The three of us walked out of the house. I frowned. “You don’t want Harry with you? I’ve only been in Hades once, and I didn’t exactly… do anything.”
“That’s not quite the reason. I’m seeing my mate. And in honesty, while your father is a good man, and supportive, I cannot see how bringing him along could be anything but a disaster. This will be emotionally fraught enough without exposing my old husband to a new one.”
“Alright,” I said, nodding. “That still doesn’t explain why you want me along.”
She was quiet as we began down the path. I could see the jetty glittering in the silver moonlight, visible through the great orchard of apple trees, the fish still teeming like an ocean of living silver. The sound of raucous celebration still filled the air, cheers and joy rocking through the island as the gods celebrated long into the night. I was briefly reminded of movies set in World War 2, where people danced in music halls as the sirens wailed, and bombs fell.
It needled at me, in a way I couldn’t quite describe. I’d seen War come to Zion, and tear it apart. I’d died. The idea that the people here thought they could just ignore it, that it would be as simple as burying their heads in the sand, made me faintly angry. Maybe it was simple envy, the simple desire to see them understand that.
Maybe it was because they could have actually done something about this all, if they’d only been willing to try.
“I suppose,” said Megara, distracting me from the line of thought, “that I want someone there to firm my resolve. To remind me why I am doing all this.” She was quiet for another moment. “I know, Dean, that I was a poor mother. There are excuses that could be made, but they would be nothing but excuses. I could have done more. I could have provided you love, the warmth that a mother should, if only I had been willing to let go of the things that held me back. My fears, my pains, my angers.”
“If we were all perfect, life would be pretty dull.” I reached out, and rested a hand on her shoulder. “I’d have been a lot easier to love if I’d given you a chance. You made dad happy. Happy for the first time since…” I let the words go unsaid. “Do you know where she went?”
“I do not know,” murmured Megara. “There are many things that may happen to a soul after the body dies. And some people do not go to any afterlife at all. I am not a goddess of afterlives or other such things. I wish I could offer some kind of encouragement, but…” She smiled. “We must soldier onwards. It is easy to become lost in the past, to focus on what we have lost, because it is so familiar and we remember the good more easily than the bad. But we have to make a clean break with things. And it never feels very clean. Your father never got to say goodbye, but I still can.” She looked over her shoulder at Hera. “You know, it always struck me, how unfair the stories were.”
“We married for love,” said Hera. “His love. That was the first mistake, so far as I am concerned. Love is a drug. It can heighten ecstasy, numb pain, make you gregarious, and make you foolish. And inevitably, one becomes accustomed to it.” She shook her head. “I have done many terrible, hurtful things over the years. But my mistakes are my own, and I suspect that others will make them too, regardless of whether I chastise them or not.” The silver-haired goddess sighed softly. “But young man, I must question you rather sharply about your current relationships. Two girls like that… There is a word for men who pursue such things.”
“It’s not like that,” I said, trying very hard not to let my face go red. “I care about Susan, but… It’s like training wheels. You know? She was hurt. She felt unloved. She needs someone to care about her, and I’ll be there for her until she finds someone who she likes better. Let her get her confidence up. I’m her friend. Not really anything more.”
“And if she never does? If she decides she’s happier being a part of that relationship?” Hera was watching me, silently, her head tilted to the side.
“Then I guess she’s happy that way,” I said, a little more defensively then I meant. “If it makes her happy-” I frowned, and noticed Megara’s amused expression. “You’re making fun of me.”
“I was never able to share, and it caused no end of pain and unhappiness. Some people cannot share. Others cannot be pinned down. What do you think Susan needs?”
I was quiet for a moment. “Honestly… Susan and Isabelle knew each other long before they met me. They were there for each other long before me. If it had to be like that, I’m kind of the third wheel. But I owe them a lot. I want to make them happy, to support them, to help them believe in themselves.”
“Really?” asked Hera, her head tilted. “You don’t resent them? Being bound to them because of their actions? You were never given much of a choice in this. How can you be sure that you will continue to love them, knowing that you have never been given a choice about it? And do you think it is good to be so unselfish? When you put up with an unpleasant situation, it can result in… explosive tempers. You may one day find yourself hurting them very badly out of resentment. How long can you bear a weight?”
