a/n: written for yew as part of the c/p back-to-school fic exchange! (also, thanks to rache for being lenient and allowing me to exceed the 5,000 words c;)

inspired by neil gaiman's /american gods/

prompts: skylights; ferris wheel; and so, i raise my glass to symmetry; shatter this glass heart; centurion; fever

{|\through these labyrinthine forests of empty lungs and broken hearts/|}


and if you're still breathing
you're the lucky ones

-daughter / youth

act 000

It is in a coffee shop that she sees him. The boy with oceans in his eyes.

He is wearing a Burberry coat (black), jeans (blue), and Doc Marten boots (red and scratched and mudstained), his hands in his pockets, a tattered paperback tucked in the crook of his right arm.

(upon closer inspection, she finds that it is "The Old Man and The Sea" by Hemingway)

Copper curls, a blend of autumn reds, oranges, and yellows, burnished, fall across his skull and curve like vines around the shells of his ears, over his creased brow, brushing his jawline in a messy sprawl of metallic hues. Like the stance of a centurion, his posture is straight, rigid, but his atoms vibrate frantically as he sweeps his cerulean gaze over the heads of the patrons, examines the flow of biscotti and frappuccinos with mild interest, and then reverts to their sullen calm, his mouth slightly parted, tongue running over bleached-white teeth. Languidly, he accepts a latte from the harried-looking barista and departs, the door swinging behind him as he exits, and soon enough that copper cap begins to fade from her vision.

She barely pauses to take a sip from her cup, idly pouring endless waterfalls of cream into the black mixture that bleeds and forms shapes of their own accord (leaves, kittens, crescent moons and stars), placing a rumpled bookmark into Gaiman's Sandman: Vol. 1 before shrugging on a bright pink (or carmine, or emerald, or butter-yellow, depending on how you perceive colors) raincoat and pushing back her chair to follow after him. The legs screech, the din draws to a standstill. The barista is frozen, her face suffused with a red blush as she greets a handsome dark-haired gentleman with a five o'clock shadow, a geyser of decaf suspended in mid-air.

It lasts only for a second (an eternity) before the natural progression of time resumes its marching pace and the barista scuttles away and a child spills a bottle of milk and a businessman munches on a scone, getting crumbs all over his suit, and curses. Her disruption is brief, is insignificant.

But it is enough.

It is raining, a New York Monday in the spring; March, to be precise, that flux-flow when the North seems unable to decide whether it should cling tenaciously to the chill of winter or concede to Demeter and allow the plants to begin springing up again.

Here, though, there are little plants to be found, few open meadows or trees besides those human-engineered dystopian utopias found in Central Park, with their dogs and faux-wood benches and perfectly symmetrical duckponds encrusted with scum from neglect and a dwindling budget for such trivial affairs. The ducks still get their bread, though; no one seems to notice that they are crawling with disease and contagion, because they are ducks, and within every human being apparently lies an intrinsic desire to aid the waterfowl in any way they can.

"Here you go," she chirps, tossing strips of focacia at them. The ducklings, grimy and blackened, dart forward, paddling with their little legs to nibble delicately on the offerings, because ducks are a noble breed and have been raised as such. The mother looks up at her with her beady eyes, and some sort of understanding passes through them. It quacks, a plaintive sound.

She tilts her head in confusion. "Pardon?"

The duck quacks again, more urgently. A few people pass her by and give her odd looks, this girl sprawled on the rain-drenched cobblestones listening intently to the sound of ducklings and their mama, but they've forgotten and it's almost sad how they've lost the ability to comprehend the languages that aren't their own. She listens, absorbs the words it tells her, and nods, standing up and stretching her legs in her ragged, paint-splattered jeans.

"Thank you," she says, and throws the whole loaf in before walking away.

Her bootheels click-clack on the sidewalks she passes, she trails her ungloved fingers over cracked brick walls, inhales the scents and sights of Manhattan, watches her rainbow nail polish chip off and burst into a cloud of multicolored butterflies. Someone looks up and sees them, and childish delight breaks across his face as he points and stares, mouth open in an awe he cannot quite place.

So many things have been forgotten; the old ways are holding tight to their last vestibules scattered all over this war-wrought earth. They try to remember and don't remember what it is they must recall, what eludes them in their dreams, in their most sordid fantasies and intrepid moments.

She weaves them into birds, canaries and peacocks and pigeons of her own making, weaves them with rainbow colors and the most abyssal midnights and sets them free.

"Go," she whispers, and breathes life into her creations. They take flight, a myriad of avians, ascending into the gray haze and she cannot see them anymore.

When they return, they have been leeched of color, feathers limp, and she cradles them in her arms as their heartbeats fade, die down in a glorious crescendo, and flow back into her, and then they are ashes drifting away like a plastic bag caught in a storm. A fever overtakes her, she gasps, and she is whole again.

She shakes bedraggled feathers from her hair, takes deep, rasping breaths, and starts on her way.

The puddles are made of oil where she touches.

He's standing on the edge of a cliff, a Cadillac parked ten feet away with leather seats and fuzzy dice and one of those bobblehead girls that are stuck on the space above the dashboard; his is a gaudy blonde mermaid with a wide grin and it shakes and shudders uncontrollably like the car might be a bull and is trying to buck some invisible rider off, hence the movement. It is the only thing that behaves irregularly.

"Hello," she says by way of greeting.

He turns, and in this west-coast afternoon sunlight, she observes the planes and angles of his face; sharp, but blurred by the storm clouds gathering. She smells lightning in the air, tastes ozone on the tip of her tongue. His face is angular, aquiline, with a strong nose and a cleft jaw and a faint scar puckering one lip. She catches his scent as the wind blows south and he is an olfactory mixture of cocktails, good brandy and raspberry liqueur, nicotine and gasoline. The boy's eyes widen imperceptibly, but she notices that minute dilation anyway, and smiles.

"Who are you?" he asks, hands folded, stance guarded.

"My name is Annie," she answers, taking a step forward. He does not move as she approaches.

Drawing closer, she rattles off a list of words and meaningless facts. "I saw you today, at the Starbucks. You were reading Hemingway, weren't you? "Old Man of the Sea"? You ordered a latte, light cream, soy milk, extra decaf from Amanda and you tipped her one dollar and she smiled at you. At 9:00 AM, you read for thirty minutes at the park, and then," she pauses to catch her breath, "you bought a hot dog from a street vendor named Paul Whitmore. Mustard, ketchup, extra relish. You thought the sauce looked like bleeding rainbows."

His lips quirk upwards in what might be a grin, might not be a grin at all. "You've been keeping busy, I see?"

