The first memory Dean Constantinou had was of his father. The tall, burly man laughing as he embraced Dean, a ragged beard scratchy against Dean’s cheek. He coughed and squirmed, but laughed with delight along with the man. It was also the first time he’d seen his father in person. Up to that day, the man’s sole presence in Dean’s life had been in photographs.
His mother, usually a stoic and sad-eyed figure, was smiling too. She stood, her arms crossed over her stomach, just a little withdrawn. Harry reached out, pulling her in as well, and the three of them hugged, tightly squeezing one another.
“I’ve got a month before my next tour of duty.” Harry looked into Acanit’s eyes. “Are you alright, darling?” he asked, as Dean sat between the two of them, the movie playing on the small TV. The on-base housing wasn’t luxurious, but it was fun, and there were always lots of other children around to play with. His mother spent a lot of time crying, but she seemed to be happy enough right now as the three of them sat together. Dean was turning five next week. He was terribly glad that his father would be there for it, because his mother hadn’t been sure he’d make it.
“It’s fine, darling.” Acanit smiled softly. “You’re going out again, are you…?” Harry smiled apologetically, and kissed her softly on the lips.
“You saw the planes. The next one might be carrying a nuclear weapon, or something worse. This can’t happen again.” He shook his head softly. “I hate being away from you two. But I want to make the world safe.” Acanit laughed softly, and pressed her face against Harry’s father. Dean groaned, squirming off of the couch, to sit on the floor. His parents could be so embarrassing sometimes.
“I know you do. That’s part of why I admire you, Harry.” She kissed him softly.
Dean didn’t remember the birthday. There were lots of pictures of it, though. He was happy in the pictures, holding his new copy of Alice in Wonderland. The book was a strange one, but he’d enjoyed it a lot more than the movie, which always made him a little scared and tearful.
“Does Dad love us?” Dean asked his mother. He was eight. His father had left on another tour of duty, only a few weeks ago. Dean was helping to dry the dishes as his mother washed them. He looked up at her slightly surprised face, his expression calm.
“Of course he does, son. What would make you think he doesn’t?”
“He’s never around. And you look sad when he’s not around. I know you miss him a lot. Sometimes, at night, I hear you calling out his name when you’re having bad dreams.” Acanit’s face grew softer, and she smiled.
“Oh, son. Of course he loves us. I could never doubt that. He protects us the way he knows how. You know, neither your father nor I were born in America. We moved here, when we were both quite young. He used to be a mechanic, and I was a young dancer. We met in a club. There was a very cruel owner there, who had forced your father to take out a very harsh loan. I had been working there for a long time. It was a very unpleasant place.” She laughed softly, and stared into the distance.
“Your father had an idea. We managed to rob the club, and we got away, to America. Your father became a great soldier, and started working for the United States, because it was a place where there was a sense of honor. And justice.” The corners of her lips turned down. “At least, it used to be. I fear that he is being taken advantage of sometimes…”
“But what matters is that your father fights hard to make sure that we will be safe, and taken care of. And when I have bad dreams, about… the club, then I remember him, and the way that he saved me. He really is a decent and kind-hearted man.” She smiled softly, and ruffled Dean’s hair. And Dean forgave his father a little bit for not being there.
When Dean was twelve, the woman in red came to visit. She knocked at the door, and Dean opened it. On the base, there was no fears of outsiders. They weren’t going to get away with anything when there were so many military police around. “Excuse me, young man.” She knelt down, and smiled.
She was pretty, and looked a lot like his own mother, though her hair was bright red and her eyes brilliant green. She wore a red dress that hung down to her knees, and a pair of red high heels. She looked much fancier than anyone on the base. “Do you know where your mother is? I’m an old friend of hers. We have to talk about something.” He gave her a suspicious look, and she laughed softly. “Tell her that it’s her old friend, Bella.”
His mother looked surprised when he gave her the woman’s name, but she invited the stranger in. “Here, Dean.” She handed him a ten dollar bill. “Go see a movie with your friends. Me and Bella are going to catch up. Alright?”
