As it happens, Nichola had a secret special gift for getting people to trust her. Wilford knew this already, of course. Which is why he skipped all the bullshit with Nichola this time, and brought her in from the start, rather than letting her glare at him angrily from across the station for the next few months. She still didn’t trust him, and wouldn’t until after the story went to air, but that was fine. She would, eventually.

Having Nichola on the story early freed Wilford up for other things. He’d thought this would be a good thing, but he couldn’t rush the story any more than he had, or else he’d risk changing his entire trajectory. He needed to be at certain places at certain times over the next twelve years. If he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, he’d lose sight of the whole reason he opened the old save. Or worse, he’d completely move the finish line and screw things up for himself a decade down the road.

Suddenly, Wilford found himself with a lot of spare time. It wouldn’t have been too big of a problem if he also didn’t have an empty bank account. Which came right back around to the problem he already had. Last time, he didn’t have the time to get bored. And when he did find himself with some free time, he had outlets for it. Even with an empty bank account, the right shirt and tight pair of jeans in the right club were as good as a guarantee that he’d find some way to get fed and have a little fun. This time, as he stared into the abyss of an empty refrigerator, Wilford couldn’t bring himself to walk into his bedroom and open his closet. The idea of trying to hit up a club disgusted him. Even if he did get past the initial revulsion and get dressed properly, and get through the door to whatever random club he picked at random, he wouldn’t be able to follow through. But he had to do something, because every time he opened his fridge or the cupboards, they stubbornly remained empty. Eventually, just to get out of the cycle of flipping between the eight channels he got on TV and trying to find a box of crackers that simply wasn’t there, he grabbed his keys and left his apartment into the night. He walked right past his car, because he had no idea where he was going and he needed to keep the tank full to get to work, and headed out toward the street. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in his neighbourhood, and phone apps hadn’t been invented yet, so finding something was more of a matter of luck, or knowing the right people. Wilford had very little luck, and didn’t know many people, since the sort of people who organised games tended to be the sort of people who liked to barge in whenever they felt like it.

Eventually, after hopping enough fences and cutting through enough shady parking lots and back alleys, he found something that sounded like a suitable amount of noise. He wandered over to find about a dozen people standing in some back lot, surrounding two people beating the shit out of one another on the ground. The guy was covering his face and curled up on his side, like he wasn’t expecting a woman half his size to be able to so easily hand him his own ass. Finally, he gave up and tapped out, staggering to his feet and keeping his head down while everyone laughed at him. The woman picked up her cash from the ground and walked off, clearing the space for the next pair.

“New guy has to fight,” someone said.

Wilford wasn’t surprised. That was usually how things went, even if you accidentally wandered in and tried to wander right out. He shrugged out of his jacket and took his glasses off, hiding them safely in the pocket before hanging it up on the fence.

“I’ve got five bucks. That’s all,” he said, pulling the wad of singles from his wallet and showing it empty after. The guy in charge shrugged, and pointed to the ground. Obediently, Wilford dropped the cash and stepped back, slipping his wallet back into his pocket.

Another guy stepped forward and matched his five, seeming confident in the way he sized Wilford up. Wilford knew he didn’t have the size, but he didn’t need it. He just needed to be quicker. The other guy was taller than him, but no more in shape, so he felt confident. These back-alley fight clubs were good for some quick cash, but not a whole lot of fun. It was all a bunch of retail workers and call centre slaves looking to blow off some steam. Nobody who really knew how to fight, on the whole.

The match was quick. The other guy almost knew what he was doing, but he kept over-compensating and pretending he knew a lot more than he did. While there were no illegal moves in clubs like this, there was a tendency to be generally decent and not just take the round with a quick kick to the balls, but this guy tried to be above board the entire time. All it meant for him was that his stance was too wide, and he was easily knocked off balance, and then all Wilford had to do was kick him in the side a few times to get him to tap out. Wilford took his cash from the ground and stepped back to watch the next fight. Though nothing was officially structured, everything moved like it was. Fights stayed pretty evenly matched, with nobody going out of their way to throw down on someone twice their size for an easy win. A few people got cocky, and challenged up, but those matches ended quickly, and were far between.

An hour later, he had $50 in his pocket, and a black eye to show for it. As these things tended to do, the club broke up naturally, as people ran out of steam to keep going. Wilford grabbed his jacket from the fence and headed off to find somewhere to spend some of it. There were a few crap fast-food restaurants that might still be open, and if not, the 24/7 would have something on the grill he could take home. And he’d have enough cash to get him through the rest of the week until pay day.

He didn’t know if he’d forgotten just how awful that felt, or if it just hadn’t been this bad the first time around.

It probably had not been this bad. Even if he didn’t want to think about why.

Wilford hopped over fences and cut across dark streets, eager to get some dinner and go home. He didn’t hear the other footsteps until it was too late, and they were right on top of him. Someone grabbed him by the front of the shirt, and shoved him against the wall. There were two of them - some of the bigger fighters from the club who had apparently followed him - but Wilford didn’t immediately recognise them.

“Cash. Now,” the one still standing back said.

“Fuck you. Get off me,” Wilford said, trying to kick off of the wall.

The other guy was bigger than him. A lot bigger. He leaned his weight against Wilford, pinning him against the wall. His arm pressed into Wilford’s neck, not in quite the right spot to properly choke him. It didn’t matter though, because Wilford still couldn’t breathe. This guy was too close, and Wilford couldn’t move away, no matter how hard he tried to kick away. The second guy stepped forward and tried to reach for Wilford’s wallet, but as soon as he got close enough, Wilford managed to land a single kick to his knee. The punch in the face he got for his effort hurt worse than anything else he’d been hit with that night, because he got it from both sides - the fist right on the side of his face, and his head slamming against the brick wall behind him. Wilford couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. He wasn’t even aware of pulling his gun from his inventory until he heard the shot. Everyone stood stunned for a moment, until the guy holding him against the wall staggered backwards. It gave Wilford enough room to slip away, and when he raised his gun at the second guy, his hand was so shaky the bullet went high over his head. It didn’t matter though. He’d got his point across, and turned to run. He didn’t look back to see if he was being followed, and just ran straight to his apartment. Once inside, he bolted every single one of the locks on his door, and collapsed against it a few seconds later. He still couldn’t breathe, and everything was still twirling around in his vision, and greying out on the edges. He had blood on him that wasn’t his. He dropped his revolver on the floor as soon as he realised he was still holding it. As badly as his hand was shaking, he was likely to accidentally fire it and shoot himself.

