.  He swung his legs over the other side of the bench to face the kwami, resting his elbows on his knees.  Gabriel Agreste would have called it slouching. Plagg would have liked to call Gabriel a son of a-

“We wait for these monsters to attack the people of Paris and then go about cleaning up the mess,” the boy explained.  “What if there was a way to prevent amoks and akumas? What if we tried to find Hawk Moth?”

“Without Ladybug?”

“For Ladybug.  Like a surprise.”

This was the part where Plagg told others to take a backseat.  The powers of a kwami were not to be used frivolously. Destruction always yielded to creation — this was the order of things.  But Adrien Agreste was not some untrustworthy alley cat. He didn’t have his own agenda. He just wanted to be himself.

Plagg inwardly sighed.  After 5,000 years, he was finally going soft.

He could always blame it on the cheese, even though they both knew Adrain had wheels of the stuff to spare.

“A slice of camembert will buy you two hours of transformation time, kid.”

Adrien smiled, and this time, it was real.

That night, he patrolled the streets of Paris as Chat Noir once more, fast and fierce and free.  His wild hair caught the glow of antiquated street lamps, and his sharp eyes flashed with careless mirth from beneath a sheath of green.  The grin he wore was playful, inviting danger with blustering confidence.

Some might doubt the identity of Paris’ favorite pun dropping sidekick if they had known the truth, but Plagg knew his miraculous owner had fooled everyone, even Master Fu.

As luck would have it, that boy was Chat Noir through and through — cocky, impulsive and loyal to a fault.

The mask was Adrien. It always had been.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t often that Roy Mustang woke up alone, but when Riza left, she took more than a suitcase with her. Their townhouse on Decatur Avenue felt frazzled and off-kilter that Autumn morning. As Nanny Armitage coaxed the rambunctious twins into matching pairs of overalls and set about serving breakfast, Black Hayate had a rare accident on the entryway rug. Roy rolled over to the sound of impassioned squealing as one of the children (his cenz were on Mae) toddled through the mess much to Nanny’s chagrin.

She appeared at the foot of the bed wearing a scowl that jolted him wide awake. Roy wondered if Norland College taught classes on how to scare human beings out of their wits with facial expressions alone.

“Please get up, Prime Minister. It’s half past six,” she announced with flawless, neutral intonation. The middle-aged woman tapped the face of her wristwatch as she watched her employer draw a hand across his eyes. “Professor Hawkeye-Mustang would not have you sleeping in on such an important day, and the dog has already made a mess in the hallway. Your assistance is required.”

Roy wracked the warped to-do list in his brain for the significance of this particular day. Fuzzy dates clicked, and he discarded them just as fast. June 7 was Riza’s birthday; December 21 was their anniversary. The twins were born on April 19. Nanny’s contact would need to be renewed on January 1, and the election was not until November. But the debate…

The debate was today, and he had an important meeting at 8 a.m. sharp.

Roy jumped in the shower and flicked the knob upward. Freezing water greeted him, but Roy did not have time to wait for the temperature to adjust itself. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, and before him stood the sometimes gargantuan task of making himself appear as attractive and energetic as contestants half his age.

Getting older had its perks -- experience, connections and financial stability, to name a few, but those pastries his kids loved so much were a bitch to burn off. And if he didn’t get a move on, stomach pudge would be the least of his problems.


Heads turned and whispers loomed as the Prime Minister arrived at work that morning. Roy wondered if taking his dog to work was a mistake but had found it impossible to leave Black Hayate deep in the trenches of childrearing. Riza had often taken her pup into the office when the Shiba Inu was a feisty little tyke. But now patches of white marked their dog’s diminished coat, and it was impossible to ignore the pleading look in Hayate’s old puppy dog eyes when he had brought Roy his leash that morning. As the prime minister sympathetically peeled stickers from his dog’s fur, he had known that old Hayate needed a break just as much as he did.

And, honestly, if that was all he wanted, Roy was happy to oblige.

But when Roy turned the corner to enter his office, shrugging off the jacket of his three-piece suit, he found his secretary somewhat shaken.

“Kain,” he greeted, brow knit with concern, “is everything ok.”

Kain swallowed hard, eyes darting toward the door. “She’s here,” he said ominously. “She’s been waiting for 20 minutes, and she insisted on bringing her sword through security.”

“Oh.” It was the only appropriate response that Roy could muster. “I’ll get right to it then.”

After a cleansing breath, Roy thrust open the door to his office and found the most indomitable person he’d ever met waiting for him with a pressed military uniform and an intimidating scowl. Her polished saber glittered prominently at her side. Roy missed the simplicity of knowing what he would wear sometimes, but it had been many years since he’d been tasked to take up his old ignition gloves. For this, he was immeasurably thankful.

“Olivier,” he greeted, immediately recognizing his mistake. “General Armstong,” he corrected. “So lovely to see you again. Tell me, how are things at Briggs?”

Armstrong’s brow twitched with annoyance.

“Spare me your small talk, Mustang,” she said. “I’m here about the endorsement, and I’d like to stay on topic. I’m sure your children and my family are doing well enough without us having to discuss how well they, in fact, are.”

“Right,” Roy responded, sitting down at his desk. “To the point, then. Will you endorse me for reelection?”

Olivier took a deep breath. Uh oh. That wasn’t good.

“You know the climate at Briggs is complicated, Mustang,” she explained, not having actually answered. “My people are putting their lives on the line every day, and Drachma grows bolder with every passing season. Your policy of pacifism is chum for them, Prime Minister. They’ve been testing the waters lately. In the past, our greatest military assets were our State Alchemists. Without that threat and considering Briggs’ position on the front lines, I am growing concerned.”

Mustang scowled. This has not been what he wanted to hear, today of all days.

“I cannot support the reintegration of the State Alchemist program within our military branch,” Mustang stated. “No matter how good it sounds on paper. I have my reasons, General. You know that better than most.”

Again, Armstrong’s silence spoke volumes.

“I am withholding my endorsement for the time being,” Olivier announced, “but I have no plans to support your opposition either.”

Despite the terse mood of the room, Black Hayate trotted up to the General, and the frown etched into her timeless features fell. She discarded her right glove and scratched affectionately between his ears. Olivier’s eyes softened as he leaned into her surprisingly soft touch.

“I like dogs,” she announced. “They’re loyal and smart, especially this one. Your wife must have an eye for those characteristics.”

Roy smiled in spite of himself. “Yeah, Riza always has.”

“I offered her a job once,” she added almost apropos of nothing, “but she turned me down cold. Said that she felt her place was watching your back, that it always had been and always would be.”

The grin on Roy’s face grew larger. He hadn’t known that.

“Once they called you a dog of the military. Now they’re calling you old and afraid of your own shadow.”

Armstrong glanced up toward Roy. Her penetrating blue eyes sent a shiver down his spine.

“Prove them wrong, Mustang,” she said. “Show them that old dogs can have new tricks.”

Chapter Text

Dinner at Hawkeye Manor was a pleasant affair for those who were accustomed to long stretches of loaded silence. After three years of dining in a conversation vacuum, Roy Mustang had gotten used to it.

Berthold Hawkeye took his meals with his nose pressed between the pages of the newspaper while his daughter balanced the checkbook. Clinking silverware and chiming glass accompanied the pungent smell of printer’s ink as the tip of Riza’s pencil scratched against the household's ledger. The set of the fourteen-year old’s blonde brow spoke volumes about the solvency of the Hawkeye estate, and judging from recent observations, Roy braced himself for another hard winter. He wrote home to his Aunt Chris, asking for sweet treats, a thick pair of gloves and extra blankets to see him through, intending to put the letter to post the next morning before his lessons.

“What are you doing?”

Riza’s voice was not entirely jarring, but the sudden urgency of the question caught Roy off guard. He flinched, nearly jumped out of his skin and pivoted in his chair, staring back at the knock-kneed tomboy as if he had seen a ghost. Admittedly, she had been looking paler lately; the threadbare quality of her clothes emphasized that fact.

“Writing a letter to my Aunt. Why?”

“The one who lives in Central?”

“Yes.” Roy supposed he hadn’t quite explained that he only had one aunt, that he knew of at least, but wasn’t about to start now. “Why?” Roy’s voice carried an edge that he hadn’t quite anticipated.

“Sorry,” he added, apologetically, “I’ve got a lot to do here, and you startled me. Is there something you need, Riza?”

Reluctance was not an emotion that Riza wore all that often or all that well. She fiddled with the frayed end of her baby blue sweater, refusing to meet his eyes as she spoke. “You should go into town to mail that letter this evening so it’ll go out on the morning train,” she said. “I’ll set aside some dinner for you. I’ll even give you an extra slice of dessert. It’s peach cobbler.”

“That will take almost an hour, and I don’t want an extra slice of dessert,” Roy retorted. “I can just give the letter to the postman tomorrow morning. One day won’t make a difference.”

Still stroking the hem of her clothing, Riza’s tone became impassioned. She looked up to meet the gaze of her father’s apprentice. “It might freeze tomorrow night, and the mail to Central could be delayed for weeks. Could you please, Roy? I- I need to talk to my father, and I think it’d be best if you were out.”

Roy opened his mouth to argue but stopped as the puzzle pieces fit together, forming a more precise picture in his mind. Riza needed to speak with her father, which she never did. She’d made Professor Hawkeye’s favorite food, peach cobbler, which they rarely could afford. Riza was offering Roy an extra slice of dessert - possible her own - because it was the only bargaining chip she had to offer.

He’d be an ass to refuse her request at this point. Aunt Chris had taught him better than that.

“Fine,” he hissed through gritted teeth. Roy glanced out the window as the wind gusted through the trees, knocking burnish yellow, brown and orange leaves from the branches. He shivered at the thought of a long, lonely walk down the dusty country road.


Roy returned later than intended with frozen toes and cheeks red and raw with cold. As he stepped into the entryway and stamped his boots against the mat, Roy heard raised voices coming from their small kitchen, the place he usually ate dinner.

“I give you food. I give you shelter. I provide for a first-rate education, and what has that school imposed on us! The clothes on your back are fine as they are, and I should write that school an impassioned letter to protest non-academic endeavors. End of discussion.” Berthold’s raised voice loomed through the wooden walls of the dilapidated country home.

“All the other girls enjoy the cotillion,” Riza stressed. Her tone was high and shrill. “I don’t want to ruin it for everyone, but the nice dress I have doesn’t fit. I asked my teacher if I could help prepare and serve the food again with the lower grades, but she said no. I’m to be judged on table etiquette this year and dancing next year. The cotillion is one-sixth of my overall grade, Father!”

“Table etiquette and dancing!” Berthold scoffed. “I’m not going to allow you to spend a quarter of our monthly budget on frivolities such as shoes and dresses that you’ll wear once. What you have is sufficient.”

“Please, Father. I already tried letting out the seams. See? The hem is too far above my knees, and my chest-”

Roy crept close to the doorframe. He walked softly to muffle the sound of his footsteps against the hardwood and pressed his back against the wall. The apprentice stilled his breath to hear his master’s low, cruel utterance.

“Maybe you should eat less. It fit your mother fine when she was your age.”

There was a beat of silence as the weight of his words settled and wreaked their havoc. Roy’s fists tightened. His teeth clenched, and he heard the soft shuffling of fabric and shoes against the kitchen’s checkerboard floor as Riza darted into the hall.

He caught sight of her as she passed and was surprised to find Riza wearing a lacey white dress gone yellow with age. The delicate layers sat too high on her hips, and the button-up back was taut.  The effect strained the natural curves of her figure in places where the garment should have comfortably fallen. In the split-second their eyes met, she turned away and darted up the stairs toward her room.

As Roy followed in Riza’s footsteps, he stopped off at the small apprentice dormitory to discard his jacket, boots and scarf but caught sight of the dinner on his desk before he could peel the layers from his skin. As promised, there sat an extra serving a peach cobbler and a note thanking him for his discretion. The sight hurt Roy’s heart just as much as the soft sobs coming from the other side of the hallway.

He sat down to write another letter to his Aunt Chris and told himself that he didn’t mind two brisk walks through the bitter cold on the same evening.


If the crates stacked in the entryway of Hawkeye Manor bothered Berthold, he paid them little mind. The postman begrudgingly lugged them in from his wagon with sideways remarks about the size and weight that Roy pretended not to hear. It took the young man four trips to carry the wooden boxes to his second-story dormitory and twenty minutes more to recover from his exertions. But the content of crates far surpassed any expectations he might have had when he asked his Aunt if his sisters had a nice dress to spare.

Chris Mustang’s note was, as she, straightforward and to the point.

Roy-boy,

A dress is useless without shoes, coats and accessories. Your sisters have no need of these as they are from last year. See that they find a good home.

Aunt Chris

All that was left was to wait for Riza to return home from school.


“Oh, Riza,” Roy called out, pleased as a preening peacock, “could you come here a moment. I have a favor to ask.”

Roy waited with growing impatience for her to turn the corner and smiled like the Cheshire cat when her indignant scowl fell, quickly replaced by a look of wonder. At least a dozen dresses and coats of all colors and styles were laid over the two vacant beds in the dormitory. An entire jewelry box of ornate rings, bejeweled earnings and long strands of pearls sat casually on Roy’s nightstand. And in the corner of the room, a large crate of purses and high-heeled shoes sat, still waiting to be unpacked.

“My silly sisters thought you might be interested in some of their old dresses,” he started. “And I told them that, of course, you wouldn’t want last year’s styles, but they insisted, and here we are. Might you consider taking these off my hands? I’d hate to send them back.”

Riza approached the dresses with equal parts hesitation and fascination, running the back of her hand along the frilly sleeve of a shimmering, soft pink dress and burying her fingers in a fur-lined coat that, Roy realized, once belonged to his own Aunt. Then, suddenly, her awe turned sour as she shook her head to rid her eyes of the marvels before them.

“I can’t accept these, Roy,” she said sadly. “We can’t afford-”

“Oh, please,” Roy interrupted. He’d prepared himself for this particular argument. “No one would be caught dead in these clothes in Central City. And I realize it will be a hassle to take them in, but I’d hate to have to haul these to the post office. It’s so far away, and the weather is absolutely terrible this time of year.”

Roy hoped against hope that, just this once, she wouldn’t be so stubborn, and he was rewarded by a teary-eyes gaze that caught the reflection of the many metallic bobbles glinting in her new jewelry box. Riza gathered the clothing in her arms and looked at Roy with a heartbreaking grin that stretched the corners of her heart-shaped face.

