angie | the sleeper has awakened (zombres) wrote in the_lito,
angie | the sleeper has awakened
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of monsters, metal horses, and snake-haired women (part two); a perseus/andromeda mythfic

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is another in my series of "mythfics", to borrow the term from my darling etzyofi. In order to fully appreciate these, be sure to look at the casting picspams.)



CAST:







of monsters, metal horses, and snake-haired women, part two: a perseus/andromeda mythfic.
{filled commission for kit (queenofthebadgers) ♥
the follow-up to prelude to a clash and the fateful boast.}
in three days the kraken will destroy the city; unless andromeda offers herself up as sacrifice.
perseus turns to his unexpected family for assistance -- but in the end, only the deadly medusa can help.

Perseus had always liked watching the sun rise; even as a child he would wake up early just to walk along the beach with Dictys and admire the way dawn painted the sky. The beauty of it always suggested that the day would be full of promise and opportunity; it put him in an optimistic mood, made him ready to face whatever came next with a smile.

But today… (9,960 words)




“Good thing you brought me along, huh?” Thallo said, hammering in the next piton. “Given how useless you are at climbing.”

“Yeah, bit of luck on my part,” Perseus grunted, accepting his offered hand and scrabbling up to the next foothold. That’s it: focus on the good luck right now. How Thallo’s at my side and I’ve got a magic shield from my godly uncle hanging on my back; how the goddess of spring—who happens to be an aunt—packed us a huge hamper of food for the trip, and another uncle lent us all of this climbing gear. How Uncle Heph gave us those incredible motorcycles and Apollo did something to clear the roads for us so we got here in a fraction of the time it’d normally take.

Focus on how this unbelievable family I just found has bent over backwards to help me and Andy. Not on how it’s really their fault we’re in this predicament to begin with—how we’re being forced to pay for the past sins of my father.


“…Thanks for being here, Thallo. Really. Thanks.”

“Yeah, well, where the fuck else would I be?” he replied, reapplying dust to his fingertips. “I’ve had your back since we were in diapers—at this point, it’s habit more than anything else. Can’t just sit at home fretting over you like a mother hen. Besides, there’ve always been perks for being your right-hand man.”

“Oh? Feel free to elaborate on that one.”

“It’s always been helpful having a giant moose like you in a fight. You can lay out a whole line of drunk assholes and I don’t even have to break a sweat. You’re the respectable friend I can always show off to Cicely, to prove my pals aren’t all empty-headed conmen. You’re useful when I need to move something heavy. And now that it turns out you’re the son of Zeus Olympian—who isn’t just a gazillionaire airline tycoon but an actual factual god?—oh, you better believe I’m gonna cash in on that.”

“Glad you’re seeing a silver lining in all of this.”

“Hey, Perse.”

He stopped and looked up. Thallo clung to the rock-face with one hand, perfectly balanced and sober. “Yeah?”

“You’re gonna get through this. Andy’s gonna get through this. I’ve never seen you quit or fail—and you’re not gonna break that streak now. You’re gonna be a white knight and slay this fucking monster and marry your girl, and that’s just that. Okay? I mean: you’re a demigod, for Chrissake. And when this is all over, you’re gonna have a helluva story to tell your’s and Andy’s kids someday. And they’ll have a bunch of wicked cool aunts and uncles that’ll give them magic presents. That’s a win-win right there, buddy.”

Perseus smiled, hauled himself up to Thallo’s level, and punched his shoulder fondly. “Thanks, man.”

“Hey, we all need a cheerleader now and then.”

“Too bad I didn’t get a prettier one.”

“Ouch, dude. That stings.”

It was slow going. The rocky wall they climbed was almost sheer, only the smallest of cracks and gaps available for toe- or hand-holds. Perseus appreciated why—he hardly expected an easy amble up to Medusa’s front door; this was just another layer of distance and protection between her and the world. But it still made for ample frustration. The clock in his ears had begun to tick louder: half of their allotted time was gone.

It was growing dark by the time they reached the first decent outcropping, a half-moon of flat rock jutting out like a platform. Craning his neck, Perseus could just make out the jagged black opening of the cave above them. Glancing down was not something for the faint-hearted; feeling dizzy, he stepped back quickly. The effort and time it had taken, he hadn’t expected they were up quite so high.

“Sit down,” Thallo said firmly, pulling off his backpack. “We’ll stop here for the night. I’ll secure our lines so we don’t roll off. We’ll eat a bit. Wrap up in these nice thermal blankets. And wait for daylight before we go knock on the lady’s front door.”

“It’s not that much further,” Perseus countered. “We could make that before it’s full dark.”

“I could on my own, but you’re not,” Thallo replied, peeling the foil from a cold chicken leg. “Because I’m not helping you get up there tonight. We’re both tired and we’ve pushed ourselves hard enough today. Better to rest up a bit now, push on in the morning. Anyway, think of how rude that’d be: just barging into Medusa’s house this late? C’mon, Perse—you weren’t raised in a barn. I know your mom taught you better manners than that. Be patient and polite and introduce yourself tomorrow at a reasonable visiting hour.” He paused, watching his friend fidget. “I know you’ve got a deadline fast approaching, man, but trust me on this. You wanna do this right, right? For Andy’s sake.”

“I know. I know you’re right.” He carefully wedged the shield into the rock behind him and leaned back against it; it felt strangely warm in the chill breeze, as if it had soaked up the sunlight all day and was reflecting it into his bones now that the temperature was steadily dropping. “God, I hope she’s okay. I hope her mom hasn’t gone crazy again. That her dad’s holding together. That she isn’t...”