He never forgot the movie he saw. It was Star Trek. He’d never seen the old ones, but he liked the new one well enough. He still couldn’t think of the movie without tearing up, even years later. When he returned home was a group of military police, standing around, speaking softly with one another. One of them, Sergeant Rourke, spotted him. A look of guilt crossed his face immediately. Something in Dean knew what had gone wrong. His mother had always been sad. There’d always been pain in her expression. But he’d never heard the word suicide before that day.
Dean’s godfather, O’Malley, was a kind man. He had gone to ranger school with Harry, and had been there at the wedding between Acanit and Harry. O’Malley and Dean lived together for two years, until the call came from his father. He was coming back. It was Christmas. It would be the first time that Harry had seen his father since his mother died.
“I don’t want to go with him. I’ve seen you for more of my life than I ever saw him.” Dean spoke softly, his chin on his hand. He was tall for his age, and strong, he knew that. He took after his father more than his mother. The only things that she had given him were his temperament, O’Malley would say.
“Your father’s a bit of a wanderer, I know that much. He wasn’t there as much as he could’ve been, but he did what he did because he loved you and your mother. He was going to retire when he knew he had a proper nest egg for you two. But there was always another war, another police action, something new that had to be done.” O’Malley shook his head. “He did it because he wanted you to grow up in a world that was safe.”
“If he’d been around, maybe Mom would still be alive. He cared more about his wars than he did about us.”
O’Malley sighed. “Your father hated war. That’s why he fought so hard. You know, he and I were in Somalia together. I never saw someone with such a depth of compassion for people who were trying to shoot him.” The old sergeant smiled softly. “I know it hurts, son. But I hope you’ll give him a chance. If he’s coming back for you, it’s because he wants to be with you. Something’s changed, that much is for sure.”
What had changed was obvious. When Harry arrived, it was with a new woman. Dean hated her immediately. She had arch, stern features, and a haughty attitude, so unlike his own mother. She looked down her nose at him, and she was cold as ice around both him and Harry. Her name was Megara Drakos, and she introduced herself as a nanny. Soon after, she and Harry’s father were married.
Harry sat in the moving van ahead of them. Dean did his best to stay calm as he sat next to Megara. He was fifteen, now. His father had completed his last tour of duty. He was retiring from the armed forces, and they were moving to some town in the sticks called Zion. There would be nobody he knew there, and Megara was the one who insisted on it. “I don’t understand why we have to move there.”
“It is where I was born. I own a house there. It will be a chance for the two of you to settle down somewhere new, and fresh. To start a new life together. Your father’s final tour of duty has finished. He wishes to devote his life to being with you, now. He has made sacrifices you could not begin to imagine so that he can spend this time with you. You owe it to him to be grateful.”
“What, he’s sacrificed being shot at for me?” Dean asked. He knew the tone was petulant. He hated it, but she was so damn arrogant. Something inside of him rankled at it. He had forgiven his father for his mother’s death, mostly. He’d even forgiven him for the things that had happened while she was alive, mostly. His father had always done his best to leave him in good hands. “Why can’t he look at me?” Dean asked, trying to look the woman in the eye. Her gaze was as cold as ice, and he had to break eye contact quickly, his eyes watering.
“Dean. Your father fears losing you. I have had children, too, and I lost them all. It has never stopped hurting. Your father is afraid of getting too close to you, because he worries that his past may come back to haunt you. Your father has lived a far more chaotic, and a far more dangerous life, than you have any idea. I will not tell you the details now, because those are for him to share with you. But you should show him a bit more gratitude than you do.” Her eyes flashed. “Were you my child, I would discipline you physically. But your father has far more mercy and belief in you than I.”
It had not been a very satisfying answer. Dean sulked the whole way on the drive, nearly twelve hours in a small car. Every possession they had fit in the U-haul truck ahead. The endless trees were an odd experience for him. Soon, they were at the manor, and Harry unloaded the car. “You know, , they have a football team at the local school. I’m told that tryouts will be happening soon.”
“I don’t know, dad. Nobody knows me there. Are they really going to want me on the team?” Dean asked, doubtfully. He turned a page as he read Through the Looking Glass. He was taking a moment to rest, in defiance of Megara, whose frosty gaze was fixed on him.
