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Title: Acquainted with the Night
Rating: PG
Prompt: “Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!” - J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Fandom/Series: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Word Count: 7,283
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Deserting the military is a difficult feat even at the best of times. And the eve of the Promised Day is far from the best of times.

Acquainted With The Night

The Homunculi have marshalled their forces, and now it's up to the men under Colonel Mustang's command to make their stand. Stealing away from Central Headquarters in the dead of night, First Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye makes for the slums at the edge of the city, ready to make contact with her commanding officer and launch their final counteroffensive against Bradley's regime.

But Hawkeye is not alone in the sleeping city. Something is moving in the darkness, stalking the tunnels under the streets, blood pooling in every footstep. Crimson light bleeding in the cracks. Somewhere in the intestines of Central, an alchemist is stirring.

Deserting the military is a difficult feat.

And for Hawkeye, it's about to get a lot more difficult, and infinitely more dangerous.


            I have been one acquainted with the night.

            I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.

            I have outwalked the furthest city light.


            Riza Hawkeye had her reasons for hating the rain.

            Amestris's inclement weather had been no small inconvenience serving under the Colonel. He relied on his flames so much that they had inadvertently become his crutch. The rain took away his alchemy, swiping the crutch out from under him, which more often than not ended with the Colonel quite literally falling flat on his backside in the mud.

            Lieutenant Hawkeye disliked the rain because, at one point in her life, it made her already strenuous job ten times more so. She hated wet weather because she hated seeing the Colonel compromised. A useless Roy Mustang was too close to a dead Roy Mustang, so far as she was concerned.

            Even after Bradley upset the proverbial applecart, and the Colonel's failings in damp weather were no longer her responsibility, Riza began to find her own reasons for hating the rain. 

            Perhaps cultivating that irrational enmity was an attempt to fill in the gaps where her comrades used to be, four people-shaped tears in the world. Maybe she hated the rain because the hatred was something tantalisingly familiar, so much so that she could almost fool herself into thinking nothing had changed. That there weren't sharp absences all over her life.

            The heavens would open up, and the thick wool of her uniform would grow sodden and heavy on her shoulders, and she would miss him desperately.

            She hated the rain because she hated knowing he was alone.

            But that was going to change.

            On that night, she had all new reasons for hating heavy rain. As Riza left Central Command — knowing her next return would be as prisoner of the state or as adjutant of a new führer — she noted how the rain inhibited her ability to sense proximity. The cadence of raindrops drowned out the background noise of the world. Anyone with half an inclination would have the advantage in taking her by surprise. Hawkeye scanned every passing face, searching for an eyepatch. She peered into every dim corner and dark door jamb.

            Fortunately, the streets were empty. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed for the night. The few passerby kept their heads bowed against their chests and their hats tucked into the wind. They passed Lieutenant Hawkeye without sparing a glance, keen to get home.

            The one benefit of living in a military state, Hawkeye admitted grudgingly, was the invisibility afforded by her uniform.

            When she passed two military police on their rounds, they greeted her by rank, stepping to the side of the pavement to let her pass. To them, she was more than a first lieutenant. She was the attache to the leader of Amestris, the woman with the Führer's ear. His right-hand man.

            The thought made Hawkeye grimace.

            Bradley wore his face well; he was a ruthless commander — Ishval had left little doubt of that, even before Riza had known him by his true identity, the homunculus Wrath. But he tempered his pitilessness with a kind, jovial exterior. He commanded respect while exuding concern and compassion for his people. He was feared, but he was also loved. He was, in Hawkeye's reluctant opinion, the perfect leader.

            But she had seen behind the face, in the quiet hours after the reporters had been dismissed, and all the military officials had taken their leave. When there was only Hawkeye and the Führer, when his single eye would track her slowly around the room when he thought she wasn't paying attention. Wraths presence had felt volatile, like something about to explode. She could sense the anger wafting from him, making the small hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. To Wrath, she was the Colonel's pet dog, Mustang's loyalist subordinate, the Flame Alchemist's weakness.

            But Riza also prided herself on being disciplined and extremely composed under pressure. She was a model soldier, fiercely loyal to her commanding officer, and Bradley hated her for it.

            No matter, Riza thought grimly. He wouldn't have to put up with it any longer.

            Early the next morning, Führer King Bradley would arrive on a train from East City, returning from a training exercise proctored by General Grumman. And Lieutenant Hawkeye would not be at the station to receive him.

            Deserting the military is no small matter even under the most favourable circumstances. Hawkeye wasn't the sort of person predisposed to deceiving herself with false optimism. In deserting, she had made herself a security breach. And the Homunculi were not known for their magnanimity in dealing with security breaches. Hawkeye felt a twinge of that old, biting grief as she remembered a phone-booth covered in blood

            She shook her head. She could not afford to get caught. For the Colonel's sake, she could not afford to die.

            The slums were completely deserted. Most of the residents were Ishvalan, and there was no love lost between the desert-dwelling people and wet weather. Hawkeye relished the solitude, though cursed the rain. The streets had turned into sloppy currents of mud. The wet seeped into every surface, giving the slums a stooped, sagging appearance. The distant glow of the city centre was dim and deliquesced, the cracks in the buildings were filled with battered lamplight. The shadows were long and thick, pooling in the crags and crevices of the world like the rainwater. Like something you could drown in.

            Hawkeye took an abrupt turn into a narrow alleyway. In the darkness, she stripped down to her turtleneck, quickly discarding her uniform jacket, the pips on her collar clinking against bottles and broken glass. The blue trousers and gold-trimmed train found similar resting places, twisted in the mud. She changed into black combat trousers and a coat pulled from her satchel. Then she threw the satchel away, along with any remnants of Bradley's paperwork.

            She kept her government-issued sidearms, and the bolt-action rifle was a welcome, familiar weight slung across her back.

            Locating the predetermined storm drain, Hawkeye climbed down a short ladder, the rungs leaving rusty stains on her palms. She took stock of her surroundings as she loaded her weapons, slipping the cylinders of her sidearms into place. The tunnel was lit intermittently by naked bulbs, dangling from alcoves above her head. She heard the electric hum, like fly wings, as she passed underneath them. The lights threw long shadows along the tunnel, the shapes rippling and distorted as they danced across the tepid water pooling between the bricks. Hawkeye bit down on the impulse to jump at every small movement.

            The shadows were her enemies. The darkness had eyes.

            It occurred to her then that the Homunculi wanted her to be afraid, to reduce her to some simpering prey animal, scuttling along the periphery of the lamplight, jumping at shadows. Held captive by some base, primordial fear of the dark.

            Hawkeye almost smiled. She was a person well accustomed to living in the shadows. She had long been acquainted with the night; to pass unobserved was the hallmark of her duty as a sniper, to be ill at ease and alert essential in keeping the Colonel safe. The Homunculi wanted her to be afraid, and she was afraid. She had been afraid since Ishval, even before, cowering from her father as a fifteen year old girl, her back still stinging. Fear had kept her eyes sharp and her instincts keen. Fear had kept her alive, and had protected the people she loved.

            She almost pitied Homunculi for making her afraid.

            She rounded a bend in the tunnel, passing around the westernmost edge of the slums, drawing closer to a more louche part of town. Less than a mile away from a particular bar owned by a woman of questionable repute. A bar that was, so they said, the familiar haunt of a dark-haired, handsome military officer who was never without a beautiful woman on his arm.

            At least, so the rumours went.

            Hawkeye paused. Ahead of her, the tunnel cut at a right angle, moving around a blind corner. Above her at street level, the rain had stopped. The torrents pouring into the storm drains had quieted to a steady trickle. The world seemed stiller, quieter. She could hear the drip-drop of distant mildew pooling in crags on the floor, forcing her heart to follow the same rhythm.

            The smell was stronger: less like rotten food and waste and more like oxidised iron, the rusty grit of old pipes. It was an older section of the sewers; the ceiling was lower. Lights were fewer and further between; most electrical systems hadn't been maintained that far outside the heart of Central. Such was Amestrian civic bureaucracy, but since Scar's convalescence in the sewers, no one had seemed especially keen on changing the existing state of affairs. Not that Hawkeye could blame them for it.

            The Lieutenant felt her socks growing wet and she grimaced. The shallow water was thick and viscous, sloughing thickly around her ankles. The walls curved above her head, almost brushing her shoulders. Someone like Vato Falman would have had to crouch.

            Riza stepped out of the runoff, her boots angled awkwardly along the base of the wall. She was careful to keep quiet, synchronising her steps with the trickle of the raindrops in the storm drains. She held one of her sidearms to her shoulder. She sidled, keeping her back to the curve of the tunnel. The smell grew worse as the light dimmed: rust and sewage and something vaguely metallic, coppery like burnt wire.

            She could feel it on her tongue, settling on her skin, making her flesh itch. Riza almost gagged. She wondered if something had drowned further ahead in the sewers, if it had died--

            Then she heard it.

            The sound came from the far end of the tunnel, where the lights had gone out, leaving only a wall of soupy darkness so black even Pride would not have been able to cast his shadows.

            The sound of humming.

            Riza Hawkeye clapped a hand over her mouth and pressed herself hard against the wall, hiding behind one of the seams of the tunnel. Her heart was pounding hard enough for her head to throb. Her breath came in short, ragged gasps, which she tried to smother in the palm of her hand. She raised her pistol to the space near her ear. Her bolt-action rifle dug into her spine painfully, but she didn't care.

            Suddenly, Riza realised the stench had resolved itself into something intimately familiar.

            Blood. Blood and sewage. The smell of decay and despair and death.

            The tunnel distorted the sound of the humming. Riza couldn't tell if it was getting closer or moving further away. The air was thick with the humid miasma of rot; the music sounded damp and distant in her ears.

            Riza wanted to kick herself but she didn't dare move. He had perfect pitch; he would hear her.

            She closed her eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She had been careless. She hadnt prepared, she hadnt been ready, she hadn’t…

            Riza saw the shadows stirring in the tepid water. The last lightbulb above her head flickered, and the sound of music suffused through the tunnel.

            "I can hear you."

            Hawkeye stifled a gasp.

            She was facing away from the dark end of the sewers, her back pressed into the notch between the wall and the tunnel seam. Even so, she could see the sudden flash of red lightning, flickering in her peripheries, throwing terrifyingly vivid silhouettes across the brick. She heard a small, muffled scream that was quickly choked off. The noxious stink of ozone briefly overpowered the smell of blood.

            “I wasnt talking to you,” said the voice sniffily -- addressing the person who had screamed, Riza realised, a rod of ice driving through her chest.

            The only people in the slums were displaced Ishvalan refugees, peaceful craftsmen and farmers living quiet lives in the fringes of Amestrian society. He must have been luring them into the sewers and murdering them, picking them off one by one. And he had been at it for hours, if the overwhelming smell of blood was anything indication.

            There was no reason to it. There never had to be with him. There was no goal, no agenda. He hadnt been ordered into the tunnels by the Homunculi. He just had to satisfy his sick, insatiable curiosity, like a child torturing small animals, plucking the wings off flies and skinning squirrels, just to see how long they could endure the pain before they died. He was systematic in his cruelty, as methodised and precise as a scientist and as sadistic as only he knew how to be. In truth, even if she had an imperfect insight into their methods –– the Colonel nonewithstanding ––  Hawkeye mistrusted soldiers who were also assured, accomplished alchemists; it made her suspect they favoured the calculations and the equations and the system over the world they described, and the peoples lives they controlled. Such men were liable to romanticise the solecism of equating alchemical style with morality. 

            The man at the end of the tunnel knew no morality. The world existed solely as alchemical opposites, unified diametrics: construction and deconstruction, fire and water, life and death. Power, and those too weak to seek it.

            There was a monster stalking the tunnels under Central City.

            “Theres someone new.” 

            Hawkeye imagined her mind going blank. She focused on the uneven surface of the brick wall and thought not of the Colonel or deserting the military or the Promised Day; he always did have a way of pressing his fingers into her brain, assessing and inferring her thoughts from the tiniest inflections in her features. Even in the darkness, when he couldnt see her, Riza was struck with the irrational fear that he could read her mind.

