Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Phoe
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Bella comes to a sudden stop in front of Redana, so stiff and so sudden that there's no avoiding a collision. The Princess bounces off her back, and only doesn't fall backwards because Bella spins around and catches her by the wrist. Her grip is crushing. Her fingers are turned carefully toward the ceiling to keep her claws away from Redana's skin.

"Would you. Just. Shut. The fuck. Up?"

She squeezes harder as she lifts Redana fully back onto her feet, and then off of them again to hold her up in the air. At eye level, for once. Her Auspex glares bitter red into Redana's. Her cat's eye shimmers with light fierce enough to match them both. Her iris trembles. Her bared teeth glint inside her mouth, and her tail whips hard enough behind her to crush stone.

"You don't fucking... what the fuck even makes you think you're in charge anymore? Because you're royalty? Go suck a wolf off, Your Highness, if there is a single gods forsaken person on this ship who is NOT making that crossing, it's you. After all this time, you... you really think that... ghhhhk! Rrrrragh!"

Their violent dance carries the pair of them to the far wall, where Bella slams Redana against a mural hard enough to leave cracks. Their faces are touching, now. Eye to eye. Matching breath for breath. The smell of it washing over each of them in turn. Bella's blood smears on Redana's skin, but she's too far gone to care. Her lips part. Her eyes shut. Her head tilts. Her mouth draws closer, and closer, and closer to Redana's.

And at the last instant, she pulls away. Drops Redana to the floor and spins away, striking her in the face with an angry tail. She makes it a full dozen paces away before coming to a sudden stop again. She stands there stiffly, statue like if not for the severe, trembling effort of her own breathing.

"You moron. You really think stuffing me in a closet again is going to make things better? Fuck off. It's your turn this time. You stay behind. You worry what might be happening. You find out what it feels like to look up at the sky and know somebody's forgotten all about you. I don't...

I don't get you, Redana. Do you love me or hate me? You never fucking leave me alone, but every time we're together all you do is try to get rid of me. Which is it? Which one is the real you? The one who won't stop fluttering her eyelashes at me, or the one who kicks me in the stomach before she runs away? Are you the girl who took naps with me in the garden, or the one who couldn't stand the idea of my touch after wrestling? Are any of them real? Or are they just... masks that you wear when it's convenient? Because I don't know. I don't know a single fucking thing about you. Fuck off."
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Dany stands up. She brushes herself down, tugs on her shirt. Her heart is hollow; her stomach is plummeting through the decks of the Plousios until it comes to rest in the swirling colors of her uncle’s waves.

Bella is standing so stiff. You could use her to build a bulwark, a pillar, a wall. Part of the ship, constantly staring out, never looking back at anyone. At Dany.

You fucked up, princess.

There’s so many things you could say. You could try to explain. Tell her that you don’t hate her. That she confuses you. That you are terrified of how you keep hurting her. That you wanted to tear the galaxy apart when you thought she was dead. How sorry you are for kissing her without permission. How you can’t drag her through the fucking grey forever of the Lethe, which scares you so fucking much, thoughts drifting away until your head’s empty, and then, impossibly, your limbs and body drifting away until it’s only your head bobbing on the waves, like Orpheus still singing, when you imagine it, when you feel the scream of it building up inside of you. How you want to keep her safe. How sorry you are about the closet. How sorry you are for locking her in the dark. How sorry you are that you can’t turn back around and go home.

You reach out to her back. Your fingers rebel and curl back again against your palm. Your tongue is cleft to the top of your mouth. Why is something cleft when it’s together and when it’s separated? Why are you cleft?

Beljani is watching. You glance over at her. Your eyes sting hot. Why is that worse? Why is it worse when she’s watching, and not saying anything, and it hurts, it hurts that someone has to see this. Someone else. Someone here to judge you. Someone who knows how you’ve failed.

What about you, Bella? Do you care about me or do you hate me? The thought digs its claws into you, too. Is it just old servitor chains in your head that stop you from tearing me open? You chased me so far, you didn’t kill me, you broke open out of those awful bones and I held you and we stopped Sagakhan and you ran away after I thought you were dead, I thought you died, I’ve had to live with that more than once, and it tears me up, my heart, my liver, my veins, my brain, my bones—

That’s what you think.

Your eyes are angry hot. The Auspex won’t let you look away, though. It never does. It tells you how Bella shifts, how she shakes, how she digs her claws—

And you move.

Dany moves.

She catches Bella’s hand.

Pries her fingers open.

The slick fingers.

“Don’t,” Dany sobs.

That’s all she can say.

Don’t hurt yourself.


Not because of me. Not because of Mynx. Not because of anybody.

Don’t don’t don’t don’t please don’t.

Another order.

Is that all you know how to do, Dany?


You’re holding her hand. Isn’t this what you wanted? Your heart throbs with the terror, the tension, the scream of fucking up and the need for her to stop hurting herself. But what if it’s you, Redana? What if being around you (fake, pretender, nothing) is what hurts her? What if she needs to be free with Beautiful, who can use that mind of hers in ways that Dany can’t and never could—



She can find anybody.

“She, she can find anybody. All we have to do is tell her. All—“


“…I’m going to ask her to help,” Dany says, awkwardly pulling her fingers free. There’s still blood on them. “You… I’d like it if you came. You know her better than I do. I just.”

Stop talking.

Redana clenches her (hot. wet.) fingers into a fist and does the most awkward stupid little bow, like she’s in the presence of royalty, and then she turns on her heel and starts walking before she can explode and she’s not going to turn around, because that would be ruining the whole point that Bella can choose, and Beljani is watching, and how would that look, seeing if she’s going to chase after like a, like a pet, and—

Dany looks back anyway, because she’s not strong enough, and she can’t bear not knowing. She has to see. Just like Orpheus. Her face is pathetically hopeful. Vulnerable.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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There is a rustling on Hestia’s lap, where her loose, oversized hoodie spills into an ocean of haphazard folds. Nestled deep within, a lion stirs. Its plush, fuzzy mane frames a lump of white wool, and its baggy limbs end in hand-stitched pawprint mittens; currently unoccupied, that he might better handle a spoon. “Yes,” Dolce replies, and the lion’s ears flop to and fro as he nods. “Yes, I heard everything.”

