May. 8th, 2017

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“Oh no,” Francoise murmured, her voice full of amusement and exasperation, as Pyunma excused himself and slid out of the booth.

“Not a word,” Pyunma said, not looking back as he headed for the bar.

Junior leaned down, pulling Francoise closer to his side so he could quietly ask, “Is something wrong?”

The glance Francoise sent him showed she wasn’t fooled in the slightest, but she leaned into his side just the same. “Just watch.”

He did. Pyunma made a beeline to where Jet waited at the bar, the woman on the stool next to him leaning in close.  Pyunma wrapped his arm around Jet’s waist as he joined the conversation, and while Junior couldn’t see his face, the woman suddenly leaned back.

“Does this happen often?”

“Not as often as it used to,” Francoise admitted, turning her attention away from the couple at the bar.  “I think they’ve talked about it.”

Junior glanced back at the bar, took in that Jet had curled his hand over Pyunma’s even as he finally got the bartender’s attention. “I think,” he murmured, “that they understand each other.”

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“But what if he doesn’t like it?” Joe looked back around the doorframe at the lone person in the library.

“It’ll go fine.” Francoise followed his gaze. “You won’t know unless you try, right?”

“I know, but…”

Jet snorted, pushing away from the wall to clap a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “You’re not going to find out just standing here staring at him.” The supportive hand turned into a firm shove. “Go on, lover boy.”

“We’ll wait for you by the side door,” Francoise called, and the two of them were gone down the hall.

“Traitors,” Joe muttered after them. He turned back to the library, only to see he’d gained some attention. “I, uh. Hey Tsutomu.”

Tsutomu waved in greeting, motioning an invitation towards the chair opposite him. Joe shook his head slightly, making sure he was facing Tsutomu as he spoke.

“Thanks, but I can’t stay long. Junior’s picking us up soon. I just wanted to, uh, give you this.” He dug through his backpack and tried to ignore Tsutomu’s surprised look when he slid a red envelope across the table. “And, uh.” He could feel his face flush as he carefully signed the words Mr. Kozumi had helped him learn before turning and darting out of the library. “Okay, see you tomorrow!”

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“The theatre in town is showing Gojira later this week,” Pyunma commented as he started the Dolphin’s pre-flight checks.

“Yeah?” Jet considered that as he slid into the copilot seat. “Man, I haven’t seen that since it was first showing in the States.”

“Want to go see it?”

“Sure, if we get back in time.” He glanced back over the bridge, still empty besides the two of them, before starting his own checks. “We should see if anyone else wants to come.”

Pyunma was silent for a long moment before he leaned over and touched Jet’s shoulder. “I meant would you like to go see it as a date?”

Jet froze as he processed the question, a curl of pleasure vying with butterflies for space in his stomach. “You’re seriously asking me out before we go on a mission?”

“Well, I was going to ask earlier, if someone,” the soft touch on his shoulder turned into a light shove, “hadn’t spent the morning arguing with 006.”

“He doesn’t appreciate my culinary genius,” Jet said, ignoring Pyunma’s answering snort of disbelief. The two of them fell back into the flight check, familiarity making the process smooth and silent until Jet asked, “Grab dinner before the show?”

“Of course. System checks are done,” he raised his voice as the cockpit door opened. “Ready to launch.”

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“It’s always the leg!”

Joe hefted Jet higher on his back, mindful of the shrapnel still lodged in the other cyborg’s leg. He tried not to pay attention to how strained Jet’s voice was or how his fingers were digging into Joe’s chest.

He really wished he hadn’t overused the accelerator earlier. They’d be back at the Dolphin by now, Jet safe in Dr. Gilmore’s care, rather than running through the forest listening to Jet talk just to keep himself awake.

“And it’s always in the middle of nowhere. How come we’re never near a city or something when someone gets hurt?”

“We can go somewhere after this,” Joe offered, thinking about places they hadn’t been on a mission. “Kyoto, maybe. We could take a tour of the temples.”

Jet was silent for a long moment. “Temples in Kyoto?”

“Yeah, something like that. Something with a low chance of anyone blowing up.”

Joe could feel Jet’s lips curl against his neck as he smiled. “Nothing to do with that temple in Kyoto that does gay weddings, then?”

Joe barely avoided stumbling, his grip on Jet’s legs tightening. “What?! I wasn’t… I didn’t mean…” He trailed off, his cheeks hot, as Jet started laughing.

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“You really should learn how to tie that.”

Jet shot a scowl over his shoulder, giving the tie around his neck a yank. “I know how to tie a tie.” At Albert’s skeptical look, he turned back to the mirror and turned the scowl on the lopsided knot around his neck. “It’s been a while.”

“I can tell.” Albert clapped a hand on Jet’s shoulder, pulling him around so he could undo the knot. “Do you have the ring?”

“Yeah, I’ve got the ring.” Jet shoved his hands into his pockets, gripping the small box, even as he tilted his head back to let Albert quickly tie a new knot. “You really think I’m gonna mess this up for Frannie and Joe?”

Albert chuckled, finishing with the tie and moving to button up Jet’s waistcoat. “Not on purpose. You’d be amazed how often the little things get forgotten in the rush.” He tugged the waistcoat straight, then settled his hands on Jet’s hips. “You look good.”

“Yeah, I clean up nice.” He pulled away to grab his jacket, not wanting to deal with the softness in Albert’s voice or the distance in his gaze; he didn’t know if Albert thinking of her or thinking of him. During a wedding, he didn’t really want to know. “Let’s go make sure the lovebirds aren’t about to fly the coop.”

“Right, they’re the ones about to run.” But Jet didn’t pull away when Albert snagged his hand on the way out.

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Agelast

May. 8th, 2017 08:28 am
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*I hate it when people do that.*

“Hmm?” Chang looked up from comparing labels at Ivan’s irritated comment. “What’s that, Ivan?”

*When people make stupid faces at me.*

Chang followed Ivan’s glare – well, pout; he’d seen Ivan’s actual glare, and this had nothing on it. An older woman further along the aisle was wiggling her fingers at Ivan, a wide smile on her face. Chang smiled back at her before turning back to the other cyborg. “Some people just don’t like to see an unhappy baby.”

Ivan leaned forward, bracing himself against the shopping cart’s handle. *I’m not unhappy. This is my resting face.*

“I think you’ve been spending too much time with Jet.”

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All 005 really wanted right then was a hot shower.

They’d just spent the last few days running across – and on one occasion under – the Greenland ice sheet. At some point, he’d be able to appreciate the memory of the vast expanse of blue-green ice in the moonlight. As it was, the last edges of cold dragged at his skin like cobwebs.

“So much for a quiet Christmas at home,” 007 sighed, drumming his fingers on the instrument panel in front of him.

“Relax,” 008 said. “There will still be a few hours left by the time we get back to Japan.”

“Not if we follow that course you put in,” 002 interjected.

The lingering battle tension lifted at the familiar bickering, and a murmur of conversation started among the rest of the team. 006 was already up and heading out the door, muttering to himself and visibly ticking something off on his fingers. 005 signed off his station – 002 gave him a wave of acknowledgement without taking his attention from 008 – and followed 006 out.

“Cocoa would be good, I think,” 006 said when they were both in the hall. “We all need something hot after that.” He looked over to 005, eyes sharpening as he pulled his mind from planning. “Is there anything you’d like?”

“Whatever you make will be good. As long as it’s hot.” 006 snorted at 005’s dry statement, and they parted ways.

* * *

*Snacks are ready and waiting in the lounge!*

005 sent an absent acknowledgement as he dragged a towel over his hair. The steaming shower had washed away the feel of ice from his skin, leaving not-quite exhaustion in its wake. The thought of a hot drink and something to eat before a bed sounded perfect.

A thought that was delayed when he reached the lounge and found most of the team already there. Punch-drunk giggles mixed with the clatter of crockery as 006 passed around bowls and mugs, carefully avoiding the cake sitting in the center of the table.

“Hey, don’t block the door.” 002 shoved at his back, which was enough to draw everyone else’s attention to them. 005 quickly found himself ensconced on a couch, squeezed between 009 and 003.

004 gave him a wry smile from across the table. “Did you think we forgot?”

“I think I forgot myself,” 005 admitted, accepting his own bowl of noodles. Sau mein, he realized. Longevity noodles. 006 must have been planning for this, to have the makings ready.

“We can’t light any candles right now,” 003 said, motioning to the cake, “but you could still make a wish.”

“Maybe later.” Right then, with warmth in his hands and elbows jabbing his sides and the light of the aurora shining through the window, wishes didn’t quite live up to reality.

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Jet woke up to the sensation of fingers tugging though his hair. He blinked at the muted television – he remembered sitting down to watch a movie – and listened to Chang and GB arguing in another room. Signs of safety noted, Jet relaxed and focused on the soft touches.

Which took on a distinct petting aspect as whoever he was using as a pillow noticed he was awake.

“Sleep well?” Pyunma asked, amused affection lacing his voice.

“Nghfp.” He nuzzled against Pyunma’s leg – he distantly recognized that he should feel weird about falling asleep in anyone’s lap, but he was too comfortable to care just then – and asked, sleep slurred, “Whaddya doin’ to my hair?”

“Braiding it.” He laid a long, thin braid over Jet’s neck as evidence. “Want me to stop?”

Jet tilted his head enough to give Pyunma a narrow-eyed glare. Pyunma just chuckled and nudged his head forward again, nails scraping over Jet’s scalp as he started a new plait. Jet shut his eyes and let the warm tingles of Pyunma’s touch and the distant voices of his teammates lull him back to sleep.

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Brontide

May. 8th, 2017 08:39 am
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003’s smile is tense when she brought his bottle, a low wave of dread emanating from her unchecked. It was too familiar, too similar to how she felt when she knew she was going out for a field test. Except no one else in the house had that same tension.

*003? Is something wrong?*

Her smile faltered slightly. “I just have a headache.” She gathered him up, her touch a little stiffer than usual. “I always get one before a storm.”

Ivan considered this as he had his bottle. He knew how storms worked, had seen memories of them from the others (the storm started shortly after the field test started, thunder blending in with the rumble of tanks, sending static across 003 ears, shorting out 002’s sensors, making an already horrible task that much worse) but that was all. He’d always been tucked safe in the lab during the worst weather out of worry for his health.

Given the circumstances, 003 had never thought about the more normal ways storms affected her, so it never occurred to Ivan that it was something to consider.

*003?*

“Hmm?” She put the empty bottle on the coffee table, rubbed his back until he burped. As soon as she settled him back in her arms, he reached up to touch her cheek and gave her mind the slightest nudge.