She laughs, a high, tinkling sound that is reminiscent of sleigh bells or perhaps shattering glass. "I'm always busy. Haven't ever been the kind of girl to laze off without purpose." Fingering the moths strung around her neck, she adds, "And neither are you, it seems."

His good nature wanes. "How long?"

"Since Wisconsin." She eyes him with an uncharacteristic shrewdness she normally reserves for those rare few that get on her nerves. "Too many miles to count, but I could give you an estimate, if you'd like."

"It's fine. Just-" He exhales, rubs his eyes and his nose like he might have a migraine coming on. Tucking a strand of copper behind one ear, he glances at her, abashed, while she continues to eye him with that same stern frown that looks completely incongruous on her pastel face through her rainbow-mane tangle of blonde hairs interwoven with stripes of acid green and bloodred. "-just, I don't know. It's quite exhausting to do this, you know. Running."

"I hear April's a good month for swimming. Do you plan to compete this time?"

"No." He gives a light shake of his head. "I'm pretty worn out. Might crash and burn if I'm not careful."

"Come on," she teases, twirling an indigo strand around an ink-stained finger. "Where did all that competitive spirit go?"

He gives another shake of the head. "Don't know. Haven't had the energy to try for a while now." He looks up at her, analyzing. "And I don't know you, so don't try to pretend we're friends."

She feels a pang go through her, a sense of loss and unfathomable heartbreak.

"Why are you wearing Burberry?"

"Because Burberry's cool. And expensive. And I like Burberry."

"Triton's son," she pronounces, and it all goes quiet. His gaze hardens, refines into something more deadly. He takes a step back.

"What the fuck," he breathes, hard and heavy. His fingers dart down into his pocket, reaching for something, but she mutters a few syllables of gibberish and whatever he was reaching for dissolves into a handful of posies and bluebells and daffodils, and he swears creatively, tossing the flowers away.

"I don't mean to hurt you."

He sneers, cold. "As if I could believe that."

"Please." She's on the verge of tears now. "Please give me another chance."

His glare falters, briefly slips away to reveal churning waves of turmoil under that calm, impeccable facade of solidity, beneath the veneer of murderer's smiles and killer smirks, and she hopes that he might crumble (just this once) for her, that he might recall November one year ago (please don't let him fail me), but he proves to be as mortal and stalwart as the rest of his lot, and he trembles, pulls back from her outstretched hands with bitterness in his scowl, and abruptly falls off the ledge, hands scrabbling furiously for a hold before he allows himself to succumb to the pull of the waters and slips into the ocean blue as easily as a knife; she catches a sprawl of long limbs, a flash of bronze skin, before he is gone. There are not even bubbles left from the implosion, not even the delicate patches of featherlight seafoam; she tries to reach for something that is not there and predictably, she fails to attain what she's looking for.

act 001

Whorls of creamy smoke rise into the arm, form rain clouds that dispense gentle drizzles of water onto the flooded streets. The storm has passed, has broken - for now.

She lights another cigarette and watches the paper unravel, then puts it back together in a blink. Dimly, she registers the smell of soot and ash, hears the flapping of wings, notices the garlands of black feathers descending from the sky. She's not entirely unsurprised when she hears the clicking of heels on the pavement beside her and the elegant suave voice addressing her name.

"Ariel," it purrs, silk and honey and poison spun together into a mellifluous ripple of sound. "At least, that was your name when I last saw you, yes?"

"Morrigan," she murmurs, tamping out her cigarette and watching it sink into the concrete. "Greetings."

A trio of women - girls, really - are arranged in a perfect triangular set behind her. All of them are dressed in black. She sees Nemain, the lead, with her elfin face and black hair pulled into a bun, grinning with shark teeth, and her more subdued sisters, Macha and Badb, in the background; Macha's skin is the same shade of brown she remembers, her hair still thick and lush, but now styled as dreadlocks; Badb is blonde, pale, lithe and so fragile-looking you would think she would fall apart at a whisper.

"Clove," Nemain says. "This is my name today. Macha shall be Rue, and Badb, she will be Primrose. We are ever-changing, you must remember, we adapt to fit with the times." She holds up a slim iPhone sheathed in a sinister-looking leather case; Clove (Nemain) clicks her black fingernails against the covering. "We attempted to contact you. You did not answer. So we flew."

"We flew," Badb echoes. "But there was a bad wind."

"So I have heard," she replies. She fishes for another cigarette, cannot find one, and lets the issue drop. "What brings you here?"

"The same thing that always calls to our blood," Nemain replies, tongue slithering over her canines. She smiles benignly; it holds about as much warmth as an arctic blizzard. "The taste of war."

"The storm has passed for now," Macha warns. "It will return."

"And we, the Morrigan, we shall be as watchful as we always are," says Badb. She knots together stray strands of blonde hair, her crystalline eyes unreadable. "This is our role."

"What we were made to do," presses Macha.

"And when all is said and done, their bones shall be ours to feast upon, their sacrifices ours to drink." Nemain closes her eyes and takes a long, drawn-out inhalation; she swears the air actually hisses like a hydraulic chamber as they filter into the goddess's nostrils. A content sigh slips from Nemain's lips, a breathy thing as fragile as a drop of snow.

"Blood," she croons. "I can see it, I can smell it, I can reach out and taste it with my tongue-"

"War?" she interrupts, breathing her rain clouds in Nemain's direction, a bemused smile curling the edges of her lips. "Who is it this time?"

Nemain growls, fanning the smoke away. "Do not play the fool. You know as well as we all do. Besides," she gives a savage grin, a grin that spells destruction, "you, out of any of our kin, should know better than everyone else what the battles will be fought over."

"The son of Triton," whispers Macha, "has arrived."

"An anomaly. An error." Badb eyes her solemnly. "They are not pleased."

Something in her feels dark, something in her feels angry, pacing around her chest like a caged tiger. Her hold on the cigarette loosens and it scatters into a flock of doves, and she scowls at Nemain. "Triton will protect his child."

"He will have no say in the matter this time," Nemain answers, glee evident in her voice. "The boy will fall, as they all must. There are rules, you recall, obligations all of us," she stresses the "us", "must follow completely and without fail." The girl's black eyebrows twist, her cheekbones seem to stretch and pull the skin over even tighter. "You do not care for him, do you?"

Her heart jackhammers through her body, her veins are alive with electricity. Nemain smells it and growls.

"Idiot. Nothing good can come of this."

"I never said anything. And you," she flutters a hand impatiently, "need not bore me with all this talk of bloodshed. Take your chronic depression somewhere else, darling. I'm not in the mood today."