He takes his time, scooping up another bite. The ideal spoonful, with just the right ratios of each topping, and not so much sauce that they’re drowned out, takes a careful, practiced hand. He doesn’t get it on the first try, but you can’t rush these sorts of things. A good meal, you take the time to savor how you like. And he won’t continue, not until he’s remembered the sweetness and crunch anew.

“Do you remember the send-off the Starsong gave us?” Long ago, before they’d taken one step of this journey? “The party lasted three days. All that time, singing without end. We took it up on the ship’s drum, and we carried it with us to the banquet halls, the parks, the contests of strength, and always I could hear somebody, somewhere, singing. A farewell-song, for good friends.”

“We knew that nobody would be coming with us, and they knew we’d be going on alone. Some people said their goodbyes, and never mentioned if they’d ever see us again. Everyone who did bring it up, talked like it was a foregone conclusion. Four…maybe five, I think? Five told us that they’d see us again, alive.”

There’s no room under his hood for a hat. It lies discarded. Across the room. On another island entirely.

“Because that was the worst that could happen. We’d fail, and die, somewhere far, far away, and they’d have to decide when to stop waiting for us. I imagined they’d give us a Starsong burial all the same, to remember us by.”

He doesn’t have a hand free to man the spoon anymore. He needs them both, to hug his little bowl close. To feel it press into his chest as it rises, and falls, in deep breaths. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

“I might see them again. Years later, after we’ve made our wishes, and changed the galaxy, and beaten every odd that ever existed, and. And I wouldn’t know a thing about them. Or, the Starsong, or goodbyes, or, anything. We might not.” His voice crumbles to dust. “We might not even get along well enough to try again.”

In the heat of the kitchens, in the lap of the goddess of the hearth, wrapped snug thrice over, Dolce shivers.

”...gods above and below.”
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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"I remember it."

That had been a bad three days.

Three full days of feasting, of singing, of rejoicing. Of watching friend after friend stream past to clap Vasily and Dolce on the back, and talk about how much they'd miss them. Over and over again, the same words, the same thought, expressed a hundred different ways.

You're already dead. You're already dead, and you just haven't found out yet. I'll miss you. I'll sing your song. I'll put flowers on your grave and mourn for you, and try not to think about this being the last time we talk.

Three days of following Dany through the best wake the Starsong could throw, hearing those words, and knowing that nothing could change her fate. Knowing that all three of them had had options, could choose at any point to leave, to live, to surprise everyone by coming back. Knowing she couidn't. Knowing if she died out here, it would be somebody else's choice for somebody else's story.

Three days of knowing that she'd never see a sendoff like this, just for her. Who could come? Who would care?

She shudders, and takes another bite of creamy sweetness.

"Dolce, I."

Maybe two. It's bracing. Keeps her mouth shut.

"… I'm scared, Dolce."

Somehow, it's worse to have the words said. To have that hang over the conversation.

"Aren't you terrified? Terrified of what it means to cross the Lethe? You go in, but who's going to come out? What's going to happen to Dolce, the Starsong? Even if we make it to the end of the universe and get your wishes, who's going to come back?"
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Phoe
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"Hey woah woah woah, hold up hold up!"

Bella is silent and unmoving. She is staring at her hands where Redana touched her, and can't look away even for a wish from a god. The intensity in her eyes carves lines into her face, and she makes no indication that she even heard the voice that suddenly echoes through the hallway. It certainly doesn't belong to her. She wipes her bloody palms on the hem of her dress as carefully as if she was braiding her princess' hair.

"I said hold up!" Beljani says, "Don't you go running away just yet, Princess!"

She's spitting sparks. Beljani half-jog, half-stalks her way up from behind Bella, taking a second to squeeze her sister's shoulders as she passes. She doesn't puff or gasp for air, she's in much too good of shape for that now. But even so, her breaths are loud and greedy. She needs them to shout. She is confident, and aggrieved, in the way of someone who has finally managed to express herself a single time and now is much too certain she has mastered the art completely.

"You said you had how many bodyguards? Excuse me?? One? Two?! Put some gosh darned respect on my name, Your Highness!"

She gets squeakier the closer she gets. Her arms wave above her head for want of something to do with all the energy surging through her body, as genuine hurt, bratty indulgence, and clever insight play across her face in almost exactly equal measure. She doesn't seem to trust her hands enough to actually grab hold of Redana, but she's got confidence to spare to cut in front of her and bar her way, at least for a moment.

"You really have no idea, do you? How dangerous a life you've been living? Just Mynx! Just Bella! Oh Artemis, save me from sillyheads! Listen here you little dummy, you can't throw a rock on Tellus without hitting someone who wants you dead! Oh, uh, not because you did anything wrong, understand? It's your mom. Erm, your mother. Her Most Regal Imperial Majesty Nero. Put as many pretty smiles as you want on it, give out all the sweet treats you can find, but how many people have you found on your adventure who love their jailor?

I'll give you a hint in case you didn't run into any, I honestly have no idea what you've been up to. But... yeah. Take a look at what happened to Mother. Mine, and Mynx's, and Bella's. Beautiful's. Sa... nnno I can't say it out loud. I thought writing it was gonna kill me. Sorry, I-- but you know who I mean! Didn't work out for her so hot, did it? And she was way better at, erm, I mean, she had a lot fewer people to control than Nero!"

Embarrassment starts to creep into her voice and her posture. Beljani self rubs her arm in a self conscious way, and looks back toward where Bella is standing, as if salvation could be found inside her sister. But all she does is stroke the palms of her hands with her fingertips until they finally stop coming away red. Beljani sighs.

"The... the point is, pretty much anybody you can name has you on their kill or kidnap list. Are you kidding me? Nero's 'pwecious widdle baby?' Honey, she couldn't buy you enough guards if she tried. And she did! I mean like, did you think the Temple was gonna waste rookies like us on the tiny handful of missions that took anybody off planet? Ok yes Beautiful did plenty, but she's the exception. The rest of us were glued to you! Who do you think kept you safe when Bella was too busy crying about being such a disaster that she couldn't show you her painting or whatever it was? Me! Who kept you safe when she and Mynx knocked each other out in training? Me!! Who... look, I don't wanna go on about this all day[1] but I saved your glorious little behind at least three times that I can count! I worked overtime for you! I got out of bed for you! And I'm not in love with you like Bella is! We're not even friends! I should get a fuh- a ffffffreaking medal for all I've done! And what do I get instead? 'oH, I DiDn'T KnoW I hAD mOrE tHaN oNE bOdYGuArD!' Bah! So if you're gonna... if you're gonna just run away the least you could do is apologize first! Sheesh!"