He stayed there for so long, his back cramped up and his legs started to fall asleep. He got up shakily and moved the few steps across the room to the sofa, where he immediately collapsed. Wilford hated himself. He hated that he lost his shit over a simple mugging. He hated that he couldn’t defend himself, when not a half hour earlier, he’d been having plenty of fun fighting people for money. That had to stop. He had to do something about it. It meant he’d have to change more things, but in this case, it was worth the risk.
Tags:
 
 
27 May 2017 @ 07:09 pm
For a dark, unhealthy solid in a shape that reminds Sahaal too much of ration bars, this thing called chocolate is rather nice. According to the wait-rat, this is brand called "Cadbury's", and there are many more varieties. He is literally salivating at the prospect.
 
 
27 May 2017 @ 02:22 pm
As he closes the book, careful to avoid getting grease on its pages, he still has one or two questions.

"So who in the Warp was that Wandering Jew? Was that supposed to Leibowitz, or their god, or both?" he mutters into the basket of ketchup-drenched sweet potato fries next to him.
 
 
26 May 2017 @ 11:01 pm
For jedi_interrupted:

It's early evening, and Sahaal is returning from the Bar to his room with a large plate of cheesy nachos. It's been a slow day, what with a significant percentage of the Milliways residents hung over from the celebrations last night. He's never seen Star Wars before, so his plan is to work his way through the films tonight and tomorrow, so that he can finally understand what those Warp-damned​ toy laser swords are about.

Now, he's got Netflix, and he's had the films on his list for a couple of weeks, but he has been told to skip the prequels. Usually, he​ wouldn't follow the advice of someone he barely knows, but the man calling himself Sam Wilson said that he really wouldn't wish the dialogue on anyone, including the characters. Apparently, they got some details wrong when they recorded that universe's history for posterity. Although, some people apparently enjoyed them, so who knows?

Anyway, when he gets to his door, there's a pair of packages, one in the brown ridged cardboard of an Amazon delivery, the other in a small crate with holes for air and light. Cautiously, he sets the plate of Mexican food down, pulls out the combat knife he keeps on his belt and opens the Amazon package. Inside, once he's stripped away the cardboard and a cocoon of bubble wrap, is a loose action figure, like the ones he's seen on eBay. This one is, well, strange.

As far as he can tell, it's a plastic representation of some sort of bipedal xenos, with backwards bending knees and brown skin. Most of it is covered by brightly coloured armour, comprising of thick orange-red plates and an underlayer bodysuit of green scale-like material. The face is a little off-putting, with its four mandibles full of sharp teeth and a bright yellow breathing apparatus jammed into its mouth. But, whilst it does look like something he'd have killed in the Great Crusade, he quite likes the figure, in a strange way. Why, though, escapes him at the moment.

Instead of dwelling on the strange figure any more, he turns to the other package. He cuts away at it with neat, precise slices to the seams, and after a few moments, it opens to reveal a plant in a terracotta pot. Sahaal, his face sporting a look of confusion under his goggles, inspects it a little closer. Given that his knowledge of botany ends with photosynthesis, he's​ not really able to comment on many details, except for the fact that it has thin stems with broad leaves and smaller leaves at the top, and that's it green. It also has quite a nice smell, one that reminds him of the breath fresheners that used to be included in Imperial Army ration packs, except more natural. There's also a small label sticking out of the dirt in the pot, and it reads, in neat but slightly smudged print: "Mentha × piperita - (Peppermint)"

As Sahaal picks both of the items up, he notices a pict tucked into the second package. It's a good quality one, very good in fact, framed almost professionally. However, the subject matter is quite informal. It shows four figures, human by the looks of it, and all male, sitting on a fallen log in a forest at night, the scene lit by a small campfire. On the far left, there's a man with pale skin, a small tattoo of a spider on his hairless scalp, a wide grin on his face and a finger up at the camera. He's wearing dark clothing, and a few glimpses of bare torso can be seen​ through the coat he's hugging against himself. Next to him is a very tall and slim figure, wearing a richly embroidered longcoat and wearing a peaked cap at what Sahaal assumes he thinks is a rakish angle. Two of the cap-wearing man's fingers are augmetic, and good quality.

The next one to him is young, very young, perhaps only twenty Terran standard. He's in a black t-shirt with a cog symbol on it and grey fatigue trousers, and he's making a very goofy face at whomever is taking the pict. The last man on the log, though...

It's him. It's Sahaal, with the same goggles he's wearing now reflecting the firelight. He's smiling, showing no teeth, but smiling none the less, with his hands in his lap and holding a small glass of what looks like some sort of amasec. He's got no idea how this is possible, he's never met any of these people before and he'd certainly remember a strange bunch like that. To be frank, he's been up for three days already, so he decides to just take the photo, figure and peppermint plant into his room for now, and figure out what to do with them in the morning. Given the strangeness of the entire situation, he probably should sleep on it.
------------
Three hours and seventeen minutes later, Sahaal's eyes snap open. He'd been having a strange dream, about nachos that had been forgotten and cried out to be eaten and enjoyed, but even in his slumber, his enhanced senses are still hard at work. Right now, his hearing and sense of smell is telling him there's someone in the room with him, they're walking over to his desk and they smell of lilac and gun oil. Slowly, and trying his hardest to avoid rustling the thin sheets, he turns over, his eyes picking out the details in the darkened room as it were noon.

A person, a female human in some sort of military uniform he doesn't recognise with short blue-black hair and a sidearm in a holster is rooting through the detritus on his desk. As he watches, she pulls the pict from earlier off a pile of books and slips it into her thigh pocket. Something makes her turn around, and she pivots on her bootheel. Her eyes go wide in the darkness, and with the barest whisper, she says in an unfamiliar accent: "Go back to sleep. It is fine."

Of course, Sahaal would beg to differ, and he jumps out of bed, knife in hand and sheets draped around him. A small smile​ forms on the woman's face, and she presses a button. The blue-white flash that comes after blinds his sensitive eyes, and he stumbles back, blinking tears of blood from his eyes. After perhaps three minutes, or maybe close to four, he can't tell through the pain, his vision heals itself enough that he can see that the strange woman has gone, taking the pict. Nothing else is gone, nothing else is disturbed.

In its place, however, is a small note, written on lined paper torn from a notebook. The language is too formal to come from a native speaker or rather writer, and the letters are traced out with great care.

"We cannot let you keep the note. Keep the figure and plant, they were gifts for another. He says you should have them. I am sorry for disturbing you."

There is no signature underneath, no mark of who wrote it. Sahaal would write it off as just the craziness of Milliways, but this feels different. Whatever it is, he's not going to figure it out tonight.
 
 
25 May 2017 @ 05:31 am
Every day, he runs. Contrary to the portrayal of his kind by the remembrancers of the Crusade, the physique he has has to be maintained. He can and does lift weights, he has a routine of squats, push-ups and jumping​ jacks, but nothing compares to the feeling of running. He had used to do it around the decks of the Umbrea Insidior, but Sahaal has found a couple of dozen laps of the lake just before dawn is much nicer than the cramped hallways of his old ship.