I paused for a moment, and had to hold back a laugh. “Are you kidding me? That’s what you’re getting at? I had a choice. And whatever people think, I didn’t mind that choice. I don’t resent them, and I don’t get why people would think I should.” I crossed my arms, and couldn’t keep the embarrassed flush off of my face. “I like Susan a lot. And if I can be there for her, and Isabelle, I want to be. Maybe it’s greedy, but… I owe it to them. This isn’t me taking on some debt or obligation. This is me, doing what I love for the people I care about. I owe them, but that’s not such a bad thing.”
“Is obligation the best foundation you can think of for love?” asked Hera.
“If it goes both ways? Sure. Susan wants to make up for what she did. Isabelle wants to make up for what she didn’t do. I want to thank them both. Maybe that’ll change. But why borrow trouble from the future when we’ve got enough right…” I paused, and looked around. “Now?”
We stood among the grey fields of Asphodel.
“An interesting view. Perhaps you have the dedication to care for two at once.” Hera sighed. “I wondered, so many times, whether Zeus could have been different than he was. Whether he cheated on me because the humans told stories, or whether the humans told stories because he cheated on me. So many great heroes were brought forth because of him.” She stared across the fields. “There is Hades’ palace. I would ask that we visit him when we have concluded your business.” She was quiet for a moment, and looked over at me. “Do you resent me for not saving you? In the vastness of my power, it is conceivable that I could have forced the issue. Saved you from death. Protected you.”
“Why didn’t you?” I asked, though not particularly angry.
“That’s a good question.” She sighed. “What if Athena had decided to interfere, and persuade Isabelle to take her own life? There are few who could have stopped her. Would that have been right?”
“You’re saying that if you interfere, the other gods would want to, too.” Hera didn’t answer me. “You know, I found it really funny that your name sounds so much like ‘Hero’. They both mean protector, right? But it’s always…” I sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to give offense.”
“The myths…” Hera frowned. “In truth, for the vast majority of us, the myths are not of our best moments. It is like getting to know someone through paparazzi figures. But I always seemed to be… unfit, as far as motherhood goes. My children, Ares, Eris, Hephaestus…” She sighed. “Typhon. For a goddess of motherhood and marriage, my children always seemed to be wind up on the wrong side of history. And it cannot even be blamed on Zeus, because his children tended towards such greatness. I suppose I am glad to have you here, Megara. You know at least a little of what that can be like.”
“I suppose we have a few things in common. Monsters, fidelity, and being a target of some scorn.” Megara looked aside at Hera. “I know that this is a lot to ask of you too. To ask you to oversee the dissolution of a marriage. And to your son. This means a great deal to me.”
“Yes. I imagine it does.” Hera was quiet for another long moment. “I do not have friends, here. In Avalon. I am no strong ally. Zeus and all of his children, I’ve managed to alienate all of them, at one time or another. Through that, I have made enemies of almost all of the gods, and though none would dare to show their anger to me in person, none of them are particularly inclined to help me, or support my causes.” She looked over at me, and smiled. “You know? I am glad that you forgave the girl.”
“Why’s that?” I asked, as we approached the great obsidian mouth, leading into the heart of Tartarus.
“Because perhaps someday I may be forgiven in the same way.” She sighed. “It sometimes feels as though being a god means forever making up for the mistakes you made in the past.”
“I suspect that’s a part of living,” said Megara.
I hadn’t actually ever visited Tartarus. I hadn’t done anything to the gods, let alone angered them to that point. I was very glad for that, now.It was a great cavern that spread out before us, red crystal in the shape of tremendous bones growing out of the black basalt walls. A tremendous red sun sat in the cavern roof, slowly beating. It was a heart. A frighteningly huge heart. I felt my breath catch as we stood before the alien light, the burning glare almost too much to bare. “Is this safe?” I asked, looking around.
“Even here, inside Tartarus, there are few foolish enough to attack us,” said Hera. She sighed softly as we walked along, her eyes fixed on something in the great distance. The three of us walked for a very long time together through Tartarus. The first landmark we passed was the peak of a mountain, which had been leveled, flattened. The tip had been carved out into a crater, and sitting there was a boulder, nearly as tall as I was, seated in the center of the crater, firmly planted like an egg in a cup. I frowned as we passed it.