"Gah! Moonlight and oaths, Bella, when did you-- don't do that! Warn a girl when you're gonna un-coma, please!"

"...I know what you're trying to do."

"What I'm trying to? O-oh yeah? Well what am I trying to do then, Miss Smartypants?"

"It's not going to work. Let's just follow. We've wasted too much time as it is."

"Bella? S-sister, you're... giving up? That's not, no! That's not like you! Just look at how far you've--"

"I asked her. To her face. And all she said to me is that she wanted to talk to Beautiful. I don't know when they would have met, but... I have my answer."


"Enough. I don't care. If they're safe, that's plenty. It's more than I deserve."

[1]The single most obvious and bald-faced lie in the history of Empire
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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Oh Alexa. Brave, true Alexa. You never had time to beat about the bush, did you? Here he is, hardly willing to let the thing into his sight, and now you’ve gone and named it. Don’t the stories say, be careful, oh so careful with names? For by calling a name…

“Yes. I’m scared too.”

…you bring its owner.

“I don’t want to forget everyone. I don’t want to forget who I am. I don’t…” Ah. But that one’s too horrible to say, isn’t it? That one day, he might wake up, and for the first time in years feel the band of gold squeezing ‘round his finger. He might pick up a spoon, and frown, when his grip presses it uncomfortably against his hand. Perhaps he’d remove it, just for a little while. Would he remember to put it back on again?


Not here. Not even here, shielded by the nicest of company. He can’t name it. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. “Because, we can’t know, right? We don’t know what we’ll lose. Not until we cross, but, then, it’s too late. How are we supposed to remember what we’ve forgotten? What we used to be? We’d be alive, and, ordinarily, I’d think that was cause for hope, but who’s to say we’d ever be able to get any of it back?”

“What if…what if we only remember enough to know that we had something more, once?”

“What if one of us doesn't forget?”

The more he circles the terror, the wider an arc his thoughts must run, and the more foreign the land beneath him. Morbid, horrified curiosity drags him ever onward, holding him by the neck. Step by step by step. All around the great monster at the end of the galaxy.

“I…you, you deserve better than that, Alexa. I don’t know if I’d wish that on anybody. Ever. It’s not. It’s horrible.”

And that’s as far as his hooves will take him. Right up to the border, where he might speak what’s in his heart. But no further. A good sheep minds his friends. A good sheep wouldn’t be so greedy as to speak his own name in a wish.
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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There is an art to hearing words that can't be spoken.

Build out from the edges of the jigsaw. Gather the brightly colored bits. Piece them together. Match it against your friend and ask yourself, what's missing from this picture? Where have pieces, too painful to imagine, been removed from the picture? What's the gaping hole in the foreground? What words are too awful to say, even in the privacy of your own head?

What if I forget her?

What if she forgets me?

What if this time it's different?

What if one of us remembers and the other doesn't? You know those eyes, you've stared in them for years, seen the love burn in them, seen the pain, been their rock, been their everything, you know everything about them--and they don't even know your name. What happens when you look at someone--half of yourself, half of who you are, the one who knows you better than you know yourself--and see a stranger looking back?

How do you go on?

Sweet brave Dolce. Who could fault you when you have so much more to lose than just who you are?

But what can she say, when even he cannot approach the thought? She cannot, will not say it for you--will not force that upon you, will not harm you with that thought.

But what can she say that will ease the pain at all?

"I. I do not wish to forget who I am, Dolce. Or even who I was. I have learned so much and…"

Her voice chokes itself to death on the words.

Who will she be, when all that she has learned is wiped away?

An idea sparks against another, and Alexa stands from the table. Where did--somewhere behind the spices. Between the ras al hanout and red chili--a small red folio, labeled Recipes.

A lifetime's worth of experience. Snatches of memory, scratched down and recorded to be shared later. Something that--she clutches the book to herself, and shudders--will soon be a stranger's. Someone else will have written down the interesting things to be done with apples, and the many uses for eggs. Someone else, someone different, will read the book and know nothing about what the ideas mean. There won't be names or faces, just a list of ingredients and cook times.

"It is no substitute for who we are," she admits, pressing the book into bear-mitten'd paws. "But we could… Could write…?"

Gods' tits, what a stupid idea. Dear Alexa, I like you, and want you to know why and how. Dear Alexa, I hope you don't go back to who you were before. Dear Alexa, all written down, as if whoever she is will understand.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Bella’s back is its own sort of wall. You got your wish, Dany. She followed. Now it’s your turn to follow her down the shining streets like a little lost puppy, chewing on what she said, trying to make it make sense.

“I’m sorry,” she said. To Beljani, next to her, moving at the same pace. (Slower than Dany usually goes. The Princess’s feet aren’t quite certain about what they’re doing.) “I just… I didn’t see you around. Much. There’s a lot I didn’t know, and not just about…”

She stares at the blue-black hair. The gentle sway. The furious prowl.

“…I couldn’t keep any of the assassin schools straight. Not their names, not what they could, can do, because I thought I didn’t know any. Mynx was just Mynx. Bella…”

An ear twitches. Maybe she’s listening. Maybe not. Could she, so far away?

“It’s like they’re two different people who are the same person. Bella, my best friend. Bella, the assassin who chased me down. And if she doesn’t know who I am, I guess it’s mutual, because— does she think I like Beautiful? I thought she, because of what happened, and Beautiful thought she liked me, which is ridiculous, because… because she hates me. Or hated me. Or doesn’t know if she hates me. If she doesn’t like Beautiful that way then why does she keep running away? Why does she keep pushing me—“

Dany stops. She walks in silence. Beljani stares at her extremely loudly. Somewhere, an Alcedi calls down a corridor, high and clear.