            “I can hear your breath. Its a little bit fast, have you noticed? I imagine you have. An increased respiratory rate. Rapid, shallow breathing, also called tachypnea, occurs when one takes more breaths than normal in a given minute. It's sometimes known as hyperventilation.

            He was drawing nearer. Hawkeye could hear his shoes sloughing through the muck at the bottom of the tunnel. She continued to stare ahead, breathing into the palm of her hand. Her heart thundered in her ears; she feared he could hear that, too, her pulse reverberating through the underground. But she couldnt run. Her steel-toed combat boots would echo noisily against the brick. Then he would find her. Then he would hurt her.

            “I always found it peculiar how humans never notice the cadence of their breathing… Of course, we notice when we are meditating, exercising, singing, perhaps while going to sleep… or hiding.” 

            Hawkeye forced herself to breathe. If she passed out, she was lost.

            “But what if we noticed our breath at all times? Just to codify it consciously, not to change or perfect our way of breathing, per se, which is of course different for all of us at different times. Do you breathe in fully? I can hear that you do not. To your stomach or to your shoulders? Just to your shoulders. Is your in-breath or out-breath longer? Your in-breath, since you are afraid to let it back into the world lest I hear it. Too late for that, Im afraid.

            “How we breathe is how we handle situations and how we direct an outcome to a place we desire. Not breathing out completely, my dear, will get you to a place you will later wonder how you got to. Of course, your autonomic nervous system will get the job done, but autopilot can only get you to the destination it is instructed. You must be more versatile if you are to move tangentially. After all,” there was a soft chuckle; too close, thought Riza, who has ever heard of running away in a straight line?

            He couldnt have been more than a hundred feet behind the seam in the tunnel, moving towards Hawkeyes hiding place.

            Hawkeye prayed to a god she didnt believe in that he would move on, return to whatever bloody slaughter he had been amusing himself with. Gunfire would draw unwanted attention, and there was no telling how much damage he could do with his alchemy, if he started collapsing the tunnels around them. He had never been known for his subtlety. Hawkeye did not want to jeopardise the Colonels position, or Breda and Fuerys safety. She did not want to fight.

            But she also did not want to die. Riza gripped her sidearm. Despite her spring-taut body, her hand stayed steady.

            Suddenly, the footsteps stopped. She heard the rustle of fabric, dry skin against cloth. He had put his hands in his pockets.

            “Youve grown calmer,” he said quietly. Your breathing is more disciplined. Have you overcome your fear, or merely governed it? I have a body count of ten individuals further along this tunnel, so I commend you for your composure.

            “But you always were so composed, werent you, Miss Sniper?

            Hawkeye's heart nearly stopped.

            “Sound carries well in these tunnels. Smell rather less so, for which the blame falls squarely on my shoulders. Corpses are such messy things. Even so, the polymerised natural oil of your rifle stock is unmistakable. A good marksmen looks after her weapons, and you, my dear, are the best there is.

            Her finger was on the trigger. He must have moved into the feeble circle of light by then. His voice was tantalisingly close; Hawkeye hated aiming over the shoulder, but if she was going to escape, she was going to have to move quickly.

            “Out of the peaks black angularity of shadow, riding the last tumultuous avalanche of light above pines and the guttural gorge,” sang Solf J. Kimblee, his words like honey-laced poison, The Hawk comes

            Riza exploded out of her hiding place. She saw a flash of white in the corner of her eye and then she was running, her sidearm slung over her shoulder, shooting blindly back into the tunnel. She heard the bullets ricochet off the walls; she didnt give herself time to think about it. She had to reach the surface.

            There was a cutting laugh like razorblades on stone. Riza fought the urge to vomit.

            “She knows neither time nor error, and under whose Eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings into shadow!

            The smell of ozone and fried circuitry flooded the tunnel before red forks of lightning overtook Riza along the walls. She skidded to a halt hairbreadths before the brick combusted and the ceiling collapsed in front of her, huge slabs of concrete blocking her way. Hawkeye waved away the dust, clambering over the lowermost stones, but the ceiling was sealed shut. There was no access to the street above; the Crimson Alchemist must have brought one of the tenements down along with most of the tunnel, plugging the hole like a cork. There was nowhere left to go

            Hawkeye drew her other sidearm, one gun in each hand, and pressed her back to the cave-in. She spotted him instantly, like a ghost haloed against the shadows: that strange white suit, marred from where the cuffs of his trousers had been stained by sewage and blood. Not a follicle of black hair out of place. He hadnt even lost his hat.           His pale, lupine eyes leered at her hungrily.

            She didnt hesitate. She fired one sidearm after the other, but Kimblee moved too quickly. Impossibly quickly, bouncing from the walls and evading her bullets with an alacrity Hawkeye had only ever seen before in the Homunculi. His bone-white smirk never left his face as he dodged, grinning at her from the darkness.

            Her magazine soon clicked empty and Riza tossed her sidearms aside, pulling the bolt action rifle from her back. She fired indiscriminately. But the intervals unloading and reloading the chamber were too great, and Kimblee managed to get one of his tattooed palms on the wall. Riza felt the cement collapse at her back; as she tried to push away an amorphous arm of liquid rock elongated around her midsection, resolidifying almost instantly and holding her fast, securing her to the pile of debris. Kimblee wove between a few ill-aimed bullets and snatched Hawkeyes wrists, forcing her finger away from the trigger, pinning her hands above her head.

            “Drop it,” hissed Kimblee. His fingernails dug into the soft underside of her wrist and Rizas arm spasmed, an electric jolt running down to her elbow. The transmutation arrays on his palms felt hot on her skin. Drop it.

            Agonisingly slowly, Hawkeyes fingers uncurled, and her rifle clattered to the ground.

            “Thats better.

            Kimblee deftly moved her wrists to one hand and touched his palm to a concrete slab, alchemizing the broken cement and gravel into restraints. He fixed her arms above her head, until the joints in her shoulders began to ache. Hawkeye struggled, but the stone stayed fixed. The Crimson Alchemist stepped back to admire his handiwork.

            “You didnt touch your palms together,” said Riza through gritted teeth. She kept her expression schooled, not betraying her incredible fear; so long as she could keep him talking, he wouldn't hurt her. Tell me, does that mean youre alchemizing without completing your transmutation circle?

            “Perceptive of you, Lieutenant.

            “Are you in possession of a Philosopher’s Stone?”

            If it was possible, Kimblees grin grew even wider, toothy and predatory. Isnt it marvellous? It enables me to bypass the absolute law of equivalent exchange, amplifying my alchemy well beyond the usual curtailments. My partners were so magnanimous in giving me one, wouldnt you agree?

            “Your partners… you mean the ones who released you, your holders… the Homunculi.

            “Now, dont be unkind, Lieutenant. Perhaps the estimable Pride -- already of your acquaintance, as I understand -- may require a bit of poking and prodding so far as his motivation is concerned, but Im here on commission."

            “Youre murdering your own kind. Murdering human beings.

            He tutted. Hypocrisy never suited you in the past, Hawkeye, and it doesnt suit you now. You are a soldier, my dear, and as such taking life is rather more than a small part of the job description.” He leaned in closer, until his rising and falling chest brushed against the concrete restraints. Hawkeye tried to gap the distance but there was nowhere for her to go. Ishval stained our souls, Lieutenant. The blemishes dont disappear just because you put on a different coat and go about your merry way.

            She glared at him. After Ishval, I swore an oath to never take life unnecessarily, to follow a path where I would never have to obey such orders again.

            “I see. Well, I suppose such a conviction is just as valid as its opposite. As for me, Im merely interested in watching how the axis of world tilts when two indomitable wills –– humans and homunculi –– are pitted against each other. Two alchemical diametrics, aligned oppositions, forced to clash. The greatest of combustions, Lieutenant, have always come from an intermingling of opposites. This is an impact event, and the sound and colour and spectacle ought to be glorious. After all,” if he were a less sensible, less refined person he would have winked at her, as though he was disclosing a deep secret, my private lust has always ever been one for aesthetic gratification, wouldnt you agree? The music, the symphony of destruction. Beautiful in its refinement, and beautiful in its fury.

            Hawkeye suppressed a shudder, but she bit out a bitter, Youre betraying humanity, Kimblee.

            He gave a small shrug. At the risk of sounding grossly cliché, its nothing personal. I have chosen the side of the Homunculi as opposed to the alternative simply because they allow me to use my rather unique talents to their fullest. I see it predominantly as an opportunity for aggressive personal expansion.

            “You’re insane,” she stated cooly. You always were.

            "I've never denied it. But one could say a woman hovering in the shadow of the man who used her father's research to mutilate her body, subsequently choosing to serve as his second, to follow him in his mad scramble for the top, to love him, even, is rather insane as well. It's all a matter of perspective."

            "We should have killed you years ago. We should never have forgotten about you."

            He barked a laugh. "So much for your pontificating. You can't expect me to take your pacifistic convictions very seriously if they waver under the slightest opposing nudge. And for the record, I did warn you, Hawkeye. I warned you to never forget your enemies, because they certainly wont forget you.” His bright eyes glittered. And I cant say I have. Youre rather memorable.

            She squirmed; he had drawn too close, she could smell the blood on his clothes, something spicy on his breath. He ran one long finger along her chin, near the junction of her neck, and Hawkeye recoiled so quickly she nearly hit her head on the stone.

            “I rather like you trussed up there, Lieutenant,” he said softly.

            “What are you going to do to me?

            He arched an eyebrow. "Now who's being cliché..."

            "It's a reasonable question."


            He withdrew, and Riza took a deep breath, no longer inhaling the scent of him. There was a small gagging sound before Kimblee hiccuped, regurgitating something small and round into his palm. He took the blood-red orb, the size and shape of a marble, between two fingers and held it up to her face.

            “I trust you know what this is, Miss Hawkeye.

            Riza’s eyes widened. For as long as she had served under the Colonel, for as long as she had known the Elrics, she had always been curious about the exalted Philosopher’s Stone… and had hated herself for it. Hated herself for wishing she could get her hands on one, so Jean Havoc could use his legs again, so Edward and Alphonse could get their original bodies back. The stone was death incarnate, a culmination of suffering. A symbol of everything she despised about the country, the military… herself.

            And Solf J. Kimblee was holding it mere inches in front of her face.

            He explained, The Stone given to me in Ishval was a crude simulacrum, satisfactory in serving its purpose as an accelerant but lacking any stylised design. This,” he held up the orb reverently, was made by the Homunculi themselves, purified by the being they call Father. The power of the Philosopher's Stone allows one to perform feats greater than what one could do naturally, but the stone gets weaker every time it's used because that power comes from souls, which get consumed in these transmutations. When all the souls have been destroyed, the stone ceases to exist.

            “Its abhorrent. So many lives…”

            “And that is where you come in, Lieutenant.

            She shrunk back from Kimblee. What are you––“

            “The Stone is a receptacle. It stores a fragment of each souls essence, after a fashion. While I imagine it's quite difficult to anchor oneself to one's individuality amongst the maelstrom of other lives and other selves, there are the occasional murmurs wafting from the deep places. You see, I like to speak to them, sometimes, the souls inside my Stone.” His bright, insane eyes gripped her amber ones and froze her, holding her fixed to the spot. “I’d very much like you to join them, Riza.

            Blood pounded in Hawkeye's ears. A cold sweat broke out on her brow. “No…”

            “Your soul would exist for an eternity inside my Stone. Never fading. Never dying. You neednt worry; I would not exhaust you as I do the others. I may be a gluten for self-gratification in my alchemy, but I am not without discipline.

            “I would rather die,” she said simply. "I would rather you kill me."