The next landmark we passed was a great pool. Water filled it, and soft, surprisingly sweet looking fruit grew in the trees. Plums, ripe and purple, hung down so far on branches that they nearly touched the water’s surface. There was no one standing around. I looked down at the pool, and felt another little stir of familiarity. A story? I wasn’t quite sure. The other two didn’t speak as we walked, and I didn’t want to chime in as the ignorant kid. I’d played that role more than enough in my life.
It was the third landmark that finally provoked a reaction from Hera. She stood, her arms crossed, as we stood below a great wheel. Fire burned ferociously, the kind of blue-white fire that hurt just to look at, the heat palpable from where we were. Hera stared up at it, unblinking. “Ixion,” she murmured. “Poor man.”
“He was a monster,” said Megara, simply.
“Yes.” Hera sighed. “It is funny, isn’t it? Humans are still so close to being animals. And their gods are no different. We do sudden, foolish things that made sense once, a long time ago.” She crossed her arms. “I am a goddess of faithfulness. I never took another lover beyond Zeus. Never felt another’s touch besides Zeus. Never wanted it.” She was quiet for a few seconds. She didn’t elaborate.
“It’s nice,” I said, “to know people care. Even if you don’t reciprocate their feelings, it can mean a lot to see the distances someone will go for you.” I frowned at her. “Was that a part of your relationship with Zeus? Part of why he was…” I didn’t say ‘unfaithful’.
“There were many reasons I did what I did,” said Hera. And we kept walking.
I’d been waiting for it. Had read about the myth a few times, ever since I’d learned who the kindly police chief of Zion really was. Ever since I’d left Hades. The rock wasn’t particularly notable, save for the chains of crystal. They had been shattered, and the shards remained around the stone. Blood streamed down one side of the rock, where someone had bled freely. I didn’t speak as I stared down at it.
“You’re wondering why we did what we did to Promethea,” said Hera.
“No. I think I understand very well why the gods would do what they did. Promethea stole fire, she fooled Zeus. People have been sentenced to Tartarus for lesser crimes than that. I just wonder how any of the gods can think that they were good after imprisoning her. I met her. She was kind.”
“Yes, she was,” said Hera. “We could not have imprisoned her against her will. She was greater and more terrible in those days. And she was utterly patient. We had to threaten the one thing she loved, in order to secure her. And we used it against her like a weapon.” Hera sighed. “We’re going to pay for that in blood, one day. That’s the very reason we did it. We feared the power that Promethea, and the other sisters, held.” She rubbed her forehead. “Those days are hazy, beyond memory in some ways. I can only really remember the stories we told ourselves about it. That we realized they were a threat. That the Sisters would make humans greater than us.”
“Is that so bad?” I asked, frowning.
“You see the way gods treat men. You see the way men treat animals. I think we have good reason to not want to be subordinate to them.” She looked at me, her head tilted. “Of course, those kinds of battle-lines are the reasons things are so fraught in Shangri-la. What do you believe you are, Dean? Are you a man? A god? A hero? Or a monster? You have elements of all in your heritage. You have an unusual chance. You can decide what you want to be.”
“It was Heracles who freed her, wasn’t it?” I asked. The two of them exchanged a brief glance.
“That’s the way the story goes,” said Hera, though her voice was a touch uncertain.
“I suppose I’d like to be that kind of person. The kind who can make sure that people who do the right thing get rewarded.” I rested my hand on the stone. “People need to be rewarded when they do the right thing. They need to be encouraged, and supported. A really good person will do the right thing even when it hurts, even when it costs them, but that’s a shitty way to treat people. Another part of being a good person is just encouraging others to do the same.” I was quiet for a moment. “I read that, later in his life, Heracles was honestly your champion. That he forgave you for everything, all the pain that you caused him. Is there any truth to that?”
“I do not think so,” said Hera, softly.
“I think that there could be.” I looked down at the stone. “It’d probably mean starting with feeling bad about what you’ve done in the past. and trying to make amends. But it’s your choice.”
We walked in silence for another few minutes, down the slope. A sound filled the air, soft at first, but then growing as we made our way deeper down the side of the chasm. A rustling, like fallen leaves in a wind, but louder. As we approached, Typhon came into view.
