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Never's Every Flavour Drabbles

Chapter Text

The wall was warm against his back. The hours of stark sunlight it had soaked up seeped through fabric and deeper, soothing knotted muscles. Malik had spent too many hours bent over his maps; blotches of ink stained his woolen djellaba.

He inhaled, the scents of the city and the desert familiar to him. The fragrance of jasmine was especially strong at noon, sweet alongside unwashed skin and the spices laid out at the bazaar's stalls.

The pain was near tangible today, settling over him like sandy dust, weighing on his mind and mood. It breathed with him, kept pace with his heartbeat, and dulled whatever his eyes saw. A hot breeze stirred the empty sleeve where his left arm should be. It was a symbol he bore: a hole had been cut into his life, something precious ripped out of his grasp.

"Kadar," he said it softly, towards the blue sky, where few clouds scudded along.

It was then that a shadow fell over him. Where the pain would have once sharpened to the edge of an obsidian blade it now mellowed. Malik felt a smile tug at his lips, ruining the severity of his mien in the face of Altaïr's return.

"Safety and peace, brother."

Chapter Text

Daryl shouldered his crossbow, satisfied that no walkers where shambling about the tiny town they had discovered in a grove. It had been picked clean, of course.

Now, twenty years after the shit hit the fan, they had become slower, didn't move around as much. Wouldn't do to let their guard down, 'cause deadly aim didn't make up for getting plain too old for all this crap.

Daryl nudged Rick with his boot. He really needed to make new ones. The leather was falling apart, just like everything else. "What ya got there?"

Rick stood, wincing when joints popped and moved loose with the grind of bones. "Here."

Daryl took the handful of cards. Not used for poker those. Underneath a thick layer of dirt he could make out a multitude of faded colors: a dragon, a weird roundly-shaped thing with flowers and tentacles.

"For kids?"

"Pokémon. Carl used to love 'em."

Daryl nodded, not liking the return of that wounded thousand-yard stare one whit. He had no clue how Rick had managed this time to claw his way back out of being depressed and half-crazy, what after having to put his son down. Not with Lori and little ass kicker gone too.

Hadn't felt like a blessing at the time, just another cruel kick from fate right in the balls. Now he was grateful. If they bit the dust, they'd do it together, last two men standing, and all that.

"Feels like another life."

"Yeah." Daryl tugged at his sleeve and planted one on him as Rick turned, catching him by surprise. Licking his lips, the taste familiar right down to the filth, he added: "Let's go."

Chapter Text

The Inquisitor was leaning on the crenel, looking out over the snowy plains that surrounded Skyhold. Red dusted his high cheekbones, contrasting with his vallaslin. It was hard to determine whether the cold, embarrassment, or rather amusement was the cause.

(Cullen would have loved to investigate the matter more closely, at an intimate distance, where warm skin and breath could mingle and be shared.)

"Yes?"

The Commander was known to be reasonable and level-headed to the point where that dwarven rogue Varric mocked him for being too serious. As such, the soldier was taken aback to hear a threatening undercurrent in his voice.

Blinking and swallowing thickly, he cast a glance to Messere Lavellan. With a sizable delay he realized how close the two men stood together, clothing and armor the slightest bit in disarray, despite the wintry temperatures.

"J-just doing my rounds, ser."

With that, he hurried off to report for his sentry duty, but not before the wind carried a little exchange after him that made his ears burn:

"Maker preserve me! We need to find a more private place."

"...the battlements were your idea."

"And you went along with it."

"Because your desk is sturdy yet far from what any sane person would deem comfortable."

"I do have a bed. You would be more than welcome to it."

"...atop which is a giant hole in the roof. Despite all the funds Josephine has poured into our renovation efforts, I might add."

"You're Dalish. Do you not prefer to sleep underneath the starry sky?"

"...are you implying my people are mere savages, roaming the wilds?"

"No! Maker, no! Aiden, I-I would never -"

There was the sound of a chuckle, followed by the noise of passionate kissing. With a sigh of relief the soldier entered the keep, welcoming its fleeting silence while he hurried on, towards the main gate.

Chapter Text

"Up here."

Altaïr took another sip of cool water from the fountain, eyes drawn by the cascade of sparkling droplets, so different from blood spilled, before following the familiar voice to its origin, the bureau's rooftop.