Slowly, 003’s eyes slid shut, and her grip on him loosened. Ivan caught himself and levitated back to his bassinet. 003 fell asleep to pass by the worst of the storm, and Ivan settled in to listen as the rain began to fall.

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Pyunma stared at his phone, torn between dismay and glee.

On the one hand, class was cancelled. As much as he was enjoying college – and two years in, it still gave him a thrill that he was there, when he never would’ve thought he’d get the chance growing up – he didn’t really like dragging himself halfway across New York to get to his eight o’clock class.

On the other hand, he’d only gotten the txt telling him class was cancelled just as he stepped out of the apartment. It was just after seven on a Friday, that was his only class of the day, and he was now unnecessarily awake. And, unlike Jet, he wasn’t able to fall asleep if he stayed in one spot for more than five minutes.

Still, he might as well take advantage of his sudden free time. Preferably by having something more substantial than the toast he’d made before. He dropped his bag back in the bedroom and paused by the bed to run a hand through Jet’s hair. “Hey. You want breakfast?” Jet just made a snuffling sound and curled tighter around the decoy body pillow. Pyunma chuckled and ruffled his hair again before heading out to start breakfast.

He was just pouring the second batch of pancakes onto the griddle when he heard movement from the bedroom. He wasn’t surprised when arms wrapped loosely around his waist a minute later, just made sure his arms didn’t get pinned as Jet draped himself over Pyunma’s back. “Morning.”

Jet made a noise that might’ve been a greeting before offering a much clearer, “Pancakes?”

“Mm-hm.”

Jet settled his head down on Pyunma’s shoulder, watching him flip the pancakes. “Is today something?”

“Nah. Just felt like making them.”

“Mmph.” Jet tilted his head, nuzzling into Pyunma’s hair. “Best boyfriend.”

“Yeah, and someday you’ll say that when food isn’t involved.” All the same, he turned and caught Jet in a lingering kiss until the smell of burning food sent both of them scrambling for the griddle.

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Kelp

May. 8th, 2017 08:49 am
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“You’re not allowed to give me grief next time my legs get screwed up,” Jet said as he came downstairs, a set of crutches tucked under his arm. “What even happened?”

Pyunma winced as Dr. Gilmore finished disconnecting his leg; the sudden lack of sensation below the knee was more than a little disconcerting. “It’s just a malfunction.”

“His propulsion system is clogged with kelp,” Dr. Gilmore filled in, his voice flat.

Pyunma closed his eyes, counting down. He reached two before Jet started cackling.

* * *

“You need anything?”

“Nope.”

Jet dropped onto the bed and gave Pyunma an arch look. “Admit it, you’d find this hilarious if it happened to me.”

Pyunma ignored him, flipping the page in his book without reading it. Jet made an exasperated sound and grabbed the book.

“Hey!”

“Seriously,” Jet said, tossing the book towards the foot of the bed, “it’s not that big a deal.”

“Kelp, Jet,” Pyunma finally snapped. “I got taken out by kelp.”

Jet shrugged. “Yeah, and the first time I flew outside the lab I got stuck in a pine tree.” Pyunma let out a laugh at the mental image despite himself. Jet grinned and scooted closer, curling his arms around Pyunma’s waste. “See? Hilarious.”

“Shut up.”

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“Are you all right?”

Joe rolled his shoulder again, wincing at the feel of the synthetic muscles tightening and pulling at his real muscles. “I’m fine. I’m just a little sore.”

Junior gave him an even look, then put the folded blanket down on the bed. “Sit down.”

Joe gave him a confused look, but set down his pile of pillowcases and sat on the half-made bed. He felt the bed shift as Junior sat behind him, places his hands on Joe’s shoulders, and squeezed.

Joe groaned as Junior started a slow massage, his strength obvious even in the gentle press of his fingers. He couldn’t help a few more happy noises escaping as knots he hadn’t even been aware of came undone. It only took a few minutes before Joe melted back against Junior’s chest with a happy sigh.

“Better?” Junior asked, placing a kiss on Joe’s head. Joe just made a small noise of contentment, his eyes sliding shut for a moment before a light tap sounded at the open door.

Francoise stood in the door, a blush high on her cheeks as she stared at them. Joe instantly sat up straighter, reaching out for her. “Francoise?”

She visibly shook herself and took a step towards the bed. “Dinner’s almost ready,” she said, even as she let Joe draw her into Junior’s arms. She glanced at the piles of bedding around them. Joe followed her gaze and winced.

“We’ll finish making the bed before we head down. We got distracted.”

The blush snapped back over Francoise’s cheeks. “I heard.” She shifted slightly, leaning more into Joe’s side. “It… sounded very different.”

Junior’s laugh rumbled through both of them when Joe realized exactly what she meant and buried his face in Francoise’s shoulder, his own blush as bright as hers.

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Pyunma let the door slam shut behind him, dropping his messenger bag the moment he was in the apartment. “Can we afford bail?”

“Only if you don’t want a new filtration system,” Jet said from the kitchen. “What happened?”

“My classmates are idiots.” Pyunma dragged his hand over his face as he walked into the kitchen. “They keep forgetting that societal norms change and try to interpret…” he trailed off as he finally saw Jet. Saw Jet’s back, since he was digging through the fridge, but that just made the well-fitted slacks more obvious. “Jet?”

“Yeah?” Jet straightened up, two bottles of beers in hand. Pyunma absently accepted one, eyes sweeping over Jet’s body. Took in how the dress pants and waistcoat accented the length of his legs and the lean lines of his torso, how he’d tamed his hair into a spill of loose curls.

Pyunma stepped forward, pressing Jet back against the counter and setting his beer down in the same movement. “You look good.”

Jet laughed and draped his arms over Pyunma’s shoulders, his own bottle pressing cold between Pyunma’s shoulders. “I had a live gig today. They want us looking nice.” Jet tugged him forward until his could nuzzle down into Pyunma’s hair. “So, you had a bad day?”

Pyunma tilted his head back, returning the nuzzle with a slow kiss. “Well, now it’s looking up.”


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Tarantism

May. 8th, 2017 09:07 am
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“Can I cut in?”

He’d caught Jet and Francoise just as a slower song started. It wasn’t on purpose, but Albert was glad for it all the same; the two of them were on an entirely different level on the dance floor than the rest of the team. Usually they all left them alone to terrorize the other dancers.

Which explained the surprised looks both were giving him. Francoise recovered first, giving him a bright smile. “Of course.” Another quick twist and they were apart, Francoise slipping away into the crowd, leaving Jet and Albert together.

They both moved to lead, arms bumping. Jet rolled his eyes, but his pleased smile never wavered as he draped him arms over Albert’s shoulders instead. “Done propping up the bar?”

“Yeah.” Albert guided them into a simple box step, his arms curled around Jet’s waist.

“Any reason why now?”

Albert thought about telling him how ridiculous it felt drinking alone when his partner was on the dance floor. Thought about saying how much he’d wanted to hold Jet in his arms just then.

“It felt like the right idea.” He tightened his arms, let his smile turn playful. “Why don't you tell me how to do that step you keep starting?”

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The whine of a baby broke through Jet’s pain-filled haze. He stared at the barracks ceiling for a few long minutes, no longer used to any noise besides his own in the room, before rolling off the cot and stumbling upright. Pain stabbed through his hips as he staggered across the room – he hadn’t thought the surgeries could get worse than those first few – and caught himself on the edge of the crib. “Hey.”

The infant – 001, he remembered; they’d changed his number again – quieted. He blinked up at the teenager. I didn’t mean to wake you.

“I wasn’t asleep.” Which might have been true; he was having trouble telling lately. “C’mere.”

I don’t think you should—Oh. Jet had up and cradled close to his chest before 001 could finish the thought. Jet slid down to the floor, back against the crib, and ran his fingers through 001’s hair.

“Better?”

I—yes.

Jet ran his fingers through 001’s hair again, head tilted back. He’d been moving on automatic, following faded memories of helping his aunts and grandmothers care for his baby cousins:  babies fussed, they got held. He didn’t have access to milk, even if 001 needed changing he didn’t have any supplies, so that left…

Ninna nanna, ninna oh, questo bimbo a chilo dò?

He stumbled over the words, the distance of time mixing with the drugs in his system blurring the lyrics and language, but he thought he got the melody right. 001 had relaxed against his chest, one hand curled clutching Jet’s shirt.

That was nice.

“Thanks.”

Do you know any more?

Jet cast his mind back, digging through dusty memories. “Yeah, I think so.” He cleared his throat. “Una mariposita, que del cielo bajó

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“Is this legal?”

“What?” Francoise leaned closer to Pyunma, oddly unwilling to take her eyes from GB and Chang’s discussion on whether the ceremony should be performed by Elvis or Frank Sinatra.

Pyunma shifted beside her – probably elbowing Jet again, trying to get him to stop laughing – before elaborating. “Neither of them are American citizens. Can they legally get married here?”

Francoise could feel her forehead crease at the question. “I’m not sure it’s legal for two men to get married here.” That wasn’t a topic anyone thought to update her on. She was sure, though, that GB and Chang weren’t about to let that stop them.

They’d stopped here because everyone was climbing the walls, snapping and arguing as they made their way home. For the sake of their continued good health (Pyunma would kill anyone that damaged the Dolphin during an argument), they’d decided to make a pit stop at the nearest city.

The nearest city had been Las Vegas.

They’d scattered almost as soon as they’d booked hotel rooms, eager to spend a few days not in each other’s pockets and planning to meet back at the Dolphin in three days. Barely a day had passed before GB had contacted everyone, panicky and excited and insisting that everyone had to come meet him, it was important, as soon as possible!

More than a few of them quickly hid guns when everyone arrived at a small chapel instead of a Black Ghost attack. Francoise was fairly certain the minister thought they were a very strange gang.

GB and Chang met them in front of the chapel, happy and beaming. Jet had taken one look at their matching ‘I <3 Las Vegas’ t-shirts and burst out laughing.

He was still laughing even as GB and Chang arranged themselves at the front of the chapel (they’d gone with Frank Sinatra; Francoise couldn’t help but approve). She tuned out whatever Pyunma was doing to quiet him, even tuned out what the minister was saying, and just… watched.

Chang and GB didn’t look like they were paying any more attention to the minister than she was. GB had a bouquet tucked under one arm, his free hand clasped in both of Chang’s, and they were smiling at each other. Not the wide, beaming grins they’d greeted everyone with, but something quieter and far more content than Francoise could remember seeing either of them.

She couldn’t help it. She sniffled.

