(CW: Abusive Language, Cursing, Violence)
Chapter 1. Chilled
Athena hit the stop button on her alarm, leaned over the trashcan and emptied her stomach of last night’s gin.
Cold air teased her bare back, she shivered and looked to the broken window. “How…”
“Sorry,” Ares muttered from the floor. “I tried to stop you, but you said ‘fuck this window’ and hit it with a bolt.”
“Ares? Did we…”
The god shook his head and picked some pale fluff from his trimmed dark beard. “No, but you were topless when Safkhet dropped you off.”
“What…” Athena shook her head as memories tickled like dreams. The bar. The crying…
Ares opened one of her dresser drawers and pulled out a shirt. “Cover up… are you okay?”
“Good. I’m fine.” Athena stared into the corner of her mirror, at the reflection of her little toe. “I’ll be fine.”
“Aphrodite offered you a new crush. On the house, just so you know. If you want something to get the mortal off your mind.”
“How’d she hear?” Athena snatched the shirt out of Ares’ hand and slipped it on.
“LifeTree. You Seeded about it a few dozen times. There were pictures.”
“I know, it was bad.” He nodded sagely. “Even Reynardine was trying to be nice.” Ares picked up the blankets and pillows from the floor. “I was worried, a bit, so I slept over. I’ll have Phaestus send some automatons around to repair the window.”
Athena looked up at the ex-war god, but couldn’t muster a smile. “Thanks, Ares.”
“I thought you’d do something stupid. I’m a cop.” He smiled. “We should hang out more, A. I mean, when we’re not saving the world or on godly business.”
She muttered a response, but didn’t really have time for a renewed friendship this week. There was a few hundred year old bottle of scotch in her cellar she wanted to drown in for a bit, today at least.
Her stomach gurgled. Later today…
Ares cleared his throat. “Want to brave Hestia’s Christmas party together? We can talk trash on all the happy couples.”
“I never go to that. You know how I feel about Christmas.” She stood up and looked around at the bare walls. “Thanks, but I’m not going to start in now.”
“Offers open.” Ares looked her room over. “And you’re welcome, A. Have a good one and go easy on the bottle today.”
With the taste of bile and gin so fresh, even the word ‘bottle’ churned her stomach.
Ares exited through the gaping hole in her window and Athena made her way to the bathroom. She stripped off the shirt and the stained, holey sweatpants.
“I went out drinking in sweatpants…” Safkhet really left a lot to be desired for a best friend. Not that she was bad, most the time, but enforcing fashion choices on the drunk and heartbroken was a pretty important task.
Athena started up the shower and took a few aspirin before climbing in. The hot water didn’t cure her cotton mouth, but she gulped some down anyway and stood under the spray until the pounding in her skull faded.
And the shout took over. ‘Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid, you slut.’
Emmaline. She’d always been so nice, the venom hurt even worse. Burned.
‘I’m leaving. Call that guy you’ve been fucking to drive me home.’
Ares and her were always just friends.
What led to that insult?
‘Do us both a last favor and lose my number, Attie.’
Athena remembered that one, hurled at her as Emmaline climbed into Ares car for a ride home, back to the mortal world. Athena had just called her stupid.
For the first and last time.
Athena slammed a fist into the wall and through to the other side.
“Screw it,” she muttered. “I’ll expand the bathroom into the garage. Never drive anyway.”
The phone’s ringing didn’t help her headache, probably Fate’s office wondering why she’d skipped work. Well, technically, Athena was just late at this point, but the office could survive a day without her. Maybe a few.
“Maybe, it’s time to quit.” Athena spun the shower handle and slipped her mostly fresh shirt back on. She skipped combing her hair, tangles be damned for a few days, but brushed her teeth until they hurt a bit.
By the end of that, she conceded to the hairbrush and ran it through her blonde locks.
I should dye it. Get some darker makeup too, I’m tired of this pastel life.
She pulled on some underthings and blue jeans. The hole in the shower, and missing window, would have to wait. Maybe Phaestus would help.
Athena headed to the kitchen and popped a little single-serve cup in her coffee machine.
The coffee sludge began rehydrating and Athena turned to grab her bottle of flavored creamer from the fridge. She flipped open the door, slammed it shut, spun across the room, and grabbed a chef’s knife in about a second total.
The door swung open again and Reynardine the Fox peered out in a red stocking cap with a white ball on the end. In human form, handsome face, missing right eye, and smile meant to drop panties or start wars. Probably both, when the bastard was on a roll.
He took a sip from a carton of milk and looked around. “Morning, Honeyweaver.”
“Don’t call me that,” Athena said. “What the fuck are you doing in my fridge?”
“Drinking your milk,” Reynardine told her. “What’s up with the knife? I thought we were close.”
“We’re not you sleeping in my fridge close.” She sat the blade on her counter. “Sorry, just alarmed is all. You surprised me.”
Reynardine finished the milk and climbed out. “That’s probably good. Trust nothing and no one. Least of all strange foxes claiming to be from Santa.”
Athena snorted. “Oh no, we’re not doing this today.”
“I’m sure the day will be full of surprises,” Reynardine said. “Brr, you always keep it so cold in here?” He wore slacks and a bright green sweater with a topless, muscled Santa riding a candy cane themed unicorn. “Caldyr got it for me,” he said. “Nice, huh? You like sexy Santa?”
“I don’t think anyone likes it, Reynardine. She must either hate you or know you really well.”
“Aw, we know it’s both. You want to hit the road, or what?”
“Road?” Athena shook her head. “No, I’m drinking a cup of coffee and eating something terrible for me instead of a healthy breakfast and then crying while I watch sad movies until it’s drinking time. I’ve written out a schedule, somewhere.”
