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Fluff and Verbosity

Chapter Text

Merlin knocked on the heavy wooden door, listening for a moment to hear any movements inside. “Escanor?” she called. “Can I come in?”

There was nothing for a long moment; then movement, and the sound of heavy boots walking towards the door. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” a deep voice said. “I’m not safe yet.”

The mage chuckled to herself. “I feel quite sure I’ll be fine,” she announced. “Please let me in? I have something for you.”

The sound of chain latches and deadbolts snapping came, one after the other, and finally the door inched open. Merlin looked up at the man who stood at the very small opening, his back hunched over to fit his entire face in view. “I must insist that you do not enter.”

“Nonsense.”

Easily she pushed past him, walking into the room that had been specially crafted to contain the one that lived within the final member of their order. Merlin took a look around, her eyes trailing over the chaise, the table, two sturdy wooden chairs, a lamp. There was a bookshelf with many volumes, and on the table even more were stacked. Papers also stood in a very neat pile in one corner, an inkwell and pen laid out neatly beside it.

“Are you finding your quarters acceptable?” she asked, peeking over her shoulder.

Escanor stood by the door, holding it open. “Yes, thank you. Now please, if you would be so kind—”

“Is the ceiling tall enough? The room wide enough?” She looked up, searching for any signs of damage.

“Yes, it’s all fine.” His tone was polite, but the strain was obvious. “It has been built to my exact specifications, so it is perfect.”

Merlin pressed her lips together. “I see.” Just that little telltale sign alerted her more to his increasing condition than any clock or sundial. “Since we don’t have much time, I should give you your present.”

She walked over to the table and placed a small box on top. Looking up, she met Escanor’s gaze, a small scowl on his face. “Please?” she asked sincerely. “Just open it, and then I will go.”

He nodded sharply and walked towards her. But after only a step or two he froze, and then turned around and shut the door. “I’m sorry,” he said as his hands fumbled with the half dozen locks on the side. “I cannot risk getting out.”

Merlin sighed. “Escanor, you’re not a monster. You’re not even a beast.”

“No, I am not,” he answered as he turned back around. “I am more than those things. I am him.”

Well, that was something she could not argue. So instead she spread her palm, indicating the box on the table.

Escanor’s shoulders heaved with a deep breath, and then he cautiously approached her. She took a subtle step to the side, presumably to give him room to stand in her place, but in reality to give them a bit of space. Merlin had meant what she said—she was not afraid, not of being injured, anyway. Her Perfect Cube at the least meant her personal safety. No, it was his own safety she wished to maintain. If he managed to make some kind of mistake, it would be weeks of reassurances to draw him out of his shell.

Inside a shell is where she had found the man buried, having been isolated for so long. It was a pity too, she thought, watching as he pressed his palms on the table, examining the box. He was still so young, so very handsome, the air of aristocracy from his royal background clinging to the way he stood and walked and spoke. Any other man would have had the world at his feet to have been born Escanor of Castellio. But fate could be as cruel as she could be kind, and took just as much as she gave.

Merlin smiled to herself. Sometimes fate lost at her own game, as well.

“Open it,” she instructed. His fingers, now as large as the hilt of a sword, were clumsy as they pried open the top. Then gently he reached inside—even as him, Merlin was charmed to see he was still gentle—and lifted a pair of spectacles out of the box.

“What is this?” he asked, looking at her. Then his brown creased as he boomed, “Do you dare suggest my eyesight is faulty?”

“Not at all,” she laughed, her airy voice drifting in the stuffy room. She watched with measured eyes as his shoulders relaxed and tightened just a bit, the evidence that Escanor was holding the worst back. “Those eyeglasses are one of my Magical Items. In the weeks you have been with us, I’ve been researching something to help you in the daytime. I believe these will suit you well.”

“I don’t understand,” he said roughly. “What will they do?”

Merlin smiled. “I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Why don’t you put them on so we can find out?”

Her smile remained fixed on her face, but in the corners of her vision she watched him carefully. His fist closed around the glasses, and for a moment she feared he would crush them in some sort of fit of arrogance, proclaiming one such as he did not need any help. Escanor took several deep breaths, seeming to debate what to do, so Merlin slowly walked around the table, moving closer to him.

“Escanor, listen to me.” His eyes darted to her, and Merlin looked back at him seriously. “You are a member of the Seven Deadly Sins now. You took your oath and received your name, was branded with your tattoo. Nothing can undo that, and we need you.”

“Of course you need me,” he scoffed. “I am the greatest—”

“We need you, the real you, the one that is inside of you now. The strong one.”

Escanor frowned. “What do you mean? Who is possibly stronger than me?”

Merlin stood only inches from him now, close enough to reach out and touch him. “The other,” she said quietly. “The one holding you back from killing me right now for my insolence.”

His eyes widened, and a little shiver went up her spine. It was the familiar thrill of cracking open a code, or discovering a truth, one only she knew, that had come from hours or days or weeks of plotting and planning. It was the feeling she would get when she was about to get what she wanted.

“Now,” she said firmly, “do you trust me enough to try?”

With trembling hands, Escanor lifted the glasses to his face and slid them onto his nose. The effect was nearly instant; before her eyes could barely register, Escanor was smaller, younger, his ginger hair slightly askew, his bright eyes blinking behind the spectacles. “Merlin!” he gasped, his brows lifting in shock. “Merlin! Look at me! It worked!”

He clapped in delight, and she would have done so too, if that was the sort of thing she did. Instead, Merlin placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, looking into his face that now was nearly the same height as her own and not towering over her. “Just keep these on, and it should keep you in this form,” she assured him. “There’s no need for them at night of course, but that’s up to you.”

“How do I look?” Escanor wondered, gazing in wonder at his thin arms and soft hands.

“Like your normal self,” she assured him.

“Yes, yes, but how do I look in them?” he asked eagerly, his eyes going to her expectantly. Merlin was a bit taken aback, surprised to be asked such a thing.

“You look—good.”

Escanor’s face beamed with another beautiful smile, and then he grabbed both of her hands, squeezing them before pulling them up to his lips. He kissed the backs of each, and then turned them over, kissing her palms. “Thank you, Merlin,” he gushed. “Thank you!”

“Of course,” she murmured, feeling a bit of heat across her chest and neck. Carefully she extracted her hands from his and picked up the box on the table. “Now do be careful with them,” she warned. “It’s the only pair until I can make you a spare.” He nodded enthusiastically, and she chuckled as his shirt—now three sizes too big—slipped down his shoulder. “Why don’t you get changed and then come downstairs for lunch? Let’s give the others a bit of a surprise.”

“Lunch!” he cried. “It’s been so long since I had lunch.”

Merlin laughed again as she walked to the door. Escanor hurried ahead of her, quickly opening all the locks, then held the door for her with a very gentlemanly bow as she swept by. “See you at lunch, Merlin!” he called, and the mage smiled to herself as she descended the stairs, truly and thoroughly pleased.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth and Meliodas walked together back towards the castle, hand in hand. It was something they had never done before, and she was very aware of the feel of his warm palm and firm fingers against her own. They had held hands before, as he had helped her down from something, or when he had snatched her up to run somewhere. But this… this pressure, this reassuring grip of his hand was new, and thrilling.

They both needed it, she figured. The Boar Hat was gone, the Sins scattered, and Liones had survived an assault by the Ten Commandments—barely. But they had survived, and most importantly, Meliodas had survived.

She looked at him now, walking next to her, while his eyes remained straight ahead. It was night now, but plenty of moonlight overhead, the burning lamps from the city glowing as they approached. The capital was celebrating their first victory as the Commandments were turned back. The celebration was premature perhaps, but needed; too many knights had fallen, too many citizens now dead or missing. The survivors needed to let off some steam to work through the heavy emotion of losing so much while coming out on top.

Elizabeth would have preferred to stay in the quiet of the little hill on which she had found Meliodas, grilling something awful outside of the smashed remains of his beloved tavern. But after he had confessed—and then cried, goodness, her heart just tore in half remembering that moment—Meliodas had decided that there was safety in numbers and they should head back to the castle. The princess had felt as though she could not argue, although she really wanted to do just that.

Now they were walking, and she was at least thankful for the leisurely pace. Inside the castle was her sister Margaret, who she was sure was inconsolable over the loss of Gilthunder. There was Jericho and Howzer and the other Holy Knights, mourning their dead. There was Ban and Escanor and Merlin, pieces of the Seven Deadly Sins, parts of a puzzle that still remained stubbornly broken apart. Ahead was reality, but right here, it was just them, holding hands.

“What is it, Elizabeth?” he asked quietly, startling her.

“Nothing,” she whispered, blinking away her dark thoughts. “It’s just that so much has happened today.”