            “And I would rather not,” he countered. He stuck his Philosophers Stone in his breast pocket and rested his palms on either side of her neck, feathering his touch so he didnt hurt her. His thumbs traced circles over throat. Hawkeye recoiled, revulsion churning her stomach. She could feel her pulse fluttering under his fingers and she cursed herself for feeling so incredibly frightened. I confess to a twinge of jealousy towards the good and honourable Roy Mustang. In our world of push and pull, exchange and equivalency thereof, I never thought of him as deserving of as fine an officer as you. He has done little to earn your devotion. Circumstances being what they are, incarcerated alchemists dont experience a great market demand for military adjutants, so I was denied any say in the matter. But if I had remained an officer, I would have had you by my side, and I suspect our Führer would have been more than willing to oblige. Consider this making up for lost time.

            She struggled to find the words. Why…”

            “Because I'm terribly fond of you, Riza Hawkeye.

            He kissed her then, with impossible gentleness, his eyes closed, cupping her face reverently in his hands. He tasted of good wine and thunderstorms. 

            Hawkeye butt her head forward and Kimblee backed away just in time, narrowly avoiding a broken nose.

            “Touch me again and Ill kill you.

            An indulgent smile. I expect nothing less from a woman of your caliber. Though to kill me in your present state would be quite a feat.

            “I would not task you to try.

            “Was it so awful?

            Riza spit on him. 

            Kimblee stood stunned for a moment as the wet trickled down the side of his face. His pale skin sank into the hollow of his cheeks like ash pressed into the depressions of the world. Hawkeye stared at him, willing him to clap his hands together, daring him to end her like hed ended the lives of so many other people. Death was infinitely preferable to spending an eternity as his possession, trapped in the screaming tumult of the Stone. 

He thumbed the spittle away. His bright eyes flashed dangerously. 

            “I see.

            The Crimson Alchemist uncoiled like a snake, snatching her chin, forcing her to face him. His fingernails left red crescents in her skin. Hawkeye recognised none of his philosophising, gentlemanly mannerisms. The window of his eyes had splintered, and something wild and mad had begun to stir in the empty spaces behind the cracks.      Youre a stubborn one,” he whispered hoarsely.

            Riza felt the corners of her mouth tug upward in what was almost an insolent smile. Thats something youve always known, sir.

            Kimblee sneered. Then this next part ought to be infinitely more gratifying.

            He took a stick of chalk from his pocket and began to etch a circle into the concrete slab, circumscribing Rizas arms and legs within the array. A thrill of panic raced up her spine and Hawkeye began to thrash, trying to loose her wrists from the handholds. Kimblee continued as though she wasnt there, chalking the Latin runes into the stone with a steady, practiced hand.

            “I am partial to the beauty of transmutation arrays,” Kimblee murmured as he worked, speaking more to himself than to Hawkeye, of circles and recurrence. If one turns right and keeps turning right, or if one turns left and keep turning left, one ends up back where one turned for the first time. As though a man has walked around the world, ending where he began, finishing where the story started. History as a convergence. I dont believe in prescience, Lieutenant. I dont believe in destiny. Fate is just a wheel, and us humans, just spokes, and we keep spinning, retracing the patterns of lives. And circles do not have a start or an end, though one always seems to have good expectancy to grope after one. They have closures, instead.

            Kimblee finished the array, completing the circle. The hexagram inscribed eight multi-directional triangles, representing all four classical elements. Riza had seen it twice before: in the White Room under the 3rd Laboratory; burned into the floorboards of a farmhouse in the countryside. Kimblees simulacrum was rougher, cruder, scratched into the collapsed detritus of the tunnel, but she recognised the same esoteric symbols.

            It was the transmutation circle needed to turn human beings into Philosopher’s Stones.

            As the Crimson Alchemist pocketed the chalk, trading it for his livid red Stone, Riza remembered her confrontation with Pride several months before

            “The Homunculi said they need me,” she intoned steadily, to keep the Colonel in line… to make him behave. They will be angry when they discover youve turned their most valuable hostage into a Philosophers Stone.

            “I beg to differ, Lieutenant,” purred Kimblee. All your precious superior requires is hope. Your physical wellbeing is neither here nor there; all Mustang needs is faith in the possibility of saving you. So long as the Homunculi are able to invoke your name, so long as the Flame Alchemist believes he can keep his subordinates safe, the possibility is as good as real, and our control of him is as good as absolute.

            "Your logic is misguided, Crimson Alchemist."

            "Indeed? It so rarely is."

            "If Roy Mustang must choose between saving the life of his subordinates, and saving this country, he will chose this country. Every time."

            "Do you believe that, Lieutenant Hawkeye?"

            "I have to. I swore to keep him on the righteous path. I will not tolerate any less."

            Kimblee passed the Stone from finger to finger, twirling it between his knuckles. He stared into the opaque red surface as he confessed, "I am, as always, astounded by your loyalty... your love for your superior." He snapped his hand closed, palming the Stone, holding it close to his chest. "Such a shame I hold neither love nor loyalty in any particularly high regard."

            "Nor life," she said quietly. "Nor mercy."

            "Take my word, Miss Hawkeye, this is preferable to the alternative. You do not want to be here come the Promised Day. If this is all the mercy of which I am capable, then I am merciful."

            He pressed a palm against her forehead. The transmutation circle felt like a brand on her skin, searing the pentacles and alchemic symbols into her flesh. She caught a whiff of burning hair. Her body shuddered with a sudden burst of static. The hairs on her arms stood on end.

            For a moment, Hawkeyes unflappable exterior cracked. She remembered the ruins of Ishval, the crimson lightning dancing in the peripheries of enormous explosions… a livid white scar bisecting the forehead of an Ishvalan alchemist killer and she felt a sudden blind, burning fear flaring into an inferno inside her chest, trapping her breath deep in her throat.


            Kimblee tilted his head, like a curious child, his grin faltering. Then his grip on her skull tightened.

            A sound like a freight train roared in Rizas ears––


            Something cut the air in front of the Lieutenants face. Kimblee leapt backward, muttering obscenities under his breath, barring his teeth in a snarl.

            The attackers didnt give the Crimson Alchemist time to recover. Emerging from the tunnel, Heymans Breda and Kain Fuery levelled their sidearms at Kimblees chest, releasing a barrage of bullets. Taken by surprise, Kimblee was not as nimble as before, even with the aid of his Stone. He swept awkwardly under their attacks, moving around the 2nd Lieutenant and the Sergeant as he retreated back into the shadows of the sewers. He vanished into the darkness, a deep, bestial growl hanging low over the ground. Breda and Fuery didnt stop shooting until both of their magazines were empty. The empty clicks echoed in the tunnel, even as the sound of Kimblees footsteps faded into silence.

Hawkeye dug her fingernails into her palm, stifling her tremor. She didnt hear what her subordinates said to her through the blood roaring in her head

            “What?” she asked blearily.

            “Riza, did he hurt you?

            Breda had recovered first, holstering his weapon and going straight to work on her restraints. Kain Fuery continued to aim at the tunnel, sucking in desperate gulps of air, trying to reign in his own fear. His small frame trembled with adrenaline.

            “Lieutenant?” prodded Breda.

            “Nothing serious…”

            Hawkeye shook her head and her vision slowly swam back into focus. Bredas close-cropped copper hair and plain, unassuming face made Riza want to weep. He arched an eyebrow at her brittle, vacant expression but didnt press further. 

            Using the butt of his rifle, the Second Lieutenant made quick work of the concrete holding Hawkeye to the stone, the material weakened from Kimblees transmutations. Breda kept a steady grip on her arm as feeling returned to her legs and the screaming pain in her back and shoulders subsided. Hawkeye rubbed her wrists, the skin tender.

            Fuery hurried back to flank her. His left arm hovered uncertainly at his side, as though he couldnt decide whether to lay a reassuring hand on her shoulder or give her a hug. Under different circumstances, Riza would have found it amusing.

            “How did that sicko get all the way back here without no one noticing…” Breda wondered aloud. His words were clipped, tinged with malice. He knew Solf J. Kimblee well enough by reputation to know how dangerous he was.

            Fuery pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. If hes working with the Führer, then theres no telling the limit of his resources. Say, 2nd Lieutenant,” Kain looked up at his superior hesitantly, we didnt just chase Major Kimblee away from Hawkeye just to hurt someone else, did we?

            “Probably,” replied Breda bluntly. At Fuery's pursed, worried expression, Breda amended, Doesnt matter. We have the Lieutenant, and now we have to reach the Colonel.


            Breda and Fuery snapped to attention at the sound of Rizas voice, a consequence of time and habit and more than a little fear. She cleared her throat, which had gone very dry, abrasive like sandpaper.

            “The plan hasnt changed, and we've lost enough time already. It's likely the destruction of the sewers will draw the authorities to this location. We have to move quickly.

            Fuery opened his mouth to say something, but Breda held up a placating hand. His eyes met Riza’s: “Yes, sir.”

            Hawkeye nodded. She picked up her sidearms from the floor, holstering them at her waist. She reloaded her bolt-action rifle and slung it across her back. The movements felt strangely procedural, almost ceremonial, like the ritualistic worship of a long-forgotten god. Hawkeye felt detached from the actions, hovering above the slow, lethargic movements of her body, as though observing herself from a great distance. She chastised herself; she had to stay focused. She had to stay sharp, and alert, battle-ready

            Riza Hawkeye suppressed a sob. Neither Breda or Fuery noticed.

            “We'll make towards Madame Christmass bar,” she said, her words level and evenly-spaced, ripples on calm water obscuring the murk under the surface, if the Colonel is abiding by the timeline, he should meet us soon before daybreak.

            “You got it, boss.

            Fuery jogged ahead, his rifle barred across his chest, scouting ahead in the tunnels. Breda and Hawkeye walked together in silence. She could feel the broader man's stare on the side of her head. She also found that she was acutely aware of her subordinates breathing, the regular cadence of it, like music. Riza wasnt surprised when the rhythm changed and he spoke:

            “What did he mean, Hawkeye, when Kimblee said the Homunculi could control the Boss using his subordinates.

            Her brows disappeared under her hairline. You heard that?

            “I scouted ahead of Fuery. Followed the echoes down the tunnel.

            She looked over at him. Breda was perceptive. Moreover, he was sharp. There wasnt much that passed by him unnoticed. I imagine he meant what he said. Were just leverage to them, Heymans. Were just pawns.

            “That wasnt what I was asking.

            “Speak plainly, then.

            Breda grunted. I mean, Hawkeye, what happens when the Homunculi try to use us to influence the Colonels decision-making? Our lives are on the line here.

            "Just as they have been for the past several months?"

            "This is different, Riza, and you know it. Bradley didn't send you away like the rest of us. He kept you around for a reason. And now Major Kimblee––"

            "––is no longer our concern."

            "Maybe not, but his words sure as hell are. What do you reckon'll happen when the Colonel realises they plan to kill us if he doesn't do what the Homunculi ask of him?"

            Riza sighed. He will do what he always does: he will protect the people he cares about.

            “And by that youre saying––“

            “He’ll order us to stay behind. To stay hidden, and safe.

            Breda grunted again. "Perfect. He'll go careening in there alone with only a couple glorified parade gloves and an ego the size of a planet."

            It wasn't quite in line with Hawkeye's assessment, but she conceded the point.      "Essentially."

            "So what do we do, Boss?"

            “Thats simple,” she said softly; she stopped walking, forcing Breda to stop alongside her. Were not going to tell the Colonel. About Kimblee, or my capture, or anything disclosed in the tunnel this evening.

            Breda crossed his arms, hazel eyes narrowed. His mouth was pursed in a thin, grim line, but after a moment he gave a curt nod. His said more with his silence than he ever could with words. Riza knew his meaning well enough.

            “He always feels the need to protect us, Heymans…” She smiled a small, sad smile. But this is an alchemists world, a world of reciprocity. If he is to save the people he cares about, then we must be there to save him first.

            “Even if it means dyin’?”

            “Even if it means dying.” She stared into the darkness at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, death is a mercy, when faced with the possible alternatives.

            The Second Lieutenant shrugged. If thats the word, Riza, Ill follow it.

            Hawkeye nodded. There was nothing more to be said, and they had a job to do.

