author's caveat: spoilers for suikoden the first. yes, we named him heero. and we named the castle-- well, you'll see.

[twelve drummers drumming]

dark shadows put to flight
by llamajoy


o come, o come, emmanuel,
and ransom captive israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the son of god appear

"You will not?" she whispered, disbelieving. They stood a chessboard apart, always just close enough to touch-- but the distance from her face to his was the only thing familiar, this evening. There was nothing so simple as a game between them, now, and the silence in that little room had never been so heated.

He had never seen her hands shaking, as she shifted a rook or lifted her ivory queen against his king, as her hands were shaking now.

"But they need your--" she bit her lip, paused. He knew she would try another tactic, could see the path she was about to take. That knowing did nothing to shield him from the intensity of her eyes. "Mathiu, I need you."

But again, he had to shake his head. "I have made my decision, Odessa; my wars are over. I cannot apologize for my course of action."

Her eyes were like smoldering runes, like foxfire. "You are a coward, Mathiu Silverberg."

He flinched, wanting to close his eyes but knowing that, to his sister, that would mean his surrender. He could not concede; there were pieces yet on the board-- lives on the field, words unspoken. But, if not checkmate, he could not deny that she had checked him, and far too easily. That one simple word, and he felt himself bleeding within, cut as surely as with fine steel. It had always been so: just a word from her, and castles were built, or walls came shattering down. Perhaps he had taught her that, how to put her whole weight behind a word, how to polish the edge of her voice and fight with more than just her hands.

She saw him lowering his defenses, saw his eyelids trembling. Of course, she should strike while the enemy is weakening, he thought. Any Silverberg would.

"You're nothing more than a--"

Hot anger flared beneath his heart, then. "And you are a silly idealistic girl," he said, keeping his voice even, knowing just which of the words in his invective would hurt her the worst. She had never been ashamed of her ideals.

Of course, she must have had a point, he realized later, if he was choosing his words to wound. He was retreating without recognizing it, on the defensive. The battle was hastening to its end, and neither of them, now, could escape unwounded.

They considered the board a moment longer, the only sound the counterpoint of two people breathing.

She looked at him, her eyes narrowed, her mouth a determined line. "You may never see me again."

"You are welcome in my house," he said mildly, though he felt his eyes weakening again, wanting nothing so much as the quiet darkness behind his eyelids. "Should you ever have the sense to return."

But his sister was gone, leaving the door unclosed behind her... as if she had not turned her back for good. Moving to shut the door, he watched the tall plaingrass that surrounded his small house as it was bending before the urgent evening wind, lapping against the walls like hungry waves.

He closed his eyes.


o come, thou day-spring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death's dark shadows put to flight

Hands deep in the pockets of his coat, Mathiu Silverberg walked up the stairs from his room to the roof of the Liberation Army's headquarters.

He no longer lived in that lonely house on the Grasslands, nor even in Seika, his classroom now abandoned and his students left behind. The ripples stirred by the wind this night were those on Lake Toran, half-frozen below, and the air here was unquiet, full of the sleepy murmurs of their fledgling army.

But his sleeplessness was much the same. Even here, in-- in the castle that young McDohl had named after Odessa.

That prompted, as usual, a soft, rueful smile. Had she known, his sister would have been dismayed. He leaned an arm against the granite battlements, feeling the cold stone even through his sleeve, looking out across the waters. Everything seemed to wear a layer of frost, like delicate icy lace, turning the parapets to confections in the starlit dark. For a moment, he found himself entertaining a memory, of those winters before Odessa had turned away, of firelight and tea, and shared daydreams.

No. He blinked, the sharpness of the air stinging his eyes. Even then she would have scowled, dismissed the notion-- a fortress named for her? Entirely too demonstrative. She had never been a silly girl.

And here he was, sleepless in the dream she had held out to him, years before.

A word from her, and castles were built. ...Hadn't he thought that before?

Perhaps it was the tightness of his heart, or the lateness of the hour, or perhaps the wind lifting from the lake to snap their battle standard and ruffle through his hair.

He shivered, and thought, I am not alone.

Unconsciously, he narrowed his eyes, scanning the rooftop, the dusky stairway, the flat glint of the silver lake five stories below. The slip of moon was not much light to see by. What would General Hazil think of him now, thus caught off his guard and unprepared for tactical retaliation?

Again, the thought: There is something here. Like a sound just beyond hearing, or a secret mostly forgotten, hovering on the tip of his tongue. Or, moving at the corners of his vision, a shadow wearing a too-familiar shape, hair and cape dancing in the same wind that left him chilled to his very toes...

He moved blindly down the stairs with his hands out before him, like a child afraid of the dark, seeking something he could not name.

A smudge of blue in the long corridor downstairs proved to be Flik, with a surprised frown and a hand to his lips. "Ssh," he hissed, motioning for Mathiu to be still.

Feeling unbalanced, Mathiu did so, leaning against the wall, and ignoring the cold seeping through his clothes. Flik? "Did you see something, too?" he asked, or rather, wanted to ask, but his voice failed after only a few words.

"He's sleeping," Flik whispered, nodding into the bedroom as if that explained everything.

Mathiu squinted. "Who?"

And Flik smiled, then, a warm sort of smile that Mathiu had not at all been expecting. "Heero," he said, his voice without bitterness. "He is our hope." And, so low Mathiu almost did not hear, "And it is his rune that keeps her close to me."

A slow shiver slid up his spine, back down again. He still could not make anything out of the darkness, save Flik's pale face and the window-shaped space of stars in Heero's room. But something had changed, a heavy shadow shifting in his chest.

...his rune that keeps her close to me.

What was there to say, to that?

Flik gripped his shoulder, briefly, and walked past him to his own room-- leaving Mathiu standing in the deserted hallway, his eyes tracing the patterns of starlight, his hand reflexively finding the place on his coat that Flik had touched.

He dropped his head against the doorframe, wearily, listening to the wintry echoes dancing through his mind. Wondering, as ever, if any of them were doing the right thing. Wondering how something so simple as warmth could make him surrender.

He closed his eyes.


o come, desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind
bid thou our sad divisions cease
and be thyself the king of peace

"Perhaps I should have stayed in that village, fishing my idle moments away, until my death..."

Vaguely he heard a voice-- his own?-- trying to apologize, indecision voiced too late. But the words came jumbled to his ears. He was so very tired, his hands lying heavily on his chest. Every breath hurt, the bleeding within had not stopped.

Would not stop. But still he waited--


It was not merely the blood rushing in his ears, it was the sound of a hundred hundred voices, shouting peace. A painful smile ghosted across his lips. At last.

Not so hard to imagine Odessa's voice amid the hundreds of others, to envision her victorious smile...

To see her eyes?

The thought, this time, was not unfamiliar, nor unwelcome. I am not alone.

Never alone, she corrected him, though the gratitude in her foxfire eyes seemed almost bewildered. Who's the fool now?, she said, her voice sounding right in his ear, though the steadying softness of her breath gentled her words. Your wars are over, Mathiu.

He thought that he should smile for her victory, to tell her that her words had built his world in spite of his resistance. After all was said, the day was hers, the board given over-- himself in checkmate, with nowhere else to move.

She put her hand on his shoulder, her grip surprisingly strong, the touch of her fingers... warm.

And suddenly he knew what she was waiting for, the answer simple, waiting for him all along.

He closed his eyes.


twelve days of christmas
b i s h o n e n i n k