The stone was warm underneath his palms, the climb too short to be called such, just a quick straining of muscles as Altaïr pulled himself up and over the edge, past the trellis. His bruises and scrapes burned, but the mission had gone well; he carried a feather in his pouch, stained rust-red.

The sight of cushions greeted him. They had been brought from Malik's private room and arranged around a richly colored carpet, laid with plates, bowls and steaming cups of mint tea. Flies buzzed through the jasmine-scented air, drawn by the fragrance.

"Safety and peace, brother."

"And upon you," Malik replied, his manner relaxed and welcoming. His djellba lay neatly folded at his side, leaving him clad in the simple white robe of a rafiq. "Sit, and eat with me."

Altaïr, pulling back his hood, took in the fine selection: tamr stuffed with goat cheese, halva thickly spread on slices of bread, baklava and qatayef, drizzled with honey.

Settling down cross-legged he didn't comment, but it hadn't escaped his notice that some of the dishes lacked their traditional topping, made of crushed pistachios. Kadar had loved it, been known to lick it off first of all with a child's delight. Unlike him, Altaïr had always abhorred the taste of the roasted seeds.

"A special occasion?"

He chose a dumpling filled with Akkawi cheese and picked it up gingerly. The dough all but dissolved on his tongue, leaving behind a sweet melange that he savored before swallowing. Altaïr proceeded to lick the sticky residue from his fingertips, holding Malik's gaze before it was dragged away from following the movement.

"Are we in need of one to share a meal?"

"No."

"Then do not question what you could just as well enjoy," Malik chided mildly.

They ate for a few minutes in silence. Altaïr felt a pleasant kind of heaviness settle into his bones, that loosened sore muscles, but did nothing to fog the mind. Thus, and with the benefit of having known him for years, he could tell that Malik was... not nervous or uncertain. Rather, it seemed to him that his brother was preparing himself for a leap of faith.

"Will you stay?"

Hope spread its wings, ready to soar like the great eagle, but Altaïr guarded the emotion. Whatever change had come over them both, whatever wisdom they had gained, its price had been pain, and the fault his.

"Do you want me to?"

A pale shadow of Malik's biting exasperation, ever present when having to deal with 'the novice,' flashed over his face. He gestured to include the whole roof: "All this and still you need ask?"

Altaïr shrugged, smiling now. "You are the one who taught me that I cannot know anything.”

"So I did," Malik allowed. He leaned closer, disregarding the distance at which they had kept each other ever since Kadar's passing. "Then allow me to be clear: Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, stay with me tonight. What we once shared, I would have us do so again."

Altaïr's answer was a kiss, as gentle as his hold on Malik, as different as the man.

What first they shared were words, stories and thoughts and memories. Then smiles and laughter, most fond and full of joy, few edged with sadness. And when the moon rose, round and alabaster, they went inside.

Chapter Text

The stench of the Tiber clung to him upon waking, reminding him of screams and blood and coupling between gravestones.

Not that Micheletto felt any regret or doubt about his chosen path or the nature of his talents, but no man liked having the past breathe down his neck. It fanned the skin, moist and cold, it crawled with the worms of decisions made, like the rich soil of the potter's field.

The dead providing sustenance for vermin. Not so much different from the living.

The straw-filled mattress and pillow rustled as he moved, lifting the scratchy wool blanket. Fingers of early sunlight poked through the cracks in the shutters, illuminating sparse furniture. Whatever ornaments, comforts and colors the whorehouse had once possessed, time, dirt and poverty had long since scrubbed them away.

Micheletto rubbed his dry eyes, inhaling deeply: unwashed skin, burned down candles, rotting meat and fruits. A pity. He had dreamed of nothing, a black void of oblivion, embraced in the warmth of the bardassa.

He rolled out of the bed, in truth no more than a pallet, and reached for his buckskin trews and shirt. He continued dressing, aware that the boy had woken, was counting the scars on his back. The same he had kissed and licked last night, now watching Micheletto with eyes that had given him his name: Cielo.

"Tell me about love," Micheletto demanded, tone flat and even.

For a moment only the sounds of fucking, drunken ranting and consumptive coughing answered him. Then Cielo chuckled and stretched languidly, exposing bruises and ribs that tried to poke through his pale skin.

Despite being half-starved he was pure temptation, dark hair and alabaster complexion, the first hints of muscles he would not live to develop, and a pretty mouth and clever tongue he used well to service men. Dangerous too, because if one squinted and knew to make the connection, the boy seemed the brittle shadow of one Cardinal Cesare Borgia.