Meliodas nodded, still looking straight ahead. “I’m sorry for the way I just… appeared today. I must have startled you badly.”

“No! No, it was—” Elizabeth’s heart beat a little faster, remembering that incredible moment of feeling him holding her again. “It was the most amazing thing I could have asked for.”

He gave a humorless laugh. “I’m glad to have made that entrance then.” He peeked at her now out of the corner of his eye. “Are you feeling all right? After facing Derieri and using your power… is there anything… unusual you are feeling?”

Elizabeth frowned, thinking. “I’m fine, really,” she assured him. “It was a shock for sure, to have that—burst of magic, or whatever it was. And I was so frightened, and so angry over what was happening. It was overwhelming.”

She bit her lip for a moment, thinking about how childish that must sound to him. But Meliodas only responded, “Overwhelming is a good way to describe today.”

They continued on in silence for several minutes. The entrance to the city was now in sight, and in just a short time they would be back to their lives, back to their friends and families, back to the war. Elizabeth was reluctant to return to it; after all, she had just gotten Meliodas back!

“What about you?” she asked. When he looked up at her curiously, she prompted, “Are you feeling better?”

“Right as rain,” he smiled, his eyes crinkling up a bit.

But Elizabeth knew better than to just believe that smile. “Meliodas…” When her voice trailed off, he came to a stop. Their hands were still clasped together, their fingers entwined, but he kept his head down and his eyes hidden. “Meliodas, what happened today? How did you come back?”

She watched as he visibly swallowed. “I’m not entirely sure,” he answered, slow and measured.

“But… but why? Where were you?” Elizabeth had the sudden sensation that she shouldn’t be asking, but she could not help herself. The days and nights waiting, weeping, wanting all flooded through her and now she needed to know. “I waited, and I prayed. I knew somehow you would come back and Sir Zaratras… he showed me things, Meliodas. I know… I know about how you found me. As a baby.”

His shoulders stiffened, but still he did not look at her. “I know how you brought me here, how you looked after me. You… always looked after me, Meliodas.”

His fingers squeezed her hand, and she squeezed him back. “How is this possible? How did you come back?”

“Because you healed me, Elizabeth.” He looked at her then, his eyes sad, his smile even sadder. “You healed me and brought me back.”

Lies. It wasn’t true, she knew that it wasn’t, no matter how much she wanted to believe him. But if it wasn’t true, then how could such a thing be possible?

“Meliodas.” They turned and faced one another then, and Elizabeth peered at him closely. Meliodas would not lie to her, not her Meliodas anyway. He might shield her from the truth, or hold something quietly, but never would he tell her an outright lie. So if she had brought him back somehow, then that had to be true.

Of course, it would be… if this was Meliodas.

“Kiss me,” she said suddenly. His eyes went wide and her cheeks were on fire, but this was the only way. “Please, I need to know… I need to know this is really you. I don’t understand what’s happening and… I…”

His hands reached up and slid through her hair, tilting her head down as his face drew near. She looked into his green eyes, practically seeing her reflection, and her heart did a little flip when she realized they were completely free of the darkness they had held earlier. That was another mystery to unravel one day, but not a deal breaker. Not by any means.

He let go a little breath, which dusted across her lips; Elizabeth sighed and leaned into his touch. It felt the same, the confident hands and the hint of power that lived just underneath, the slight roughness to his skin, the incredible warmth that seemed to radiate from his body. Instinctively she took a step closer, and he did as well, until their chests were touching and her lips hovered over his. She didn’t need any more assurances now; just being here, so close to him, told her everything she needed to know: this was her Meliodas.

“Kiss me,” she whispered anyway, and he did. His mouth pressed against her, and Elizabeth shivered, her pulse going wild and her hands clenching into fists. Suddenly she realized she had no idea what to do—she had never kissed anyone before!—but her fears were soon soothed as he stroked her lips gently. He tasted her, and she mimicked his movements, until they were kissing slowly, deeply, and Elizabeth thought she would simply melt away in happiness.

Chapter Text

Diane giggled as she held onto King’s hands. “Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise,” he answered. “Now don’t open your eyes.”

She laughed again, and King took a deep breath. He led her through the Forest, his Forest, careful to keep her from stumbling. But he knew every rock and twig and patch of moss in this place, the life that grew here connected to him, his heart beating in time with every tree and plant and creature in the Forest, so it was with confidence that he led her forward.

“Harlequin,” she whined. “Would you just tell me?”

King didn’t answer, but continued pulling her forward. Chastiefol hovered above, pushing the lower branches out of the way. His heart was beating nervously as they drew closer and closer to the place he had arranged for them.

“You know, I don’t like surprises.”

King laughed. “Yes you do.”

Diane heaved a dramatic sigh, but she grinned. “You’re right. But Harlequin—”

“Do you trust me?”

He meant it to tease, but suddenly Diane looked very serious. She pressed her lips together and nodded, making him smile. “Good. Almost there.”

A moment later they stepped through a ring of trees, and Diane gasped. “I hear something!” she whispered, and King nodded. “It’s a stream.”

“A stream?” Her brows went down a bit. “Where are we?”

“Find out,” he answered, and let go of her hands. “Open your eyes.”

Diane obeyed, blinking a bit as her eyes adjusted to the light. It had been dusk as they began walking, and he timed it so that when they arrived, it had just become nightfall. A bit of purple still lingered in the sky, the color fading to black overhead and providing a backdrop to the thousands of stars peeking out.

King took a couple of steps backwards, and once Diane focused she looked at him. “King, what is this place?”

“This is a special place for the Fairy clan. It’s part of what brings life to the Forest.” He turned and gestured to a tree that stood alone in the clearing. The dim light around it cast shadows on the other trees, making them look black, but this tree was shining. It was covered in white and gold, shimmering in the moonlight, and Diane gave a little gasp of surprise.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, moving to stand next to him.

King nodded. “The glowing effect is from the pollen clinging to the tree. Every year this one produces enough for the entire forest. But this pollen is special, because this tree’s roots are connected directly to that stream, which is also connected to the Great Tree.”

“The Great Tree?”

“Yes.” He smiled at her and continued, “Both have the same water source, so both contain the magic of the Forest. The pollen from this tree, however, brings the protective magic to all the other trees. And it only happens once a year.”

As if on cue, hundreds of tiny glowing orbs of green and yellow began to descend on them. Diane gave a yelp and drew closer to King, looking around with wide eyes. Now the entire clearing was filled with lights, each one tiny and moving in perfect order. “Those are the fireflies,” he whispered. “Now watch.”

King turned to observe the tiny glowing insects as they swirled around them, feeling the breeze lift his hair and the tiny flapping of their wings as they flew by. As the king, he was aware of the tiny changes among the fireflies, could almost feel their thoughts as they went through the ancient ritual. Each one would take a tiny piece of the pollen and deliver it to a designated tree. That tree would then be marked as belonging to the Fairy King, and would earn the protection of the Great Tree.

“It’s really amazing,” he breathed, smiling as he looked upwards. The fireflies continued to swirl around them, and his mouth widened into a grin. Was this something Dahlia had come to watch? Or Gloxinia? There was a little twist in his chest to think of the first fairy king, standing here, perhaps with his own love. This was something that only the king knew, a secret ritual closely held and only shared with those who were worthy.

One by one the fireflies danced around them, until the glowing pollen of the tree had been carefully collected. He tracked their movements with his eyes, his gaze never leaving their seemingly chaotic lines, his focus solely on making sure everything went perfectly. Then all at once, the little lights scattered in hundreds of directions, bursting into the air like fireworks. King gave a laugh as he bid them good travels with his heart, proud to have another year of a good bloom and another role of his completed.

With shining eyes he turned to Diane, expecting to see her looking out at the trees, which had once again grew dark and silent. But she was looking at him, her own eyes glimmering a bit. “Diane?” he asked. “Did you watch?”

“Yes, Harlequin,” she answered quietly. “I watched.” Then she leaned in and pressed her lips against his, catching him off-guard, and they stood together for a while under the stars, sharing a kiss.

Chapter Text

“Stand straight.” Elizabeth pressed on Meliodas’ shoulders, positioning him against the trunk of a tree. “There, just like that. Now don’t move.”

“What are we doing?”

Her eyes were filled with a now-familiar determination as she placed something on his head. “Okay. Now just… stay.”

Meliodas rolled his eyes upwards in a futile attempt to see what was on top of his head. It wasn’t heavy, and rather small, and he shifted just a bit to test the balance. “What is on top of me?” he called.

“An apple,” she replied. Elizabeth had moved a couple dozen paces away, her back to him as she sifted through her bag.

