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Title: Notorious: Epilogue
Author: bob_fish
Beta: the marvellous and very patient enemytosleep
Artist: he03. Check out he03's Deviantart account here for more awesomeness and a delightful metric ton of Bradley love.
Word Count: 915
Rating: PG-13

Characters: Madam Christmas aka Chris Mustang, Roy Mustang (aged four), Grumman
Warnings: gangsters, innuendo, sleaze, dominoes and a lot of jazz age slang
Summary: Twenty-five years ago ... Chris Mustang is having a very bad month. The censors killed her show, she's in debt to a couple of very dubious businessmen, and she's working as a hostess in the worst bar in town. As if that wasn't enough, her estranged big brother seems to have gotten himself in an auto accident, and some nut decided to make her guardian of his four year old brat. 
Notes: Written for the 2009-2010 FMA Big Bang Challenge.

Chapter One: in which bad news comes in threes, and Chris gets an unwanted gift.
Chapter Two: in which Roy flirts with his first waitress, and Chris meets a woman of means.
Chapter Three: in which Grumman shows his hand, and Chris decides if she should buy herself into the game.

Exactly one year later from the day she shook hands with Grumman, Chris was sitting in the back of a draughty car on a wet afternoon, huddled in her mink coat while the driver found somewhere quiet in the backstreets of Central to park. When the lights had been turned out and the engine quieted, she pulled a brown envelope from her bag and gave it to the driver. He swapped it with her for a smaller, thicker envelope which bulged squarely. As she dropped it in her bag, she quickly guessed the number of notes there must be in there from the thickness of it. Big tipper, nice. She supposed this had been an unusually tricky job, so maybe it merited the extra green - but then again, she always enjoyed the challenging ones.

"Turned out nicely," she said, "and I got some pictures for you too. I suggest you don't open that up in a moving vehicle, though. Wait until you're at home, maybe with a finger of whisky, glass of warm milk, whatever's your poison."

The young officer turned around and smiled wryly at her. "How's the family, Chris?"

"Keeping me busy. Give my love to Maria, won't you?" He grinned and saluted her. Then he dropped her just off the boulevard, and she hailed a cab home.

Home, for most of the last year, was a three-bedroom apartment in an eighteenth-century building in the oldest part of the city. Chris forgave the place the noisy plumbing and three flights of stairs for the pleasure of living in a little corner of the city's history. Every time she went walking around this quarter she found something new. Not that she had much time on her hands these days.

In fact, she had just about time for fifteen minutes with her feet up and a cup of tea before she heard echoing voices and feet stampeding up the staircase. Iris's keys jingled in the door, and then there was the sound of her shoes hitting the floor.

Chris wandered into the hall with her teacup to find Iris waiting for Roy to pull his shoelaces untied. He got one foot done, then pulled the loop of the bow instead on the other shoe. Iris went to correct him, but Chris held up a finger and she hovered instead, waiting for him to work it out. Roy corrected himself just in time, undid the shoelace the right way, then triumphantly yanked off his shoe. Chris and Iris gave him a standing ovation, and he bobbed up and down on his feet and grinned. He was sometimes verging on full of himself these days, thought Chris. She'd have to watch that, or he'd end up spoilt rotten.

"How was school, kids?" asked Chris.

"Great!" said Roy. "I finished my reading book, and we did the three times table, and at break there was a frog on the grass and I touched it!"

"Hellish," said Iris. "Two and a half more months and I'll be out of there like a greyhound with the runs."

"Only if you get your school certificate, you are. You know the deal." Once Iris had her certificate at sixteen, Chris had agreed she could pass up technical college and come work in the family business instead. She could use an extra pair of eyes.

Dinner was noodles, with meat sauce from the deli down the street. Afterwards there were apples from the bowl. Chris had instituted a rule about fruit with every meal, so the kid didn't get scurvy, and of course that meant they had to eat the apples too, to set a good example.

By the time they'd finished dinner it was time for Roy to go to sleep. Pyjamas, tooth-brushing, and then bed. While Roy stood on a little stool to brush his teeth, Chris padded quietly back out to the living room to discreetly check on Iris. She was sitting at the dining table with her books, but just like Chris had guessed, she had put down her homework and picked up the padlock and set of lockpicks that Chris had left on the table for practice. Iris brushed a curl out of her eye, selected a new pick and twirled it in the padlock carefully for a few moments, head down, concentrating so intently that she didn't seem to notice Chris watching her from the doorway. Then she sighed, blowing her bangs up. She shoved away the lockpick set with a visible effort, pulled over a book, and went back to the horrors of Cretan irregular verbs.