"You have come to the wrong place, my lord, if you had hoped to find it here."

This was why Micheletto had followed him yesterday, up decrepit stairs despite his better judgment: the boy talked as if he had been raised far from these filthy streets, had some cheek and spirit left. Both would be used up soon enough. Knowing that Micheletto had given in to the cravings of his body and stolen a taste of it for himself.

"I expect no more than coin can buy." Micheletto adjusted his doublet, the leather soft and loose from wear. "Another I asked said it hurt."

"Like life?" Cielo asked, eyes shining bright with shrewd wit. "Then I gather that love ended in tragedy."

The fool Paolo came to mind, found hanged by the rabble like a lesson, one his master's sister had learned very well. "It did."

"Hm," Cielo hummed. "My answer would be that it is like the sun. It can warm or burn you."

Micheletto nodded, in truth none the wiser. The concept was too alien for him to grasp, like pain that did not carry a sweet edge, like moral obligations, like mercy, like trying to hide the darkness at the rotten core of men.

Tossing the boy the other half of his well-earned coin, Micheletto reached for the curtain that separated the tiny bedchamber from the corridor, leading downstairs to the back of the tavern.

Cielo caught the copper scudos and tucked them away, nimble-fingered as any thief; the Matron would demand her share later. "Will you come again, my lord?"

"Maybe."

Micheletto left, in a better mood than he had come with. One more body floating down the Tiber would be of no consequence. Not even his own, when the time came.

Chapter Text

Leslie tilted his head up, pupils blown wide with joy then abruptly shrinking to pinpricks as the sun burst through the dark clouds. He had to close his eyes against the light, but it was warm and soft on his face, did not make them water like the milky chemicals, the disinfectants, the sour breath of the men when they leaned too close.

He spread his arms, inhaled deeply, stretching as far as the straightjacket would allow. The first raindrops started to fall, brushing his scratched palms, hitting his nose. He opened his mouth, catching a dozen on his tongue.

The high stalks of sunflowers bent and swayed as the wind picked up, rustling in shades of yellow and lush green. A barn towered against the far horizon, looming, casting a shadow. Something squirmed inside it, a brilliant shade of meaty crimson, gift-wrapped to the quick in barbed wire.

Leslie, caught in the moment, did not notice, except for a prickling between his shoulder blades. The breeze ruffled his hair, white strands slowly but surely starting to stick together. Mud squelched underneath his bare soles as he shifted his weight.

The rain would wash him. Make him clean. Clean and normal and whole. Right in the head. No idiot, not stupid, not sick. No pain, pain, pain, pain, pain, pain.

People who were clean and normal and whole got to go home. Surprise, then laughter, then hugs. Welcome back, Leslie. The door falling shut with him standing on the right side, walking away, walking away...

"...walking away... go home ...go home ...home ...home... home..."

He nodded to himself, wringing his hands nervously, and started towards the barn. Another key hidden, another lock to be opened, Sebastian (protect, help, strong, the name an earthy brown, tasting like Lily's burned coloring book) to find and guide and follow.

Leslie smiled, his hair and gums and tongue stained red.

Chapter Text

Peter blinked twice, thrice. Squinted. Peered. Rubbed the gunk away. Nope, the image right in front of his puffy eyes didn't change, and the lights being powered down to conserve energy did nothing to obscure the fact that a small body was pressed against him where his bed had been decidedly empty before.

A furry one. Warm. Plushie soft. Wait -

Rocket was lying curled up right beside him, bushy tail sort of wrapped around himself, whiskers vibrating with every breath he took. He made little snuffling noises, nose twitching and ears perking up before falling flat.

Whacking his brain, Peter vaguely remembered movement, the memory foam dipping, and perhaps, before that, the faintest sound of thrashing and distress, distorted by the Milano's metal hull.

Nightmare. Implants. Comfort. Right, that matched up. Made perfect sense.

Peter blinked again, suddenly a lot more alert. He looked around, very, very, extremely carefully, for anything that might be used as a weapon. Against him, the breakable half-human, come tomorrow. Or worse, anything even remotely gun-shaped. That might explode.

Satisfied, spotting nothing of the sort, and still a little fuzzy in a sleep-deprived happy-go-lucky way, he settled back down with a huge yawn. He would, no doubt, pay with a scratched face, but waking with an armful of purring raccoon? So worth it.