Admiring the view of her behind for a moment, Meliodas was too distracted to wonder why there was an apple on his head… until she turned around with an arrow in one hand and a bow in the other. He blinked in confusion, and then his eyes went wide as he watched Elizabeth string her bow. “Wait a second! What are you doing?”

Elizabeth looked up and smiled sweetly, that smile she knew he could not resist. Her wings flapped just a bit as she drew herself up confidently. “I’m going to shoot the apple on your head.”

“Why… are you doing this?”

She gave a laugh, the sound like a beautiful chime in the forest. “Gloxinia doesn’t think I can do it, so I want to show him. But I want to practice first.”

Elizabeth raised the bow and took aim, but Meliodas jolted. He raised his palms in defense and yelled, “Wait! Stop for a second!”

The apple made a soft sound as it toppled from his head and fell on the moss. “What’s wrong?” she called over, frowning and putting her fists on her hips.

Meliodas laughed. “You’re not shooting an arrow at me.”

The goddess pouted, tilting her head a bit. “Don’t you trust me?”

He narrowed his eyes at her. So this was how she was going to play it? “Of course I trust you,” he answered sarcastically. “That doesn’t mean I want you shooting an arrow at my head.”

Elizabeth walked towards him, her mouth turned down a bit. “If you trusted me, you’d let me do it.”

Meliodas rolled his eyes. “Let me shoot one at you first, then maybe.”

“Meliodas,” she cooed at him. The sound of his name gave him a bit of a shiver, and he felt his resolve starting to crumble as she drew closer and closer. “You know I’m an excellent shot. I would never, ever do this if I didn’t think I could.”

Swallowing, he replied, “I know that, Elizabeth, but—”

“I would never, ever hurt you, Meliodas.”

“I know that too—”

“Please?”

“Elizabeth…”

“Do you trust me?”

Her two blue eyes stared into his, and he let go a long breath, knowing he was sunk. “Fine,” he muttered, and to his annoyed delight she cheered and threw her arms around him, giving him a smacking kiss on the lips. “Thank you thank you thank you! I promise I can do this.”

“As long as I can do this,” he joked, grabbing onto her backside.

She giggled and pressed against him, giving him another kiss on the cheek. “Besides,” she said as she bent down to retrieve the apple, “if I do hit you, it’s not like it would really hurt you.”

The apple was replaced and she trotted back to her spot. “It wouldn’t kill me,” he muttered, “but it would still hurt.”

He cleared his throat and stood perfectly still as he watched her take aim. This will be fine, he thought to himself. Elizabeth was a great shot, one of the best with a bow he had ever seen. She had an uncanny ability to read the atmosphere and make miniscule adjustments to hit her target precisely. Right now, her head was tilted down, and he saw her flex her shoulder slightly as she took aim. Meliodas smiled, fully confident that she would hit the apple.

The arrow went flying, and a moment later, landed with a thunk in the wood.

“Ow,” he said in surprise. He looked down to see the arrow sticking into his shoulder. It had gone clean through, pinning him to the tree.

“Meliodas! Oh my goodness!”

A moment later she was there, and before he could tell her to wait a minute she yanked the arrow from his body. “Ow,” he said again, swaying a bit as he saw momentary stars.

“Oh my goodness oh my goodness oh my goodness!”

Her face was lined with worry, and Meliodas could not help his chuckle. “It’s okay.”

“I can’t believe I missed,” she muttered. He huffed a laugh as his wound started healing, and she gave him a dark look. “It’s your fault, you know.”

“Mine!” he exclaimed. “How was that my fault? You hit me with an arrow.”

“Only because you decided to smile at me the moment I released that arrow,” she retorted. Then she flipped her hair back over her shoulder, her wings flapping in a sign of indignation. “You made me miss.”

He would have laughed at her if it didn’t hurt so damn much. But Elizabeth tossed the arrow to the side and pressed her palm on the wound, her light beginning to glow as the hole in his chest began to close.

“This reallllllly huuuuurts,” he moaned, clutching his chest in mock pain. He peeked at her through half-closed eyes and saw her trying not to laugh. “I think you need to kiss it better.”

Elizabeth snorted. “You wish,” she murmured. But she leaned in and pressed a kiss on his mouth as his skin finished sewing together, and he used the opportunity to grab another handful of her rear. Meliodas squeezed, drawing a squeal from her, and she smacked him right in the shoulder, still a bit tender. “Ow,” he whispered.

“That’s what you get,” she laughed, and kissed him again.

Chapter Text

“Gowther, pretend you like me.”

The Goat Sin looked up over his novel to see Slader slipping into the stool next to his. “Pardon?” he asked.

“There is this woman here who—there she is!” Slader turned and leaned an elbow on the table, propping his head up and facing away from the room. “I think she saw me. If she comes over here, just pretend you like me.”

Gowther blinked, but then nodded. Pretend to like Slader? He actually liked Slader quite a bit. He was an excellent knight, very chivalrous, spoke his mind, never backed down from a challenge. He also had an excellent heart, which he had used on many occasions to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.

So pretending to like him would be an interesting experiment.

“Sir Slader!” A shrill voice caught his attention, and he saw Slader cringe as his eyes slid upwards. “Is that you hiding? I knew it was you!”

The woman also sat, her ample bosom pressing on the tabletop as she leaned forward. Her chestnut hair was done up in curls around her face and powdered makeup fell into the creases around her eyes and rouged cheeks. Gowther giggled a bit behind his fingers at the woman’s silly look.

“Marion, is it?” Slader said politely, sitting up to give her a weary smile. “Nice to see you.”

“And you, Sir Slader,” she giggled with a wink.

Gowther looked over at the knight next to him, who kept the smile plastered to his face as the woman began to prattle. Here was another example of how very good Slader’s heart was: he was hiding from this woman, so Gowther assumed he did not want to speak to her—and yet, he was speaking politely, nodding as she went on and on. And Slader wanted him to pretendto like him?

“Sir Slader, you need a woman to take care of you!” she shrilled. “A young man like you shouldn’t be alone. You need to find a lovely girl and settle down.” She pressed her arms forward a bit, which pushed her chest up and allowed it to spill a bit from the top of her dress. “Of course, a young thing wouldn’t know nearly as much about taking care of a man as someone more my age.”

Slader began nodding. “Of course! And you’re right, which is why I have found a lovely girl. Woman. Person!”

His arm went around Gowther, startling the doll and knocking is glasses askew. “This is Gowther. And we’re together.”

Marion looked less than impressed. She eyed Gowther up and down, her lips pressing together disdainfully. “Is that so? Who are you exactly?”

“I’m Gowther, the Seven Deadly Sins’ Goat Sin of Lust,” he answered automatically.

“Seven Deadly Sins, hm?” She looked him up and down again, and Gowther did the same to her, figuring it would be best.

“Yes. And we’re quite happy,” Slader went on. “So no need to worry about me!”

Gowther looked up at the knight, and Slader turned and looked back at him. He raised his eyebrows a bit and nodded, and the doll understood that to mean he should speak now too. “Yes,” Gowther said. “Slader and I are happy. There is no need to worry about him.”

“Well, Mister Sin,” she scoffed, “I saw Slader first. How did you even meet?”

“Quite an interesting story, actually,” Gowther replied. He straightened his glasses and folded his hands on the table. “Slader was sent with Dawn Roar to bring back the head of the beast living inside of my enchanted suit of armor. Luckily, it was not me, as I had given it as a gift to a former Holy Knight who had been transformed into a demon which caused his physical and spiritual structures to actually morph into a horrible monster. I allowed Slader to kill the man in an effort to avoid any more death, and in an impressive display of gallantry refused to pursue me or my companions despite the fact that we were at the time wanted criminals under suspicion of treason, murder, and sedition. Slader complimented me on his way back to Liones, and that is what caught my eye and allowed us to form a friendship in the weeks following.”

The woman’s mouth was hanging open, and Gowther was at once confused. Had he said something wrong?

Oh, of course! He was supposed to pretend to like Slader, and all he had done was give an accurate account of the facts. So Gowther added, “Plus, he has very attractive buttocks.”

With that the woman stood and stomped away. Gowther was pleased as he watched her go, and turned to grin up at Slader. “Pretending to like you worked!” he announced happily, giving him a thumbs-up.

“Yeah.” Slader was laughing and shaking his head. “Hey Gowther, can I buy you a drink?”

Gowther thought for a moment, and then nodded. “We are in a tavern, so that makes sense. Yes, buy me a drink.”

Slader grinned and headed to the bar as Gowther watched. But then he frowned as he realized Slader did have very attractive buttocks. He needed to get better at this pretending to like someone thing.

Chapter Text

“To Liones, and the Seven Deadly Sins!” the king proclaimed.

“To Liones!”