“Trust me, son. It’ll come naturally to you.” Harry smiled. Some of what Megara had said had rubbed off on Dean. Even if he didn’t trust the woman herself, he’d spent the last two years seeing more of his father than he ever had before as he worked on the base, finishing up his tour of duty. He was going to be a lumberjack or something. It was hard not to get closer to him under those circumstances. “Besides, maybe you’ll meet a nice young girl. I know you’re missing McKayla, but you’ll make friends easily.”
For the most part, he did. Dean didn’t find most of the people at his new school very interesting. They all seemed- He hated to use the word- civilian. Normal, quiet lives, lived by normal, quiet people. After living on the base, they seemed so dull. He went out for the football tryouts, and was on the varsity team by the end of the month. It was easy for him. He practiced diligently, but he didn’t particularly love the sport. He cared about his teammates, and the people around him, but they weren’t what made him happy in Zion. That honor went to her.
He met her after school on a rainy spring day. She was in the grade above his. She sat in the library, in a small, out-of-the-way corner. He had been searching for a book. He forgot entirely which book when he saw her. Her hair was pure white, and she sat in a delicate white skirt, and a sunny yellow blouse. Her skin was pale, and he recognized her as one of the Asian students, though he was sure he’d never seen her before. She was wearing a large sunhat, and she looked quite surprised as he approached her. “Um. Hey. You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.” She raised an eyebrow at this, but her cheeks flushed slightly.
“That’s… very nice of you to say.” She closed the book. It was a copy of the Hunting of the Snark.
“Oh! You’re a fan of Carroll?” he asked, grinning as he took a seat next to her. This seemed to get a little bit more of a reaction from her, as she tilted her head and smiled.
“Why, yes.” She smiled. “I always liked his stories. They’re full of very strange things happening, and sort of silly people, but even though it’s hard to recognize anything that’s happening, it all seems familiar enough that you can guess, right?” She smiled, holding out a demure hand. “I’m Isabelle Onnashi.”
He took her hand, and smiled. “Dean Constantinou.” The two of them ended up talking until the library closed, hours later, discussing the story. As they were ushered out by the school librarian, he smile. “I’d really like to see you again tomorrow.” She giggled softly.
“I’m sure we will. I’d enjoy reading with you some more. Do you mind if I invite my friend Susan? I think she’d love to meet you.”
Isabelle made life suddenly worth it. She was kind, shy, clever, and if Dean were completely honest with himself, incredibly attractive. Susan was quick-witted and had a sharp tongue, but she seemed to like Dean enough to take it easy on him. The three of them spent many evenings in the library together. While he enjoyed the football practice, he didn’t need it as much as the others on his team did. His natural talent for the sport gave him time to be with Susan and Isabelle.
“So… You’re Chinese? I thought most of the families here are Japanese?”
Susan nodded. “Yeah. My parents adopted me, because they couldn’t have children. They were Japanese, but they didn’t really care about me being Japanese. I wish everyone in the town were a bit more like them.” She frowned softly. “The adults are usually polite, but the other students can be pretty mean. And… Well, it’s hard getting along with someone when you look different from them.” She waved at her own eyes, emerald green and shining brightly.
Isabelle nodded sadly, smiling. “Most of the Greek kids are nice enough, and the Native ones are really sweet, but… You know how it is.” She tugged at her hair self consciously, her face down. Dean leaned in, and kissed her cheek. It was the first time he’d kissed her, and her face went red, but she was smiling.
“Jeez, get a room you two,” Susan muttered. Then all of them laughed.
“Hey, Dean. Have you ever heard of the story of the White Snake?” Isabelle asked, smiling brightly. He shuddered slightly.
“Ugh. I hate snakes. My step-mother has a bunch of them. They’re all weird, and scaly, and slithery. They creep me out, big-time.” There was a brief, awkward pause as the two young women exchanged a look. “What?” he asked, an eyebrow raised. The two of them laughed. “What? They’re weird! They’re all hissy and stuff, and they try to crush you.” Isabelle wrapped her arms around him, squeezing tight, a grin on her face.
“You wimp. Like you’re ever going to get hurt by a snake. So, there once was this immortal…” And she told him the story. And he listened, frowning at first, and then beginning to smile. It was hardly Lewis Caroll, but…
“I guess that’s an okay snake. You must like that story a lot, huh? A pretty white-haired woman as the romantic lead, a green-eyed girl as her best friend, and she winds up with everything she wanted.”
