A/N: FINISHED. I'm pretty happy with where this ends up :) Thanks to everyone who encouraged part 2 (petals-to-fish *cough cough*). Let me know what you think! Also 10 points to whoever figures out my unintentional movie homage hehe.
They hadn't thought much of the small village, beyond it being a place for a hot meal cooked by someone other than Sirius, soft beds, and a roof to keep the increasingly frequent rains out.
But apparently, it was a hot spot for the scorpion men – or girtablilu as she'd been informed – who attacked in the dead of night, simultaneously destroying their hopes for a calm evening and a roof over their heads. While their resources prevented helping restore what the villagers lost in the initial attack, the trio wordlessly agreed to eliminate the threat of future ones.
Which is how Lily ends up here, a scorpion stinger the length of her forearm hovering a breath away from her jugular. With an almighty thrust she shoves the half-man-half-beast away from her and ends him with an expert slash across his throat.
Before she can seek out a new foe, her searching eyes land on Sirius – currently battling two girtablilu – being approached menacingly from behind by a third wielding a spear along with his stinger.
Lily swipes her gore-stained knife across her trousers and slings it with pinpoint accuracy toward Sirius' would-be attacker. He finishes off the other two and glances behind him, taking in her latest kill and offers a casual salute in thanks, then moves to continue his carefully calculated slashes through the fray.
Some of the more experienced villagers – particularly trained to face this all too frequent threat – fight alongside the three warriors to beat back the attacking forces.
Her eyes are drawn to Sirius again as he slides between the hind legs of one of the scorpion men, driving his short sword in a particularly harmful place before rolling out of harm's way as his enemy falls to the sandy ground with a dull thud. Lily knows based on the past months of partnership if things get dire, he'll shift into his other form, but a whole host of considerations that begins with his sordid family history mean he prefers his human form.
And while the girtablilu aren't something to sneer at, they don't pose enough of a threat to warrant much concern. Not with the three of them. So he'd foregone claws and jaws for a sharp blade and carefully honed reflexes.
Steeling herself to move back into the battle, Lily tugs her fighting stick from its place across her back and bounces it in her hands, eyes darting for a new target only to be accosted by two broad chested attackers at once.
Quickly, she dispatches the first with successive strikes to each side of his ribcage and a forceful shove to his diaphragm, simultaneously winding him and knocking him from his feet.
She swirls, tucked robes swirling around her hips, and sees James grinning at her from a few feet away, realizing he – like Sirius – doesn't see the scorpion man advancing from his left side.
Before she can think, Lily lunges as she tugs her final two knives from the belt slung low around her waist and throws them. James' hazel eyes widen in surprise as the blades find their home in the girtablilu's neck and chest respectively.
Fairly confident that's the last of them, Lily makes to retrieve her lost weaponry when she's lifted from her feet in a pair of strong arms that feel like a vice around her middle, the breath knocked from her lungs.
Air supply cut off, her vision blurs as James begins vaulting toward her, boots kicking up dust with Sirius close behind.
Later Lily wakes by the fire – a presumably considerable amount of time later given the fully darkened sky – with a cool cloth resting across her brow and James at her hip, dark eyes locked on her face with a dreadfully serious expression.
He sighs when she sends him a small grin, "Oh thank-"
But the rest of his sentence is lost to her lips as his slant over them, one broad hand knitting through her grossly battle gnarled hair.
Lily brings her arms to wrap around his neck with a moan that James swallows along with his own and soon enough he finds himself half splayed across her prone form.
Before they can get too out of breath Sirius makes a disgusted noise from behind, a bundle of found wood in his arms. "Not that I'm not happy you two've finally gotten your shit together, but please no funny business where I can see – or hear."
Lily laughs as James drops his head to her shoulder. His hands stroke up and down as her sides and he answers, "No promises mate, considering we three don't get much privacy."
Sirius grimaces and Lily pinches James' side, pushing herself – and him in the process – into a sitting position, "First off I'm starved, and second I'm not going at it with Sirius a few feet away where he can – and likely will – make commentary."
Dropping his bundle carelessly a few feet away, Sirius grins cheekily, "She knows me so well."