“Thank you,” was all she said in reply.

Through the lump in his throat, Roy grumbled out his own response. “Don’t mention it.”

He couldn’t go to the dance with her and probably would not spend another winter under Berthold’s tutelage. Neither could Roy change his master’s mind once it had been made up nor lessen the burden of her lonely life. But if he could play some small part in a brief moment of happiness, the young man decided he would take that chance, if not for altruistic reasons then selfish ones. If only so that when Riza would smile, all decked out in her finery as she departed for the cotillion, Roy would know he was responsible for it.

He would fight for her well-being, even after she herself had surrendered.

Chapter Text

When their baby is born, she is flawless, with blue eyes and a tuft of dark hair that Maire realizes she will not keep.  Soon, Marie imagines, that blue will deepen, darkening to a rich chocolate brown or fading into emerald green. She hopes for the latter but would like the former just as well.

On either account, Stein is unmoved.  Instead, he cradles the infant like a precious mystery.  He says that she is beautiful, and for once, Marie thinks he may understand what that means.  Stein sees eternity in a single grain of sand from the hourglass, a precious moment that redefines his life as he knows it.

Marie can only suppress a kindhearted giggle that says, I told you so .

“Do you think she’ll understand these,” Stein asks, and it takes Marie a minute to realize that he is tracing the deep scar along the left side of his face.

She knows better than most that his body is riddled with these long, sometimes jagged sets of stitches.  Marie knows that not all of them were earned in battle. Some he made himself for the simple satisfaction discovering the secrets hidden beneath his skin and between his bones.

“We’ll explain it to her the best we can,” Marie responds.

She takes her newborn daughter back into her arms and together they marvel at the small one’s perfection.  Flawless skin untouched by life. Blue eyes that have never known sorrow. Dark hair that has never seen the sun.

It’s all going to change, starting tomorrow, but for now, the family of three dwells in the small measure afforded them by this single grain of sand flowing through the hourglass, a perfect moment in an imperfect world.

Chapter Text

There is an uphill path that Roy Mustang is asked to walk by faith, not sight. Yet, he comes to an unexpected shortcut, hidden off the beaten trail.

It presents itself as a wolf in sheep's clothing when a familiar name slips from the lips of Mustang's longtime partner-in-crime, Dr. Knox. Unseeing eyes widen in spite of themselves at the astonishing possibilities held in the palm of Tim Marcoh’s hand. Possibilities, Roy reminds himself, bartered by Ishvalan lives and taken at the behest of the regime the Flame Alchemist recently overthrew. Still, the age of Dr. Marcoh’s crimes neither detracts from the man's culpability nor the potency of the philosopher's stone.

The solution is tempting. Very tempting.

It will cure him. It will restore the sight that Truth so poetically took.

The answer is easy. Too easy?

For some, the correct response is utterly straightforward, and Roy is envious of Fullmetal’s resolve. Edward and Alphonse Elric set off on the road less traveled while they were little more than children. And with the faith of a child, they hold fast to ideals of justice and fair play. Roy finds himself hesitant to live by example, to extol the alchemist’s creed and to abide by the law of equivalent exchange. For what can he give back that will equal the value of the lives taken?

A life is priceless, and that is Truth’s interpretation, not necessarily his own.

Edward would not consider himself the exception. Edward would accept his penance, refusing to traipse down any primrose path toward a more convenient future. But Roy is not Edward.

The idealistic man within him needs to see Ishval restored, to witness the fruits of his labors with his own eyes if only to assure himself that his efforts are sufficient. Roy wants to dive back into his work as if possessed, not having to relearn how to read and write and walk from one place to the next without disturbing the furniture. And if there is a firing squad in this future, courtesy of a war criminal conviction, the Flame Alchemist wants to stand tall as he faces the music, sight forward and unflinching as the gunshots sound.

Alternatively, in the case of a pardon, there’s Hawkeye to consider.

Truly, Riza, a woman who had simply continued living when ordered not to die, deserves more than being bound to a blind man. A selfish part of Roy wants to know how her hair will look when it becomes stained by sun and starlight, to see wrinkles line her face even if he cannot touch them. So many acts of service they have given each other, and none of his have repaid the debt he owes.

He would like to keep trying, for what that’s worth. At least, he would like to keep pace with Hawkeye, never to hold her back or burden her; however, she might view his injuries.

And, it occurs to Roy, that perhaps this was Truth’s plan all along. He muses that the capricious guardian of the scales could have taken his eyes as they had taken Edward’s leg, Alphonse’s body and Izumi’s insides -- wholly and completely. Both the form itself and the function within it.

But they had not taken his eyes.

Was that a tease? A test? A mercy?

Roy chooses to believe the latter and bathes in the optimism swirling within his overcrowded hospital room. Whatever their expressions might say (Roy is none the wiser), they praise his resolve and reavow their allegiance to his noble cause. Ever the strategist, he suggests that Havoc should benefit first and inwardly posits that if there is life left in the stone afterward, his restoration is meant to be.

The philosopher's stone is not a shortcut, Roy tells himself. It is neither a fork in the road to test him nor a detour meant to tease him. He expects to simply wander in the tall grass for a moment, pausing to heal, before returning with unprecedented vigor as if his blindness was naught but molehill instead of a mountain.

And if perhaps, there is criticism for this decision, Roy does not hear it. These inconvenient observations go unspoken, hidden behind the fourth wall that followed his journey through the Promised Day.

Chapter Text

The moon is beautiful on their last night in Resembool. It’s full and high, etched into the starry sky as clouds drift across the rural landscape.

Alphonse Elric considers himself an expert on the moon and stars of his hometown. And of his father’s books and cold cups of coffee, still full to the brim. Winry makes a pot in the evening, and she never forgets to bring him a steaming mug though they both know the gesture is pointless.

Al doesn’t sleep anymore. Neither does he smile, eat or suffer the elements. Cold is a puff of breath against a backdrop of frost, and heat is the glint of the sun off his gunmetal body. Somehow he sees, though he lacks the eyes to do so. Al feels though touch is nothing except a memory of the sensation.

On the other hand, Edward has his fill of all these things. To Al’s delight, the pale-haired boy snoozes deeply in the room’s single bed. Neither crickets nor howling coyotes can wake him. He eats as if food is a scarce commodity, and is smart enough to delude himself into believing that he still doesn’t need to drink milk, despite the strain of his automail arm and leg.

Al looks away from the open window and hums at a collection of humorous memories. The unfocused sound rings through the armor as it travels through the empty caverns where his torso and limbs should be. In response, Ed stirs in his sleep, mumbles something indiscernible and rolls over. He is peaceful once more and sadness stirs in the young man's soul.

Impossible though it seems, Alphonse Elric has a dream. He imagines that one day, he will look in the mirror and see golden eyes where half-moon holes now glow with red fervor. His cheekbones will be flesh, not metal marked by horizontal vents. And though he has grown somewhat fond of the white ribbon sprouting from atop his helmet, he hopes that one day he will find the comfort in running his fingers through his flaxen hair.

Arms to hold his loved ones. A stomach to fill with Winry’s apple pie. Eyes that droop and grow tired from a hard day’s work.

It is the simple pleasures in life which Al craves, and he’s going to get his brother’s limbs back too. That is only fair.  

Tomorrow they leave Resembool and begin their quest in earnest. Tomorrow the moon will be bathed in the fiery glow of a past reduced to ruin. October 3 will be a night that neither Edward nor Alphonse will ever forget. If all goes according to plan, it will be burned into their memory as the point of no return.

But for now, Edward sleeps, and Alphonse dreams of a future where he can truly rest.

Chapter Text

Few modern words struck terror into the hearts of men as forcefully as the sound of two repeated piano chords, alternating between high and low with melodic precision. As the sound traveled the corridors of U.A.’s dormitory courtesy of an open window, Tenya Iida set aside his protein drink. Izuku Midoriya’s scarred hand stilled. Even Katsuki Bakugo, as explosive and unbalanced as ever, held his breath, waiting in denial for the absence of the damning, telltale lyrics.

“WHY’RE MEN GREAT ‘TIL THEY GOTTA BE GREAT? WO!”

The groan that filled the common room expressed the collective sentiment perfectly. Admittedly, the girls and Yuga Aoyama had been noticeably absent for over half an hour. It didn’t take Midoriya’s strategic mind to realize that there was a connection. Another fight or break up had occurred amongst the girls of class 1-A.

“I JUST TOOK A DNA TEST, TURNS OUT I’M 100% THAT BITCH
EVEN WHEN I’M CRYING CRAZY
YEAH, I GOT BOY PROBLEMS, THAT’S THE HUMAN IN ME
BLING BLING, THEN I SOLVE ‘EM THAT’S THE GODDESS IN ME!”

“Aw, man,” Hanta Sero sighed. “Which one of them got hurt this time?”

“Does it matter?” Shouto Todoroki chimed in, snapping his book closed. It was useless to return to homework at this point. As much as the boys liked to complain, broken hearts would be the topic of conversation for the evening. Their motivation was equal parts curiosity and protectiveness.

Some expressed their concern better than others.

“WHAT DID YOU DO THIS TIME, KAMINARI?” Bakugo’s voice was simultaneously gruff and shrill, nearly overpowering the all-female chorus now screaming something over a slick beat.

The jagged-haired blond drew his hands to his chest protectively as his classmates turned to stare daggers at him. “Nothing,” he said, “I swear. Kyoka and I are fine. Still together... I think.”

Apparently unsure about that last sentiment, he whipped his cell phone out and began texting furiously.

Iida, their painfully single class representative, piped up. “What about you, Midoria? Any problems with Uraraka?”

Deku balked, mumbling under his breath as he recounted every interaction with his girlfriend over the past few days. A beat of relative silence settled as the next damning lyrics rang out.

“YOU COULDA HAD A BAD BITCH, NON-COMMITTAL
HELP YOU WITH YOUR CAREER JUST A LITTLE
YOU’RE ‘POSED TO HOLD ME DOWN, BUT YOU’RE HOLDING ME BACK
AND THAT’S THE SOUND OF ME NOT CALLING YOU BACK”

A scoff sounded from the corner of the room, and the boys turned to find Minoru Mineta wearing a knowing smirk.

“It’s not Jiro or Uraraka,” Mineta announced. The sly glint in his wandering eyes said he knew something the rest of cohorts didn’t. “Or Ashido or Hagakure for that matter. It’s coming from the fifth floor.”

“WHAT’D YOU KNOW ABOUT IT, GRAPE HEAD?”

Just then, Kaminari’s phone sounded. He picked it up and keyed in the passcode code with shaky fingers, initially relieved but then troubled by the information his newest text contained.

“Hey guys,” he said, “it’s Yaoyorozu. She was talking to some guy on the internet and just found out he’s been playing her the whole time.”

Shouto’s ears perked up. A strange feeling burned in his chest that had nothing to do with his quirk. For once, it (probably) wasn’t one of their own who had messed up, but a nameless outsider who had dared to upset the status quo. With their class’s vice representative no less. Some action had to be taken to let her know they were right there with her.

Just not actually there. Not listening to that awful music.

“We should do something,” Shouto announced. The half-and-half hero stood, fists clenched by his side hand scanned the faces of his classmates who nodded in agreement. All except for Eijiro Kirishima and Bakugo.

“What the fuck are we going to do about Ponytail’s love life, Icyhot?” Bakugo barked.

And honestly, Shouto hated to admit it, but he had no idea.


Kyoka’s break up playlist hadn’t failed her yet and seeing as she’d only ever dated Denki, the mix had gotten a surprising amount of use. Together, the girls and Aoyama (who seemed to have a nose for drama) had done their best to brighten up Momo’s room. The friends drew back the curtains and opened the windows, letting fresh air and sunlight in. The sound of Lizzo’s voice filled the courtyard, but any noise complaints were tomorrow’s problem. Right then, Kyoka’s focus was Momo’s wellbeing.

“We met in a chatroom and got to texting. I really thought he was a nice guy,” Momo recounted through a pair of red-rimmed eyes. “But then, he started saying risque things and asking for nudes, and I just… I said no. And he told me he already has a girlfriend, that I was some know-it-all sidechick who wouldn’t… you know… virtually put out.”

“Oh, Yaomomo! I’m sorry. It could’ve happened to anyone,” Mina Ashido offered.

The seemingly blank space next to Asui shifted in her U.A. themed hoodie. “Everyone needs to feel special sometimes,” Hagakure added. “I mean, yeah, we’re heroes in training, but we’re also high school girls here. No offense, Aoyama.”

“None taken,” the blond boy responded. “Everyone wants to sparkle off the battlefield, hun.”

Kyoka nodded. “You played it smart, Momo. You didn’t send him anything that could come back to haunt you as Creati. I know it doesn’t make it better, but this could have been so much worse.”

“Yeah. I just can’t believe I let someone take advantage of me like this,” Momo sniffed. “And the thing is, I almost sent him the pictures until I remembered all that stuff Midnight said in our media seminar. I guess we never really know who’s on the other side of the screen.”

As her best friend’s analysis left her lips, Kyoka looked down at her phone. The screen reflected her petite features, and within that black mirror, she saw her insecurities staring back. Even the hearing heroine’s inhibitions might have been lessened by some fleeting notion of anonymity had she been in Momo’s shoes. It really could have happened to any one of them.

“Online dating sucks,” Kyoka concluded. Momo’s overcrowded bedroom agreed in earnest.


The heartbreak krewe left late in the evening, and Momo tucked herself into bed alongside her friends’ reassurances that she’d handled the situation correctly. But truth be told, this part of the day was the loneliest. It was just the sort of time that she would have texted her mystery man, asking about his day or even the weather.

There was a steady knock on the door.

“Coming,” Momo grumbled as she rolled out of bed. Believing it was Aoyama or one of the girls, she didn’t bother to put on her robe. It was a decision Momo immediately regretted when her eyes met a mismatched pair of turquoise and gray.

“Todoroki!” Momo crossed her arms over her chest. “Do you need anything?”

As uncomfortable as Momo was, Todoroki appeared even more so. He thrust a pink box toward Momo, and she accepted it, greeted by a sweet aroma that practically stole her senses.

“These are from all of us,” he said, scratching the back of his neck. “Kaminari told us what happened, and we helped Sato bake some cookies.”

Momo peered inside the box and found no less than two dozen bite-sized chocolate chip cookies nestled within a thin layer of parchment paper. She picked one up and popped it in her mouth, grinning as the rich sweetness made her taste buds dance.