Isabelle looked down at her hands. Susan reached over, and pat her on the back, while she gave Dean a look he couldn’t quite decipher. “It’s kind of a cruel story, though, really. The guy dies of fright when he sees her. And even when he gets brought back, they spend most of the story trying desperately to get back together. Even if they love one another, they end up spending so much time apart.”
“It’s about a monster. Even if the monster falls in love, it’s still wrong, and they suffer a lot because they don’t just do the sensible thing, and look for their own kind,” Isabelle said softly.
Dean smiled. “I think that if it were me, I’d rather go through all the trouble. Even if it hurts a lot, you know things are going to end right. And true love is worth that pain.”
“I am not so foolish as to believe that forbidding you to see Isabelle Onashi would stop you. I only hope that you can be wise enough to recognize trouble when you see it.” Megara sat at the dinner table, her eyes locked on Dean’s. “She is trouble. Not in the sense that she is a bad person. But if you stay around her, your life will be filled with pain. And so will your father’s.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he asked, his knuckles white around the steak knife’s handle. She narrowed her eyes. He met them. He didn’t flinch away from her gaze like he used to, and they stared at one another for a long time before she sighed, and spoke.
“The Onnashi family is a dangerous one. I am not certain of the motives of Irayama Onnashi, and she does not care for those who are not her own.”
“How can you say that? She’s not racist. Hell, she was willing to take Isabelle in!”
“That is not what I mean.” Megara sighed. “This will all become so much clearer when you’ve turned 18, and are an adult.” She frowned at him. “Why can you never once simply take me at my word?”
“Because you never explain yourself,” he growled, as he stood up, practically daring her to command him to stay. “How can I trust you to know what you’re doing if you want to keep everything secret?”
She sighed, and he walked out of the door.
When Isabelle turned 18 things started to go wrong. She withdrew. She grew more secretive, more fearful, and she started avoiding him. He sat in the cafeteria with Susan. It was the fifth day in a row with no sign of Isabelle. “I wish she’d talk with us.” Susan rested a hand comfortingly on his shoulder.
“She’s going through some things at home. We’re all going through some strange things. Dealing with growing up, thinking about college, and family. You know she still cares about you. This is just another thing that she has to work through.” Susan hugged him gently from the side, and he sighed softly.
“I just want to be there for her.”
Susan nodded sympathetically, and squeezed him. “I’ll talk to her. Okay?” She smiled softly.
The call came late in the night. It was a Friday. “She’s going to be at the shack, tonight. Go there. Be with her. Okay? I convinced her to tell you the truth about everything that’s been happening.”
“I don’t want you going out with that girl.” Harry stood tall and fierce, his arms crossed. Dean stood in the door-frame, full of anger. He hadn’t expected this from him, of all people.
“Dad, she’s one of two actually fun people in this town. What, are you going to lock me up?” Dean frowned at his father. This wasn’t like Harry. Megara must have put him up to it.
“I just worry about you. You’ve got your whole future ahead of you. I want you to be careful, so… Just. Call me. Alright? Check in with me. I want to make sure that you’re alright.” Dean struggled to avoid rolling his eyes. “Yes, I know, your old dad worries about you. And try to get along with Megara, alright? She really does care about you, you know. She just wants to make sure that you’re safe, too.”
“She’s not my real mother.” Dean slammed the door behind him, and walked into the night.
When he reached the shack, it was lit from within. An old storm lantern was flickering merrily. He opened the door, and Isabelle froze. She had been crying. Tears ran down her cheeks, dragging long lines of black mascara across her cheeks as she sniffled. Her hair was a mess, and she was curled up on the couch. She swallowed. There was a half-empty bottle of wine on the small table next to the couch. “Go away, Dean,” she muttered, softly. Her voice was slightly slurred, and she rubbed her eyes. “I’m a messs. I don’t want to ssee you right now. Okay?” She grabbed the bottle, and took another swig, and he pulled it gently from her hands. She put up only a token resistance. He took a seat next to her, and took a sip of the wine. It was unpleasant as hell, and he coughed. It was rather bitter, and stung a little going down. But drinking it seemed to stiffen his resolve a little bit.