Nemain's smile slips, her lips set in a grim line. Her sisters are the same, poised and ready; already, their cloaks are transforming, black silk becoming glossy midnight feathers, beaks and talons visible. Nemain's transfiguriation, as always, is a sigh to behold. She spreads her arms and in a flash, they are massive black wings choking the air with the stench of rot and decay and festering mold; it makes her skin crawl.

"We only came to deliver the warning," Nemain sneers. "The judgement of the gods is absolute. The boy shall not survive to the winter solstice. Farewell, Annie," she spits before taking flight, Badb doing the same.

Macha stays behind, still caught in mid-shift, and reaches with one clawed hand into a pocket, plucks out a lush black rose that feels like velvet and goose down, and hands it to her, fingernails elongating, joints and limbs harsh and leathery.

"Remember," she says, a single word in that city traffic din, and then she, too, is gone in a whirlwind of dry wind and she is left on the curb, staring at the rose, running her fingers over the thorns.

Anubis sits on a wooden bench, reading a newspaper whose text scatters and swirls into heiroglyphs as his pitch-black eyes scan over the articles, his gaze carefully hidden behind a pair of Ray-Bans. He is immense, thickly muscular like a bull, his skin the color of obsidian, his scalp shaved smooth and his body tucked into a close-fitting suit, a red tie the only splash of color on his funereal ensemble.

When she makes her request, he shakes his head. "I was - I still am - a god, yes, but not even I have power enough to sway the strands of Fate." He sighs, folds the crumpled papers and tucks them into a briefcase. "The threads of power are so stretched these days, diverted among all those that remain." He examines a Rolex, observes the hands ticking in their meticulous clockwise rotation. "In the end, we are nothing more than empty stone, monuments of a lost age. We are meant to be in museums, Ana," he chides, "not meddlers in this day and age. We are abandoned amusement parks and broken-down Ferris wheels, we are skylights that don't shine like we used to." He gives her a serious look. "You should not go down this path."

"I have to," she hisses. "He - I owed him a debt, I have to pay it. Triton's son can't die." She implores him, pleads with him, summons all the powers of compulsion she can muster. "Please, Thresh, do it for me."

Another shake of that great head. "Their judgement is absolute, those of the Fates. Only they can alter their threads, only they can extend or elongate life. I am sorry, child."


Anubis exhales sharply, nostrils flaring, and reaches for his tie, unhooking something and then dropping it into her outstretched palms. An ankh, made of lapis lazuli, limned with gold and silver. It hums in her hands, it sings. It is not everything, but it is at least something. She looks up at him in gratitude.

"Thank you," she whispers.

"Go," he prods. "You don't have much time."

She kisses him on the cheek and darts away, her footfalls muted, and the jackal goes back to reading the Gazette, sunglasses back in place and eyes hidden from view.

"You cannot possibly hope to undo Destiny."

Artemis leans against a tree, her silver bow sheathed over one shoulder, brown hair hanging in loose curtains around her face. Her friend's grey eyes are intent and piercing as always, but she ignores the goddess' willful stare and instead focuses on the picnic basket spread before them: loaves of bread, pomegranates, apples and grapes and all manner of fruits and vegetables on a red-and-white checkered cloth. Around them, it is summer and the sky is bright and cloudless, children swinging and sending out a pleasant buzz of chatter. She twines her fingers in the paper napkins and folds them into origami swans, her hair shifting rapidly through a myriad of colors until Artemis places a hand on her wrist and steadies her. She breathes, long and hard. It is hard to stay focused; only, well, God knows what she would do without a rational mind beside her. But now, she cares not for the ramifications, cares so little for the specifics of her route that in slang, she "doesn't give a fuck."

It's always been Artemis who was the calm one, the warrior, the huntress. She sighs and turns around.

"This isn't something you can toy with, Ann," Artemis says, the voice of reason. Her leather jacket is full of creases and folds, the silver chain of mockingbirds strung around her neck glittering in the path of a sunbeam. "Your abilities - they only extend so far, you have to accept that there are impossibilities in this world no amount of wishing can ever change. If you push reality too much, well-" That chasm looms over them suddenly, unspoken as it is, blotting out the sun's warmth and suddenly, the salad doesn't look quite as appealing and she feels sick.

"You have to understand that the world has boundaries even we can't defy."

"Everyone's said the same thing to me," she mutters, fingering Anubis' ankh, feeling the cold but sturdy weight of the metal between her fingers. "But I have a chance. We all have a chance if we band together."

"Dammit, girl, don't you understand?" Artemis huffs. "We can't band together. There's bad blood in our tribes, too much bad blood for any of us to ever cooperate on a large scale. And what do the rest of them care for a boy, anyway? History is full of these children, these freaks," and she cringes as she hears her friend say that word, so callous and unforgiving, "that are trodden upon, tossed aside, shunned by the world because they don't understand how they work. This has been the way of the world for centuries, for millennia, and that's been fine until someone says otherwise. We've fought wars over these disagreements. Just let them make their point, Ann. It's only one less human, one less problem for us to worry about."

"The Morrigan thinks the same thing. Are you telling me you're on her side as well, and not mine?"

Artemis gives an irritated snort and sits down, folding her jean-clad legs. "The Morrigan," she hisses. "See, this is a sign. They're akin to valkyries, only much more powerful. You know what their appearance means." She holds her head high, focusing on some spot in the distance Annie cannot see. "War is fast approaching, sister. Best to let it pass than to stand in it's way and be crushed."

"So what if I do?" Annie retorts, suddenly indignant and angry with Artemis' lack of energy, the way she just seems to give up. It makes her mad, and in response, the grass around her grows agitated, sprouting legs and carapaces and slowly unfurling into locusts. Artemis stiffens, her gaze growing steely.

"Calm," she grits out. "Calm down."

By an extraordinary will of effort, she pushes the frustration back in, and just as quickly as they began to materialize, the insects revert back into blades of grass.

"What happened to you?" Annie asks. "What happened to Artemis, the huntress, the goddess of the moon?"

"That was many, many years ago," Artemis whispers. "And if you truly knew me, you would know I would never help a boy." She shakes her head in disgust. "This love, it has addled your brains, sister."

"Perhaps a lack of it has turned you cold," she sends back, and the goddess' gaze grows colder still.

"I will not get involved. Not this time," replies her friend, stretching like a cat and looking down at her, sprawled in the dirt, her hair now an angry bloodred. Artemis' face becomes a mask of rigidity. "You would do best to follow."