“Thank you,” she responded, “they’re still warm. Really amazing!”

“You’re welcome. I used my quirk a little. And um… Yaoyorozu,” he stumbled, “if you ever want someone to talk to, you can always text me. I know I don’t have a lot to say, but yeah… You have the number.”

The apples of Momo’s cheeks broke out in a delicious blush. She sucked a droplet of melted chocolate from her fingertip.

“I will,” she said. All thoughts of her pervy penpal were suddenly forgotten.

Chapter Text

For as long as he could remember, Eijiro Kirishima felt no innate desire to like one thing to the exclusion of another. He made it a point to be friendly with everyone, to respect a villain's power as much as he admired his hero friends. And with age, this innate sentimentality blossomed into a curious inclination which his closest confidants accepted without so many words.

Eijiro liked girls. How could he not? Their tight school skirts and flowing curves were charming. On his worst days, the softness about their bodies and the tenderness of their thoughts bewitched him. It was maddening, and he would often find himself drawn into the fray time and time again just to make a girl smile.

But Eijiro also liked boys. And, likewise, how could he not? Their muscles were hard, and their sweat was sweet. On his best days, a strong man could better him, knocking the wind from his stomach and the sense from his muddled mind. The very thought was vexing in the most exasperating way, and Eijiro craved this masculine connection, never forgetting that their egos could also be delicate matters.

In fact, it was fair to say that Eijiro liked girls and boys and everything in between. At the risk of becoming a broken record, he often wondered how anyone could not? If anything was better than soft curves and hard muscles, it was the phantom line between the two sexes. A state of mind where every characteristic blurred and blended. The curious dynamic was exhilarating, and otherwise, precisely what Eijiro might choose to make of it on any given Sunday.

And then came Katsuki Bakugo, on a Monday no less.

Eijiro didn’t know what to think of him, not at first, but his friendly disposition eventually wore away at the hardened chip on Bakugo’s shoulder. The explosive classmate was the kind of guy who sized up a situation in the space of a heartbeat and never let a debt go unpaid. He wanted, more than anyone, to be a hero. Bravery lined his veins, and reckless abandon was in the boy’s blood.

Whatever his nature, Eijiro had very little say when it came to his own heart. The development was unexpected, but not unwelcome, especially not when Katsuki Bakugo was so naturally talented in the sparring ring.

Thick bodies hit the mats with deafening thuds as one fight evolved into another. And another. But as the evening wore on, Eijiro discovered that practice ended as soon as everyone else left the gym. Whatever his fights with Bakugo were or were not, they felt pointed and purposeful as if an unspoken agreement was forming on the razor’s edge of a knife, poised to rend the young men to pieces should the deal go sour.

Fat chance of that, not when Katsuki’s sweat was so sweet.

Bakugo charged at him. A growl lingered in his throat. Eijiro dove low, attempting to sweep Bakugo’s legs with one swift motion, but the explosive blond read his actions as like a textbook. On instinct, Bakugo’s relentless mind pivoted. His arm shot out as Katsuki’s stance shifted. He caught Eijiro around the ribs, pulling him down and tossing him onto the map.

And these were moments where Eijiro knew the truth. In these pockets of time, Bakugo’s hands lingered too long. His gaze was as intense as the heartbeat pounding in Eijiro’s throat. Katsuki wanted something, the crimson hero realized. No, he needed something, but couldn’t bring himself to ask for it.

Maybe, just maybe, Eijiro could help. After all, he was accommodating like that.

It took only a matter of seconds for the bigger man to use his body weight against Katsuki, flipping them over until Eijiro was on top. He forced himself down against Katsuki’s thrusting hips. Both hands pinned his the blond’s shoulders to the map as Eijiro’s eyes took in his counterpart’s attractive figure. Slowly, with languid precision, as if he wanted to be seen.

For the record, that was the point.

Bakugo’s attempts at escape grew feeble as a sharp, toothy grin spread across Eijiro’s lips.

“LEMME GO!” Katsuki bellowed. And those were words he didn’t mean. Not in the slightest.

“You can go at any time you want,” Eijiro said, calm as cold fire. “But I think you need this, Katsuki. I think there’s a part of you that wants to learn how to beg, and you’ve always been too proud to ask.”

Eijiro’s calloused hand shifted and tightened around Katsuki’s throat. There was no real pressure, only an affirming sense of calm which obliged the blond’s body to relax under Eijiro’s confidence. His limbs went slack, and the raging spirit within the explosive hero dropped into a void of hypnotic tranquility. Katsuki responded to something overpowering in his friend’s voice, something mesmerizing and, dare he think it, dominant.

Be a good boy for me, Katsuki.”

The weight of Eijiro’s words was heavy, and like all other aspects of his flexible personality, that suited him just fine. He hoped, with the right training, that Katsuki would come to embrace the same sort of duality.

“Yes, sir.”

Though usually the dom in their relationship, Katsuki was going to make such a wonderful switch.

It took one to know one.

Chapter Text

Sneaking in and out of hospitals might as well be a part of the hero track curriculum. Shouto Todoroki likes to think he’s pretty good at it. He’s done it more than most.

He plans his visits weeks in advance and calls ahead so that the front desk knows he’s coming. Eyes down, Shouto navigates the hospital corridors, grasping the bill of his ball cap between his thumb and index finger. Indeed, it would anger Endeavor if he was seen at such a place, but that’s not why Shouto makes such an effort to camouflage himself.

For one, it wouldn’t be fair to her, his mother. Her unjust commitment is punishment enough. But also, his disguises tend to make Rei smile. When she sees her son wearing Midoria’s borrowed All-Might cap, her pale features stretch into a genuine smile.

“Does your father know you have that hat?” she laughs, slender fingers pressed to her lips.

Shouto smirks in reply. He thinks maybe, just this once, he’ll let his disguise fall on purpose.

At Rei’s request, the visit doesn’t last long. They never do, but things have been getting easier. Shouto takes it as a good omen that she can joke about her husband despite the havoc he wreaked on the collection of strangers that was once the Todoroki family.

He nearly makes it to the exit when a pair of familiar onyx eyes stops him in his tracks. Momo Yaoyorozu is a startling sight outside of her school uniform. Her raven hair is worn down, hidden by the hood of a jacket zipped taut across her chest. Shouto’s first thought is that she must be here to visit someone, like him.

His second is that she’s in a wheelchair, and she most definitely sees him as well.

“Yaoyorozu?” he queries, shocked at the suddenness of her appearance.

In response, she tries to jump out of the wheelchair. Her chest and face begin to flush with he imagines, a mixture of panic and embarrassment.

“Not so fast,” a voice chides.

Shouto’s gaze snaps upward to view a middle-aged woman grasping the handles of Momo’s chair. Both her business-like frown and her stiff-pressed uniform scream no-nonsense nurse. “Are you Ms. Yaoyorozu’s friend?” she asks. Her tone is accusatory, to say the least.

“Yes, I-”

“In the future,” she lectures, “it would be wise to accompany her all the way to the hospital when her symptoms worsen, not drop her off around the corner.”

Shouto opens his mouth to defend himself when he catches the panic in Momo’s eyes. The young semi-pro is many things, well-known for not being quick on the uptake, but he isn’t entirely without tact. He closes his mouth and nods.

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be sure to do better moving forward.”


They take the bus back into the city center, and Yaoyorozu talks as Shouto listens. He does not ask for an explanation so much as he thinks she wants to give one. And if a sounding board is what Momo needs, Shouto believes that the least he can do is hear her out. She fiddles with her long sleeves the entire way, scratching at bandages which undoubtedly conceal needle marks. Words like ‘hypoglycemia’ and ‘quirk evolution’ pass through his ears. Shouto doesn’t understand everything she says, but he gets the gist of it.

“They don’t know if this something temporary or if the changes in my quirk’s function are permanent,” Momo says. “Either way, U.A. doesn’t know. My family has an arrangement with the hospital. We’d like to keep it quiet until… Until we’re sure… I’m fine for now, though, and I’d appreciate your discretion.”

The weight of the information takes Shouto by surprise. His discretion is one thing, but there’s a deeper issue at play.

“So, you go to the hospital when your blood sugar doesn’t come up fast enough?”

“Yes. And in between so that my doctor can monitor my bloodwork.”

“And you go alone? Jirou isn’t really dropping you off around the corner, is she?”

“No, I wasn’t ready for anyone to find out. Not even Kyoka.”

The bus isn’t crowded today, and for this, Shouto is grateful. The relative calm of the engine’s steady purr and the soothing sound of the city streets help the young man think. His decision is neatly made, conspicuously without the judgmental chiding which he thinks Yaoyorozu expects.

“I’ll go with you,” Shouto announces, leaving little room for discussion. “We have the same class schedule.”

“Todoroki, I couldn’t impose-”

“You’re not,” he says, unsure even as an ugly truth spills from his lips. When had he decided to tell her? She hadn’t asked. “My mother is in that hospital. Our family also has an arrangement. I visit her when I can. It might be better for us to travel together.”

Momo tries to protest, but Shouto will hear none of it. He makes sure she has his phone number and insures that she will use it, even for routine check-ups.

“I don’t know how to thank you, Todoroki,” Yaoyorozu says as they slip past the gates of U.A.

“Don’t thank me,” he responds. “It’s what friends are for.”


The first text comes a month later. Yaoyorozu and Todoroki slip out on a Wednesday night under the pretense of getting cold soba. Rei is thrilled by the impromptu visit though she cautions her son not to make school night meetups a regular thing. He doesn’t tell her about Momo. Even though he assures himself that she’s just a friend, it feels too soon.

After Yaoyorozu is given the all-clear, they really do get cold soba — her treat. He tries not to slurp the noodles, but she giggles at the attempt. There’s a bright look about her eyes that makes Shouto feel as if his half hot quirk is misbehaving.

“It’s okay to be yourself around me,” Momo says. “It’s what friends are for.”

His words taste sweeter coming out of her mouth.


A routine appointment brings them in on a Saturday morning, but Rei takes longer to ready herself than usual. Momo’s appointment goes smoothly, and judging by her smile, her treatments are working. She’s finished before Shouto can begin, and he realizes their delicate position.

Shouto cannot disappoint his mother, not when this visit had been planned for over a month. Neither can Momo risk being seen in the hospital. The longer she waits, the stronger the chances that she’ll be noticed.

There’s only one thing to be done. Shouto holds his breath when he asks the question, and he isn’t quite sure why the words feel heavy on his tongue.

She is just a friend, and surely, Rei would like to meet some of Shouto’s friends. She has even asked him to bring Yaoyorozu around once or twice.

“Would you like to meet my mother?” he finally blurts out.

Relief floods Shouto’s system when Momo grins broadly and tells him that she would like that very much.


The jacket tossed over Momo’s arm isn’t just a disguise anymore. Six months into their arrangement, she has become a regular fixture at visits. Sometimes, Momo pops her head in to say hello, and Rei responds with a polite nod, indicating that she’d like to be alone with her son. Most days, Rei invites the everything heroine inside, Momo wraps herself in a jacket and the two schoolmates listen while Shouto’s mother regales them with tales from her days of glory.

“Frostbite is an amazing hero,” Momo gushes, and Shouto can’t help but notice that Momo always uses the present tense. He also believes that his mother is an amazing woman. Time cannot tarnish the legacy she left behind when she retired to start a family. “I’m not sure anyone has been able to rival your mastery of winter weather rescue. Not even Todoroki.”

Rei preens as Shouto struggles to conceal a slight frown. “I don’t know. Shouto’s getting pretty close. He’s able to use his quirk more freely than I ever could since his hot half regulates his body temperature. Speaking of which, are you cold, Yaoyorozu? I can ask the staff to increase the temperature.”

The young man’s head turns to see his friend trembling beside him on the small loveseat. After many years of training, regulating his body temperature is second nature, as natural as breathing, but Yaoyorozu has no such capability. Shouto rarely notices how cold his mother keeps her room, but he makes a mental note to pay attention to it in the future.

Without the memory of deciding to do so, Shouto slips his left hand behind Momo’s back. His fingers tighten around the small of her waist. He isn’t sure where the bold gesture came from, but he’s relieved when his friend — and he swears to himself she’s just a friend — sinks into his touch. A knowing look flashes across Rei’s face, and Shouto isn’t sure if she is alarmed or relieved.

“Better?” he asks Momo.

And although she nods in earnest, the blush that spreads across her face makes him think he’s warmed her too much. Still, he keeps his arm around her for the remainder of their long visit, and she makes no attempt to pull away.


Momo’s been looking pale lately. Shouto thinks their peers are beginning to suspect something. In the back of his mind, he’s been wondering how he should phrase his concern when finally the text message comes.

Momo Yaoyorozu, 2:16 p.m.
Can we visit your mother after gym today?

Shouto Todoroki, 2:16 p.m.
Are you sure you don’t need to see her sooner?

Momo Yaoyorozu, 2:18 p.m.
I can wait a little while. Meet you in the common area after class?

Shouto Todoroki, 2:19 p.m.
Yes. We can get cold soba after if you’re up to it.

Momo Yaoyorozu, 2:19 p.m.
I’d really like that.

Shouto suppresses a smile as he places his cell phone in the gym locker. He hardly hears the chatter of his classmates as they change into their swimsuits but does not believe he’s missing much. Surely, Mineta is drooling at the thought of his female classmates in form-fitting swimwear, though everyone knows their swimsuits are as modest as they come. Certainly, Bakugo is making posturing, if violent, remarks, directed toward him and Midoria. The hot and cold hero expects nothing less.

But in just over an hour’s time, he and Momo will be on their way to the hospital. And this is where the young man's mind prefers to dwell.  Shouto doesn’t know why, but he thinks he’ll feel a lot better once they’re well on their way. For her sake, he hopes Aizawa will take it easy on class 1-A today.


“YAOMOMO! YAOMOMO!”

Shouto hears Jirou’s screams from the other side of the pool, and his head emerges from the turbulent surface of the water just in time to see the green illumination of Midoria’s quirk. Fast as lightning, Deku makes his move, and Shouto stares on as Momo’s limp body is pulled from the lane where she was swimming laps.

Jirou screams again. “I CAN’T HEAR HER HEART. YAOMOMO!”