A hand slipped into hers; she looked to her left. Joe wasn’t looking back at her, but gently squeezed her hand. Across the aisle, Albert did send her a small smile as he handed Dr. Gilmore a handkerchief, and Junior held Ivan up higher to get a better view. She glanced to her right; she couldn’t tell if Jet was still holding back snickers, but he’d wrapped his arm around Pyunma’s shoulders.

She looked back up front, holding in another sniffle, and returned Joe’s hand squeeze as Chang and GB kissed.

* * *

“You could have given us some warning,” Albert said as they left the chapel, making room for the next wedding party.

Chang waived the complaint. “It was spur of the moment. We were lucky they had an open slot.”

“Still, we could have at least dressed up if we’d known,” Francoise said.

“I don’t know, Frannie. The bride looked lovely.” Jet shot a grin over his shoulder at GB, only to get hit in the face with the bouquet.

“I’m sure the next bride will be even lovelier, right 008?” GB answered, smugly draping an arm over Chang’s shoulders.

Francoise fell back to walk next to Junior and Pyunma, briefly considering saving the bouquet from Jet – it didn’t deserve to be battered over GB’s head like that.

“I’m sure the wedding will be lovely,” Junior told Pyunma, voice dry as the desert.

Pyunma chuckled. “I’m sure.” His face took on a thoughtful edge, and he bumped Francoise’s shoulder. “Maybe someday, right?”

Francoise felt herself blush, but couldn’t help glancing back to Joe. “Yes. Maybe someday.”

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“When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

Pyunma had heard that old saying about looking into the abyss, but he’d never quite considered applying it to a situation like this. Probably not a fair thought, but when he’d tried to understand 002, he’d underestimated just how much 002 returned the favor; he’d also underestimated how horrible 002’s ideas could be.

“You’re going to get shot,” he told the flier as they climbed into the torpedo tube.

002 just barked a laugh and said, “They’re not going away, and you want to get out there and do something as much as I do.”

And he was right, the anxious itch in the back of his mind easing as 002 contacted the bridge; Pyunma didn’t have to admit it out loud, though, so he just smiled as he tightened his grip around 002’s hips and said, “You’re just a horrible influence.”

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“I still think of him when I look at the stars.”

Hilda finished pouring the tea, breathing in the fragrant steam. “I know.” She placed the cups on a small tray along with a small plate of cookies. “You probably always will.”

“Do you mind?”

“I could never mind you still loving him.” She set the tray on the coffee table and crossed to where Francoise was looking out the window at the clear winter night. Hilda wrapped her arms tight around Francoise’s waist and snuggled her chin down onto the younger woman’s shoulder. “Joe will always be a part of you, just as Albert will always be a part of me. I never expect that to change.”

It was close to what Hilda had said that night on the beach, holding Francoise as she fell apart. Her wailing sobs were something Hilda’d never had time for, between her kidnapping and conversion and just trying to survive in the future world she’d found herself in, but the grief… she knew the grief.

Francoise wouldn’t have to be alone with it.

And now, years later, she kissed Francoise’s cheek and made a promise to the men who’d gone ahead that together, they would be fine.

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Pyunma nudged the bedroom door open with his foot, his hands taken up with the mugs he was carrying. “Hot chocolate’s ready.”

Jet didn’t move from his sprawl on the bed. Pyunma might’ve assumed that he hadn’t heard it, given the headphones he was wearing, if he hadn’t known how good Jet’s hearing was. He set the mugs on the bedside table and leaned over to run his fingers through Jet’s bangs. It was enough to pull Jet’s attention to him, eyes dark and face pinched. “Want to talk about it?”

Jet scoffed, but tugged Pyunma down to sit. He curled his arms around the other cyborg’s waist and pressed his face against his hip.

What little amusement Pyunma had felt evaporated at the move. Stroking over Jet’s hair served the double purpose of soothing his boyfriend and pushing off the headphones; the sound of guitars spilled out until he managed to find the mp3 player. “Hey. Talk to me.”

“Nothing to talk about,” Jet muttered. “Just want the storm to end.”

Pyunma glanced up at the window, already knowing the shade was shut against the storm going on outside. “I thought you liked snow.”

“I like snow,” Jet grumbled, pressing closer to Pyunma’s hip. After a moment, he added, his voice a little softer, “I don’t like blizzards.”

Pyunma kept petting his hair, remembering the feel of snow against his neck when they were coming back from getting groceries. “At least we got in before the worst hit, right?”

Jet’s arms tightened. “Not everyone does.”

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Pyunma batted Jet’s hand away from his stomach. “Stop that.”

“Nah.” Jet stretched – and Pyunma might have watched him a little too intently, letting languid movement replace months of stillness in his memory – and resettled with his hand on Pyunma’s chest, fingers tracing the scales there.

“I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be the clingy one right now.”

That earned a tired snort and a leg thrown across his thighs. “‘m not clingy.”

“Uh huh.” He pressed his face into Jet’s hair, hiding his smile as Jet grumbled. “If you want to get some sleep, I’m not going anywhere.”

The fingers on his chest froze for a split second before Jet curled his arm over Pyunma’s chest and held tight. “Damn right.”


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Jet stared at Joe in disbelief, uncertain of what he was looking at exactly. Joe shifted uncomfortably under the look, holding the cupcake up almost as a shield. “I know last week wasn’t good, but,” he sped up, seeing Jet’s face darken at the mention of the disaster that was his birthday, “I still thought—happy unbirthday?”

He held his breath for a long moment as Jet just stood there, eyes hidden behind his bangs. Suddenly, finally, the tension left his shoulders and he muttered, “Since when did you read Through the Looking Glass?”

He still took the cupcake.

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Pyunma shifted uncomfortably, his mind cycling too fast to sleep despite his body’s exhaustion. The silence of the medbay pressed against his chest and left no distraction from – he pulled the trigger, how could he pull the trigger – from his thoughts.

“I can hear you thinking from over here.”

And who’d have thought he’d ever be happy to hear 002 start complaining? “So sorry for keeping you up.”

“My leg’s doing that. Tell me about him.”

“What?”

002 sighed, and there was a rustle of sheets. When Pyunma looked over, the younger cyborg was sitting up, looking pale and pained. He only sounded grouchy, though, when he said, “Neither of us is getting any sleep, so tell me about him.”

Pyunma pushed himself up slowly, feeling pain twinge through his own body as he moved. “You want to hear about the person who shot you?”

Your friend didn’t shoot me.”

Considering everything that had happened over the past few days, the amount of conviction in 002’s voice was almost absurd. But it was enough to push Pyunma’s mind past the Cyborgman to better memories.

“Mamado and I grew up together.”

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“I’m just saying, if you’re going to spy on me, at least—”

“Grant Britton!”

GB wasn’t the only one who stiffened at the shout, though likely for an entirely different reason than the others. He turned on his heel to see an older woman in a blue cardigan and matching pillbox hat determinedly bearing down on the group. “Mum?!”

006 had time to repeat, “Mum?” while 003 murmured, “Grant?” before he found himself yanked into a crushing embrace.

* * *

“I was afraid someone would find you dead in a ditch.”

GB stared down into his cup of tea, the sadness and guilt of the past few days a familiar lump in his chest. They’d relocated to a nearby pub, a light lunch providing GB with something to give him time to think. If only so he could think of a proper revenge on his traitorous teammates who’d disappeared as soon as they’d realized exactly what was happening.

“If I hadn’t read the reviews, would I have even known you’d resurfaced?”

“I’m sorry, mum. I wasn’t planning to be in town that long…”

The glare he received told him exactly how well that excuse went over. “And where have you been?”

“Rehab.” While she blinked at the lie, he rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “And after I got out, I needed some time to figure things out. So I’ve been traveling.”

She made an intrigued sound. “With your friends from before?”

“Yes. We’ve been…” He laughed, relaxing away from the lies and half-truths. “We’ve all been going through some hard times. Being there for each other when we can has helped.”

She made that sound again, slowly sipping the last of her tea and setting the cup down with a sharp click. “You are coming home to dinner tonight.”

“Yes’m.”

“And bring your friends. If you’re traveling with them, I’d like to at least meet them.”

“Yes’m.”

She nodded sharply and stood up, rounding the table to drop a kiss on his head. “I’m glad you’re safe, my darling boy.”

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I’m scared.

He shouldn’t have felt anything, in this frozen moment. Maybe triumph, as the rebel cyborg was barely his match. Except the memory of a kind smile and a shared meal kept edging to the front of his mind. Not all of the warmth from the time was from the fresh bread.

I think I love you.

Because that smile was the best thing he could remember. It made him want to do better. And that made something in his stomach clench, when he thought about how easy it was to throw away everything he’d been told in the labs. To give everything he had based on five minutes of kindness.

I think I love you and I’m terrified.

If he was going to die, he could think of worse feelings than being a little in love.

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Jet froze, ears straining to pick out any movement in the trees around him. Even after all this time, the sounds of fighting in the forest was still less natural to him than a back alley brawl; the relative quiet around him told him nothing about what was going on.

Until a crack sounded from the bushes a few meters away.

He spun, bringing is gun to bear and cursing his inability to use his accelerator right then, but he could already see the muzzle of a rifle aiming straight at him and—

A body slammed into his, sending him sprawling across the forest floor. Joe crouched over him, already firing at the shooter.  He stopped after a few shots and peered into the underbrush. “I think he’s gone. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good.” Jet sat up and glanced over at the blue paint dripping down the tree that had been behind him – Pyunma’s paint color, no wonder he hadn’t heard him coming – and grinned. “My hero.”

Joe grinned back and leaned down to bump his helmet’s face plate against Jet’s in lieu of a kiss. “I almost lost you. You’d better stick close to me.”

Movement over Joe’s shoulder caught Jet’s eye; he whipped his gun up and fired before he quite processed it, and cursing echoed through the trees as his shot hit true. “Maybe you’d better stick close to me.”

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“I’m not worth it.”

The beep of the heart monitor was Joe’s only answer. He clenched his fists in his lap, keeping himself from reaching out to touch Jet. There’s wasn’t anywhere to touch, nothing left that wasn’t covered in bandages and tubes and machines. Nothing that wasn’t his fault.

“You shouldn’t have…” He swallowed, his eyes locked on Jet’s hand, lying far too still on the bed. “I was—I would have been fine with it ending like that. Coming after me was…” He wiped his eyes. “Have you lost your damn mind, coming after me like that?”

Silence fell again as Joe got his breathing back under control. Slowly, he rested his hand on the bed, fingers just brushing Jet’s forearm. “Please wake up. So I can ask you again.”