“Nope.” Reynardine tapped his cap. “We’ve gotta discover the true meaning of Christmas or love… or something, I only read part of the script for this shindig.”
“It’s the day before Christmas eve—”
“I’ve got plans this year, Athena. We gotta rock this boat now, let’s boogie.”
“I’m not boogeying anywhere, Reynardine!”
“But Santa sent me.”
“Bullshit,” Athena said. “Why would Santa use you—”
Reynardine pulled out a golden candy cane with a key for the straight end. “I told you, me and old Kringle are tight.”
Athena stared at the Christmas key. “I thought you were just trying to get me to do something naughty.”
“That too.” Reynardine looked around. “So, we got a little over twenty-four hours for this party. You want a little hair of the dog?”
“I don’t know…”
Reynardine snapped and they were inside a busy grocery store.
“I don’t have shoes!” Athena’s toes curled against the cold cement floor.
Reynardine looked around. “You’re a god, Athena.”
“Oh, right.” She magicked a pair of socks and canvas sneakers on. Humans didn’t notice the magic, her godly abilities were beyond mortal sight by Fate’s Decree. Pretty spiffy, really, in the old days she had to be careful about being seen all the time.
Athena added a night-blue blazer, but left the rest of the outfit. She wasn’t in the mood for much magic right now. The jacket was darker than her normal soft blue, but she liked the look.
Reynardine picked up a large, expensive bottle of eggnog. He spotted her jacket and raised an eyebrow, but just asked, “You hungry?” And took off for the front before she had a chance to answer.
Athena hurried to keep up. “Yes and tired. Slow down, please.”
Reynardine disappeared down an aisle, and when Athena reached the end, he was lifting up a bottle of nice brandy.
“What are you doing?” Athena asked.
“Donuts? They have them here, and that’s the best endorsement I can offer. Ain’t no Crunchy Cremes, that for sure, but let’s go.”
He was already half-way to the case, and suspicions were building in Athena’s tired mind. She followed and watched him pick out a dozen donuts. “Need anything else, Fox?”
“Nope,” Reynardine said. “Hold this real quick?” He forced the box of donuts into her arms before snapping.
And they were in a park.
“Did you just steal all that?”
Reynardine nodded. “Well, actually we did. Go team owlfox, right?”
Athena dropped the donuts on the table and covered her mouth. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“That’s a whole ‘nother story, Honeyweaver. Want some eggnog?” Reynardine dumped out half the bottle, “For the lost foxes and dead gods,” and then added the stolen brandy.
Athena grabbed it and washed down her doubts with the milky cocktail. He poured in either too much or too little brandy, she couldn’t decide. And didn’t really want to think about it—or anything—the burn of the booze was enough for now.
She sat the bottle on the stone table and Reynardine pushed over the box of donuts.
Athena traded him the spiked nog and grabbed a cherry crunch. “So, what’s the epiphany?” she asked around a mouthful of donut. “I’m not sure I have the stomach for a full journey today.”
“Nope, doesn’t work that way. It’s the rules.”
“Hey, who’s an official deputy of Santa Claus himself?”
Athena pulled the eggnog to her and took another sip. “I’m still not entirely sure I believe all that. Why would Santa send you?”
“Like I said, we’re close.”
Athena rolled her eyes. “How? What, you banged his wife—”
“Hey! I’d never hit on Ms Claus. That woman is a saint.” Reynardine took a sip of their shared drink and pushed it back. “I did have an interesting weekend with Rudolph once, but who hasn’t?”
“Me,” Athena said. The bottle’s tiny opening didn’t hold as much appeal, quite suddenly, but she steeled herself and took a hearty swig. To wash the bitter taste, she ate a sprinkled cake donut and considered her options.
If Santa really sent Reynardine, and his possession of a North Pole key spoke volumes, chances were Athena couldn’t just skip out—Santa didn’t fuck around with naughty listers.
Besides Reynardine. If there was one being more persistent than Santa himself…
Even he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, actually steal a key from Santa, though. Reynardine might be a clever trickster, but the Claus’ were another level of magic entirely. More on par with gods, or perhaps even Fate herself.
Ignoring this little trip down memory lane would land her on the naughty list for a few decades, at least.
Athena didn’t really need the gifts, but people would find out.
And talk. They always talked, nothing more boring than small town life—especially for big city gods like them.
She washed her donut down with brandy straight from the bottle. “All right. And what’s the plan then?”
Reynardine looked up. “Plan? Honeyweaver, where we’re going, we don’t need plans.”
“What? Reynardine, it’s not the time for lame quot—”
He snapped and they were off again.
Chapter 2. Shiny
Athena landed butt first on cold ground. “Oh, fuck. Reynardine, what the hell was that?”
She sat in the middle of a small camp, old style green army tents and…
Camp of the New Pantheon. Judging by the lack of recruits, it must’ve still been early days for their little revolution. Not even a sign of artillery, maybe Christmas 1915.
More than a hundred years ago now. Time really does fly.
“And so does Reynardine, apparently.” Bastard Fox was nowhere to be found; tents, trenches, and little else stood out.
Athena snuck among them, listening carefully for a hint of Reynardine—or even whatever she was here to see. Athena was a big goddess, no one needed to hold her hand, she could epiphany herself just fine.
The sunlight had peaked already, but daytime didn’t mean much at the camp back then. They’d all been on different schedules, all 8… no 11 of them in ‘15.
If you didn’t count Reynardine,which no one really did. He’d been a spy, working both sides and not too shy about telling Artemis—the leader of the New Pantheon in those days.
Athena looked around sadly. Last thing she needed today was another reminder of bad times and lost friends.
Reynardine walked out of the showers tent, fixing his fashionable slacks and coat. Musta changed clothes.
Athena started over, but he looked right through her and walked off.