            They ran to catch up to Fuery. As they navigated the darkness, the smell of blood grew thinner in the air, and the floor rose out of the sloughing runoff to level off into a narrow brick walkway. Through the cracks in the storm drains, dawn was fast approaching.

            Riza thought of the shadow moving unseen through the intestines of the city, darker than the starless sky, an outline of the night dressed in a white suit. Moving in dimensions she could not perceive. She had lived these past months with the weak reassurance that the one place the Homunculi could not go, at least, was inside her mind.

            But the Crimson Alchemist had burrowed there like an insect. An echo of him would always remain. A stain on her soul.

            Hawkeye looked around. The passageways seemed to form the base of an oubliette, the walls curving over her head, capped by the ceiling and the streets and the city and the stars. Boundless space bound inside the tunnels. A universe inverted. 

            Caught in the liminal spaces of aligned oppositions, between the unbroken and the broken, the now and the then, the living and the dead, stretched out in its near infinite repetition.


             Further still at an unearthly height,

            One luminary clock against the sky 

            Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

            I have been one. 


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Entry Details:
Title: A Sin's Pain
Rating: PG
Prompt: "Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart." - Haruki Murakami
Fandom/Series: Seven Deadly Sins
Word Count: 3,650
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s)
Summary: Meliodas beings to remember his past with Liz, and Gowther becomes curious about how losing someone you love would feel for a human. To find out, Gowther puts Meliodas under his spell and leads the Captain through a series of twisted dreams and memories.

A Sin's Pain

Melidoas woke suddenly with a gasp, his startlingly green eyes wet with tears. Sitting up, he drew a shaking hand across his sweaty face. It was a dream he’d had many times before – often when he was still awake – but still. It never ceased to pain him. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get her final image out of his head: Liz. No matter how hard he tried, he always saw her leaning against a wall, covered in blood both her own and that of others as she took her last breath. The gaping hole that her passing caused him was one that seemed unlikely to fade anytime soon, though it had been over ten years at this point. His time with Liz was one of those things that, though painful beyond reckoning to recall, Meliodas would never choose to forget if he lived another three thousand years. Even now, when he thought of her – her smile, her laugh, the way they fought – his heart spasmed painfully in his chest. Why did you have to die like that, Meliodas thought to himself. Truth is, if she’d never met me she would have been far better off. Sometimes I wish we’d never had.

Meliodas sighed as he swung his legs out of bed, standing barefooted on the cold wooden floor. Crossing to the other side of the room, he stared at his reflection in the mirror. For the life of him, he still couldn’t figure out what the daft woman had seen in him. On the other hand…it was painfully obvious what he had seen in her. She had been stunning in her beauty and – of course, Meliodas had a weakness for full-figured women. Smiling sadly, he glanced at the sword that leaned against the wall beside his bed. It had been a gift from Liz; in his arrogance, he had turned the gift down, saying only that he didn’t want to kill anyone. It had taken someone else to make him realize that she had never wanted him to kill at all – only to live. What a fool, he thought. It was his fault she had died; it was him that she had been following, after all. She had been quite a bit less powerful than him, but even so, her strength had always awed him. To see her armor rent and her smile vanished…even now, his heart ached. He’d never understood before what humans meant when they said that losing someone you loved was a wound that never healed. He’d always thought that he was above such things. Oh, how wrong he had been. The moment her eyes had gone blank and lost the laugh that was always lingering there, it felt like he was being torn limb from limb. He’d nearly lost consciousness, the pain was so bone-deep.

Raising a hand to his face, Meliodas wiped a tear from his cheek and he sank slowly to the floor, trembling with emotion. Ban would never let him hear the end of it if he could see his Captain now. Even so, memories he couldn’t hold back flooded his head; the way she looked in the early morning light, her laugh, the way it had felt when she slept beside him, the way her short hair would get tousled by the wind, her sword glinting in the sun when she would fight beside him…He felt like he was being torn asunder. Meliodas groaned into his hands, tears he never wanted to shed again soaking into his cheeks.

“Why?” He whispered, “Why did you have to be so foolish? You swore you’d be by my side forever, but you’re not here now. So, what am I supposed to do, Liz? What am I supposed to do?”
As if his memories were trying to supply him with an answer, another face flooded his mind – a face that was similar to Liz’s, but belonging to someone else entirely. Elizabeth. Her name alone was like a soothing balm against a burn. Closing his eyes, Meliodas smiled again as an entirely different set of memories flooded his mind. If it hadn’t been for Elizabeth, he probably would never have been reunited with his fellow Sins. Her bravery – not to mention her full figure – had enticed the disgraced Captain to follow her back to the kingdom that had betrayed him and his compatriots in the first place, reuniting with the other Seven Deadly Sins on the way. If not for her, they would never have been able to prove their innocence and regain their reputations.

In fact, it had been Elizabeth who had returned his sword to him. She had taught him the meaning behind Liz’s gift, and shone a new light on an otherwise-painful memory. She had brought him through so much pain and suffering already and reminded him of the duty he had long ago forced himself to forget. But more than that, she had given him a purpose in life; something he hadn’t had in a very long time. She’d given him someone that he had to protect with his very life. He had promised her that no matter what, he would protect her and make sure that she was safe. Maybe that was why he’d all but abducted her on this quest of his. Lord knew she had absolutely nothing to do with it, but she had come along all the same, seeming to be happy just to be with him and the other Sins. Huh, he thought. She seemed to be pretty happy when it was just the two of us and Hawk, too. Meliodas smiled to himself, You just can’t help yourself can you? Pretty eyes and a full chest, that’s all you see, isn’t it? Never mind that she’s a Princess, never mind that your face looks like that of a twelve-year-old. You clapped eyes on her, and decided. You didn’t ask her, you just decided, all on your own. She’s just going to get in the way, or get herself hurt – or worse. You never thought of any of that, did you? No, you just knew you didn’t want to be apart from her and brought her along on this crazy journey of yours. You’re as bad as Ban is when it comes to that Fairy of his, Elaine. Although…The look on the King’s face was well worth it. Not to mention the insane joy that was in Elizabeth’s face when she said that she would come. Although “said” might be the wrong word…It was more that she threw herself out of the window into your arms.

Every now and then, the Princess reminded him of his lost Liz. Even her name was similar, for pity’s sake. Liz and Elizabeth were so similar in some ways that it cut him to the quick. They were both strong, capable women who faced the world with a smile and a spine of steel. But where Liz had been a fighter, Elizabeth was a healer. Where Liz would scream at him for “public displays of affection”, as he referred to them, Elizabeth would just blush and squeal. Even trying to reconcile the two made his heart ache. He almost felt like he was betraying his beloved Liz, feeling this way about someone else. Sighing. Meliodas allowed himself to fall backwards onto his back; the cool floor felt soothing on his bare back. Some days, it seemed like the two women would be the death of him. He didn’t know what hurt more – losing Liz, or moving on from her. A cool, refreshing breeze toyed playfully with his long, blonde hair when it danced in his open window and across his bare chest. Glancing again at the sword that laid across his legs, he grimaced slightly; it had seen far more action than he was comfortable with in recent battles – many of which had been fought to defend Elizabeth. It was like the woman invited danger.

Meliodas flinched, How very like Liz, he thought. Sometimes I look at her and I swear they’re the same person. Ugh. You aren’t doing yourself any favors here. Liz is Liz, and Elizabeth is Elizabeth. Two totally different people. Besides, how much would this hurt Elizabeth if she knew what you were thinking about? Groaning, Meliodas placed his palms flat against the floor and flipped onto his feet. Well, the sun’s coming up anyway. He shook his head viciously as yet another image of Liz’s final moment popped unbidden into his mind. Shrugging into his favorite white button-up shirt and black vest, matching white pants and his most comfortable black half-boots. Glancing in the mirror before he left his bedroom, Meliodas ran a hand through his hair and shrugged, “I guess that’ll just have to do,” he said to his reflection.

Meliodas forced his usual happy expression onto his face and opened the door, making a sharp turn left and heading down the stairs to the tavern, where he could already hear someone moving around. Three guesses and the first two don’t count, he thought to himself. Sure enough, as his foot touched the final stair she sailed into view, scrubbing the floor with mop and bucket in tow. Caught off guard, Meliodas just paused where he was to lean against the wall of the stairwell with a dopey grin on his face. Somehow, the woman managed to take his breath away. She had stood through so much with him already, and was ready to do it again; he couldn’t believe how fortunate he was. And the way she moved…She didn’t walk, she floated. He’d always been content to run his tavern his way, on his terms, with no one to help him but Hawk. The minute she’d walked into his tavern, though – it was like an energy had filled the place that Meliodas hadn’t known had been missing until it had suddenly appeared. The thought made him smile. He didn’t know how the woman did it, but just watching her clean the tavern made his heart pound.

Just then, he sensed someone behind him. “Good morning, Captain,” came the cold voice of Gowther, “Are you watching Elizabeth? Is she doing something interesting?”

Meliodas chuckled nervously as Elizabeth turned and brushed her hair out of her right eye, smiling hugely over her shoulder at him, “Good morning, Sir Meliodas! Did you sleep well? Are you hungry? I could make you something.”

Meliodas smiled even wider and bounced off the last stair towards his favorite waitress, reaching around and grasping her tightly in his usual “welcome”. Elizabeth squealed and dropped the mop, blushing furiously. The sound of more footsteps on the stairs alerted them to the presence of the others as a dark, gravely female voice taunted, “What? You’re at it already, Captain? Give the poor girl a break. It’s too early for your lecherous behavior, don’t you think?”

Meliodas released Elizabeth and turned, smiling massively, “Nope!” he answered happily. “Although, we should really send someone out to go hunting.”

Without missing a beat, Dianne piped up happily, “I’ll go, Captain!” Without another word, Dianne turned to the front door of the tavern, wrenched it open, and leapt.

“Dianne! Wait for me,” cried King frantically as he dove after her on his Chaistefoil.

Meliodas frowned after them, “Well, she could have waited for me to tell Hawk’s mom to stop, at least,” he pouted to himself. Suddenly his expression cleared and he smiled again, clasping his hands behind his head and sighing happily, “Well, this seems like as good a spot as any to set down for a while! Elizabeth, why don’t you, Merlin, and Hawk go into town and do some advertising for the tavern? Gowther and I can stay here and make sure that everything is ready.”

Elizabeth glanced apprehensively at Gowther and Meliodas, “O…Okay…Just don’t do any cooking, okay Sir Meliodas?”

Meliodas laughed, “No worries! I’ll stay out of the kitchen!” Gowther had stayed silent through the entire exchange, as was his norm, and yet…Meliodas felt that there was something on the man’s mind. Glancing over his shoulder, Meliodas cocked his head at Gowther but when the man remained silent, Meliodas shrugged and crossed to the bar to take inventory of their supplies. Gowther followed him silently, still staring at his Captain with a curious expression. Meliodas shook his head, Well, whatever it is that’s on his mind, I’m sure Gowther will bring it up when he’s ready. Biding his time, Meliodas completed his inventory and began to scrub down the counters as Gowther watched.

At last, Gowther shifted and made a small noise in the back of his throat, “Ah, Captain?”

Meliodas smiled and looked up, leaning on the bar, “I thought there was something on your mind. What is it, Gowther?”

Gowther shifted his feet uncomfortably, “Well, I couldn’t help but get a sense of what you were thinking about this morning. I…I have something of an odd request and I’m not sure how you’ll react to it.”

Meliodas cocked his head, “You? An odd request? That’s the only kind of request you know how to make, Gowther. Go ahead.”

Gowther smiled awkwardly, “I…I was wondering if you might let me experience your memories. These types of emotions are so foreign to me…I’d like to see what it feels like through the eyes of someone that I know well.”

Meliodas’ eyebrows shot up, “Well, that’s definitely not what I was expecting. Huh. So, what? You want to put me in that sort of waking dream that you use on people?”

Gowther smiled and nodded, “Uh-huh. It allows me to experience the emotions of whoever it is that’s under my influence at the time.”

