Title: It's Never Too Late (To Rewrite Your Story)
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: "So, hey. You never said," Hancock says out of the blue one night, after an especially busy evening in New York that had played out on the six o'clock news while the Embreys were eating dinner. 2000 words.
Spoilers: Tag for "Hancock" (2008)
Notes: For somebraveapollo in Yuletide 2012. Because I've wondered about the worldbuilding behind this movie, too. Mary/Ray, with threesome-ish implications.
"So, hey. You never said," Hancock says out of the blue one night, after an especially busy evening in New York that had played out on the six o'clock news while the Embreys were eating dinner.
Mary trades a wry, fond glance with Ray. Their cell phone bills have been through the roof since Ray had sent Hancock a Bluetooth and started this tradition of weekly three-way calling – once even literally, the first time she'd opened the Verizon envelope – but it's worth it for the warmth she sees in her husband's eyes. And hears in her partner's voice.
Ray had believed in Hancock before Mary did, but she hadn't dared hope he'd accept her truth as well. She'd thought she'd be forced to choose between them – between the human she's found refuge in and her 'fate' – but he's found a way to turn their tangled knot into an and instead of an or. She really doesn't know what she's done to deserve him.
"There's a lot of things I haven't said yet, John," she replies. "It's a little hard to catch up on several thousand years of history in a few weeks. You want to be a little more specific?"
"John," he chuckles, roughly. "Yeah, about that. You told me people used to think we were gods or angels. But you never said what name they knew me by, and I been wondering."
Ray blinks at John's comment, then sits up straighter, letting the tablet he'd been using to sketch out his next Allheart campaign drop to his lap. "Hey, that's right. You've never told us what your name used to be, either," he says, staring at her with avid interest.
"No, because you were too busy asking what Attila the Hun was like, or if I'd met JFK, to bring it up," she points out, smirking at him and reaching for his hand.
He takes hers easily, without flinching, despite the fact that Mary could grind his bones to dust with the least clench of her fingers. Ray's always been that way, giving so effortlessly of himself even when common sense should tell him to back away, and that hasn't changed at all since Hancock crashed into their lives and exposed her little secret. In all her existence, she's never met anyone else like him.
"Sorry, you're right," he shrugs, a little sheepish and a lot amused. Then clears his throat and adopts a more serious expression, like the one he'd worn when he'd popped a certain other question. "Mary Embrey, light of my life, will you tell me what your name was before I met you?"
"Which one?" she teases. "I've been called a lot of things in my lifetime."
"Aw, c'mon," Hancock groans. "I'm serious, here. I know they didn't have Youtube before I woke up in Miami, but there's got to be newspapers, legends, something. Can't blame a guy for wanting to know what name to Google. Then maybe I wouldn't have to ask so many questions."
Mary sighs. She can't blame him, no. But she's lived enough history, particularly before cameras were invented, to know how badly it gets distorted by the tellers. "Oh, trust me, you'll have even more questions after you look us up. Actually, I'm surprised you didn't ask a lot sooner."
"Yeah, and why's that?"
"The eagle," she replies. John's worn the image of a bird of prey their entire lives, even after he'd forgotten every other connection to his past identity. "You draw it on napkins, on walls, on pictures; I figured eventually you'd want to know why."
"It relates to his past somehow?" Ray perks up, raising his eyebrows.
She nods. He'd done better than he knew when he'd worked the symbol into Hancock's uniform; it was probably the only reason John had actually agreed to wear it, from subconscious association. "Don't overreact on me – but how much do you know about Egyptian mythology?"
It doesn't take Ray long to connect the dots. His jaw drops almost instantly. "You're shitting me."
Mary's not surprised; he's an excellent publicist, for all his tilting at windmills had made him a little unpopular in the industry before Hancock came along. And Egyptian hieroglyphic texts, written in vivid color on the walls of public buildings, are among the earliest examples of publicity available for study.
"Who's shitting what now?" John asks irritably in the silence that follows. "I can't actually see y'all, you know. Not all the way from New York; the earth curves too much. You got to fill me in, here."
"It's not an eagle, actually – it's a falcon. Same order, different family," Ray fills him in, still wide-eyed with wonder. "The original falcon god, I think, was called Nekheny, but he became part of Horus: the sky god, war god, god of justice, and one of the few Egyptian deities to survive the syncretic transition into Christianity, as St. Horace. Which would make Mary..."
She cuts him off before he can finish the reference, showing teeth in her smile. "You can stop right there. The first person who mentions cows? Is sincerely going to regret it."
His face twists, but he manages to hold in the laugh as he finishes. "The goddess of ... well we won't mention that, then; and of joy, feminine love, and motherhood."
"...Horus," John repeats, in a kind of stunned, disbelieving tone. "Seriously?"
"Seriously," Mary replies, gently. She knows it's kind of a lot to take in; that's why she hadn't brought it all up before. There's knowing you've been around longer than democracy, and then there's knowing it.