The gathering around the grand dining hall raised their glasses for the toast, and as everyone drank a cheer went up. Baltra sat down with the applause, and then the servants were busy in a flurry around the table, laying out the dishes for the celebratory feast.

Margaret shifted in her seat. It was still so strange to be around so many people, the rooms and hallways that had been filled with suspicious whispers now almost foreign with happy voices. She looked around the table, and smiled when Gilthunder caught her eye. He winked at her from across the table, and that little reassurance allowed her to relax, just a bit.

“Do you need a drink, Your Highness?” a voice asked.

To her left was the king, so she turned right. There sat Meliodas, the Captain of the Seven Deadly Sins, one of the guests of honor at this party. Her face warmed to see him staring at her expectantly. This man had nearly single-handedly saved Liones—not to mention, her and Gilthunder’s lives, as well. And she had yet to thank him.

“I-I’m fine,” she stammered, picking up her glass.

He nodded then, picking up his own and clinking it against hers. “Just wanted to make sure. You can take the guy out of the bar, but you can’t take the bar out of the guy.”

She laughed at his joke, and together they sipped. “To Liones,” he said gaily.

“To Liones.” Margaret set her drink down and took a deep breath. “Sir Meliodas, I—”

“You’re probably looking to thank me,” he interrupted.

Margaret blinked in surprise. “Well, yes,” she answered, watching as he started piling his plate with bread and potatoes. “You saved the kingdom. You deserve all of our thanks.”

He shrugged and dropped a spoonful of vegetables on her own plate. “Couldn’t exactly let that go on, could I? Besides, it wasn’t me. The Sins did most of the work. Plus the Holy Knights. I could have never performed the Counter without all their strength.” He gave her a lopsided smile as he gestured his head to the side. “Including your Gilthunder.”

Margaret glanced over to see Gil engaged in conversation with King across the table. “I realize that,” she answered. “But you also took exceptional care of my sister. Elizabeth took a great risk, and you kept her safe. I owe you my thanks for that.”

“Nah,” he answered, chewing thoughtfully. Swallowing, he pointed his spoon at her. “Elizabeth held her own. That girl has an awful lot of spirit. Just like you.”

“Me?” Margaret gave an embarrassed laugh. “Elizabeth is much more spirited than I have ever been.”

“Hmmm. I remember all of you girls getting into plenty of trouble. Along with those other three.” She chuckled as he nodded. “You might not have been as rambunctious as the others, but you were certainly spirited. One of the first ways I realized something was wrong.”

At that, the princess froze. For several moments she watched him eat, her heart having fell positively to her knees. “What do you mean?” she hissed at him, her mind whirling.

“I knew you were under a curse. I mean, Gilthunder clued me in, but seeing you up on that ledge confirmed it.”

Her eyes lifted to Gil once again, who had finished his conversation to focus on his meal. He bit into a bit of meat, and when he looked up their eyes connected. She watched as his smile went a bit stony, his brows drawing down in question. But she only shook her head a bit, feeling her pulse racing.

Meliodas had known? He had looked at her and saw? The possibility was too much to bear, to even think about. What if someone else had seen? She felt light-headed then, and snatched up her glass to take a sip of the cool wine. If someone had seen, the wrong person had seen, they would have been finished. Margaret had no idea how close they had been to disaster.

But then, she glanced sideways at the Captain, who was laughing at something silly happening on the other side of the room. No one else had noticed, nothing in all those years. Oh, people would remark on how sullen and quiet Gilthunder was, remarking what a shame it was, what a burden for the poor son of the murdered Grand Master. But no one had noticed her pain, her fear. The day Vivian had set the curse was the day Margaret had stopped speaking out of turn, had stopped playing, had stopped doing anything she wasn’t instructed to do. And no one, not even her father, had noticed.

“Sir Meliodas,” Margaret interrupted, and he turned to look at her. She needed to know how. But her mouth went dry with the question, not know how to ask it.

Meliodas smiled. “I’m glad it’s over. Now you can be yourself again.” He tilted his head a bit as she sucked in a breath. “I missed you. Wasn’t the same without you around. I’m sure everyone else did, too.”

Elizabeth’s laugh caught his attention, and Margaret felt something damp on her cheek. Once more she looked back at Gilthunder, as she had always done. He looked at her with a question, but she only grinned. This time, as she looked at him, it was as herself, not as a shell of a girl, not looking for his strength. Meliodas was right—she was back.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth laid in the bed in the room she shared with Meliodas at the Boar Hat, staring at the ceiling. Hawk Mama was moving them away from Ishtar, towards what they hoped was Diane’s direction. There was so much going on around them: Diane missing, Ban who even knew where, the Ten Commandments chasing them, rumors of people missing and dying in Britannia. But all she could think about was that little seed inside of the cup of dirt, and how she had failed.

Of all the times for her to not come through, now was the worst. How could she have done that, let them down like that? Let Sir Meliodas down like that? She swallowed thickly, feeling a burning in the back of her throat. Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry. There had been enough tears that day.

If only—if only—she had managed to do it. Her brow furrowed as she thought back to her trial, and that stubborn little seed. Elizabeth had managed to heal an entire battalion of Holy Knights; apparently she had been doing it her entire life! And yet here she was, and Apostle of the Goddesses, and unable to grow one little seedling. It was humiliating.

Maybe the goddesses picked the wrong vessel.

Her heart beat faster as she pressed her hands on her unsettled stomach. Turning her head a bit, she looked over at Sir Meliodas’ sleeping form. He had been through so much today with his own trial. He had survived Liz’s death countless times, then gone and fought the Commandments on his own. He was brave and strong and something she wished desperately to be. He even still had time to reassure her.

“So what if you fail once or twice?”

“If you believe in me, I’ll never feel bad about myself again!”

She had made him that promise, and yet here she was, feeling sorry for herself.

“I have to do this,” she whispered. “I have to.”

Elizabeth hopped up from bed, carefully slipping out as not to wake Meliodas. The moon was full and bright, so there was no need to light any lamps. Without a sound she made her way to her dresser, opening it just enough to slip inside and pull out the little packet of seeds that King had gifted her ages ago.

Shaking out a seed, she then headed to the window, where a few small plants sat on the sill. She opened the window just a bit and picked up one, a little houseplant she had brought from the castle. “Sorry, little plant,” she whispered, scooping it out of the dirt and dropping it out of the window.

Elizabeth closed the pane before pressing the seed into the dirt and scooping the remaining soil over to top it. With care she smoothed it down, then positioned herself on the window seat before placing it on her lap.

“Please grow,” she whispered. Elizabeth closed her eyes, imagining light moving from her fingers into the ceramic pot. “Please grow.”

She peeked through one eye, huffing a sigh when she saw nothing was happening. “Okay, just relax, Elizabeth,” she scolded herself. “If Sir Meliodas can face his trial, so can you.”

Once more she closed her eyes. Yet as she tried to make the plant grow, her mind automatically drifted to him. She thought of the pain that had been etched on his face, the way he had cried out over and over as he relived what he experienced in Danafor. She thought of the way his body had been bruised and broken as he leapt between her and Hendrickson, shielding her from a fatal attack with nothing but his own skin. She thought of him bleeding on the cobblestone ground of the capital, shouting her name as the thing that was once the Grand Master lifted her in the air and carried her away.

“Sir Meliodas has done so much,” she murmured. “He has protected me so many times. And no matter how much I try, I’m just a burden.”

A tear slipped down her cheek, and the sensation made her open her eyes in surprise. She watched it drop from her chin and land on the dirt that still remained smooth and untouched. “What am I doing?” she hissed. “I’m feeling sorry for myself again.”

Elizabeth stood and put the flowerpot back on the windowsill before crossing over to the bed. Sir Meliodas was still fast asleep, so she crouched down a bit, softly pressing his bangs back in order to examine his face. It was so peaceful now, so different than the twisted anguish of earlier. “Sir Meliodas,” she whispered. “I’m going to do this. I might not be able to grow a seed, but I’m going to find a way to be powerful like you.”

Her fingers tucked a strand behind his ear, and she smiled as his lips parted slightly. “We made a promise,” she said quietly. “I will never stop fighting, not ever. I’m going to make you proud. Because you deserve it. You deserve only good things, after all you’ve suffered. I want to make you happy, because you’ve made me so happy. And because…”

She paused, heat rising on her cheeks. Elizabeth leaned forward a bit until her lips were just brushing his ear. “And because, I’m so in love with you.”

Elizabeth pulled back, her heart pounding with her confession; but still he slept on, not moving, and she sighed in relief. She stood and headed to the washroom to splash her face and get a sip of water. Then she would return to bed and get some sleep, because tomorrow she had a promise to keep.