“Huh. That sounds…interesting. What does it do to me?”

Gowther frowned, “Hm. I’m not really sure. I know that I can’t control what happens once you’re in the dream, but I think your train of thought dictates what you see.”

“Huh.” Meliodas thought about it for a moment, “Oh, why not? It seems like it might be interesting, at least. Sounds like a new experience – those are rare for me. I’m actually looking forward to this; you’ve never used your powers on me before.”

Gowther nodded, “Okay, then. I’m going to put my hand on your forehead, and then you’ll be in the dream.” Meliodas nodded and settled into a comfortable chair as Gowther approached him. He closed his eyes as Gowther raised his hand and laid it on Meliodas’ forehead. All at once, the bar dissolved around him.

At first, Meliodas didn’t know where he was. Then, he heard someone behind him say, “There you are. I was wondering where you’d gotten to so early this morning; you weren’t there when I woke up, so I was worried.”

Meliodas froze. That sounded like…But it couldn’t be. Slowly, he turned around and there she was. Liz. His Liz. She was standing in front of him, just like she used to with that smile on her face that she saved just for him wearing a dress of palest green that flowed easily around her ankles.

Meliodas felt his heart lurch painfully in his chest as her eyes sparkled with a laugh that was always ready to bubble out at any moment. He blinked hard, but she didn’t fade away like she did in his dreams. “Liz?” He said, hardly able to believe that she was standing in front of him, “What…What’s going on?”

Liz laughed at him as she reached for him, bending low to kiss him, “Oh, nothing. Why would you think something was happening? I just wanted to say good morning for the last time.” She sailed past him, clearly unaware that she had twisted a dagger in his heart.

“What do you mean, for the last time?”

Liz turned and smiled at him with an oddly vacant expression. Suddenly, Meliodas realized that the light just wasn’t quite right; it was the vivid orange of flames, rather than the soft morning light it had been a moment ago. All at once, the acrid smell of smoke and other unmentionable odors rose to fill his nostrils, gagging him. Where one moment she had been wearing a pale green dress, she was now wearing her armor and clutching her sword in her right hand. Meliodas watched in horror as blood trickled down her forehead and dripped off the end of her nose, “I died, don’t you remember? It might as well have been you that killed me. If it hadn’t been for you, I would still be alive.” The vacant smile slid from Liz’s face as she collapsed to the ground, motionless.

Meliodas lunged towards her, his body heavy with armor he couldn’t remember putting on. He fell to his knees beside her, gathering her limp form in his arms. “Liz, no!” But the face that lolled in his arms wasn’t Liz – but rather Elizabeth.

Her blue eyes opened and she smiled up at him, “You always make me feel so safe, Sir Meliodas.”

Meliodas shook his head, “How can you feel safe in the middle of all this?” He gestured a hand at the devastation around him, “How can you feel safe, knowing that you can die at any moment while you’re by my side?”

Elizabeth sighed, “It’s because I’m by your side,” she said softly, “I don’t feel like I have to be afraid when I’m with you. I know that no matter what happens, you’ll take care of me and of our friends. That’s why I’m happy to be near you, why I’m happy to love you.”

Meliodas’ eyes went wide, “Love me? What do you mean?”

Elizabeth giggled, “I mean I love you, Sir Meliodas,” she repeated.

“But…” he began to argue, but when he looked up the scene had changed again. He was once again in the Boar’s Hat, leaning against the bar as he watched Elizabeth clean the tables before their next rush. His heart fluttered as he watched her all but dance as she did her job, a look of deepest contentment on her face. As she turned, Meliodas was stunned to see a baby on her back – a baby with his blond hair. He smiled to himself as he crossed to her and kissed first her, then the baby.

“What was that for?” She asked him.

Meliodas smiled, “Oh, nothing. I’m just reminding myself what I have to be happy about.” An explosion suddenly door the front of the Boar’s Hat apart, sending shrapnel and bits of wood everywhere. Looking around the remains of the tavern in a panic, Meliodas found Elizabeth lying under a table, blood slowly seeping across the floor she had so proudly kept so perfectly clean. He didn’t want to shove the table off of her and the child strapped to her back – he knew what he would find. Meliodas’ eyes narrowed, “That’s enough. That’s enough, Gowther. I’ve seen enough.”

“I said that’s enough,” Meliodas said more firmly as his eyes flew open and a tear trickled down his cheek.

Gowther stumbled back, stunned. He raised a trembling hand to his cheek, staring in awe at the dampness that was on his fingertips, “I…I think I’ve sprung a leak. Is there something wrong with me?”

Meliodas chuckled as he wiped his face, “No, Gowther. Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re crying. So; did that satisfy your curiosity?”

Gowther nodded, frowning, “Yes. It didn’t feel nice at all. Why do you feel love? If it’s so easy to lose, why do you feel it at all? Wouldn’t it be easier to not feel at all, instead of risk that kind of pain?”

Meliodas smiled patiently at his companion, “I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But the truth is, even though some of my memories tear me apart, there are others that warm me from the inside every time I think about them. I’ll take a thousand painful memories for one happy one with the people I love any day.”

Just then, the door of the Boar’s Hat was flung open and the others came filing in, all chattering and laughing happily among themselves. Gowther watched the scene with an almost tender look in his usually-cold eyes, “I’m sorry, Captain.”

Meliodas glanced at him in confusion, “What for?”

“I didn’t mean to upset you, Captain. I’m sorry. I should have kept my curiosity to myself. It’s not my place to play with human emotions.”

Meliodas chuckled, “Don’t be ridiculous. You didn’t play with anything. All you did was remind me just what it is that I have – and what I may possibly have in the future. You showed me how easy it is to lose everything I have, and reminded me how hard I need to fight in the future to defend what is precious to me. I’m not upset, Gowther. In fact, I’m more determined than ever to protect the people I love.” Meliodas patted Gowther on the shoulder and crossed the tavern to join in the fun.

Gowther stayed by the bar, watching the lively group while his thoughts chased each other around in his head, “I guess I learned something, too. It’s good to be with friends,” he said quietly to himself.

“Gowther, why don’t you come help? The girls have a lot of supplies; they could probably use the help!”

Gowther half-smiled, “Sure,” he called back. I guess humans are even more complicated than I thought. Even so…I think I understand the Captain a bit better now than I did before.
Meliodas watched Gowther approach them with a small smile on his face. I never thought I’d be grateful to be reminded of the past, he thought as he gazed fondly at Elizabeth. But then, the present seems to be trying to repair the past…I have no idea where this is going – but I can’t wait to find out.


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Title: A Bishop of Ill-Begotten Faith
Rating: G
Prompt: "Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart." - Haruki Murakami
Fandom/Series: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Word Count: 3,081
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Vato Falman is a simple man.
As his fellow soldiers and friends are reassigned across the nation, Falman reflects on just how much they have sacrificed, and how much they all still risk to lose.Cast off and desperate for a friend, trapped in the cold and the quiet of Briggs, the Warrant Officer finds solace in his memories. And on the eve of war, he finally understands the sheer tragedy of following a man who loves far too much, and cares far too little.

A Bishop of Ill-Begotten Faith

            Vato Falman was a simple man.

            The people who were close to him soon learned that he didn't have much to say. Ashen-faced and rail-thin, his premature silver hair giving him the appearance of a much older man, he was a quiet, dignified person –– a presence more comfortable ghosting the peripheries of the room than taking an active participation in the center of it. A man consistently content with his place at the edge of conversation.

            He was an awkward presence in Amestrian blue. His uniform fit him poorly, both in body –– the cuffs of his sleeves barely reached his wrists –– and in spirit. Vato Falman was no fighter. He didn’t relish assignment that took him outside the archive room or, god forbid, out into the field. What he lacked in pleasure for combat, however, the solemn Warrant Officer made up for in sheer brainpower.

            Falman knew an eidetic memory was a good trait to have as an intelligence officer. Some of the men had taken to referring to him as a walking encyclopedia, and though the moniker felt acutely dehumanizing, Falman could not deny its truth. He had memorized hundreds of addresses and phone numbers and names during his stint in the military; he had cataloged every honorific and appellation and serial number he had ever filed, and was able to summon the information with the ease of perusing an index. He knew a bitter enemy from a forgotten ally long before an introduction hung unbroken in the air. 

            He knew he had little right to feel as lonely as he did, with the company of so many remembered faces. He knew he should feel beholden to the Amestrian military for giving him a livelihood, for taking a disorderly son of a bookkeeper and turning him into a soldier. Instead, he lay awake at night dreading the day circumstance would wrench him away from his reports and force him to shoot a gun. To take the life of another person.

            He knew that killing was not for him. He knew fate had consigned to deny him a choice in the matter.

            Falman knew a great many things. Not all of them, he realized, as useful, or as welcome, as a serial number. Sometimes the memories ran too deep. Sometimes he knew too much.

            Falman knew Kain Fuery was afraid of the dark. The Sergeant Major had made a name for himself fighting in the border skirmishes with Creta. According to the official report of an incident shortly after the young man’s induction, following a nighttime perimeter sweep, Fuery had lost his phosphor flares; his radio had gone quiet. He wandered for hours through the craters and calderas of a battlefield without a name. When he found his regiment, he begged them to hang a lantern from the lintel of the barracks, to chase away the shadows.

            Falman knew Heymans Breda was one of the most intelligent men in the military. He remembered Breda from the military academy, back when Falman was a sickly cadet already going gray at the temples. He remembered how Officer Cadet Breda said it wasn't due to stress, or a bad hand in the genetic crapshoot. 'You think too much,' Breda had affirmed in that blunt, brusque manner of his. Falman knew the Second Lieutenant had the mind of a philosopher and the wisdom of an academic. Instead, he had elected to become a soldier. Falman believed it said less about Breda's intelligence and far more about his heart.

            He knew Jean Havoc smoked cigarettes because he was a brave man. And the Warrant Officer knew bravery was being the only person to know how frightened one truly is. The acrid smoke, the miasma of nicotine and aftershave, hid far more than the blonde man's crooked grin. When Havoc lost his legs, some of the smoke blew thin on the wind. The veneer splintered, and Falman knew the Second Lieutenant had lost something he could never bargain or threaten or charm his way into getting back.

            Falman knew the Colonel was in love with his adjutant.

            If Vato were more like Major Armstrong, a man predisposed to sentiment, he would have bemoaned the tragedy of it. The fraternization policies were in place to avoid any adverse impact on discipline, authority, and morale, to ensure the ability of command to accomplish its mission. Falman respected the Colonel and the Lieutenant far too much to believe they would ever entertain toeing the line. They were officers before they were man and woman. Like Falman, they had sacrificed their humanity for the monikers of their duty. What was unsaid had to remain unsaid, diffusing between glances that somehow trapped a whole universe of meaning within the silence.

            Falman knew the Colonel and the Lieutenant shared a past; it had not been difficult for him to trace the tangled history of the Hero of Ishval and the progeny of a disgraced alchemist from the East. But the precise extent of their story remained stubbornly elusive, even to someone as intuitive as Falman. Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye never spoke of the time before Ishval, and their wonted, almost martial silence on the matter provoked defamatory tittle-tattle from Eastern Headquarters all the way to Central. There was plenty of rumor and hearsay, which Falman took pains to avoid, or outright slander, which Falman despised, even as some of the brass in the Amestrian military reveled in it, keen to knock the cocky, ambitious Colonel down a few pegs.

            Colonel Mustang, for all his heresies, never acknowledged the whispers. Neither did Hawkeye.

            And though he had unprecedented insight into the relationship between his superiors, Warrant Officer Falman was a simple man, and simple men do not meditate on the nature of tragedy.

            Because Vato Falman was in love with the Colonel's adjutant, too.




            "Officer Cadet Falman!"

            Vato stepped forward. The rainwater had pooled in his boots. Mud crusted the hem of his trousers. The sleet was bitterly cold; he could barely move his fingers, and he had long ago lost feeling in his feet. When the Sergeant pressed a pistol into his hands, Vato nearly dropped it. The metal smarted on his palm, florets of ice crusted across the grip.