"Wow," he half-laughs. Then he takes a sharp breath, suddenly, and asks something else she'd been hoping he'd leave for later. "Wait, wait. Motherhood? I thought you said we were made in pairs. I guess I didn't figure that meant we could have kids...?"
There's another question waiting nakedly behind that one, and Mary winces as she addresses it, eyes locked with Ray's. He'd asked her, once, about having more kids to keep Aaron company; she'd told him, then, that she was infertile. She hadn't been lying. But she doesn't blame him for wondering.
"Not ... exactly," she says. "They made us to function in pairs – and no, I don't know who 'they' is – but they didn't make us all at once. There were a couple of generations before yours ... have you ever heard the story of Isis and Osiris...?"
John shudders audibly. "Yeah, that one I do know. He's the dude who got cut up by his brother, and when his wife put him back together, his love handle was missing. But she did the deed with him anyway, somehow. I'm guessing it's not just a story, then?"
"No, not just a story," she says, watching Ray's expression twist. He'd relaxed as she began her explanation ... but she's yet to meet the man who doesn't flinch when a particular kind of injury gets mentioned. "You know we get vulnerable when we're around our opposites for long. Set took ruthless advantage of that. We heal pretty well, but some things just don't regenerate."
The two men shudder again, Hancock making a pained sort of 'augh' sound. "That's nasty. And we came after that?"
"You did," Mary shrugs, and leaves that topic there. She's not going to talk about Ra today. Or the other children she raised. "And there were a few more generations after you, too. Until whoever was responsible decided they'd filled out enough pairs. You took in four; they're remembered today mostly as mummification gods."
"Did ... um." John pauses, and Mary thinks again about his drawings. Two figures, one smaller and one larger, appear frequently; they could be Mary and John, but they could also be the falcon-god and his falcon-headed son. He's always so gentle with Aaron; he always was a good father. "The bird thing. Did one of them..."
"Yes," Mary confirms. "Qebehsenuef. He – he was the first of our children to settle down long enough to find out what happens to matched pairs."
John goes silent on the other end; she can imagine the look on his face. But Ray speaks for him, as he so often does now. "I'm so sorry for your losses," he says. "I'm ashamed that I never thought to ask about that, either."
"It was a long time ago," she says, shaking her head, and shifts around the couch until she's curled up against his side. "I try not to think too hard about it. When I do – when I really think about the scale of the lives we've lived – it's so easy to treat the world like it's ephemeral. Made of cardboard. Not really real."
He slips an arm over her shoulders, burying his nose in the hair atop her head, and hugs her close. "Like when you lost it that time and summoned a storm downtown," he says.
"Yeah, like that. If I hadn't looked up and seen you standing in that window..." she shudders. "I know you've wondered why I kept under cover for so long, why I didn't at least let the world know John wasn't alone. But it wasn't just because we nearly die every time we come near each other, or because I got tired of other people's expectations; I don't even see it as giving up, really. If I don't remind myself sometimes why the world's worth fighting for ... humans are like mayflies to us, and the world is so breakable. Living like one, loving like one, is the best way I know to keep sane."
Call her crazy. Actually, don't. But Mary's had a lot of years to figure out the pattern – how to keep their destiny from swallowing up everything that makes existence worth the suffering. It would be so easy to give in and finally let them annihilate each other, if she didn't.
"Yeah. I think I'm starting to get that," John says, quietly. Then he clears his throat and addresses her husband. "Speaking of. How's business been doing this month, Ray?"
Ray stiffens a little, probably blushing; but being who he is, he barely pauses before replying. "Pretty good, actually. Allheart's message still isn't the most popular one out there, but it helps to have the kind of brand awareness even Microsoft could only dream of. Even if I'm still waiting for someone to sue."
Mary smiles into his shirtfront. "They're probably waiting for your next trip back East," she says. "Even the head of NASA knows you're John's agent, by now."
No, she's never met anyone else like Ray. He's capable of humanizing her and keeping her grounded; she should never have doubted that he could do it for Hancock, too. The belief he's had in Hancock from the start, the belief Hancock has in him; she'd been afraid John's presence would wreck her life yet again, but this time, thanks to Ray's acceptance, it's actually more stable than ever.
He sighs, theatrically. "Something to look forward to, I suppose."
John chuckles in her ear. "I'll make sure he doesn't spend the whole visit buried in paperwork, I promise."
"Just remember to make sure he puts on his helmet before you take him flying again, okay? The bugs in the teeth incident last time wasn't pretty."
"Hey, it's not my fault you kissed me before I had a chance to brush them off," Ray objects.
Mary laughs, tipping her chin up to remind him why she hadn't.
"Hey, I'm still on the line here," John splutters, but his voice is still warmly amused as he signs off. "Okay, okay, I can take a hint; I got patrol duty tonight anyway. Take care, guys, and tell Aaron I said hi, all right?"
"Night, John," Mary replies, and kisses her husband again.
She and John may be the insurance policy of the gods ... but fate doesn't decide everything. She's been telling herself that for a long time. But these days, she might actually be starting to believe it.