"I believed in you once," she says, and that is all before she leaves in a rush of smoke and dust, and Artemis stands alone under the shade of an oak tree, looking into the distance.

"How sweet," Aphrodite coos, honey-blonde ringlets falling perfectly over bare white shoulders. She flashes a smouldering look at a handsome passerby, who immediately blushes and trips over his feet.

"I was hoping you would help," she says in a quiet voice. "Will you?"

"It's been a while since I last got in this line of business," the goddess giggles, and slides a glossy card across the table to her. She grasps it with shaky fingers, trying to read the lines of writing and finding she cannot.

"Glimmer Rambin," Aphrodite pronounces proudly. "Supermodel, fashionista, all-around gorgeous. And absolutely committed to whatever game you're trying to play this time if a cutie's involved." Another giggle, high-pitched and ringing like bells.

She glances up sharply at the emphasis on the 'this time', but the woman only rolls her eyes and gives a condescending smile.

"Darling," she smirks, "I'm not as dumb as I look, you know."

Perhaps they were right, Artemis and the Morrigan. Not entirely, but in their prophecies. Now, she smells it as truly as they did, sees the allignments, observes the energy twisting and winding through the sky like trails of aether.

A war.

The mortals are agitated for a reason they cannot hope to understand, a reason too complex for their minds to handle. Complex echelons, ancient pantheons, they all rise from the shells of their forgotten kingdoms and stir again, and the sudden influx of energies both dark and light and in-between is almost nauseating. She walks through New York alone, hands trembling, drawing the leaks of power back into her core.

Sometimes, though, it is not enough. A flicker here, a spark there; disturbances in an otherwise orderly matrix of people and something other. The humans sense the ripples easily enough (ice in July, autumn leaves made of parchment, roses springing through the cracks in the pavement) but her kin scent the telltale signs of her spells as easily as a lion might scent out a prey, and they draw ever closer, a conglomeration of archaic faces she hasn't seen in decades and faces she has learned to fear and yes, there is a war brewing. It will be a war different than those of the past, sure, but it is a war nontheless, and those who can flee are flying away from old hiding places in a hurry. She catches Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, drinking coffee in a cafe, his face still regal as ever, but he waves at her with a kind of despair that makes her heart sink; Myoken Bosatsu in a shiny silver Porsche driving down an empty stretch of highway; Anansi the spider, tinkering with his machines (he calls himself Beetee now), invites her in and makes her fried plantains and tells her of his plans to go underground 'til the fires pass over.

"Why?" she inquires, a forkful of plantain suspended above her plate. They are drinking black tea and a bitter African coffee, and Anansi wipes his hands on his shirtfront and answers, "The times, girly. The times, they are a'changin', and you know Anansin going to be a'changin' with them."

He gives her a wink. "No worries 'bout it. Gonna be a good one, a short one, this."

His reassurances do not reassure her, however. She hails a taxi and tries to scroll through her list of remaining contacts, recalling old names painfully, unwrapping them from her mind where they have been shelved for millennia and collecting dust.

With a pang, she realizes that it has been a long time. A very long time.

The first shot begins in August.

A spray, a scatter of magic. Isis, lined with thick strokes of kohl and adorned with henna, her arms flashing gold in the sunlight, weaving a net of power around the Cairo skyline. Planes fall from the skies like angels cast out of Heaven, the birds drop dead in steaming rags of burnt feathers and skin, the heat seems to intensify.

They send their men against the woman atop the Great Pyramids of Giza, summoning sandstorms from the head of the sphinx, conjuring magics beyond their mortal comprehension. Flickers of light sail through the air, calling forth the dead. It is a cursed day and a blessed day, a day of reckoning.

She reaches out and sends whorls of light jetting back; the goddess sneers at her from her perch above it all, blonde curls turning black, and looses a firestorm that expands and expands like the sea.

Approximately one hundred casualties.

Game start.

act 002

"He will be your undoing," the Sibyll rasped all those years ago to the distraught king. "He will unmake you, lord. His birth will be your death."

So, he threw his son into the sea with his mother and cast them off, hoping they would drown.

But the boy still lived, and he still grew up, and he still became a hero; and in the end, despite all his machinations, the king died.

"He will be your end," the Sibyll rasps now, clouds of emerald mist swarming around her body like snakes, eyes rolled back and hands splayed on the hardwood floors. "Chase after him, and you shall meet your demise. Follow in his footsteps, and terrible things will ensue. The prophecies will be brought to fruition, child."

His father says nothing.

She says, "Well, fuck you."

She walks through war-ravaged wastelands, the soil polluted by radioactivity, the skies slate-grey with smoke and all around her, buildings sink further into the quicksand blood of the planet's last breath, a final gasp rendered in browns and piss-yellows and the air reeking of sulfur and shit; even her shadow is in a nervous flux, expanding and collapsing in rapidfire motions. Trailing a hand through the murky atmosphere, she finds only rags and scraps of scorched flesh; with a wish, she sends them away as tulips and sunflowers, beautifying her toxic world because she can't stand any of this.

"Lovely, is it not?" a voice behind her croaks, and swiveling, she sees a hunched old woman dressed in a tattered patchwork shawl hobbling across the dusty plains, clutching onto a wickedly sharp staff carved from metal and topped, obscenely, with a skull bearing a pentagram etched onto the forehead. Instantly, the sulfur-stink becomes sharper, the flowers she's conjured crumble away into nothingness.

"Hel," she greets, cautiously. "What happened to your face?"

"Same damn shit as always," the woman grumbles, batting flies away. She grins with porcelain-white teeth filed into crocodile points, the brightness of her fangs at contrast with the rest of her attire. Lifting her head proudly, she reveals proud, arrogant features: wind-beaten tanned skin, a hawkish nose, and a tangle of dark hair starting to streak through with grey. Goddess of the damned.

"You look nice," Hel hisses, mouth bared in a leering smile. "But you need a fucking bath. You smell like cow dung, hippie bitch."

"I told you to stop calling me that."

"And it'll never happen, dearie," the woman cackles, drawing back her staff and planting it in the ground, dust and sand and snatches of darkness flocking to the point where the metal pierces the dirt, a jagged whirlwind rising. "Now, I think it's time I shut you up for good and kick you out, you little brat."

Crushing weight slams into her stomach, knocking the air out of her lungs, but just as quickly, she flutters a hand and Hel's staff becomes a bright green garden snake. Another flutter, and it rears back, a massive python with eyes all over its sinuous body, tongue lashing out as it prepares to strike.