James rolls his eyes and stirs the pot perched over the crackling flames before addressing Lily, "What if he was more than a few feet away?"
She chuckles again and gives him a chaste peck on his lips. "We'll make time, I promise."
More jibes – peppered with compliments and tales of their battle – fly across the campsite like flitting birds until the stew and flat breads are long gone.
Bellies full, they lounge lazily around the fire with James tucking Lily close to his side as his fingers run through her hair, casually working the knots free, frowning at the cuts and bruises that mar her pale skin despite their victory. Propped against a towering tree that juts into their view of the night sky, Sirius carefully sharpens his short sword against a smooth stone, honing it to battle-readiness. "So. About Ishtar."
Snorting, Lily remains in her reclined position, green eyes hidden from view. "Smooth transition there, mate."
"Someone had to bring it up," Sirius answers with a shrug.
James sighs, "Yeah."
Sirius slips his weapon back into its sheath and drops onto his pallet with casual elegance, "We're all still on board with the whole 'bigger badder god or goddess in our corner' plan right?"
Lily hums her agreement and James nods, "I've a few in mind."
"I think it may be time to pay Remus another visit," Sirius posits, tugging his pack to pillow his head.
Standing, Lily tugs James toward her partially laid out mat and proceeds to make a bed they can share. "Your scholar friend?"
"One and the same," James confirms as he assists, eventually settling down and pulling her into the safe haven of his arms.
She curls into his embrace and sighs contentedly, "Tomorrow?"
"Aye," James murmurs into the crown of her head, the smell of rosewater lingering in her rich locks.
Cloak pulled tight over his shoulders to battle the late night chill, Sirius snuggles down. "No funny business you two. I'll call Ishtar myself."
Remus is just putting out the lamps for the night when a few forceful thuds sound from the door to his back room – the private entrance. Hesitant, he carefully grips the poker perched near his fire and pads toward the door.
He's about to jerk the door open and threaten the interloper with a hasty skewering when a familiar voice calls out, "Open up Remus dear! We're cold."
Another recognizable voice joins, confirming the chill weather, before a third one – female and entirely new – shushes them, "He could be sleeping, like whatever half of the village you didn't manage to wake already. I told you we should've-"
Biting back a smile, Remus throws the door wide. "What are you poor slobs doing back so soon? And you've got a hostage?"
The unknown redhead smirks, shrugging casually and highlighting the delicately carved fighting stick at her shoulder. "I volunteered."
He takes in the ragtag trio and sighs, gesturing for them to enter and settle around his rickety table, warm hugs and handshakes shared as they pass through the doorway.
Once they're all tucked into their seats – gorging themselves on the various meats, breads, and cheeses Lily had ordered the boys to bring as a combined peace offering and host gift – Remus breaks the comfortable silence as he sops up some salty broth with a crusty piece of bread. "I can't help but notice there's one more of you than the last time you darkened my doorstep."
Lily grins toothily and offers a salute. "They recruit now."
James snorts as Sirius throws a companionable arm around each of their shoulders. "These two got into a fight, but called it a draw when they got all hot and bothered; decided they'd rather sh-"
"Oi!" James yelps, cutting his best mate off with a sharp smack to the back of his head. Lily smirks at James' rising blush, taking matters into her own hands and introducing herself, "I'm Lily – more commonly known as the messenger. Ishtar's."
A shudder passes among them, followed by nervous laughter and Sirius snickering. "S'not like we'll just summon her by saying her name."
Remus quirks a brow as if to take issue with the assumption, but he lets it pass as James leans forward, brushing his empty plates aside. "Speaking of summoning-"
"Smooth," Lily mutters under her breath, earning an approving grin from Sirius and a growl from James.
"Anyway," James cuts in, his laughing eyes belying his long suffering tone, "We were hoping you might be able to suggest some mischievous and powerful deities that might have it in for dear old Ishtar."
A chill late night wind whips around the small cottage and the three men startle. Lily quirks a brow, "I've been around her long enough to know what gets Ishtar to come 'round. And it's not by simply uttering her name."