Chris smirked, and went back to tuck her foster son into bed.

Chris sat on the edge of the bed and brushed his hair back from his face. It sprang back. He giggled sleepily. "What can I get you tonight, sir?" She gestured at the picture books in the little bookcase by his bed.

"No, I want one of your stories," said Roy.

"All right, all right, let's see what we can do."

"Notorious again!"

After all that trouble, it seemed her poor old play still had an audience. Chris scootched up on the bed next to Roy. "All right. Here we go. There was once a girl who came to the big city from a long way away, and lived there in a little room, all on her own. One day, she made a very big mistake. But the story isn't about the mistake. It's about what she did afterwards ..."


Author's Nerding Notes

1. Qiongya province, where I had Roy's mother hail from, is, as you might expect, a made-up place. In case you're feeling curious/geeky, the snippets of Qiongyan culture and food are based on a combination of Fujian and Hainan Provinces in China, and I imagined Qiongya is located in a place in Xing roughly analogous to Fujian. "Qióngyá" is an old name for Hainan, and means "fine jade cliffs". Also, I don't really know what I'm talking about, so it's fully possible that there are five errors in the four words of Mandarin in this fic. People who know that part of the world may already have guessed from Roy's love of Hainanese chicken rice and half-boiled eggs with soy sauce that I have family in Singapore. And like food. Fact: 50% of the research for this fic comprised me stuffing my face in Lau Pa Sat hawker centre and various branches of Ya Kun Kaya Toast.

2. The chess match between Grumman and Chris in Chapter Three is loosely based on a real game, Saint-Amant vs. Staunton, Paris, 1843 - because my own chess far too poor for me to just make stuff up without reference. There's a full playthrough here if you're interested.

3. Credit for Grumman's choice of underwear, as I've said in the intro notes to Chapter Three, goes to evil_little_dog, who was nice enough to allow me to borrow the fanon from her one-sentence fic on the subject, which you should go and enjoy here.

4. Finally, my depiction of Chris herself and her history owes a great deal to the wonderful Mae West. Chris's play, Notorious, wouldn't exist without Mae West's most famous play, Diamond Lil, and its heavily censored but still terrific film adaptation She Done Him Wrong. Go and worship her genius a little on Youtube right now.

5. Let us all now bow down and praise the Great Cow, who creates minor characters like Madam Christmas (and my darling Rebecca) and makes them so interesting and complicated within the space of about ten panels that it's easy(ish) for crazy fans like me to go and write 20, 000 word short stories from their point of view. Amen.


( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 9th, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
Really excellent read. I enjoyed it a lot. I found a typo in one of the sections and then forgot to note it, I think:

"Loved it." It was like when you slip into a hot new frock in the changing room - the one you thought you'd never fit into it, but what the hell. And then it fits you just perfect, and you know you have to have it."

Notice there are three quotes instead of two. :D

Much love for the back story for Chris Mustang and li'l Roy.

Oh, and do you have this on stealth mode? It's really hard to find. :D
Mar. 9th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks for finding that typo! I'll go and fix. Glad you enjoyed!

Oh, and I had this posted up visible only to me and enemy while I fixed up the formatting, and although I changed the date when I took it 'live', it seems it didn't pop up on my flist. I've solved the problem with a separate pimping post. Hope the last minute edits on your own Big Bang are going well - looking forward to reading it.
(no subject) - evil_little_dog - Mar. 9th, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 9th, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
i loved it (I see ELD commented on how hard this was to find. the link on the big bang comm isn't working). I loved Chris's reaction to her spooky little nephew and really enjoyed watching them grow into each other affection wise.

I especially loved Chris and Grumman's interactions. I enjoyed him being the one to get her on this path.

I was surprised and delighted to see that Chris was a budding playwrite.

When I'm not dead, remind me to tell you about Diamond Lil's in Deadwood SD.
Mar. 9th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed! I was curious to see what you thought as I know you're a big Chris fan and love the historical detail. Chris as budding playwright was inspired by Mae West's own career path (after starting as a stage singer, she wrote and directed a bunch of controversial plays in the 1920s, including Diamond Lil and two others called Sex and Drag, both of which got shut down). When I thought about Chris's past this struck me as rather appropriate for her, especially as you get the impression she's lived a very eventful life and perhaps reinvented herself more than once - I thought there might be a few surprises in her past.