"Parlour tricks, darling, won't get you anywhere." Hel snaps the snake savagely, and it shifts back into its original form. She grins. "You can't warp all of creation, child."

An earthquake shudders through the cracked desert waste, plumes of noxious smoke rising up and coalescing into a massive black serpent as long as several skyscrapers stacked upon each other like Lego blocks; hissing, it blinks ruby eyes at her, fangs brimming with poison.

"Jormungandr!" she spits. "Attack the girl."

The snake lurches forth, barreling at her like a train in motion. Time ceases to move in those fragile seconds as she pulls her power forth, channeling every last bit of wild imagination into her palms and then thrusting out; from her skin leaps auroras that wind around the snake like wrapping paper, binding it in shimmering folds of light and then unraveling for thousands of black dominoes to drop and clatter harmlessly to the ground. Hel glares. She laughs.

"Prestidigitation," Annie smirks, "is often more useful than necromancy."

Hel gestures, summoning rocks from the earth, pulling them up and then launching them forward. She glares at the projectiles and they harmlessly flow from stone into confetti, exploding inches away from her. Theirs is a battle of wits, a battle of opposing magics; where Hel's limbs touch, the air becomes oily and obfuscated, the gummy consistency of tar and swamp decay, but where she walks, a myriad of ridiculous impossibilites spring up. Hel is the voice of dark precision, she is unbridled enthusiasm.

Arrows dart out from sleeves, beetles from nostrils, toy rockets from fingertips, and quivering, flying electric eels from ears. Hel rocks back, the earth rocks with her; for a brief moment, gravity is shifted.

"Die," the goddess hisses, ripping apart space and time to reveal a gaping black hole, a collapsed supernova. All around her, bits and pieces gravitate inexplicably towards the void, sucked into the abyssal vaccum without a sound, pulling and tearing into atoms and then dispersing. She feels herself tugged along and summons the power, sends lashing gales of powder and comical lightning surging at the maw. Nothing happens.

It is a blight against the desert landscape, so unforgivingly dark, so infinitely deep. La Garganta, they call it. The Throat.

Rainbow veils and pegasi burst from cacti and the shells of broken-down cars, latching onto her back and becoming a pair of fluffy angel wings as light as wind. She flies away from the vortex like Icarus struggling in vain to reach the sun, feathers ripping free of her skin in painful little pricks and she gasps, but keeps on flying, murmuring words of powers to counteract Hel's foul sorcery. Words of placation, words that shape space and time just as well as the goddess does with thoughts; a clumsier sort of magic, but then again, what sort of magic isn't? The words hum, buzz, light themselves up in glowing neon and swarm towards the portal, swirling around it and pulling the edges shut like clothespins tethering a flapping shirt to a line.

Hel barks out harsh words, ancient words, and she chokes and dribbles blood down her chin - golden blood, stained black by whatever ill she's just cast. Words of healing and binding and the bile quells, but not for long, because soon she is vomiting and she is plunging down, and oh, how ironic it is that she is Icarus again in his final death throes, falling from the sky like something discarded.

As fate would dictate it, predictably, she crashes into Hel.

"Bitch-face!" the elder screeches, batting her away with her cane and a flash of black magic - something horrible spills through again, centipedes and stomach acid and heartache - but she prevails, holding on desperately to the tunnel's outer rim, screaming in pain as her fingers start to peel away, pared down to sinews and the bone.

The goddess is triumphant in the sand-choked space, her lips curved up in a wicked smile, and it is then that she yells, suddenly and without reason, "Suck on it, hag!" and pushes a bit of her brand of legerdemain behind it; Hel looks confused, then she stumbles, and then teeters forth directly into the range of the portal's grip, and she flies into the Nether beyond, undone by her own creation, spewing curses and foul vitriol as she vanishes - a few snatches of obscenities that would make the ears of a sailor turn red - and just as suddenly as it closes, the gate snaps shut like a mouth and she falls, sprawled in a heap in her dusty denim and her vomit-stained vest and damn, this is the life, isn't it?

She's breathing hard, exhausted. It is the full moon tonight, and through the endless sandstorms, a ray of light shines down on her like something from a myth; she sees Artemis with her bow, a soundless whisper, and an irritated "Get up."

So she does, and when she looks down at herself, the vomit is gone and her cuts and bruises have faded and she's looking into the stars with appreciation, for the first time, of how much of a not-asshole Artemis is.

"Thanks," she calls.

The moon doesn't answer.

His steps are practically untraceable, this son of the sea. She catches glimpses of him occasionally in fountains (the statues speak of him with adoration) and flashes of copper in a sea of blondes and browns and ravens, but never for more than ten seconds at a time, and never long enough to tug on his arm and look at his eyes and kiss him on the lips like they used to.

She can't believe this role she's been thrust in - amateur superheroine - and honestly, she's not even cut out for this kind of crap. In her world, time passes as she wishes, anything she wants comes to her without fail, and everything is so much more malleable. Outside of her realm, everything she does is taxing; she can't shape the environment with thoughts and wishes anymore, she has to call on outdated incantations from musty old grimoires, she has to eat and sleep and dream of shit like cute boys with ocean-eyes. God, he haunts her everywhere she goes, can't he just leave her alone?

Words streak through the land in cuneiform, Chinese calligraphy, Latin verses and 15th century poems. The air is stifling, the smell of lightning and fire and seawater and death all mingling together; everywhere she goes, she smells damnation and redemption with her lips and it confuses her; there should just be one of each, right?

The ankh hangs around her neck still, pulsing its faint turquoise glow, veined through with iridescent souls. She holds it sometimes for good luck; try as she might, she can't help herself from also re-reading Venus' calling card, running her fingers over the letters that don't age, try as Chronos might.

So she bends time, takes what she can get, a psychedelic girl wandering through city streets, no home in her mind, no visible destination in sight.

But visualization is only half of the way; the other half is believing.

Contemplating the fate of the world is a heavy thing; she's Atlas all of a sudden, shouldering a massive burden, and if she lets go, it'll all crumble around her. And he'll get crushed under the weight of her sins, so instead, she sings herself a song and doodles on fast food napkins and hopes that whatever she draws might be able to fly.

The Yggdrasil is breaking apart.

Huginn and Muninn sit on Odin's broad shoulders as the first stage of their lonely apocalypse begins. Fuck, she wants to cry but she can't muster the tears, and damn it, this shouldn't be happening.

The one-eyed god looks at her with a sad smile on his face, scepter still held high even with the destruction of his tree. The universe will continue, perhaps, but realms will be lost, worlds that have spent aeons carefully being crafted with the god's capable hands gone in the blink of an eye. Somewhere, the Morrigan laugh, Nemain's raucous caws of laughter in her ears. Fuck. Shit.