As she walked away, Meliodas opened his eyes. The corner of his mouth lifted just a bit, and as he looked towards the window, he could just make out the shape of a seedling sprouting from the flowerpot in silhouette.

Chapter Text

Howzer was walking down a hallway in Liones castle when he heard his name called. “Sir Howzer! Sir Howzer!”

Instantly recognizing the voice, he turned to see the third princess hurrying towards him, her arm outstretched in a wave. “Sir Howzer, wait!”

“Okay, Your Highness, just be caref—”

He didn’t have time to finish when Elizabeth tripped on her dress, her hair flying and arms flailing to stop herself as she tipped forward. This is a sight he had seen more than once in the Boar Hat, so the knight easily jumped into action, catching her up with one arm before she could plant herself face-first into the hard wooden floor.

Elizabeth was draped over his arm, and for a moment he caught sight of her long legs, now on full display from underneath her displaced skirts. He had seen the princess’ lovely form many times in the tavern uniform, but somehow looking up her skirt as she was dressed in her fine castle clothing seemed to be very untoward. Quickly he looked around to make sure no one saw her in such a compromising position as he righted her.

Howzer let go once she was on her feet, but Elizabeth’s hands grabbed his arms to steady herself as she got her bearings. “As I was saying, just be careful,” he joked.

“Sir Howzer, I’m so sorry!” Her face blushed into a deep crimson, and she threw her arms around him to give him a huge hug. “You are a lifesaver!”

He was glad she could not see his own coloring, which he was sure was turning tomato-red. The princess was very beautiful, and feeling her very soft and curvaceous and generous body against his made him blush furiously. Not knowing what to do with his hands, he awkwardly patted the back of her head. “Hey, no problem. I’m here for you.” She still had not let go, so he cleared his throat. “Always.”

“That’s what I came to talk to you about!” Her voice was sweet as she pulled away, and he felt the heat on his neck again as she smiled up at him. “I came to thank you for everything you did.”

“What I did? What did I did?”

He frowned as she smiled brightly at him. “I heard about how you stood up to the other Holy Knights and defended Diane. Even though she was your enemy, you still did the right thing!”

“Oh. That.” Sheepishly he rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I mean…”

“And Dreyfus! How dreadful for you to have to disobey an order from someone you looked up to so much. You and he were very close, weren’t you?”

Howzer cleared his throat. “I suppose you could say that.”

“Sir Howzer.” Her hand pressed on his arm, and his eyes went wide. Elizabeth gazed up at him adoringly, and his heart started pounding. “You were brave, and honorable, and defended my friends and our kingdom. Is there anything at all I can do to repay your kindness?”

“Uh…” Swallowing thickly, he tried hard to ignore the warm palm on his arm, or the way her fingers squeezed him for a brief moment. Her blue eye shone and her cheeks were dusted a beautiful pink, and slowly his eyes slid downwards, to the soft lips forming a small smile, then down further, to the bounteous curves that peeked out from the open collar of her dress. His eyes widened a bit at the ample flesh, his mind going numb for a moment. What did she say?

“Sir Howzer?” His eyes snapped up to hers, and she raised her eyebrow slightly. “Are you all right?”

“Y-yes!” Howzer stepped back, putting his hands on his hips. “No need for any thanks, princess! Just all in a day’s work for a Holy Knight!”

Please let this be it, he whispered to himself; but then Elizabeth surprised him by giving a squeal in delight. She hopped up on her toes and planted a kiss on his cheek. “You are wonderful, Sir Howzer! In fact, I bet someday you could be Grand Master yourself!”

Then she headed off, back in the direction she came, and the Holy Knight was left watching her go, rubbing his flaming cheek where she had kissed him. “Grand Master,” he muttered. “Yeah right.”

Chapter Text

Elaine sat on the bed, her legs folded underneath her, and sighed. Hawk Mama was on the move again as they hurried towards Camelot, and the rocking of the tavern on her back was soothing to all of their frayed nerves. She felt her eyes drooping and her shoulders sagging, relaxing into a doze that she quickly shook herself from.

Her body was tired, so tired, having used the last bit of her energy to save Ban from Melascula. It was worth it, of course, and her chest tightened to think of what could have happened if she hadn’t been there—or, if she hadn’t grown her wings. She grinned to herself and gave them an experimental flap, and promptly Ban muttered, “Hey, watch it.”

She giggled and looked over her shoulder. Ban sat behind, his long legs on either side of her, and he gave her a mocking twist of his mouth. “You almost got me with those.”

“Sorry!” she laughed. Elaine turned around and felt his fingers in her hair again, once more sighing with the sensation. Her hair had also sprung down her back in the fit of growth, and Ban combed his fingers through it gently, smoothing out the tangles.

“You’re good at that,” she murmured, and Ban gave a snort. “I’m going to need you to comb my hair until we get back to the Forest. I can’t reach with these things now, and I need Gerheade to tell me how to do this.”

“That’s fine,” he murmured. He continued to smooth her hair, occasionally giving her neck or her shoulders a caress. Elaine felt herself sinking again, sleep threatening. But she couldn’t take a nap, not now! They were heading into battle, and who knew when they’d have another moment together, just them. Who knew if they ever would again.

It was quiet, so Elaine focused on his touch and the sound of his heartbeat to stay awake. But eventually she realized as he massaged her scalp and her back that he never actually touched her wings. She frowned, and fought the urge to read his heart. Maybe he didn’t know what to do? “Don’t worry about hurting my wings,” she said. “They won’t break or anything.”

Ban didn’t respond, and she frowned. “You do… like them, don’t you?”

His hands stilled in her hair, and Elaine held her breath. “Of course,” he finally replied, but his voice was a bit clipped. Something was wrong.

“I’m sure you’ve never been with a girl with wings,” she answered, trying to sound cheery and keep the mood light. Inside, her stomach twisted a bit. Did he find her too strange now, too different?

Her face burned as he answered, “Can’t say I have.”

There was a heavy pause, and then Elaine screwed up her courage to look at him over her shoulder. “Ban, I know this is different, and I had no idea that—”

Her words cut off when she saw the look on his face. Hooded eyes and a tense jaw made plain the concern, but when his gaze darted away, she felt herself almost getting angry. “You knew I was a fairy, you knew I would get wings eventually.”

Ban looked back at her sharply. “What?”

Elaine huffed. “You knew I would get wings! And now you don’t like them?”

“What in the world gave you that idea?” The genuine confusion on his face dissolved her annoyance instantly.  “They are beautiful. And a part of you. I love them.”

“Then why…?”

Ban pressed his lips together, staring at a spot on the bedspread. “You saved me. You grew them just to save me. Everyone else took care of that bitch Melascula but I—all I’m good for is to get cut in half. Couldn’t save Cap’n, couldn’t save—anybody.”

“That’s not true!” she cried, turning to climb up on his lap but he bit out, “It is true. I’m way behind everyone now, even King. Even you.”

“Wait a minute.” Elaine grabbed the sides of his face with her palms pressing and forced him to look at her. “Are you jealous? Of me?”

His hands went to her hips, holding her gently as she knelt up. “Elaine…”

“Because if you are, I will be so angry with you! You are a knight. You are a protector of this world. You are one of the Seven Deadly Sins.”

“But the others—”

“Haven’t faced what you faced. They were born into their lives, when you had to earn yours. The others were meant for their powers, because of who they are. You were a little boy who grew into someone who decided to become a hero.”

“A hero who can’t—”

“You gave your life. Again and again you’ve given your life up for the others. And…” Her hand pressed on his chest as Elaine smiled. “You even gave up your death, for me.”

They stared at each other for a long moment before Ban sighed and dropped his head on her shoulder. “No more talk about who you are not,” she whispered in his ear. “Or I’ll be the next one you’ll have to fight. And you know my power level is higher than yours now, I’ll kick your ass.”

“I’d love to get my ass kicked by you,” he growled, planting a wet kiss on her neck and pulling her against him as she broke into laughter.

Chapter Text

Meliodas sat on the floor of his living room, staring at the fire. He had to spend the next few nights up and reviewing the night games for the newly ranked Holy Knights, so he was trying to stay up as late as possible to sleep during the day. It wasn’t terribly hard, but he was tired. So sitting on the floor, which was cold and hard, was more likely to keep him up than the plush couch.

When the door to the bedroom creaked open, the clock showed 3:10 am. He almost wasn’t surprised: this was the first night in a year and a half that they hadn’t slept in the same bed, and about six months since their relationship had gone from a wall of pillows to being curled around each other at night. The soft padding of bare feet on the stairs, and then through the kitchen, drifted to his ears, and when he looked up he saw Liz silhouetted in the firelight.

“I can’t sleep,” she muttered. “Can I lay with you?”