“I know you’ve been worried lately. I know that something happened, and you’re stressed. But I’m here for you, Isabelle,” he said as he rested an arm over her shoulder, setting the bottle down. “Whatever’s happening, whatever you’re worried about, I’m going to be there for you. I promise.” His throat tight was tight as he stroked her shoulder.
“I’m a monsster. You sshould jusst leave now, before you get hurt. Because you wouldn’t want to ssee me ass I really am, Dean, I know it.” She sniffled. “I’m curssed. Jusst like the white ssnake. You’d probably never forgive me if you ssaw what I really looked like. And I couldn’t sstand to hurt you by sshowing you.”
Dean was silent for a few seconds. The White Snake had always been a story to him. Just a silly metaphor. Tonight, in the low light of the storm lantern, on the edge of the lake… “I want to see. No matter what it cost me, Isabelle.” He squeezed her gently, both arms around her shoulders now. They heaved with each breath she took, her body shaking like a leaf. “Hey, come on. What could possibly scare me that much? The guy in the story was from an ancient, suspicious culture. I’ll probably be fine,” he suggested gamely, smiling. Then, he kissed her, very softly, on the lips.
“I… I can’t,” she whispered softly, and hugged him. “I’m ssorry. I jusst can’t.” He nodded, and held her. The two of them nodded off, and sleep came for them, eventually. He trusted her, after all. She’d show him eventually, and it would be no big deal. He reached over, and turned off the storm lantern, as Isabelle’s breathing grew regular.
He woke, in the middle of the night. The shed was almost pitch black. He grumbled, his fingers reaching out for the lantern. There was a curiously vivid feeling to the air, a sense of significance that he couldn’t quite describe. His head felt light, and his heart was pounding. He found the storm lantern, and gently groped at it. He could hear the sound of rustling in the trees, as the wind blew through them. He lifted the glass, and found a match by feel. He lit it, and then the wick.
His eyes went wide as the light flared. A great serpent lay across the ground, glittering and white. Its scales were constantly moving, creating the sound that he had mistaken for the rustle of the trees. He froze, as nightmarish images of the snakes in Megara’s manor returned to him. The snake’s eyes opened, and nictitating membranes flickered across those huge, yellow eyes. He went very still, as the snake’s head rose, and came closer. Its mouth opened, and its tongue flicked out. Then, it spoke, with Isabelle’s voice. “Dean?”
He felt an incredibly sharp pain in his chest. He gasped for air, his vision flickering. It was as though someone had plunged their fist into his chest, and was squeezing his heart with all their might. His nails dug into the couch, as he heard Isabelle’s voice again, higher, more frightened. “Dean?!” Then, he fell backwards into darkness. The light of the world faded away, and he fell for what seemed like forever.
He was in a dark and shadowed place. He felt numb, and couldn’t taste even his spit in his mouth. A young woman was standing in front of him, wearing an apron, full of color, her skin the color of milk chocolate, with a concerned expression on her face. “Young man?” Her voice was distant. “Can you hear me?” He swayed from side to side vaguely. He was trying to recall what had just happened. “You have died.” He froze, his breath catching in his throat. He realized, after a minute or so, that he had no breath anymore. He didn’t need to breathe. It was just a reflex. “I am very sorry. If you ever need to talk, please, feel free to come see me and my husband. You rest here, in the asphodel, alright?”
He realized that he had been remembering. All of the things that brought him to this point in time. He spent a long time simply standing there, not sure what had happened. Eventually, he began to wander. The asphodel. Megara had told him about this, occasionally. The underworld. Hades. That was a myth, though. He wandered, until he found a bright light, and stood under it. There had been other things she’d told him about the underworld. He wasn’t supposed to eat anything. She’d said that people came back from it. So he stood, and waited. It seemed like an eternity. The sky never changed. He never needed to breathe, and though he grew hungry, and thirsty, it didn’t seem to kill him. So he stood, staring, his mind racing. Without anything to grasp hold of for the passage of time, he began to wonder about his own perception of time. He thought of his step-mother, and of Isabelle. He wondered if they would remember him. He thought of it all, and he felt like a fool for not realizing it sooner. That he hadn’t even recognized that he was in a story. Everyone had tried to warn him, and now he’d left his mother-in-law and his father and Susan and the girlfriend and worst of all Isabelle alone. He could have avoided it all if he’d thought. He let his head hang low. Maybe they would just leave him here forever. It seemed like a fitting ending. And so he stood there, and stopped responding to the other shades that came to speak with him, and let himself slip away. There was a time when something tore at him, pulling, hard- But something else caught him from the other side, trapping him there. He would never escape.
