Five things that never happened:



Meru knew her for what she was as soon as she strolled through the front door like she not only owned the place, but was planning to burn it down just to collect the insurance.

She knew her, and the shock of knowing her almost made her fall clear off the stage and straight into the arms of the men who tended to crowd right up to the edge trying to brush her with their fingers and slip money through her ribbons. She caught herself just in time, and tried to make the slip look cute and controlled and worth an extra tip or two, and she supposed it worked, but then the lady leered and Meru knew that she hadn't fooled her one inch.

The lady with the bloodclot eyes and the platinum hair parked herself down in one of the front row tables without looking at anyone else, and hardly said a word to anybody except to snap at one of the waitresses to bring her something to drink. She got their oldest, swankiest bottle of wine they had, and she didn't have to pay or anything, just sat and drank it down like it was cheap moonshine while the men around her stared at her breasts and bulldog face and the knives at her hip as long as her forearms. She sat and watched Meru's whole routine, her eyes skimming over bared skin and looped ribbons and tiny wrists, and when Meru locked eyes with her (confused lost hopeful shocked) she traced her fingers over her lips and winked.

Meru barely made it through her next set.



Dart had been busy protecting her all day.

At first, it had been almost kind of cute. Well, yes, the bit in the prison where he'd carefully put his hand on her shoulder and said, "Now, you follow me, Shana," in that pedantic, pure-intentioned way had been a little much, but he hadn't seen her in five years and who knew what kind of attitude he'd picked up abroad. But then he'd seemed to honestly want to take care of her, and what girl wouldn't find that attractive?

However, it only seemed to get worse after that. Eventually, he wasn't even letting her drift towards the front lines of the fight, and forget about actually letting her fire off a shot or two. He'd just pushed a bagful of potions her way and told her to, "Take care of me and Lavitz while we kill this scary Trent, okay? Okay!"

Sooner or later, he was actually cutting her meat for her. And checking her sleeping bag for spiders.

This morning, he'd elbowed her aside because a mole (a mole. One of those small, skittery creatures that squeaked in terror and blinded you with dirt in its efforts to escape) had sent one pebble too many winging in her direction, and she'd tripped and landed on her face, and she could have sworn that Rose had smirked at her.

So she'd shot him in the foot.

He got a lot less stupid after that.



Even though the portal had closed, Dart could still hear definite sounds of battle coming from further up in the trees. Wherever Haschel had gone, it hadn't turned out that well.

He ordered the rest of them to stay where they were (ignoring Miranda's stab of a glare that meant that he could take his suggestion and annoy someone else with it) and started the long, slow scrabble up the tree branches until he reached the platform at the top.

When he got there, the fighting sounds had ceased, and that alone had caused him to redouble his efforts in order to see if the old man had actually survived. It took some doing, but eventually he was able to hook one arm over the edge of the platform and haul himself up to where he could actually see.

Luckily, Haschel seemed to be in one piece. He was standing, stiff and haggard and looking eighty years old, staring at the figure opposite him like it was ten kinds of heartbreak all in one.

Dart didn't know her. She didn't look like anyone else he knew, either, except that she had the same kind of claws on her fist that his old master had, and she even had the Rouge-style training gi that everyone on the islands wore. She had a round, blunt face with a snub of a nose and a too-wide mouth, and she was never going to be pretty even if she did look like she still had a ways to grow. Her stance put Haschel's to shame. Stood like a prize fighter in a ring, her hands relaxed at her sides with her claws still gleaming brand new and her chin held up like a champion.

She grinned then, and Dart saw that she was almost pretty if you liked them that way- hard, like a box of nails and cocky enough to conquer a kingdom. Flipped the old man off with one swift, puncturing jab of her hand, and then she exploded into light.

It was too bright, so he couldn't be sure, but there had been one moment before she was too bright to see where he could have sworn that she'd glanced his way. The look was a little bit puzzled, but mostly disinterested, but Dart knew he'd seen her before. Somewhere.

When the light cleared, Haschel still looked older than he'd ever seen him, and he didn't talk for the next four hours.



Albert was surprised to see Rose come all the way down to his cabin on the Queen Fury, and even more surprised to hear her ask (low and distant and very politely) to hear some of his poetry while she collected her thoughts, but he didn't question it, and she wasn't a bad critic. She didn't volunteer much, other than to give an almost imperceptible wince to a handful of his word choices, and to occasionally mention such-and-such, a Tiberoan poet from the 5th century that yes, Albert was familiar with, and whose work he admired, and yes, he'd try to avoid copying some of his more well-known verse forms in the future.

He noticed that she liked it best when he didn't ask her opinion too much, as much as Rose ever liked anything. He noticed that her face almost softened when he talked about the sea and the darkness and the spaces between them, even if she did stare out the porthole nearly the entire time without comment. Eventually, she always thanked him and disappeared, and left behind. whatever notes and corrections she'd jotted down in the margins of whatever he was working on. Her handwriting was cramped and her suggestions terse, but he tried to incorporate them as best he could.

He knew that she slept in the crow's-nest, that none of the crew trusted her for her long silences and black looks, and he understood that, but he didn't understand her sudden need for poetry.



"Okay. Now listen. Personal pronouns. Words used as substitutes for proper or common nouns. Pronouns are why you don't hear me going around saying, 'Meru is a sexy-fine badass warrior babe!' or 'Meru feel like cracking skulls! 'They are easy. A baby could conjugate this. Now say it with me, first-person singular. 'I killed a bear today.'"

"I…. killed… bear today."

"A bear, you article-dropping freak!"

"I killed… a bear. Today."

"Good job, Kongol. Next- verb tenses!"


Author's Note: This was extremely fun to write, and surprisingly easy. I think that deep down, I just really wanted to write a Lenus/Meru. The rest just kind of tagged along.

Please let me know what you think! See? Review button! It's easy!