“Do you think she is ever going to forgive me?” Her voice is very small. Childish, even. “I keep trying. And no matter how I try, it hurts her worse, and— I thought she’d want to stay with Beautiful. Because she has feelings for her. But she thinks I’m the one, and, I don’t, I just…”

Beljani, awkwardly, offers Dany an embroidered lace kerchief (disposable). Dany wipes her eyes aggressively. Bella doesn’t turn around. But she slows down. Just a little bit.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Phoe
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"You're asking...? Uhhhhh, hmm. It's? Probably fine? Is that what you?"

Beljani has no idea what to do with her hands. Is she allowed to touch a princess? Is that a sin? Is that something you do when you comfort people? Maybe a shoulder pat or a... oh no, no no no, she doesn't know this girl well enough for a hug! What is she thinking? Gods, this is so not fair. This is, like, you could not have made her live a life that would have left her less prepared to handle the whole 'comfort and support' thing. She didn't even have her letter writer with her!

What a... man. This would be so much easier if she just spread into Redana. You know, a little. To give her a nudge. But that's... bad. That's a bad thing to do. It is bad to infect the girl your sister has been openly pining for with your pheromones right in front of her. Behind her. Whatever! She attempts the next best thing which is... reaching out and shaking Redana's hand? Ugh, kill her now, please. No wait, no no, don't!

Cringe. Cringe, cringe, cringe. Beljani sighs.

"Ok, can I be honest? I don't really know a lot about how the temples work, either. You know, when we were- when Bella, and Mynx, and Beautiful and I were kids, there were... more of us, right? We had teachers, almost. But then they got marched off on some sort of mission and just never came home again and it. Uh. It was just us. And Mother. And, you know, she's got that whole garden philosophy thing going on and, let me just say, understanding the ins and outs of how we actually work? Not a priority for her. Wasted education. Gotta... trim those leaves, so they only grow in the 'proper' direction."

She shudders, in spite of herself. Come on, 'Jani. Mother's gone now, you even found your in with Bella. You are supposed to be becoming the universe's coolest wingman right now, why are you getting flustered by the memory of someone who's out of your life forever? Because she was in your life forever, duh. Ugh, why was it so hard to know what to say? If they were going to call her an 'Oratus' couldn't they at least have taught her some basic public speaking skills?

She pinches her cheek. Not hard, mind you. Nothing about her life since Sahar has made her fall in love with pain. Just... a little thing. To remind herself that it's there. That she's there. And who all in this big empty stupid hallway she had to thank for that.

"Do I think Bella will ever forgive you? Dunno if that's even relevant. You're not... you're not the one she's having problems forgiving. If you think it sounds bad being a bioweapon just imagine being her. Nobody even told her what she was until it was too late to do anything with that information. I don't know if Mother erased it or just disguised it all or what, but she put a lot of work into Bella that she didn't bother with for the rest of us. But that kind of effort comes with... expectations."

A sigh. This feels like the sixth best version of an explanation that seemed to be taking her all day to give while still leaving out two thirds of the best or most useful information. But she couldn't stop talking. As stupid as the words were, there wasn't anybody else around to save them. And honestly, gods be damned? If she was committed to plunging through a bathtub full of Beautiful's forgetfulness potion and turning into goo on the other side? She'd at least walk into that last goodnight knowing her tongue had accomplished one good deed in the galaxy. Her tongue. Not her virus. Her.

"If you think Bella sounds like two people to you, I think... we all agree. I don't know how many people Bella thinks she is, or thinks she has to be I guess, to keep everything going, I just know she expects every single one of them to be flawless at all times. It's not a great way to be. I mean, I wasn't there but, I... heard. That she killed Mynx on the battlefield, while she was Trēdecima. Or at least, she tried to. And that'd be bad enough, but she did it thinking it was you the whole time. That's a lot, right? You think so too, right?

Just... I don't know. All I can really tell you is that Bella and I are family. We both agreed and that makes it true and I dare you to tell me otherwise. So I'm... I'm with her, until I can't follow her any further. And she's with me, until we run into the same wall. And we were, honestly, horrible people to each other before this, so... no. I don't, I don't know.

She... just. The way she chased after you. The way she dragged the rest of us into it. It was not just a job to her, even though jobs are basically supposed to be all she has. I don't know what to tell you, Princess. I just don't. I feel like... I mean, well, I wrote her a really nice letter, that seemed to work pretty nice. You want me to hook you up? Might as well, right? Not like we've got time to hesitate anymore, right right?"

Beljani does her best to smile bravely. She definitely succeeds at smiling, but whatever kind of smile it is she is much too nervous to figure it out for herself.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by TheAmishPirate
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It’s not one of his. The pages aren’t all the same size, or even the same color. Who knows where they may have been plucked from? A few have been dog-eared, and must now be creased beyond repair. And now that he’s holding it, he can’t say that the cover feels all that familiar either. Stiff material. Good for a book well-loved. Or, one that would be well-loved. Or, one that might have to endure a bit of abuse, and come through alright.

Impossible to miss a signature like that, really.

His arms wrap around the precious book, all the way around, hugging her hand to his chest too. It takes a careful wriggle, but he pulls one arm free, and with it, the cookbook. He sets it on the counter, safe from any accidental bumps or spills, and returns to the careful work of holding her. The mighty hand of Alexa turns over, flipped by irresistible nudges, that he might raise it high and gently bonk his forehead against it.

“I wish it could be that simple. But we may not even remember that we’ve forgotten anything at all.” He sighs. “Suppose we lost our ability to write, too. We’d learn again, and our handwriting would change, and our written voice would change, and we’d never recognize a note to ourselves, not in a hundred years. Or suppose we lose all language entirely. We learn from those on the other side of the Rift, but their words have grown differently than ours, and we never are able to figure out what our own letters mean to us again.”

His fingers idly stroke hers, and he needs all of them to do the task properly. Tracing patterns through the worn metal, working out little bits of grit and shooing them away. Sit still, Alexa. He’s working on you. You wouldn’t interrupt a helpful sheep in the middle of his task, would you? Of course not. Sit. Stay. It’s alright.