Chapter Text

The alley was deserted. Almost. The eyes of a black cat, unblinking, gleamed eerily in the flickering light cast by neon signs. Music hammered in the humid air, like a racing heartbeat, accompanied by drunken shouts and hysterical giggling. Filth collected in every corner and cracks ran up the buildings that leaned and huddled too close together. Fliers from Russia Sushi and old newspapers stirred in a breeze that reeked of ammonia.

A fitting place for them to meet.


"I-za-ya-kun," Shizuo sing-songed with murderous glee, pupils blown wide with adrenaline.


Izaya smiled and stayed on a collision course, his switchblade tucked away in his jacket pocket, within easy reach.


Shizuo's bartender dress, style of choice and convenience as well as a good luck charm, was rumpled, one sleeve torn and bloody. His waistcoat was rucked up, exposing a sliver of pale skin. Izaya knew every freckle above his hip bone, had spent lazy hours in bed, counting them. That was the fun part. Of course it was not exactly hard work, to arrange for a bunch of troublemakers - wannabe color gangs, yakuza, plain idiots - to attack Shizu-chan every day, like clockwork. He needed an outlet, a workout, free of guilt and worry.


He didn't like violence, after all.


Besides, Izaya loved watching the show from afar, when Shizu cut loose, curb stomping anyone unlucky enough to get in his way. Who needed fireworks when thugs and loose teeth flew sky-high just as well?


"Konban wa."


"Those guys really pissed me off," Shizuo said with a shit-eating grin that aggravated a cut running along his cheekbone. Following Izaya's amused look, he finally let go of the lamp post he had dragged all the way from Ikebukuro. "Good choice."


"My, Shizu-chan, you say the sweetest things."


"Don't I?"


Carelessly, Shizuo leaned close enough to be snatched by his lapels and pulled into a kiss. Their teeth clicked together on a breathless laugh. This was them tamed and on the same wavelength, at least temporarily. Shizuo pulled away to take a breath and Izaya tasted metal on his tongue. He smiled and allowed himself to be crowded against a wall layered with ugly graffiti. -- At least until too eager hands slipped underneath his shirt. He brushed them off with a warning hiss.


"Not here." He straightened his clothes and started walking, towards the faint noise of the crowd. "You taste like a chimney."


Right on cue, Shizuo lit his last cigarette and licked a drop of blood away before the filter could soak it up. Bad enough that his shirt was ruined and that the flea was oh-so-decidedly not worried for his health. It was touching, really, in a sickeningly sweet and heart-warming way that they would never openly talk about. Not that they needed to: Izaya was, after all, an information broker.


He had to jog to catch up. "I'll be fine."


"Of course you will be." Izaya scoffed. "What a ludicrous thing to say."


Shizuo exhaled a stream of smoke. "Stay at my place tonight."


"Naturally."


It wasn't like a bunch of low lives ganging up on him, hitting their tender flesh and brittle bones, but the gleam in Izaya's dark eyes promised another, even more welcome thrill.


"Hn? What's that?"


"Now don't be stupid, Shizu-chan.” Izaya bumped into him, full force instead of playful. “I can't bent you over a kitchen table that isn't there, now can I?"


Shizuo growled, but Izaya had already darted ahead, twirling the apartment keys around his finger. Of course he chased after him. The first heads turned, startled or curious, the street no longer empty, and their game faces snapped back into place. Tomorrow, people would talk and text about "that crazy strong Heiwajima guy" chasing after "that creepy Orihara guy." Daily Ikebukuro fare, still exciting to chow, but mostly comfortingly familiar, a sign that all's right with the world.


Good thing they didn't know what happened behind closed doors...

Chapter Text

Ruvik watched from the shadows as the only compatible component of this batch - the last one, if the presence of Ms. Kidman was any indication - puttered through the ruins of Krimson City, or rather its cracked mirror reflection.

Leslie Withers, 25, diagnosed with multiple cognitive disorders, schizophrenia and echolalia, transferred to the Beacon Medical Hospital in 2001. - It was hard to perceive him as anything other than a child. He was a ripple within the STEM, a blip of stark white that had nothing to do with the canvas of his straightjacket. The physical held no sway in this world, this collage of roughly stitched together minds.

A strong will, however, had the potential to affect the layers of memories they were trapped in. Detective Castellanos' continued survival served as ample proof. A potential threat, eroded thanks to his emotional attachment to his partner.