Both of his eyes. “Oops, wrong fox.”
A second later, another Reynardine—one missing eye and horrific sweater and all—walked out of the same tent.
Fixing his pants.
Athena blushed and stared. “General? Did you just—”
“Oh, don’t act like you haven’t thought of it.”
“With a past version of myself? I really can’t say I—”
“It was a rare opportunity,” Reynardine explained. “Forget it, we have stuff to take care of.”
“Forget it? Reynardine that’s a… a hard thing to forget.”
“Bit part of another tale, my Honeyweaver.” He nodded at the food tent. “Real tale is in there.”
“Hestia making pancakes?”
The past him was crawling out Hestia’s window, box of sausage in one hand and bottle of wine in the other.
“Hn.” Athena looked over to the current him. “What did you do with a crate of sausage?”
“Lunch for a friend. I do look rather dashing though, right?”
Athena nodded ruefully—no denying he offered a certain roguish charm. Handsome too, clever as well. Plus a complete asshole and cocky to boot, but Reynardine was always a… a something all right.
“So, drag me here just to play around with your past sausage or what?”
Reynardine gave a long barking laugh. “Clever, Ath. C’mon, the real party’s inside. It’s Christmas eve’s eve, and you just cheated death.”
He held the tent flap with a flourish and a low bow.
Athena ducked slightly and walked into the smoky little mess tent.
Hestia held court at the front, doling out pancakes and fat little homemade sausages with sage from Demeter’s garden and lamb straight from Pan’s flock.
“Can we steal food from the past?” Athena wondered.
Reynardine shrugged. “She’ll probably blame it on me anyway.”
“Well, to be fair, you did steal a whole crate a moment ago.”
“A hundred years and a moment ago,” Reynardine corrected officiously.
“Course,” Athena muttered. She snatched a warm sausage from the tray. Greasy, spiced, and better than she remembered. Been a long time since Hestia made sausage, decades at least. “So, how did I cheat death here again? The times kinda blur.”
“I know that feel.” Reynardine nodded across the tent.
Athena stared at the blonde laughing at the table for a long minute before it clicked.
Burnt hair, singed skin, two black eyes, and dried blood trailing from most of the holes on her face. “Wow, I was thumped on.”
“Blown up,” Reynardine said. “Technically. By a god’s bolt too, so—”
“Fucking Jupiter, huh? Roman bastard, I remember this.”
Athena sat next to Safkhet, across from Artemis and Hel. She talked loudly, her hearing wasn’t so good right then, although the words were a little off track with their current state of existence. Athena leaned closer and listened until they cleared.
Safkhet poked at the past Athena’s blackened armor and burnt combat fatigues. “You said you dodged the blast?”
“I said I dodged death.” She turned to the other table. “Thanks by the way, Pluto. I saw you look the other way.”
Pluto blushed down at his eggs. “Accidental. I’d never allow just any soul to abscond, of course.” The god looked up and gave her a timid smile. “But you know how much I like shiny things.”
The past Athena smiled back, and tried to pat down her hair, but that side had been burnt off entirely.
Current Athena gave a tired smile, she remembered what came next; six or seven months of mediocre romance with some good bits, before a weird, hard split.
“Right, Christmas past. Check.” Athena looked over at Reynardine as the voices faded.
“So, we gonna watch me get seduced all the way?”
Reynardine looked up from his phone. “I’m game if you are, it’s your memory. But we can abscond once you’ve learned your lesson.”
He waved a hand dramatically and dropped onto an empty seat. “I don’t know, it’s your lesson.”
Athena knew that was bullshit, but she’d probably have better luck arguing with the wall. Easier to win, at least.
Instead, she focused on the moment.
What did I learn, or could I learn from this?
“Do you have some paper?” she asked.
“Oh, right.” Athena unlocked hers and took a quick selfie with the past her in the background. No signal now, but she’d post it to LifeTree soon as they were done in the past.
She opened a note file and started organizing feelings and memories into something she could correlate with the current memory. Formulas would have to be from memory, but Einstein worked out some pretty good ones before he switched from magic to physics.
Athena focused on the numbers, barely watching as Safkhet and the others skipped out and Pluto sidled up to her.
“Damn, he works fast,” Reynardine said. “For a geeky type.”
“He’s not a geek.” Athena looked Pluto over. “Maybe a bit, but I like them a little geeky.”
She shrugged. “I’m a wisdom and politics goddess, they like me a lot of the time.”
Reynardine nodded. “Why’d you break it off with him?”
Athena rolled her eyes. “Nothing to do with him really. We had fun, he just wanted something I couldn’t give.”
“We’ve all been there. Us unmarried gods… well, I’m a myth, but you know what I mean. You love ‘em.” Reynardine popped open his eggnog bottle again. “But love isn’t what it’s all about. They want steady. And just you.”
“He probably wouldn’t have minded the odd lady or two,” Athena added. “Pretty much though. Offered me a ring, the fucker.”
“Broke it off the next day?”
“I didn’t want to,” Athena said. “Pluto…” She sighed. “He was a good guy, I liked him a lot, but we were in a war. If he couldn’t deal with what I had to offer, then it was just time.”
Athena looked into Pluto’s coal night eyes. “Damn, that hurt though.”
“You took R&R for the first time ever.”
She forced a grimace. “That was in Paris, huh?”
“I cried and ate some chocolate. Drank a lot of wine too.”
“But you survived.”
“Sure, not like a broken heart ever killed a god.”
“You’d be surprised at the damage a wounded heart can do.” Reynardine gave her a tired half-smile and snapped.
Chapter 3. Cracked Pillar
Reynardine landed on top of her on a bed.
Athena looked up into his amber eye. “A bed. Hn. Coincidence, right?”