“It’s in all the stories, right?” A smile, holding up an entire sky of despair. “It never ends well when someone tries to get more clever than the gods. We’d either need a god to take our case themselves, or-”

His brows furrow. His fingers halt, just for a moment.

“...or Aphrodite would have to willingly allow enough of us through to. To. Still be ourselves, afterwards.”

It was his Rift, after all. His work. That no other god could undo or interfere with. Didn’t it stand to reason, then, that he would decide what might stay, and what would be lost in the crossing?
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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Beljani’s hand is soft. It’s soft, and good, and weirdly steadying. Which helps. A little.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who didn’t know what she was, and she lived in a house in the center of the universe. And someone very important thought that this girl would be a weapon, the blade of a sword, to be used and to be broken. And someone very young thought that this girl was a best friend, and nothing could change that.

Bella stalks alone down a road of stars, winding along. She looks incredibly alone, too. But she’s not. She won’t be. She’s got Beljani and Beautiful and… and she gets to decide what to do with her life. That’s the biggest and best gift that she can be given. No matter how hard the little girl in Redena’s heart is making grabby hands for her oldest, dearest, bestest friend. The kitten who made the world safe and kind and make sense.

And then this girl grew up, and the young girl abandoned her, and the important woman turned her into something that would kill anybody. Anyone. That would even kill Mynx— would kill someone who she sparred with, but never would hate. And she became hard, and sharp, and she didn’t know who she hated, and who she would cut…

“The claws. They’re new. I saw but I didn’t really notice. They’re…” Connected to the suit. To the monster that Dany believed Bella could overcome if she tried, and she did, and it was glory, glory, glory. No wonder she’s hurting. If the last time she used them, it was to try to kill…

And now this girl is alone, and falling, falling so far and falling forever, and she twists in the air to land on her feet, and the bottom will come to a surprise to her all the same.

“I don’t want to make her choice for her,” Dany continues. “Can you imagine that? Making someone do what you want? A word from me as a Princess would, it might be like taking her over from the inside.” She shivers, and then notices Beljani’s uncomfortable shift. She doesn’t know why, so she changes tacks. “And… I want her to know that I care about her, and I just wish she, I want her to be safe. I don’t want her to feel that she has to follow me through the, through the fucking Lethe.”

(Beljani does not remind Redana of how excellent Bella’s hearing is. She nods, awkwardly, knowing that Bella can hear it all.)

“If it’s true what she said, Beautiful, if Bella gets anxious when I’m not around, then… I want her to be able to choose. Even if that means she doesn’t choose me. Even if it means— well, I thought she’d want to stay here, with Beautiful, because she had feelings, because who’d be interested in me when she’s around, but now I—“

“Princess.” Beljani gestures at the makeshift neon sign, with rerouted fountain water dripping onto it with a sizzle, streaking down the dingy windows. A great deal of effort went into setting up this aesthetic.

“Oh,” Dany says. Then, without thinking, without knowing that it’s anything but right, she steps past Bella and her lashing tail, waiting for them, and she opens the door. For Bella. Rather than the other way around.

“Lead the way,” Dany offers, daring to look at Bella again. Daring to look. Daring to try to see.
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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"I knew she was trouble from the moment she walked into my office. Claws still stained red and legs up to here. If you told me the galaxy had been murdered she'd have been my prime suspect - even if she didn't do it, she'd be worth doing it over. Almost made me wish I could just tip my hat and let her be - but the galaxy had been murdered and I was on the case. On my day off too. Sure can pick 'em.

"In a way, we knew a lot about the murder. War had killed it but love had done it in. Means, motive - victim. All from the love god's mouth, and here she was, the dame at the centre of it all. I'd already been beaten to an inch of my life seconds after waking up by a gal who wanted to send me a message about sticking my nose where it didn't belong. But part of this job was seeing past the case to the next case. No point in patterns if you couldn't figure out who was next. And lookin' at her..."

A flare strikes in the darkness, the chemical burst of a matchstick. Soft and slender hands hold it up to a cigarette, the flare of red illuminating the face of an angel rather than a demon, heavy in fabric. Beautiful is dressed like Aphrodite but even more run down - battered suit, undone tie fedora, all two sizes too large for her. It hangs off her loosely, revealing her slender neck and collarbone, her delicate and bruised wrists, the glint of intelligence behind the black eye. There's an air of twisted eroticism to it, like a girl wearing her lover's clothes.

"Here's my advice, kids," Beautiful said from the depths of a prince's slouch. "Just because you see the jacks don't mean the game's over. Too many gamblers see a little luck, a little truth, a little ankle and lose their sense. Then before they know it they're bleeding out in an alley while the goons collect their winnings from the wine-dark earth."

It cannot be overstated how much fun Beautiful is clearly having with this moment. She can't keep the smile off her face as she clicks a switch on a cable's end and powers on a spotlight-streetlamp directly above her head. She straightens and then lurches, each swaying step carrying such a swish of loose suit around her that it's like the trails of a dancing dress. It's a dance that emphasizes pain and the capacity for pain, the instability that comes from knowing the truth, the intensity of being awake and free for once in her life and the determination to do everything possible with that moment before it passes. She has committed to the bit beyond the comprehension of mere mortals and the delight it has conjured in her renders her spellbinding.

"Now," she said. "You fine girls come in here with million dollar questions on your lips, but I've got one for you. What..." she ran fingers along Redana and Bella's shoulders at once, grinning as her clothes half fall off her. "is my name?"
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The aesthetic is all wrong.

Rain is supposed to be heavier than this. It should smell cleaner, full of... dust washing away and a clean wet feeling that promises purity. It should be unbearably tense, permeated with the threat of ozone, lightning, thunder, and above all the din of battle. Rain is a thing beloved of Zeus, and a place for battle and omens. It's where blood washes away as fast as you can spill it, so there's no way for it to choke her. But this is musty, city-rain. A thing so absurd it shouldn't even conjure an image. The gentle trickle is too even; it should be a downpour that demands everyone fight just to stand on their feet underneath it. It spatters on a windowpane and runs like the fountain it actually is, carrying with it faint traces of brine dragged up from the depths of the ship where the Tides overwhelm everything around them.