The trio let out a simultaneous deep breath and Remus' face scrunches in thought, spindly fingers stroking his scruffy jawline pensively. "I'm sure there are a few that wouldn't say no to a chance at vengeance, or at the very least some trouble making."
"I've always loved a good trouble maker," Sirius puts in, snatching a stray bit of cheese from one of the serving bowls.
Remus smiles before pushing his chair back fairly abruptly and striding over to his packed bookshelves. "I'll need to think about it – do some research. You three alright to stick around for a bit?"
After Lily nearly smacks Remus for suggesting she take the bed for the night, they gradually wander to their sleeping places scattered around Remus' small home. And if James pulls his pallet close enough that he throws a tanned arm around Lily's waist in his sleep, he's not sorry – especially when he wakes to a face full of russet hair and her steady breaths brushing across his bare chest.
Slowly, James works his way out from underneath her, feeling more bereft than he should at this stage, but he brushes the thought – and all related ones – aside at least until he's had breakfast. He's still tugging his tunic over his head as he makes his way toward Remus' kitchen to forage for food, only to find the man of the house up, chipper, and a selection of pastries and locally grown fruits spread across the sideboard invitingly. "Morning James. Sleep well?"
James narrows his eyes but chooses to ignore the smirk tickling his old friend's lips and pours himself a cup of dark tea. "Yes, thank you. Any ideas yet?"
Looking toward the books that surround him on the creaky wooden table as if he's forgotten them, Remus shrugs. "I've got some ideas."
At his waiting look, Remus proceeds to list some of the major and minor deities he thinks could be enticed to stand up to Ishtar, adding little historical tidbits along the way, until he mentions Ereshkigal.
"Well I know for a fact Ishtar hates Ereshkigal in that way you only do if someone's better faster and smarter than you," Lily volunteers from the doorway, hair falling in mussed tendrils around her face, "And also if you're jealous because your former lover is trying to get with them."
"Well I'd personally like to antagonize her as much as possible," James grins around a sugary sticky bun of some sort.
Lily grabs a paring knife from the cupboard and slices into a shiny red apple she's dusted on the corner of her shirt. "Glad we're agreed on that point."
Remus pushes away from the table and begins sliding his books back into their places; tugging new ones out instead as he glances sidelong at Lily and James as they literally and figuratively dance around each other preparing their breakfasts. He bites back a laugh before pulling another tome free, forcing a casual look onto his face. "You know, it's market day."
"Oh really?" Lily asks, crunching into another slice, eyes excited as James' narrow, "Really."
Remus nods, quirking a brow at James, daring him to question, as Lily downs her tea and bustles away to finish readying herself for the day. "I think I'll check it out, Remus."
As soon as she's out of the room, James' eyes dart around the room, murmuring to himself and nearly gnawing through his lip, drawing Remus over from the shelves. "Problem, James?"
James shushes him but grabs his forearm desperately. "We've been flirting and I barely handled that. How could I- could we- I'm not smooth."
"Can't be that bad," Remus chuckles, "You managed to get her attention when she was supposed to be killing you."
A snort sounds from behind them and James quiets the newly arrived Sirius but pulls him closer nonetheless. "Remus decided to suggest an outing."
"I just said it was market day – and she didn't even invite you," Remus cuts in but Sirius interrupts, "I don't know what happened before I woke up, but James 'wooing' Lily was not smooth."
"Oi!" James growls indignantly, "I may not have been smooth but I was dashing."
Sirius snickers again but before he can retort Lily breezes into the room, "Dear James was neither smooth nor dashing," she pauses and winks, "I'd say more like adorably endearing."
This draws an affectionate smile from Remus and false gags from Sirius, but the grin that splits James' face is all that Lily really notices as she grabs his hand and drags him out into the busy streets.
They wander from stall to stall, browsing trinkets and treats alike, pausing when James tugs a plum and gold gauzy scarf from one of the tables and drapes it around Lily's head rather gracefully. She feels an uncharacteristic blush rise on her cheeks as his thumbs brush her jawbone and he leans almost imperceptibly closer. Until a grumbly voice barks, "If you're not buyin' move along."