“Yeah, sure—” Meliodas went to stand and move to the couch, but Liz simply stepped over his outstretched leg and dropped on the floor between his thighs. Quickly he scooted up a bit to make room for her as she positioned herself, a blanket wrapped around her, her head now resting on his chest.

Meliodas chuckled to himself now that she was comfortable. “This okay?” she whispered.

“Yeah.” He rubbed a hand up her back, giving the top of her head a kiss. “Are you okay?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she yawned. “It’s weird not having you there.”

“Sorry,” he sighed. “I hate night training, if that helps.”

“A bit.” Meliodas huffed a laugh and she snuggled closer. “How many days is it?”

“Three,” he answered. “Four if it doesn’t go well.”

Liz groaned. “Those stupid knights better hurry their asses up. I’m not gonna sleep a wink all week now.”

He frowned a bit as he brushed her hair back. “Any particular reason?”

There was a long stretch of quiet, so long that Meliodas had thought Liz had drifted off to sleep. But then she murmured, “I don’t have any nightmares with you around.”

He sucked in a breath, his hand stilling in her hair. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he whispered.

“Hm?”

“I don’t have any with you around either.”

Slowly Liz sat up, turning and looking at him. Her face was partially lit by the fire in the hearth, her hair a bit mussed from sleep, but the blue eye on him was sad. “You have nightmares?” she asked. “Of what?”

A bit of heat slid up his neck. “Nothing in particular,” he answered. “You know, the regular thing. Getting chased, getting killed, that kind of thing.”

Liz nodded. Her hand rubbed against his thigh reassuringly, making him smile. “I had no idea. You don’t seem the type to have nightmares.”

Meliodas leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “But I do, and you keep them away.”

“That’s sweet.” She turned and leaned against him again, once more settling her head on his chest. It fell quiet again, and Meliodas matched his breathing to hers, his hand stroking her hair. “Mine are always so strange,” she whispered. “Filled with things and people I don’t even recognize.”

“What do you mean?”

Sighing, she pressed against his neck. “There are these… things. I don’t know what they are. Jagged teeth and claws, black wings. I must face them, but I don’t know what to do.”

His hand stopped, pressing against her shoulder, not knowing what to say. Then she went on, “There are others too… There is a figure cast in shadow, as tall as a mountain. I turn and face it—face him—and I’m helpless, frozen. His hand extends, and that’s when the dream ends. It’s just fire and wind, and I wake up.”

Meliodas swallowed nervously. “That sounds terrible.”

He felt her smile against his neck. “They aren’t all bad. Sometimes I dream I have wings.”

“Wings?”

“Yeah. Huge, shining white wings. I could fly and everything. I like those dreams.”

Instead of answering, he tightened his arms around her, leaning down to press his cheek against her temple. Liz nuzzled against his neck and sighed. Meliodas held her like this as the minutes ticked by, feeling her sinking against him, her breathing slowing as she drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Britannia was a vast place, but Merlin had been over every inch of it time and time again. She knew every hill, every stream, every forest and lake and city.

It was over this land that she knew so well that she pressed out her powers, her eyes trained into Aldan as her magic slid over the land. She was searching for them—the last two of the Ten Commandments that remained at large in Britannia. Monspeet and Derieri were alive and well, she was sure of it. And if Zeldris and Estarossa were collecting the Demon King’s decrees, they were sure to be tracking them down as well. Which is why Merlin was determined to find them first.

A noise caught her attention, but it took her several moments to pull her consciousness from inside of her Sacred Treasure. Blinking up at her room in the Boar Hat, Merlin was surprised to find it bathed in sunlight. The last time she had checked, it had been just before midnight.

“Merlin, have you been working all night?” She looked up at Escanor, who stood staring at her with arms folded. “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

She could not help the huff of laughter that escaped her. “I don’t get sick. But your thoughtfulness is sweet.” The mage stood and stretched a tiny bit, noting how Escanor turned and looked around. There was just a bit of color dusting on his cheek, and she sighed to herself. Would he ever be comfortable around her?

“We survived the night,” she remarked, stepping towards her table. He had brought a little tray, with a pot of tea and a plate of toast and fruit. “Is that for me?”

He nodded, peeking over at her. “I guess I’m still used to service.”

“It would seem so.” But Merlin smiled as she picked up a date and popped it into her mouth. “Has there been any word?”

“Nothing. But we are almost to Camelot. We’ll be there by noon.”

The words were full of meaning, and Merlin nodded. Judging by the way the light streamed in the window and the size of her companion, she guessed it was only an hour or so after sunrise. A good time for conversation with the Sin of Pride. “I haven’t found Derieri or Monspeet,” she admitted. “I must admit I’m perplexed. Using their Commandments would be like leaving a signature on Britannia.”

“Perhaps they aren’t using them,” he said. “They may have given up the fight.”

“Given up?” she repeated. “I’ve never heard of a demon giving up before.”

Merlin turned and looked out the window, thinking. Behind her, she heard Escanor’s footsteps moving away. “I’ll leave you to your work,” he mumbled.

Turning sharply, she stammered, “Escanor! Will you… can’t you stay a bit longer?”

He paused before slowly turning. “Certainly,” he replied with a clearing of his throat. “What do you need?”

“Please, sit.” She gestured to a stool, and Escanor sat carefully. It was at this time of day, midway between noon and midnight, that he was the most like what she pictured he could have been. Escanor sat, as always, with his back straight, his chin up, his eyes sharp on hers, his clothes and grooming impeccable. If there was a life she could have lived that included this man in it, Merlin would have been quite tempted.

But imagining another life was for another time. Right now, Arthur was missing, Elizabeth had less than two days, and Meliodas was hell bent on becoming the Demon King. There was enough on her plate without distractions.

“Why do you think they stopped fighting?” she asked, pouring herself tea from the teapot.

“Why would they continue?” he answered. Her eyes glanced upwards, surprised at the frankness of his answer. “There is nothing to be gained at this point.”

Merlin considered for a moment. “Their decrees would compel them.”

“The Captain had a decree once, and he left their order. So did the Fairy King and the Giant King.” Escanor shifted a bit in his seat, placing his hands on his thighs. “They left for the things they loved. Why wouldn’t Monspeet and Derieri do the same?”

“What?” She blinked at him in surprise, shaking her head. “What do they love so much to give up their power?”

“Each other, of course.” Merlin’s mouth dropped open, and felt her face flush a bit as Escanor gave a deep, mellow laugh. “Surely you must have noticed.”

Carefully she laid the teacup on the table. “I can’t say I have,” she answered evenly, reaching for a notebook and a pen. “What makes you say so?”

She flipped open her book to jot down this development as Escanor chuckled again. “I don’t know if it’s anything I can describe well enough for you to write in your book, unfortunately.”

Her mouth twisted as she tried not to laugh. “You are a poet, Escanor. Surely you can find the words.”

Merlin glanced up at him through her bangs to catch him clearing his throat behind his fist. “It can be nearly impossible to define love,” he said, as her pen began to scratch against the parchment. “But the battle that the princess and the Captain described… he shielded her. He pulled her into his arms as the Captain used Full Counter. This is not the action of a teammate. This is the action of one who wants to protect something with all his heart.”

Her hand paused. Merlin turned this over in her mind, thinking of the way they had fought, the unusualness of the pair that seemed to be inseparable. “When we watched the battle at the Great Fight Festival,” Escanor went on, “the male seemed to speak for the female. They were attuned to each other. Diane and King also gave a description of the two demons from their time visiting the First Holy War. These demons have been together thousands of years.”

“That’s true enough,” Merlin replied, taking another note. “But being together for millennia does not prove love.”

“Do demons not love?” he challenged. “Do they not want peace?”

Once more her hand stilled, the pen hovering over the parchment. “I suppose they do,” she answered quietly. She looked up and met Escanor’s eyes. He had yet to put on his spectacles, and so met his blue eyes directly. “You know quite a bit about love,” murmured Merlin. “Perhaps I’ve been approaching this all wrong. I assumed that the demons would be looking for a way to attack. But maybe you are right, and they are looking for a place to hide.”

“Not hide,” he corrected. “A place to live.”

Merlin regarded him, this new information turning in her mind, opening it to new theories and possibilities. Leave it to Escanor to see what she could not; it was why they always made a good team. Smiling warmly, she asked, “If you were the demons, what would you do?”

“Me?” Escanor looked surprised at the question, and to her amusement, he smoothed his mustache.

Then he looked at her, and Merlin felt her pulse pick up a bit as he said, “When one has something to protect, someone to love, you do anything to keep it safe. These two demons, this Monspeet and Derieri—from what I can tell, they have only each other. Whether they love one another as lovers, or friends, or just comrades, it does not matter. What matters to them is each other. We’ve seen them fight. We’ve seen them tear Britannia apart. That kind of determination is not in service to one such as the Demon King, or as a result of some decree of magic. That level of power and resolve and spirit comes from love.”