“n, i le gi f y”
Something was glittering in front of him. It shone. Nothing in this place reflected light like that. It was metal. Someone was speaking. Telling him about his mother. He felt his hand lifted up by someone’s warm grip. “She wanted you to have it, as a reminder that you were hers.” His mind flashed with confusion, remembering Acanit, and her soft, sad smile. Then he saw the ring, and his eyes ran across the glittering inscription. *To my dearest Dean. I will love you in this life, and every other. Megara and Harry.*
He gritted his teeth, as some flicker of emotion returned. “Mom?” he hissed. The memories of Megara flared inside of him. The coldness. The anger. The dismissal. The guilt that he felt. The conversations. The birthday when she had baked a cake for him, so unlike anything his own mother had made but sweet as honey. It had been a happy day. He breathed out, rasping. Each word he spoke seemed to be coming from an abyss inside of him. “She’s not my mother.”
The man spoke. Dean stared at the man’s face. He was not someone that Dean knew. Honestly, he didn’t stand out. A five o’clock shadow and a scruffy looking suit. “Your mother is Echidna, the mother of monsters. Your father is Heracles, the hero of heroes. They have both lost the people they loved, time and again. Do you want them to lose that again?” Dean felt a little spark inside of him, a twinge of guilt. The pain burned him, and the shame at what he had done to his parents. The man was still speaking, and a book found its way into Dean’s hands. Isabelle’s diary.
“Why.” He hissed. “She’ll move on. It didn’t matter.” They’d forget about him soon enough. He had already spent so long here.
“She’s not going to move on. She promised me, Dean. If I can’t bring you to her, she’s going to come to you. She’ll take her own life, Dean, because she wants to be with you, no matter what the cost is to her.”
Color returned to the world in a flood. Red haze flared in Dean’s eyes. He grabbed hold of the man’s collar, lifting him into the air. “She can’t! You can’t let her!” The idea of her dying because of him. It was the thing he’d been most afraid of, he realized. The man met his gaze, colder and more imperious than Megara had ever been.
“I’m not going to stop her. No one else will, either. This is the choice, Dean. If you don’t live, she has to die to save everyone. And she’ll do it. If you want your girlfriend to live, you’re going to have to damn well tell her to live yourself, kid.”
The words burned in Dean’s ears as he gritted his teeth. He set the man down. Then he saw the others. The woman who had spoken to him when he had first arrived here, a strange dark-haired man, and- “Cassie? Mister Dio? You came here for me?”
Cassandra he remembered. She was a troublemaker, and a sweet kid. He’d seen her fishing with that boy, Kintaro, down in the lake, more than once. She frowned at him. “Get over yourself. I’m here because a lot of other people are going to die if we don’t get you out of here.” Her expression softened. “But I really would be a lot happier if you were alive. The town is kind of going nuts without you. Don’t let that go to your head, though.” They began to talk with the strange, dark-haired man- Hades, Dean realized with a start. Soon, they were climbing up a pathway, into the sky. As they walked, he felt his spirit lightening.
He looked down at the book, and saw tears staining the cover. He looked at the ring, glittering softly. They had remembered him. He held them tightly to his chest, and as they walked, he opened the book to stare at the last page. The little inscription was in Hiragana. He recognized the words. Isabelle had taught him it, once, like her mother had taught her. “I’ll always love you.” In that delicate script that she used, each symbol a show of utmost care. He felt his smile pull hard at his cheeks. It felt like it had been forever since he’d smiled.
“Nash?” Cassie asked. The young woman was walking just behind the stranger, Dio standing just in front of Dean. She had her head hung low. A tear was glittering on her chin.
“Yeah, Cassie?” The man seemed quite chipper, a smile visibly creasing his cheeks.