"No," he says, shaking his head. "In my last hours, let an old man pretend a bit more, yes?"

His form flickers in and out of existence, streams of aether leaking from his body. He glances at the blue wisps without surprise, that smile never slipping.

"Odin." The word burns down her throat. "What will - what will happen? The prophecy-"

"Let the prophecy send itself to Hell's darkest depths for the trouble it has caused," he interrupts, waving a hand not unkindly. His look softens, then, to something of such tenderness that it makes her feel on the verge of tears again - shatter this glass heart, take me down in your demise like so many rocks through windowpanes - and dammit, this isn't fair.

"Life is never fair," Odin murmurs, reading her thoughts. "You never managed to learn that lesson."

"Blame a girl for her fantasies," she says, putting on a shaky grin. "Especially a girl who's me. I'm sorry it didn't-" And the words never manage to capture the emotional fibers intertwined in bird's nests, not even when she says them. "-that it didn't work out."

"Do not weep for me," says the old god in his rumbling baritone. "Do not pity me, child, for I am old, and in my senile pride I have tried again for youth and I have failed." A sigh. "It is to be expected of us; we are such a greedy race, we have brought on our own ends. But you, girl, you shall live on, will you not? You and the other young ones, those up-and-coming children; the earth is yours for the taking, now. We are the forgotten, and soon, we shall die with our temples and our prayers."


"Zeus is the most arrogant of us all," mutters Odin. "Let his squabblings trouble you not." A pained smile - flicker - crosses Odin's lips, a single spot of allumination as the ancient bark of the world tree flakes off in a relentless downpour; the flakes taste like bad memories as they hit her tongue.

"I am done," Odin pronounces in a solemn voice of one who really, truly knows something in all its complexities and facets. "I am done, and for that, I am grateful and bitter. I am bitter, child, because I will be leaving behind many whom I loved. I am grateful because I shall finally be passing on into Valhalla, to see my wife, my children at long last-" And here, a spark of genuine happiness. "-and because I was able to meet you, my dear."

He kisses her hand with cold lips, gazing up at her with his single eye. Huginn and Muninn flap their wings, feathers already dropping off.

"There is but one god," Odin whispers to himself. "And he is the god of truth."

Then, shaking himself out his daze, he fixes her with a broad grin.

"Live, my girl," he breathes. "Live, A-"

He is so close to pronouncing her real name, her true name (which is not Annie), but before he does, he dissolves into ash and she falls onto her knees and howls at an unjust world.

Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi, aspects of the moon and sun, raining down hellfire and frost. Bastet, cloaked in furs of long-dead jungle animals, radiating musk and blood.

The spells slip through her lips like water, flow across the battlefield work their fingers into the cracks. Vines, clouds, a meteor shower of glaciers brimming with fire and a tsunami erupting from the mouth of volcano. Words to shape, words to define, words to erase. Her hair is a whirlwind of meshing, colliding colors, a spectrum of acidic hues fluctuating in time with each curse and charm she casts.

Coatlique in the visage of a terrifying woman, battle-scarred, wielding two lumberjack's axes in her hands, snakes coiled around her belt and threaded through her black hair. Her eyes are eclipsed by midnight, her figure a writhing mass of shadow. She lunges forward, and Susanoo smashes her down with a fist. Tidal waves sweep across the San Francisco coast, smash into the goddess and swarm over her, and then freeze over, hovering miles aboveground as a glistening sphere of ice and snow.

Triton and Zeus and Hades warring with each other, the brothers tree engaged in mortal combat. The dead rise, thunder crashes, waves break.

And she wants to scream, "Stop!" but her voice is drowned out in the cacophony of a thousand other voices clamoring for attention, a thousand other voices that speak of truths and lies and twist the world as much as they please, and she's just a little girl again.

It is here on the battlefield of the gods that she sees Death.

act 003

Persephone is terrifying to behold, more monster than celestial now despite her still youthful skin, her lush mane of fiery red hair. It is her eyes that show the beast trapped in her heart; those allied with Apophis all bear his mark: black eyes without whites, gleaming like oil. Her face has been stretched to an extent, elongated until it almost resembles the snout of a fox. It frightens her.

"What do you require?" the goddess grates through yellowed teeth, chitinous fingernails scratching across her throne. "I don't have all day."

"You ate the seeds, once."

"That I did."

"Perhaps you might help me now, in my hour of need."

She explains her request. The goddess frowns.

"I have no time to deal with such trivial matters," she snaps. "Triton's son has no bearing on my existence, living or dead. Get out of my sight, witch, before I force you out."

"You were in love, once," Annie notes.

The goddess' obsidian eyes gleam with anger. "Silence."

"You were in love, but before you could marry the man you longed for, he took you down to his kingdom, forced you to-"

In the blink of an eye, she is pinned against the wall, Perse's cold hands wrapped around her throat, hair an actual flame burning brightly, eyes swimming with anguished souls.

"You must be truly mad, to dare incite my wrath," Persephone hisses. "You-"

Her eyes are drawn to the ankh, and her eyes widen. "Where did you get that?"

"On sale at a Walmart," she chokes, but Persephone presses harder, ablaze with malice, and she concedes, "The jackal."

"No." Her grip slackens and falls entirely, hand going up to her mouth.

"Yes." She unhooks it from behind her neck, holding it out on its golden chain. In one pocket, she feels the card, and subconsciously grips it, grips the paper that will not bend, and feels something flowing through her veins, miraculously and inexplicably.

"He loves you," she says. "He loves you, Persephone, even after all these years. He said he wants you to know that he still does, because you might have forgotten in your exile."

A sly, rueful smile crosses the goddess's face, the flames extinguishing and becoming something more autumnal, more symbolic of the woman she once was as she takes the chain and holds it, feeling the polished lapis lazuli, the chilled precious metals. "He always was, despite appearances, a sentimental fool."

She looks up. "You seek to unravel the determinant strands. You seek to save the boy."

"I do."

"Why?" There is an audible intake of breath from Persephone. "To do so, to go against our covenant, the rules - it is treason. No one defies the Fates."

"Perhaps love does. As weak as Eros, as Aphrodite may be," and here, she detects a bemused laugh in her palm, in the card she clutches, "they have a sort of, what do you call it - je ne sais quoi, don't you agree?"

The girl beside her is still.

Then, she says. "Maybe you are right."

(Silently, she thanks the card and it responds with a mental, Don't worry about it kind of sensation before the energy drains and it is still)

The two of them have an exchange of sorts. She pockets a pomegranate and a silver dagger and bows.

