Mixed Feathers

(Content Warning: Possibly like sexy times ahead…)

Knoel loved to rant about the decay mortal culture brought on Angelic society, but Quizazael kinda liked his morning coffee. His cell phone too, if he admitted it. Which he had on occasion, just Knoel loved to talk in general and interest, or agreement, with her rants didn’t seem to be a factor.

She always rambled to fill the spaces he left and Quiz kinda liked that too.

coffee-2406443_1280

“…we didn’t even have a proper meeting last Sunday.” Knoel pinched off a bite of her blueberry muffin. “Only about half-full. Not that you would know.”

“People are busy,” Quiz replied, yawning and stretching. His left wing hit the counter, brown feather tips bent, so he pulled in fast. Left had always been a little long and he didn’t like people to notice.

“We’re angels, Quizazael, we can’t just skip church to lay around in our boxers and eat cheesy crackers.”

Quiz almost spit out a sip of coffee. He gulped it down and ran a napkin around his mouth. “Those were running shorts, I wouldn’t have answered the door in my boxers.”

Knoel ripped off another hunk of muffin. “Are you going to be ready this Sunday?”

“I promised didn’t I?”

“Whatever that means,” she muttered.

“Angels can’t lie.”

“Yet.” She snapped up the last bite of muffin and crumpled the paper. “Only a matter of time before we’re nothing but winged mortals.”

“Mortal life ain’t so bad.” Quiz watched a taco hut spring from nothing across the street. “I like a lot of mortal stuff.”

“‘Isn’t’ Quiz. ‘Ain’t’ isn’t even a word. And where did you get that… silly drawl from?”

“I downloaded it from the webstore last night.” He sighed and added, “Thought it sounded good,” in a lower voice.

“It’s weird, what’s wrong with your old voice?”

“Nothing, I just… I thought some people might like the deeper tone. And accent,” he said, clearly meaning a very specific person.

Knoel threw her cup toward the trash, and missed both the can and the obvious. “As a Class One Arch-Examiner, I think we should be looking deeper into mortal culture’s effects. Your turn to grab dinner. Want to meet at my place? Seven?” Knoel rose to pick up the trash, but Quiz grabbed it first.

He looked over the room and then into Knoel’s scarlet eyes. “I thought maybe we could go out tonight.”

“Out?”

Without looking, Quiz tossed the cup over his shoulder. It sailed directly into the can dead center. “Maybe get a nice dinner. Out and alone. Together. Like humans, kinda.”

Knoel’s cheeks flared bright red, but she just nodded quietly.

*

The day passed slow. Quiz worked in the Arch Archives, sorting the incoming files and retrieving the occasional requested ones for upper management. He didn’t particularly love his job, but he’d just now gained free emotion about heaven and life entirely, so that’s not much of a surprise.

Emotions weren’t so new, but until recently they were just exotic concepts humans seemed to struggle with.

Then came the update last fall. One day, they were all simple beings, purpose built to do angelic works and and the next, they were a little more human. Suddenly, emotions weren’t nearly as distant or easy to deal with.

Obtaining them gave Quiz new perspective on the mortal experience, which might have been the point.

heart-3124330_1280

Didn’t provide much else he enjoyed so far, besides the new point-of-view about Knoel. She didn’t notice, or seem to feel many of the same issues as him. Mostly Knoel got smarter, louder, and the attraction may have bloomed from those bare trimmings. Quiz saw beyond them, of course, to the new little dog she spoiled and to the sudden interest in old television. To the lovely way her hand twisted a few strands of hair before a rant boiled over, or when she was nervous.

Quiz sighed and added another file to his ‘F’ stack.

The phone rang twice, and he answered both times. Nothing important, a file that needed to be rushed upstairs and another that needed to be rushed back. He didn’t do the rushing, just collected the files or left them in a tray. The Metatron ordered tighter security, so they rushed and hid the files these days. All very official and secure that way, Quiz guessed.

Even mundane ones about everyday people, which described most of the files. Heaven didn’t see much excitement, so angels rarely saw any.