“I’m sorry.” Dio had an arm over his eyes, his shoulders tensed, head turned away from the two.
“Sorry for what?”
Cassie threw a prize-fighter’s haymaker. Her fist struck the side of the man’s head with more force than a 14 year-old girl should be capable of. The strange man who had brought Dean out of his stupor never stood a chance. He didn’t make a noise as he fell off the pathway. He just disappeared into the mist. Cassie stood, completely still, for a few seconds, her hands balled into fists at her side. Then, she kept walking.
Dean’s jaw dropped. “Cassie, what the hell-!”
“He was a servant of something horrible, Dean.” Cassie’s voice was very soft. “I knew that he was from the moment I saw him. He was the servant of the same thing that set you up to die. He helped us get down here, and all he had to do was have a single moment of uncertainty, turn around, and you’d be stuck here, forever, and Isabelle would kill herself, and Irayama would lose her mind, and everyone would probably die. Hades told us that we had to follow our instincts, and my instincts told me that he was going to be trouble from the moment I saw him. Dio had to do nothing, and I’m really glad you didn’t try to stop me, Dio, because you could have.”
The gruff officer stared down at his boots.
“And the worst part is, he was a really decent person. He was a kind-hearted guy, who actually believed in me, and it was just the shittiest possible luck that meant he was going to get us all killed.” They walked in silence for several minutes. Dean stared. It had been more than he’d ever heard out of Cassandra at one time. “Pearl told me that I had to trust my instincts. That I had to do what I thought was right. Hades said the same thing. And the right thing was to not give him a chance. I had to make sure he didn’t have a chance to betray us, which meant I betrayed him first. And he trusted me! He thought I was his friend!”
She furiously rubbed her eyes. “Now let’s get back to Zion,” she said, her voice a little less ragged They walked in silence. The light-hearted atmosphere from before had vanished. Instead, they walked together in the shadow. “We don’t tell anyone about this, alright? We tell them that he stayed behind. That he saved us from something horrible. Nobody has to know about it. He deserves to be remembered as a hero.”
They were ashen-faced as they reached the summit. There was a moment when light surrounded them. Then, Dean jerked up, gasping for air. “Give him some room!” He recognized the voice of the town doctor. He blinked blearily. He was lying across a cold metal table, wearing nothing. There were a lot of people around. He recognized most of them. Miss Onnashi, the local police chief, and-
“Isabelle!” He sat bolt upright, his arms going around her shoulders. Her body, from the waist down, was that of a snake. He didn’t give a damn, as he hugged her tightly, pressing his face into her throat. “If you ever kill yourself because of me, I won’t forgive you,” he whispered, softly, under his breath, gripping her tightly. After a minute or so, he released her, and coughed. “Does anyone have some pants? Something I can use to cover myself?” Megara stepped forward, delicately handing him a pair of jeans. He pulled them on, and stood up.
His whole body ached, his muscles terribly weak. Despite that, he wrapped his arms around Megara, squeezing her tightly. “Mom.” He whispered. “I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to you. Thank you.” He turned, and hugged his father, too. There was a soft hush in the room, broken a few seconds later by the sound of a knock from one of the large metallic freezers. He was in a morgue. He was going to have nightmares about this for a long time, but he could deal with that. The doctor opened the refrigerator, and Cassandra climbed out, followed by Dio.
“I can’t believe you did it…” Megara began. Then her voice trailed off as she began to frown. “Where’s Nash?”
There was silence. The police chief crossed her arms, looking down at her feet. There was a terribly sad look on her face. “He didn’t make it, did he.” She sounded as though she’d been expecting to hear that.
“No. Nash stayed behind, to save us. He told us to keep going, even while they dragged him down.” Cassandra rubbed her eyes. “It was the only way we could get out. He was a real hero. We couldn’t have done it without him.” The whole room was silent. Even Megara seemed pained at this news. Even Irayama Onnashi, who he’d never seen display the least bit of sorrow, had a soft frown on her face.
“I don’t think I’ve ever known a finer man,” said Harry. “He gave me my son back. He deserved better than this. I hope that his soul stands in Elysium, alongside the heroes of legend. It is the least the Gods could do.”