Leslie, however, was different.

What protected him from the systems side effects, namely the slow destruction of brain cells and synapses, was his assortment of mental health issues. His innocence, if one was inclined to be more benign.

Somehow, he reminded Ruvik of his sister, albeit in the way of a pale imitation. She had shone with an inner light, the gentle and personable one. She had been his mediator, the one who understood people with the natural grace inherent in most human beings.

He had given in to the impulse only after... after, but the need had always been there, to dissect and analyze, to apply the comforting vehicles of logic and science in an effort to make social interactions more bearable.

Now, years too late, he knew better. All the qualities that Laura had possessed in abundance had no value in a world that crushed that which was pure.

A chord of fear twined around him then, reverberated in the foul air between buildings twisted at insane angles. Trapped, trapped, trapped, trapped... Ruvik tilted his head, his thoughts reaching out to his creations. The Haunted paused, eyes ablaze as his command reached them, before they moved to clear a path for Leslie.

That another creature's plight could still touch him, like an echo, in the dead center of his heart - would that make Laura smile? Ruvik hoped the answer was no. She had always known him better than that.

Chapter Text

It was snowing. The dark shadows of clouds skittered over an endless stretch of white, only broken by clusters of bare trees and jagged boulders. With the mountains looming just at the far edge of the horizon it could have been an idyllic winter wonderland. Only those didn't come with rivers of warm blood running through them or a sky that looked like a wound, swollen black with gangrene. The stench was horrible, and the layers of flakes hid the razor-sharp claws of bear traps.

Sebastian, sinking in up to his knees with every step he took, had Leslie to thank for the fact that all his limbs were still attached. - For a supposed nut job he had an uncanny talent for avoiding not only the Haunted but also any nasty surprises laid in their way.

Of course that fact only served to raise Sebastian's hackles. It was just too convenient, like all the evidence at a crime scene pointing in one direction. It made him suspect that Ruvik was preparing the ground for Leslie, keeping him alive for his own purposes. Feeling sacrosanct, secure in his own superiority, he seemed to accept that others profited. At least up to a point.

No wonder that bastard came up with a constant stream of new nightmares and torments to keep them separated as much as possible. Or used them against each other.

"It's cold," Leslie managed through chattering teeth. He stopped, wringing his hands. "Cold... cold... cold... cold..."

Sebastian turned around, wary that they might get separated, but Leslie was keeping up, had simply fallen back to use him as a windbreaker. Smart kid. Reminded him of Lily, against all odds, the way she had trailed after him like a faithful duckling.

"Hang in there. The ruin should be just up ahead."

He had seen it in the distance falling down another corridor, before gravity had twisted, turning walls into floors and then a maw of ragged bricks, the latter becoming a collapsing mine shaft that had led him here. Wherever that was.

"There."

Without warning, like any change in this psychotic mess, a decrepit building loomed up ahead, framed by snowdrifts. Nothing more than three walls and parts of the roof were still intact of this parody of a picket fence home, but they would make do. Time did not seem to matter here, food, water and bathroom breaks no issue, but whatever part of them actually experienced this nightmare got worn down. Fast.

"Stay here."

Sebastian reached for his gun, to scout ahead and secure the premises. It took him less than a minute to give the all-clear, at which point Leslie had already rushed over, eager to get out of the wind. It was picking up, howling and whistling eerily through the cracks.

"Next time, wait until I tell you it's safe," Sebastian scolded mildly.

"Safe... safe... safe..." Leslie nodded while puttering around aimlessly.

Sebastian shook his head and began to clear one corner of snow and debris, all the while keeping an eye on the boy. He would do his damnedest to keep the kid alive - not that Leslie's idea of being cooperative made the job any easier.

Satisfied, Sebastian settled down, leaving a gap between himself and the wall just wide enough for Leslie to fit into. If all went to hell, the Haunted being occupied with him should buy the kid time to get away.

"Come here." Sebastian patted the creaking boards invitingly. "Time to get some shut-eye."

"Not that close." Leslie shook his head, jerky and frantic. "It's too close, too close... too close... close..."

Watching him like that, Sebastian felt the urge to punch someone. Hard. Preferably Jimenez and his cronies, those supposed guardians and caretakers. The obvious signs of neglect and his knowledge of human experimentation aside, Sebastian had walked the beat long enough to recognize a victim of abuse when he saw it.