There’s a shuffling of bodies and a myriad of quirk usage as Class 1-A’s training kicks in. Iida speeds away to fetch Recovery Girl, and Uraraka levitates Yaoyorozu’s body, placing it down gently in the proper presentation. As Aizawa confirms Jirou’s observations, he calls off Kaminari, stating that his electric quirk is too dangerous to use under these conditions. It’s all Shouto can do to rush to her side, unsure of how he will be able to help, and when he gets there (after seconds that feel like hours), the young man is alarmed by how pale and lifeless she looks.

He blames himself, though he isn’t sure why and hold her hand as if the sheer force of his will could pump life back into her body.

But it can’t.

There is no time for hesitation. Aizawa is quick to begin chest compressions, counting loudly toward 30 as he forcibly pumps his student’s heart. And as the instructor’s voice reaches the number 20, Shouto realizes what he expected to do. He realizes that his fingers are beneath her chin, tilting her head upward, and his lips hover over hers, waiting to coax oxygen into her lungs. The hand gently caressing her forehead dips to pinch her nose, and on the count of 30, Shouto’s mouth covers Momo’s.

He gives her two gentle breaths, watching as her chest gently rises, and Shouto prepares to do it again, as many times as it takes, until she comes back to him.

It nearly breaks him when he realizes that she still tastes sweet.


Shouto’s classmates don’t ask how he knows the name of Momo’s doctor or the hospital where he primarily practices. They don’t question why he is aware of the Glucagon injection pen she keeps tucked into her purse, and if not for Recovery Girl’s insistence, he would have ridden in the ambulance with her. Not even Aizawa tries to stop him from leaving, even after he forbade class 1-A from rushing to Momo’s bedside.

He’ll take his punishment, whatever it is.

There are no disguises this time, and Shouto does not hesitate to call a cab. He doesn’t care when the driver recognizes him, and he cares even less about the wake of whispers that follow him inside the hospital’s automatic doors.

Recognition flashes across the receptionist’s eyes when she sees him, and it appears to bother her when she tells Shouto that she cannot release information to anyone that isn’t family. Todoroki turns away and slams his fist against a nearby wall. Rage bubbles just beneath the surface, and he can feel his quirk fluctuating dangerously beneath his skin. He is ready to search the hospital floor by floor when a familiar, middle-aged nurse catches sight of him.

She clears her throat and begins speaking loudly about the new admission in room 7309. Though unconscious, the young woman is stable, and her family is eagerly waiting to see her in the common area of the 7th floor. Shouto nods thankfully in her direction, and with an understanding tilt of her head, she responds in kind.

He races up seven flights of stairs and meets her parents, a woman with wet onyx eyes and a tall man with spiky raven hair.

They wait in silence for the dust to settle.


When finally he’s allowed in to see her, Shouto doesn’t know what to say. Her parents hug her, and her mother cries softly into the fabric of Momo’s hospital gown. Her father tries to accept all the guilt, and everyone agrees that U.A. should have been informed of her condition.

“Thank the Gods for Shouto Todoroki,” her mother sobs.

And that’s when she notices he is there, straddling the doorway, half in and half out of the room.

Momo’s eyes seem lighter than usual as they turn on Shouto, and from where he is standing, he feels both too near and too far from her. The lips that his mouth touched smile and beckon him to come closer. Shouto’s body obeys on instinct, and he waits patiently as her parents excuse themselves under the pretext of getting a cup of terrible hospital coffee.

“Guess I owe you some cold soba,” she offers to lighten the mood.

Shouto balks in reply.

“Momo, don’t even-”

“I was really looking forward to our date, even if it wasn’t really, y’ know, a date. And now, I might not even be allowed back at-”

In actuality, it’s the fourth or fifth time that Shouto finds his mouth pressed against Momo’s, but this time, her lips are warm and inviting and still so very sweet. He is careful of the cords and tries not to push her back into the meager cushion of her hospital bed. But there is so much worry and want that Shouto can barely contain himself. He speaks in ragged verses as one kiss becomes another and then another. And all of his words are promises of proper dates, more profound talks and endless kisses, whether she comes back to U.A. or not.

The elevated ticking of her heart monitor fills the room, and rather than annoy Shouto, the sound comforts him. Through a haze of want that threatens to consume him, he hopes that her heart belongs to him and wonders what took him so long to realize that his heart belongs to her.

Chapter Text

The last vestiges of summer hang in the night air, but with each gust of dry wind, autumn creeps over the landscape of the Eastern countryside. As the new season saps moisture from the ground, Riza Hawkeye realizes that she misses the wet feeling of warm earth between her toes as much as she enjoys the heavenly crunch of leaves and acorns under the soles of her boots. This distinction would seem to be of little importance, but these changes denote the passage of time.

With each season, she grows older, and so does he.

Roy Mustang came under her father’s firm tutelage as a knock-kneed know-it-all, but he isn’t that anymore. Four years of hard chores and difficult lessons have honed his mind and strengthened his body. Though not quite tall, his chest is broad, and his eyes always seem to laugh like they know something Riza doesn’t. On nights when her father turns in early, she drags Roy out to a clearing in the forest behind her house and asks him to tell her, again, about the stars.

Riza knows all the constellations by now, but if he realizes this, he doesn’t speak the fact into being. Instead, Roy follows her through the winding forest woods until they reach a clearing. Breathless and mosquito-bitten, they lie under a blanket of stars and rest their heads against the trunk of a tree.

Roy turns to meet Riza’s gaze, and once again, she is struck by how much he has changed. At age 14, Riza knows she has much growing left to do, and not for the first time, the young girl wishes that either he was younger or she was older.

All things considered, the latter would be her preference.

“Which one would you like to hear about tonight,” Roy asks, and it doesn’t take Riza long to decide. She picks the one he likes to talk about the most. In the midst of change, Riza Hawkeye favors the constant.

“Tell me about the North Star.”

He chuckles as if he knows the score, and he might as well for all Riza cares. It’s enough that Roy is still with her, sharing the same air and taking in the blue-blackness of the moon-less sky alongside her. His eyes grow wide when he begins to speak, and pinpricks of light reflect within his obsidian gaze. Roy’s voice is soft, nearly melodic as the cadence of his sentences accelerates with excitement.

He tells Riza that Polaris is the brightest star of the constellation Ursa Minor, the little bear, and strings together a humorous tale about the navigational constant. Roy hums mariner’s tunes as his fingers trace the outlines of the stars, and Riza’s thoughts become fuzzy. She surrenders her musings to the twinkling, distant points of light, knowing that these celestial bodies will continue to burn long after her bones have turned to dust.

There is something Riza finds comforting about the concept of eternity, something that makes the chances she might take feel less pivotal. And so she sits up and pulls her knees to her chest, looping her arms around her shins. The words spill from her lips easily now because, in the grand scheme of things, she rationalizes that they will not matter.

Riza is just the poor daughter of a washed-up, country alchemist, and Roy Mustang is a shooting star, poised on the cusp of greatness.

“Will you think of me when you leave?” she asks, cutting him off mid-spiel. “Because I think of you a lot, even though you haven’t left yet.”

Roy’s torso rises, his arms bent back against the ground. “We’ve been over this before, Riza,” he says with sadness and exasperation. “If you were older, maybe you could come with me, but you’re so young.”

The word ‘young’ stings Riza more than it ought to if only because it is true.

“If you hand more company, you would not feel the way you do,” Roy continues. “When I’m no longer here, someone else will come along. They’ll be better and smarter than me. And they’ll be your age too. What you are feeling now, it’ll pass.”

Riza thinks about the constellations, and reminds herself, as he told her, that even the North Star, has been known to shift with the tides of time. Still, the young girl’s mind dwells on a set of four verses held within one of her mother’s leather-bound books, and she silently mouths the antiquated playwright’ line to herself as if they are a prayer.

This poem had stuck with her even when the words held little meaning. Now, she finds them branded on her heart.

Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

“Maybe you’re right,” she lies, leaning back against the tree trunk. “Can you tell me again about the little dipper?”

Seemingly satisfied, Roy continues, content to pass the time with her despite his protests. If he feels the same, he doesn’t show it. But Riza thinks his touch lingers when he traces the freckles on her arm, showing her how they form the constellation Cassiopeia.

Until the time that she has caught up to him, Riza intends to take solace in the fact that she and Roy exist under the same night sky.

Chapter Text

The rules were simple. Or so she thought.

With 6 minutes and 50 seconds of heaven left, Marinette Dupain-Cheng felt less like a superhero in disguise and more like a regular 15-year-old, forced into a closet by her best friend after a shady spin of the ol’ bottle. With or without the assistance of her kwami, Marinette thought she might be able to escape if things got too awkward. Or perhaps, she could just ooze underneath the closet door when the brilliance of Adrien Agrest turned her into a puddle of teenage angst.

It was one thing to pine for Adrien from afar. It was quite another to find oneself sitting face-to-face with him while swatting at the ends of Alya’s dresses and trying not to crush her best friend’s shoes.

On second thought, Marinette positioned herself squarely on top of a pair of inexpensive loafers and wiggled back and forth to pin several hanging garments behind her. She should have suspected this was a setup from the moment the words, 'seven minutes in heaven,' left Alya’s lips. The only mystery was how the budding journalist had managed to get Adrien, of all people, to play this cringe-worthy middle-school game.

As for Marinette, well, Alya hadn’t exactly given her a choice. And for as long as Marinette could remember, in real life, her luck had always been wanting. She’d just have to bear the awkwardness with dignity, praying for the small mercy of an akuma attack to interrupt Alya’s party. But the electric pulses of Nino’s subwoofer coming through the closet door did not sound promising.

Marinette glanced at her watch. 6 minutes and 40 seconds left. 39… 38… 37...

The incognito superhero wondered if the door was really locked. Nearly 30 seconds of crushing silence were punishment enough for Adrien, and Marinette smiled awkwardly as she grasped at loose ends of prospective dialogue. The creases of her forced grin pressed into her cheeks, and she swore that Adrien would be able to hear her heartbeat as it thumped loudly in her chest.

“Listen, Marinette...” Adrien said. He broke the conversation embargo with that easy grin of his, the one that used to stare at Marinette from the pictures she had plastered all over her bedroom walls. Now, they sat in a box at the bottom drawer of her desk, and her desktop background had changed to a picture of Kitty Section, featuring their fantastic lead guitarist, Luca.

Over the past few months, lots of things had changed.

Marinette shook her head to clear the emotional cobwebs. It wasn’t fair to think about Luca in Adrien’s presence. Or vice versa.

“... I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. The way Nino explained the rules, all we have to do is stay in here for 7 minutes. 6 now, I think.”

Well, technically, it was 6 minutes and 12 seconds, but who was counting?

“Yeah,” Marinette laughed nervously. She concentrated on forming sentences, enunciating each word as if the well-being of Paris hinged upon her lacking linguistic talents. Thoughts of Kagami and the mysterious girl Adrien had mentioned on their way back from the wax museum flooded her mind, and for whatever reason, these thoughts helped. Speaking of which…

“I just thought that Kagami might not be happy about a game like this. She might get the wrong idea.”

“Why would she get the wrong idea?”

Bless his naive, homeschooled heart. The way he said that made it sound like he really didn’t know.

“Y-You know, it’s seven m-minutes in heaven,” Marinette shrugged, shocked that her words hadn’t failed her completely. “We’re supposed to m-ma…”

“-make out?” Adrien supplied. Through the cover of darkness, Marinette could swear she saw him smirking. “Or talk, tell secrets. Whatever we can both agree to. Why would Kagami get the wrong idea?”

Did she really have to say it? Did she really have to give the fact that Kagami was perfect for Adrien more purchase by speaking it into being?

“B-because she likes you, of course. And she’s my friend. I don’t want to hurt her.”

There was a beat of silence wherein the walls seemed to tremble as if they could hear and understand the significance of this simple conversation. Marinette’s words passed between the two like a boomerang, back and forth, and for a moment, she believed that Adrien would heed her warning. Perhaps, he would leave her in the closet, alone once again with her secrets. But he shifted closer, inching his slim legs forward, making no move to grasp the doorknob. Instead, the young model reached for a stray lock of hair that had fallen free of Marinette’s trademark pigtails. He paused just shy of touching her.

“Can I tell you a secret?” he whispered.

She felt herself nod as his fingers tucked the raven-blue strands behind her ear, brushing a ladybug earring with a feather-light touch.

“I like your hair when it’s down,” Adrian confessed.  “I like that I know something about you that most people don’t, and I’d like to know more.”

Sweet Kwami! Did he realize what he was doing to her? Did shy, pure Adrien Agreste know that he sounded the smallest bit cocky when he said things like that. Almost like a certain cat-like companion that Ladybug had come to treasure.

And Marinette would be lying if she said she did not miss Chat Noir’s friendly flirting. After years of discouraging his affection, she expected to feel solace in the absence of his playful advances. Instead, there was only wanting silence where pet names should have been. The occasional fist bump did little to fill the void that Chat’s grandiose gestures left.

“And what about Kagami?” she asked again.

And what about Luca? Shouldn’t she be asking herself that question too?

“I like her,” Adrien said. His pale eyelashes fluttered over emerald green irises, as coy and self-assured as she’d ever seen them. “But I haven’t made up my mind just yet. There’s another girl I like.”

Marinette inwardly scoffed at her terrible, terrible luck. Here they were, trapped in a closet. His legs bent over hers. So close that they might just kiss on accident. And not only had she brought up Kagami -- twice -- but now Adrien was confessing a second crush to her.

She absolutely wouldn’t, absolutely couldn’t ask…

“Who?”

The amused laugh that purred in Adrien’s throat was unexpected (though not unwelcome), to say the least.

“I’m afraid that’s all the secrets I can spill today, my lady. Besides, I think our time is just about-”

What transpired next would remain a mystery to Marinette for - she was sure - as long as she lived. And seeing as Kagami had both a jealous streak as well as expertise with swords, the teenage girl might not survive their next meeting. But hearing the phrase “my lady” again had hit Marinette hard. An atrophied part of her heart sprang to life as she leaned forward and placed a tender kiss on Adrien’s cheek.

Though the gesture was not innately romantic or passionate, her lips caressed his cheek, all soft and supple flesh. Suddenly, Marinette could smell the night air in Adrien’s hair, and with her cheek pressed so close, she could feel the slight indentation where a mask might have sat. Quickly, the two teens pulled apart, and Marinette stared at Adrien with nostalgic eyes, feeling as if it was the first time she’d ever seen him as more than a sum of pieces and parts.

For a moment, she thought he might have felt the same.

“My lady, I-”

“Time’s up!”