James tears his eyes from Lily's wide emerald ones just long enough to pull the necessary coins from the leather pouch tied at his waist and toss them into the peddler's waiting palm. By the time he turns back, Lily's attention has flitted elsewhere but his heart thrums when he feels her hand slip back into his as they move toward the next salesman.
It's nearly lunchtime when they buy a bag of roasted almonds to share as they move through the market, eventually exiting the town and settling in a sunny field overlooking the rolling hills that surround Remus' village. James tosses a nut skyward and catches it easily, earning joyous applause and a vibrant smile from Lily, who attempts to imitate his actions with disastrous results. He's attempting to pull her grabbing fingers away from her injured eye when she suddenly relents, the white around her beautiful green irises angry and red as an errant tear slips over her cheekbone.
He swipes it away habitually and examines her closer, fighting the urge to just smell her – at least until he's sure there are no stray bits of almond left in her eye. Lily blinks a rapidly few times, before turning her gaze to his, looking sheepish, "You'd think an expert knife thrower could manage a paltry parlor trick with nuts."
One hand remains on her jawline, but James draws back and places the other on his chest, mock offense evident as he scoffs, "Well. I'll have you know that 'paltry parlor trick' has won over many a king and queen."
Lily chuckles lightly, one hand holding his in place while the other slides around his neck, knitting into his perpetually messy locks. "I never said it wasn't working when you did it."
James flounders for a moment, mouth dropping open and eyes wide just long enough for Lily to surge forward and press her lips to his. Despite his earlier confusion, James catches on quickly and his free arm wraps around her waist and drags her into his lap. It's some time later when he's tugging the scarf from her neck to pillow her head and free up her neck for other things when she pulls away, voice breathy, "James."
She doesn't receive an answer beyond a hum and a slow descent down the column of her neck, which distracts her again, especially as his hands wander – until her brain manages to grind into movement again. "James – we've got to get – ah."
Sighing, he pulls back and presses his forehead to hers, "We've got to go, yeah?"
A dejected but agreeing moan leaves Lily's lips as James gives her one more chaste kiss. "More time for that after we get rid of the vengeful goddess breathing down our necks."
Making your descent into the Underworld voluntarily without taking what Remus termed 'extreme and irreversible measures' is actually easier than any of them would've thought. Although the fact that James is a well-known demigod hero makes it less of a hassle than it is for the average mortal, with all his clout and such.
The location of entrance is sort of counterintuitive. Descents are expected, considering the repeated references throughout history to going 'below' – but Remus researches various myths and accounts passed along through different cultures and comes up with the idea of finding the highest peak in the Zagros Mountains and climbing it, where they hope to find some sort of gate that indicates their gamble has paid off.
All this takes place over a fortnight – combing through the earliest texts to the most recent, teasing stories from drunken warriors in nearby pubs, planning out the journey to Ereshkigal's realm – broken up only by those occasions where James drags Lily away from the leathery pages and maps she's been poring over for some quality time.
Which isn't as lecherous as it sounds. They certainly do partake in some enjoyable endeavors, but they also find themselves basking in the dusky pink light as birds return to their nests for the evening, each offering up little bits of their past, of themselves, whispered across the soft blanket of grass.
So after a few additional days gathering supplies and listening to more lectures from Remus about proper protocols and the various ways they'll be able to escape unscathed if things go south, the trio departs with heavy packs and well wishes, armed to the teeth with weapons and gratuitous knowledge about temperamental gods and goddesses.
After many a late night poring over old maps and journals, they estimate it will take about a month to reach the site assuming all goes well – including the time necessary to ascend the highest of the Zagros peaks. Much of their journey is spent crossing the Silakhor Plain – a vast grassland they quickly learn justifiably earned its reputation as an area prone to frequent earthquakes.
Prepared as ever, Remus had first coached them on how to react – mainly avoiding anything large and heavy that might crush them like grapes – and then promptly pontificated for an hour on how exactly they were going to avoid needing said preparation. Luckily, they only face one test of their knowledge, and it's not the main fault point of the quake, just the rumbles that radiate out from the biggest pressure point. They do however see enough of the effects of the disasters in their time moving through the region to know Remus wasn't droning on for nothing.