“Ha. I’m not low enough to prey on a heartbroken friend.”
Athena huffed. “Probably a bad idea, anyway. Get off, you know I like being on top.”
“Right.” Reynardine rolled to the side and off the bed. He pushed himself up fast and started for the door.
Athena followed, eyes searching the small hall. “So, we anyplace special?”
“Obviously. We’re not time hopping at random. Probably.”
“I’m just the conductor,” Reynardine said. He stuck out his tongue and tasted the air.
The place did feel a little familiar, but they’d redone the floors and walls in her forty year absence. “You can tell that from the air?”
“Sure, why not?”
Athena shook her head. “Right. So just before we won?”
“A few weeks,” Reynardine told her. “We’re here to see Hera.”
“Hera?” Athena shook her head. “I don’t want to see my evil stepmother, Reynardine. Thought I’d never have to again.”
“That’s a pretty common feeling, on this cold Christmas eve’s eve.” Reynardine pointed.
Hera stood in front of a blue, watery pillar with Uncle Poseidon emblazoned on the front in all his dickheaded glory. More than 50 years since Athena saw the brunette goddess. Half that since Athena even thought of her, they’d never cared much for each other.
Hera wore nothing but a few bits of gold, not unusual for her. The elder gods never cared much for modern style and Olympus was awful warm this evening.
Air was hot, actually. Always got that way when Father was on a rager.
Athena’s hand found Reynardine’s without a thought and he gave a soft, kind squeeze.
“Honeyweaver, I wouldn’t put you through that. We’re just here for Hera.”
Athena nodded, and knew better, but the stress still boiled.
So she focused on Hera.
“…just think we’re going too far.” She leaned her head against the pillar. “Please, Poseidon, answer. I need a friend.”
Mercifully, Poseidon kept his silence. Athena doubted she could handle seeing him at the moment, anyway.
Hera flinched and sulked her way to the next pillar.
“Son? Oh, my shining sun of a child.”
Hera laid the butter on thick and even offered some candy—an old lyre she knew of resting in some mountains— nothing but silence.
“Apollo must be ticked too.”
“They were losing,” Reynardine said with more than a hint of pride. “Suddenly. Oops.”
Athena didn’t smile. She watched her stepmom move onto the next pillar, Hades, and past.
Hera walked toward some lone pillars, all the ‘traitors’ on the revolution’s side.
Finally, she paused and sat down.
In front of Athena’s silvery stack of books. “Hello, Honeyhair.”
“For fuck’s sake, it’s just blonde,” Athena muttered.
“Close to honey, though,” Reynardine said.
“She hated it anyway.” Athena looked at her stepmom. “Always telling me to wash it.” Athena put on Hera’s sulky, low voice. “Looks dirty. Thought I was stupid, too. I could see when she was thinking it, she’d look right at me and—”
Reynardine shushed her. “Listen, I don’t like rewinding bits.”
The head goddess twiddled her thumbs. “I know you can’t hear me. I’d be risking a lot to contact any of you right now. Still… damned tempting.” Hera picked at her teeth with a fingernail. “Been a long year, I guess. Quite a few of them, I think. When is it? The 40’s again, right? Twentieth century? Or 21st, I mix those up, you know. Oh, I don’t care.
“Your Father is on a bad one tonight. Same always, these days. I really didn’t think this spat would last the year, you know? Been a lot of them now and you kids…” Hera wiped an eye. “You know, we swore we’d let it go? When I first had Apollo, and that hellion sister of his, we knew one day, it’d be your turn. To rule and everything. It’s the way it works. Hestia and Aphrodite made us promise. Zeus swore to. We’d have a couple of millennia as the leaders and then when it was your turn, we’d pass along the scepters.”
Athena heard rumors, but straight from Hera’s mouth was closest to the truth as possible—the only one she hurt with the confession was Zeus.
If anyone heard.
Hera sobbed softly on the floor and didn’t speak for a long time. “I loved you, kid. I mean, I loved all of you kids, even the bastards. Sorry, you hate when I say that.” Hera looked into the distance to her, but right through Athena. “Even the ones I didn’t have the honor of birthing. That’s more fitting a royal. I know you hate me.” A tiny laugh. “I don’t love me either all the time.”
“I don’t really…” Athena stopped and every drop of ichor in her went cold. “I didn’t.”
“She knows and knew,” Reynardine whispered. “Let her finish.”
“We’re two grapes sharing a stem,” Hera said. “Two close to the base to ever fit right. Dionysus would like that. He’d be good right now. If he was here. He’d calm Zeus, and soothe Artemis, whoever else in this crazy thing. And we’d have dinner on his birthday, like we will soon. Dry turkey you hate, I know you all talk about my food when I’m cooking.” Hera hung her head. “I don’t care what you little ingrates think… but I’ll have Hestia help so no one leaves early this year. It’ll be good for us, being a family again. I’ll say it in person this time, too. Like I always meant to. But… I love you, little honey bug. I’m very proud of you.”
Hera looked at her hands and shivered. “I need to speak with the rest of my wayward kids too. Don’t know why I wanted to talk to you first. I know you’d never listen anyway. I wouldn’t.”
Chapter 4. A Fairy Short Interlude
Athena sobbed for a long time in a little park, on a bad street that ran dead center through Stockton, California.
People in modern clothes wandered by, some stared, but most ignored the shittily dressed crazy woman crying for ghosts and missed chances against a stone bench.
She didn’t think, just let the emotions and memories dictate what she cried for at any given second.
Later on, when she’d run dry of tears, a soft purple cup appeared in her vision.
“It’s happy hour and I got you a slushie for half-price,” Reynardine said. “No booze, but we can pick up some at the next stop.”
“Oh thank the lord yes please.”