I'd love to know about Diamond Lil's in Deadwood SD, when you're not dead. XD
(no subject) - cornerofmadness - Mar. 9th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 9th, 2010 09:38 am (UTC)
Found this through the fan art and read it last night. I really needed to go to bed but I couldn't put it down! Really loved it, it has a lot of depth and texture, great work! Thanks so much <3
Mar. 9th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
Yay, so glad you enjoyed!
Mar. 10th, 2010 12:44 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed the little segment of Roy getting his shoes untied and then his description of his school day--reminds me of my little neighbor's tales about his days at school.

XD Quite an enjoyable read all the way through and nice to end by going back to the play.

And thus, the Mustang family was set to expand!

Author Note #5 FTW!
Mar. 10th, 2010 11:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Really glad you enjoyed. And yeah, all hail the Great Cow.
Mar. 10th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
I loved this! Chris is such an interesting character, I loved the backstory you've made for her. Little Roy was adorable too and Grumman in silky underwear is now an image that will haunt me forever...

Your writing is always such a treat, I love your attention to detail and the historical touches, it makes it a much more fulfilling read than so many other 'by numbers' fanfics.

I am looking forward to investigating the rest of the Big Bang works now too :D
Mar. 10th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
As I say in my notes, Grumman in silkies is evil_little_dog's fault so you can blame her.

So glad you enjoyed this. I love historical nerding and this was a tough one to write, so it's nice to hear nice things. You should totally check out Big Bang, there are lots of good things going up. XD
Mar. 10th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
Sorry for the delay in coming to leave my love. I wanted to give other people a chance to come and enjoy it without having to suffer through my beta love explosion.

First, I just want to congratulate you and tell you how proud I am of you for getting this story together in he end. i know how much blood and sweat and worry went into this, and how many times it had to get revamped, but I think it was well worth it: this came out so fabulous in the end!

I loved the relationship between little Roy (what an adorable little shit, btw) and Chris. It was just the right amount of awkward and nervous. She's not an uncaring person, but having a child brought into your life so suddenly like that has to be a real trip. I think you handled it all really well, and there were some really sweet moments in there. You almost make me want to go out and get my own little Roy. Don't do that!

Grumman was a real treat, and seeing the two of them develop their friendship was a lot of fun. I can see why you had wanted to have more of that in there. Sequel? Because you don't have a million other things to do? XD

Seriously though, I really, really enjoyed this story, and I hope it gets all the love it deserves. *squishes you*

Mar. 10th, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
Mmm, beta love explosion. Gooey. XD

Thanks so much for the congratulations! I feel like I haven't thanked you enough for prodding and encouraging me through this. You did an amazing beta job and your advice to rework the plot was spot-on and what made the whole thing come together in the end. Pat yourself on the back, and I look forward to showering No Sound of Water with love tomorrow. XD

And thanks so much for the love for the fic. Yay love. Especially since you've seen this fic in so many stages of rough incompleteness (and then there was the totally melodramatic, jossed Ch 1 from September that I didn't even show you because it was that dire XD) so know how much I had to bash away at it to get it like this. Yays. Oh look, I exploded on you back. XD
(no subject) - enemytosleep - Mar. 10th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 10th, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! Little Roy now holds a vaulted spot at the top of my list of Cutest Kids Ever, tied with Littles Ed and Al and my godson. ;) I love Chris, the way she takes everything in stride, and Grumman just makes me giddy with joy. You rock.
Mar. 10th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
Yay, thanks, so glad you enjoyed! I really got to like young Chris and Grumman (although writing this kicked my ass, let me tell you).