"I sincerely appreciate it."

"When you go, say hello to my mother for me," Persephone replies before turning away.

Cerberus looks at her mournfully as she walks back up.

In trains, in buses, in taxi cabs redolent with the smell of stale cigarettes and cheap booze, she travels interstate, across the country.

Everywhere she goes, the birds stare at her, she notices scarecrows and cardboard signs with messages proclaiming a dead future and sees a limb here, a limb there, a complete body once in a while. The casualties of their games.

All they play, they play for hunger; their games are Hunger Games fought over the last morsels of worship, the last epicenters of praise. They understand they are dying, but they refuse to accept it, and so, they fight.

There is no cornucopia for them, no Canaan for a Moses to lead them into. This is their Promised Land; a country full of the dead.

Many, many days ago, she said, "Goodbye" to him.

And he looked at her with sorrow, but he still held his chin high, her unstoppable, irrepressible Golden Boy, and perhaps that was why she loved him so damn much, because he was everything she was not: brave, strong, smart, a clear sketching in this universe of smears and faded pictures.

She kissed him, her other half, and held on as tight as she could, and when she said, "Let go," he wasn't brave anymore, he was crying rivers from his eyes and she kissed his tears away and tried not to cry as well.

Coatlique bellows a war cry and charges, throwing her axes out, sending them whirring like helicopter rotors.

She speaks a word, and they stop. Another, and they are pushed back. A lance of pain shoots through her; it defies her nature to be so concise, but she is at the final stretch of her journey and she cannot stop now, cannot stop for anyone. Insidious whispers snake from traitorous tongues like wildfire, spreading and spreading and spreading until they engulf the whole of this bloody plateau. The goddess hisses, joined by Suijin and Dagon; Dagon in fish scales, armor crafted from platinum and coral and wielding a massive broadsword, and Suijin calling up summer rainstorms from thin air.

Die. Unravel. Shatter. Burn.

These are harsh words, words that sting her tongue and leave the insides her mouth ragged and bleeding, but the world responds to her mythic call and casts burning beams of flame across the muddy grasses, blows holes in the earth, undoes the clouds before they even begin to form and strikes them all down.

At the end of it, she is panting, she feels herself dimming, her godlight dying down, and she pulls herself back together, patching up the seams with reconciliations.

She only has so much more to go, it won't be long-

Osiris. Hades. Anubis. Hel. Enma.

She's met Death too many times to count.

Chicago is encapsulated within a glassy dome, inside which more gods duel. Native American gods, Irish gods, gods of the land and the sea and the sky and fire and growth and rebirth and destruction. It is science fiction brough to life, a fiction she could never have written even if she tried.

A valkyrie lies broken, speared by the tip of the Empire State building, which someone must have transported all the way from New York. Flies buzz around her stomach, her wound festers and smells, and her features, once the pale Scandinanvian blondes and blues and whites, have become an ugly greyish-purple-blue, eyes rimmed with fatigue, her body slowly becoming mortal and, as such, traveling closer to the inevitable end.

"How?" she inquires.

"Kamohoali'i," the girl chokes. "The shark, he hit me and I don't know how-" Even as she dies, her voice still holds those lyrical Norwegian tones as she implores for Annie to deliver her from death.

"I cannot die," she rasps. "I can't - I cannot, I must serve my Father until the end-"

"Odin is dead."

"Blasphemer!" she gurgles, and hacks up a glob of something dark and red that resembles a piece of a lung.

She starts breathing faster, each inhalation and exhalation accompanied by a wet sound. "Mistress, I cannot die, I cannot die, help me, save me-" Her voice veers off into a shrill tangent of incomprehensible words and she breaks down into tears, wailing uncontrollably.

Annie presses her fingers onto the young woman's cheek; her fingers sink into the flesh like putty, the valkyrie screams and beats her tattered wings feebly.

"Sleep, sister," she hums. "Sleep now; you have done your duty to your Father and your country. Sleep, my daughter."

"No! No!" the girl sobs, but her eyelids flutter as Annie works her power, black butterflies blossoming from necrotic flesh and engulfing her in their soft, featherlight embrace.

"Sleep, sister."

The butterflies multiply, sheathing the girl in a cloud of gently wavering darkness, her cries dying down bit by bit. As the butterflies clear, there is nothing left behind but a makeshift spear with red stains around its tip.

There is nothing else to do. She goes on.

At last, she reaches the castle, the crux of worlds, the point that not even the Fates could calculate, that even the world tree does not fall upon.

It is not in space, as she thought, but in a nondescript house: picket fence, flower boxes, a garage, and a black Mustang in front.

After a moment of deliberation, she knocks on the door.

"Come in," a voice says.

She walks inside.

act 004

Death stands before her in all his glory.

He is no reaper of bone, no hooded figure, no Egyptian pharaoh or wretched witch or cold boy, he is an old man who is proud but measured, head framed by a halo of white hair, wearing an expensive black suit, a red handkerchief tucked into a pocket in front of a fragrant white rose. The rose, oddly enough, reminds her of fresh snow.

"I am Death," he says, like it isn't clear enough. "And you, child, you are Anathema, Anguish, Poetry and Music, Art and Murder, Psyche and Mania, the delirium within the hearts of all men and the passion within the hearts of all women. You are the Intangible Spirit, the Final Muse, you are the world's final symphony, its last orchestration before an untimely demise. You are Annie Cresta, a simple girl who is anything but."

She stands stock-still, powerless under the thrall of all her names. He takes a sip from a cup of tea and stares at her. He makes a careless gesture, and she is freed from the weight of it all. Her lungs drink in the air, stuffy as it is.

"I know why you have come here."

"Do you?"

"To save the boy."


"The question is, do you know why they fight these wars, your brothers and sisters?"

She shakes her head. He smiles, coldly amused.

"There is a reason why three is a sacred number. Three is the Holy Trinity, three is past, present, and future, and three is Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Triton for the second, if you'd like.

"There is a reason why they swore not to sire children, because to do so would be to tilt the scales unfairly in one direction. Gods are impermanent things-"

"But you are eternal; at least, until the world has no use for you anymore, which it won't for a long time, I suspect. You're the god of truth."

He raises an eyebrow. "Indeed. Poseidon's very nature, however, defies the covenant that they made to ensure equality among their pantheons.

"Recall the nature of the world, divided as it is into three parts, this concept of Hekate: celestial, maritime, and chthonian. The maritime aspect is the middle aspect, the balance between two polar opposites, two deadly extremes.