The closet door flew open, and light stung Marinette’s eyes. Alya Cesaire stood proudly at the threshold of her closet, with one hand still on the doorknob and the other on her hip. Though initially disappointed not to catch the couple mid-act, the fox miraculous holder allowed room for pause. She searched the shell-shocked expression on Marinette’s face and smirked with a satisfied set to her jaw.

“Everything alright in there?” she asked, winking in Marinette’s direction. “You two sure the cat didn’t get into the cream.”

The rules to this game of Chat and Ladybug were so much more complicated than Marinette could ever have guessed.

Chapter Text

Coach All-Might often lectured on the importance of momentum, the desirable quality of motion, which makes a player hard to stop. But the textbook definition did the concept little justice. Over the past two months, Momo had learned that teams built momentum better than individual players. And once acquired, the U.A. heroes pushed their collective energy to the max with smiles plastered across their faces, win or lose.

As her team’s defensive starters lined up on the 20-yard line, Momo’s skin erupted in gooseflesh. It was third down, a passing play no doubt, and all eyes were drawn to the dynamic line up of opposites in the tight end and cornerback positions -- Shiketsu High School’s Inasa Yoarashi and U.A. High’s Shouto Todoroki.

Of course, Todoroki had not started as a cornerback, not until after Coach All-Might had shaken up the lineup last Fall, but Momo wouldn’t have known that by the way he’d dominated the field on defense. Shouto read an opponent’s intentions as if he’d written their playbooks. Cold stone still one minute and hot in pursuit of an interception the next, he’d earned his nickname, IcyHot, the hard way.

A hush descended over the crowd as the play clock began its countdown. Even the cheerleader’s chats quieted in favor of rustling pom-poms and hushed murmurs of anticipation. From the sidelines, Momo held her breath, tugging nervously on the collar of her official polo. As she watched Todoroki, her fingers dipped to stroke the white embroidery that showcased her name and position, Momo Yaoyorozu, Assistant Equipment Manager, U.A. High Heroes Football Team.

Yet, as much as Momo honed in on her favorite cornerback, Shouto's attention was fixed on Inasa.

The boy with bright white and red hair hadn’t been asked to cover the powerhouse tight end, but he did so almost on instinct. U.A.’s defensive line adjusted, players zipping back and forth behind the line of scrimmage, as Shiketsu’s offense arranged and rearranged itself. Shotuo stayed with Inasa, looking for the split-second tell he’d uncovered after watching endless hours film, the one he had whispered in Momo’s ear while she’d helped him into his pads.

As Shiketsu’s quarterback snapped the ball, Shouto’s left eye narrowed, and Momo remembered to breathe, realizing that Todoroki must have found what he was looking for. The cornerback didn’t stop to watch the center snap the ball. He was already darting deep downfield, showcasing athleticism with wide, strong strides as Insa ran an innocuous out route.

But then the tide turned, and Seiji Shishikura made a daring throw from within the collapsing walls of the pocket. The ball headed for Inasa, now poised to catch it near the five-yard line, an inevitable touchdown until... Shouto Todoroki snatched the coveted pigskin out of midair, and through the audience’s collective gasp, Momo swore she heard five incendiary words mumbled in Inasa’s direction before Shouto darted toward Shiketsu’s endzone.

“I’ll be taking that now.”

The crowd roared. Mina Ashido and Toru Hagakure directed the excitement with synchronized jumps and flicks of their pom-poms, The home side of the stadium reveled in their school’s preferred chant -- “Plus Ultra! Plus Ultra!”

Todoroki went down near Shiketsu’s 15-yard line, tackled by a running back whose blond hair spilled out of his helmet. As Shouto fell, Momo tensed again. She felt her heartbeat in her throat but managed to relax when Shouto stood, calmly handing the football to the referee. Unfazed, he jogged toward their sideline, making intense eye contact with his team’s assistant equipment manager.

U.A. had the momentum once again, and the offense took advantage of it. The quarterback, Izuku Midoria, lead the heroes to a resounding homecoming victory over the Shiketsu Captains with the broadest smile on his face.


A year ago, Momo could hardly have imagined having more than a handful of friends over after the homecoming game, but now, three-quarters of the football team, half of the cheerleading squad and nearly the entire band was packed into her father’s McMansion. Though Momo had initially scoffed at the idea of beefing up her college applications by serving as assistant equipment manager of the football team, she had to admit that Mr. Aizawa’s advice had been spot on. Not only had she taken initiative by inserting herself into a male-dominated sport, but wallflower Momo had also managed made new friends in her junior year of high school -- a stupendous feat if ever there was one.

And as it turned out, neither Momo’s parents nor her best friend, Kyoka, minded the new additions in their loved one’s life. In fact, no sooner than Momo had asked her father if a small get together after the homecoming game was permissible than he had suddenly announced a burning desire to visit a bed and breakfast with his fiancee that same Friday night. Momo’s mother would check in the following morning, of course, and (for better or worse) Kyoka set up the sound system and arranged for a few kegs of weak beer.

An hour into the party, Momo looked around with astonishment. Everywhere she turned, a different person was smiling back at her, neither poking fun or laughing at her offbeat sense of style. Everyone she talked to responded with words of thanks and promises to be careful with the many valuables scattered throughout the decadent home. The uneasy feeling in Momo’s stomach settled as she sipped a noxious concoction Kyoka called jungle juice.

All felt right with the world. Except…

“Everything ok, Mo?” Kyoka asked, troubled by the way her best friend’s eyebrows were suddenly furrowed.

“Oh, yes,” Momo responded brightly. “I’m just a little overwhelmed by the crowd. Can you watch things while I step out for a sec?”

Kyoka nodded in reply, the fringe of the asymmetrical bob bounced with her dangling earrings.

“Sure thing, Mo.”

Up the steps and through the second level’s main hall, Momo traveled, weaving her way through classmates and kissing couples corralled in dark corners. She found her room unoccupied and breathed a sigh of relief as the door shut behind her with a comforting click. The young woman sat down at her desk and stared out the window. With a fond expression, she watched Bakugo and Kirishima toss a football back and forth.

It had always been a longshot, to be sure. When Momo had invited Todoroki to her party, she’d realized that his father rarely let him attend social events, not even school-sponsored dances or festivals. In fact, Shouto and Momo had attended the same school since first grade and had only become acquainted recently courtesy of a minor equipment malfunction -- a freak accident his father hadn’t hesitated to blow out of proportion.

Enji Todoroki was well-known as severe and obsessive, and perhaps Momo had made unfair assumptions about his son based on that knowledge. But soon, the mystery of IcyHot the football star had unraveled like fine thread in her nimble hands, and Momo found herself reconsidering everything she knew about Shouto Todoroki. Countless conversations later, the young woman didn’t think it was unfair to say that he was kind despite his quiet nature and thoughtful both on and off the football field.

Momo didn’t have to help him take off his pads and ice his bumps and bruises after games, but she did so religiously with a reverence she reserved for, well, nothing else. In return, Shouto taught Momo about football, explaining both general concepts and, eventually, the finer points of the game. And it all felt like it was building toward something more, except there was never an opportunity to...

“Yaoyorozu?”

Momo’s chest tightened as she heard a familiar, gravelly voice. She turned to find the source of the sound, hardly believing her eyes. There he stood, an impressive sight, though awkward, in khaki pants and a white polo shirt. Taut muscles fought against the thin cotton, and Momo fingers grasped the folds of her pale pink maxi skirt. Her high top converses tilted inward, toes curling within as she thought about how he sighed when she pressed warm compresses against his sore muscles.

Would it be completely inappropriate to trace the edges of the burn mark over his left eye?

Most likely, yes. But that didn’t stop Momo from thinking about it.

“You came!” she exclaimed, rising from the chair to greet the boy she definitely had not fantasized about in this very room. Momo gripped the nearest post of her bed to steady herself. “I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Jirou said you’d be up here. Can I come in?”

“Of course. Have a seat.”

Warily, Shouto entered the room, softly closing the door behind him. He leaned against the endboard of Momo’s 4-poster bed and looked around expectedly.

“Your house is-”

“An eyesore,” she interrupted. “I know. My mom took all the taste in their divorce. Dad doesn’t know the meaning of understated, but it’s home.”

“I wasn’t going to say ‘eyesore,’” Shouto asserted, though Momo noticed he didn’t disagree. “Have your parents been divorced for long?”

Momo nodded. “Since middle school.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. They’re much better off as friends, especially now that dad is engaged and mom’s remarried. I like my stepmoms a lot.”

At that, Shouto stifled a small chuckle.

“What?” Momo asked.

“I was wondering if your dad’s fiancee has better taste.”

“Afraid not,” Momo laughed. “I don’t think she’s ever met a fleur de lis she didn’t like, but by the time they get married, I’ll be out of here.”

“Damn,” Shouto added in mock disappointment, “I was so looking forward to the wedding pictures, seeing you all dressed up.”

Under the cover of semi-darkness, heat spread to the apples of Momo’s cheeks, and a strange feeling burned in her belly when she spied the green cocktail dress hung over her closet door. Dare she be so bold?

“Well, you could just come to the homecoming dance tomorrow,” she stated, eyes fixed on the plush carpet. “I’ll be taking tickets by the door, but I think I might be able to step away for a dance or two. And I’d like to spend more time with you, talking like this, you know?”

The grin faded slowly from Shouto’s face as his gaze also drifted to an uninteresting patch of carpet. “You know my dad’s strict. If I ask to go, he’ll come up with some conflict. I had to tell him I was watching game film here tonight just to get away.”

Momo tried to pretend she wasn’t disappointed. “Oh… He believed that?”

“The only thing good about my dad’s football fixation is that he assumes everyone else is just as obsessed as he is.”

For a moment, all was silent as the letdown washed over Momo. From the opposite side of her room, she could hear the ornate cuckoo clock ticking, counting the precious seconds she wasted in Todoroki’s presence. However, Momo refused to back down so quickly, not when the stars had aligned so perfectly to grant her this moment. Not when Shouto was in her room at her party, sitting beside her, completely unsupervised, on her bed.

This was Momo's moment.  She'd be a fool not to seize it.

“Todoroki, I-”

Whatever words Momo wanted to say were silenced by Shouto’s thumb pressed against her lips. His hand gently cupped the cheek, and she leaned into his warm touch, wary of the mesmerizing mismatched eyes that threatened to steal her senses.

“I’m not very good with my words, Yaoyorozu,” he said in earnest. “But I’d like to ask you if I could...”

“Could what?”

“I mean, if you would be agreeable, I’d like to…”

“Go on.”

Shouto growled in frustration and pressed both hands against the endboard. “Everyone makes this sound so easy,” he groaned. “I never seem to know how to say the thing I mean when I have the chance.”

Momo steeled her nerves as her stomach practically dissolved in a heap of butterflies. It seemed she did dare tonight more than she ever had before.

“Would you like to kiss me, Shouto?”

“God, yes!”

He took his lips to hers with an urgency that Momo could not have anticipated, and the world as she knew it faded away, save the small space the young couple shared. If kisses could talk, this one would have been eloquent. It would have told Momo that he’d always carried a little torch for her, for as long as he could rightly remember while reciting the loveliest verses of poetry known to mankind. But, of course, without words, the liplock was equally pleasant, capped off by a sigh of relief from both sides.

“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do that,” he said, forehead pressed against hers.

Momo saw no room to argue but in the interest of full disclosure… “Then why don’t you do it again. Maybe I can figure it out.”

Momo and Shouto’s momentum wasn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Chapter Text

Riza Hawkeye made a conscious effort not to believe in the supernatural. It was, perhaps, the only trait that she and her father shared.

And yet, near the end of Berthold’s life, he seemed to recant his staunch cynicism. From the cozy restraints of a hospital bed in St. Mungo’s psychiatric ward, the once brilliant scholar ranted and raved about fantastical creatures with seductive eyes, pointed teeth and claws black as night. Eyes glazed over and mouth agape, Berthold’s passions appeared to get the better of him at times, although not unpleasantly as the staff had diplomatically warned.

It was a curious case to be sure. Ultimately, the doctors scratched their heads and wrote off the professor’s declining condition as a break with reality coupled with a deep dive into the folklore Berthold had studied and taught for nearly 40 years. Directly after graduating college, Riza found herself stowing her father away in a first-rate mental institution. Admittance cost an arm and a leg, and the reality of Berthold’s condition also took its toll on her in other ways.

Soon, Riza became restless in her own skin, and with her newfound freedom at the helm, she turned to her high school sweetheart for support. Jean Havoc was only too happy to reciprocate, to kiss her lips and run his hands down her curves in the solitude of her childhood bedroom. These were liberties Berthold had decried, ever vigilant that his daughter should remain chaste and pure.

And perhaps there had been a reason for that.

The first time Riza felt her partner’s energy collecting, she hadn’t hesitated to swallow the nectar. She siphoned it from his body, and satisfaction flowered within her. Riza shuttered as her hips rolled into Jean’s. Each cresting wave of pleasure brought more of the thick, sweet syrup collecting in the pit of her belly, fueling a fire that Riza had barely begun to kindle. Though inexperienced, the young woman found herself ravenous as she fed a craving that, once tasted, threatened to wreck her. Everything around her was bathed in a crimson haze; Jean’s skin even tasted red.

She would have continued taking, but then, Riza caught sight of her reflection in the mirror opposite the bed. Disbelieving, she saw a clawed hand curled possessively around Jean’s shoulder. Her brown eyes had also changed. Copper irises glowed with fierce fervor in the dark, and pointed incisors made brutal marks on her boyfriend’s throat.

Jean groaned and slumped to the side, obliging Riza to gasp and detach as she took in the violence of her own lust. She panicked at the sight of her thick, black nails and threw her back against the headboard.  Riza's legs pumped back and forth, trying to escape her own reflection and vying for purchase against the cotton sheets. The young woman’s once soft features had grown sharp and toxic — a caricature of a beautiful person, though most certainly inhuman.

However, the transformation was not permanent. The effects faded in minutes, as did poor Jean Havoc. Though robust of body and spirit, he lost consciousness and did not wake for almost two weeks. Riza blamed herself and kept her distance. Jean called, but Riza did not answer.

When she worked up the nerve to see her father, to demand answers from the man who taught her that there was no such thing as fantastical creatures, he had laughed in reply, a sick, cruel sound that raped like a snake from the throat her father.

“Beware. Here, there be monsters,” Berthold said, corrupting a turn of phrase used on old explorer’s maps. His blue eyes hardened as he pointed accusatorily in his daughter’s direction. “Just like your mother.”