For one, there is better airflow. The new route also has a more agreeable smell, the flowers and fresh air are certainly better than​ lubricant and incense. There are also less people around, and he doesn't have to avoid or smash into crewmen underfoot. All of this means that the runs he is now taking at Milliways aren't just keeping him fit, they actually make him happy. And that emotion is hard to come by for him.
 
 
Ysalwen shoulders her pack, picks up her staff, and checks to make sure her sword is still strapped firmly to her back.

Liranan yips, trotting over so she can check that his spiked collar and protective kaddith are appropriately applied.

Then she turns to Hal, mouth quirking upward at one corner.

"Ready?"
 
 
23 May 2017 @ 12:53 pm
The younger Guide is very much in a bad mood when he leaves the cells. His clothing is still covered in his own blood, and he's going to have a fun time explaining why it's so dry to the other blades. He's beginning to feel the pangs of hunger in his feeding hand, it is difficult to not get distracted by many of the humans around him. Much of what he took from Amanda was used to heal the wounds from fighting with that human and the security team, at least they didn't shoot or stab him, much.

He stops at the Bar to order a gift for the one he calls Sparks. If his queen allowed blades to keep pets, she'd be his. He asks for a basket of fruit with a note with the name he's given her. He has no idea what her kinds eats, but he assumes, in his young mind, that she eats much like the young of his kind.
 
 
23 May 2017 @ 08:54 am
 
[OOM: You will have to strike me down if this is the path you choose. Note, this is pure millicanon and likely to get contradicted by canon soon enough.]

The Front Door opens and there is a figure in a blue nimbus which quickly fades into a corporeal body. Ahsoka smiles to find Milliways. It will be good to see old friends, and perhaps one very specific face. She doesn't begrudge her old master for not having time for her, she has her own things to do out in the galaxy--old students to check up on--but she still misses him and appreciates the time they can find to spend together.
 
 
22 May 2017 @ 10:04 pm
Wilford was idly clicking around his email when he was startled by a cardboard box being dropped next to him on his desk.

“I’m in,” Nichola said, stealing Kevin’s empty seat and sitting down.

Wilford looked at her, momentarily too tired to understand what she was talking about. And then he looked at the box, and slowly caught up.

“Oh? What’s changed your mind?” he asked.

“Because I know you’re up to something,” Nichola said. “And you’re going to be my ticket out of the script room.”

The script room, like the website room, was just another large, partitioned-off section on the same floor, where eager, young hopefuls had their spirits broken. Nichola was wasted in there. Wilford knew it the first time around, and it was no different this time. Only this time, he had the advantage, and was able to get her to join his sinister little team much sooner than before.

“I might be,” he said.

He started fingering through the box of notes, photographs, tapes, and everything else Nichola had managed to gather off the clock. She’d collected a lot of information; more than he remembered.

“Your place, or mine?” he asked, pushing the box closer to her.

Nichola shook her head. “No,” she said firmly. “If you think I’m going to-”

“We can’t do this here,” Wilford pointed out. “If shit-for-brains thinks I’m recruiting, the whole thing will go to someone else who’ll just fuck it up.”

Nichola still didn’t seem convinced. “I know what you’re like.”

“Oh? What am I like?” She wasn’t wrong. Or at least, she wouldn’t have been. Things were different this time, though not exactly by choice. The first thing Wilford had done after he reset was to block and delete about half a dozen numbers from his phone so he didn’t have to go through the hassle of ending everything like a goddamn adult.

She glowered at him, and finally picked up her box and stood. “My room mate goes to bed early. Your place.”

Wilford watched her walk off after that, surprised she’d agreed so readily.

Four hours later, he was surprised to see her waiting in the garage near his car. He was also surprised she hadn’t keyed it, though he wasn’t sure why that surprised him.

“I’ll follow you,” she said.

“Passenger door doesn’t open anyway,” Wilford said as he got his keys out. The driver’s side door also didn’t open correctly from the outside, forcing him to open the back door and snake around to open the front door from the inside. “And there are bees over on that side.” He hadn’t taken care of the bees yet, because he was pretty sure they’d become structurally integral by that point.

Nichola rolled her eyes at him as he made his way awkwardly into his car, and got into her own car, which was in far better condition than his. The way she waited, it was almost as if she expected him to take twenty minutes to get the engine going. But when it started right up, Wilford stuck his tongue out at her and backed out of his space to lead the way to his apartment. He led the way out of DC, trusting her to keep up on the freeway as they drove toward Fairfax. Evening traffic was about the same as it always was, causing Wilford to have to pull over at one point to let Nichola catch back up after someone decided to taxi a jet the wrong way down the freeway. She found him eventually, and soon they were able to get off the freeway and onto the surface streets, which were no less hectic. But the average speed was at least a lot slower, making it easier to stick together. In theory, anyway. After he’d lost her for the third time, Wilford began to think that he probably should have fought off a few bees for her to just ride with him. But this way, he wouldn’t have to deal with driving her back to the station to get her car.

They got to his building without being killed by one of the many maniacs out on the roads, and he even offered to take her box of information, but she refused, apparently still not exactly convinced this was the right thing to be doing. Instead, he led her up to the door and let her in, pointing at the stacks of his own notes he hadn’t bothered to organise or put away yet.

“This is where you live?” Nichola asked incredulously.

“What’s wrong with it?” Wilford asked.

He didn’t have much. A small TV in the corner, and an old sofa on the opposite wall, making the living room seem needlessly large, despite how small it was. A card table in the dining room was buried in mail he refused to look at. And that was about it.

“I expected more, I don’t know. Everything?”

“Thanks,” Wilford said flatly. He shut the door behind her, only locking the top two locks, instead of all five like he’d normally do. While Nichola found a place on the floor to start sorting out her own notes, Wilford kicked off his shoes at the door and went to the kitchen.

“I have Pißwasser, or… red something.” He picked up the pitcher, completely unable to remember what sort of drink he’d mixed up in it, or when. “Maybe not the red.”

“I’ll take a beer,” Nichola said.

Wilford grabbed two bottles and used his lighter to pop off the lids, letting them drop on the counter to be collected later. As he handed one to Nichola, he sat down to start nosing through what she’d brought. She had about a dozen micro-cassettes, and a few mini-CDs, which Wilford set aside to look through later.

“What’s this?” Nichola asked, picking up the tape he’d shot with Billy.

“We found him,” Wilford said, pointing to his TV, and the VCR on top of it.