The neon should be loud. The buzzing should be unbearable, insectoid, insistently pressing until she is obliged to to cut it from her senses. The lights should be bright and gaudy and difficult to look at. Neon is a precursor to pain and abandonment, a weapons system the architecture of war wears as a dress. Harsh. Uninviting. Dangerous. This is... soft. Weak. It hums, but barely. The vibrations are even almost tantalizing. The little flicker and the pop when they struggle to keep shining through the power fluctuations is actually charming. The lights are soft but colorful in a way that simply shouldn't be allowed. Not enough light to see by, not anymore than could be seen in the dark. Certainly not in this "rain". Only enough to mark a presence that by all rights should be fighting to keep itself hidden.

The smell of cigarettes is also wrong. Because that surely, even if everything else about the wrongness of this place was simply a matter of caked on biases...the smell of a cigarette is supposed to be an unholy, rotting thing. It is death itself. Bones and flames and dirt wrapped inside a perfume of drunken spice that only serves to make each each breath of it more perverse than if it had been the naked intention and nothing else. But this... while noxious in its own right, face curling, carries only the tang of burning leaves. Death of a different sort, then. None of the horror of Hades nor of Aphrodite, but simply a toy to be puffed out into the air as if it aided the narration.

The sights and the smells of this place. All wrong. But the girl... the girl was just right.

Beautiful moves exactly the same as before. The intensity and lust for life of a creature who knows on an instinctual level she is never afforded much time to enjoy it, as fluid as if she could predict the flow of time and as jerky and erratic as if the burdens of perceptions cast too wide for the eye to follow had swallowed up her capacity to focus on silly things like walking. At every moment she seems at once untouchable and as though she is going to walk straight into a wall in the same moment. The promise of death, but wrapped up in paper that would tear with the barest provocation. She invokes a need to stay away and a need to protect her at all costs with every flick of her wrists and roll of her shoulders.

That perfect, golden hair that begs to be braided like royalty. Even if its owner has forgotten she should ask for it. Did ask for it. Those violet eyes... as deep as the universe and more precious than gemstones. The glimmer of genius inside of them makes them come alive that in Bella's opinion they are the envy of starlight itself. This is what stole her breath away the first time. What made her call the Ikarani Beautiful in the first place.

For five days, they'd danced. For five days, they'd spoken, less and less each time. Taking more and more from the exchanges. For five days they'd understood one another. For five days they had been best friends. Perhaps that was only possible because they both knew it couldn't last. The smile on her face says it could be again. The strut in her step says it might be better not to. The sparkle in her eye says but wouldn't it be wonderful? The theatrics of the smoke say that things will always be different now. That they should be. It's right for things to change between them.

A preview of the Lethe, then. At least in small doses. The things that might survive, and the ways someone could be completely different for all of the many ways they're still the same. Bella shivers when she's touched, and says nothing. Memories of stories and crab rangoon drip as insistently as the too-even "rain" outside the makeshift office. She brushes her palm up and down the length of her arm, feeling the softness of her own fur as a substitute for sliding back into the itch and habits her claws demanded from her.

She glances toward Redana for a moment. Even forgets to look stern or severe. They really... the pair of them truly are so very much alike. Bella sighs, and looks away again.

"Last time it was me asking you that question. I guess you don't remember it. But then again, I stuck you pretty hard with that vial. Your idea, by the way. You were very full of stupid, batshit, suicidal... fucking brilliant ideas. It was all Beljani and I could do to keep up. Do you remember at all? Even shadows? You had a bunch of those before, at least.

"You said that... you couldn't be given a name. Something about it needing to be derived from context. So I guess it's whatever the fuck makes sense to you. Doesn't matter what I say. But even so, I still. Still... think that you're Beautiful."
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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The world falls away, here, in this moment.

Touch. Just touch. No expectations, no duty. Just care and affection, from one friend to another, because he wants to. Tenderness, gentleness, all wrapped in cleaning grit out of grooves

The world could end, and she could no more pull away from the small, dainty fingers than she could interrupt the not-quite-hopeful voice.

And she daren't look inside the hoodie, because she knows what she'll find.

She stares up at the larger hoodie behind him. Hestia. Hestia, please. Please tell her she can speak here, in this island you've created, this bubble of peace in a sea of roiling turmoil. What one god has done, no other god can undo. Here, in this kitchen, they are safe.

A small nod.


"You don't believe he will."

Not a question. Not an accusation, either, a dart meant to sting. A simple statement of fact. You're hoping, yes. Hoping that there is some promise, some sacrifice you can make so that you will be spared this if you cross. You can bargain for your love. Somehow, you will be the ones.

"Aphrodite created this situation, Dolce."

He's stopped his gentle ministrations. Please, keep going. Please, forgive her.

"He burned the galaxy, slaughtered billions upon billions, sank half of Poseidon's seas and everyone in it into the underworld. He wanted all of us. Everyone, here in the underworld. All, just to hurt Zeus.

"He manipulated Molech. All of that, for the love of someone who never existed.

"He manipulated Zeus, to give humanity the tools to create the Spear.

"He manipulated Hermes and Hades--for the love of humanity, for the love of Persephone."

When next she speaks--when eons have passed, and somehow the world is still too terrible not to say it for her, spare her the grief--she's almost inaudible.

"He manipulated me, Dolce.

"All this time, I thought he was helping me. I thought he cared, maybe. Not a friend, no, but… He kept bringing me out of my shell. Showing me that I could make choices. That I could leave, and so could choose to stay. That I had people who loved me. That I could love myself.

"And all this time. All this time, he was the one to make sure that Minerva--"

She can't bring herself to say the words. The thought is too large, that she's gone. Well and truly. Not kidnapped, not vanished. He hadn't said those words.

"… All this time," she murmurs. "All this time, he just wanted a spear."
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She’s still on edge, even though she shouldn’t be, has no reason to be. Bella isn’t interested in Beautiful, not like that, they’re just… friends. Friends who gush over each other. Friends who are still closer, after adventures together, than Dany is with Bella. And she’s doing an aesthetic, and it’s well-acted, but the awkwardness of not knowing how to react grates at her. She’s on the wrong foot, walking blindfolded, and Beautiful can tell all of that with just a glance, like she’s a girl made of glass.