He was huge. The kind of huge that was more metaphorical than anything I could pin down. He fit inside of Tartarus, but he looked as though he shouldn’t be able to. He seemed to be pressing up against every surface around him, as though he had swollen to fill every free space. He was shaped, vaguely, like a human. The upper body, at least. Aside from the endless wings that covered him. The lower body consisted of eight vipers, impossibly long, hissing and coiling.
“Husband,” said Megara.
“Son,” said Hera.
“Traitors,” said Typhon.
His voice was not accusatory. Not even angry. It was simply very tired. Megara looked up at him, her stance firm, though her tail shook slightly. “I wish to part ways from you.”
“We were never married. We were never human enough to marry.” Typhon chuckled. “We still are not. You play at humanity, pretend at personhood. You are a monster. I am a monster. That is what drew us together. What is it about the heart of inconstant women? What is it that draws you to change, to drift with the wind?” His eyes flicked to Megara, and suddenly, he surged forward. That massive bulk rolled towards us, and there was a great and terrible clattering as the chains went taut. Great links of red diamond, they shuddered for a moment, and seemed disturbingly insufficient for the task at hand. Nonetheless, they held firm, and his face was left looming over us, staring at Hera, just out of reach
“I am sorry,” said Hera. “For the parts I played in your coming to be, and in your pain.”
“Sorry? And what does that mean to me? Sorrow without action is masturbation. You created me to be greater than Zeus, to exact your wrath on him. And you betrayed me. Your child! What kind of a mother are you?!” His head turned towards Megara. “And you?! You did not always hate the humans. I remember how it came to be. They earned your contempt, their emnity. How many of your own children died to Heracles?! How many of them were strangled by the great hero, how many of those who were of your flesh suffered because of them! Where is your passion, woman! Where is your compassion! Where has your rage gone?!”
Megara rocked back from the words, and for a moment, she seemed at a loss for words. I reached out, and rested a hand on her shoulder. She took a deep, steadying breath, and then shook her head. “I tried to feed rage for two thousand years. I took vengeance on Heracles over and over again. I killed him… Gods above, perhaps a hundred times.” She lifted her head. “It never satisfied. It was never enough. It would never bring back my children. I cannot be a mother, not anymore. I cannot go back. But I can go forward.” She took a deep breath. “I wish for you to never again be a part of my life. I do not care whether you consent or not, but-”
“Of course,” murmured Typhon.
Megara frowned. “Just like that?”
“I can smell his seed on you, Megara.” The creature bared his teeth. “You have been corrupted. I do not desire a woman who I cannot trust. And it seems there is little that can be trusted in you.”
“Well, that’s very accommodating of you, Typhon,” said Megara, with a touch of amusement. “I thought this would be more difficult.”
“Are we done here?” asked Typhon, his voice low, savage.
“Not quite. There’s one other thing.” She tilted her head. “How would you like to be free?”
There was a long, slow silence. Typhon turned his head towards Hera, and then back to Megara. “You taunt me? You would dare-”
“It is not a taunt,” said Hera, her voice silvery. “It is a chance. You do not have to be inimical, Typhon. You could be more. So much more.” Hera smiled up at him. “It is not without condition. As you are now, you are a danger. But Zeus is willing to forgive you.”
The wings all stopped moving. The sound of rustling ended, and there was a great silence, broken only by the distant heartbeat of Tartarus. After a long time, Typhon spoke. “Why.”
“Because you are powerful, and because the world is in need of such power. There may come a day when Avalon needs defenders such as you. We cannot afford to be divided in the face of such existential threats.”
“I see. And what is to keep me from making this agreement, and breaking it?”
“Nothing, really,” said Hera. “That is the depth of our need. If you do not agree, and we need you, things will hardly be any different than if you do agree, and betray us. The world is ending, Typhon. Would you prefer to simply stay here, and watch it happen?”
Typhon was quiet for several long seconds. Then he let out a growl. “I will consider it.”
“I cannot promise-” began Hera, and he snarled.
“I said I will consider it! Now leave me be.” He turned his head away, a dark expression on his face. “I have given you what you desire. Now, I would much rather be alone.”
Megara nodded slowly. “Thank you. It was good seeing you again.”
“Fuck off,” growled Typhon.