"Alright." He scooted over, a few inches to appease. "There."

After what seemed like a lengthy internal debate on the existential matter of trust, Leslie went, and Sebastian ended up with bruises, courtesy of bony elbows and the long time it took the kid to fold his ungainly limbs.

"Okay?"

Leslie wouldn't meet his eyes, but his lips twitched into a come and gone smile full of crooked teeth. "...okay."

"Good."

One step at a time. First, they needed some rest. Second, they had to find Joseph. And Kidman. Then they could get the hell out of here. Piece of cake. He exhaled slowly, a long stream of frosty white.

A calm settled over them, the ruin, the world outside. The horror and stench of death seemed to recede; muted. Perhaps that was due to their thoughts becoming sluggish, or maybe it was just another trick.

Leslie's warm weight drifting closer and closer, until it finally settled against his side, was real, though. Just like one more painful jab in a tender spot. Sebastian snorted softly. Yeah, that rib was definitely fractured.



[“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.” ~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox]

Chapter Text

Sometimes the limited horizon, crammed in by looming walls that blocked hours of sunlight, seemed to shrink to a pinprick. Oppressive to the point that it became hard to breathe, all color washed out and people faceless.

Perhaps that was what it felt like, when long abandoned hope clung to a spider's thread, a tenuous connection between being alive and dead, and whatever came after, beyond maggots and decay.

Then his body would demand that he close his air-dry eyes and the moment passed. The atmosphere would lift, bringing back the stench of blood and grinding teeth of those few only wounded, out in the field, or the noises and sights of urban life, where no laugh was completely carefree.

Either way, Levi would attend to his duties first, then return to his quarters, cleaning himself and the room meticulously. Each item was adjusted to lie neat and straight in its rightful place, at the correct angle.

The involved tasks were repetitive and familiar, to the point where his mind cleared. Like a pond its surface was serene, the depths alone treacherous. It was soothing, to impose order on chaos, to wipe the filth away with ease, the outcome predictable.

It was also a lie. But on those days that kept him going.

Chapter Text

"Tadaima."

No reply. Not surprising, all things considered. Maou eyed the stacks of boxed-up ramen with a weary sigh. They had cluttered the corridor ever since Suzuno moved in. She was a cute kid for an Inquisitor, really, her 'evil' plan to weaken them before risking an open confrontation as naive and adorkable as ultimately useless.

Still...

"This really gives the phrase 'made with love' a whole new meaning," Maou muttered to no one in particular before he stepped over the threshold, right into his home sweet fortress. - Where the very image of misery greeted him in the form of poor Ashiya, curled up on his futon. His shaking hand rose to wave but flopped right back down, landing on the cushion with a soft thump.

"Okaeri, Maou-sama."

Maou shut the door, shrugged out of his jacket, and sat down beside his ailing general. It did not escape his notice that the dishes were done and every surface sparkled with polish. So much for his orders to rest and take it easy.

"You know, there was really no need for you to eat it all."

"But the expiry date was yesterday and thrashing it would have been such a waste," Ashiya protested over the ominous gurgling of his stomach. "Please, don't concern yourself. I'll be fine in no time."

"Hnn," Maou hummed, unconvinced.

He brushed some stray strands aside, the hair darker than usual from sweat, to feel for a fever. As demons they were immune to human diseases, despite their recent limitations, but sacred power had the nasty property of destroying their bodies, one cell at a time.

"Maou-sama..." Ashiya's protest fell silent as he relaxed into the touch.

Maou smiled and moved on to trace the line of Alciel's cheekbone with a gentle fingertip, then a mask around his eyes, finally down his throat. In his true form crimson scales hid the tender skin there, their rim especially sensitive. He had taken advantage of that knowledge quite often in the past... but now it was a caress not meant to arouse but soothe, working together with wisp-thin traces of his magic.

He welcomed the answering rise, the opening of power, circling almost lazily between them; their reserves depleted.

"Don't," Ashiya muttered, pulling away.

"Why?"

"We agreed to use magic only in case of emergency," Ashiya, ever the stern matron, reminded him. "My being too weak doesn't qualify."

"You're not weak, just suffering for being a miser," Maou stated matter-of-fact. "Had I eaten that much of Suzuno's cooking I'd be sick too."

"Still - "

"Are you trying to give me orders?"