Merlin’s breath shook as she breathed in; their eyes still remained connected, and she found she could not look away. How he had changed in the past ten years… and somehow he was always as he had been.

Escanor cleared his throat and stood. “It’s about time I left you to your work. Besides, soon I will need my glasses, and be much less of use.” Merlin nodded, truly sorry to see him go. “Please, give a call if you need anything else.”

“Thank you, Escanor,” she said, giving him a smile. He nodded, and to her amusement, he gave her a little bow. But it was only charming, not awkward, and he left, pulling the door closed behind him.

Merlin took another sip of her tea as she looked over her notes. Calling over Aldan, she changed her focus as she resumed her search. Now, instead of looking for a trace of the power of the demons, she set her exploration to find a love strong enough to overcome the Demon King himself.

Chapter Text

There was a noise, and Elizabeth was instantly awake. She did not open her eyes, instead honing in on whatever it was that was inside her tent, lurking, slinking slowly towards her. Every instinct was on alert, every sense attuned to the intruder. There were many things she had learned since leaving her position as princess, and defending herself from an attacker was one of the firsts.

It was just steps away now, and Elizabeth moved. At once her eyes were open and she sprang from the mattress, diving towards the figure she could just make out in the darkness. There was an “oof” as they connected, and Elizabeth used all of her strength to roll until her knees were planted into its hips and her hands around its neck. “Got ya!” she hissed.

“Elizabeth, it’s me.”

The choking voice jolted her from her anger, and the goddess quickly let go and moved off of the demon. “Meliodas! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know it was—” Then she narrowed her eyes, sliding backwards. “What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”

“I know that. But I needed to—damn, did you have to choke me?” He cleared his throat for several moments, and she peered through the dark to see him rubbing his neck. “Is that something I showed you?”

“No,” she hissed. “Now tell me what you’re doing here.”

His hand slid on her arm, and Elizabeth jerked back. “What’s wrong?” Meliodas whispered.

“You’re in my tent, in the middle of the night,” she whispered back. “You snuck in, and I still haven’t heard why.”

“Is there a light in here? Maybe that will help.”

She heard him stand up, and she did as well; but as Elizabeth was about to tell him where to find the lamp, she realized she was only wearing a dressing gown, and if he lit it then he would see more than she wanted him to see. “No! Keep it dark!” she squeaked, seeing him stop his search as her eyes adjusted.

“What’s wrong now?”

“I just don’t want the light on.”

“Why?”

“I just don’t!”

Meliodas snorted. “You know I can see fine in the dark.”

Elizabeth yelped and dove for her mattress, pulling the blanket up to cover herself. “You’re such a pervert!” she snapped. “Now tell me what you want and get out!”

“Hey,” he answered, “we’re supposed to be partners here.” There was a dip on the mattress as he sat, and Elizabeth swallowed nervously. It was true, Meliodas had become their newest ally, and an unexpected one at that: the eldest son of the Demon King himself, heir to the throne, had for some reason decided to defect to their side. Many still did not trust him, Elizabeth included. But he had given them accurate information about the plans of the demon clan and assisted in fighting in their last two major battles, so he had begun to win over the respect of some of the others, including Gloxinia and Dolor.

But Elizabeth was still suspicious.

“Partners, yes,” she replied. “But partners don’t crawl into each other’s tents while they sleep and scare them half to death.”

“Oh, did I scare you?” That mocking tone of his grated against her nerves, and she grit her teeth. “Sorry about that, princess.”

“What are you even doing here?” she demanded, trying to refocus the conversation. Meliodas loved to tease her, sending jokes at her expense flying every time they were in the same room together. One of the goddesses had made a remark about little boys pulling on little girls’ pigtails, but Elizabeth had dismissed that as ridiculous. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the demon realm, doing whatever it is you do there?”

“I left.”

Elizabeth shook her head, blinking rapidly. “You what?”

“I left. I’m done with them.”

She laughed then, bowing her head. “Very funny. For a moment there, you really had me.”

He did not respond, so eventually her laughter died away, and all that remained was a heavy silence in the tent. Elizabeth stared at his silhouette, which had not moved an inch since her laughter had begun. “Meliodas,” she whispered, “did you—what have you done?”

“I left them, Elizabeth,” he replied. His words were quiet, devoid of his usual joking, each one piercing her chest. “I had to. He knows.”

He knows. The reality of that was the final knife, and Elizabeth gasped. The Demon King now knew what Meliodas had been doing, and his life was in danger. “You need to go,” she whispered, reaching out to grab his arm. No longer caring about her dressing gown or his teasing jokes or how he had scared her half to death, she pressed on him, quickly scrambling to her feet. “You need to go somewhere safe, before he comes to find you. We can’t let him find you, we can’t—”

“Elizabeth, it’s okay.” She froze and turned around. He was holding her hand, keeping her from moving any further, and the goddess shook her head. “Meliodas, you’re in danger,” she insisted. “Where do you think he’ll look first?”

She felt more than heard him take a sharp intake of breath. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have come here. I’ve put you all in danger.”

He stood then, and Elizabeth hurried to stop him before he reached the flap that led outside. “No! Wait!” The goddess jumped in front of him, her wings flying outwards, and Meliodas came to a stop. “That’s not what I meant. We can handle them, you know we can, but Meliodas, why…” Her mind spun and her heart pounded. “If they find you…”

A tear hovered in the corner of her eye, but when he simply shrugged again, she huffed at him in exasperation. “If they find you, you’ll be done for,” she said slowly. “Even you can’t stand up to all of them. Not all at once. Didn’t you say before—if the Demon King found out, it would be…”

She couldn’t bring herself to say it, but she didn’t have to. “A fate worse than death,” he murmured.

Elizabeth nodded. “A fate worse than death.”

“Yeah, well. I was just being dramatic.” He tilted his head and joked, “I mean, what fate could be worse than death?”

“Meliodas.” She stepped towards him, reaching out, and her fingers grazed his cheek. “Why would you do this? You could have—you could have gone to him. Given our secrets to them, to save yourself. In fact…” What was she doing? Encouraging Meliodas to betray them to the enemy? But the thought of him dying, bloody, broken, it was too much. “In fact, there is still time. You can go back, and I—I won’t tell anyone—”

He caught her hand and held it firmly. “Elizabeth, listen to yourself. I wouldn’t ever do that. I would never betray you.” The tear that had been perched so precariously fell then, and Meliodas sighed. “I love you too much.”

“You what?” Her voice was flat, her eyes grew wide. “What?” She felt the demon take a deep breath, but she interrupted, “Wait, wait a second.”

With a flick of her wrist the two lamps inside the tent were lit, and Meliodas stood before her, blinking rapidly in the sudden light. He was dressed in plain clothes, nothing at all with him, not the armor of the demon clan, or his signature cloak, or even a weapon on his hip. His blonde hair was as wild as always, but his face… Elizabeth stared, unbelieving.

The black mark of his clan that had covered his forehead and the right side of his face was gone. It had been fading, little by little, as the days went on, as they worked together and fought together and fought each other over working together. It had been fading and fading until it was just a little stain, a line of black ink that stood on his brow like a scar. But now… it was gone.

He smiled at her, a smile that was free of any scorn. His cheeks were a bit ruddy, which could be from the cold, she was surewas from the cold, it couldn’t be that he was blushing. And his eyes… clear of darkness, green as clover, sparkling like the emeralds in the scepter of the queen.

“I would never betray you, Elizabeth,” he said. “I couldn’t, because I’m so in love with you.”

Her heart was beating so fast, it was if he had stolen the breath right from her lungs. “You love me?”

Meliodas nodded. “I know it’s not—ideal. But I can’t help it. Ever since that day we met, I just… I can’t explain it. All I know is every time I look at you, I feel like… like I can’t help it. I just love you.”

Elizabeth gasped a breath, and then her arms were around him, pulling him tightly. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined Meliodas saying such a thing—but she had, hadn’t she? Deep down, all this time as she had watched him, worked with him, she had seen a new person emerge, one that she cared for, one that now confessed he cared for her in turn. “You’re not leaving,” she whispered to him fiercely.

His arms went around her back and he held her just as tightly. “Okay.”

“You’re staying with me. We’re staying together.”

“Okay.”

“Because I love you too.”

She felt his fingers squeeze a bit and smiled. “I hoped you would.”

“We will figure this out. I will keep you safe, I swear it.”

Elizabeth pressed her forehead on his shoulder, and they stood just like that for several long moments, enjoying this first time of just holding each other. Once her pulse began to slow to a more reasonable pace, and her heart stopped pounding in her ears, she felt her face growing warm. “I’m still in my nightgown,” she whispered.