The two of them inclined their heads to one another, and then we began the hike up. It was strange, but the way out took perhaps a few minutes to reach, rather than the hours that the descent had taken. I wasn’t entirely sure how to take that. “You’re going to give him a second chance?” I asked Hera.
“If he will take it.”
“Is that wise?”
“Is giving second chances ever motivated by wisdom? There is a reason it is I, and not Athena, who is offering this second chance. She counsels against freeing those in Tartarus, and her reasons are good ones. But sometimes, we do things that are not wise because they are who we are. Or who we want to be. And we accept that they are unwise, and yet still do them, because if everyone did, the world would be a better place.”
Two figures were waiting for us at the exit of Tartarus. One was familiar. I’d seen her while I was a shade. The other was unmistakable, despite the KILL THE COOK apron. The man nodded. “Echidna. Thank you, once again, for the aid that your child offered me.”
“You always took good care of her, Hades. Cerberus is doing well. I am grateful to you, as always, for providing her patronage.” Megara straightened her back. “What, exactly, is this about?”
“What do you think?” murmured Persephone, looking up. “The human. The servant of the Horsemen. The one who beat you.”
“Nash,” sighed Megara.
“We’ve received word that he’s entered the Second City.” Hades sat back in his chair. “He has reason to resent me. I held no ill will towards him, but I still sentenced him to a grim fate. He is still a servant of War.”
“He really isn’t,” said Echidna. “He had the chance to allow her to manifest fully. He didn’t. It’s only because of his actions that anyone in Zion survived. Had he never shown up there, we all would have died, and the world would now be in the throes of that Ragnarok you’re afraid of. What can you not understand about that? In the circumstances, as they were, he did the best he possibly could have. He saved everyone in Zion.”
“And there are rumors that he has fallen in love with War.”
Megara looked aside, and frowned. “I… couldn’t believe that. The man had little sense, but more than that.”
“Can the Horsemen change?” I asked.
Every eye turned towards me. Hera smiled softly, but there was pity in her expression. “No.”
“How are you sure of that?”
“Because they are elemental. They cannot change, any more than the Sisters could change. They are a focus for the entire human race. They have… impetus. Gravitas. Inertia. They cannot change. It is difficult enough for us to change. For something like the Horsemen… It would be like an avalanche choosing not to fall.” She turned her head back to Megara. “And thus… our concern. War’s forte is manipulation. Particularly of men like him.”
Megara shook her head. “If she had wanted the world destroyed, and had control of Nash, why would she have failed where she did? She had us over a barrel.”
“Perhaps she wanted a catspaw. She could have ruined the world, but she would’ve made herself a target by doing it there. She is a master manipulator. It’s not unthinkable that she had a reason.”
Megara sighed. “What is your question, here?”
“How do we deal with him?” asked Hades, simply. “My wife and I imprisoned him. He broke out, and freed immensely dangerous men by doing so. He is a man who gathers the lost and the damned to him. He is a man who is, above all, dangerous to cross. How do we stay safe, if he should come to this place?”
“Invite him in,” said Megara. “Welcome him. Make him at home. Do not try to fight him. And make him your friend.” She stood up. “There is no other sensible defense against a human like that. When I made peace with him, he saved my son. He was all too happy to have a place. If you fear that there is a conflict coming, have him on your side. He will forgive you all too easily for your misdeeds.” She shook her head. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes.” Hades frown deepened. “Shangri-la. They’re preparing for a war.”
“Oh.” Megara frowned. “That sounds like the kind of rash action that could go tremendously, awfully wrong.”
“Yes. That is why we are staying neutral,” said Hera. “Do not talk with this about anyone. The situation is delicate enough as it is. They are still building up their forces, steeling their will. We do not want to provoke them at this moment.”
I gritted my teeth. I wanted to say something. But I knew well enough that no one was going to be listening to me about this. Megara seemed to come to a similar conclusion, standing up. “I fear that if they have committed themselves to such actions, they have little hope. I have seen what humans are capable of. If there was a time to reassert divine dominance over them, it was centuries ago.”
“Yes,” said Hades. “We must, unfortunately, agree.” He nodded at me. “It was good to see you again, Dean. I am glad you have a second chance. I trust you to use it well.”
Megara and I returned from Hades alone; This time was a great deal less fraught than the first. “Thank you, son,” she murmured, and rested a hand on my shoulder, squeezing me. Her hand trembled slightly. I realized just how much it must have taken out of her.