“You could always try something new,” she blurts out, on the off-chance that she’ll get to stop calling this flawless girl on a self-destruct spiral Beautiful, a reminder that when she’s next to this Amazon, she’s small and ordinary. “Like… Pellamy. Or Gastrodaín.” Is that a name? Pellamy’s a name, at least. “Or, like this, in the rain… Night, Nox, Nyx, Nyxë? No, it needs to be smoother. Maybe alliterative. Noelle Knight? Or…”

She glances over at Bella and deflates a little, feeling even smaller and sillier. “Or just Beautiful. I suppose. The Beautiful Detective. Inspector Beautiful.” She fidgets, scuffing her heel against the floor, waggling the toe of her boot. “And we’re here because there’s three assassins here and we’re looking for the Fourth.”

It’s capitalized as it comes out of her mouth, she realizes. That’s the power of Beautiful’s story. The winner is the one who finds the Fourth. Four directions, four seasons, the four-headed totems of the Alcedi, the four arms of Alexa. That’s energy that she can work with, and Beautiful can too.
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You don’t get to wonder at his thoughts, or where you stand in them. You have enough on your mind as it is.

His little hands squeeze gently on yours, and he gives you his wool. He dips his head, and presses a cloud into your hand, all soft spirals and silly wisps. You don’t get to wonder if it’s alright to run your fingers through his curls. Back and forth, back and forth, he shakes his head, and if you just want to hold still, that’s fine too. He’ll sneak your hand between wool and hood with the care of a true expert, either way.

He is here. Bring the shadows of your heart into this flickering light. Speak of monsters you haven’t named yet. Bring whatever you may into this place, the spell will not break because he chooses to be here. With you. For you. And should you doubt, then hear the truth in the warmth against your hand and the feather-brush of his presence: I am here. I am here. I am here.

“That may be what he wanted.” He nuzzles a cheek into hands strong enough to move a star. “But I don’t think he got a spear, in the end.”

Spears don’t usually fit in the kitchen, you know. They certainly don’t get to sit at the dinner table; good manners would leave them at the door. Hestia’s skill in sewing is peerless, but it’s very hard to make clothes for someone of those proportions.

But if you think that a four-armed hoodie is beyond her, then underestimate her at your peril.
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Beautiful held out her hand and let the leaking rain trickle into it. She watched each water drop with absent curiosity, rotating her hand so she could watch as they merged and ran and parted across her palm.

"I remember..." she said. "I remember there was meant to be a chant. Wake up to the chant. Certain words. Certain truths. Certain facts about the universe nailed into my head every time I woke up over and over until the point where I can feel the holes those words are meant to go in. I remember things I was supposed to know, supposed to hate, supposed to lie about. It wasn't all dictionary reading and mission briefings, there were rituals encoded in those words. Things that made me hungry. Made me want to hunt. You asked about shadows and it's like... I have things that I can kind of sense I'm supposed to be feeling, even if I don't feel them. I can see a power line and know that I am usually supposed to plant a breaker mine just in case I need to blow the ship up later. I can see a cute couple and know that I'm meant to destabilize their relationship just in case I need to get one or both of them to die for me. Set a magna-melta against the Kaeri cells to trigger a jailbreak on demand. I'm aware every second of ways to kill everyone, ways to be ready to kill everyone, or any particular subgroup of everyone. How to make what's in my brain everyone's problem."

Her earlier monologue was hammy and over the top, but this melancholic thought - in this lighting, in these clothes - seems to genuinely fit the genre she indulged in. She ponders for a moment, looking at her hands.

"I know intellectually what a name like Beautiful is," she said. "I know it's a sword. They made us to be smoking hot and not even a suit that fits like a trash bag and ongoing rain can change that. When I hear that name what I think is how to use it along with a sequence of correct decisions to ramp up the Imperial Princess' obvious inferiority complex until I can get her to commit the weight of empire against my target and complete the mission that way. But... I don't have a target. Don't have anything I need to use that weapon for. So instead..."

She steps forwards suddenly. Her motion is liquid and unpredictable, sliding around Bella's reflexive claw grasp only leaving her with a handful of torn fabric. Gets to Redana. Hugs her tightly.

"You're not as small as you think," she said. "You're not an outsider here. This isn't a story about assassins you're along for the ride on. There are five directions - north, south, east, west and centre. My plan only works if you can be ours."
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Tatters of coattails stick to her claws. Bella's hand closes around ruin and empty air.

The rush of blood through her head roars in her ears, keeping time with the furious pounding of her heart. Joints tense, crack, and scream. She doesn't hear them. There are words being spoken, by someone. To someone. She doesn't hear those either. There is her pulse, her sickening traitor's heart, the slushing proof of her guilt. And that is all the sound that can fit inside the world.

Bella's legs shift uneasily underneath her. The weight of her body rocks one way, and then the next. Her muscles coil and then relax without picking a target, without choosing attack or escape, without even moving her from the spot where her feet have been rooted to the ground by the weight of her failure. Is she breathing? Her body is convulsing, and that might as well be the same thing.

Her claws itch. Her fingers close around them and squeeze tight, as if to tear them all off. Again, the motion of her legs: the bend, the pivot in place, the curling of her foot to put her on the ball when she can chase the silver spiral and the Hunt once more. Where she can disappear from all senses and all thoughts and all failures. Her skin itches. Like her claws do.

There is a moan escaping from her lips, but she feels it in her throat more than she hears it. Her hands open just enough to let her bury her face in them, instead. The sharpness pressing against her temples feels like relief. She can let pressure out this way. She can stop the noises this way. All she needs to do is squeeze. Squeeze until the memories stop. Squeeze until her heart bursts. Squeeze until there's no more room for love and the poisonous hurt it brings.

And she is about to, when the fingers close about her wrist and pull her face back into the open air. Bella looks blankly into the worried eyes of Beljani. The Oratus says nothing. The Diodekoi wouldn't hear it anyway. But she does shake her head, and point. Something is twisting inside of Bella. It feels like the heated point of a knife broken off inside her skin. She tries to wrench her arm free, but it's pointless. Her power is broken. Even the sound of blood in her ears has gone quiet. There is a war inside of her: half wanting to explode and the other half wanting to relax into oblivion. It hurts, to stay where she is. But Beljani keeps here there.