Quiz did one strange thing today, and that may have been the seed growing into the bravery to try something else off-kilter. He left two minutes early. Just walked out, even though the day normally ended at five P.M. exactly. Logic barely touched his decision, it was more an impulse—a flare of desire.

He wanted to start home early, and take a shower before meeting Knoel. Maybe even get a bottle of cologne.

*

Knoel answered the door in blue jeans, a red shirt, and smelling rather different herself.

“You look nice,” she said.

“I know,” he replied without thinking. “I mean thanks, thank you. It’s a new shirt.” And slacks, and shoes. Even got his feathers groomed, the long brown wings shone with the cleaning. “You look amazing.”

“Just what I had in the closet,” Knoel said. “And new makeup. Lipstick.” She pursed her lips and stuck them out to show off the shining purple and Quiz held back another new, but already common, impulse.

“It looks nice.”

Knoel nodded and stepped onto the porch, close enough that Quiz had to step back. She took a deep breath and smiled. “Perfume?”

“The male version is cologne.”

“Is there a difference?”

“No, but men on Earth are touchy about those things.”

“Ah.” Knoel locked the door. “So where are we headed?”

“Um… How does Chinese food sound?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “When did heaven get Chinese food?”

Quiz remembered an advertisement on TV, but he couldn’t place the exact date. “Must be recent. Just started with the restaurant update in the last month or so, right?”

“But… Chinese? That sounds… weird and spicy… I don’t know…” Knoel’s lips twisted to one side.

Quiz wondered how he’d never noticed their funny motions, or why he couldn’t help but focus on them now.

valentines-day-3114529_1280

“We can try it,” she said, finally, reluctantly and with a distinct morose edge.

“Oh, well thanks, your grace. I’d hate to impose.”

Knoel tilted her head back and laughed. “You’re quite welcome, and it is a terrible imposition. If I don’t like it, you’ll have to buy me an ice cream afterward.”

Quiz shook his head. “Ha, nope. Your turn for dessert, that’s the way it is.”

“Fine, but we’re coming back to my place. I’ve still got some of that cake I made in the fridge.”

“On second thought, maybe I will spring for ice cream.” He focused on the cobblestones to hide his smile.

Knoel punched him in the arm. “Gonna hold you to that.”

“See, even you didn’t like that cake.”

Knoel frowned. “Still not sure why it turned out salty.”

“We’ll go over the recipe together later and figure it out.”

The autumn breeze carried their conversation away from botched baking and onto some of Knoel’s favorite subjects. She’d built up a decently long winded case against the use of wing dyes by the time they approached the restaurant.

Heady charred spices scented the air, and cooking meats; steam from vegetables and noodles, some type of sweetness Quiz couldn’t place.

“Smells amazing,” he muttered.

Knoel stared up at him with a raised eyebrow. “The dye?”

“No, the food.” Quiz shook his head. “I don’t know anything about wing dyeing.”

“Oh. Well it’s human hair dye and I’m pretty certain it’s bad for wings.”

“Humans use it. Can’t be that bad.”

“Yeah, but pink!” She rolled her eyes. “They’d have never even tried that in the old order.”

“If some angels want to dye them,” Quiz held the dark wood door open, “then that’s their business.”

Knoel flicked her own soft white wings forward and examined them. “Maybe the tips in a mild color, but full on is just a little garish.”

“Yours would look good bald,” he said. “What color were you thinking?”

She blushed and pushed her wings back. “What does it matter how mine look? And no color, I’d never dye my wings.”

“Sure.” Quiz imagined she’d have purple tips by Friday at the latest. “What looks good to you?”

Knoel looked up at the menu and then to the few dozen red wood tables in the dimly lit room. “Nice place, but the sun is about to set. Let’s eat outside.”

“Whatever you’d like, but what are we actually eating?”

In the end, after the traditional debate, they settled on ginger noodles, fried chicken, and dumplings. The food arrived in little white cartons with dark wings stamped into the side, the seal of the Metatron. He ran a lot of the new businesses.