“I thought you handled things well.”
“I’m sure. But there is always a great tension to trying to see someone you know in those kinds of circumstances. It is easy to fall back into old habits, when among old cohabitants.” She sighed, and shuddered slightly. “Dean… I’m barren. You know?” She wiped her eyes. “For a long time, I was glad for that. It meant I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of losing my children anymore. I wouldn’t bring any more monsters into the world. But… I…” She bit her lip. “I was glad, to have that chance with you. Even if I have squandered it so much, watching you grow has been a genuine pleasure. You are a good boy.” She was in human shape again, and the way her shoulders shook reminded me of barely suppressed tears. “I just wish- I- Is it awful of me to wish I could bear a child once more? Just… one more time? Is that unfair to you, to want to be able to have a child with your father?”
I threw my arms around her shoulders, and squeezed her tight. I’d never really thought, until just this moment, that I’d become taller than her. Tall enough that I could comfort her, as her body shook with the soft tears. “It’s okay,” I murmured softly. I couldn’t give her anything more, I couldn’t make her fertile, I couldn’t make everything right. But I could comfort her, and in this moment, that simply had to be enough. “You’re a good mother, Megara. Echidna. You’ve done so much for those you care about. You’re still a good mother.”
It took her several long seconds to regain control of herself, but when she did, her icy demeanor had returned, only a little redness in her eyes hinting at what she’d felt.
The living room light was on in the villa as they approached. It was not much after we had left, from the clock in the villa’s antechamber. The two of us walked into the living room, where my father sat, a little stiffly, in a chair across the room, staring at the sizable couch in front of us. Megara smiled. “Waiting up for us?”
“No,” said a voice from my nightmares.
Red hair flashed in the air as she stood up from the couch, turning to face us. Her skin was dark. Her eyes were green. Her teeth were iron. She wore a dress that was either soaked in blood, or made to look so. War smiled. “Hello, Dean. I see you’re living your life well.”
“You are truly arrogant,” said Megara, her eyes narrowed. “To come in front of me again. Is your deathwish that strong?”
“As it happens, yes.” War smiled. “I am going to die, very soon, because of the choices I have made. I doubt I will ever see any of you again.”
This brought a pause to everyone in the room. Megara frowned. “What?”
“I have switched sides. I am fighting even now to save Paradise, and humanity, from the machinations of the Horsemen. I have revealed my allegiance. I am going to die for this, within twenty-four hours.”
“Why do any of us change, Megara?”
“I mean, why are you here.”
“Oh, that.” War smiled. “I hurt this family, once. Terribly. I can never undo what I have done. I cannot even make it right. But… Well.” She waved a hand to the couch. “My sister never could refuse a dying request.”
The other woman sitting on the couch stood up. Acid green hair, and skin as pale as milk. She looked like some kind of goth wet dream, and held a scythe across her hips. She nodded softly. “Echidna. And Dean Constantinou.” She smiled. “You are a rare one, aren’t you? You know who I am. Everyone who has experienced me recognizes me.”
“Death,” I said, without thinking about it.
“Yes.” She sighed. “I do not do this normally, you realize. I am not Death, the psychopomp, I am not Death, the keeper of souls. I am Death, the End. I rule over the oblivion that awaits all things. But… There are what you might call fringe benefits. And the two of you have a hanging thread. I would let it hang, but…” She looked aside at War. The red-haired woman nodded. “A favor was called in. A very old one. And conditions are right.”
“You can’t be serious,” said my father, weakly.
“I am,” said War. “And so she is. I’m sorry for keeping you in a panic here, Harry. I didn’t want to have to explain this twice. My time is limited enough as it is.”
“You should understand what this means.” Death took a deep breath. “Every human-” She looked aside at War, and continued. “Very nearly every human has a soul. And a soul survives death. A soul continues on. To reincarnate, to move on to an afterlife, or whatever else it may wish to do. There is a fundamental kindness to this universe. But so often, humans are wracked by the question of death. Why does no one return from the veil? Why is there no contact from those who are dear to us? And the answer is simple, if a little sad and selfish. Imagine yourself in paradise, in the existence after this one. Happy. Free of pains, free of want, free of sorrow, able to relax, to enjoy, to take pleasure in existence. Imagine that you were to be again. A ghost, a raised spectre, something shallow and pale and painful. You know that those you love will, in what seems like a blink of an eye, be with you again. You do not have to worry. So you do not. You wait it out. There are exceptions, but precious few, and they rarely make enough of an impact to change human thought. If they did…” She was quiet for a moment. “I suppose that if they did, I might disappear. Wane away. If humans did not fear Death, what would be the point of me?”