            "Torso, center target," the man barked, shouting to be heard over the deluge. "You're surrounded by Ishvalan hostiles and you're the only one with a full magazine."

            Vato tried to blow his hair out of his eyes, but the rain plastered it to his forehead. He held the pistol loosely in his hand, unable to curl his fingers around the grip. He extended his arms out in front of him and squinted at the target with his dominant eye... trying, in what he considered to be a truly herculean effort, to peer through the rain and sleet. He tried to blink the soft straw dummies into focus. Behind him, he heard Officer Cadet Havoc murmuring some words of half-crafted encouragement. Officer Cadet Breda just grunted. He doubted either one envied him.

            "Hurry it up, Cadet! It's raining like a pissing cow out here."

            Vato brought the pistol to bear. He swallowed. He fired a single shot, the recoil jarring his arm in its socket, sending a sharp of pain from his fingertips to his elbow. He heard wood splinter as the bullet buried in the fence behind the line of targets. Some of the recruits snickered. Breda grunted again.

            The Sergeant shook his head, throwing damp in all directions. The weather had turned him irritable, and Vato Falman was a far easier target than a cadre of straw dummies several hundred yards away, half-obscured by rain. "That was embarrassing, Cadet. You're a bloody disgrace; the impact was at least half a meter right and back of your target."

            "It's raining quite heavily, Sergeant," said Vato quietly. He fought the urge to look down at the mud. "There is a refraction index I failed to take into account when I took the shot, sir. The ratio of the velocity of light on a normal day to its velocity in a specified medium, particularly this rain––"

            "I didn't ask for an explanation, Cadet! Even with your squinty eyes you should be able to tell the difference between a bloody fence and a human-shaped dummy! You ought to know, Falman, you see one every time you look in the damn mirror! HAWKEYE."

            Vato inclined his head, the rain running like teardrops down his high cheekbones. He took an interest in his patched boots as a petite woman pushed through the crowd of assembled trainees. Vato looked up as she stood at his shoulder. He couldn't see her face beneath the hood of her cloak, but he knew that somewhere under there was a thin, joyless face and a pair of hard eyes.

            Her eyes had always reminded Vato of burnished glass, or butterscotch.

            "Hawkeye, show everyone how it's done. Take aim!"

            Instead, the woman turned to her peer. Vato squirmed, unused to and uncomfortable with being the sole focus of her bright amber eyes. She made him feel at once immeasurably important… and very, very small. Like a marble statue ready eroded to dust.

            "Cadet," she said, her voice low and soft, "assume a proper shooting position with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Don't lock out your knees and don't flex your leg muscles. Establish a grounded base with the lower half of your body."

            The Sergeant crossed his arms. His mustache bristled. "I gave you an order, Hawkeye. We don't have time for this. If Cadet Falman knows what's good for him, he'll drag himself through this training and then go hide behind a desk in Central for the rest of his life."

            Hawkeye didn't seem to hear her commanding officer. Or, more likely, she elected to ignore him. She kept her attention on Vato: "You were blading your body sideways, Cadet. Square your shoulders towards the target. Your arms should be extended but not locked."

            "Hawkeye!" shouted the Sergeant. Vato knew it was only because of her exceptional reputation he didn't haul Hawkeye away by the scruff of the collar. "Shoot the damn gun or shut the hell up."

            She moved closer to him. Her words feathered across his cheek. She must have been pressed up on her toes… "Don't anticipate the shot. Instead, focus on your aim and technique. Press the trigger in a controlled manner and focus on your front sight."

            "Woman, I swear––"

            Vato Falman took another shot. The bullet didn't hit the center of the target.

            But it did hit the target.

            He could almost imagine Riza Hawkeye's smile.

            Later, as they filtered back inside to shelter from the rain, Vato found her in the mess hall.

            "May I sit with you?"

            A curt nod. "Of course."

            Vato took a seat, his back ramrod straight, easily one of the tallest recruits in the mess. The younger soldier sat hunched over her meal, her shoulders bunched. She looked, Vato decided, blatantly exhausted and thoroughly miserable. She seemed to radiate an aura that precluded anything but the utmost solemnity.

            "Why did you help me?" Vato asked after a moment of pregnant silence.

            Cadet Hawkeye stopped pushing her food around her plate and looked up at him through her winged bangs. She continued to stare, unblinking, and Vato cleared his throat.

            "In this sort of cutthroat environment, selflessness is a rare thing. I only regret that I have nothing with which to repay you for your kindness."

            Her words were cold and clipped when she said, "I taught you how to be a better killer; that is no kindness."

            Her answer surprised him. The reputation of the Hawk's Eye was well-established: a young sniper who had been propelled through the curriculum, her training regiment accelerated until she surpassed cadets much older than her, including Vato himself. But… a gunsmith and weapons expert, a tactical genius, who abhorred killing. Rather than baffling, Vato found the contradiction intriguing.

            Here was a person who found as little joy in combat as he did.

            "I have no desire to kill," he said gently.

            "Does anyone?"

            "Well, certainly, there are individuals who take pride in their skills and seek the glory of fighting in war… there's that Major Kimblee fellow, you know…"

            Vato didn't realize her question was rhetorical until she gave him a funny look, quirking her eyebrows and pursing her mouth into a thin line. He trailed off, throughly embarrassed.

            Still, her expression almost made it worth it. She seemed so much softer and kinder when she wasn't peering down a proverbial crosshair.

            "You're very… unembroidered, Cadet," she noted wryly.

            Vato felt the tips of his ears burning. He prayed to a god he didn't believe in that he wasn't blushing. "I suppose I just like to answer questions."

            "What is Major Kimblee's serial number?"

            "O-513190," intoned Vato without decoration.

            "Hmm." Cadet Hawkeye stabbed an amorphous pile of something akin to spinach, but she didn't eat it. "Do you have all our serial numbers memorized?"

            He shrugged. "Not by conscious effort, no. I just happened to see the Major's dossier in passing."

            "Do you know my serial number, Officer Cadet Falman?"

            "Ah," he shifted, "I do not. Information about you is not readily available. If you don't mind my saying so, Cadet, you're something of an enigma around here."

            "I am a soldier," she said quietly. The barriers went back up and she receded to a place Vato wasn't welcome, somewhere lead-lined and dark. "And soldiers are very simple people."

            But she was not a soldier, Vato realized, though he didn't say it aloud. She placed no stock in promotion and glory like some of the military brass. She took no pleasure in killing. She was not a simple person because she shirked the reputation that had bestowed upon her so much respect and renown.

            He wondered, then, what had brought her to the battlefield. It was not the Führer's empty propaganda; the man's words dripped with so much sticky rhetoric it was a small wonder his mouth didn't glue shut. It wasn't for King and country, like Havoc and Breda, or to dredge up an inkling of a purpose, like himself. No… Riza Hawkeye had found her calling a long time ago, and it, whatever it was, had lead her to the doorstep of war and bloodshed. The military was not the cause, merely a consequence.

            "They're sending to Ishval tomorrow. The Daliha District."

            Vato's blood ran like ice water. "I'm… I'm so sorry… forgive me, I didn't know…"

            He understood now why the Sergeant had neglected to punish Hawkeye for her insubordination. It would seem more than a little redundant to discipline a woman about to be shipped to the front lines of hell.

            She peered at him with her beautiful, terrifying amber eyes. "It is not you who should be begging my forgiveness, Vato. We simple people have forfeited the right to contrition."

            "But not regret," he countered. "There is nothing more human than ruminating on what could have been."

            "Speculating on the past does nothing to change the present," she said bitterly. "It only brings more pain."

            "Good," affirmed Vato, uncharacteristically unyielding. "Pain reminds us that there is a world beyond the battlefield. Pain means you still care."

            She flashed a small, sad smile that nearly broke his heart. "But I don't care, Vato. I don't care about Amestris, or the Führer, or the military. I care about one man, and if I see him on the battlefield, we will greet each other with the blindness of strangers.

            "Because the world has changed us. Because its destruction is our shared truth, and our collective shame."




            When the Führer reassigned Falman to the North, the Warrant Officer accepted his new orders with grace.

            When Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes bled to death in a phone booth, when Lust shredded Lieutenant Havoc's spine, Falman swallowed his grief, crushed it into a singularity within his chest, and endured.

            When Roy Mustang chose a prodigious sniper as his adjutant, long ago, and when Bradley stripped her from the Colonel's side, Falman said nothing; a suspicion had crystallized into a certainty, and he merely accepted what he had always supposed to be true.

            He knew there was little room for kindness and mercy in the world. As soldiers, they could ill-afford the luxury of tenderness. A bleeding heart tended to summon the sharks. Falman's commanding officer had his ambitions, and Roy Mustang did not allow his pain to stand in his way. If the Colonel began to regret, even for an instant, the future would recede back into that infinite distance.

            But when Bradley took away the Flame Alchemist's shadow, Mustang had inadvertently revealed that he was a selfless man in a selfish world. That he loved far too much, and cared far too little. That in protecting his back, Riza Hawkeye had become his biggest blind spot.

            A tragedy indeed.

            Of course, Falman understood that every soldier is prepared to die from the moment they don the uniform. But Hawkeye had shown him that not every military officer was a cold, unfeeling fixture of the system. They had names and families. They lived and loved. The scarce fissures and cracks that existed were still plenty wide enough for something devestatingly tender to find its way out.

            They were human.

            And Hawkeye had shown Falman a human who had adopted two lonely, lost little boys from Resembool, who cried at funerals, who raged at the death of his beloved friend. Who buried his grief. Buried it, and salted the earth, because it hurt so much.

            And no matter what was to come, irregardless of her own well-being, Riza Hawkeye was ready to die to fulfill the duty of her superior, to stitch the Colonel's humanity back together when heartbreak threatened to tear it apart.

            And Falman loved her for it.

            But the words were not for him. Vato Falman knew his place. He would follow his orders. He would carry his commanding officer's paperwork to and from the archives. He would nod when he needed to nod. He would salute when he needed to salute. He would deliver the mail, sign on the dotted line, stay quiet, said his "Yes, sirs" and "No, sirs", make himself readily available while remaining entirely invisible.

            Because Vato Falman was a simple man. And simple men are not made for glory.


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Title: Terror on Ice
Rating: PG
Prompt: "Terror made me cruel" - Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Fandom/Series: Yuri On Ice
Word Count: 1912
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Terror was intrinsic to a skater; it was there from the first step onto the ice to the practice of a well known routine, the first competition to the last. “Yes, terror was intrinsic to a skater. But to Yuri Plisetsky more so than most.”

Note: This fic contains a few Russian words (mainly terms of endearment) for a translation see the end of the story.

. . . 

Terror. It was as intrinsic to a skater as pain to a ballerina, or water to a swimmer.

It was standing in front of the crowd, primped and primed as they eagerly waited to watch you fly… Watch you fall. 
It was the moment before the jump; that split second decision, ‘Can I really do this?’
It was the feeling of freedom, flying through the air. The knowledge that you’ve over rotated, under rotated, that your positioning was all wrong - and, that gravity is calling.

Terror was feeling the ice, solid and unforgiving under your skates, under the palms of your hands, under your prone body. It compounded every win, every loss. Every medal and every bruise.

Yes, terror was intrinsic to a skater. But to Yuri Plisetsky more so than most.

. . . 

“No more tears you stupid boy.”
“But otets…”
“Men don’t cry Yuri.”
. . . 

Yuri’s first real memory of terror was when he met his dedushka.

Nikolai Plisetsky was a broad man, tall when compared to any child and overwhelmingly strange. With his two-toned hair and blue-green eyes he looked nothing like Yuri’s mamochka or otets. Scruffy, unkempt clothes, reddened eyes and a semi-permanent scowl only augmented his differences.

“Yuri, this man is your grandfather. He will be looking after you from now on.”