"As such, you might consider Triton the earth, the equilibrium that separates heaven from hell; a purgatory, if you so wish. Triton has never given birth to a mortal-crossed child in millennia. Doing so as he so rashly did brought about repercussions, as you have already seen.

"The Greek and the Roman pantheons are some of the most durable divine echelons of all; it is they who have weathered the erosion of time the best, they who have continued to be taught in schools and they who still live and breathe in man's technology, man's aspirations. The other gods, they are too easily forgotten, and already, their civilizations are crumbling, figureheads of religions so archaic and outdated that none practice them, let alone remember them. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, however, they still reign.

"The birth of Triton's son is an anomaly, the greatest offense Triton could ever make. The gods will not stand for it, those forgotten ones that still hang on to life. They have warred, they have battled, they have turned the earth into their playing field in which they are the titans again, mindlessly crushing all in their wake out of jealousy and desperation. Look now at Minneapolis, at Detroit, at Washington and San Diego and Houston and Miami; these apexes of humanity demolished so quickly, so swiftly, that these silly governments of theirs have not been able to do anything at all.

"Indeed," he smiles, "I believe that the time has come for Ragnarok to arrive and claim this world. The era of the gods is done."

"And you will rise."

"Darling girl," he purrs, "look around you. I am already king."

Something in her stomach clenches.

"But you have come to stop be, warrior girl." He grins. "Alice come to slay the Jabberwocky. And shall that be your Vorpal blade?" He points at the silver dagger held in her hands, and immediately, it rusts away, flaking brown dust falling through her fingers.

"You have come so far, defied Destiny itself, and still, you are as ill-prepared as ever. Focus, child, focus on me." He waves at her owlishly, and she glares.

"I'm still going to save him. Look." She rummages through her pockets, discards all her trinkets and mementos onto his coffee table, nibbling on her lower lip in embarrassment at how ragged they look. Pomegranate seeds from the Underworld. The feathers of a valkyrie. A biscotti packet from a Starbucks. Poetry on scraps of paper, notes and napkins and tissue paper. A moth with eyes on its wings. A piece of metal. A sliver of volcanic glass. A mound of grey ash. An eyepatch.

She holds out her arms as well, showing him her battle scars. Jagged lines, flowing script, tattoos seared permanently into her skin. All of her journey, laid out in this room, contained in so many infinite pieces of a larger puzzle.

He blinks. "Extensive."

"I have fought," she says. "I have fought, you stupid old man, and I have won, and I have killed and watched people get killed, and if you think I dragged my ass all the way through this fucking hellhole just to be told riddles by some old fart and get sent away like some chastised schoolgirl, then you are wrong." She's aware that she's trembling and she doesn't give a fuck. "I'm going to save him, Mister whoever-you-are. I'm going to save him."


"Because," she snarls through chattering teeth, "I fucking love him, that's why."

He nods his head, clasps his fingers. "I see."

A sinister smile, bereft of warmth but filled with cunning and a cat-like curiosity. "I shall grant your wish. But there is a condition."

He is in front of her in a second, his face inches away from hers, reeking of smoke and metal and soil. "You have to trade your life for his."

She nods mutely, shaking everywhere, bones rattling. "I-" She pauses, chews her lip. "Is this what you were planning on? An eye for an eye? Did you anticipate that I'd choose - shit, you know I'd save him in a heartbeat. Anyone who knew him would."

"My dear," he whispers, putting a consoling hand on her shoulder, suddenly not so wicked, only amused in that leonine way of his, "I don't care about crowns or thrones or being a ruler.

"I simply like," he drawls, "to watch a good game. And sometimes, I like to gamble as well."

He takes a deep drag of the rose. "To be honest, when you first started, I hadn't even considered you to be such an important variable in this scheme. I know better now." He chuckles heartily. "Maybe if I'd have seen ahead a bit more, pried apart the curtains of the future wider, I'd have been more inclined to bet on you. But this is insignificant."

"Annie," he murmurs, so quiet she has to strain her ears to hear, "if you save him, if you do this, you will cause a ripple in the pond, as the saying goes. Every reaction has an equal or opposite reaction." He beams, sly gambler once more. "Who knows? You might cause a larger effect than you ever intended.

"Know this, however: once you make your decision, you can never go back." Death grins. "You met with Anubis, yes? Even we shinigami cannot turn back the past.

"So, if you must choose, choose wisely, child."

"You didn't have to ask," she responds. "I choose him."

"As you wish," he replies, and they close their eyes-

-and the universe spins all around them-

-and in those minutes of transformation, of boundless potential in which she is Imagination and the whole of the worlds are at her fingertips, she remembers.

And so does he.

A kiss, a touch, a gentle smile, and a steady voice. Boats, sailboats and water-skiing and snorkeling and Galapagos turtles, and the two of them eating fried fish and plantains on a tropical coast with the sand under their feet, both of them salty and damp and happy, basking in that sunny afterglow.

Books, crumpled bookmarks, sapphires and messy bedsheets. His hair always wound around her fingers, his head on her stomach, his delighted cry as she gives him the news. Swimming lanes and chlorine in pools, water buoys and inflatable rafts, and he's chasing her as she screams and laughs while he tries to tug her towel off, and a cry of, "Finnick, dammit, get away-" that fades into pleasured sighs and midafternoon kisses and sweaty bodies meshed like gears, his hands on her hips, her lips on his, his voice saying, "You're so beautiful," and she can actually believe it, for once.

And she remembers.

act 005

It is in a coffee shop that he sees her. Strange girl with the flower crown woven through her tye-dye curls, brown and a rainbow threaded in.

She's reading something by Aristotle, the book tucked under her arm all straight pages and no crooked corners. He smiles.

As she leaves, he gets out of his seat, taking his cappuccino with him. He runs after her, chases her through traffic stops and buses and a bike path which diverges and leads to a pond in the middle of nowhere.

"Hey!" he calls, waving his arms.

She turns, looks at him, and gives him an odd look (but not an entirely unforgiving one) and asks, "Do I know you?"

"I don't think so," he pants, extending an arm. "So let's introduce ourselves. I'm Finnick. Finnick Odair." He flashes her a winning smile.

She smiles back and accepts the handshake. "Annie Cresta," she replies.

There's something about it that makes them feel like they've known each other for years, but they can't explain it and that's alright, because it's trivial and all that matters is this: his hands on her skin, the taste of his lips.

And so, I raise my glass to symmetry, she thinks, and kisses him.

a/n: reviews are greatly appreciated! also, please don't fav without reviewing, thanks. c: