Author's Note: Written for voodoochild for YuletideMadness2010. Thanks to Smeepalicious for being a wonderful beta on incredibly short notice.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare
Shadow spent three months in France and only five hours in Paris, which he considered five hours too many. He'd flown across the channel because the ferries were few and far between outside the school holidays, and he now found himself stuck in the airport, waiting to be transferred to Lyons. He would rather have left the airport and taken a train, but the airport staff seemed to view this as a baffling and unreasonable request.
It was the sort of journey that drove normally sane people to write strongly worded emails; the wait alone was driving him into Letters to the Editor territory. He'd been through three separate security checks for no apparent reason other than to make the staff look busy, the duty free was closed, and all the computers in the terminal's tiny internet cafe were taken. There was a Starbucks, a Cafe Nero, and some European coffee shop, all of which were packed with irate and over-caffeinated passengers, and Shadow took this as reason enough not to go in. He headed for the bar. For one thing, there would be fewer screaming children.
As it turned out, there was hardly anyone in the bar at all. The lighting was dim, and Shadow could see the silhouette of a single woman at the bar: her back was turned, but Shadow could see that she wore a long skirt that fell like a waterfall down from the bar stool. He felt an odd sense of kinship for this lone passenger, who most likely shared the sort of loneliness that came from being unable to speak to anyone without an out-of-date phrase book.
The woman gave him a look as he sat down, but she didn't comment. Instead, she pulled a shot glass towards her, filled it from one of the bottles left out on the bar, and pushed it towards him. Shadow peered into the darkness behind the bar but there was no bartender he could see.
"Two ships passing in the night. Chance meetings... and the inability of the European transport system to deal with a bit of snow," she said, knocking a shot back in one practised swallow. Shadow wondered how much she'd had already.
"Should you be taking that?" he asked.
"Probably not." Now that he saw her up close, she looked more like a young girl, maybe college age. Shadow didn't know many girls who could drink like that, not even in Europe, although college might explain her tolerances. "Shouldn't be talking to strangers either, really. My mother was very clear on that. Not that it did me much good. You'd better drink that, or I'll be terribly offended."
Not one to disobey a pretty girl, Shadow swallowed the alcohol and managed not to choke as it seared its way down its throat. The girl smirked into her own empty glass.
"You're stuck in the bad weather too, then?" he asked, attempting intelligent conversation.
"I brought it with me," she replied. "I always bring the bad weather. Explains why I'm so bloody popular."
Shadow had enough warning signs now to get a rough idea of who he was dealing with.
"Look," he said, "I don't mean to be rude, but I know you're one of them, and whatever it is you're going to do I'd prefer it if you just went ahead and did it. Actually I'd prefer it if you didn't, but that's never stopped one of you before."
"Who exactly do you think I am?" The woman asked, drawing herself up to her full height. The effect was diminished somewhat from sitting next to Shadow, who was tall even sitting down.
"I don't know. My knowledge of weather deities is a bit shaky." Shadow was tired and frustrated, but not yet reckless enough to tell an unknown entity that he didn't care, either.
"Weather deities?" the girl spat, in tones of extreme sarcasm. "You probably haven't heard of my father. The worthless, good for nothing, philandering old goat. Long beard, likes to throw lightening bolts around, lives on Mount Olympus."
Shadow recoiled a little and thought fast. Half of the Greek pantheon had Zeus for a father, and the rest had slept with him at least once; that didn't really narrow it down much.
"I'm a seasonal goddess," the girl sniffed. "Like my mother. Weather deities indeed."
The name hit Shadow like a winter gale, but he didn't want to say it without her permission. Gods got touchy about things like that, and this one looked like she was in a bad mood to begin with.
"You can call me Cora," the girl said. "For Kore. It's a euphemism my mother's nymphs came up with because they were too afraid to speak my name."
"But it's winter," Shadow protested.
"I am winter." The girl-goddess poured another two shots and pushed his towards him. "To the inevitable end of all relationships."
Shadow thought of Laura, beautiful and dead. He downed his drink without toasting.
"Shouldn't you be, you know, elsewhere?" he asked. The alcohol must have been working already, because there was no other way he'd ask such stupid questions of a goddess. Shadow could feel the warmth at the back of his throat, unless that was just third degree burns from swallowing the foul stuff.
"No, no, and no." The goddess poured herself another glass, spilling a little over the marble bar. To Shadow's relief she seemed to forget about it in favour of drawing patterns on the bar with the spilled liquid and didn't pour another. "Firstly, I left. Wouldn't live with him again if you paid me. Secondly, I am the winter. All that goddess of the springtime stuff is just artistic license. Thirdly, and this is the most important part, I don't want to."
"When you say you are winter..." Shadow asked.
"I am winter." The air in the bar got colder and the lights dimmed as she said it, but her voice was unmistakably bored. Contrary to what the laws of physics might suggest Shadow could have sworn the shadows around them got longer and darker. "I am death. I am the end of summer, the end of life. My mother knew my destiny and tried to protect me from it. It didn't work."
"You ate the pomegranate," Shadow said, not quite knowing why. 'The fruit of death.'
"Great for revealing your true nature, the fruit of death," the girl said bitterly, sucking a cherry off a cocktail stick that Shadow was sure hadn't been there before. "Almost as dangerous as the fruit of knowledge. Tastes better, too."
Shadow didn't quite know what to say, so he said nothing. The girl ignored him, amusing herself by mixing drinks. It occurred to Shadow there hadn't been that many bottles lined up when he'd arrived. The girl was pouring different coloured liqueurs over each other very slowly in an attempt to create a rainbow. She didn't get any farther than green before turning the concoction into a mud-coloured sludge. She seemed to have forgotten about drinking them entirely. Shadow thought this was just as well: god or not he didn't fancy her chances if she tried to drink one.
"So, where are you going?" he asked when they'd been silent for an uncomfortable length of time. "Where do goddesses go on holiday?"
"Holiday!" The girl sounded as though she'd forgotten he was there, and wasn't pleased at the reminder. "I don't get holidays. I'm going where the winter is. Where it's meant to be."
There was an announcement on the tannoy: Shadow's flight would be leaving after all, and he had twenty minutes to get on it.
"That's me," he said, getting up and shouldering his holdall.
"You know what's the real bastard?" She stared right ahead without really seeing anything, and Shadow worried about leaving her alone with her many bottles. "My mother is summer. Things growing. The harvest. We can't be around each other, and not just in the way I can't be around my husband. The way she can't be near Famine. It just doesn't work. I haven't seen her in centuries."
Shadow didn't really know what to say. He thought of his own mother and of Wednesday. He thought about Laura, and wondered which afterlife she was in now.
"Take care," he said, squeezing the girl's hand. He didn't know what else to do.
She sniffed angrily and shrugged him off. Not wanting to miss his flight he turned and left. The girl's parting remark stayed with him all the way onto the plane and nagged at him as he fell into an uneasy sleep. He woke up as the plane touched down in Lyons. He had the mother of all headaches and his mouth tasted like Laura's kisses. Not the living Laura, but the dead Laura who'd all but replaced her in his memory. He thought about the sad, bitter, lonely girl he'd met in the airport and wondered without much hope if she was some kind of hallucination.
Outside the plane's tiny window, the sun shone on the tarmac like leprechaun gold.