Of course he had, once upon a time. Maou had started out as nothing but a foot soldier, one more faceless goon in the demon army, before working his way up top. Alciel had taken him under his wing, into his confidence, and finally his bed. - Though with the benefit of hindsight Alciel had come to voice his suspicions that it had been the other way around.

Well, a demon never tells.

Ashiya sighed, but there was a smile hiding in the resigned noise. "I wouldn't dare, my lord."

"Good."

Maou continued to heal what he could, with a side serving of gentle teasing, not surprised at all when Ashiya regained enough strength to pull him down into a kiss.

Chapter Text

Thranduil stood, head tilted to listen as each arrow loosed by his son found its mark.

First, the whistling of parting air, then the sharp impact of pointed metal, imbedding itself in the wooden target. A twig fell, tumbling to the ground not unlike the butterflies when they alighted, resting their colorful wings.

Dragon fire may have eaten away the smooth lines of his face, had halved his smile and stolen his sight, but his magic was rooted deep within his kingdom. Together with his keen hearing, it was compensation enough, the loss not hindering him overmuch.

Excitement lingered, rushed closer, not too far off to his right, where ants crawled along blades of grass that touched bare legs, on this hot summer day, that was not held at bay by Greenwood's canopy of woven leaves.

"Ada."

Thranduil could not see, but felt Legolas' lips curl into a smile, silken skin and strands of long hair caught in the breeze, that smelled of merry bells and fireweed, and the honey that oozed from a nearby hive.

"Well done," Thranduil praised, allowing his pride to show.

The moist tip of a pert tongue licked his finger, chasing traces of the fruits they had eaten. There was no barrier of fabric between them, naked as they were, as Legolas rose on his toes to meet his father in a kiss. It was a sharing of breath and life, circulating between them once released from their lungs. Legolas yielded beautifully, allowing himself to be swept away and explored like a foreign realm, trusting in the hands that touched and arms that held him.

They left nothing behind but flattened grass, where their bodies had twined and moved together, and gleaming droplets, white as fresh milk, easily mistaken for the sap of injured flower stems.

Chapter Text

Fenris breathed his moan into Hawke's mouth. Wherever Garrett touched him, the lyrium tattoos flared up. Light rushed over his flushed skin, following meridian lines and illuminating the twilit room.

He bared his throat to hot lips and the warm exhale of kisses, back arching to meet one last thrust. Fenris shivered as his body opened further, muscles fluttering and clenching. His toes curled as milky liquid splattered on his stomach.

"Amatus," he whispered, nails catching along Hawke's spine as he held on.

He was swept away by his own choosing, had surrendered his heart to the mercy of another. Was that not what love was?

Garrett had accepted him, despite his hatred of mages and all things magical. Had done so, even when Fenris himself could not bear to face his past as Leto, the shattered memories of his life as Danarius' slave and obedient pet. Had helped him in his quest for revenge and freedom, yet never simply stood by or failed to criticized where he felt it was due. Had put up with his constant 'brooding' as Varric was so fond of calling it.

Hawke had found a way to look beyond all that he was, or thought himself to be, consumed by self-loathing. Had offered him first work to earn coin, then friendship, awkward lessons in writing and reading included. - And love, after three years of patient waiting.

Fenris had been the slave of a cruel master, but that was not his end, only his beginning.

He had learned to accept himself. Had found the courage to trust in his feelings, see them as more than a weakness to be exploited. He had no betters, only equals.

In Garrett's embrace, sweet words and promises long since kept whispered into his ear, Fenris fell asleep without fear of nightmares.

He would have them. They could still hurt him, for this was real and not a fairy tale. His past he would never be rid of.

But he was loved, and not alone.

Chapter Text

The days stretched on, measured by the fingers of sunlight that fell through a high window into his cell, cut into even parts by iron bars. They moved slowly, made his pupils dilate and contract on impact, drenching his hazy vision in blurred colors.

Joseph was almost grateful for being so awfully near-sighted that it had inspired his grandmother to call him her 'little mole'.

Because there were sounds. Of shuffling feet, creatures that mewled and howled and snarled, as barbed wire wound itself through their flesh, their bones, straight into the marrow.

He was fed morsels, once every watercolor day that bloomed blood-red, like ink soaked up by rich parchment. He would drag himself across the ground, out of the shifting shadows, to reveal a stretch of vulnerable, pale skin full of bruises.

Today as well he pressed his face between the iron bars that smelled of flaking rust, tilted his head up and opened his mouth wide to a cool touch. The shape of a grape caught on his teeth, slid along his tongue, and came to rest between his molars.