Once the towering peaks become more than distant stamps on the horizon and they're close enough that the climb is all that remains, they unanimously decide a slight delay is a small sacrifice for one last night of semi-restful sleep. Particularly after they spent the majority of the last week helping villagers pick through the rubble of their earthquake-rocked settlements.
The hunger in their bellies quelled by the offerings of various grateful families, James, Sirius, and Lily set about laying their pallets around the crackling fire that fends off the desert's chill night air.
It's only now that they're here, so close, that James starts to really consider what's at stake. And not just in the long run – he could be leading the group to their deaths. Deities aren't particularly known for their slow tempers and forgiving natures. So he finds himself staring wide eyed at the starry expanse of the sky, heart pounding in his ears as he realizes in three days time they could all be dead. Or worse, he could survive without them.
"I can hear your dark and broody thoughts from over here mate. Keeping me awake," Sirius murmurs, careful not to wake Lily from where she sleeps against James' chest. Although if she hadn't woken from the rapid beats of his heart it may not be much of a concern.
Still, James is quiet as he responds, "I just feel like I'm leading us to our deaths. And mine is at least worth it since either way I'll escape Ishtar's grabby hands."
Sirius snorts but turns over, grey eyes glinting in the firelight. "In case you haven't noticed, Lily's not in particularly good standing with Ishtar either," James makes to interrupt but Sirius plows ahead anyway, "And I threw my lot in with you from day one. That's how it is with brothers, yeah?"
Before James can answer with more than a gaping mouth, Sirius flips back to his original position and barks out an almost silent laugh, "Now go to sleep, I need my beauty rest before wooing Ereshkigal."
The next morning, they pack in a flurry, leaving no time to address the conversation from the night before beyond Sirius sending James a wink, and receiving and answering eye roll, as he stuffs his meager belongings into his leather pack.
Blessedly, the climb is fairly uneventful, with the exception of a few heart-pounding slips against the more uneven and gravel strewn foot holds, but their precautions hold out as the expertly tied ropes ensure no one is relying solely on themselves to remain upright and in full possession of their entrails.
They don't take long rests, instead just taking turns to eat and sleep at varying times so no one is in danger of rolling off a cliff to their untimely demise. Sirius smirks when he takes the first watch, crunching into an apple, "Who wants to die falling off a cliff when we're so close to being smote by a couple of vengeful goddesses?"
After a brief argument over whether 'smote,' 'smoted,' or 'smited' is the appropriate word, James and Lily settle down one behind the other with Lily's back pressed against the imposing cliff face and Sirius' quiet humming putting them at ease.
Uneven – and if you ask Lily unequal – sleeping schedules mean they don't truly know how long it takes to climb to the peak, but soon enough James is tugging them over the crest and the trio collapses against the dusty ground, chapped faces split in relieved grins. After a few moments, Lily huffs a breath and sits with her forearms braced across her knees. "I hope Ereshkigal's got an alternate exit."
Sirius snickers and rolls onto his side, still catching his breath, "Heard we've got to shed clothes at each gate."
James rolls his eyes and sits up, bracing himself on his hands, legs extended. "We all heard that – Remus told us in that impromptu lecture before we left."
"Well you were all goggle eyed at Lily so-"
Shooting him a glare, James shoves at Sirius' thigh half heartedly with the toe of his boot, "Why don't you do it Sirius, we all know you love exposing yourself."
Raising a finger imperiously in the air, Sirius answers, "First, I am a glorious sight to behold, and second everyone knows skinny dipping feels better – you agreed after I convinced you to try," Lily quirks a brow and is half way through formulating a teasing rejoinder when Sirius continues, "However, I prefer to be clothed when meeting potential enemies."
He pauses for half a beat before turning to Lily, who quickly cottons on, "Don't look at me."
James is slower to speak, simultaneously looking furious, embarrassed, and like he wishes he and Lily were somewhere completely alone and without– "Yeah I'm the only one – I mean – I haven't– we didn't–"
Sirius smirks at James' floundering but pities him nonetheless, "I'm the only one not trying to avoid a murderous, love starved goddess so-"
A throat clears from behind them, "Can I help you three or do you simply plan on clogging up the entrance to my realm all day?"