“Why are you saying this?” asked Harry, his voice tense.
“Because I can bring back your wife. Not make her alive again. But give her a voice again. Give her the chance to say goodbye that she was denied.”
I opened my mouth, and closed it. Harry looked away. We both hesitated. Megara did not. “Do it,” she said.
“Are you sure?” asked Harry, his voice soft.
“If the question were whether I would give you up… that would be more difficult.” She smiled apologetically. “But when it comes to asking for a chance to say goodbye, to have one last chance to say the things that matter to you? Of course I want you to. You need this. I need this.” She looked aside at me. “If you will accept it.”
I nodded. Death took a deep breath, and nodded. Then, standing there, in the center of the living room, was my mother. She looked young. Shockingly so. It struck me, suddenly, that it had been nearly seven years since my mother had died. She smiled at me softly. “Hello, Dean. How was that Star Trek movie?”
I reached out for her, and to my great surprise found I could touch her. She was cool to the touch, but her arms encircled me, squeezing me gently. After a moment, she released me, and turned to my father. “Husband.” She nodded her head softly, and smiled.
“Acanit.” He wiped at his eyes. “Hard times. I…” He looked away. “I wasn’t there.”
“That was the whole point, you daft man,” she said, her voice soft. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t tell either of you, but I couldn’t risk you trying to change my mind. It was… part of a bargain.” She sighed. “I made a deal with War that night, Harry. That’s the only reason we escaped. I bought an extension on my life. It saved you twice over.” She looked over her shoulder, directly at Megara. “Hah. I am glad you remarried. It would have been a shame to see you mope away for the rest of time..”
Megara inclined her head. “It is an honor to meet you, Acanit. Harry spoke of you often. I hope I can do some honor to your household, your husband, and your son.”
“Oh, I have no doubt of it. You’re a goddess, aren’t you?” She grinned. “It would be a shame for you to do any less.” She turned her head towards me, and smiled. “Dean.”
“M-” I sniffed, finding myself choking up. “Mom.”
“Son, I am more proud of you than words could say.” She took my hand, and squeezed it. “I know what it is to be given a second chance. Do not die with regrets. Do not let things go unsaid.” She narrowed her eyes, and prodded me once, firmly. “Make sure that I have grandchildren, and don’t ever let anyone suggest for a moment that I was a victim. We are humans. That does not make us victims. The entire world turns on the choices we make.” She smiled, then, her expressions softening. “I may never see you again, son. I do not want that to be with regrets. I believe in you. I believe that you are going to have a wonderful life.” She squeezed me once more, and planted a kiss on my cheek. It burned as she turned back towards Harry.
“I miss you.”
“I miss you too. That is a part of loving someone. But you are moving forward with your life, and I am very glad. You gave me a life where before I had nothing. The least I can do is the same for you. I am ready to move on. Perhaps we will meet again someday, Harry. Who knows where?” She planted a kiss on his forehead. “Goodbye.”
And then she was gone, and so was Death. War stood there, red hair hanging around her head. “That doesn’t make up for what you did,” I said, my voice soft, but harsh.
“It wasn’t meant to. It doesn’t matter whether you forgive me or not. I do not care either way.” She took a deep breath, and then let it out. “But Nash truly cares for you. And you have done a great deal to keep him whole.” She shook her head. “Try to make sure he is taken care of, when I am gone.”
And then she was gone too. The three of us stood in silence for a moment. Megara tilted her head quietly. “That was Acanit?”
Harry nodded mutely.
“Mmmm. You have good taste, husband.” She smiled at me. “And I can see where you got it. Son. Now…” She gave me a soft squeeze of the shoulder. “I think that you should make a night of it. It has been a very long day. Your father and I are… I think… going to talk.” She smiled pleasantly. I rolled my eyes.
“You two must think you’re just as subtle as possible.” I smiled. “Good night, mom, dad.”