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“—and what do you call that? She’s so off pitch that—”

“What are you watching?” Albert interrupted GB’s rant, looking dubiously at the act playing out on the television.

“Eurovision,” GB answered. Albert waited, hoping for some elaboration despite GB’s tone implying that that one word was the only explanation necessary. GB finally glanced over after the silence stretched, an edge of incredulity on his face. “You know, Euro…” he trailed off, gaining the faintly guilty expression everyone wore when they’d forgotten when, exactly, their teammates were from. It was quickly replaced with determination, and he motioned for Albert to sit with him on the couch.

“The Eurovision Song Contest,” he began gravely, “is the most important event of the year. You see…”

It took until GB got to the contest being a replacement for war, his studied tone laid over a backdrop of glitter and Europop on the television, for the ridiculousness of it all hit Albert. He covered his mouth to hide his chuckles, trying not to interrupt the history lesson.

To no avail; GB cut himself off with a delighted grin. “Have I entered an alternate universe or did you really just crack a smile for me?”

Albert let his hand drop. “It’s because of your way with history.”

“Wait until the voting and I’ll tell you how it reflects our geopolitics.”

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“I could give you a massage?”

Albert stared at the younger cyborg, baffled. “I’m pretty sure won’t work.”

“No, seriously.” Jet flopped onto the couch next to Albert. “Just let me…”

The touch to his temples was surprisingly soft, brushing his hair out of the way before pressing circles over his skin. Albert let his eyes slide shut and he leaned into the touch. So he didn’t see Jet lean in to steal a kiss.

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“I know that look.”

Pyunma looked up as Kabore slid into the seat across the table, setting two mugs down. “What look?”

“Wistful. Adoring.” Kabore’s grin took a teasing edge, and he poked the letter Pyunma was holding. “Did you meet a girl while fighting evil?”

Pyunma snorted, letting the letter drop to the table. “Hardly. It’s from 002.”

“Really?” Surprise crossed Kabore’s face for a second before he asked, “He’s doing better, then? He was still in bad shape when you all left before.”

“He’s fine.” A fond smile curled over his lips when he glanced back down at the letter and skimmed over the end of Jet’s scrawled rant. “Getting himself into as much trouble as ever.”

“Good to hear.” Kabore sipped his coffee. “You didn’t deny being wistful and adoring.”

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This wasn’t what the newly implemented “Bedroom doors stay open when you have company” rule was meant to prevent, but Junior wouldn’t have known it from Joe’s reaction. He jerked back, his hands jerking in Tsutomu’s grasp, and turned bright red. Tsutomu, for his part, just looked over at Junior curiously.

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes,” Junior told them, waiting until he got a confirming nod from Tsutomu and making a mental note to check the sign later himself. He sent a glance at the boys’ joined hands, Tsutomu clearly in the middle of guiding Joe’s hands into the proper shape, and added, “Come down whenever you’re done.”

Joe made a small strangled sound and said, “It’s not what it looks like?”

Junior blinked slowly, letting his amusement tinge his expression. “Tsutomu isn’t helping you learn sign language?”

Joe hesitated, his face turning even redder. “It’s exactly what it looks like?”

“I wouldn’t have thought otherwise.”

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Later, Albert would have time to think. After the tests and the pain and the surgeries and more tests, he would have time to think about everything.

But in that first waking moment, stretched out on a hard metal table, numb shock filled his mind. Slowly, he registered the blank gray ceiling above him, the lack of cold rain against his face, the faint hum of machinery, his empty arms.

He was alive.

He let his head fall to the side, eyes sliding over the equipment lining the wall below the observation window. A hospital? Wherever he was, he was alone in the room.

His fingers dug into the table unconsciously; the sound of metal scraping over metal didn’t even register. “No,” he snarled, bile building in his throat. “This isn’t real. I’m not—I can’t be here.” He flexed his fingers again, the ghost of Hilda’s body still in his arms.

He was alive, and he was alone.

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Joe forgot sometimes.

Tsutomu didn’t really expect him not to; everyone did, at some point. And Joe wasn’t doing it on purpose like some kids at school did. So when Joe turned his head away when he was talking, or covered his mouth so Tsutomu couldn’t read his lips, he didn’t hold it against him.

And Joe made up for it. In the dark of the theatre, with Joe holding his hands and rapidly signing into his palm so he could follow the movie’s dialogue – not something anyone else had ever thought to try before – Tsutomu felt a warmth in his chest that had nothing to do with the tentative romance playing out on the screen. Carefully, during a lull when Joe had stilled, he closed his hand for just a moment, catching Joe’s fingers and knowing that this was exactly what he wanted.


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“That tree still has fruit at the top.”

Junior obligingly walked over to the tree Chang indicated, hand held up so the other cyborg had something to hold on to, riding on Junior’s shoulder as he was. Chang balanced a basked half full of apples with his free hand, and cheerfully whistled.

“Do you want to get down?” Junior asked. “It would probably be faster.”

“I like it up here,” Chang said, inspecting the apples on the tree before picking one. “Between the two of us, we can get more of the higher fruit this way, and it’s easier to carry the basket. And while I’m up here, I can do this.” He tilted Junior’s head back and planted a kiss on his lips.

“Those are all good points,” Junior agreed, smiling against Chang’s mouth. “You’d better stay up here.”


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Breath in, two three four, breath out, two three four. Francoise breathed in the steam of her tea in time with the music playing on the radio, some slow song that had been new when she’d been in the labs. The house held that particular silence that only came when everyone else there was asleep; she wasn’t usually up that early, but she also didn’t normally share a bed with the house’s earliest riser – and didn’t that thought bring heat to her cheeks and a smile to her lips. He’d pressed a kiss to the corner of her lips with a murmured apology for waking her before he’d left for his daily walk. She’d been in too good a mood to go back to sleep.

So, tea and music, with a second mug ready to be poured when Junior returned.

When he did, he pressed a kiss into her hair before listening to the radio. “My parents used to play this.”

“I’d heard it before. It’s nice.”

He hummed his agreement and offered his hand. “Want to dance?”

“Always.”


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Laundry day in the Gilmore household could be interesting, given that the various adventures they had were not easy on their clothes. Francoise was thankful that her turn had fallen on one of the less interesting weeks; the most she had to do was gather up the stray clothes that inevitably ended up strewn around.

Her circuit through the house – surprisingly short, resulting in a shirt from the lab and a pair of pantyhose that were most definitely not hers in the bathroom – ended in the den, where Junior sat reading a book. She dropped a kiss on his temple and reached for the sweatshirt piled in the throw blankets next to him.

Junior caught her hand just before she grabbed the cloth. At her surprised look, he raised a finger to his lips and tilted his head down.

Now that she was giving it more than a glance, Francoise could see the fall of red hair coming from the hood and the hand loosely grasping Junior’s shirt and the whole thing resolved into Jet taking a nap in the hoodie he’d stolen from Junior ages ago. The hoodie he only wore when he was having a particularly bad day.

“Did he say what’s wrong?” Francoise asked in a whisper, carefully pushing the hood back to brush her hand over Jet’s forehead. He shifted at the touch, the edge of strain in his face smoothing out.

“Nightmares, I think,” Junior murmured back, and Francoise nodded. They all had them, and they had their own ways of coping. There were certainly worse ways to get through the day.

With one last brush over Jet’s hair, Francoise hefted the laundry basket and smiled at Junior. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” She started humming as she left the room, the soft sound drifting in her wake.



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The rain was sudden, a few minutes of distant thunder the only warning before a sudden torrent unleashed and 002 said, “Hey, stop the car.”

004 glanced over; the other cyborg had sat up from his sullen slouch in the passenger seat and was staring out the window. “Something wrong?”

“I just want to get out now.”

He could understand that; they’d all been spending a lot of time outside since they’d escaped, but still… “We’re in the middle of a thunderstorm and you want to stop and feel the rain?”

002 finally turned to glare at him. “It makes me feel normal, okay?”

It took a moment, but 004 did remember. Back during the tests, 002 had always complained that the rain muffled his sensors and made it harder to fly. But if they weren’t fighting for their lives right then…

He pulled over.


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Capernoited

May. 8th, 2017 10:13 am
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Jet had very long fingers.

Joe really should’ve been paying more attention to what Jet was actually saying, but his attention wandered with every gesture the flier made. And given that Jet talked with his hands as much as his voice, Joe’s attention was firmly on those fingers. Finally, he set his beer down – and maybe he’d had one too many at this point, that he was having this much trouble concentrating – and grabbed Jet’s hand, carefully sliding his thumbs over Jet’s knuckles. And now that he had that hand, it only made sense to press a kiss to Jet’s fingertips.

It took him another moment to realize Jet wasn’t talking anymore.

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Jet woke up with a start, blinking up at Prof. Gilmore and Pyunma’s concerned faces hovering above him. He took a minute to unscramble the mess of sensor afterimages in his head before he said, “The new sensors are pretty strong.”

Tension eased from Gilmore’s shoulders at the statement, and he patted Jet’s shoulder. “We can adjust the sensitivity until you get used to them. Come down to the lab when you’re feeling steady again.”

As Gilmore clambered to his feet, Jet looked up at Pyunma. “Why am I in your lap?”

“You fainted. Straight into my arms.” The tease has a sympathetic edge to it; Pyunma’s own sensor upgrades had gone haywire before. “If you wanted my attention you didn’t have to go to such extremes.”

“You’re face is extreme,” he muttered, snuggling back into Pyunma’s lap and closing his eyes.

“Not gonna get up?”

“Nah.”


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Storm clouds gathered in the sky, a promise of relief to the humidity that had soaked the city over the past few days. The heavy air was still a relief when Pyunma stepped out of the crowded restaurant. Especially when he saw Jet slouched against the wall a little ways from the door, smoking and staring into space.

“Second thoughts?”

Jet’s answering grin was bright and infectious. “Like hell.”

Pyunma laughed, his own smile wide enough to hurt a little, and went to pull Jet into a kiss. It wasn’t a very good kiss, given that neither of them could stop grinning through it, but Jet still made a pleased sound when Pyunma didn’t let go afterwards.

“Seriously, anything wrong?”

“Nah.” Jet flicked ash off his cigarette, glancing over Pyunma’s head back towards the door. “I just needed a break from in there.”

“I hear you.” He reached up and snagged the cigarette, dodging Jet’s halfhearted swipe to take a long drag. Somehow, the party going on inside made things seem far more real than the small ceremony they’d had the night before. Considering how he’d spent a long time not expecting to survive the fighting – before or after Black Ghost – sneaking out of his own wedding reception to have a quiet smoke with his husband never would have crossed his mind.