All three jolt forward and Sirius is the first to speak, albeit lacking his usual intellect as he stumbles over a few unintelligible syllables.
Gathering his bearings, James stands and moves forward with practiced deference toward the imposing figure that stands eying them calculatingly, "We were actually hoping to speak with you," he eyes her speculatively, "About a mutually beneficial proposition."
The woman – goddess – seems to almost float across the mountaintop, robes of silvers, greys, and blacks swirling around her tall, ethereal, figure. "In case you haven't heard I rule an entire realm of dead beings – along with fending off unwanted suitors – so if you wouldn't – oh," her golden eyes land on Lily as she pushes to her feet, "I know you."
James steps closer to Lily and slides his hand into hers. Ereshkigal crosses her arms over her chest. "Maybe we should talk."
The plan is relatively simple. Perhaps too simple, but it's the best they have, and time is of the essence considering Ishtar will only remain busy with other things for so long.
Ereshkigal's main contribution to the discussion is her access to the 'Void.' Which they're all willing to admit is the linchpin of their plot to take care of the Ishtar problem. As goddess of the dead and Underworld, she has certain capabilities, which includes holding the Void open for a brief period.
The Void is apparently some deeper level of the Underworld that Ereshkigal assures them will successfully trap any immortal – Ishtar included – without fail. Provided they first get said immortal in the trap.
Which will be more difficult than it sounds, considering this isn't an unknown factor for Ishtar. Ereshkigal hasn't used it often but it's powerful enough and dangerous enough that the various members of the pantheon have made it a point to know and understand the Void – strengths and flaws alike.
One such flaw is the fact that the longer it remains open, the less stable the Void becomes. Tendrils can slither out and when they do, they grasp for the first living thing they manage to find. The point being, the time between getting Ishtar to their chosen location, in place, and finally pushed back into the Void will need to be as short as possible. Or they risk all their lives in the process.
Sirius notes this as they discuss, wondering aloud why exactly Ereshkigal is willing to take the chance.
The dark beauty laughs humorlessly as her gaze falls on Sirius, then slips toward James and Lily. "Make no mistake, I will not forfeit my life for the sake of you or your feud with Ishtar. No matter how much I desire seeing her meet her justly deserved end," Lily huffs her agreement as Ereshkigal continues, "the minute I feel those cords wrapping around my ankles is the minute I sweep Ishtar and everything in her path into the Void. Including the three of you if necessary."
James chuckles darkly. "We appreciate your candor."
Ereshkigal hums and enlightens them regarding the ins and outs of her abilities, which is helpful in formulating a more concrete plan, but also makes them miss Remus terribly.
It's later that night, after they've bid their benefactress of sorts goodnight, that they gather around the fire, each ruminating on their individual responsibilities if things are going to fall into place properly. For good or ill, in less than a week they'll be free of the cloud hanging over their heads.
Sirius is tossing some sort of fruit they've yet to determine the edibility status of over his head in steady strokes, the regular thump as he grasps it lulling them into a strange sort of calm. Until he breaks it, catching the projectile with both hands and tucking it under his arm in an odd embrace. He doesn't tear his gaze from the sapphire sky when he speaks, "So do we get to know just how you became the messenger?"
Lily glances up suddenly from tending to her knives, nearly dropping one like she hasn't in almost a decade, and blows out a breath, grateful the hair splitting blade didn't find purchase on her calloused fingertips. "Not much to tell, but I could."
Frowning, James is torn between wanting to know more about her past, and the desire for these things to come out slowly and naturally, over time – the rest of their lives. A gloomy part of him notes the rest of their lives might not be all that long; but nonetheless, he shoves Sirius and glances toward Lily across the flames. "You're under no obligation to share, or dredge things up. At least for right now."
She smirks at that as she slides her knives into their well-worn slots on the belt she's worn most of her life. "Planning on keeping me around, eh demigod?"