Quiz carried the bag and Knoel grabbed two canned drinks from a strange vending machine that hadn’t been there when they entered. The writing matched some of the lettering in the restaurant, heaven must be diversifying their districts again.

Good, Quiz liked the idea of exploring Earth cultures and Knoel adored complaining about new things. They’d both have fun.

The sun lingered in the South, and their normal park had turned into a shopping mall while they ordered. Instead they carried their food to the outskirts of town and time itself, and sat overlooking a nice little void on the edge of existence that Quiz liked to stare into.

Knoel picked up the noodle box first. “We should have got plates.”

“Want me to run back?”

She grabbed a set of chopsticks. “If you want to.”

“I don’t mind sharing.”

“Fine with me, if you’re good with it.”

“I’m perfectly okay.”

“Me too.”rose-3121249_1280

The noodles were good, spicy and sweet at the same time, and Knoel ate every last bit of the chicken. Quiz finished her share of the dumplings, as she only tried one, and spit half of that into the endless maw of rainbows under heaven’s border.

But Knoel didn’t seem to mind the food adventure overall. Progress, although what Quiz had been counting remained a mystery even to him.

After dinner, she let him toss the trash into the void. He liked to the way the little boxes crumpled and twisted, falling into a singularity and repeating before disappearing entirely. (Quiz never knew, but the trash ended up a mile outside of a landfill in Hoboken, New Jersey per universal law.)

“Want your—” Quiz picked up the little cookie. On contact, the information flowed into him. For a long second, his eyes flared gold. “Want your fortune cookie?”

Knoel grabbed one and got the update as well. “No, I don’t like the taste.”

Without opening the package, Quiz snapped his cookie. He ripped one end and pulled out the slip of paper. “What about the fortune?”

She shook her head. “What does yours say?”

“‘She’s cute. Good luck, you’ll need it’,” Quiz read aloud.

“Really?” Knoel snatched the little paper. “I’ll be danged.” She opened her cookie. “ As a Class One Arch-Examiner, I have to check, of course. Hmm. ‘Go easy on the featherhead’.”

“Fortunate cookies indeed,” Quiz noted and flicked his paper into the void. The cookie tasted okay. A little bland, but he didn’t expect much from complimentary sweets that already included prophecies. Real dessert sounded good about now. “Ice cream?”

“Walk a bit first?” Knoel countered with a smile. “And then maybe we’ll just go back to my place, I’m pretty tired.”

“Just a candy bar then? Can’t be a date without dessert…”

“Eating take-out with your best friend isn’t a date anyway.”

Quiz steeled his courage and tried for a small smile. “What if we make out afterward?”

Knoel coughed, stumbled over her own feet, and turned to stare back at him. “What kind of question is that?!”

“We’re two blocks from your place, so a rather urgent one,” he replied in all seriousness.
She blushed and looked over the street. “I’ve changed my mind. Buy me ice cream.”

“Is that a no?”

“That’s a buy me ice cream while I stall for time to think,” she said. “Take it or leave it.” Panic was half-a-second from overwhelming her scarlet eyes—better reaction than he expected, really.

“It’s plenty, let’s go.” Quiz held out a hand.

Knoel studied her own first and then carefully took his.

Her skin was soft and she smelled a little like velvet feels: soft, shimmering, warmth. Easy to sink into and just always about right.

Floriel’s Confectionery served the best ice cream in heaven since they opened last week, so Quiz led straight there. Knoel hadn’t been joking about the thinking, she barely even noticed as they entered the shop and let him do all the ordering.

“A large waffle cone sundae with everything and two spoons.”

The server nodded, eyes on Knoel.

She’d started texting, probably Idriel or Caniel for advice, and her thumbs quickly became violet-polished blurs on the poor screen. They were her best friends, besides Quiz, and Idriel was half of heaven’s first couple.

“And two coffees,” he added, remembering she mentioned being tired. “Something cold and sweet.”