It was unlike Professor Hawkeye to stay away for months on end, but Roy Mustang was unlike most people. In fact, it was fair to say he wasn’t a person at all though he slept and smiled and spoke like one when he minded his manners. Dining, however, was another affair entirely, an inescapable dirty pleasure that Roy would have happily grown fat on. It took the incubus the better part of 50 years to refine his process, to feed without killing and to accept rather than take the sustenance offered.

He met Berthold some 30 years prior, and the two had conducted their business in a quiet, orderly fashion — incubus essence for cash. Though often Roy wondered what the aging occult enthusiast might do with his purchase, discretion was part and parcel of their agreement. Until suddenly, it wasn’t so secret anymore. At least, not to Roy’s aunt and sisters.

“She reeks of you,” Aunt Chris reported. The phrase rolled off the matriarch’s tongue with a distasteful subtext, but she spoke softly into the receiver amidst the hustle and bustle of her bar. “So either you have taken a little lover, which is against our rules, or this human girl smells exactly like you, which has never happened before. Come home now, Roy-boy. You have some explaining to do.”

The incubus obeyed his foster mother’s command as if her request was the word of God, and twenty minutes later, Roy found himself looking at the petite frame of a young woman who smelled faintly (though exactly) like him. The closer he came, the more damning Madame Christmas’s indictment became.

She sat at the bar by her lonesome, nursing a whisky neat with shaky hands and turning all manner of company away. Roy slid into the chair one over from her as Vanessa handed him a gin and tonic spiked with something special to make it palatable. The incubus sipped sparingly as he watched her in earnest. Short, straw-like hair curled around her ears, lacking the luster of someone young, healthy and well-fed. Her brown eyes, though pleasant, were wide, shifty and red-rimmed as if she was tired beyond reason.

“Come here often,” Roy asked. He kept his tone distant, the personification of casual, but the way the young woman looked back at him, Roy realized she was not all that she appeared to be.

He could feel how hungry she was, could hear the thumping of her telltale heart working against her restraint. It was a sensation he had weathered many times. She was so very, very hungry.

Roy decided it would be indecorous not to offer her a feast.


Riza Hawkeye — that was her name — was a fast learner. Though she was not the first half-breed he’d ever met, she was the best hidden, even from her own kind.

Roy could have fed her the civilized way. He could have scribbled the antidote onto a napkin and had his sisters dose her drink with essence. She would have felt better, and Madame Christmas could have taken her to the backroom, explained things slowly and revealed her true nature with a series of questions that made the sordid affair sound mundane.

Nevertheless, Roy couldn’t stand the thought of seeing Riza sated in such a sterile fashion, especially when she so clearly craved more than just her medicine. Her mouth crashed into his, sharp teeth nipping at him until his lips were swollen. In one of the back rooms of his Chris Mustang’s bar, Riza wasted no time in taking him as her lover, not realizing that her eyes burned bright copper in the dark. Through a consuming cloud of lust and delight, she didn’t see her sharp fingernails leaving long rows of scratches down Roy’s back, and Roy didn’t mind.  Not at all.

Afterward, he would sit her down and put the pieces together. They’d carve out a place for her at the bar while maintaining some semblance of her former life. But for now, he did not complicate the matter or warn her of the complexities to come.

He, as she, was made of something stronger than the flesh and bones of ordinary mortals. Roy Mustang told himself that he could take it as she rode him, hands pinning him down like strong lengths of rope. Riza Hawkeye took the pleasure she’d denied herself well into adulthood with relish. No mirrors to startle her. No judgment to scare her.

And in this den where pain met pleasure, Roy remembered what his Aunt Chris had said the night he arrived at the same startling, supernatural conclusion.

"Rest easy. We’re all monsters here."

Chapter Text

The Granger-Weasley wedding was marketed as an intimate affair. And honestly, in Ron’s humble opinion, the less like Bill and Fleur’s big to-do, the better. The way the youngest Weasley brother saw it, the nuptials could have done without his Great-Aunt Muriel, an abundance of woefully domestic wedding presents and perhaps the mid-reception announcement that the Ministry of Magic had fallen under Voldemort’s control.

Though to be fair, Ron had appreciated Fleur’s veela cousins more than he would admit to Hermione, and he regretted that these distant relations would not be in attendance on his own big day.

His own big day.

After everything he and Hermione had been through together, a wedding didn’t feel so make or break. Their vows had been written throughout a tumultuous friendship. Their bond was forged in the fire of moral peril otherwise known as being ride or die friends with the infamous Harry Potter.

And as a result of all the notoriety that had come before, the plan was straightforward. It suited Ron’s casual sensibilities as much as it catered to Hermione’s demanding work schedule. There would be a tidy civil ceremony at precisely 2 p.m. in the courtyard adjacent to the Ministry of Magic’s Vital Records Office. Reception to follow at a private room in the Leaky Cauldron. Rita Skeeter’s attendance, as well as the presence of any prying beetles, were absolutely, emphatically prohibited.

For the most part, the plan generated considerable excitement, many warm wishes and a pile of presents stacked in the spare bedroom of their modest apartment. And yet, the existence of a dissenting opinion was inevitable.

Too young to get married.

Those were the words on the nay-sayer’s lips -- people who barely knew the golden trio outside of newspaper articles and rumors whispered on the wind during the war.

So soon after the Battle of Hogwarts? Too quickly after -- you know -- Fred…

Those were the hushed words of those closer to the couple -- people who smiled and nodded to Ron’s face and gossiped when his back was turned. Or alternatively, people like his brother, George who had had the decency to voice his concerns to Ron directly. For the record, he tried not to put too much stock in George’s predictions. Even since the Battle of Hogwarts, the lonely twin had been troubled by the same shadow that settled across his twin’s face in the wake of Fred’s last laugh.

Ron told himself that George’s skepticism was to be expected, and he tried not to take it personally, let alone tell Hermione. A part of the youngest Weasley on was still in awe that she wanted him, that she would choose Ron’s affections over someone like their best friend, Harry Potter -- the boy who lived, the man who vanquished Voldemort.

The world was Hermione Granger’s oyster, and still, she chose Ron Weasley, a common billywig of a man. Ron laughed thoughtfully as he mused that, indeed, not unlike the common magical creature, he never failed to make her laugh.

As the blue-blackness of the night retreated in favor of dawn’s first rays, Ron squinted, teetering ever so slightly atop the Burrow’s rustic garden wall. He’d long lost count of how many times he’d brought the bottle of firewhisky to his mouth that early morning, but drinking seemed the thing to do as he waited for the Burrow to come to life.

Ron thought of all the people near and dear who had assembled, and he thought of the ones time and circumstance had left behind: Professor Lupin, Tonks, and -- yeah -- Fred. He missed Fred too.

Ron took another swig and winced, knowing he pay for it but not caring about the price.

“Eh, boy!”

The squat figure of Arthur Weasley appeared at the foot of the garden wall. His nightcap sat cockeyed upon a head of red hair fading to white. “You alright? Don’t you realize you’re getting married today? Come down from there before you hurt yourself.”

His petulant streak intact, Ron swung his long legs over the side of the wall and pushed off. He landed on the ground with a thud, sloshing whisky down the front of yesterday’s trousers.

“What are you doing out here at this time of the morning?”

“Drinking and thinking,” Ron admitted, shuffling his feet against the ground. It was a loaded answer if ever there was one, the kind Hermione picked apart for a living.

Arthur’s eyebrow quirked upwards. “About?”

“Hermione, obviously,” he admitted. “And family, Fred.”

His quizzical expression lowered into one of understanding as the elder Weasley nodded thoughtfully. No words of consequence passed between them, but he put a hand on his son’s shoulder and pulled the bottle from his grasp.

“Come inside, son. There’s something your mother and I would like to show you.”


Molly Weasley made her coffee extra strong that morning, and for once, if she had a critique of her son’s bad habits, she swallowed her opinions and kept them down. It was a rare thing to be alone with his parents, sitting around the kitchen table without a sibling in sight. In fact, the sixth Weasley son could count on one hand the precise number of times it had happened.

Was he in trouble? It felt like he was in trouble.

“Show him, Molly,” Mr. Weasley said, looking pointedly at the pocket of her apron.

Mrs. Weasley bristled.

“It’s for later, Arthur. When the family has gathered, and the Grangers arrive.”

“It’d do him good to see it now,” he contended. “Warm up those cold feet.”

The Weasley matriarch frowned as her fingers dipped in the apron pocket and produced a pointed clock hand bearing a name written in sophisticated metal filigree. As she placed the small object on the table, it glinted in the cozy light of the kitchen, catching the rays of sun that crept steadily over the windowsill. It was a clock hand with his fiancee’s name one it.

Hermione.

“It’s for the family clock, of course,” Molly explained, “I had it made during the war, and there’s one for Harry as well. I knew it was too soon, and I knew what people might think. I have more than enough children without claiming someone else’s, but your father and I felt that Harry and Hermione were also family. This marriage, it just makes something official that’s been real for quite a long time.”

Molly took in a shuddering breath as Arthur drew near and placed a hand on his wife’s sturdy shoulder. She clutched at a long gold chain around her neck and pulled it from her blouse. The name “Fred” glittered briefly before his mother pressed the metal to her lips and slipped it back inside her shirt to hover over her heart.

“He’d be happy for you,” Arthur added. “After all, we’re family. Supporting each other in good times and bad, that’s what families do. Always.”

Chapter Text

Opening the mail is a menial task. Before ‘the incident,’ Jean would have thought it beneath him, better suited to someone with a delicate disposition such as his sister Chole or his grandfather Thom. But now he sits and slices envelope after envelope open, extracting statements and sorting miscellaneous mailings without a second thought.

Jean doesn’t see himself as lesser, though he isn’t sure about the others.

His mother dotes on him; his father keeps the faith of avoidance. Chloe is kind but uncomprehending, and most damning of all, Grandpa Thom understands.

The old man knows how it feels to have his body betray him, to witness the freedoms of yesteryear reduced to memories that remain in muscles that no longer work.

His body did not go soft overnight. Weakness took its time, growing like invasive ivy against the side of a sturdy garden wall. One crack and the structure is compromised, green vines sprouting and spreading as they please. Havoc now imagines his legs are tried down by thick tendrils. His once toned abs atrophy, fading into submission.

It does not help that Havoc takes second helpings that he does not need. Even hunger is the ghost of a sensation. More often than not, he indulges in the comfort of buttermilk biscuits on his tongue and is rewarded by a split second of nostalgia.

Jean reaches for another letter and presses his knife against the underside of the crease. However, the thick parchment does not give way without force, and when the envelope tears, a crisp ripping sound fills the general store’s back room. The letter’s fibers are soft against Jean’s calloused fingers, and he only realizes the significance of this correspondence when he is faced with letterhead bearing the figure of a green argent dragon. Its claws are outstretched next to the words, “Veterans Affairs Department for the Armed Forces of Amestris.”

This is Jean’s first pension check. More accurately, it is almost entirely comprised of disability compensation, but that is not the polite term scribbled along the memo line. Either way, it is the culmination of nearly nine years of faithful service and one unlucky day where his philandering ways finally caught up with him.

Jean hums as he considers the check and turns it over in his hand. He holds it to the light as if hoping to catch a glimpse of an ominous watermark foretelling the inevitable coup. But there is nothing to see except fine paper that matches a set of softening muscles.

He grunts thoughtfully, marveling that the arrival of this check (and the emphatic end of his military career) should sting more.

But then, two arms snake around his torso, and deliberately, her fingers travel lower. She teases feeling into his form until she reaches a point of demarcation, and there her hands still, stealthily burying themselves in the folds of soft cotton. Jean groans as raven curls tickle his nose, and he breathes in the scent of his girlfriend.

She is always, inexplicably sweet, and Jean thinks he could happily grow fat on all things Rebecca Catalina.

“What do you have there?” she asks, and Jean does not mistake the worried note in her voice.

“Nothing,” he replies, and he realizes this fine paper holds precious little power over him. “Almost literally. It seems my grand pension for all nine years of loyal service amounts to chump change. Not even enough to buy you a nice dinner.”

He flicks the check aside, and they watch as it falls soundlessly upon the worn wood grain. Jean will cash it, of course, and put the proceeds toward Mustang’s weapon tab, but in the meantime, there are more pressing matters -- namely, the woman settling herself across Jean’s lap.

“I think we can skip that meal and go straight to dessert,” she says playfully, pressing her rouged lips against Jean’s mouth. “My treat. Wouldn’t want you filling up before we get to the good stuff. I hear I’m delicious.”

Havoc chuckles, and he palms his girlfriend’s backside with a fervor that makes her squeal. He doesn’t think he’ll become too soft before he can make a contribution. And certainly not tonight.

Chapter Text

Christine Mustang knew that look — the look of a fighter who had gone a few rounds against life and lost their dignity.

Underneath the caked-on makeup and a garish splay of costume jewelry, Chris surmised that the girl waiting at the end of her bar couldn’t be a day over 20. And that, in and of itself, was an awkward age, a defining turning point. Combine the folly of youth with heartbreak and insecurity, and it was a recipe for poor decision-making.

Chris didn’t like the taste of that at all. This was not how she wanted her girls to come to her — wounded with an ax to grind.

“She’s here, Madame Christmas,” Vanessa remarked.

Elegant from the pointed tips of her pumps to the immaculate set of her soft blonde curls, the Madame’s girl finished stocking the shelves and set about tidying the bartender’s station as she did every afternoon. The demure smile painted across her peach lips betrayed the solace of this routine (and others) that she and Madame had crafted. Though appearances were deceiving, Vanessa was the same girl who had tumbled into Chris’s bar drunken and bruised.

The deciding factor was, as always, merely a matter of discerning what one was looking for. For Vanessa, it had been stability and a sense of belonging. For this new girl, well, Chris had her suspicions, and all of them were tinged with a sense of foreboding. A tired expression repeated on loop in the back of the older woman’s mind.

It said, here we go again.

“What do you want?” the Madame asked. She approached the girl casually, balancing a cigarette between her dry, cracked lips. Pearls (real pearls, mind you) and emeralds glistened under the pendant lighting. The corner of Chris’s mouth quirked upwards when she caught the girl staring starting at the apex of her ample cleavage.