James blushes but doesn't drop his gaze, "I figured I'd made that pretty clear at this point."
With a groan, Sirius sits forward and begins poking at the fire. "Who gave you permission to turn my nosiness into a soppy love declaration?"
James and Lily both balk at the l-word, avoiding each other's eyes and behaving as if their hands are too big for the rest of their bodies, until Sirius pities them and turns things back to the original topic. "Tragic backstory? I've already done mine."
Lily sighs, settling back against her pack as she picks at her cuticles, before speaking, "It's not all that interesting or unique. Just trusted someone I thought deserved it. Turns out he didn't. I end up becoming a glorified assassin for a bloodthirsty goddess."
There's a bit of a sting in James' chest at the thought of the unnamed 'he' and it's only partially that nasty twinge of jealousy he'll never admit to. Mostly, his heart aches at the thought of a free Lily being chained to a life she never wanted because of an unexpected and unearned betrayal. Despite her deadly abilities, she's filled with more goodness than he's ever seen – Sirius knows it, Remus too. And just the thought that anyone would take advantage of that goodness – his blood boils at the idea.
Apparently his face is more of an open book than he'd hoped, and he finds Lily's scooted closer as she whispers, "It wasn't like– I'm not– you and I–"
It takes him a moment to cotton on to the meaning of her broken sentences, but he quickly cuts in once he does. "No. I mean, of course there's some- I do tend to be rather jealous," there goes never admitting it, "but the thought of you being used, betrayed," he pauses, tamping down his building anger at the faceless man, "You've no idea how I wish I could meet him – and make him wish he'd never met me."
Lily smiles and dips her head to hide the tears welling in her eyes, unsuccessfully given James pretty quickly tugs her into his arms, pressing errant kisses to her hair.
She calms as her heartbeat syncs with James'; the night quiet as whatever animals manage to live in these peaks settle in to sleep. Until Sirius speaks, voice uncharacteristic in its emotion, "You've got us Lily. Whatever our flaws, we're loyal to a fault."
Snorting against James' neck, Lily reaches a hand blindly toward Sirius and he grasps it readily, squeezing her fingers comfortingly. "Same for me, boys."
Tomorrow, they'll begin. Make their way back down the mountain, set the trap, prepare for the future. But for tonight, for a few hours, it's just them under a blanket of stars, content.
The next few days pass in a flurry and before they know it, the early dawn light ekes over the horizon the morning everything begins – and ends. An almost eerie calm settles over them as they realize they've done all they can, at least until everything starts.
Sirius is off doing his preparatory brooding session, so Lily and James linger in the shade of the jagged peaks of the Zagaros, shoulders brushing as their eyes watch the still desert with practiced sharpness.
After a beat, Lily draws a breath in as if steeling herself, and turns to James, gaze determined. "James I-"
She falters and he takes her in, eyes darting between hers as his hand cups her jaw, "I know. Me too," he sighs, "There'll be plenty of time for all that later."
A smile ticks the corner of her mouth as she leans into his palm. "I could've been about to say 'I think you smell.'"
James presses his forehead to hers and their breaths mingle, "I smell delicious."
Taking a pointed sniff, Lily wins a chuckle from James and his lips are still in a wide grin when she presses hers against them.
It's not too long until they break apart, short of breath, but Lily's hands have wound into his messy locks and her back is leant against the cliff face. He nuzzles the juncture between her neck and shoulder, and she takes the opportunity to let her fingers run free, tripping over his shoulder blades, back up over his neck and into his hair.
They linger there, trading light kisses until they pull back, nearly simultaneously, and Lily brushes her fingertips over his cheekbones. "Plenty of time for that later, yeah?"
He smirks as she echoes his words, pressing his lips to her forehead before drawing a fortifying breath and pulling away.
The bare bones of their camp are still set up and Sirius returns when they do, so the trio eats a hearty but cold breakfast to carry them through whatever the day brings.
Ereshkigal sent her summons to Ishtar almost immediately after their initial meeting, knowing the goddess, whatever her faults, tended to favor careful planning over random and quick actions. This was partially borne of her need to prepare for every possible result, but mainly from her desire to lull her opponent into a false sense of security.