Quiz deposited Knoel in a corner, not too close to the door, and went to collect the food.
The phone was gone when he returned, although it buzzed away in her pocket.

“I get the okay?” he asked.

“Traitors is what they are,” she muttered, pulling the sundae to herself. “What kind of friend…”

“What?”

“Nothing. Them, not you.” Knoel’s eyes narrowed to bare scarlet slits. “You’ve done quite enough tonight, Quizazael.”

“What did I do?”

“You tricked me into this date,” she replied. “I was expecting a quiet evening watching TV…”

“We can still watch some TV. And we’ve been friends a while… would trying more be so bad?”

“More like what?”

Quiz’s turn to blush. “Like… kissing. Holding hands was nice too. I want to do romantic things, sometimes. Like be a couple…”

“A couple? Sleep together and everything? Like Idriel and Hyatel?”

“Yes, like that!” The first two were both male, but Quiz knew love’s true androgynous nature. He and Knoel could make it work too. “Would you be a half of my couple?”

“I’d be willing to give it a chance.” Knoel’s eyes flicked to the door, but she took out her phone and stared at that a moment. “Your place is closer,” she said, finally. “And I’ve already walked Lottie today, so I can… we could maybe go there. For coffee.” She gulped at the one already in hand. “Private coffee.”

“Let’s go watch that TV,” Quiz offered. “I’ll get a to-go box.”

“Thanks, that sounds nice.”

The server’s eyes bordered on scandalous, but so did Quiz’s intentions—he didn’t worry too much.

tulips-2148706_1280.jpg

Knoel carried the food this time, and they sipped at their coffees and walked slow. No one replaced the moon after the last war, so only stars lit their walk, besides the occasional street lamp or wandering gaseous being.

Quiz enjoyed a ruby glow from a passing one. The light really played well of Knoel’s nervous face.

The neighborhood he lived in hadn’t converted to modern row houses yet. The older style wasn’t very nice, simple square buildings with little outer color. Quiz filled the inside of his with posters to make up for the bland outside. Movies, art, and music, and whatever caught his eye. A particularly vivid zombie dragon Knoel hated occupied the space above his TV.

Normally criticism came easier than breathing for her, but tonight she just shook her head. “Put on that witch show.”

Quiz turned on FeatheryFlix and Knoel went into the kitchen. His freezer door squeaked and she returned a long moment later without the sundae bag, but glowing with a strangely attentive smile. Quiz watched every motion as she sashayed across the floor, his mind lost somewhere in the pleasantness of her company.

Knoel bit her bottom lip and dropped onto her normal end of the couch. Both hands flew to her mouth. “Ouch.”

Quiz held back a laugh. “Are you okay?”

“It’s nothing, I’m fine. It’s healed. Bit my lip.”

A touch of blood still shined. Quiz wiped the drop with his thumb and held back a laugh.

“Don’t grin at me, Quizazael! I was trying to be seductive for your weirdo couple thing.”

“Thanks.” He leaned down. “But you’re plenty seductive just lookin’ at me.”

Knoel turned red again and Quiz lost all patience. He closed the gap, capturing their first kiss in a clumsy bump.

Her lips twisted beneath his own and he mirrored the smile. Knoel pulled her leg onto the couch and Quiz dropped his at her crux. She shifted downward slightly, pressing against him, and broke the kiss.

Their eyes locked for a stark, intrusive, and blistering moment.

rose-3063284_1280.jpg

Knoel grinned and sighed.

“What?” Quiz asked, leaning forward to kiss her cheek.

“I’m feeling warm and buzzy and happy.”

“Buzzy? Was it the kiss?”

She winked. “We should double check, I’m really not sure. As a Class One Arch-Examiner, I’d imagine it was my duty.” Her hand wandered upward and twisted a lock of brown hair. “To explore this, I mean.” The hand teased down and stopped at her belt.

Quiz traced the path with the tip of his fingers, enjoying her twitch and the slight flutter from her wing. “I’m always willing to be your test subject.” He stole another kiss, and a longer caress upward. She tasted of chocolate and coconut—her favorite sundae toppings and forever an indelible path to this memory.