And he was not going to get tired of saying that, his husband.

Judging by the look on Jet’s face, soft and happy and a little amazed, he was thinking something similar. “We really did it.”

Light glinted off their rings as Pyunma linked their hands, holding tight. “Yeah, we really did.”

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“Dinner is served,” Jet announced, already digging through the bag as he walked into the kitchen. “What do you want to start with?”

“Egg drop soup?” Pyunma hazarded; he’d been dragging his things into the bedroom when Jet placed the order, so the contents of the delivery bag were a mystery.  All the same, Jet passed over a container of soup with a grin before unloading everything else onto the floor in front of the couch. “We’re going to need to get a table at some point.”

“We need a bed first.” The matter of fact statement was delivered with a light leer before fading into something a little more serious. “The air mattress isn’t bad, but my friend’s gonna want it back eventually.”

“You could’ve gotten a bed.”

“Yeah, I guess. It’s just…” Jet glanced away, fiddling with his chopsticks. “It’s ours, right?”

Which… yeah, Pyunma knew where Jet was coming from. When he was accepted to Columbia, moving in with Jet rather than living in the dorms had seemed like an obvious idea. The time in between was too swept up in the details of moving between continents for the idea to settle too much, but now, sitting in the nearly empty living room, the fact that it really was theirs was settling in. No more only seeing each other at Prof. Gilmore’s or in flying visits between countries.

Pyunma put the soup to the side and pushed himself up. “How comfortable is the air mattress?”

Jet made a garbled noise around the eggroll in his mouth before hurriedly swallowing. “It’s pretty good. Tired from the trip?”

“Nah. Just figured we don’t have to wait until we go furniture shopping to break in our place, and we never have much luck with couches.”


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“I love you.”

Hilda’s voice broke through the light doze Albert had faded into. He could tell, from the faint slur in her words and the looseness of her arms around his chest, that she was on the verge of sleep herself. In the morning, she probably wouldn’t remember saying anything.

“If it doesn’t work… if we have to stay here for a while longer, I wouldn’t mind as long as I’m with you.”

“Hilda…” Except her breathing had evened out, warm and slow against the back of his neck. He carefully took her hand. “We’ll make it out. We will. And we’ll be together.”


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The birth certificate proclaimed that Vincente Esposito was born to Francesco Esposito and Gracia Caro Palomo February 2nd, 1942. It wasn’t hard to figure out whose it was – aside from the birthday, Jet’s current legal name was Vincent – but Pyunma couldn’t think of any reason Jet would hand him a copy of his original birth certificate out of the blue. The flyer scowled at him, waiting for some sort of reaction.

“So what’s this for?”

Jet ducked his head a little, his scowl deepening. “It’s stupid.”

There was a note of uncertainty in his voice, mostly hidden under the irritation, that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know him well; Pyunma’d heard that note too often to miss it. “It can’t be that stupid if you bothered to hunt it down. How’d you get the hospital to give you a copy?”

“Said it was my grandfather’s.” Jet relaxed slightly and shrugged. “I don't know, I guess I want someone to know. And you won’t make a big deal out of it.”

Translating that from Jet-speak turned it into a pretty big declaration of trust. Pyunma accepted it with a nod. “Alright. Tell me.”


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“I told you,” Jet said. His smugness at being right was almost drowned out by how nonplussed he was.

“I thought you were kidding.” Pyunma put down the bag of groceries he was holding and stepped over the still-packed boxes in the living room to study the writing on the wall.

The literal writing on the wall. It dripped red and thick down the off-white wall, a scene straight out of a horror movie. Except it was a bright ‘Hello’ scrawled in what Pyunma could tell, now that he was closer to it, was strawberry jam.

They’d been gone all of ten minutes, taking a break of settling into their new apartment to pick up groceries at the bodega two blocks down. More than time for someone to break in, but that someone would’ve been stupid to ignore the TV, unconnected to anything, or the mp3 player sitting on the kitchen counter. And Jet really had told him.

“You had to find a haunted apartment, didn’t you.”

“Rent. Controlled.”

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“You want me to what?” Junior asked, not quite thinking he’d misheard

“Throw me,” Joe repeated, pointing up and over his shoulder. Out the window, Junior could see – and thankfully couldn’t hear – Francoise and Pyunma yelling up at where GB and Jet looked to be playing keep-away with a volleyball. Knowing them, they were just out of reach.

The logic behind Joe’s request was suddenly very clear.

Junior considered. Even with their enhanced durability, Junior’s strength could still easily hurt his fellow cyborgs. Joe knew that, and still asked.

“Alright.”

The squawking noise Jet made when Joe slammed into him was incredibly satisfying

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May. 8th, 2017 10:29 am
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“When we’re across the wall,” Hilda started, voice soft, “do you think you’ll look for them?”

Albert covered his arm by instinct, scarlet starbursts peeking out from between his fingers. “I don’t know,” he said. He rubbed his thumb across one of the two names scrawled amidst the placeholder marks, the elegant sweep of Francoise curled around his wrist. “I hadn’t thought about it.”

Albert had better things to think about than his soulmates. Jet and Francoise, whoever they were, weren’t anything more than names in red, and the six stars covering the rest of his arm were less than that. Characters in novels had more substance.

They certainly weren’t as important as the woman standing at the stove, her shoulders slightly hunched and her unmarked arms bare. It was two steps from the table to her, and he curled his arms around her waist and tucked her head under his chin.

“Maybe we’ll look for them,” he said into her hair, “but none of them will ever replace you.”

Hilda twisted a little, her smile warm when she looked up. “It’d be nice to meet them.”

“Yeah. It would.”


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28

Sun

That first day, 008 found 002 stretched out on Mr. Kozumi’s deck, one hand up to the sky. “Are you okay?”

"Yeah, just getting used to the light."

24

A Vespa Scooter

“Jet, a scooter does not have a ‘bitch seat’, and,” Albert said, pinching the bridge of his nose, “even if it did, I wouldn’t ride on one.”


College AU

“Can I borrow you notes during lunch?”

Jet dug around in his bag, purposefully bypassing the notebook full of sketches of Professor Heinrich instead of linguistics notes. “Sorry, man, I left them in the dorm.


Wild West AU


Albert leaned against the jail bars, staring at his hungover friend. “Do I want to know what you were doing up the water tower?”

“Al, I don’t even remember what I’m doing in New Mexico.”

  

35


Flowers

On their first date, Junior gave Francoise a small bundle of larkspur. She ran her fingers over delicate blossoms and gave him a teasing smile when she asked, “No roses?”

“I didn’t think we should pretend we would stay with tradition,” Junior told her.


47

Thieves AU

Albert held his head in his hands, listening to the security alarm over his headset. “I said to wait until Joe and Francoise ran the distraction.”

GB’s cheerful, “Not to worry, Albert, this is just a momentary issue,” did nothing assuage Albert’s exasperation.

Unknown Prompt

“Do you ever miss being that age?” GB asks, an edge of wistfulness in his voice as he watches their younger teammates on the beach.


Albert leans against the porch railing next to him, two glasses of wine in his hand. “Not if if meant I had to relearn everything I know now,” he says, his shoulder pressing warmly against GB’s.


There's Not a Word Yet (Soulmate AU)


25 Broship

Jet flinched as Junior gently took his arm, fighting the instinct to pull away, to protect himself. Junior cupped the back of his head for a moment, forcing the younger cyborg to look at him. “You’ll be all right,” he said, and went back to removing the piece of shrapnel bisecting his own name.  

27 Broship

“It’s an actor’s sleeve,” GB explained, holding out the bundle of fabric. “We wear them when we’re playing roles that need our name marks covered.”

Slowly, Jet took the sleeve from him, accepting it for the apology it was.

Other

Adoption AU

Hilda beckoned Albert to her side, not looking up from the cradle. Albert joined her, carefully dragging his finger down Ivan’s cheek.

“Welcome home, Ivan.”

9x13 - Angst

Before they left Tokyo, Joe stopped by the playground again. He sat on the swingset, turning the wooden rabbit over and over. If he concentrated, he could almost smell fresh bread on the wind.

0010 + and - - Before Black Ghost

“You should’ve packed the spare tire,” his brother sang from where he was stretched out on top of the car.

“Shut up and help me flag down this car.” He stuck his hand out, thumb up, as the black car approached.
 

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GB woke to the sounds of a camp already active, despite the dim light telling him just how early in the day it was. The morning chill manifested in the icy cold touch of the basin he slept in, despite the nearby campfire, and he surged over the side as soon as he registered it. He plucked a stray leaf out of his chest as he shifted into his default form and looked about the camp as soon as his eyes reformed.

And immediately had to protect said eyes when Jet took off a few yards away, kicking up sprays of sand with the first few sweeps of his wings before he caught the wind over the lake. Further down the beach, Geronimo sat feeding Ivan, and Pyunma could just be seen floating in the water. GB let his gaze wander over the lake, taking in the tranquility, until he felt a presence at his side. “You don’t get scenes like this in the city.”

“No,” Chang agreed. GB leaned into him, soaking in the warmth the shorter man emanated. He glanced around, checking for their unaccounted teammates, and found them still asleep on the far side of the fire. “Should we wake them?”

“No.” The flames in Chang’s eyes glowed faintly as he looked up. “We don’t know when Dolphin will be back from feeding, so we might as well let everyone rest up. Besides,” he added, sounding more chipper, “it looks like there’s good fishing in this lake.” He pulled away, ignoring GB’s protest, and spooned a mug of soup from a pot buried next to the fire. “Now, go enjoy the morning.”

GB laughed and looped his free arm around Chang’s shoulders in a quick half-hug before he let himself be shooed away. Chang’s cheerful humming followed him as he joined Geronimo and Ivan. Geronimo gave him a nod in greeting when he sat in the sand next to them, while Ivan blinked at him through his fringe. ‘You’re in a good mood.’

“Yes, well.” He tilted his head back, let the breeze run over his face, and watched Jet loop through the perfect blue sky. “It really is a lovely day.”

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Quidnunc

May. 8th, 2017 11:45 am
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Cathy knew, as the sole person in town with regular access to the manor, that she’d eventually be inundated with questions. So it wasn’t a surprise when the grocer asked, too casually, as he counted her change, “Anything interesting going on at the magician’s house?”

“You should know me better than that,” Cathy scolded lightly, gathering up her purchases. He laughed, giving her a brief wave before he greeted his next customer.

It was a bit more of a surprise when one of his daughters sidled up to Cathy once she was outside. “Do you know…” she trailed off, her face turning red before she got her courage together. “Do you know if, uh, the redhead, Jet, if he’s sweet on anyone?”

Cathy stumbled in surprise, and the two of them spent a frantic minute making sure none of her groceries fell. “Is Jet…?” she repeated. “I don't…”

Except she did know. They’d forgotten to shut the door, and she’d walked in to change the bed linens. Jet’s wings hid quite a lot, but they couldn’t hide the tenderness in his touch as he traced Pyunma’s face, or the way Pyunma’s fingers tangled in Jet’s hair. The last thing she saw as she backed out of the room was Jet leaning down and resting their foreheads together, their peaceful expressions hidden when she shut the door.

‘Sweet on’ likely didn’t come close.

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“I hate you.”

Pyunma hid his smile, easy to do with water weighing Jet’s hair down over his face. “Uh huh.”

“I fucking hate you. I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

“Just come here.”

If anything, Jet’s look darkened even further. But he still sloshed through the water until he and Pyunma were chest to chest. Pyunma just wrapped his arms around Jet’s waist, tucked under his wings. “Ready?” He waited for Jet’s terse nod before letting both of them fall backwards.

Jet jerked as soon as they were underwater, his wings flaring in panic. Pyunma tightened his hold, gently stroking what skin he could reach. “I’ll keep you up. Just focus on moving.”

The words must have been understandable even through the water because Jet blinked at him through the waving mass of his hair. He was still for a moment before he spread his wings, the red of his feathers even brighter against the iridescent blue of Pyunma’s scales, and slowly, carefully, figured out how to swim again.


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She did wait until after the war, because she was young and optimistic and hopeful. But even she couldn’t wait forever, and she eventually got used to him not being there. She never remarried, but she lived a long, full life in the house they were to share their lives in.

But when she got older, it was clear her mind was starting to deteriorate. She didn’t always remember names, or mistook who someone was. The worst was that she started waiting again. And when she was too bad off to live in that large house all on her own, her family moved her into a hospital, and her favorite nephew offered to take responsibility for her.

She fought so hard against it. He wouldn’t be able to find her if she wasn’t in the house. A few weeks later, her heart just gave out. A peaceful death in her sleep, the doctors said.

Her favorite nephew was a scientist with Black Ghost. He bribed the hospital to place fake death records and took her. Her frail body wasn’t a problem; they just needed her brain. And the house.

They rebuilt the house, made it a weapon, and put her in charge. They built a doll, based off old pictures of her, to act as life support for her brain.

When she woke up, she was the house, the one where he said he’d come back to her. And they showed her her body, young again, so that he’d recognize her when he came back. She would never have to leave.

We’ve done all this for you, they said. We just need you to do this for us.

And she was crying when she said yes.

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The medbay was quiet without the other cyborgs hovering in the background. The only noise was the tone of 008’s monitors on the other end of the room. Gilmore listened for any change in the steady beat as he finished repairing 002’s leg. The only sign that 002 wasn’t sleeping through the repairs was how tightly his arms were crossed across his chest.

“What they did to the Cyborgmen, that’s what they were trying to do to D3 and D10, right?”

The question was almost matter of fact; Gilmore kept his eyes trained on his hands, frozen while clearing liquid out of the joint hinge, and took a deep breath. “Yes.” He forced himself to start working again, setting the joint back into place. “I had thought that that line of experiments was abandoned after… after it failed with those two. I suppose it was moved to a different lab.”

002 made a small noise, and Gilmore pretended not to notice when 002’s hands tightened on his arms. Instead he replaced the sliced hydraulic tubes and tried to ignore the memories lurking.

This was likely why the two of them didn’t talk much, Gilmore thought, setting the last connector and starting to reseal the knee. Despite everything, the rest of the cyborgs were still learning the extent of what Black Ghost was willing to do, and by extension what Gilmore was culpable for; 002 had lost any illusions on that front long ago.

“I don’t really remember everything that happened back then.”

Gilmore let the implications of that sink in as he finished working. “Trauma, most likely,” he said, glancing up at 002 and feeling a bit of guilty relief that his eyes were hidden behind his bangs. “It’s possible that you blanked out some events to protect yourself. Though I remember several concussions that likely didn’t help any.” That got a short laugh, and Gilmore smiled for a moment before the gravity of the conversation set back in. “No mind alterants were used on you. Given how long it took for you to learn to fly, no one wanted to risk anything that could cause any setbacks.”

Slowly, 002’s hands relaxed, and he tilted his head until he could peer out from under his bangs. “More setbacks than running headfirst into trees?”

“We could only control so many variables.” Gilmore stood up, his back twinging in protest at straightening after so long hunched over. “Do you think you’ll be able to sleep? I can get a sedative.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine.” 002 didn’t look fine, still pale and tired, but that stubborn light was back in his eyes.

“All right.” Absurdly, Gilmore felt the impulse to ruffle 002’s hair; he settled for laying his hand on 002’ shoulder. “Good night, 002.”

“Night, doc.”


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“Damnit, GB, don’t—”

Francoise didn’t even flinch at the now familiar sound of a body hitting the ground at high speed. Even the stream of Sicilian invective that followed didn’t get more than a slight frown – and did her voice really get that shrill or was it just Jet?

Instead, she focused on carefully preparing a mug of tea. She’d already broken three cups over the past day, not to mention the crushed doorknob; she wanted to avoid breaking anything else due to her not being used to Junior’s strength. She just really needed a little calm and quiet to get used to this, but…

Another crash echoed in from outside, closely followed by Jet yelling, “It’s not that hard! Ease up on the thrusters!”

She loved her boys, she really did, but ‘calm and quiet’ would never describe most of them.


---------------

By process of elimination, they’d quickly figured out that Albert had ended up in Ivan’s body. Ivan, who had just started his two-week sleep. Ivan, who was now sitting in Joe’s body, staring at his own unconscious form.

Ivan had to wonder if this was how the others felt when he was asleep during an emergency.

Idly, Ivan flexed Joe’s hand, watching the long, adult fingers curl and straighten. Technically, the situation wasn’t an emergency. Inconvenient and uncomfortable, yes, but nothing they couldn’t live with for a couple weeks.

“Ivan?”

Inconvenient and uncomfortable and very slightly creepy. Ivan looked up into GB’s face and saw Junior’s patient gaze looking back. “It’s time for dinner.”

Ivan nodded, carefully standing up and slowly left the room. Junior stayed close, but let him walk on his own.


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A brief explanation of these for those not hanging around my tumblr back in 2015:

I hate God's War. It's terrible. But the idea of the cyborgs getting psionic power upgrades fascinates me and has far too much potential to waste on such a bad story. So, I took it and this is the result.

 



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“Come on, guys, where are you?” Larry muttered to himself as he peered into corners in the hallway. He’d swept through most of the first floor so far, searching for any oddities the exhibits had missed cleaning up before they returned to their displays for the day.

More specifically, searching for a certain pair of miniatures who hadn’t made it back to the diorama room.

While it wasn’t unheard of for miniatures to get caught outside the dioramas when the sun rose – the miners’ camp in the Hall of Gems had been especially fun to explain – but Jed and Octavius were reliably back in the diorama room or at least waiting for Larry in the entrance hall at the end of the night. But here it was, nearly half an hour after sunrise and no sign of either cowboy or Roman since they’d picked up their car.

Finally, Larry found the car parked just outside the Kaufmann Theater; he almost hadn’t checked as no one ever really had any reason to go there outside of movie nights, but he’d run out of places in the main halls they could be. The car was tucked neatly next to the theater’s doors, light glinting off metal in the front seat. Larry relaxed.

“Guess we’re having a talk about losing track of time…” Larry trailed off as he lifted the car up to eyelevel. Octavius’ armor was piled in the front seat, Jed’s hat and gloves tossed on top. The backseat was mostly blocked from view, but he could see Jed’s hands pushing up Octavius’ tunica and Octavius’ bare leg curled over Jed’s hip, and he jerked the car down before he could make out anything else.

Larry stared at the top of the car, torn between embarrassment and oh, good, they figured things out for a long moment, before a door slamming in the distance shook him from his surprise. Another moment, and he tucked the car under his arm and headed for the security office. He’d hide the car in its usual spot – maybe covered with a blanket – and hopefully no one would check it.

And maybe tomorrow’s talk would be less about losing track of time and more about finding a room.

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“I very much appreciate your assistance,” Octavius said. He frowned at the computer keyboard, mourning the loss of the apparatus while they were sleeping. “This is a matter of grave importance.”

“Of course, Octavius. I’m glad to help.” Sacajawea logged into the system, somewhat surprised that her account still worked – though, given how charmed Dr. McPhee seemed by everything, she was sure he would have allowed them to use his. “What do you need me to do?”

She couldn’t remember him looking as happy as he did when she logged onto his Facebook and changed his relationship status from “It’s complicated” to “In a relationship.”

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Breathe in. Step. Turn. Breathe out.

The movements were second nature, something every child from his planet learned as soon as their wings held true. On their own, they helped with coordination and balance; in the wider forms, they formed the basis of almost every dance and martial art in his culture.

For J, they were a meditation.

He stretched his arms over his head, arched his back, and let his mind drift back.

The faces of the other Soldatos passed behind his eyes with the initial steps, acceptance and regret acknowledged and set aside with each movement; they’d all volunteered knowing they likely wouldn’t survive.

He brushed thoughts of Abel away with a sweep of his foot. Last he’d known she had boarded the last refugee ship. She could still be alive; he’d done his best to ensure that. And if she was alive, then maybe…

He shook his head, catching himself in a misstep. He stilled, centered himself again, and breathed before restarting the slow pattern.

His spouses. His steps stuttered again, and he broke the pattern to throw himself into a spin. Old pain teased his mind – he’d felt them die – only to be shoved back. He knew it was there; he could deal with it in time.

Which left thoughts of his children.

He stopped. His muscles ached – Tomoro would not be happy with him, putting this strain on his body this soon after healing – and he couldn’t think any more, not without…

He took a deep breath and reset his stance. Back to basics. He would deal with the complicated steps again when he was able to.

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For once, the Enterprise was not the only ship within range of answering the distress call. Thirty hours after the earthquake that took out the entire colony, a small fleet of ships orbited the planet and a small army of rescue and medical personnel scoured every inch of the colony for anyone missed by scanners or unable to be teleported out.

The latest ships brought a fresh wave of emergency responders, and Spock teleported down to monitor the changeover as well as gather the Enterprise’s scattered medical team. Dr. M’Benga, obviously running on adrenaline and stimulants, managed to direct him towards Dr. McCoy’s location before he and Nurse Chapel made their slow way to the makeshift teleport room, leaving Spock to track down the missing CMO.