Also, your icon is wonderful.
Mar. 12th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
I'm so sad this is over! I've enjoyed it utterly! These are characters you don't see much and you made them three dimentional! Bravo!!
Mar. 21st, 2010 11:39 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! This one took a lot of effort so it's lovely when people enjoy it.
Mar. 15th, 2010 04:46 am (UTC)
Love this. I picked up on the Mae West influence right away- and since I adore her, it just made the fic that much more fun for me. Love little Roy growing from spooky to giggly, and how smart he was from day one. Loved Maria to bits. And everything else: Chris looking after Iris and plotting revenge for Louie, Chris and Roy bonding, Grumman and his deals and plots.
Mar. 17th, 2010 08:12 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! Really glad you enjoyed, and that you picked up on the Mae West thing, which was just a huge influence on this fic (especially She Done Him Wrong). It was a real challenge writing these guys - Grumman's kind of not too different to his crazy manga self, but it was tough to get young Chris and Roy right at first. So it's lovely to get lovely comments from readers who've enjoyed the fic.
Mar. 18th, 2010 10:31 pm (UTC)
Oh happy day! I loved this. All plotty and detaily and so good that I'm making up words.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC)
A few highlights, for me:

I like your Roy quite a bit. I think I had him pinned down in my head as slightly broody for a kid, so there is that, but the way he gradually opens up is nice to read about. The parts of the story I love the most are probably those sections in which you have Chris interacting with Roy. Everything just read a little faster for me in those sections, and while it didn't reduce me to a puddle of goo thinking, Aww, it was - nice. I snickered at Chris testing Roy on the Qiongyan culture mainstays, and it's always amusing to see Chris tone down her language in front of Roy.

(OT: Every time I type "Chris," I always end up typing "Christ." Argh. This is difficult.)

Grumman is - well. Interesting. I think that's the best way I can describe him. Interesting to read about, but a little odd and weird at the same time. I would be judging him for cross-dressing on a whim, but my brother does the exact same thing, so this is all just very amusing for me. That said, I don't know what I would've done had Grumman slept with Chris. That's just . . . not brainsafe. I would've kept reading, yes, but - disturbing. Some pairings aren't meant to be written.

Invictus! ♥! That is a favorite of mine, not gonna lie. I love that poem so much.

Some less than great moments for me:

I feel as if there is an excessive amount of description, much of it extraneous and thrown in just to be there. It bogs down the story. I generally like your prose, but even so - I feel that there's just too much description with very little purpose to it. The story could do with some trimming or you just need to employ a better dispersion technique. As it is, you have these paragraph chunks of description that either make my eyes cross or make me fall asleep.

(I feel that this problem is most prevalent in the first chapter of the story. It's nice to know that once you got into the swing of things, your story started shedding some weight, but at the same time - it's in the first chapter, which is just generally not a good thing. Your story already starts off slow, so adding in more description just makes it slower, and the combination's not very great.)

Your repetition of the "later in life" phrase also doesn't sit too well for me. It feels a little contrived and it keeps jarring me out of the story, reminding me that - well, this is the story, yes, but it makes it feel more artificial and less "in the moment." After you repeat it a few times, it just becomes more of a gimmick than anything holding the story together, especially since you don't seem to be very consistent in the usage. (In that, the phrase shows up often in the first half of the story and then drops off in the second half.) Er, you could've meant that to be some thematic indicator (which I can see, actually), but again, it was gimmicky. Once I noticed it, it just became extremely noticeable and distracting.

Other things:

Overall, I actually like this better than NSI. This may just be because this is done and NSI isn't, or that this is less action-plotty or something. But, just in general, it reads smoother, is slightly tighter, and feels more authentic, I guess is how I would put it. I would say slice of life, but it isn't, not really, especially since you're focusing specifically on the part of her life in which there is such a big change. Still! I enjoyed reading it very much. Thanks for writing this and sharing it with us. *g*
Apr. 6th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Hello! Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed and thoughtful review, and sorry that it's taken so long to get back to you! I've been snowed under with other things for the past few weeks, but here I am now.

First off, glad you enjoyed the story. I liked Chris and Roy too. I wasn't sure initially how these younger versions of Chris and Grumman would respond to each other, and worried since they're both such highly-sexed people that they'd jump into bed. Which, as you say, would not be brainsafe. I don't think anyone really wants to see Grumman in drag but he's so clearly into it in the manga that I couldn't resist playing with that. I actually don't judge him at all for crossdressing - he mentions in the story that he's been doing it for years and his wife was cool with it - I didn't really see it as a whim but more a long-term part of his sexual/gender make-up. What did amuse me was having him be a tranny but still a dirty old dog - spending some of his leisure hours as Maria still somehow hasn't educated him that a slap on the ass is not a charming overture. XD

To move onto your critiques, I think the description probably comes from the fact that this is set twenty-five years in FMA's 'past', so I wanted to give it more of a period flavour than my usual stuff. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that I used period detail and worldbuilding judiciously - excessive, clunky description in historical stuff often annoys me in other people's work. I'm definitely planning to look back at Notorious when I've got some distance on it to see if this is one of the things I could have done better, so your comments are pretty helpful.