“How do my lips feel to you?”

“Like I’ve been missing a bit of heaven,” Quiz muttered.

“You should shave more,” she said.

“What if I grew it out?”

Knoel laughed and shook her head. “We’re…” She looked down at his knee and then at her own breasts. Both nipples were taught under the red fabric of her shirt. “It could be worth trying, if you wanted to.”

With a push of her wings, Knoel sat mostly upright and leaned close. “I like the scent, thing. The colony.”

“Cologne. And thanks, I hoped you would.”

“You’re wearing my lipstick now,” she muttered into his ear. “That’s incredible for some reason. I feel possessive. Like I should mark you.”

“Why?”

“So no one else thinks they can take you.”

“Oh.”

Knoel gripped him a little tighter. “You don’t want other people, right Quizazael?”

“No, no, not at all. I didn’t realize you thought others might want me.”

“Of course they would.” Knoel leaned back and eyed him up and down. “Tall, dark wings, bright orange eyes and… well the drawl might be nicer than I let on.” She looked down at her body. “Would others want me, you think?”

“Certainly, but I feel confident that I’ll hold onto you.”

Knoel frowned. “I don’t feel confident about any of this. Do you think that’s strange?” The frown deepened into something close to panic. “Am I weird?”

“Nah. That’s natural, I’m sure. My confidence comes from foolishness, or love maybe… they feel about the same right now.” Quiz stopped his hand on her belt and slipped it under the clingy shirt. “You are weird about stuff, Darlin’. It’s strange that you’re worried about things other than my hands. I’m gettin’ a mite insulted.”

Her body twisted; warm muscles shifting under his palm. “I’m starting to lose focus, if that makes you feel better.”

“It does.”

“I should be writing this down. Maybe recording.”

Quiz blinked and chuckled. “We can if you want, but you want to experiment more first?”

Before he finished speaking, Knoel shook her head. “Not… no, not like that. Wow, you do take to this couple thing, Quiz.”

“I’ve thought about it a lot.” He caught one of her earlobes with his teeth and tugged.

“About you, a lot.”

“That feels amazing.”

“Me thinking about you?”

“The ear nibbling! Do it more.”

Quiz repeated the process then mixed the formula, playing teeth over her neck. He tickled behind her ear and searched her warm body for any reaction. Knoel wiggled downward, and her wings pushed her body up into his. Quiz knew the buzzing himself now, the soft tingles and pops of sensation. They rang deep inside and on his surface. As often happened when thoughts of Knoel infected his own, he found the pressure working it’s way south.

One of her hands followed the sensation, down his body and to his belt. “Can you take this off?” she asked.

“Sure, but I think we’re supposed to undre—”

“Just sod the process, okay? Clothes off.”

“Yes’m.”

Quiz stood and yanked his shirt off. The cloth ripped, not made for angels. Didn’t matter, he’d buy another one.

Knoel watched, nodding slowly and with a wicked smile.

“Are you joining me?”

She wiggled her eyebrows. “We’ll see. Might decide to just observe for tonight.”

“That’s what I’m worried about. Shirt maybe?”

“In a second.” Knoel leaned back on the couch. “When did you know you liked me?”

“Remember that day last June? The summer’s first heavy blood rains… We got soaked on the way into work, ‘cause I just had to try the ‘dang’ coffee thing.”

“The week you cut your hair?”

Quiz looped his thumbs into his slacks and forced them off. He stood naked and hard, with her scarlet eyes burning over him. “I just knew. You smiled, I stared, you told to me to stop staring and I was in love.”

“We’ve known each other since the dawn of time and it took that long? And why today?”
Quiz considered that while Knoel pulled herself off the couch. “Maybe good love just takes it’s own time. Can’t rush forever.”

She gripped his hand, and pulled him toward the bedroom. “Now that sounded pretty great in your drawl. Let’s go to your bedroom, I don’t want zombie dragons to see my privates.”

“I’d follow you anywhere,” he said, urging her forward. “But let’s hurry.”