“You’re welcome.” Reynardine waggled his brows. He held a brown paper bag filled with foil packages.
Athena nodded at them. “What is this?”
“It’s a chicken wrappuritaco blast. I got a bag for Caldyr, gotta drop ‘em at home.”
Athena picked a foil package up and sniffed. She’d eaten fast food, even enjoyed some, but dollar menu burritos seemed a little… scary, even for a non-human. “She eats these?”
“‘Eats’ is a generous term. She inhales them, fast. Not sure what else happens.” Reynardine hitched a thumb and they started walking down the cracked sidewalk.
She rolled her eyes. “Really, why not stop off at someplace decent, I’ll spring for it.”
“I would,” Reynardine said. “But Caldyr’s broke and she won’t let me pay for every meal.”
“That’s dumb, she should fleece you for whatever she can get.”
“Caldyr’s not dumb, Athena. She’s a shining star of intelligence.”
Athena raised a brow.
“What, she’s a good detective.”
“Yeah, she’s alright,” Athena said, even though she’d more raised a brow at him. He sounded like… like Zeus used to sound about her—on the good days, at least.
“Anyway, she doesn’t want me to pay all the time. Asked me to get lunch and bring it home.” Reynardine tugged at the ugly sweater. “I know she’s a little extra broke too. This wasn’t even Christmas, we just hit each other early with surprise gifts.”
“So we hopped through time to deliver food to a lazy fairy?”
“If you have to wrap down your wings and get all glamoured up to leave the house, you’d want to chill on a day off too.”
“Right, good point,” Athena said. “Caldyr lives here?” She looked around at the run down buildings and occupied stoops. Teens and young adults, sharing an afternoon and a bad view. Some adults too, and even some families on half-dead lawns.
Not the world’s worst neighborhood, but Athena wouldn’t want to be a girl living alone. Even a blue one with hydromantic powers.
Reynardine led her into a tiny brown apartment complex and up a set of chipped cement steps. Apartment 14, all the way at the end. He pushed open the door without knocking and rustling followed from the couch.
Caldyr bounded over, bright blue, and wearing a red Christmas sweater with a knitted orange kitten tangled in lights. She was a little under five-feet and her gorgeous leathery wings flapped, as she spun in the air. The fairy laughed and danced right up to them before she paused and blinked at Athena. Both hands were above her head, but Caldyr slowly lowered them.
“Hey, Athena. Sup?”
“Caldyr.” Athena forced down a smile at the purple blush creeping up the fairy’s cheeks.
She nodded. “It’s epically soft. Foxbutt got it for me. I got him that one. Just a weird coincidence.”
“Looks cute. Love the kitty.”
“Aw thanks! Reynardine even had wing holes sewed in.” The fairy spun a little off center and laughed, quite drunkenly Athena realized.
“And I brought lunch, Super Sleuth,” Reynardine said, not even hiding the pride on his face. “You watching TV?”
“Who Killed Santa is on again, but I think it’s the alternate ending version this time. With the zombies.”
“You know, Santa hates that movie,” Reynardine said.
Caldyr rolled her eyes. “This dick, keeps on talking like Santa’s real. I’m not a kid. Jerk.”
Athena nodded and gave a few quick glances around. Cheap apartment, old and held together by more duct tape and plaster than love… not that different from the one she found Em in a few years ago. The goddess shook her head. “I can’t even believe him most days,” she told Caldyr. “Always a surprise.”
“It’s the actor that plays him,” Reynardine continued. “Although, I thought Miranda was magic.”
“Of course he is,” Athena said. No Christmas tree she could see, but a cactus had some tinsel hanging off the needles.
“Want to watch?” Caldyr asked. “We got burritos, now, and I got some good scotch… well a bit, been a long day. We can split the lees at least and there’s some beer too.”
Athena spotted the green bottle on the table. Not her normal brand, but nice enough maker.
“Sure,” she said. “But I’ll just take the beer, scotch puts me in hitting mood.”
Caldyr gestured to Reynardine. “He’s soft and takes a fall real nice.”
Athena chuckled. “Noted, kiddo. Let’s get to the movie, I want to hear the Christmas Train rap.”
Reynardine grabbed them a beer and they did split the last of the scotch. Athena worked up a nice buzz, and the Meltichangaritto things weren’t half-bad after that.
When Athena first saw Caldyr with Reynardine, a few weeks back, she assumed that the General was simply looking to get a little extra wet. Caldyr being a fairy and he was always pretty well-known for his exploits.
Now, Athena didn’t know exactly what to think. His smile wasn’t wheedling, or ironic, but plastered and prideful.
She lit him up and Athena recognized that light. The pride of creation, she exalted herself in the glow often enough to spot it anywhere.
After eating most the burritos, and downing another beer, Caldyr passed out before the big sleigh chase medley ending.
Reynardine wrote her a note while the credits rolled and they slipped out the front. He checked his watch. “Sorry, I didn’t plan on that being a whole movie detour.”
Athena shook her head. “Nah. She wanted to hang out. It’s fine.”
“Doesn’t get out much, or have anyone too close here.”
“I’ve been there. She’s fun, it was a good time. Thanks, Reynardine. You’re a good dad.”
“She’s not really my daughter,” he said.
Athena laughed. “By blood? No. But that’s not so important this time of year, or any, really.”
Reynardine hugged her. Sudden and so fast, it might not have happened if she couldn’t still feel the warm shadow of his arms. “Thanks, Athena. Here I thought I was the one delivering advice.”
“You knew that already, you’ve got more ‘family’ hanging around than a royal wedding.”
“Course. But, it’s always nice to hear it aloud.” Reynardine snapped.
Chapter 5. White Christmas
Snow danced somberly around them.
“Where are we?”