“We?” She hesitantly got up and fed the tape into the VCR. It hadn’t been rewound since Wilford had used it as his get out of jail free card, but Nichola seemed almost hesitant to try. Finally, she rewound it just a few seconds before hitting play. Wilford and Billy were still bumbling about out in the woods, starting to give up on the night when something caused the film to go static-y. Wilford saw him first, but Billy was quick to spin around and get a glimpse of Slenderman on film. While Wilford shouted at the giant monster, Slenderman seemed poised to attack, but decided to beat a hasty retreat instead, leaving the two of them a little startled, but otherwise alive out in the dark.

“How in the fuck?” Nichola asked.

Wilford just gave her a big, fake smile. “Now you know how I got the story,” he said.

“No fucking kidding,” Nichola agreed. “I was ready to believe the rumours that you blew shit-for-brains.”

“Ew.” Not this time. Not the first time.

He got up to grab his laptop and tape player from the couch, and started with Nichola’s mini-CDs first. She had a few clips that might have had glimpses of long, black tentacles and a blank face, or might have just been weird lighting. The micro-cassettes were hasty interviews with people who didn’t want to talk to her, but she was persistent, and managed to get little snatches of information out here and there. While he sifted through her information, she did the same with what he’d managed to gather. Slowly, they began to actually organise it, grouping their notes together where information overlapped or sources were the same. Two hours in, Wilford called Billy and convinced him to come over, and bring some dinner for the three of them. It wasn’t until he mentioned Nichola being there that Billy agreed, but he did take his sweet time showing up.

By midnight, they’d got through half of the notes, all of Wilford’s beer, and the entire stack of McDonald’s junk Billy had brought over. None of them got any sleep that night, and while it was nothing new for Wilford, the other two seemed to regret this by the time they noticed the sun had started to peek over the trees outside.

“Oh, shit,” Nichola hissed, quickly getting to her feet. She looked over the organised chaos spread across Wilford’s floor like she wasn’t sure what to do with any of it.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Wilford told her.

She hesitated just a bit before nodding. She still didn’t trust him not to just steal it all, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to, and she’d know that soon enough.

“There’s some instant coffee. There,” Wilford said, pointing to the kitchen. “Cups are in the dish washer.” He only had two mugs, but that was fine. He could last until he got to the station. He usually did.

Nichola nodded again and went to the kitchen. A few seconds later, Billy got up to follow her. The two of them were silent as they microwaved their water and searched Wilford’s barren cupboards for the small jar of coffee. Wilford waited until it sounded like they were nearly done to start picking up beer bottles and food wrappers, taking them all to the trash. Billy and Nichola were both standing silently in the kitchen, staring at their coffee like they’d rather be crawling into bed.

“I thought this was over when I graduated,” Nichola said eventually.

Wilford shook his head and laughed. “Not if you want to get out of the script room, it’s not,” he said as he headed to his bedroom to find some clean clothes.
Tags:
 
 
22 May 2017 @ 09:34 pm
 
They were finally back in their ship heading to the current base when Kay said, "Now we are safe and there is zero chance of interruption. Explain."

Cassian leaned back in his seat as he tried to find a beginning, "I met Sombra in a cantina that shouldn't exist as its at the End of the Universe where time stops. She's from a place called Earth, a planet many of the patrons are from. She is as you saw a very good slicer. When we first met, I trusted my instincts that said she would be a good ally and used her when the chance came."

"I need to go there to find out if this Milliways is actually safe, you have been wrong before and it should not exist," He could feel Kay giving him one of his long looks, he tried to never trust too much since when he was younger, he'd trusted too many seeming friends. Now he used friendliness for the sake of the Rebellion and didn't risk becoming a friend as that didn't make sense with the role he held.

"I have but I'm not wrong now and its not completely safe, its mainly safe," With a sigh, he turned to meet Kay's look, "When I next have a door I will take you through but we can't tell anyone else."

"Why not? The odds that either of us would be believed are slim," Kay made a good point but the discussion would pull attention from other issues.

"Because there are too many factors and dangers involved to rely on it too much," And he wants Kay there since Kay is Kay and his friend and co-pilot but he doesn't know how it fits into the Rebellion. A small and selfish part of him that he is ignoring points out that he doesn't have to truly work there and doesn't want to.

"When will you have a door?" Kay pointedly asked because their life was built on knowing arrivals and departures.

"I don't know, I can't predict them."

"That is badly organized and not helpful, but I will wait," Kay turned back to the window and Cassian smiled before standing up to get something to eat.
 
 
22 May 2017 @ 06:45 am
Ten thousand years of sleep is enough for one lifetime, so Sahaal doesn't really do or want much of it. Of course, he does need to, but for four or five hours every few days. This gives him a lot of spare time. He's never had spare time before, so he's not sure what do with it.

One night, he sits by the side of the lake with a large bottle of something called Jack Daniels, and spends seven hours skipping rocks across the calm, cool waters. He makes a game of it, one sip from the bottle for each time he can skip the stone more than five times. By the time the sun comes up and sends him scurrying back inside with burning eyes, he's nicely buzzed. He's also drenched head to toe thanks to a reprisal by the squid for hitting him by accident, but he doesn't mind. Too much.

It was a better night than most, and that's what matters.
 
 
01 May 2017 @ 04:10 am
One day or night, he's not sure, he looks into the mirror in his little bathroom. He sees a gaunt, pale face, jet back eyes set into sockets surrounded by the dark circles of insomnia and a countenance twisted by too many scowls and frowns. Lank, greasy, black hair falls down to his shoulders, the result of months of apathy towards his appearance. Blue veins shine through marble skin, like the lightning that winds its way around his war armour.

At the same time, he sees the same face, proud, full of life. Ivory eyes glitter with determination​ and purpose. His scalp is shaven, the stubble tracing the outlines of his hairline. There's a health to him, a vigour about his being. It only lasts a moment, then the face is firmly that of him as he is now.

"Ahhh, Talonmaster, First Captain of the Eighth Legion, Heir of the Night Haunter," he says in a raspy, dry, mocking voice, "how the mighty have fallen."

Looking back, he realises that it was at that moment he decided to rise again and be more than his past failures.
 
 
 
21 May 2017 @ 10:11 pm
 
Step one: If something is worrying you and you can do something about it, plan how to do it. If you can't, there's no point in worrying about it.

Once a week, the Sandhus have a family meeting, on a Friday night. Guppy used the opportunity to set down some new house rules, in order that his children not do paid work for known psychopaths.

"New rule." he says. "None of you are to take any paid jobs in the bar without discussing with me first. You may do minor, unpaid tasks, for adults who are on your trusted adult list."

"Why?" Fry asks.

"Because Buster was too big a pet for the two of you to look after on your own." Guppy says. "When you have shown me that you can use better judgement, I'll review the rule."

The kids nod.

"Next on the agenda." Guppy says. "We're all going to the park. Because we don't get enough fresh air and exercise."

"What, now?" Fry asks. "But it's not on the schedule."

"Okay, well the other three kids and me can go without you if you don't want to go, and you can stay with Mum." Guppy says. "And then next week I'll put it on the schedule."

It's still nice and light as he walks down the road to the park, with Gil holding his hand and Brooke and Coral running on ahead. By the time Guppy and Gil catch up, Brooke and Coral are playing football. Gil looks a bit wary of the fast-moving ball, and decides to run around the edge of the field looking at flowers.

"Daddy see!" he keeps shouting, pointing at one flower or another.

"Very nice, but don't pick it." Guppy says.

"Pretty!" Gil says, leaning over to poke a lupin.

"No touching." Guppy says.

"No tuttin."

"Good boy." Guppy turns around just in time to get hit in the crotch by the football.
 
 
19 May 2017 @ 03:01 pm
She had found the figure several days ago on her desk, the white horse shining in the lights of her home office. Her home office. How they'd gotten in and out without security alerting her was distressing enough. Who they were was worse. They were supposed to be dead.

Of course, by rights, so was Tess.

On one hand she was curious to see what they wanted from her this time. On the other she was certain Lord was now in charge and the last thing she wanted was to see him again, let him take advantage of her one more time. She'd kill him before she let that happen and that, well, that just wouldn't make for a cooperative partnership.

She can't stop thinking about it. It makes her nervous, anxious and distracted. She tells the team, since they were the target last time, and everyone's on alert. Tess feels it more. Checkmate always comes for her first, the loyal white knight who betrayed them to their deaths.

It feels final this time, more so than last, and she doesn't know how she feels about that. She's never really had closure on anything about her past, despite her break from Lex, despite her going back home, despite everything, there's still a sense of underlying openness, as if she could still do more to make herself feel at peace with it all.

She hides it in the vault after having it tested. It's nothing more than a simple chess piece carved out of wood. Such a small thing to instill such fear, but fear of the unknown can be triggered by almost anything. She hopes she can laugh about it later, but for the time being, she tries to keep her emotions in check. Just like they taught her.

Soon, it will happen. She doesn't know when or how, but she knows it won't be much longer. And it's the waiting game that just might be the final straw.
 
 
18 May 2017 @ 01:02 pm
 
The guardian stood and watched the gate. Today all was quiet, as it had been the week before, and likely the week after; although there were flurries of snow blown against the gray nothingness beyond the gate.
*
The guardian sat in meditation; his awareness at the gate, as was proper. He could smell the cooking fires of the Heavenly city behind him and the snow of the mountains before him. The way from K'un Lun, as ever, shrouded in shadows and clouds.
**
The guardian waited and watched at the gate, but nothing was there to guard against. He looked up into the sky and saw a hawk flying. Following its path into the valley below, the guardian realized the way was open to the world.
***
Danny turned back at the gate to gaze once more at the Heavenly city before he turned to find the home he'd been taken away from fifteen years before.

Duty had less of a pull than home.
 
 
18 May 2017 @ 02:11 am
Queenie arrives in the morning, opening Eden’s door without knocking to announce that after breakfast they’ll be going to Ursus Union, and its training grounds.

“Can’t we just use the street outside?” Eden asks, throwing an arm over his eyes, but Queenie just shuts the door without replying. “I like the street. Me and those cobblestones really built up a friendship.”

An hour later, they’re on the tram that circles the wall, trundling slowly around towards Ursus. Eden can see it from his window, a building larger than Leopardos’, towering up next to a circular arena.

The tram eventually stops, and Eden has to trudge down the wall’s stairs, following the rest of his dormitory as they chat among themselves. As soon as they’ve entered the training grounds, a wall of noise hits Eden, enough to make him reflexively clap a hand over his ear. Cheering, his mind supplies. They’re expressing support.

Luso tugs him out of the doorway and into the stands, pushing him down onto a seat. The seats are filled with keybearers, clustered together into different unions: The largest group by far are dressed in brown, green, and turqoise, or decorated with bear symbols -- they must be Ursus. Scattered around the rest of the seats are boys and girls in white and red for Unicornis, or pink and purple for Vulpes. Eden notes that he can’t see anybody wearing Anguis’ blues.

“Look, looklooklook,” Luso says, pointing down at the arena and the two people standing there: One brawny, dressed in white with a unicorn design in red across his shoulder; and one tall and slender, his long blond hair tied back into a ponytail, dressed in flowing gold and purple, with a jeweled bear talisman on one hip.

“I’m looking,” Eden says. “Are we -- meant to be cheering for one of them?”

“Sure, I guess. If you’re going to cheer for one, cheer for Orrin. He’s from Unicornis’ second dormitory,” Luso says. “The guy in yellow is Mateus, the dorm leader for Ursus’ first dormitory.”

“Unicornis and Ursus end up fighting here a lot, these days,” Izana says. “Since they’re both vying for the top spot.”

“Honestly,” Adelle says, yawning. “It’s boring to see them brawling here every day.”

“But you can learn something from watching them. Mateus is a light element user like you, Eden,” Queenie says.

Orrin summons his keyblade, a huge thing almost half his size, and Mateus regards him coolly, lifting one hand to beckon him. With a cry, Orrin charges forward, keyblade raised over his head.

Izana grimaces.

“What an idiot,” Alvis mutters.

Mateus doesn’t move, but as Orrin closes in on him, a magic circle opens beneath his feet, carved into the sound in glowing lines. There’s a sharp sucking noise, followed by a crack as Orrin is rooted to the ground, sparks of electricity crackling around him.

Mateus flicks a hand, and Orrin is flung upwards, crashing into another magic circle, hanging in the air. As Eden watches, a half dozen more appear around the arena, slanted at diagonals, drifting sedately through the air. Mateus flicks his hand this way and that, batting Orrin between them.

He leans forward, resting his chin on his hand, and slides one foot beneath his chair. As Mateus twists his hand, holding Orrin in mid-air as the circles converge on him, Eden scrapes the tip of his shoe against the floor, then taps it lightly.

The circles collide with an explosion of light and flame, and Orrin tumbles out of the smoke, landing on his knees, clinging to his keyblade, breathing heavily.

“An adequate diversion,” Mateus says, raising his hand above his head, and summoning into it a keyblade like a golden wing.

The crowd’s cheers rise to a fever pitch as he brings the keyblade down, scything through the air.

Eden leaps forward, trailing after-images as he dives down from the stands and into Mateus’ path, keyblade appearing in his hand. The two blades collide with a wave of force, shoving Eden down onto one knee.

Mateus raises an eyebrow. “What’s this?”

“Sorry,” Eden says wryly, mustering a quick smile. “My hand slipped.”