Knoel did, stripping her clothes with far too little care. She rushed down the hall to Quiz’s room and left her panties at the door. The slow shift onto the bed revealed well-thought dreams and more in full life, and Quiz tried to forge the view to memory. Her rosy nipples caught his attention, and the soft curve of her inner thigh.

He climbed after her, throwing a quick and hard kiss onto her lips, before they collapsed to the bed. She groaned and pushed on his chest. Quiz sat up, and moved himself between her legs to look down at her pussy.

“I thought you squashed me,” Knoel gasped.

Quiz trailed a finger down her skin and past the small patch of curly hair. “Shh, I need to figure this out.”

“Wha—”

He stuck a finger in and she shuddered, covering her mouth.

“Warn me!”

He removed the finger. “Sorry.”

Knoel pulled the hand back. “Don’t stop, just say something.”

A little slower this time, he slipped a finger inside. Warm and just a little wet. Softer than anything I can imagine. Twitches a bit as she shudders…

Quiz grunted and grabbed the back of her leg. A yank and she laid back. Her wing spread out, tips inches from the walls. He moved his fingers, thumb resting on her mound and she responded with twitches and gasps. Each motion seemed to carry through her, rocking her body and dancing her wings.

After minutes, Knoel’s hand moved in, circling his wrist. She pulled him away, and examined the wet fingers. “Do you enjoy this?”

“No.” He used the other hand and she let go of him to clasp at the bed. “Your questions are normally fine, but right now it’s wearing my patience something awful.”

“Fingering me, I mean. Featherhead is right…”

Quiz nodded. “So very much, Darlin’. Looking forward to going farther too, of course…”
Knoel teased her fingers down his bare stomach, leaving a trail of sensation that pulsed even as it faded. Her nails touched first, cold and hard before warmer flesh cupped his cock.

“Ah,” Quiz twitched and pulled back, she moved with him.

“What?” Knoel let him go.

“I didn’t expect you to grab that.”

She shrugged. “It’s the next step, I Googled it earlier.”

“Me too, did you watch the videos though?” He dropped over her again, careful not to crush her entirely.

“No. I was thinking maybe we can try—Ack!”

With a push, his penis slid to her core, and she bucked. He grunted, low buzz turning to a fevered pitch in a heartbeat. “That’s definitely quite good.”

Knoel nodded. “Yes, we can agree that was mutually—”

He drew back and the air around his dick felt cool and uncomfortable for a short second.

“Pleasurable,” Knoel finished. “Nice. All very nice.”

“I’m not sure what I’m doing.”

Knoel grabbed the back of her knees. “We’ll figure it out. Just keep trying different stuff until it works.”

Quiz rocked in and out of her, finding rhythm for a few strokes and losing it just as easy. Slowly, and with a few fumbles, the concordance built. She gripped his back and pushed upward to stay joined. Gasps filled the bare spaces between moans.

With a shattered cry, her whole being twitched, wings curled inward, and Knoel collapsed under him. Quiz joined her in ecstasy, finding a moment of purity beyond words in their oneness.heart-2028655_1280

Moments later, he rolled over and stared at the ceiling.

Knoel climbed onto his wing and scooted close. “You feel anything?”

Quiz shuddered at the touch of her breath against his neck. “Happy. Hungry. You?”

“Sore. Those things too. I think I’ll want more in a bit though.”

“Already? Was I bad or…”

Knoel rolled her eyes and slapped her wing against his chest. The cool breeze felt nice. “No, but like I had fun. You were fun. Being a couple is good, Quizazael. You think too much sometimes.”

“Try not to. Want to split that sundae?”

Sadness overtook her sweaty face. “I… I’m not moving, Quiz. Just no.”

“I’ll get it.” He shoved Knoel softly to she side, and took a moment to enjoy her skin under his palm.

She pushed back against him, angling for a better view. “I’ll have to think of a nice reward.”

Quiz chuckled on his way down the hall. The sundae waited on the freezer’s middle shelf, still in the bag, and he grabbed some drinks to go with the snack.