Reynardine chuckled. “Check your phone.”
The device had 2,463 updates waiting. “A week in the future?”
“Few years, actually.” Reynardine nodded. “There she is.”
Athena squinted through a broken, glass door, and realized they stood on top of a outer balcony of a massive building. Fate’s building, the one skyscraper in Lumin. The tiny town of the gods lay below, quiet and covered in snow. “Wow. It never snows in Lumin.”
“Athena, we don’t have time for sightseeing, okay? Look through the door.”
“Your cold, bitter heart,” Reynardine announced with more grim air than she’d expect him capable of.
Just a glance was plenty enough to see why.
Athena herself sat in Fate’s chair. “Woo. Upgrade.”
“Yeah, but look at you.”
She walked closer, and leaned into the giant room, but the cold and the darkness of the office told its own tale.
Ares chained and broken body above her empty fireplace added another layer to the story.
Bellona’s spear stuck from the fire-poker stand. Just half, blackened and rusted.
Nothing else to signal the end of any other friends, but the air itself sang of death. Gods died and haunted here.
“Yeah,” Reynardine whispered. “This isn’t the world that will be, for sure, but it’s an ever-growing possibility.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know all the details. It’s a big deal, clearly. Something to do with old enemies. You go a little crazy on us. End them, and then… well, Hestia is first. After you absorb her fire, you work your way through the Pantheon. Outsmart us all.”
“I love Hes! Me? I’m not…” Athena watched as blood dripped from Ares’ broken flesh to the cold stone mantle.
She looked to herself. Colder white blonde hair and deep sparkling eyes. Ice seeped from her pores, as she scribbled on scrap of paper. “What am I writing?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Long as it’s not emo poetry.” Athena laughed a little.
Reynardine gave a long, solemn nod.
“Wowzer. I am pure dumpster fire in this future.”
And she looked up. The other icy Athena.
“Can she… I hear me?”
“Why do you think I wanted to hurry?” Reynardine asked, tugging on Athena’s sleeve.
“Come on. We’re just shades to her, but she is the God of All Things now. Who knows what she can do.”
They edged back across the terrace as the Icy Athena crawled onto the desk and crouched like a B-movie vampire. She took great whiffs of the air and looked toward them. The ripped, white cocktail dress really drove the point home. “Remind me never to go evil.”
“That’s kinda what I’ve been getting at,” Reynardine said.
And the icy goddess leapt.
Shadows and sparks of thunder filled the air behind her. Zeus’ thunder, just like when she was a kid.
Athena screamed, but the sound became a tight squeak.
Icy Athena had caught her by the throat. She squeezed and the world blurred. Pain filled her body as air stuck in her lungs. Athena felt her power draining into the evil twin just above.
And then pure, frozen light.
Em stood at the edge of the doorway, anger already marring her pretty face. “Where have you been?”
“Out with Ares and Safkhet,” Athena muttered. “Did you need something?”
Rage flashed and she shook her head. “No.”
“Good then. I’m tired, we stopped some human magicians from summoning a demon and ending all life in Quebec.”
“Wow. Sounds fun.”
Athena shook her head. “Not the word, I’d use. But Canada is quite exhilarating, I think.”
“I’ve never been.”
Athena nodded absently. “You should sometime. It’s cold, take a coat.”
“I hardly ever leave here, anymore,” Em said, with a trace of irony in her voice that just didn’t fit. “I’m a real homebody, I guess.”
“You should work on that.” Athena looked around the dirty house and wondered how she stayed home all the time, but never managed to get anything clean. With a wave, Athena set the living room in order. “I was reading a study the other day, about correlations between low-light living situations and depression. Maybe that’s why you’re so moody lately?”
Em walked off, stomped really, to the bedroom.
“I’ll text you a link.” Athena didn’t have time for a mortal’s pissy little mood swings, even one normally as splendid as Em.
She poured herself a drink and wondered where Safkhet was. Maybe she should go out instead. Athena always found some time alone helped her relax, surely Em could use another few days.
“Em? I’m going out, again. Did you need me to leave some money for food, or maybe a little toy? Something from those superhero things?”
Silence from the bedroom. Athena searched with her extra senses and found Em drinking. Straight booze and a lot.
“Good, she might loosen up again.”
Cold. Endless. Wet. Icy air all around.
Burning in her working lungs.
Athena gasped and rolled over.
Reynardine held a snowball to one eye. “Morning.”
“We still in the dystopian future?”
Athena thumped back into the snow. “Just send me back to whenever that was then.”
“Sure, soon as my eye heals. You pack a helluva punch, Honeyweaver.”
“Damn right. Wait me, or early-2000s-screamo-band me?”
“You. I snapped, but the magic took a second, and by the time we ported you were pretty out of it. Turned on me before you passed out.”
“Good. Drag me all through history just to let me almost kill me. Jerk.”
“Right. Anyway, we’re almost done here and I’m ready for a nap.” Reynardine tapped her knee. “Come on, one more stop.”
“No,” Athena said. “I’ve learned. Don’t go evil. Got it.”
“And how do you know which way not to go? How do any of us know where our coldest hearts lie?” Reynardine asked.
Wind howled and in the distance a car backfired.
“Right. What I thought, come on.” He strutted off through the snow.
Athena trudged just behind him through the powdery streets. She’d never been to the area, looked like just a tiny mountain hamlet somewhere. Nice enough, but Athena hardly knew anyone this far North in America.
“What town is this?”
“Bend,” Reynardine said. “Kim and Erik live here.”
“Kim’s a baker and Erik is a part-time security guard and full-time teacher.”
“Sounds like a busy life.”
Reynardine nodded. “But, rather fortunately, they took Christmas off.”
“Why is that fortunate? And not normal?”