“Oh,” she said, sitting up straighter and thrusting her chest forward, “I’m not here for a drink. I’m Avery. I’m here for the job, Madame. I called the other day, and they said to come-”

Chris fought the urge to roll her eyes at the indecorous display. “The question stands,” Madame Christmas interrupted. “What is it that you want? A convenient escape from your boring life? To make an ex-lover jealous. Or are you a little down on your luck?”

Avery looked taken aback. Her chest deflated, and Chris concluded that it was for the best.

But before the young girl could respond, the gentle chiming of the bar’s front door interrupted the interview. Gentlemen dressed in three-piece suits, their hair thick with pomade, entered and sauntered over to the bar. The identical leers in their eyes spoke volumes when the room’s collective attention settled on young Avery, fresh meat. She wilted under the gaze, a pretty pansy camouflaged by the petals of a white oleander.

Luckily, Vanessa never missed a beat.

“Oh, no,” she crooned. Her voice was sweet and disarming like a generous dose of mother’s milk. “Have my favorite clients gone and found someone else to entertain them? I’ve been waiting for you to come to see me again.”

Chris smirked. That last part might not have been a lie. Vanessa never forgot a face, a promise or a juicy tidbit of seemingly innocent information. It made her hard to live with, at times, but so very easy to employ.

“Come to the back, girl,” Chris Mustang grumbled. She rounded the corner of the bar and threw a protective arm around Avery’s shoulders. The fur lining of her coat draped decadently around the girl and ushered in a calming warmth soon accompanied by a steaming mug of chamomile tea.


When Avery scurried away that night, she left a small river of mascara in her wake. Blackened handkerchiefs marked her place at the kitchen table where she had spilled her story to Madame Christmas. And as the late afternoon darkened to evening, Avery had wiped off her makeup with the sleeve of her older sister’s dress. The green velvet meant to make her look older sopped up the excess, revealing a girl of 19 who was nursing a broken heart courtesy of family disapproval.

It was a common ailment, in Chris’s opinion, with a better solution than running off to work in the belly of a brothel.

“So, you sent her back home then,” Vanessa observed. She poked around the homely back of house, taking her time to straighten the canisters. Her customers had surely must have drank themselves into a stupor by now though the modern courtesan herself never really touched a drop.

“Avery’s a nice girl,” Madame rasped.

The matriarch took a drag of her fourth second cigarette of the evening and blew the smoke thoughtfully out of the corner of her mouth. “A nice girl who wants some sort of domestic future after she’s had her fill of spitting in the eye of her family and breaking the boy who hurt her. Not the sort of person I need under my employ. But still, she’s a fighter. I have no doubt she’ll think of something less extreme than becoming a call girl. Just going out in that outfit might have done the trick, honestly.”

The sound of Vanessa’s laughter was melodic, and Chris chuckled in spite of herself, chin pressed into the palm of her large hand.

“I love a good powerplay,” Vanessa said. She slid into the chair next to her employer, mentor and foster mother.

“You know,” the younger woman mused, “it wasn’t so long ago that I asked you to hire me, and I might have been even younger than Avery. Why take me in and not her? Surely, you don’t have to teach a person of her upbringing manners or polish them like you had to do with me.”

Madame Christmas hummed as she sank back against her kitchen chair. For a moment, her mind’s eye wandered back twenty years when her waist was small and her chest perky. Chris remembered the moment when a man hurt her, and she still relished the shocked look on his face when, later, she hadn’t hesitated to take him down at her own expense. Her act of defiance had tarnished two military careers. But rather than submit to the lies he had propagated, she traded her good name for leverage.

And when he had called her a high-class whore, she’d smirked thanking him for the free advertisement.

“Everyone wants power,” Madame answered. “Power over people or possessions. That’s common. But you and I, we wanted dominion over our circumstances, freedom to decide how we live, what we eat and whom we fuck.”

Vanessa nodded thoughtfully at the rude expletive, well-accustomed to the barbs Chris was capable of throwing.

“Avery wouldn’t set her own price. She would throw herself at the highest bidder and commit wholeheartedly to their satisfaction. But you, my darling, have no such flexible allegiance except to yourself and us, your family. They might buy your body but never your mind. I treasure that about my girls. Anyhow, we best get back to it.”

The corners of Vanessa’s violet eyes crinkled, and though Chris was determined not to look, she thought there might have been a tear, swiped quickly away by a gloved finger of Vanessa’s small hands. Both women then stood, without further shared words and made their way back into the smoky den of Madame Christmas’s bar to do battle. Young Avery, who had scurried home to her own worried mother, would never set foot in Chris’s bar again.

Chapter Text

The Catalina women were blamed for everything that went wrong in their small island town, but it was, perhaps, the men they loved who suffered the most. The curse was well-known, less a legend and more a source of gossip that sprang eternal when the rumor mill ran dry. And yet, for cousins Riza and Rebecca, the plague on their household was all too real.

Too real when their fathers died sudden and mysterious deaths. Too real when their mothers took their leave, courtesy of broken hearts that refused to mend.

By the time young Rebecca arrived at the wrought iron gates of Stonybrook Cottage, Riza had already settled in. She was the spitting image of her mother, Aunt Elizabeth, with wispy blonde hair, copper eyes and a pale heart-shaped face. Though pretty, her cousin was tomboy through and through, smelling perpetually of fresh-cut grass and more than willing to beat local boys at their own games when a competitive mood stuck.

Appropriately, Rebecca quickly proved herself to be her cousin’s complement. Bold where Riza was shy but charming where her cousin was prone to confrontation, they got along as only two halves of a whole could. And while Riza was fair and lithe, Rebecca grew into the curves of her tan complexion and leaned into the power of a pair of dark bedroom eyes that stopped people in their tracks.

Under the old roof of Stonybrook Cottage, the cousins claimed their birthright courtesy of two ageless aunts who mirrored the girls’ contrast. Aunt Maria lectured long about astrology, signs and art of spellcraft while Aunt Olivier exclusively taught the subtle science of potion-making and dabbled in the occasional duel. High school existed also, and Rebecca thought the place a bore, punctuated frequently by childish whispers, taunting rhymes and hateful scribbles on the bathroom stalls.

Rebecca Catalina ❤'s Jean Havoc
Rest in Pieces, Jean

“Who did it?” Riza bellowed, aware that their entire gym class (sans Rebecca) was in on the joke.

Unforthcoming giggles emanated from the gaggle of girls still present in the locker room, not one woman enough to own the egregious act. They hid their sneers behind ramrod straight fringes of hair and hands pressed to their mouths.

“Riza,” Rebecca warned. She grabbed her cousin’s arm as she felt the hex gathering on the tip of her tongue. “It isn’t worth it. Besides, Jean and I are just friends.”

“Friends who suck face under the bleachers,” Patricia Parkinson grumbled. “So sad that Jean has a death wish.”

Between Rebecca and Riza, it wasn’t always clear who was the witch to blame, least of all to the students and faculty of the Southaven High. But when the locker room mirrors began to tremble and the faucets popped off the pipes, spewing water over the offending girls and their belongings, Coach Sheska was forced to concede that the dry parties were the most likely culprits.

“Nice one,” Riza offered. As the two made their way to the principal’s office, she looked at her cousin with a sly pair of eyes that Rebecca refused to meet.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rebecca maintained. “That was totally you.”

“Was not. I was going to bind their hands, not wreck the entire bathroom. Not that I don’t approve.”

Rebecca suppressed a dark grin. “Well, whoever did it, the Aunts aren’t going to like the property destruction,” she remarked, happily diverting the conversation to the inevitable consequences.

“No, but they’ll understand. They always do. Just be careful with Jean. Couldn’t have fallen for a girl or nonbinary person instead, could you?”

“No,” Rebecca admitted, “I had little choice in the matter.”


Rebecca often consoled herself that Jean Havoc was made of tough stuff. He reminded her of it every time they met beneath the bleachers (his choice) or in the back of his car (her preference). There was something playful about parking Jean’s crossover out by the lake on the Catalina estate, watching the sunset and seeing just how far the seats could recline.

But tonight was different. Rebecca knew it from the way he looked at her. Her stomach lurched pleasantly when she saw he’d shaved his face and pressed his collared shirt. A foreboding, ringbox-shaped bulge in Jean’s back pocket sealed the deal. Rebbeca did her best to distract him, knowing she wouldn’t have the heart to turn him down.

So, she pulled Jean into the backseat and pushed him against the leather interior, envious of the way the slick surface must have pressed against his skin. Hips rolled and mouths crashed into one another in the dwindling light of the setting sun. And suddenly, Jean wrapped his strong arms around Rebecca’s waist and maneuvered them both to a sitting position. He pulled away just in time to ask a question as she trailed warm kisses up his neck.

“I’ve always wanted to know why there’s a fireplace jutting out of the middle of the lake,” he said, glancing sideways at his girlfriend.

Rebecca sighed and took in more of Jean’s cringeworthy corner store cologne. At first, she’d disliked the smell. Now, she craved it, going as far as to keep one of his undershirts beneath her pillow. If Jean wondered where it had gone, he didn’t ask.

She straightened up and decided to tell the story as quickly as possible. “That’s all that’s left of the old Catalina Manor,” she explained. “Surely, you know that old rumor.”

She dived down for another kiss but was stopped by a pair of inquisitive eyes. “I’d like to hear it from you.”

“Fine,” Rebecca relented. She slid off his lap and smoothed her mussed hair to one side. Jean took to massaging the soles of her feet as she spoke, a sure sign of ingratiation that obliged Rebecca’s toes to curl.

“My ancestor, Prudence Catalina, lived in that house with her family, and some people thought that she was more than a healer. They thought she was a… y’ know-”

“-a witch?”

“Yes, that. Anyway, one day, the good townsfolk of Southhaven decided to charge Prudence with witchcraft and sentenced her to burn. But her husband wouldn’t let her go without a fight. So, a mob set the house on fire. Prudence cast a spell of protection on the fireplace where she and her daughter waited out the flames.”

“So, that’s why it’s still standing then?  Prudence's protection spell?” Jean probed.

“Sure,” Rebecca offered warily, “if you believe in magic.”

The unspoken question hung heavy in the air, coupled with heady eye contact that made Rebecca want to crawl back into her lover’s lap and stay there until eternity passed them by. Jean’s hands moved passed her ankles, working her calves with delicious, rolling pressure. Rebecca wasn’t entirely sure there wasn’t magic in his fingers, least of all because of how her tongue seemed to loosen.

This was the worst part of the story. Still, Rebecca continued, if only because Jean had asked her so nicely.

“But Prudence’s husband died in the fire, and she never recovered, even though the townsfolk were fearful of her power and resolved to leave her alone. She raised her daughter in the cottage my family still lives in but was often found crying by her old home’s ruins where she buried her husband. Over time, her tears formed this lake, and in a fit of despair, she cast a spell on herself. The depth of her bitterness twisted into a curse. Which is, I’m sure, what you really wanted to know about.”

Jean hummed in response. “I wonder why you care about it so much. I think about why you won’t let me kiss you in public, and you give me all these talismans to wear.”

He pulled at a long chain concealed beneath his shirt to reveal several small circle pendants adorned with geometric designs and ancient sigils. Each one sang softly with the labor of Rebecca’s love, though she wouldn’t call it that. Not yet.

Rebecca pinched the bridge of her nose. “Amulets, Jean,” she laughed. “Not talismans. There’s a difference. And you know why you wear them.”

Jean moved over her, then, slipping his hand behind her neck and kissing the burgundy lipstick from her lips.

“Loving you,” he confessed, “helps me to understand why Prudence’s husband did it. I’d do it, too, and I’d gladly tell those girls at school where to go for taunting you like they do. Curses are made to be broken, Becky, if you’ll have me.”

She knew what he meant, and wanted to say yes.

Rebecca wanted to run away with Jean and start a new life elsewhere, however pointless that would be in the end. Her mother had tried it, and so had Riza’s parents. They all ended up six feet under with their perfect lives reduced to ruin. Long ago, Riza and Rebecca had resolved to be different, but that was before Rebecca met Jean Havoc, his last name so apt for what he did to her resolve.

Instead of responding, she kissed him with her eyes shut tight, as if she was just a girl and he was her guy. As if the curse was just a tragic fairy tale told by lovers at the lake.

Somewhere near the murky banks of the water, the death-watch beetle began its ominous countdown, and across the estate, Riza startled, knowing there was much work to be done.

Chapter Text

“Leaving so soon?”

Rebecca Catalina was many things — an independent woman, an MBA student and a lipstick enthusiast, to name a few. Yet, above all else, she considered herself a good friend. For this reason (and practically no other), she smoothed her hair back and adjusted last night’s cold-shoulder top in the hotel mirror. Two oblong blotches swelled to the surface of Rebecca’s skin alongside the memory of a man’s mouth nipping and sucking at her body.

She would bet next semester's tuition that she had more love bites in other sensitive areas, and the mere thought sent a shiver down her sated spine.

“Yeah,” Rebbeca huffed, blowing a stubborn strand of curly hair out her face. “I’ve got an appointment or something like that.”

Satisfied with her appearance, the young woman glanced at the clock and uttered a curse under her breath. Their cruise ship departed at noon, and Riza (ever the early riser) had picked the earliest boarding group. Frantically, Rebecca searched for her bedazzled clutch and found it tossed on the extra queen bed. Its sheets were still fresh and pressed. She unlatched the clasp and retrieved her iPhone, bracing herself for a few text messages from her best friend.

 

Riza Hawkeye, 8:00 a.m.
Morning, Becca! I hope you slept well. 😏

Riza Hawkeye, 8:12 a.m.
Just a reminder. We board @ 9:30.

Riza Hawkeye, 8:20 a.m.
Seriously, Becca! Just let me know you’re ok. I’m going to feel so bad for letting you go out by yourself last night.

Rebecca Catalina, 8:23 a.m.
Chill, fam. I’m more than ok, and I’ll be there in a second. He’s staying in the same hotel you booked. One floor down. See you very soon.

Rebecca Catalina, 8:24 a.m.
Sorry for worrying you. We were a little busy again this morning. 😉

At the memory of last night and the morning that followed, Rebecca hummed with satisfaction. She scooped up her strappy high heels and let them dangle from her fingertips, turning around to find the nearly naked form of the man she’d spent the evening with on full display.

His name was Jean Havish or Hammond or Ha-something. But really, what did it matter? Those gorgeous abdominal muscles had practically descended from Mount Olympus. And paired with a beefy pair of biceps that’d had Rebecca’s panties falling off at the words, “Do you wanna come back to my room,” she’d never stood a chance. Granted, apart from the stellar physique and height, he was different than the last few men Rebecca had dated — fair-haired and corn-fed with baby blue eyes. Jean hailed from the midwest, or so he had told her.