The young boy shook, not with excitement, nor with fear but with something much deeper, something much stronger. He knew not to cry, not any more, not ever again. Not when his father’s last words became a reprimand. He knew not to run either, not when that would only get him in much more trouble. He knew all this.

So, little Yuri. Small, pale, shaking, little Yuri. He did the only other thing he knew how - he yelled. He screamed, he shouted, he raged. Anything and everything to hide the mounting terror.

He tore into his newly found grandfather, scorning those battered clothes, that tattered soul. Purposely seeking out every bruise, every weakness, locking on and attacking.

Terror makes everyone cruel. But the terror of a child, when children are already so cruel to begin with? Terror made him brutal.

. . . 

The first step onto the ice, out onto that vast sea of crystalline white with its unbroken purity. That first time puts different emotions into the hearts of many. Awe, wonder, shock, happiness… And perhaps a little bit of fear.

For Yuri, that little bit of fear was anything but small. It was a writhing ball of terror. No, Yuri was not afraid of falling, of floundering or even of failing. Yuri was not afraid of any of those little, inconsequential things that so many children feared.

At that point Yuri was afraid of only one thing. Of leaving his dedushka. Of his dedushka leaving him. Packing up and wiping his hands of Yuri, of that little boy who expressed far more in yells, sullen silences and little grins than in wide-eyed smiles.

“Go on Yurochka, I’m here.”

With that reassurance, keeping his gaze locked on his dedushka the whole time, Yuri took that first step. And it was wonderful. Even with the uncertainty, those little wobbles and slides, skating was amazing. It was freedom, it was mesmerizing. Little Yuri got lost in it.

He looked up, away from the charming patterns in the ice, to find his dedushka missing. Standing on a sea of white, surrounded by a crush of bodies he was lost, hopelessly, endlessly.

He spun around, pushing and shoving past shocked onlookers, seeking and searching. But still he found nothing. Then he fell. Disoriented and shaken he lay on the ice, cold seeping into him.

“Are you okay kotenok?”

Yuri looked up to find his vision encompassed by a worried face and spools of grey hair.

“Come on rebonok, let’s get you off this rink.”

A kind smile lit up the stranger's face as the ice cleared in front of them like the parting of the red sea.


Now Yuri could see it! That little gate leading to freedom, to his dedushka.

“Stay away from me! I don’t need your help!”

He pushed the stranger aside roughly, gliding quickly to the exit and running into dedushki waiting arms.

. . . 

Competitions always come with a hint of uncertainty, that worry that you may fall and lose your place. Fall and not be able to get back up. Yuri’s first competition was a little different than most.

The competition, if it could even be called that, was between him and an older girl called Mila. They were showing off childish routines to trener Yakov, something completely typical of the pair.

What was atypical, however, was the presence of Yuri’s dedushka. While he normally worked long hours to support the expensive profession, Nikolai had taken leave to spend some time with Yuri. This meant watching Yuri skate. Watching his pseudo competition.

While spectators would usually motivate Yuri to smash the competition, this one in particular held far more significance. With dedushka Yuri had far more to prove. He had to show Nikolai that all the money he had spent was worth it. That Yuri’s passion was worth it. He had to!

These ‘competitions’ with Mila were usually just short 30-second routines, made up that morning, practiced and refined for the next few hours then performed in front Yakov and the other skaters for critic.

At this point their win count was about even. As, while Mila was older, her experience lay in powerful jumps whereas Yuri focused on step-sequences and spins. 

Today, however, was different. Yakov decided to put both of them out of their comfort zones, giving them a week to learn the same one minute routine to actual music, with a combination of expert step sequences, spins and a spattering of jumps.

Mila’s showing had been lyrical. She had taken that extra week to work on the performance elements that normally eluded her, and with already practiced jumps she had the advantage.

Yuri would not let that defeat him. He embraced the fear, the worry, and the terror. He wanted to be unique, to make a mark. But in practice Yuri had gone in the opposite direction, taking that extra week to practise those perfect jumps made his performance cold and mechanical, lacking his normal emotive state. Yuri had lost. And he knew it.

He practically ran off the ice, foregoing skate guards to tear across the room. He ignored his dedushka. He had knownthis wouldn’t end well.

In the end it was Mila who found him, curled up in a tiny ball as if to minimise the target. He wasn’t crying, just sitting there, silent and cold.

“Come on Yura, it wasn’t that bad. Your ded loved seeing you jump like that!”

A fire bubbled in the young boy as terror became rage.

“Of course you would think my performance was good! It’s practically what you do week-after-week and look where that’s gotten you. You haven’t even reached the podium yet, doomed to be forever fourth-place. You should just give up already!”

Yuri did not apologise.
Mila did not speak to him for a month.

. . . 

When one attempted to fly, they always had to fall and in skating, the fall was everything. From the first attempted jump to the 50th perfect one, jumping always came with an innate terror.

Skaters would be judged on what position they jumped in, ‘Was that leg in the right angle? The arm?’ Skaters would be judged on what happened in the air, ‘How tight was that spin? What about the height?’ Skaters would be judged on their arrival back to the ground, ‘Did they stumble or fall? Did they get back up again?’

Yuri had been jumping, falling for years and was used to this judgment. But this jump, this one jump in particular had always eluded him in competition. It was the cause of great conflict between him and Yakov.

“Yuri! At your age you cannot be jumping like that! Your knees will be ruined before you’re out of your teens!”
“Che, Yakov. Those quads give me an advantage over the competition.”
“ Yuri! Don’t you dare!”

While he performed a great deal of triples, Yuri’s quads were his true pride. A pride that Yakov would not let him show! The quadruple salchow was ready, Yuri just knew it! So against his coach’s gentle advice, Yuri kept the quad.

He spun, paused and leaped. That split second weightless, when gravity lost its hold was what he lived for in these jumps. And then he fell, the terror consuming him. But what a fall. For the first time in competition he had landed a perfect salchow. Take that Yakov!

“You dumb brat!”
“It worked didn’t it, old geezer!”

. . . 

The transition from Junior to Senior division is always awkward, no matter the sport. But in skating especially, this transition means more rules, more ‘must includes’, more competition and more worry.

Skaters plan their transition into Seniors for years, many competing in a number of Senior competitions while they compete in the Junior Grand Prix as a back up until they make the final leap.

Yuri disregarded this. He ignored Yakov’s careful months of planning to bulldoze his was into the Senior circuit. He was bored of domination over the Junior Circuit and with his two-time consecutive wins over the Junior World’s and Grand Prix Final he felt he was readily qualified.

This lack of planning meant taking on all the stress of joining the Senior circuit all at once, his Senior debut and first Senior Grand Prix competition. All at once. It was terrifying.

. . . 

In the led up to the Grand Prix Final, Yuri was even more snappish than usual, lashing out to his rink mates, his coaches and on one memorable occasion, his dedushka.

“Yura, you need to take it easy, you’re still growing and need days to rest.”
“I’m fine dedushka. I need to practice my jumps.”

The stare was penetrating

“What would you know about hard work anyways?”
“Yurochka …”
“I’m sorry dedushka.”

. . . 

Yuri’s free skate was appallingly amazing. It grotesquely caught the gaze of everyone present and trapped them. It was horrifying. It was stunning.

Standing at the top of the podium Yuri knew it was worth it, all the pain, and all the terror. It was worth it to see that proud smile on his dedushki face.

For the first time in years, Yuri cried.

. . . 

Some call Yuri Plisetsky a ‘beautiful monster’, others a friend or rival. Yakov calls him a constant pain and Mila, a little brother. Nikolai Plisetsky calls him ‘son’. All of these people have one thing in common. They think him to be terrifying.

Yuri Plisetsky lived a life of terror. It shaped him and changed him. It made him cruel and callous and loud and rude. It made him forsake wide-eyed grins and laughter for smirks and cruel remarks. It made those little grins of him all the more wondrous.

Yes, Yuri Plisetsky lived a life of terror. And he loved every moment of it.

. . . 

Ded - Grandfather
Dedushka – Grandpa
Dedushki – Grandpa’s
Mamochka – Mummy
Kotenok - Kitten
Otets – Father
Rebonok - Child
Trener – Trainer/coach


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Title: Fools on Ice
Rating: PG 
Prompt“A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.” – George Bernard Shaw, Advice to a Young Critic
Fandom/Series: Yuri On Ice
Word Count: 755
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: As a child Katsuki Yuuri was a fool, unashamedly, unabashedly, unrepentantly. When the stress of competitions becomes too much and he looses interest in both skating and ballet Yuuri must again realise that “being a fool was the best thing to ever happen to him!”

Fools On Ice

When it was discovered that Katsuki Yuuri partook in ballet, he was made a laughing stock at school. He was teased and bullied, no one understood. No one but Yuuko and Takeshi… Well Takeshi understood it to a degree. 

Yuuko was Yuri’s closest friend, and even though she was older they had been taking ballet lessons together for years. She always said ‘If I want to be a professional figure skater, I have to be flexible.’ 

Even at such a young age, Yuuri had his whole life planned out. Sort of… It included becoming an accomplished danseur and being friends with Yuuko forever, Takeshi too he guessed.

. . . 

And then it happened. One day, one single innocuous spring day Yuuri’s life changed forever. He let Yuuko, Takeshi and Minako-Sensi cajole him into a pair of skates. He let them talk him onto the rink and into take his first step. 

Oh it was wonderful, he felt like he was flying. It was better than even ballet! It was so peaceful! Or as least it was, until the fall. In those first few months, even with his ballet experience, Yuuri fell a lot; he made a complete and utter fool of himself, staggering around the rink with his hands outstretched, palms reaching like a beggar. But he got better. Much better.

. . . 

And when the kids at school found out this time, he was prepared. Yuuri had his idol to look up to, and his previous experience to guide him. He had his friends, family and Minako-Sensi. This time Yuuri was ready. 

As the years passed and Yuuri grew older this pattern didn’t really change. Yuuri would learn something new, and put all his effort into it. He often looked foolish but by that point he didn’t really care. For him foolishness was just another way of learning, just another way of life. His way of life to be precise.

There was only one area where he could not make a fool of himself; Ice-skating competitions. Whenever he looked as that foreign ice he just froze up. Ice-skating was all about poise and attitude, yes some of it was the skating but a lot of it was the sponsor, and sponsors wanted perfect. Yuuri was nowhere near their definitions of perfect.

Slowly Yuuri’s attitude towards skating began to change, it was no longer somewhere he could fool around, but a place to practice perfection. He should’ve known by then that perfection is impossible.

Ballet became his refuge, his place to hide and express himself. There were no expectations at Minako-Sensi’s studio, just him and the music. Sometimes Minako would even join in, and they would compose dances to childish Ghibli songs. It was wonderful.

Then skating began to overtake ballet too. It was all ‘practice this spin so your y-spiral is perfect,’ and ‘Jump higher Yuuri, you need to build up your leg strength.” Yuuri had no refuge anymore.

So it wasn’t a hard decision when he left for America. He needed a new pace, a new way of life. 

. . . 

America, especially Phichit helped him regain some of his old ‘foolishness’ as they played tag around the rink, and tried their hand at pair skating once or twice. His love for ballet was rekindled as they danced together to The King and The Skater, sheets draped around them like gowns.

And then the Grand Prix Final happened. And then Yuuri fell again. His fool’s nature abandoned him for what seemed like forever. Ballet and skating became a chore again, and America became a place of disappointment and lost dreams.

. . . 

Yuuri retreated back to Japan; tail between legs, ready to call it quits. Minako-Sensi cheered him up a bit, but he was in such a big slump that it was no use. His foolishness took over and he decided to have one last hurrah. To skate the Viktor Nikiforov’s Stay Close to Me

And so, on another innocuous spring day Yuuri’s life changed for the better. Viktor’s happy-go-lucky attitude brought the fun in Yuuri even more than Phichit’s carefree selfies did. 

While competitions still plagued him, the ice itself, and the Barre, welcomed Yuuri back as old friends did. He remembered how wonderful those first few steps were; he remembered the fall and what came after. Yuuri remembered that becoming a fool was the best thing that ever happened to him. 