“Bad economy. Expensive to live these days. Not the time for politics.”
“Things are getting worse, huh?” Athena asked, but she already felt the answer in the hallow air of the town itself. “But there’s always time for politics, Reynardine! What’s going on in America is—”
“No!” Reynardine barked. “Sorry, but I’ve got plans tonight and some more gifts to pick up for a certain blue friend… and some others, maybe. But right now, we’re talking about what’s their names. The broke ones, comforting their friend.”
“Kim and Erik.” Athena paused. “That’s a little familiar.”
“It should be.”
“I know, you just told me, but something else.”
“I know.” Reynardine smiled and nodded at a pink SUV parked at a curb.
“Oh.” Emmaline. She talked about them a few times. Always texted Kim when things were rough. The goddess paused and took in the town with new eyes. “Em grew up here.”
“Come on, Athena. One last stop.”
“No,” she nearly shouted. “We broke up. She broke up with me.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh right, like I’m some idiot crying all drunk and alone when all I had to do was reach out.”
Reynardine raised the brow above his blind eye.
“Prove me wrong.”
Athena followed him to a frosted, four-pane window with a tiny crack through the bottom corner.
Emmaline sat on the couch with a baby on her knee. A ragged little tree sat opposite of her. No, not quite ragged, Athena realized, just every branch of the tiny thing was weighed down with an ornament and a candy cane.
The look on Em’s face—the light in her eyes from that lit pine—made Athena regret every drab Christmas they’d shared.
Never even occurred to her that Em might enjoy the holiday.
“I’m a fool,” Athena muttered.
“Yes,” Reynardine said. “But you’re good at learning, right?”
“Can you learn to be a good person?”
“I hope so.” Reynardine smirked. “I know so. Now pay attention, our show’s starting.”
Two hipsters curled up on a smaller loveseat and listened.
“We might still make up,” Em said in her adorable, squeaky voice. She leaned forward and shook her head. “She was drunk. I was drunk, it was sudden.”
“Oh, don’t start again, babe,” Kim said. She pushed herself off the couch and straightened her pajama pants. “Erik, get Matchbox some dinner?”
“Yeah,” he muttered with a grateful smile. “I’ll just be in there, the kitchen. Doins’ dinner things.”
“Thanks,” Kim whispered and planted a kiss on his bearded cheek while he retrieved the kid from Em.
“Aw,” Reynardine said. “The hipster couple is kinda cute.”
“She’s beautiful,” Em said, holding up her phone. “I know the pictures with her are all a little fuzzy.”
“That happens,” Kim lied kindly. “She sounds nice too.”
Em shrugged. “Not always. She was good in bed though, really good. Sweet sometimes too. Funny at times.”
Athena preened a little.
And that hurts.
“And she thought I was stupid,” Em said. “Like I am—”
Athena didn’t realize her jaw dropped until freezing air hit the back of her throat.
“No,” Kim said in a loud quit-being-silly tone.
Reynardine repeated it, but more serious and added. “She might not be a rocket scientist, but she saw past your faults, and found you to start.” He smiled. “Takes a bit of smarts to find anything warm enough to hold in all that ice.”
Em laughed. “I’m not all that bright, but she’s a god of knowledge. Or like Einstein or something.” She gave a nervous laugh. “Reads a lot.”
“That was a little clever,” Reynardine said.
Kim sighed. “If you really want to call…”
“I don’t. I’m always the one apologizing, or just not saying anything. If she can’t be bothered to pick up the phone…” Em dropped her own to the couch. “I’m not stupid. Not really. She can call me.”
“I don’t think she’s stupid,” Athena said. “I never said that she was stupid, when I… I mean, I’d never. I didn’t mean for her to think…”
“But you are cold, Athena. And inside your head a lot.” Reynardine grabbed Athena’s hand and gave a squeeze. “People don’t read minds, Honeyweaver. Most don’t even read people. You can think the world of person, but unless you let them know… who knows what they’ll think of you.”
“Shit,” Athena said as tears welled up. “Thought I was done with the crying.”
Reynardine tugged her off the little porch. “Wanna go get cleaned up? Maybe text her and see if she’d mind a visit?”
“Where’s the nearest coffee shop?”
Reynardine watched from across the cafe as Emmaline buzzed in. She moved like a hummingbird; energetic, happy, in love with life.
Probably what Athena saw in her.
No mystery what Emmaline saw in Athena either. Well, maybe a bit, but the joy shining in her eyes as she walked to the small table was pretty clear.
Athena stood up.
Words passed. A moment. Sighs.
Reynardine winked at Athena and pointed to the door.
He was in the parking lot, obtaining a ride home, when she texted. <Thanks, General. I’ll stop by on Christmas, me and Em, if it’s cool. I owe C and you some scotch.>
Reynardine already figured, and planned ahead, but he texted an affirmative.
He was going about eighty on a dark freeway when Ms Claus appeared in his passenger seat.
The Fox smiled. “Ellen. How’s Kris?”
“Busy.” She pulled a cigarette case from her velvet dress pocket. She lit one and the scent of cloves overtook the car. “And missing a key, I believe. You wouldn’t have seen it?”
Reynardine laughed and passed over the golden cane. “Sorry, El. Tell Big Red I owe him one, okay?”
Ms Claus stuck the cane in her bra. “Just one? Reynardine, you’re not so good at math.”
“Unfortunate. But we both know I got other talents.” He clicked his tongue and winked.
“What’d you need this one for anyway?”
“Hmm?” Reynardine winked again, this time with the dead eye. “Helping put a friend on the right path. I might not be a god of love, anymore, but even I could see a chance to help out a bit.”
El smiled. “Always something for a friend, huh?”
“Tis the season, right?”