Rebecca nearly swooned as she took one last look, burning the cockeyed set of his smedium boxer briefs into her retinas.

It was too bad he lived so far away and unfortunate that he smoked like a chimney. Moreover, if Rebecca was honest with herself, he was a bit arrogant. These were traits she’d be happy to forget in her colorful retellings to Riza, simply satisfied to have someone to compare to the well-endowed Mustang her friend rode like a competitive equestrian.

“Thanks for everything,” she added, careful to keep her voice even and casual, not to betray the fact that Jean was her first proper lay in over six months.

He glanced back over his shoulder and blew a steady stream of cigarette smoke out the corner of his mouth, fixing Rebecca with a smoldering grin.

“My pleasure,” he responded, “and listen, doll, last night was a lot of fun. But I don’t think it’d be a good idea to exchange numbers.”

“I wasn’t going to suggest that-”

“That’s a relief,” Jean groaned.

Rebecca’s pride bristled.

“Oh, is it?”

Jean caught his mistake and doubled back.

“It’s not you,” he explained. His hands raked nervously through his hair. “I’m just not into commitment right now. I mentioned it last night.”

And now that Rebecca thought about it, Jean had mentioned it last night. Right before she’d bitten her lip in a way that obliged him to slide between her knees as they mingled at the hotel’s piano bar. Jean had whispered scintillating somethings into her ear when he asked if she’d like to spend the night with him. Then, he’d nibbled on her earlobe while stroking the delicate skin above her wrists, and that had been her undoing.

“Yeah, you did, and seeing as we’re unlikely to ever meet again, I’ll just choose to forget you phrased it like that. Have a nice life, Jean.”

Rebecca shuffled her bare feet against the low pile carpet and made for the door, not bothering with her uncomfortable shoes. She wasn’t mad that he didn’t want her number. No, not really. Honestly, it was for the best that she put this one-night stand behind her and begin concentrating on the four days of sea and sun she planned to share with Riza, her boyfriend Roy and Roy’s tag-along friend.

By the time Rebecca stepped into the elevator with her head held high, she had discarded all that she didn’t care to remember about Jean Hampson and distilled the best parts down to a saucy tale, great for girl talk and gossip. Rebecca was smart like that, able to compartmentalize her life into expertly-proportioned pieces of a well-balanced pie chart. With a relieved smile, the business-minded woman filed away the one-night stand as a sexy anecdote about the laissez-faire atmosphere of New Orleans. She’d even giggle lightheartedly about her rude, shoeless exit one day — she was sure.

But, in the heat of the moment, Rebecca allowed herself a single reservation as he watched Jean’s blond head poke out of his hotel room and peer at the closing elevator doors. She really wished he had remembered her first name.


Rebecca showered and dressed in record time that morning. She and Riza were checked out of the hotel by 8:55 a.m. sharp and were well on their way to the port where the humid breeze did more startle her senses than the double shot espresso warming the palm of her hand. Rebecca downed her coffee and tossed the reusable cup into her carry-on. She stepped through the departure point and followed Riza with her passport at the ready. Twenty minutes later, Rebecca found herself on the sunny Lido deck of Carnival’s newest ship, the Mardi Gras.

“Wow,” Rebecca said, turning her room key over in her hands, “your grandfather never does anything halfway, does he? A room with a balcony. The newest ship in the fleet. All alcohol included.”

Riza exhaled nervously, fidgeting with the small straps of her sundress and the perfect ends of her honey-blonde hair. “Grandfather has a lot to make up for, what with not being there for over ten years. But he did say he wanted to treat me to celebrate my graduation. I took him up on it just this once.”

“And you’re sure that he wouldn’t have just let Roy room with you?”

Riza glanced back at her best friend with a fond gaze. “Even if he had approved of Roy, I’d still have wanted you with me. I’ve been dating Roy for what, seven months. You’ve been my best friend since we were thirteen, Becca. Of course, I want to vacation with you. Besides, Roy can pay his own way, and he brought that friend I told you about just to even it up.”

With those warm words, Rebecca felt the butterflies in her stomach settle. She slipped an arm around Riza’s waist and pulled her best friend in for a side hug. But a familiar voice interrupted the moment of sisterly-bonding.

Speak of the devil.

“Riza!”

Rebecca had to admit that the smile on her best friend’s face was glorious, showcasing a carefree grin and subtle dimples that Rebecca would have liked to see more often. Riza waved, pushing upward on the balls of her feet as she signaled her boyfriend over. Roy Mustang made his way through the crowd trailed by a mop of blond hair obscured by Mustang’s perpetual bedhead. But the broad shoulders and stunning arms of Roy’s friends looked achingly familiar. Very familiar. In fact, if she didn’t know better...

No.

No-No-No-No-No!

It was him, Jean Havershmat. And he was with Roy Mustang. Walking towards them with damning recognition in those baby blue eyes. Or were they green?

Did that matter?

Maybe.

But more to the point, how? Was there a sign Rebecca had missed, or was it all some diabolical scheme that Roy had set into motion to occupy Rebecca during the cruise? The split-second calculations in the former statistics major’s mind counseled in favor of coincidence, and the look on Roy’s face confirmed it.

Conniving as he was, at this moment, he only had eyes for Riza.

Despite spending only hours apart, Roy and Riza embraced for two seconds too long. His hand slipped into hers instinctively, and through her alarm, Rebecca knew (more than most) what this small liberty meant. If this really were all some colossal fuck-up of fate, Rebecca wouldn’t let it get in the way of her best friend’s celebratory vacation.

Yes, she could catch Jean before he gave them away. They could start over like cordial strangers who just so happened to know what the other looked like naked.

She could handle this. Or even better. The businesswoman within her soul told her that she could manage this.

Jean set his carry-on down beside the small group and paused, surveying Rebecca up and down in disbelief. As if on cue, Roy spoke up, introducing Jean with words like “childhood friend” and “former Marine” that Rebecca barely registered. She licked her chapped lips, ready to speak up, but not so soon as to be suspicious, extending her hand forward with a kind (if strained) smile when-

“You,” Jean mumbled knowingly, his attractive brow furrowed. “You’re…”

Luckily, the blond’s train of thought jumped the track when it came to something as simple as Rebecca’s first name. His gruff voice trailed off, and inwardly, she thanked her lucky stars, grateful that he really hadn’t remembered.

Doll, indeed. She had called it.

“Rebecca,” she supplied, thrusting her outstretched hand toward Jean in an overtly distanced gesture. “Rebecca Catalina. I’m Riza’s friend. Nice to meet you.”

Luckily, he seemed to catch on.

“Jean Havoc,” he replied, shaking her hand in turn. “Likewise.”

Twelve hours ago, that same hand had dipped beneath the band of her panties, doing maddening things as Rebecca repaid the favor. But now, in the harsh daylight, things were more complicated. No longer strangers, Rebecca and Jean were both seen for everything they were beneath the layer of mystery New Orleans’ nightlife had endowed. Unveiled, Rebecca pulled away when she thought she felt Jean’s long fingers bush against the sensitive skin on the inside of her wrist.

As the ship’s horn bellowed low and loud overhead, Rebecca released a camouflaged groan. Her hands balled into fists at her side as her nails dug into her palms.

It was going to be a very, very long cruise.

Chapter Text

Roy lowers his spear and charges toward his opponent, body tucked tight and eyes narrowed. The hooves of his horse beat against the ground in a devastating rhythm, not unlike the drums of war. Cheers and jeers come from the crowd. However, Roy is too enraptured to feel anything besides the pain of prior attempts and the weight of his fine armor.

This exercise is not a punishment. It is a privilege -- his reward for agreeing to marry a woman that he cannot love. His heart has been spoken for since the age of 14, but no one can know that. And, in any case, his father, the king, would not care.

Theirs is not a game of hearts. It is a contest of footholes and intrigue in pursuit of a cold iron throne.

The first pass results in a mighty blow to the prince’s shoulder. It pushes him back, and for a split-second in time, Roy’s body is caught in gravity’s pull. He nearly falls from his horse but recovers, gesturing angrily to his squire to retrieve his shield and weaponry.

And this is the first time he takes a good look at his opponent. Their horse is midnight back and impeccably groomed, proudly wearing the luxurious colored silks of a house Roy recognizes but cannot place. The rider seems to be a small man wearing armor two generations old, but there is instinctive dominion in the way they handle their steed. There’s strength in the hands which grasp reigns and weapons with finesse.

Roy’s ego writhes at the idea that he’s been bested, but he enjoys the way his belly burns with something other than remorse over the bride he is obliged to marry.

They go again, and this time, Roy’s spear strikes true, and so does his opponent’s. Both nobles fall from their horses, clutching their wounded bodies. But the prince’s opponent does not stay down for long.

Stumbling, they rise, accompanied by the heavy sound of chainmail, and the modest figure draws a sword. They wait, chest heaving underneath layers of heavy metal for Roy to recover. Though the prince notices his betrothed, Vanessa, clutching a handkerchief to her mouth from the spectator’s stand, he pays her little mind and obliges his opponent in combat, over much objection from crown and crowd.

Swords clash, blow matched for blow, and a wave a nostalgia washes over Roy as muscle memory follows familiar footwork. This is a variant of his training regime, a series of steps known by two people. One of those people, his cousin Maes, has already shuffled off this mortal coil. The other person… She’s standing across from him, panting and in pain, wearing the colors of her mother’s forgotten house.

Roy’s strikes grow softer as he recognizes the feminine grunts, power and weapon prowess all the more impressive for her lack of testosterone. He stops blocking all together when he sees her blazing copper eyes through the slit in her helmet. And finally, bested but not beaten, the prince falls on his knees in front of the woman he loves. She presses her sword to the chain mail covering his throat, and he swears the pressure against his Adam’s apple feels like a lover’s kiss.

There would be worse ways to die than at the hands of Riza Hawkeye, and yet, she does not grant him this mercy. Riza lowers her sword and offers him her hand.

But, for his part, Roy does not take the peace offering. It is all he can do to reach into the belt covering his purple tunic and retrieve a crushed blue winter rose plucked from the royal gardens. So fitting that the flower is meant for Vanessa but given to Riza. So telling that it is crushed by the game his father orchestrated.

Chapter Text

“Trick or Treat!”

Halloween doesn’t make sense to Shouto; however, it isn’t the idea of pretending to be someone else that he can’t comprehend.  Though he isn’t as exuberant as Midoria, Shouto idolized All Might. In fact, he still does. It’s natural for kids to have such dreams.

Shouto can picture himself as a child, turning the corners of a happy home in loose socks and a towel tied his neck like a cape.  His mother would have laughed, and his father would have smirked, peering thoughtfully over the top of his morning paper. Of course, this false memory is nothing more than a poor imitation of normality, strung together from odd ends of pop culture and sitcom reruns.

But it’s a nice thought nonetheless.

No, it isn’t the costumes and pretend play that baffles Shouto.  It isn’t even the flash mobs, zombie runs or themed pub crawls. If U.A. had not kept him so busy, he might have joined in.

It’s the child, a little boy of maybe five or six, who stands in front of him dressed in a navy blue jumpsuit with burgundy wrist guards that causes him unease.  Brown eyes bright with awe, he rocks back and forth, teeming with excitement in his snow-white boots. The child’s movements strain the gray neckpiece connecting the high collar of his costume, and lower down, a brown utility belt jingles with every subtle movement. 

Impressed, Shouto scans the child’s heart-shaped face, noting the wig as well as the makeup applied over his left eye to mimic Shouto’s infamous scar. It’s hard to fault the child or his proud mother for their fastidious attention to detail.  Yet, Shouto cannot help but wonder if they’d feel the same if they knew the story behind his mark.

He keeps his silence and forces a small smile, dropping a piece of candy into the kid’s plastic pumpkin along with a pre-autographed card.  Both treats hit the bottom of the container with a hollow thump. It’s only his twentieth visitor, but Shouto has already grown tired of tricks, treats and the children who’ve swarmed the decorated auditorium.

In true U.A. style, the event is ridiculously “Plus Ultra,” from Tokoyami’s Haunted House to the three-legged race officiated by Iida.  Even Bakugo has a part to play, though he has no lines. Ground Zero merely stands by Midnight’s side as she welcomes the crowds, and perhaps it is progress enough that he isn’t yelling obscenities over the sound of Earphone Jack’s festive music.

Shouto’s directive is to be more personable, and to this end, he is paired with Creati, handing out candy on a mock front porch.  So disarming is she that sometimes Shouto forgets that the Yaoyorozu family is old, old money. So kind, that from time to time, villains underestimate her S-class intelligence.

He’s realized recently that she takes advantage of their ignorance.  But not tonight.

Tonight, her smile is as open and unguarded as ever.  Bright eyes blaze in midnight shades of gray offset by the crimson cape of her hero’s costume and the gold belt glinting beneath it.  Flashes of skin capture Shouto’s unbidden attention, but moreover, he finds himself enthralled by the way she connects with both the students and parents.  They might put Shouto on a pedestal as a potential successor to All Might, but the public feels like they know Momo Yaoyorozu.

And sometimes Shouto is jealous.  Of what, he isn’t sure.

“Has the hero Shouto come to help me eat all this candy?” she asks the small boy.

Delight spreads across the child’s face when he realizes she’s talking to him and not the semi-pro handing out candy alongside her.  He happily thrusts his hand inside the plastic jack-o’-lantern and offers Momo an orange KitKat, which she politely declines. Instead, she produces a box of pocky and offers mini-Shouto a slender stick.  They laugh and share their sweets. Momo’s tongue darts out to greet the rich chocolate, and Shouto finds himself watching and wondering.

In the space of a second, the young man’s mind flits back to his earlier reverie.  But now, he is no longer the child; Shouto is the father, sipping a cup of tea, legs tucked under the kotatsu.  A little girl with split black and white hair sprints outdoors. She catches snowflakes in her gloved hands and spins as the flurries continue to fall.  Momo is seated next to him, watching their daughter.

It’s pleasant and disarming -- the precise qualities Momo exudes despite the danger lurking just out of sight and mind. He shakes the pesky thought off and continues to attend to the never-ending line of lookalikes. If it is jealousy Shouto feels, he hopes it will not show.  Not for the first time, he wonders if these wishful daydreams are truly tricks or treats.