And a bottle of chocolate syrup for other purposes entirely.

On the way back, Quiz stopped to untack his zombie dragon. He rolled the poster and shelved it until he could find a new home. Something else could go above the TV, he had plenty to brighten the place up now.

ice-2377713_640

Authors’s Note: Thanks for reading and have a great Valentine’s Day! Hope you enjoyed and if you did, maybe leave a like? Sharing would be great too! Also I’ve got a novella out that’s pretty much very not like this. An action, mystery about a sassy water fairy and a tricky fox. Still weird and funny.

Check it out on Amazon for just 99 cents!

TybaltCover one

Advertisements

Silver And Cold: A Glass Fate Christmas Tale

(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…
Emmaline.

“Fuck.”

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.”

“Oh fuck.”

“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.”

“Reynardine—”

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.

“First swig?”

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.”

“Bullshit.”

“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…

Oh.

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?”

“No, but—”

Reynardine paused.

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.”

“Which is?”

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.

“Phone dead?”

“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.”

“Settle down?”

She nodded.

“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.”

“Amen.”

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?”

“Good time?”

“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.”

“Probably?”

“I’m just the conductor,” Reynardine said. He stuck out his tongue and tasted the air.

“Olympus, 1954.”

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.

Apollo.

“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.”

Snap.

 

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.

“Nice sweater.”

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.”

“At what?”

“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.

“Oh.”

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.”

“But… why?”

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.”

***

Snow.

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?”

“Oregon, actually.”

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.”

“Who?”

“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.

“Bullshit.”

“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.

“But cold.”

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.

They hugged.

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.

“Hello, Reynardine.”

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.”

“Generous gift.”

“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.”

 

End Tale

 

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!

 

Can’t get enough Reynardine? Wondering how he and Caldyr became friends? Pick up Tybalt Perdition on Amazon now! Makes a helluva Christmas gift too!

And watch for more adventures in the Glass Fate series!

© 2017 John Cordial.

Rust Red, Iron, & Thyme

Blood, crimson and fresh, marked Alice’s trail.

The box cutter slipped, the retractable blade touched her palm a bare second–A three-inch long gash shined clean for a long heartbeat.  Blood flowed a moment later.  She hurried to the restroom, just two aisles away from where she stacked toys.

Alice watched her life rinse away in the pink water circling the drain.  Using paper towels, she wrapped the cut.  Palm bound tight, the woman continued off in search of a supervisor to take an accident report. Continue reading

Dead Habits

(A bit of fiction partially inspired by the three songs in the above playlist.)

***

Casey crushed the paper between his fingers, loosening the stiff rectangle to make rolling easier.

He’d started in Kansas with a simple mission: carry an envelope to San Francisco.  The gunman didn’t normally take delivery work, but for the price offered Casey would change his name to Pony Express. Continue reading

Flesh: Character Prompts

Okay, so you want to create jaw-dropping characters no one will ever forget?

That’s my goal too and in pursuit of that I’ve created a huge list of writing prompts. Then I made a whole set of them into images to share with you. (Practicing my image making skills and I’m nice like that.)

So from here they’re pretty self-explanatory and red.  What?  I like red. Continue reading

Scales in the Sun

Note: This one is a little scary. Just a warning. Header is a painting by John Waterhouse (From Wikipedia Commons.)

The moon fell in waves of muted light across the estuary.

It was the third night in a row they watched the sunrise together.  Dylan relaxed in Becca’s arms, water soaking their feet.  Even near dawn the heat of the previous day hung over the beach. Continue reading

Marshmallow Trail

Sweat rolled off Kint’s forehead, but the tengu barely seemed to notice the heat.

Hills of long grasses, golden already in may, blew in the mild breeze.  He could see it’s effect but Kint felt nothing except the baking sun slicing through his clothes.  The road ahead was long, a gray snake that cut the land.

The tengu behind him, Noda, actually whistled, apparently enjoying being roasted alive on the highway. Continue reading