Behind Mateus, in the front rows, he sees four other keybearers rise. That must be the rest of his dormitory. They’re halfway to their feet when their fifth member, a red-haired boy with a hat tipped over his eyes, holds an arm out in their path.

“Meddling child,” Mateus murmurs.

“Unicorn Dude here has had enough,” Eden says, straining against the ground, pushing Mateus’ keyblade back enough to rise to his feet. “You’ve proven your point, you know? Several points. Like, nine different points. Too many points.

Mateus regards him for a moment, then steps back, flourishing his keyblade. “Raise your keyblade.”

“I really didn’t come here to fight,” Eden says. “Actually, I didn’t want to come here at all.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Izana, Queenie, Freyra, and Alvis hurrying into the arena. Izana raises his hands placatingly as he reaches Eden’s side.

“Sorry, Eden here is new,” Izana says, in his most calming voice. “We should have reined him in.”

Mateus sniffs delicately. “Then you can all step aside. My duel with Orrin here isn’t done. Not until the Chirithys name me as the victor.”

“It is done,” Eden says. “I’m telling you that it’s done. You won. Congrats. We’ll throw a party.”

“Eden,” Queenie says, warningly.

“If you’re not going to move,” Mateus says. “Then I’ll make you move.”

---


Eden’s keyblade spins out of his hand, and lands embedded in the sand on the other side of the arena, as his back hits the ground. Nearby, Alvis is face down, and Izana is sprawled on his side next to him. Freyra is slumped against a wall on the other side of the arena.

Eden feels something hot on his face, just beneath his nose, and reaches over to touch it. It’s a deep red liquid, with a sharp smell that makes his eyes water.

Queenie darts behind Mateus, swinging her keyblade towards him, but a few quick strikes later, she’s on the ground as well, her keyblade spinning across the sand.

Mateus looms over her, keyblade raised, when a voice rings out.

“That’s enough.”

One by one, they appear: Eden’s Chirithy, perched on his chest, then five more, and finally the last one, appearing on Mateus’ shoulder.

“Master Aced requests your presence,” Mateus’ Chirithy says.

“I’m busy,” Mateus replies, brushing some hair out of his face. There are purple marks blossoming around one of his eyes. Eden’s not sure which of them landed the hit.

“Master Aced insists. He needs assistance teaching the lower dormitories,” Mateus’ Chirithy says. “Your work here is done. We’re all in agreement that you’re the victor.”

The other Chirithys nod in unison.

“Fine,” Mateus says, and gestures to the rest of his dormitory, stalking towards the exit.

Eden pulls himself to his feet, forcing himself to ignore his aching legs, making sure he’s standing before Mateus can leave. “Let’s do this again sometime, Matty.”

Mateus doesn’t respond.

Chirithy swings himself onto Eden’s shoulder. “Ursus has an infirmary. We should go there now.”

“I’ll pass. I think I’ve had enough of this place.”
 
 
18 May 2017 @ 02:08 am
Day One.

Master Gula. That was, apparently, the yellow-robed keybearer’s name, and as they walked to the South-East of the town, he explained that he was the Foreteller of Leopardos Union, that he would be teaching Eden, that Chirithy -- the little cat, who was now perched on Eden’s shoulder -- would see to his being assigned to a dormitory.

“Why couldn’t I kill that Heartless?” Eden asks, as they make their way through the street. “I saw what I was going to do, in my mind. It should have worked.”

“Summon your keyblade.”

Eden holds out his hand, curling it around the shape of a handle just in time for the keyblade to snap into his hand in a flicker of light and glass. Gula steps closer, tracing one finger over the filigree.

“It’s incomplete,” Gula says, after a moment. “It was probably broken at some point before you came here.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Nobody does, when they come here.”

Chirithy chooses this time to speak, circling around Eden’s neck to his other shoulder. “Travelling between worlds without a corridor of light is traumatic,” he says, gently. “It takes its toll on the traveller. But this is a new start: Your memories from before don’t matter anymore.”

Gula nods. “What matters is the future. The role of a keybearer is to gather light to drive away the darkness.”

“I -- don’t know what that means.”

Gula sighs. Then: “It means that something terrible is coming. The five Unions have to save as many Heartless as we can, collect as many hearts as possible, and defend Daybreak Town. Just be careful of the other Unions.”

“What? You guys don’t get along? Did someone from another Union tell you that your mask looks silly? Because it -- …”

“What I mean is that some don’t aim for peace between worlds. They gather hearts for their own selfish desires. You yourself will have to find out which ones are guardians of light, and which ones are seekers of darkness hiding behind a guardian’s mask.”

Chirithy gives Gula a sharp look. “That’s enough for now, Foreteller Gula. I’m sure Eden appreciates the warning.”

“Not -- not really,” Eden says, voice wry. “Sounds like cryptic nonsense to me. You should try taking classes in clarity.”

He can’t see Gula’s face, but he can tell that he looks less than happy. He keeps walking, guiding Eden through the winding streets of Daybreak Town until they reach a tall building, with a stained glass window of a leopard’s face set into its front.

“This is Leopardos Union. We built it around the town library, so you’ll have access to every book we can gather here. We have dormitories, a cafeteria, even training grounds -- but if you want the best training grounds in the city, you’ll have to go to Ursus Union,” Gula says. “Chirithy will set you up with a guest room for tonight, and tomorrow you’ll meet the rest of your dormitory.”

“Try to make a good first impression,” Chirithy adds.


Day Two.

Eden does not make a good first impression.

But, look, okay, look: Who knows why that is? Maybe they’re just grumpy. Maybe they don’t like new people. Maybe it’s because Eden thought it would be funny to set off the fire suppressant system and douse everyone in water, before announcing, very calmly, that the introductory water party in his honour had began. Maybe it’s just a bad day for them.

Nobody knows. It’s a mystery.

The Moogle librarians hurry to shut off the sprinklers, and in the aftermath, as all the members of Dormitory XIII towel themselves off, Eden thinks to introduce himself.

“I’m Eden! Nice to meet you all.”

The rest of the dormitory eye him like they don’t even know what to say.

One of their Chirithys -- not Eden’s, he notes that his is still settled atop his head -- walks across the top of a bookshelf, shaking his head. “Very immature.”

“Disruptive,” another Chirithy adds from a table.

“Most people would have just said hello,” one girl, black-haired with glasses, remarks, twisting water out of her hair. “I’m Queenie. These are Alvis, Adelle, Luso, Freyra, and Izana.”

She gestures in turn at a tall -- taller than Eden, at least -- young man with scruffy brown hair, glowering at Eden; a silvery-haired girl dressed in bright pink; a tiny young man with long brown hair and a big grin, the only one of the group who seems to actually have appreciated the surprise water party; a young woman with blonde hair tied back in a ponytail; and tall, stocky boy with dark hair and the hood of his red hoodie pulled up.