Epilogue: Blue Christmas
Caldyr picked at her teeth and watched Reynardine closely.
The scent of roasting turkey fogged her mind, for all she knew dinner was never coming, and she’d run out of little cheese filled sausages hours ago.
Maybe days. “Reynardine! I’m dying.”
“Did you even touch the crackers?”
“Not when I could help it,” Caldyr snapped. “We’re out of real food.”
“I’ve got another snack platter,” he said. “But give the guests a few minutes, they’re barely even late yet.”
Caldyr muttered some blasphemy, but that didn’t make the gods hurry.
About ten minutes later someone knocked on the door. Reynardine hurried in to answer and Caldyr stood up.
Bellona, War god, and Reynardine’s friend walked in with a man that reminded Caldyr of warm, home baked apple pie.
Tyr, obviously. She knew Bellona and he were a thing. He was a Norse god of justice and honor in the far back past. Also played a big part in the Great War, but Caldyr wasn’t too sure what he did these days.
From his looks, probably modeled for superhero posters and saved kittens from trees.
Even the beard didn’t dissuade from the wholesome image, just added some grit to help strike a match.
Bellona caught Caldyr’s eyes and mouthed, I know right?
Caldyr gave a small nod and stopped ogling her friend’s boyfriend.
“Hey, C.” Bellona waved. She wore slightly ragged clothes, but still nice. A normal sweater and blue jeans.
Tyr wore flannel—what else—and an easy smile. Bellona was quite a few inches taller, but they were both somewhere over 6 feet. He extended his only hand, the left. His right had been lost a millennia ago to Fenrir the wolf.
“Tyr,” he said in a voice like melted butter.
Something melted, certainly. Caldyr gave his rough hand a hearty shake. “Caldyr Prayers. I’m Reynardine’s… roommate, I guess.”
Tyr nodded. “I’m Bellona’s boyfriend.”
“I prefer protege,” Reynardine said. “For Caldyr. It makes us sound closer.”
“It makes me sound like a crook,” Caldyr snapped. “We’re friends. Barely.”
Tyr nodded. “Yeah. It’s hard with him. Trust can take a lot of time to build and Reynardine’s constant insistence on testing the limits of—”
“Hey!” Reynardine walked in with a platter of cheese and meat. “We don’t need any of that today, Doctor.”
Tyr nodded, resignedly, and took a seat on the couch. “I have a PhD in psychotherapy,” he told Caldyr. “I’m not really licensed, but I run a service for gods,” he paused and looked into the kitchen, “myths, or others of our type.”
“That’s… very interesting.” Caldyr took a mental note—never know when a good shrink might come in handy, especially one in the know.
He shrugged. “Pocket money, if the client can afford to pay, and it’s a hobby I’m passionate about.”
Bellona smiled. “And good at.”
Tyr tapped her knee.
Another knock at the door. Reynardine led Athena, and a younger blonde human Caldyr didn’t know, into the living room.
“Hey all. Caldyr, thanks for hosting,” Athena said, offering her a bottle wrapped in blue and silver tissue paper. “And hosting the other day too.”
Caldyr blushed a bit and took the large, odd shaped bottle. “Ah. Yeah. sorry, I was smashed.”
Athena smiled, a warmer glimmer than her usual cold humor. “Been there a few times. This is Emmaline, by the way.”
“Em,” the blonde said. “Hi… you’re blue.”
Caldyr looked at her arms, covered all the way to the wrist in Christmas sweater. “Weird, wonder how that happened.”
Athena laughed, but muttered. “Sorry, babe, forgot to mention it, but our host this stop is a fairy.”
Em lit up. “Oh, that’s so cool. You’ve got wings too! What?”
Caldyr fought back a smile and gave a little flap. “Well it is kinda. You two want a beer, or something?”
“Actually,” Athena said, loudly and toward the couch. “Can we borrow your boyfriend, Bellona? Me and Em need to set up some…” she sighed and then smiled at the blonde on her arm. “We need to set up some counseling, Tyr, if you’ve got the time.”
Tyr’s jaw dropped. “For you? I mean, both of you?”
Athena gave a small, tight nod. “I’ve got some stuff to work through.”
“Let’s talk a walk,” he said. “We’ll set up a time that’s good for all of us and get some preliminary talking out of the way. This is a good, big step Athena.”
“Been a good week for that sort of thing,” Athena said. “Always time to change, but now’s best.”
Em grabbed her hand a gave a squeeze. “Thank you.”
Reynardine assured them dinner needed a bit still, and they could use a spare 12-pack from the corner store anyway.
“We’ll hurry,” Athena said. “We’ve got a few other places to be before this Christmas is over.”
Reynardine’s face lit up. “Glad to hear it. Sounds like a busy holiday.”
“A blessedly warm one,” Athena told him, and followed the others out.
Caldyr couldn’t shake the feeling she’d missed something, but the bottle drew her attention. An unlabeled vintage, dark as night.
“Nice gift.” Bellona tapped her empty glass. “Just, I mean if you’re going to open it.”
“Right, we really should,” Caldyr said. “I’m not sure what it is, and I’d better know. To thank Athena properly and all.” She gave the wax cap a slow, hard twist. The seal broke to reveal an old cork marked with a gold coat of arms.
Reynardine brought in some clean glasses and a corkscrew.
“This looks like a nice vintage,” Caldyr said. “I assume. I’ve never had anything better than the green and yellow one.”
Reynardine nodded. “A few hundred years old. Scotch, I bet.”
“She was grateful for the company, the other day. And, I imagine, she went all out this year,” Reynardine said with a sly smile. “Guess she caught the Christmas spirit, somewhere.”
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or just hope it’s goin’ alright, dear readers! I hope you’ve enjoyed this little Christmas tale! Thank so much for reading!
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