Spock heard him before he saw him.

“…pretty little horses.”

Rounding a corner brought him to a makeshift nursery, the adults tending to the children looking only slightly more aware than their charges. And in the middle of it sat Dr. McCoy, voice gravelly and raw, singing softly to a child in his arms.

Way down yonder, down in the meadow, poor little baby crying mama.

McCoy raised an eyebrow when he caught sight of Spock waiting in the entranceway, the lullaby not losing an ounce of tenderness despite the shift in attention, and Spock felt a new tendril of logic unfold.

Fascinating.


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I can't believe I'm admitting to this one and reposting it...

I used to be in the Channel Awesome fandom way back when. There was a kinkmeme. I began to write fic for it until I realized I never watched romcoms and therefore my knowledge of matchmaking tropes was pretty much zilch. So this fic will forever be unfinished, but I enjoyed the part that I did write.

 

The weird intersection of RPF and Internet Personas )

Recognition

May. 8th, 2017 12:50 pm
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Hartley didn’t really think of himself as an ass man. However, when the resident superhero wore spandex and spent his time running, it was hard not to notice.

Unfortunately, the same could be said of Kid Flash. It had been a few years since the young speedster has shown up with his mentor, and it showed. Acknowledging even that much made Hartley feel vaguely dirty; he may have a long list of illegal things that he’s willing to do, but teenage superheroes are not on it. At least the arrow had disappeared from his lower back sometime over the summer.

He didn’t realize the damage was already done until he had the news on one evening. It was only background noise while he planned his next heist, but eventually the words, “Division I Champion,” “ISEF affiliated”, and “over a thousand high school students,” broke through his concentration. He chuckled, the end of the Pied Piper story running through his mind as he watched the footage of the science fair. Hypnotizing that many scientifically-inclined people was probably asking for trouble, and the children part predictable, but it was something to think on later. Especially if they all showed the same level of aptitude as the apparent winner, a lanky, redheaded boy who spoke confidently about molecular geometry with a grin.

Then the teen turned away from the camera to gesture at the diagrams behind him.

As it turned out, well-fitted slacks showed off someone’s lower body about as well as spandex. Hartley gaped at the screen as the boy – Kid Flash – turned back to the camera; now that he’d made the connection, he could easily recognize that grin, fit the cowl and goggles across that face.

He leaned back in his chair, shock slowly fading into a new set of plans. He’d missed the kid’s name, but that would be easy enough to find out. He would do some research, find out more about the kid before bringing anything to the other Rogues. And then mock them that he found out so easily that Kid Flash was—

He’d recognized Kid Flash by his ass.

He was never, ever telling the other Rogues about this.

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Reunion

May. 8th, 2017 12:53 pm
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He’d been on the wall, inspecting both the rebuilding and the soldiers with Igaram, when the messenger came. He remembered a glimpse of Igaram’s shocked face before the city was a blur, splashing through puddles and wind making his eyes water was he ran through Alubarna at full speed.

That was hours ago. Now, he sat by the bed in his—their—room, patiently reading a book he’d been meaning to finish for some time now. It was a little difficult to turn the pages at times, between the constant ache in his chest and shoulder where his stitches had pulled and the necessity of using only his left hand.

The pulse beating slow and steady in the hand grasped in his right hand was too important to let go of for even a second. So Chaka sat and read and listened to the rain, only looking up when he felt eyes upon him. He set the book aside and looked into tired copper eyes.

“Sleep well?” Chaka asked, reaching forward to brush a stray lock of hair from Pell’s face. Pell made a small sound of affirmation, turning his head to nuzzle Chaka’s fingers.

“Come t’ bed,” he mumbled, eyes already drooping shut again.

Chaka blew out the reading lamp, performed the stretches needed to reach the other side of the bed without letting go of Pell’s hand, and wrapped his arms around his friend. He buried his face in Pell’s hair, tenseness washing away with the smell of feathers and medicine.

“I’m home,” Pell said through a yawn, shifting closer to the jackal.

“Welcome back,” Chaka answered.

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Shovel Talk

May. 8th, 2017 12:54 pm
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Silence reigned in the living room, occasionally broken by the rustle of paper when Mihawk turned the page of the newspaper. The rebuilding of Mariejoa was going swimmingly, according to the reports; perhaps he should travel that way when he left the island…

The door made a muffled sound as it opened. A surprising courtesy, that. He peered over the top of the paper and allowed an eyebrow to rise at the sight of Lucci standing in the center of the room, the glower he usually wore around Mihawk tempered to something that could almost be seen in polite company. Granted, he still looked at Mihawk like the swordsman was something to be scraped off the bottom of his shoe, but it was mildly less hostile than usual.

Mihawk wondered if the other man was feeling all right.

Lucci didn’t say anything. He simply stared at Mihawk for a moment before shifting his gaze to the pair of tickets sitting on the table.

“The concert’s at seven,” Mihawk said, his attention still partly on the newspaper.

The silence took on a more pointed tone. It would have been irritating, coming from any other member of the group. But it was Lucci.

“I’ll have him back early.”

There was a cough from the doorway. “Are you done trying to safeguard my virtue?” Kaku asked, pulling on a jacket as he leaned against the doorframe.  “I can come in again if you need a minute.”

Lucci snorted in response, but his face smoothed into impassivity and he strode out of the room. Kaku echoed his snort, looking bemused.

“Does he do that often?” Mihawk asked, standing and setting aside the paper.

Kaku shrugged. “He’s mellowed.”

“I see.” And, as he started the odd bend-and-twist that allowed them to kiss without Kaku’s nose getting in the way, there was a flurry of wings. Hattori landed on Kaku’s shoulder, a bowtie snug around his neck.

“I’m going to accompany you,” he announced, glaring at Mihawk as well as he could (surprisingly well, actually, or not so surprisingly considering his owner).

There was a pause, then Kaku pushed away, his smile taking a distinct plastic quality. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and disappeared out the door. Mihawk sighed and picked up the paper again, resigning himself to being late to the concert. Again.

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It has been far too long, Chaka realized, nuzzling Pell’s neck as he eased his partner back onto the makeshift blanket of their robes on the sand. Hands clawed at his back, teeth sunk into his shoulder, and Chaka reached for their pack, fingers groping to find something, anything, to make this go smoother.

—only to bump into a package he knew for certain hadn’t been there when they left their rooms.

“Someone’s been into the pack.”

Pell pulled away instantly, eyeing the pack warily. If something was planted by a rogue Baroque Works member or a stubborn rebel, it certainly wouldn’t be the first nor the best hidden. Strangely certain that anyone trying to kill them would be slightly smarter than to hide something within their… personal effects like this, Chaka pulled the paper-wrapped package out.

It wasn’t lightweight, or particularly large; tucked into one end was note, which Pell plucked off. He blanched, coughed uncomfortably, and read, “‘For the occasions I missed.—Vivi’.”

“Ah.” Both stared at the package for another moment before the paper was tossed aside and the box opened. There was a horrified silence, then it was Chaka’s turn to cough.

“She is certainly… practical.”

“Yes…. Oh, look, a book.” Paper rustled, and Pell placed it down carefully. “With pictures.”

They studiously looked past each other.

“She was being thoughtful.”

“Yes.”

“But it would probably be best to dissuade her from giving us another gift like this.”

“Yes.”

“Or at least,” and here Chaka glanced over, catching the faint twitching at the corner of Pell’s mouth, “keep her from buying books we already own.”

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It did make sense, Kaku decided, laying on the roof of the judicial tower, to use capture the flag as a training exercise. It was easy enough to rile up the competitive spirit of a bunch of eleven- and twelve-year-old boys.

Competitive boys got creative very, very fast. Some of the strategies his classmates had come up with to hide and find the flags had been impressive.

And violent; the infirmary was already half-filled with injuries caused by careless—or, he added, allowing himself a grin, careful—rankyaku or shigan.

Still, when looked at the right way, Capture the Flag was a good, basic mission:  identify and locate the target, work with team to create plan, eliminate obstacles as necessary, eliminate target. If the instructors were lucky, the trainees would remember something from this later on. It was almost perfect.

“There he is!”

It made sense, Kaku repeated, jumping off the tower, his classmates in fast pursuit, but he hated being the flag.

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Make UP

May. 8th, 2017 01:15 pm
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“Are you sure you’re up for this?”

“Yes, Chaka,” Pell said, studying his face in the mirror. He rarely bothered to cover his markings, but the effect was usually worth it. Somehow, no one ever recognized him without the black lines. “It’s been two months. I can handle a patrol through the marketplace.”

“I’d still feel better if one of the other officers went instead,” Chaka said, meeting Pell’s eyes in the mirror. “They need the experience.”

“And I need the exercise.” He did not say that they’d had experience; this wasn’t the first time since the revolution they’d heard rumors of Baroque Works members within Alubarna. It was just the first time Pell had volunteered to blend with the crowds while the royal family was outside the palace. With at least three pairs of Frontier agents still unaccounted for along with the remaining Millions and Billions, some paranoia was warranted.

Giving his reflection a satisfied nod, Pell turned around. “How do I look?”

Chaka stared at him for a second, taking in the pants, jacket, and makeup before giving an aggravated sigh. “Unrecognizable.”

“Good. And I don’t know why you’re grumbling so much.” He wrapped his arms around Chaka’s waist, pushing onto his toes to kiss the taller man’s jaw. “After all, you’re the one touring Yuba with Vivi-sama, with barely healed stab wounds I might add, while I’m here under Dr. Ooh’s watchful eyes.” He dropped another kiss at the corner of Chaka’s mouth. “I’ll be worried.”

“You’ll be careful.” It wasn’t a question.

“Swear on my grave.”

Chaka shot him a dark look but turned towards the door. “I’ll let Igaram-san know we’re ready then.”

“Chaka?” Pell gave him a bright smile when he turned. “You might want to wipe the kiss marks off your face first.”

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Milk Run

May. 8th, 2017 01:18 pm
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It was a milk run, the simplest of missions to ease CP9 back into work once they finished recuperating from the events—not defeat, never within hearing distance of Lucci, whose hearing was sharp enough to pick up someone thinking the word—at Enies Lobby. Five targets, guilty of funding the rebellion, all taking a liner between islands; security was as minimum as the Grand Line would allow, and, as intelligence reported, no one with devil fruit abilities was anywhere near the liner. Kaku almost felt insulted; command may have considered it a gift, but it would never take three members of CP9 to take out five middle-age merchants with more fluff around their middles than brains in their heads.