I struggled with this story quite a lot during the writing, and later chapters were completely rewritten with little turnaround time, so I'm not surprised to hear that the first chapter reads differently. Ultimately, I ran out of time before the deadline. I'm constantly marking essays where the consequences of students' poor time-management show in rushed portions of writing and changes of style and focus, so I'm amused and chastened by my experiences with this story. XD

You're quite right that the repetition of "later in life" was a thematic indicator. Whether it works is another matter ... Those moments where the focus pulls back definitely needed evaluating and polishing after the story was complete. I often put details like this in when I'm writing, then decide towards the end that they're contrived and rendered unnecessary by what I've written since. Again, I think missing out that final polish probably shows ...

Overall, thanks again for the comments. Hope you don't think I was horrified by the concrit - now I think to it, I really should have left a placeholder comment saying 'thanks' and 'will write more soon' - it's been a crazy couple of weeks. Anyway, glad you enjoyed and thanks so much again for your thoughtful critique, which I'll definitely keep in my mind as I reread and when editing future stuff.
(no subject) - adraekh - Apr. 6th, 2010 09:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 5th, 2010 11:08 pm (UTC)
I loved this story! I didn't want it to end.
Apr. 6th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks! So glad you enjoyed it.
Apr. 6th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
I followed a rec here from astridv, and oh, I love this version of Chris and her backstory! (And Roy, and General Grumman.) This is completely fabulous, and entirely human too. Nicely done!
Apr. 10th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks! What lovely compliments. Glad you enjoyed.
Apr. 30th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
genarti shouted at me to come read this story weeks ago, and I'd been putting it off until I had time to read and appreciate it properly. And I am so glad I did, because I love this kind of ridiculously! I really love how thoughtful all the characterization is - Chris and her intelligence and her pragmatism and how caring kind of sneaks up on her, and Grumman's dapperness and sneakiness and complicated sexuality, and solemn charming bratty baby Roy gradually opening up, and Iris (who is awesome!) and her teenagerness (I had to kind of laugh sheepishly when I read some of Madame Christmas' complaints about the things Iris forgets to do around the house, because, uh, some of them hit kind of close to home for me) and how she's young but not stupid. I also find the historical detail kind of fabulous - I'm a big Mae West fan, so all the jazz age references and snappy dialogue filled me with total joy. And the foreshadowing for things that are going to happen twenty-five years down the line is really clever. (I cracked up out loud at Chris appreciating their fine figure of a Fuhrer. MRS. BRADLEY AGREES, KING IS A FOX.)

Um, so in short: this whole story fills me with joy, I hope you don't mind me gushing all over your LJ!
Apr. 30th, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is so, so nice to hear! This story completely kicked my ass. I'm so glad you got so much enjoyment from it, and am really pleased to hear you enjoyed Iris especially - OCs are so difficult to sell people on.

I'm a huge Mae West fan myself, if you couldn't guess from the fic. Mae was a very intimidating influence - she and Madam Christmas are both so awesome I struggled to live up to their wit and chutzpah.

And Mrs Bradley so agrees. She's tapped that, and it was sweet. XD
(no subject) - bookelfe - Apr. 30th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 10th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
I love your Chris Mustang, it's very easy to imagine her becoming Madam Christmas. And your Roy is adorable! Although I might need to scrub my mind after imagining Grumman in lingerie.

Also, Ya Kun Kaya Toast is awesome! I love Killiney kaya toast but sadly it is nowhere near my house. *Singaporean*
May. 10th, 2010 12:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! Yeah, Grumman in lingerie. Nobody wants to see that, really.

Ah, Singapore - one of my favourite places in the world! My sister-in-law lives there, so I get to visit once a year. We got so addicted to half-boiled eggs and kaya toast that we now get anyone coming back from Singapore to bring us jars of kaya. It's not the same with British bread, though. As was probably obvious from this fic, I love Singaporean food. Chicken rice, carrot cake, char kway teow, laksa, dumpling soup, chilli crab and black pepper crab, youtiao ... and that's without even getting into all the fantastic Indian and Malaysian food. I'll even go to durian pancakes, that's how addicted I am. XD You guys are lucky.
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