After all, learning was much more enjoyable when you didn’t care about others opinions of you. 


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2017 SMASH! FanFiction Competition


Great news for all writers of FanFiction: The 2017 SMASH! Fanfiction Competition is now open!


Come and join in the fun of SMASH! by participating in our FanFiction competition. Have fun twisting the canon or possibly disregarding it entirely. This competition is open to anyone of any age and any skill level - you don’t have to be a professional author to become a FanFiction writer!


All participants will receive detailed feedback for their entries from experienced writers!


To be in on the action write a ficlet (<1000 words) or a short story (1001-7500 words) inspired by one of the prompts below. A winner will be announced in both categories - Prizes are to be announced!

Never heard of FanFiction?

Are you someone who wonders “what if?” when you think about your favourite anime? Do you read manga and think “if only the creators had changed this…”?


Why not try writing your own version of your favourite story by rewriting the ending of an episode or forcing two manga characters into an unusual situation? The possibilities are endless in the world of FanFiction!




Please use one of the following prompts:

  1. The future rewards those who press on. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to complain. I'm going to press on.
    - Barack Obama

  2. “Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!”
    - J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

  3. A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.
    - George Bernard Shaw, Advice to a Young Critic

  4. Terror made me cruel.
    - Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

  5. Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.
    - Haruki Murakami


FanFiction Competition Guidelines


  1. Who can enter?

    1. The competition is open to both Australian and International participants.

    2. SMASH! Staff and Volunteers can submit entries for judging. Unfortunately, these will not be eligible for prizes

  2. Entries must be submitted in English.

  3. Entries must be submitted to by 11:59PM (AEST) on Friday the 18th of August 2017

  4. All entries must be entirely the author(s) own work.

  5. Fanfics must have a maximum rating of “PG”, as defined in the guidelines set by the Australian Classification Board. Entries that are considered to be rated above “PG” will not be eligible for judging.

  6. Entries must incorporate one or more anime, manga or Japanese game fandoms’ characters and/or story. Crossovers of Japanese fandoms with non-Japanese fandoms are permitted.

  7. Authors may submit a maximum of 3 entries.

    1. If an entry is a collaborative effort between two or more authors, it will be considered as one entry for each author.

    2. Authors must fill out a submission form for each entry entered in the competition.

  8. Categories for submission of entries are:

    1. Ficlet 500-1000 words

    2. Short Story 1001-7500 words

In the event that a category does not have enough submissions, that category will be removed.

  1. Stories that are less than the minimum ficlet word limit or more than the maximum short story word limit may be penalised by the judges if they are excessively outside the word limit.

  2. Prompts information:

    1. Author(s) must use one of the prompts supplied to inspire their story.

    2. Author(s) must only list one of the prompts on the submission form. The prompt listed by the author will be used for judging purposes. If the story was inspired by more than one prompt the author should list the prompt that is most relatable to their story.

  3. Authors will need to provide a short summary of their story for the general audience and for judging purposes. The fanfic summary should be no more than 50 words and is not included in the word count for the entry submitted.

  4. Entries will be anonymous for judging purposes, so stories submitted to the competition should not be put up on other websites before the competition results are announced.

  5. It is a condition of entry that all eligible entries will be displayed on the SMASH! Fanfic Competition Archive ( for judging purposes.

  6. Entries can incorporate any pairing dynamics (gen, het, boys love and girls love) as long as the content of the fanfic remains PG.

  7. SMASH! reserves the right to disqualify entries that do not comply with these rules. SMASH! takes no responsibility for the entrant's use of copyrighted material.


Submission Guidelines

  1. Entries should be submitted by email to:

  2. Formating:

    1. Entries should be submitted as .txt .doc or .docx

    2. A dreamwidth html formatted document is preferred, but we will accept non-html entries. See dreamwidth tags for a list of html tags that you can use. For example: <b>Example</b>  <u>Example </u>  <i>Example</i>

    3. Entries that are not html formatted documents should have simple formatting so that conversion to html by our coordinator is a quick and simple process.

  3. All entries will be made anonymous for judging purposes so elaborate formatting and references to the author will be removed.

  4. Authors must use the following submission form when submitting each entry to the competition:


Personal Details

  • Name:

  • Penname/Alias:

  • Email address:

  • Location: (Country)   

  • Phone no.:

  • Current fanfic archive: (please supply link, e.g.


Entry Details

  • Title:

  • Rating: i.e. G or PG

  • Prompt:

  • Fandom/Series:

  • Word Count:

  • Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).

  • Summary:




  1. Each entry will be displayed to the general public on Online voting forms will be available to the general public. Voting for entries will be based on the following criteria:

    1. Characterisation

    2. Creativity

    3. How well the prompt is used.

  2. Authors are encouraged to promote the competition and judging by the public audience on the provision that they do not reveal which entry or entries they submitted.

  3. Each entry will also be evaluated by the panel of judges on the following criteria:

    1. How well the prompt is used

    2. Quality of fanfic summary.

    3. Quality of writing

    4. Creativity

    5. Characterisation

    6. Overall Impression

  4. The Judging Panel will provide feedback for each entry.

  5. Winners will be determined by a combination of the results from the general public and the judges. The winners will be announced at the closing ceremony of SMASH! and entrants contacted shortly after the event.



  1. A prize will be awarded to the author(s) of the winning entry of the ficlet category and the short story category.

  2. If winners have not replied within a month after the event their prize will be forfeit.


Note: The prizes for this competition are to be decided.

If you have any questions about the guidelines or anything about the competition in general, feel free to send us an email at


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This year we received a lot of amazing entries, and would like to congratulate Belinda on her entry entitled "Nothing Is Illuminated."

Our Runner-Ups for this year:
BIT Necromancer with "Reality vs. Humanity."

Also getting a special Judge's Commendation is Jonathan, with the entry "N.O.A.H."

All these entries may be read by clicking the hyperlink on the entry names, or scrolling through the previous posts.

We would like to encourage everyone who entered this year to keep writing, and enter again next year!

Happy Writing Everyone!
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- By Daniel Wilson
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- By Jonathan

Nothing in the galaxy is more important to Cyrus than his younger sister; so when every doctor tells him that only a miracle can cure her sickness, he intends to find just that.  His sister’s salvation lies within N.O.A.H., a mythical spacefaring city ruled by the “Chronotaker” who has the ability to re-forge the galaxy.  With the illness rapidly taking its toll on his sister, Cyrus only has three short weeks to find his answer, but will he be able to pay the price required to purchase a miracle?
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 Nothing Is Illuminated 
- By Belinda Tomov
Cyrus and Skadi haven't done anything wrong. 
(Except for that whole business is Sector 12 with the underground mecha battles and the grand theft auto. That had been a slight misjudgement on their part.)
And it's hardly their fault when Sector 16 is overrun by the results of the Biolab's Preservation Initiative over in 15. Soon the place is swarming with the gas masks that define the Janitor Collective, and the independent contractors being hired by the government to contain and clean up the mess. It's hampering their auto repair business, and dashed inconvenient to boot. Cyrus is miffed, but Skadi soon sees an opportunity to find out what lies beyond Gate 15, all while testing out the equipment they absconded with from Sector 12 and doing it with the government's dime. 
What follows is a rollicking adventure involving pachinko parlours, technomancy, the mayor's Shadow Cabinet, the Central Symphonic Orchestra, and the trouble that comes with poking your nose into someone else's business as you chase after your next, elusive paycheque. 
For Cyrus and Skadi, it's simply their next endeavour in the backlanes of Neon City. 
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Thank you to everyone who entered the 2016 SMASH! FanFiction Competition, and congratulations to the winners and runner-ups for this year! 

*Ficlet Entries*
Requiem (Your Lie in April/Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso) WINNER!! (91/105)
Scarlet Eyes (Hunter x Hunter) Judges' Choice 
Good For Nothing (Bungou Stray Dogs) (76/105)
A Warlock and his Witch (Code;Geass) (79/105)
Words Only I Could Hear (Koi No Katachi) (82/105)
Goodbye Cards Hello New Zealand (Yugioh) (59/105)
The Adventures of Pokemon and Flufferknuckle (Pokemon) (50/105)
Choose Me! (Hunter x Hunter) (70.5/105)
Of Island Winds (Danganronpa) (74/105)

*Short Story Entries*
and i will never want much more (NO.6) WINNER!! 
Never Accept Your Demons (Seraph of the End/Owari no Seraph) Runner-Up 
Dating (the hard way) (Kuroko no Basuke) Runner-Up 
Love Novels (Love Live!) (84/105)
Interview With A Human Sacrifice (Fullmetal Alchemist) (91/105)
Friend (Hunter x Hunter) (73.5/105)
Dead Speak (Death Note) (76/105)
I've Loved You For A Thousand Years (I'll Love You For A Thousand More) (Bungou Stray Dogs) (87.5/105)
Code Geass: Penultimate Contract (Code;Geass) (75/105)
Love Live! X Pokémon: Pokémon Trainer Project (Love Live!/Pokemon) (78.5/105)
Wings of Freedom (Shingeki no Kyojin) (76/105)
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Title: Words Only I Could Hear
Rating: G
Prompt: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Maya Angelou
Fandom/Series: Koi no Katachi
Word Count: 840
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: I am deaf. I cannot speak and I cannot hear. For a long time, I drowned in a sea of silence until someone heard my voice. And I heard theirs.

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Title: Dead Speak
Rating: G
Prompt: "Inhale the future. Exhale the past." - Unknown
Fandom/Series: Death Note
Word count: 1801
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Near visits an old friend and as he speaks, remembers events of the past and wonders, how could the future turn out and would it ever be the same without the one he holds dear? "I miss you."

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Title: The Adventures of Pokemon and Flufferknuckle
Rating: PG
Prompt: I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou
Fandom/Series: Pokemon
Word Count: 231
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Flufferknuckle and Pokemon meet Santa.
            Read more... )
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Title: Goodbye Cards Hello New Zealand
Rating: G
Prompt: Inhale the future. Exhale the past. – Unknown
Fandom/Series: Yugioh
Word Count: 387
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: A person wakes up in New Zealand without their cards.

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Title: Friend
Rating: PG
Prompt: You cannot change what you refuse to confront. – Unknown
Fandom/Series: Hunter x Hunter
Word Count: 5307
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Mikan’s world is turned upside-down after it is discovered she possesses scarlet eyes. However after the tragedy she soon meets Kurapika who accepts her and who she is able to call a friend.

Read more... )
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Title: Scarlet Eyes
Rating: PG
Prompt: Inhale the future. Exhale the past. – Unknown
Fandom/Series: Hunter x Hunter
Word Count: 540
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: The existence of scarlet eyes from Kurapika’s perspective.

Read more... )
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Title: Choose Me!
Rating: G
Prompt: They did not know it was impossible, so they did it. – Mark Twain
Fandom/Series: Hunter x Hunter
Word Count: 682
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Leorio and Kuroro are fighting over who would be a better date for Kurapika.

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Title: I've Loved You For A Thousand Years (I'll Love You For A Thousand More)
Rating: PG
Prompt: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -Maya Angelou
Fandom: Bungou Stray Dogs
Word Count: 2668
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original author(s).
Summary: Three lifetimes ago, Dazai Osamu and Chuuya Nakahara met for the first time. Three lifetimes ago, they fell in love.
Now, Chuuya doesn't remember a thing.
(But that's alright, Dazai supposes. Because if he keeps loving Chuuya, someday Chuuya will remember.)


Read more... )
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Title: ‘Code Geass: Penultimate Contract’
Rating: PG
Prompt: ‘Inhale the future. Exhale the past.’ – Unknown
Fandom: Code;Geass
Word Count: 1349
Disclaimer: I do not, in any way, profit from the story and all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator(s).
Summary: Ai, an ‘Eleven’ in occupied Japan, struggles to please her ungrateful master. She reunites with Rolo and sparks something anew in him before his final contract with ‘big brother’ Lelouch…



Read more... )


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