The foursome had planned for this, and was resting in the hope that their plan wasn't one of the eventualities Ishtar had foreseen.
In the end, the waiting, the hoping, all quiet as Ishtar makes her appearance across their sort of battlefield. Lily's concealed in a strategically chosen copse of trees with a straight shot toward where James and Ereshkigal wait.
The summons was vague, basically offering to turn James over in exchange for some unnamed reward. And apparently taking the bait, Ishtar makes her way across the open earth with her characteristic ethereal movements, beautiful but devious, and they're ready.
Sirius is monitoring the sort of trap door they'd rigged over the small tear Ereshkigal made in the divide between their world and the Void, ensuring the gap remains concealed until the opportune moment.
Things follow their proscribed course, with James and Ereshkigal managing to work Ishtar into position fairly quickly – largely because of her distracted and lascivious gaze as it rakes over James in a predatory manner that makes Lily grit her teeth.
Still, she holds her position and waits for Sirius' signal – they've got to perfectly coordinate their movements so that by the time Ishtar realizes she's been had, the goddess will be halfway to her new home.
It's when Lily throws her knives – two in quick succession – at Sirius' cue that things go south. Apparently quicker on the uptake than they hoped, Ishtar stumbles back but grabs ahold of James' collar in the process. And even though he fights it, her grip is strong enough to pull him over the lip as she tumbles to her fate.
Despite his strength – both natural and earned – James barely keeps his hold on the wall as the unknowable power of the Void tugs at him, as if sentient and aware of the prize that awaits.
Lily's already vaulting across the distance when he loses his purchase on the side and plummets from view, a harsh cry leaving her throat as Sirius follows close behind him.
Quickly, her eyes dart toward Ereshkigal who seems uncharacteristically sympathetic given her rather self-serving disclaimer and Lily's heart feels as if it's snapped in two.
Until she sees the rope tied expertly around the thick tree Sirius had been perched in, pulled taut and swaying in the force of the wind that whips through the Void.
Practically screeching, Lily orders Ereshkigal to keep the gap open and the goddess nods her assent, most of her energy focused on maintaining control over the uncontrollable forces that swirl meters away from their boots.
Just as she's fastening her own rope to a sharp rock formation that juts from deep into the ground and preparing to move in and pull the boys from the brink herself, one broad arm crests the top, muscles straining against the pull of the Void.
By the time Lily's close enough that the swirling winds from within twist her robes around her body in violent slaps, James' motionless form is thrown into the grassy plain and Sirius follows soon after, chest heaving as he crawls to safety, dragging James with him.
Lily quickly moves to help and once they're far enough away, Ereshkigal snaps the tear shut, but lingers in the foreground as Lily's panic seeps out in angry tears.
Grabbing at his torn tunic, Lily presses her ear against James' chest, desperate for any sign of life. Ereshkigal speaks softly from behind, "He's not mine yet, but I won't lie – he barely lingers in your world."
Sharing a steely glance, Sirius rips James' shirt in two, straight down the middle as Lily pounds her fist against James' chest with a sharp downward stroke. She follows this with a few steady breaths into his mouth, pushing her air into his lungs as hot tears slip down her dust stained cheeks.
She smacks against his chest once more, readying herself to breathe into his lungs once more when he jolts with a dry, hacking cough.
Together, Lily and Sirius toss themselves across James' chest and she pretends not to see the relieved tears that well in Sirius' silvery eyes.
Ereshkigal takes her leave, assuring them James is no longer a prospective resident of the Underworld, and disappears in a dark cloud that sparks with lightning.
James holds Lily close, still flat on his back as he ruffles Sirius' sleek hair, which earns him a hearty shove in the ribs. "Can't a bloke take a simple nap around you two without all the dramatics?"
Lily chokes out a laugh, smacking his chest. "I bloody well hate you."
He frowns dramatically, pushing into a sitting position slowly and with more assistance than he'd like. "You hate me Lily?"
Sirius barking laughter bounces off the looming cliffs as he and Lily prop up in the shade of the swaying trees. "Nah, she doesn't."