The blonde -- Freyra -- claps her hands on Eden’s shoulders, giving him a wide grin. “Welcome to Dormitory Thirteen! We’re technically the lowest ranked dormitory in Leopardos, but maybe now that we’ve got an extra pair of hands, we can push ourselves up to the number twelve spot.”

“We should take him on tomorrow’s Heartless suppression mission,” Luso adds. “It can be our first group outing.”

“Pass,” Alvis says.

“Until Master Gula gives him leave to go to other worlds, he has to stay in Daybreak Town,” Queenie says. “Those are the rules.”

Adelle snorts. “Rules are there to be broken, right? I don’t see the problem.”

“The problem is that we’ll all get grounded, and have points deducted -- dragging down not just us but the whole Union -- if we get caught. Which we would be,” Queenie says. “Right, Chirithy?”

“I can guarantee it,” the Chirithy on the bookshelf says.

“How does Leopardos do in the rankings, anyway?” Eden asks. “Ooh, are we at the top? We’re at the top, right. I mean, I’m here, so that’s worth at least fifty extra points. That’s just science.”

“Actually, Ursus is at the top,” Alvis says. “Then Unicornis, Vulpes, Anguis, and finally us.”

Eden blinks at him. “What-a-what, now?”

“We’re at the bottom of the rankings,” Queenie says.

“But Anguis is only ever ahead of us by a couple of hundred points,” Luso adds.

“A couple of hundred,” Eden repeats, slowly. “... I feel victimised by being placed in this dormitory.”

“Sorry, dude,” Luso says. “Even if you are worth fifty points, that’s not going to help us much.”

Eden folds his arms. “And you guys are completely sure I’m not meant to be sorted into Ursus Dormitory One or something? That seems like it’s more my speed.”

“Completely certain,” the Chirithy on the table says. “Master Gula specifically placed you in this dormitory.”

Eden frowns. “I’m going to go turn the sprinklers back on. Back soon.”


Day Three.

Gula’s the last to arrive at the meeting of the Foretellers, and by the time he gets there, Aced is already pacing, and Ira has his hands tightly coiled on the table, while Ava avoids looking at either of them.

They must have fought again. They do at nearly every meeting, lately -- Aced has a talent for finding something to be angry about in everything Ira says.

“Gula,” Aced booms, and Gula looks up at Aced -- far taller than he is, imposingly brawny, with a mask like a bear’s face -- who draws himself to his full height in a somewhat useless attempt at intimidation. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

“About the new recruit?” Gula asks. Aced stiffens in surprise, and Gula sits down, shaking his head. “Don’t look so surprised. You’ve been snatching up every keybearer that comes in to the town.”

“So many, in fact, that your Union no longer has enough beds even for the ones you do have,” Ira adds.

“I know the Master told us to compete, Aced, but you can’t take every new keybearer that appears in town,” Invi says. “I agree with Ira. We have to put a freeze on new Ursus keybearers, at least until you’ve had a chance to build more dormitories for them.”

Aced scoffs. “The Master told us to compete, but the moment any of us beat Ira, he suddenly tells us to slow down,” he says. “At least let me have Gula’s new recruit. I was already on my way there when he swooped in.”

“I did swoop in, though,” Gula says. “So he’s mine now. The Chirithys have already approved it. Besides, one look at that scary bear mask of yours and he’ll run out of town.”

“Please, everyone, don’t fight,” Ava says. “That’s not what the Master would have wanted.”

“The Master’s not here,” Aced replies. “He left, and he and Luxu are never coming back.”

Ava ducks her head. Even with the fox mask hiding her face, it’s obvious to Gula that she’s upset. Aced pauses, as if he’s not sure what to say next, then settles down into his seat.

“The next keybearer to arrive is mine. Then I’ll stop. At least until I have space,” he grunts.

“So be it,” Ira says. “There’s plenty of space around the training grounds for you to expand your Union.”

“I wasn’t asking for your approval,” Aced mutters.


Day Four.

Eden is awoken on his fourth day by the sun blinking to life from its spot on the Eastern horizon, exactly at six am, as usual. The suddenness of it makes him groan and tug the covers over his head, but eventually, when the spots clear from his eyes, he wakes up.

At Chirithy’s suggestion, he wanders town, exploring its mesh of cobbled streets and alleyways. The whole town is a circle, bordered by fifty metre high walls with trams running along the top of them, and positioned around the edges of town, near the walls, are the five Unions.

Eden quickly discovers that Leopardos lies between Anguis and Vulpes. Vulpes he checks out first, by circling west: Instead of being attached to the town library like Leopardos is, the Vulpes Union building sits in the midst of a cluster of cafes and shops, the proverbial social hub of the town.

He doesn’t stick around long enough to see it, instead finding Anguis’ building. Unlike Vulpes and Leopardos, this one doesn’t seem to have any other function, or be situated to draw people from other Unions to it. It’s nestled in a crook in the outer wall, visible but uninviting.

He heads past it to climb the stairs up to the top of the wall. Beyond town, there are hills and valleys, but no other towns that he can see, nor even any villages. Here, on the North-Eastern edge of the wall, he can see the spot where the sun brushes against the horizon.

He can also see the centre of town. The fountain plaza is visible here, and looming above it -- above every building in town -- is a clocktower of glass and stone, the central point of the town. It’s oddly familiar, and although the hands on the clock don’t move (“It’s been broken for a long time,” Chirithy explains,) he has an image in his mind of them ticking.


Day Five.

Chirithy doesn’t appear to tell Eden what to do.

There’s a leather ball about the size of Eden’s palm on his bedside table.

He throws it at the wall.

For fourteen hours.


Day Six.

“We need to test your skills,” Queenie says, in the street behind Leopardos, which seems to function as a makeshift training area for the Union. “Alvis has volunteered to be your sparring partner.”

Eden raises an eyebrow, eyeing Alvis. The boy has several inches on Eden, a broader frame, and, right now, a scowl that suggests that he might not have entirely forgiven Eden for the water party incident.

“... He volunteered for this, didn’t he?” Eden asks.

Queenie arches an eyebrow. Eden presumes that’s a yes.

“We’re not going to let him hurt you,” Izana says, in his everything’s-calm-and-okay voice. “Not badly, at least.”

“Summon your keyblade,” Queenie says. “We’ll do two minutes to start off with.”

Eden sighs, tucking his left arm behind his back, and holding out his right. His keyblade snaps into it with a flash, the glass edge glittering in the sunlight. Queenie nods to Alvis, and he summons his own, gripping it in both hands.

It’s less ornate than Eden’s. Instead of complex filigree and stained glass in shades of blue and green, it’s grey and red, with a guard like a spoked wheel, and teeth like bent, metal pipes spewing grey fumes.