It took less than an hour to recheck security, find their staterooms, search their belongings for any information or items helpful to the government, and find a discrete place to hide the bodies until nightfall, leaving five more days to relax.

At least, that was the idea; Kaku hadn’t felt tenser since before the Water7 mission, pinned down as he was at his table. Granted, it wasn’t anything his tablemate was doing but Kalifa’s cool look and Lucci’s glare from across the room that was setting him on edge.

“Your colleagues seem perturbed by my presence,” Mihawk stated, never looking up from his wine glass. Kaku, deciding ‘pissed off and murderous’ could count as ‘perturbed’, nodded.

“If you don’t mind me saying so, I was under the impression you had your own means of traveling.”

Mihawk considered for a moment, swishing the wine around in the glass. “I find that, on occasion, a change in routine can have beneficial results.” The golden eyes flicked up, the interest in them pinning Kaku against his chair. “More wine?"

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Relic

May. 8th, 2017 01:20 pm
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Cobra ran his hand over the rim of the stone ring. It seemed like an obvious question, since he’d never seen it before, but he hadn’t been in the condition to notice any extra statuary when Crocodile and Ms. All Sunday brought him down here. “And it was sealed off until this morning?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” The foreman motioned to where a support beam held up a crumbling section of ceiling. “We’d never have found the room if the ceiling hadn’t brought part of the wall down.”

Behind them, Igaram cleared his throat. “To that end, Your Majesty, is it safe for you to be down here?”

Cobra glanced back at him, then through the open wall to the bustling activity in the tomb proper. It had seemed pointless to hide its existence after Crocodile’s defeat, particularly given the gaping hole leading up to the Square. Now a miniature army of workers scurried through the space, clearing rubble and adding supports to keep the tomb from collapsing any further. Announcing the tomb’s existence was a small price to pay to keep it from bringing the city down in a slow collapse. “If it weren’t safe, these men would not be down here, Igaram.” He turned back to study the towering structure, walking through the ring to look over the other side. “Have you any idea what it is?”

“No, Your Majesty. Strange thing, though. There’s no way they could have brought this down after the tomb was built; they must have built around it.”

“Hmm.” He ran his fingers over the closest symbol one more time, a circle hovering above a bottomless triangle, before dropping his hand and stepping away.

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For as long as she could remember, she would sneak out to watch her guardians spar late at night. Most times Igaram or Terracotta would catch her and send her back to bed. When she did slip past, she always curled up on the edge of the balcony overlooking the courtyard they met in, watching the two soldiers below match each other speed for speed, strike for strike. She may not have understood why they would go out each night, but she did recognize a type of beauty in their motions.

Now, after two years with Baroque Works, Vivi thought she understood.

Unable to sleep, she wandered back out to that balcony; the courtyard was empty. She leaned on the railing, images of feathers and fur and fluttering robes mixing with memories of peacock slashers and baseball bats and instruments-cum-guns, all geared towards the same goal—not perfection, or even becoming the best, but just to be strong enough. Strong enough to leave home, to become an Agent, to save a country.

Strong enough to die.

Her body reacted before her brain, squatting into the shadow of the railing as she caught movement below.

Pell limped into the courtyard, Chaka easily matching his pace. They both looked better, Vivi noticed; Pell was not leaning as heavily against his crutch, and Chaka had lost the drawn look he’d worn the past few days. She watched as Pell laid aside his crutch and faced Chaka for a moment before throwing a soft punch.

It was nowhere near the ease Vivi remembered, but still they matched speed for speed, strike for strike. And when Pell’s leg twisted from under him, Chaka met him before he fell.

More than strong enough.


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Nami studied her wine suspiciously, wondering who had spiked her drink and what, exactly, it had been spiked with. It was the only explanation for what she was seeing. Luffy was not staring at his plate, which had only moments before been piled with steaks rather than celery, and whimpering dejectedly. Chopper was not alternating between listening to Usopp’s story about an entire island of flying rabbits who had declared him their leader and sparkling at the new arrival. Sanji was not muttering a recipe for hasenpfeffer under his breath. Zoro was not ignoring his crewmates and the… thing in their midst to take a nap—no, wait, he was doing that. No imagination could produce snoring that loud.

Nami closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “There is not a rabbit in a superhero costume. It is not real. It is a hallucination.”

“Do I look like a hallucination?” the creature demanded, straightening to its full height and ignoring Nami’s nod. “It is I, Captain Vegetable!”

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Heat

May. 8th, 2017 01:29 pm
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A tickle of heat against his hip woke Sanji, idly circling his hipbone. He shifted to his stomach, burying his face in the pillow. The heat paused for a moment, glided slowly across his side, and started tracing patterns on his back.

He turned his head enough to speak clearly. “Why’re you up?”

Ace’s fingers stilled. “Couldn’t sleep.” At Sanji’s disbelieving snort, he added, “It happens.” He continued running his fingers across Sanji’s back and bit at his shoulder. “You’re not asleep, either.”

“I was.” But it lacked venom, and Ace just pressed an unrepentant grin into his neck. The heat spread lower as he moved his hand.

Sanji only opened his eyes when Ace nuzzled against his cheek, lips sliding across his jaw. Twisting slightly to meet for a lazy kiss, Sanji saw, before black hair blocked his vision, fingers of flame stroking his skin.

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Within seconds of demorphing, Bridge was attacked.

He normally wouldn’t think of it that way, but he’d just spent the better part of the day in a deathtrap; saying his nerves were a little frayed was an understatement. He doesn’t think he can be blamed for not expecting Sky to appear in front of him and pull him into a tight hug. He stiffened, brief alarm mixing with surprise that Sky, of all people, was publicly initiating affectionate contact. Then Sky shifted, brushing a feather-soft kiss across Bridge’s temple; all the adrenaline drained from Bridge’s body, and he dropped his forehead to Sky’s shoulder.

They stood like that for barely a moment before there was a shout and Syd careened around the side of the Zord, nearly trampling a technician as she threw herself at her teammates. Bridge got one arm up just in time to catch her and pull her in against his side. He wasn’t quite fast enough to catch Z as well, and the entire group stumbled as she slammed into his back. Then Jack hit as well – and it had to be intentional at that point, he’d had enough time to slow down if he’d wanted to – and they all fell.

Bridge’s nose smashed against Sky’s shoulder when they landed, accompanied by Sky’s wheezing as the entire team landed on top of him. Someone’s arm was trapped under his stomach and half-hearted squabbling was starting above his head as Syd, Jack, and Z realized just how tangled together they all were.

And in the middle of it all, wrapped in a cocoon of joyloverelief, Bridge couldn’t help but start giggling. The others quieted for a moment, and then all five of them broke into hysteria-tinged laughter. They stayed there, clinging to each other on the floor of the Zord bay, crying with laughter, until Commander Cruger came to find them.

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People were staring at her. Most were at least aiming for discreet, but a few threw subtlety out the window and stared openly, whispering amongst themselves when Syd walked into cafeteria. She made a face as she scanned the room for a seat. Several people waved her over when she glanced their way, but she either saw a hint of star strike in their eyes or recognized them from earlier in the week, before she made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about her singing career. As far as she was concerned, she was always a worthwhile topic of discussion, but it was getting to be distracting. She was an SPD cadet now, just like everyone in the academy, but it would be a lot harder to get anywhere if people treated her as ‘Sydney Drew, Pop Star,’ instead of just ‘Syd, new cadet who happens to be extremely talented.’

Her gaze settled on a small table by the windows, a cadet about her age sitting alone, head bent over a book. After a moment, he glanced up, their eyes meeting for a second before he gave her a quick smile and turned back to his book. Syd started walking towards him almost immediately, somehow thankful for that moment of impersonal eye contact.

“Can I sit here?”

He looked up, pure bafflement on his face before he apparently registered what she said. “Oh, yeah, sure!”

“Thanks.” She waited until he shuffled his things off to the side before she sat, extending a hand as soon as she set her tray down. “I’m Syd.”

He smiled, but didn’t make a move to take her hand. “Bridge.”

“Oh!” The exclamation slipped out before Syd could stop it, and she immediately regretted it as wariness and resignation slipped into Bridge’s eyes. Still, knowing first hand how much rumor mills normally got wrong, she asked, “Is it true?”

“Yes.”

Syd smiled and laid her hand on her tray. “That’s great! I thought I’d be the only one who was different.”

Bridge’s smile, when he saw her now-plastic hand, was brilliant.

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Jack was really getting sick of criminals attack with mysterious weapons that had weird effects when combined with morphed humans.

Case in point, the beam that all five of them had just gotten hit with—and they really needed to change their tactics from ‘everyone charge from the same direction’ for exactly this reason—left all of them on the ground, disoriented. Jack climbed to his feet as the spots faded from his eyes, glancing around to check on the rest of the team, only to see a Ranger in red pushing upright to his left. A quick look at his arm revealed green, and when he said, “You have got to be kidding me,” it was Bridge’s voice that came out.

Seriously, screw mysterious weapons.

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It perhaps spoke of Walter’s growing ease with the changes in his life that he was still awake and unphased when Miss Sciacca walked into his rooms unannounced, her black curls in disarray, at two in the morning, muttering curses under her breath.

“Miss Sciacca, always a pleasure.” He stood quickly, offering her the more comfortable of his shabby chairs.

“Mr. Thorne.” She settled in the chair with a sigh. “I apologize for the late hour, but I needed a rest before I made my way home.”

“You know you’re always welcome.” Walter checked the teapot, frowning at the tepidness of the drink. “Tea will just be a minute. What brings you out at this hour?”

Idioti,” was the flat reply. “Some smugglers lost control of the hellhounds they’d summoned to protect their warehouse. There wasn’t much left of them by the time I arrived, but at least I kept the hounds from getting out.”

“Good show.” Fresh cup of tea in hand, Walter turned back to his guest only to stop short. Miss Sciacca had her skirts hitched up and was examining a long scrape down her calf; Walter felt his face flushing and focused on the tired annoyance on her face rather than the exposed length of olive skin. “Ah, Miss Sciacca? Are you all right?”

She made a small noise and dropped her skirts back down. “It’s nothing. Thank you for asking, Mr. Thorne.”

Walter pressed the cup into her hands. “I, ah, I have bandages, if you…”

“You are a dear. Thank you.” She breathed in the steam from the tea, some tension melting from her body even as she fixed him with a fond look. “You don’t need to do all this, you know.”

“All what?”

A smile quirked her lips. “Dolce,” she murmured, then, at a normal volume, “the bandages, Mr. Thorne. And please, call me Clarissa.”

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