She feels a nudge on her back, and the gentlest of pushes. Suddenly she is free. It would be the simplest thing to disappear with the opportunity this affords her. The push wasn't enough to even shift her weight; she could turn easily and disappear through the door faster than any eyes in the room could follow. She has that power. She does. But the blade inside of her tugs in the same direction as that quiet, warm push. And at last her feet unstick. And she moves in the direction they both lead.

The knife point turns into a hiccough. Bella's face is wet. One step. Two. The room is full of sounds again. Full of breathing and the word, "center". The warmth of bodies huddling against the coolness of the air. And she...

She wants that, too. So she takes it.

Bella's arms are long enough to wrap up Redana and Beautiful together. They are strong enough to lock the both of them in her embrace. But her legs can't hold her weight, and she slumps until her face is resting in Dany's hair. Her tears are hot, and loud.

"I'm sorry," she chokes, "I'm sorry..."

She says it again and again as if caught in a loop, or seeking the absolution that only a perfect utterance of the words can bring. Not these weak, sniffling attempts but something proud and strong and invincible enough to be vulnerable. The way that everyone expects from her. And like she expects from herself. But her voice is small and weak. Only the tears seem loud enough to say what it is she needs to say.

"I just... wanted things the way I-- I just! Everything... just hurts you. I only... make it worse. But I don't want to lose you! Not either of you, not again! Not again! Not... Dany. Y-you're always... such an idiot. I never wanted freedom. Just you. Just... you."

The miracle ends, and tears steal her words from her again. Bella sobs into her embrace, only stopping to cough and repeat the words 'I'm sorry' over and over, on a loop. But she doesn't let go. Even though she doesn't deserve this, any of this, not the scent or the warmth or the feeling of being this close again, not forgiveness or to be allowed her confession, but she holds tight anyway.

And when Beljani joins them, Redana really is in the middle of it all. And everyone is well and truly trapped. Everything would be perfect, in its crazy, fucked up way, if there was only one more piece here to slot into the shape.
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Balmas
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Nobody considers how it feels to be a dam.

And why would they? Behold the mighty face, the invincible buttresses. Relax by the placid, mirror-smooth lake. Enjoy the benefits of living nearby, of the mills and pumps of the tempered river. This is a home, a place of safety in the shadow of the dam.

And if the dam strains to hold back the water, that's alright. Downriver, just in sight, the dam sees them living and playing. People are counting on you to hold back the water. And if the water rises, and the strain increases, that's fine too. And if cracks start to form, you just need to hold together harder--people are counting on you. You can't be seen to be cracking, it'll cause panic.

And so the cracks grow, and the water rises to drown forest and village, and you tamp it down, because people need you--

Right up until the moment a too-small sheep with a too-large heart puts a hand on a crack, and tells the dam it's okay to break.

Even now, she tries to hide it, but the signs are too strong to ignore. The hug--at first, so gentle, folding you into her arms as if moving too fast might shatter this moment--now clings desperately, like a shipwreck survivor hugging a broken piece of ship. The hitches of breath, so shallow at first, are now wet gaping sobs. And even if none of the above were true, it would still be impossible to miss the dampness of tears soaking into wool.

"I thought--snf--I thought he was sharpening me to hurt you."

You. Vasily. Dany. The ship as a whole.

"An' I. An' I can't tell how much of what he said is actually good. For me, I mean."

The thought is terrifying, and she squeezes harder.

"It's all. It's all so confusing. Because I. Aphrodite's fucked with my head, but i. I like who I am. Who that advice turned me into."

Quiet, for a few seconds. Even as her breathing calms, the tears continue, and she presses her face against your wool again.

"… I don't want to go back to who I was before. Not even the Pallas. Alexa… Before I met everyone, I. I didn't want to live. With who I was. With what I was.

"I didn't love me. I didn't love anyone, not after Minerva.

"And that rift terrifies me."

She sniffs messily, and lifts her head to reach for a napkin.

"I don't. I don't want to live inside that head again. If I forget everyone--if I forget you, and Dany, and Vasily--"

If I forget Minerva, is not said so visibly it practically echoes.

"--and everyone else… Then who's left? I can't guarantee, if I cross, that I'll be…

"What's left of Alexa, when I forget who I love?
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This time? Dany shuts up. And more than that, she listens.

She listens to the smartest person on the ship tell her that she’s the center of these assassins, and she doesn’t jump to the assumption that she’s just being told what she needs to hear for the plan to work. She suddenly feels like it. Like she— small, stubborn, pining, feckless, hopeful— might be the anchor that these four girls need to not be washed away. Even after all her failures, all her best intentions, all her running… that if she is strong for these huntresses of empire, that she can safeguard them from the storm.

She listens as Bella, this new Bella, this Bella that was always hidden under propriety and lace, apologizes. And she needed that apology. And she didn’t know how much she needed that apology. It drives through her like a thunderbolt. It cleaves her apart.

And all she can do is to cling tighter to both of them, no, to the three of them, to Beljani who looked after Bella, to Beljani who deserves to be here, and she hugs indiscriminately. She hugs like someone who was starved of hugs growing up in a big, empty, echoing palace. And she cries like the Alephus and the Peneus are rushing through her, her uncle’s waters, roaring and sweeping away everything, the petty jealousy, the fear of losing, the fear of being judged, the slap on the cheek and the stolen kisses and everything that tried to keep them apart, drowned in the deluge of tears that burst from her.

But she stays strong, and she stays as tall as she can, and she holds Bella up and buries the tears in her hair, and she pulls Beautiful and Beljani closer, until every heartbeat shakes through the four of them, four rods bound together and not easily broken.

I love you, she says, in every way but words. Let her body say it. I love you, Beautiful, for seeing me with your violet eyes and finding the right word, the right action, the right moment. I love you, Beljani, for being a good girl and taking such good care of Bella. I love you, Bella, despite everything, because I can’t help it, because you’re the most beautiful girl in the galaxy and you were with me when we were wild and alone, and nothing you can do can hurt more than the fear of losing you.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

And even if love is our enemy, we must love all the more[1].

[1]: The Aesthetes, author unknown.
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