“Yes you are,” he laughed, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last.

Chapter Text

Jericho was doing her rounds when she heard an unusual sound. “Pssst, pssst.”

She turned, frowning and listening. “Psssssssssst.”

Narrowing her eyes, she headed in the direction of the door to the only cell on this floor. It had been specially built to hold the Fox Sin of Greed at one time. Now that Baste Prison had been restored and outfitted with Merlin’s magic to hold the worst offenders from the Second Holy War, it was the new home of one of the most deadly Ten Commandments.

“What do you want?” she demanded, hands on her hips.

Two dark eyes appeared at the window in the door; then his head tilted so his mouth came into view. “Hey. You. Are you new here?”

Huffing out an indignant laugh, she retorted, “No, I’m not new here. I used to be stationed in Baste Prison back when—”

“What’s your name?”

Jericho snorted. “None of your damn business.”

“Nice to meet you, Miss Business.”

His voice was deep and smooth, his smile dripping with slyness. But Jericho knew better than to be taken in with such a cheap trick, so she kept her expression cold, her body language guarded. “What do you want?” she asked again.

“Come a little closer.”

“No.”

“Do you trust me?”

“No.”

“Then I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to ask you if you minded letting me out?” He smiled again, and she was aggravated to find it so damn beautiful. “I think I’ve learned my lesson, don’t you?”

At that, she threw her head back and laughed. “You are one of the Ten Commandments. You’re one of the sons of the Demon King himself. You killed Meliodas. You led an assault on Liones.”

“Yeah, but I looked good doing it.”

Jericho rolled her eyes and kept walking, but he called out, “Wait! Please!”

The please caught her attention. “Are you going to tell me what you want?” He huffed a bit, but she did not turn around. “I’m waiting.”

“I’m… bored, all right? Let’s just talk. I’ve been sitting in this blasted cage for two months and I’ve done pretty much everything I can think of.” Jericho peeked over her shoulder and saw his face hovering again at the opening. “Can you stay for just a few minutes? Tell me what’s going on outside.”

Jericho pressed her mouth together, slowly closing and opening her eyes. “Fine,” she muttered, turning and slowly walking back in his direction. “What do you want to know?”

“Anything, really.” He jerked his chin up. “What is your real name, by the way?”

She hesitated for a moment before answering, “Holy Knight Jericho.”

“Jericho, hm?” He smiled. “I’m Estarossa. The Love.”

“Like I said before, I know who you are.”

Jericho folded her arms and cocked her hip, showing him how very unimpressed she was. But he looked undeterred and said, “You’ve heard of me? Probably all lies my brother made up about me.”

“I was there, you know. The day you tried to sack Liones.” Her eyes went cold, her tone even colder. “I know what you and the others did. My brother died in that battle.”

The silence between them stretched, growing more and more electric. But Jericho watched him closely, and he actually seemed… nervous? It was probably her imagination, the way a bit of shine formed on his brow, the imperceptible tightening of his lips. “Brothers, huh?” he finally said. “Pain in the ass. Mine was, anyway. Is.”

“Mine was wonderful,” she retorted.

“Now that I know is a lie,” he laughed, the guffaw that erupted from him startling out of the cold tension that had sprung up between them. Jericho heaved several deep breaths, seething at him in shock as he shook his head, his laughter finally dying down. “He was older, wasn’t he? You don’t look like more than a kid.”

“I’m a knight—”

“And the younger sibling, I can tell.” He tilted his head to the side. “You’ve got that look, the one we all do. We gotta do everything twice because they did it first. You gotta be twice as fast, twice as good, twice as hard. Nothing is good enough because it’s been done. Am I right?”

Her cheeks flushed with heat as she clenched her fist. “You don’t know anything about me.”

Estarossa shrugged. “Yeah, you’re right, I don’t. But I know what it’s like to have a shadow on you all the time. That guy who you love, that guy you want to be, but you can’t, no matter how hard you try. That guy who is always one step ahead, figuring it out before you, doing it before you, better than you ever could. And there is nothing you can do to catch up, because that’s what you were born to do. Your entire life is just one big game of catch-up.”

Her mouth had dropped open as he talked, and she shivered. He was right, of course; yet how could someone like him, who had enough power to bring the world to its feet, have such jealousy? It was completely, utterly absurd, and suddenly Jericho started laughing.

It was unlike the mocking bark of Estarossa’s; hers was deep, and true, and rolled through her stomach and out of her mouth in waves so forceful she was bent over with it. The empty hallway echoed with the sound, and Jericho shook as she held her waist. Estarossa of the Ten Commandments was jealous. Three thousand years later, and he was jealous of that little blonde idiotic pipsqueak.

“Wow,” she gasped as the laughter finally began to subside. “Thanks, really. I needed that.”

“What are you finding so funny?” he asked, his tone sharp but curious. “Do you disagree?”

“Not at all!” she cried, another fit of giggles bursting out. “Older brothers—especially ones that are so goddamned perfect—are the worst. You’re right about all of it. But damn, to know that you are so twisted up about it? Makes me feel better about myself.”

There was a snort from behind the door. “Glad I could help,” he muttered.

“Estarossa, let me share with you a bit of advice.” She stepped up to the door, and as he looked at her, Jericho gazed straight back into his eyes. “I used to think the way you do. I used to think I had to be Gustaf in order to be me. I had to beat him, be better than him. I needed to prove that I could be a better knight and a better warrior and a better soldier, because he was all those things.” Estarossa blinked, and she went on, “But when he died, I realized… all that was pointless. I had to quit trying to be Gustaf, because I wasn’t him. I was Jericho. Beating him at his own life was never going to happen.”

Estarossa eased back from the bars, and Jericho stepped closer. “Didn’t you feel that way when you killed Meliodas? Didn’t you realize then how pointless all that envy and pride and anger was?”

“I killed Meliodas because he was a traitor,” Estarossa replied, his voice cold and dark.

Jericho shrugged. “You can tell yourself that all you want. But I know what it’s like to be the younger sibling of some great god-like thing. I know what it’s like to look at someone and not want to be just like him, but actually want to be him. But I had to let that go.”

He didn’t answer, so Jericho stepped back and continued down the hall. When she neared the end he called after her, “You didn’t tell me what was going on outside, you know.”

She paused and smiled. “You’re right. How about if I come back tomorrow?”

“Only if you want to risk it,” he taunted, and Jericho rolled her eyes at the arrogance now back in his voice. “You don’t want to fall in love with me.”

“No worries!” she assured him as she continued walking. “I’m done with the bad boy thing.” His laughter followed her, and Jericho chuckled as she headed for the stairs.

Chapter Text

Griamore eyed Veronica as they walked together. The castle of Liones loomed on the horizon, and he could sense the vast amount of power that was pouring from inside. His stomach was in knots, thinking about his father, thinking about his friends, wondering if they were all right. What was happening?

“Griamore,” the princess said next to him. Her hand went to his forearm, and when he looked down at her he could see a bit of a grimace on her face. “Can we rest a minute?”

Of course they could rest, she could have everything and anything she wanted… but worriedly he looked back towards the castle. There was certainly a battle of some kind going on… was it those damned Seven Deadly Sins? He needed to getthere!

“Here, let me,” he said. Griamore knelt on the ground and guided Veronica’s arm around his shoulder. “I can carry you.”

She laughed but clutched her arms around him, and a moment later he had her lifted. He continued walking towards the city, careful not to jostle any of her wounds that were slowly healing. “Hey Griamore,” she said, and he grunted in response, “remember when you used to do this when we were kids?”

“Of course, Princess Vernoica,” he answered. He was always tall for his age, but sometime around the age of nine he had just… grown. The others were a mixture of astonishment and teasing, but Veronica had been the most shocked of all. Perhaps it was because she was always so tiny, but she seemed determined to make sure that he knew she was in charge.

As if he could ever doubt such a thing.

“That was fun,” Veronica said wistfully. “If only we could be children again, playing horse.”

“Fun for you,” he joked. “I was the horse.”

“It’s only because you were always so huge,” she replied. “But you didn’t mind it, did you, Griamore?”

He smiled. “Of course not. I’ve just always wanted to make you happy. And if being your horse makes you happy, then that’s what I’ll be.”

Veronica laughed; then she placed a rare kiss on the top of his head and pressed her palms on his cheeks. “Then let’s hurry back to the castle, so we can help the others. By the looks of things they are going to need Holy Knight Griamore to come in and save the day.”

He grinned and nodded, hurrying into a trot. The princess squeezed her arms around his shoulders and pressed her cheek on his, and he knew as his heart swelled that what he had said was true. It didn’t matter what he had to do, he would protect Veronica and Liones.