Joseph crushed it, let the juice run down his parched throat. The milky liquid burned as he swallowed; a jolt like electricity tingled along his spine as his vision faded. He licked and sucked the tips of Ruvik's fingers clean, felt each whorl as he pulled away with a wet noise and breathy moan.

He knew he was changing, but could not stop himself.

When his eyes opened a few days later, blinking his surroundings into sharp relief, Joseph was beyond caring how he had acquired this gift. They were blue and green, set into the palms of his hands, wandered there with shifting flesh from the hollow of his stomach.

The door of his cell was opened and Ruvik stepped aside. Joseph hungered. There was one person he longed to see...

He left, searching for morsels, ready to pluck them out himself.

Chapter Text

Jodie balanced on her toes. Her nose was scrunched up and wrinkled in concentration. Not slipping was hard, with striped socks on kitchen tiles. She had to really crane her neck to spot her prize.

The fridge loomed before her, all huge and gleaming silver. Its front was plastered with animal-shaped magnets and colorful drawings. The jar she had searched the whole house for sat on its top, close to the edge, but out of reach. It was made of glass, filled to the brim with fresh chocolate chip cookies.

"Mommy, can I have a cookie?" Jodie asked.

The sound of vegetables being chopped with a knife stopped for a moment. Water splashed as pieces of carrots were added into the waiting pot. The heat of the stove was adjusted with a familiar, grinding click. Finally, Jodie felt her mother's eyes on her, prickling between her shoulder blades. It didn't feel nice.

"Dinner will be ready in less than an hour, sweetheart."

"Is that a no?" Jodie prodded, still hopeful.

Her mother laughed, but there was a strain to it, a fakeness, that someone of Jodie's age probably shouldn't have noticed. Perhaps it was thanks to Aiden. He knew about people, why they said and did things that puzzled Jodie. Sometimes he shared and tried to explain. Sometimes he had no choice. Sometimes he got angry.

"Yes, that was a no. And don't you forget it, young lady."

Jodie nodded. "Okay."

She tried not to be too much trouble, to be quiet and do as she was told. Really. But her stomach growled, and buttered carrots were pretty icky. Like mush, and not crunchy at all. Jodie liked them raw better, but nothing would ever beat chocolate.

'Aiden?' she thought.

She felt it when his attention shifted to her. It was like a tug behind her belly button that tickled, only not really, because her body didn't actually feel it. And a pressure, on her skin, against her temples and inside her eyes, as if Aiden's presence had a weight.

The lid of the jar turned once, twice, and fell aside with a soft clatter. A cookie drifted up into the air and jumped, right into Jodie's outstretched hand. She quickly took a bite and shoved the rest into her pocket, then marched around the counter to sit on the couch in the living room.

By the time her mother turned towards the frying pan, a steak speared on a big two-pronged fork, Aiden had replaced the jar's lid.

'Thanks, Aiden,' Jodie thought.

She giggled as a cool breeze mussed up her hair in answer. Aiden always understood. With chocolate melting on her tongue it was easier to push away, the scary thought that soon, the sun would set.

Chapter Text

The vast hangar lay empty and silent, except for the humming floodlights. Four bright cones were centered on a makeshift stage of euro-pallets.

The noise of cicadas followed him inside. His measured footsteps echoed along the walls, caught between the concrete floor and ceiling; hollow and dark. The closer he came the stronger the smell, a haze of clotted blood, ruptured intestines and the acrid bite of propellant.

The coffin on display was a simple pine box, wood splintered and with rough edges, its lid propped up against its broad side. A handful of nails and a hammer lay ready to be used.

It was a small miracle that they had managed to retrieve the body at all. Another casualty in a war without end: Outer Heaven. But the dream, the legend, the symbol, would live on, just like he would have wanted.

He leaned closer, studying the pale and scarred face so similar to his own that no one would have been able to tell them apart, identical down to the imbedded shrapnel and bionic arm. It was just a mask, after all, the sum of the man they called 'Big Boss' and the will left behind by 'The Joy' before him.

Both Kaz and Ocelot waited for him when he returned, leaving the flicker of flames and a flaking rain of ashes in his wake. They looked at him, studying, searching. For the sake of their own sanity, neither dared to ask the vital question: Which one are you?

Like parasites or hallucinations, phantoms tended to multiply.