“On my mark,” Queenie says. “Three, two …”

Alvis moves before she’s finished counting. Eden catches a flash of lightning behind him as he speeds across the cobblestones, barely touching them, and his downward strike crashes against Eden’s keyblade, raised in defense.

The moment the two collide, Eden feels the charge, making his skin prickle and the hairs on his arm stand up on end. He jumps back just as electricity arcs out of Alvis’ keyblade, scoring the ground.

He taps the ground with the tip of his foot, testing how solid it is, and as Alvis throws himself towards him again, he pushes off. The world seems to slow, but he sees afterimages of himself, and a trail of dazzling light, as he curves around Alvis.

Alvis blocks his strike, and as Eden makes a second, Alvis swings his keyblade forward to meet it. He’s going to use that lightning-thing again.

He dismisses his keyblade, and Alvis’ swings through empty air, the boy unbalancing himself and stumbling forward, straight into Eden’s fist. As Alvis doubles over, Eden pulls his left hand from behind his back, summoning his keyblade to it, and brings it down towards Alvis back.

Clang. Alvis rights himself at the last second, blocking the blow. Eden takes a step back, tossing his keyblade back to his right hand.

Then Alvis is moving, lightning sparking out of his shoulders as he speeds up the Union building. Eden taps his foot against the ground again, and pushes off, trailing light as he dashes up after him.

He’s faster than Alvis, he realises as he closes the distance between them, then overtakes him, heels digging into the stone of the Union building as he curves around. They clash, then zip around the building and clash again, then again, and again, and again. Each time, Eden has more momentum, knocking Alvis backwards.

It’s between their fifteenth and sixteenth clash that Eden feels his speed giving out, and he realises that while he might be faster, there’s no way he can sustain this speed. He has just enough time to finish the thought before all of his momentum dissipates midway up one of the building’s towers.

Gravity snatches him up, bearing him downwards, and as he falls he sees a streak of lightning diving from the top of the tower and towards him.

He feels Alvis’ power hitting him like a million volts straight to the bones, just before he feels the boy’s weight hit his chest. A split second later, they slam into the ground.

“Ten seconds out,” Izana says, glancing at his stopwatch.

Eden shoves Alvis off him, pulling himself to his feet, only to realise that the reason his legs aren’t hurting is because they feel like they’re made of liquid. He wobbles, then tumbles forward, and lies there as the last seconds tick down.

“That’s two minutes,” Izana said. “Queenie was taking notes.”

“Light elemental magic, but -- basic, at present. Any secondary elements unclear,,” Queenie says. “Light isn’t any of the Foretellers’ specialties, but that’s hardly a unique situation here. They can tutor you in the theory of it, and other students can tutor you in the practicalities of it -- there are three or four other Light wielders in Leopardos, Chirithy will provide details.”

Eden settles his forehead a little more comfortably against the ground and opens his mouth to make a sarcastic comment -- but his mouth is numb, so it just comes out as scathing gibberish.

“You don’t seem able to maintain your use of magic for very long, either,” Queenie says. “Your keyblade is still incomplete, and it lacks adequate power, and you possess insufficient defensive skills. Had this been a genuine fight, Alvis would have torn your heart out within minutes.”

“Still, for your first battle, that wasn’t bad,” Izana adds. “The -- numbness should wear off in a few minutes.”

Alvis snorts, dismissing his keyblade.

“Luso,” Queenie says. “Start doing warm-ups. Once Eden’s back on his feet, you’ll partner with him for another spar. Two and a half minutes.”
 
 
17 May 2017 @ 09:17 pm
 
Waiting rooms are the worst.

There's always a chance of being recognised by a patient. When he's here with the kids, they inevitably catch something, or do something hideously embarrassing, or have a sudden bladder emergency just as they're about to get called in. Fortunately, today, the kids aren't here.

There was something he had to do.

He'd talked it over with Fran and she'd kissed him on the cheek and given him a warm squeeze, and said she would make sure he didn't have to do this with a toddler in tow.

He's had the same GP for a number of years now. He's been stable enough to only come in every six months or so, but they've built up a trust. Nevertheless, he feels his heart pounding when she calls him in.

"What can I do for you?" she asks.

Guppy looks her straight in the eyes.

"I need to get better."

She tilts her head slightly, questioning. He continues.

"I've suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for over ten years, and generalised anxiety disorder since I was four years old. I have three significant phobias. I take medication that allows me to function but it's always there, and I still have the occasional panic attack. I have four children who need me. They're getting older and they're keeping secrets from me because they think I'll worry. And not just little secrets."

He pauses for breath. And she gives him the time.

"I've spent the last twelve years afraid to speak out because I was afraid for my career. But I'm not alone. Far from it. Many, many doctors suffer with their mental health at some time. And they don't speak out, because they expect to be above all of that. They bottle it all up inside.

"And the reality is, I'm at the top of my career ladder. I have a permanent consultant post. I have no trainer to convince that I'm good enough. I work with equals, who don't need to know about my mental health, but would probably have no less respect for me if they did."

She nods.

"Okay, let's see what we can do." she says, giving him a smile.

"You think I can get better?" Guppy asks.

"I do. It's been a decade since you had any sort of therapy." she says. "If you've suffered from anxiety since you were four, then it's probably not going to go away completely. But I think you could heal somewhat from where you are now, with help and support, and most importantly, self-care."

She hands him a leaflet and an envelope.

"Look, I'm not going to tell you how to suck eggs. But I want you to read this and refresh yourself with the basics of self-care, which I know with a busy job and four children you don't do enough of. This envelope here contains a self-referral form for talking therapies. If your therapist turns out to be someone you know, I'll arrange for you to get help in the next town instead."

Guppy nods. "Thanks."

"You've spent your whole adult life looking after other people." his GP says. "And I know that isn't going to change overnight. But be even a quarter as kind to yourself as you are to others, and I think things will start to get better. I want to see you in a couple of weeks, and if things aren't getting better, we'll have a look at your meds. But self-care first, because I think you've neglected that for a long time."

Guppy knows it's not going to be easy. But he does feel hopeful. And most of all, he feels it's okay.
 
 
16 May 2017 @ 08:06 pm
 
Harry Monmouth has not been pining in Viola's absence.

No, honestly. He hasn't. He's gone for rides on old Barbary; he's practiced tennis, hitting balls against a wall; he's eaten his meals and read books and slept perfectly soundly. And just now he's been watching the football on one of the screens in the main room. Football, followed by some odd tragicomic ceremony, something to do with the closing of the fields? At any rate, it had ended with a rainbow, which surely pleased everyone, being good theater.

He's chasing down some last scraps of a venison pasty, and wondering what he might do to spend the rest of the afternoon. Or is it evening already?