“Uh-unh, none of that.” Thallo scooted closer, until his shoulder pressed against his, and handed him a piece of fried chicken. “We’re not playing that particular ‘what if’ game tonight. Eat this—protein and fat, just what you need. And let’s think about… Your wedding. Yeah. Who all are you gonna invite? Outdoors or indoors? What sort of cake you want at the reception? How crazy do you want your bachelor’s to be—as bad as Niko’s, as tame as mine, or somewhere in between? And what about the reception: dinner and dancing with a live band or a DJ? C’mon, Perse. Work with me here.”

“I don’t know,” he said wearily. “Everything’s been so mad; it’s all moving so quickly… Whatever Andromeda wants. Just so long as the important people are there… You’re gonna be my best man, right?”

“Damn straight I am.”

“Alright, then I want you to promise me something. Okay, Thallo? And this is a promise on your mother’s grave—no going back or breaking it. Right?”

“…Okay, Perse,” he agreed hesitantly. “What’s the deal?”

“You be my best man—but that means I’m the only one who climbs up to that cave tomorrow.”

“Absolutely not—”

“That’s the deal.”

“I think not, because how the fuck are you gonna get up there without me?”

“Perseverance. Look, Thallo—you know I appreciate everything you’ve done today, and I know I wouldn’t have gotten this far without you. But you can’t just look out for me—I’ve gotta watch out for you, too. And Cicely’s back home waiting for you. You’re gonna be a dad soon. And you can’t be anything—not a husband, or a father, or my best man—if you don’t get out of this alive. Right? So tomorrow I’m facing Medusa alone. I’ve got the shield, noble intentions, and some family influence—that’s just gonna have to be enough.”

Thallo opened his mouth to argue, and Perseus was quick to cut him off. “I’m not above knocking you cold and tying you to this cliff,” he added sharply. “I will keep you out of the crossfire, no matter what tactics I have to use.”

“Alright, alright, fine,” he relented with bad grace, groaning as he unwrapped a sandwich and split it in two. “Just don’t get used to playing this ‘heroic demigod’ card, dude. It’s sort of annoying.”



*****




Thallo wasn’t one to break a promise—especially not when it was made under threat of punching—but Perseus didn’t take any chances. He started up to the cave the moment dawn crested the horizon, leaving his friend still tucked up against a rock and tightly wrapped in his thermal blanket. It took the better part of an hour before he finally pulled himself up to the lip of the cave, by which time Thallo was awake and muttering below him.

“Quit griping,” he shot over his shoulder after he’d recaptured his breath. “Start back down now—I want you clear of whatever goes down up here. Take the bike Heph lent you and make for the Lito. Athena said she’d get you back home—there should be a plane waiting for you.”

“I don’t like you arranging things behind my back, Perse.”

“Tough shit; it’s been arranged.”

“And just what’s the plan now, huh? Just gonna walk in there and lay it all out?”

“Yeah. Politely. Get going.”

“Okay, okay… Perse?”

“Yeah?”

“Cicely and I will be with Andy tomorrow, no matter what. We’ll do everything we can. Just… do what you have to, alright? Cause I don’t really think my chances against a giant sea beast are all that good.”

Perseus tried to swallow the lump in his throat but his mouth had gone dry. Fear was a bitter tang across his tongue and he nodded with a wave and forced smile before turning to face the chill darkness of Medusa’s cave.

He had never been the most imaginative guy—he’d always lived with both feet firmly on the ground, focused on the here-and-now and the practical. So he was having a hard time deciding on what to expect as he crept hesitantly forward, shield now fixed to his arm and raised to eye-level. She was a woman living outside of time, who had last been mortal in an age of togas and bacchanalias. Perhaps she was still mentally living in that period, and there would be torches and oil lanterns ahead, columns carved into the rock and woven rugs covering the floor. But then Athena had said she was now just as much snake as woman; that her beauty had become venomous. Perhaps she wouldn’t dress or behave like a woman at all, but sleep curled in a nest of old shed skins. What if she had abandoned speech entirely, or couldn’t speak with a forked tongue? She had been born in ancient Greece—perhaps she had never learned English, and wouldn’t understand his plea at all? And then where would he be?

“God—or Athena, or whoever’s watching out for me,” Perseus began under his breath. “Let this work. Please. Just let this work…”

The cave began to narrow into a bottleneck. A moment later, he stopped in surprise. The beam of his flashlight illuminated a heavy oaken door set into the rock, the immense iron hinges well oiled and devoid of rust. There was a bronze ring hanging in the center, the knocker in the shape of an owl.

Taking a deep breath, Perseus reached out and knocked three times, the echoes of the metallic thuds ricocheting off the rock around him.

There was a faint clatter beyond—something dropped in surprise perhaps. Then the sound of approaching footsteps; she still had feet then, not a scaly body that slithered across the ground. Then came the distinctive click of a deadbolt lock being drawn back…

Perseus cleared his throat loudly as the doorknob turned. “Before you open the door, I just wanted to warn you,” he said in a rush. “My name is Perseus and I’ve come here to ask you to do me a big favor.”

The only response was a weighted, waiting silence. He pushed on resolutely.

“Two nights ago, the goddess Thetis laid a curse over my island. The Kraken is coming to destroy my home—unless a woman named Andromeda offers herself up as a sacrifice. And I can’t let either happen, because I love my home and I love Andromeda, and neither has done anything to deserve this curse. I’ve been told your gaze can turn anything male to stone. I’ve been told you could destroy the Kraken. Will you help me?”

There was a short, thoughtful pause. And then a soft, slightly sibilant voice slipped through the keyhole. “How did you get here? Who told you of me and my power?”

“My sister, Athena, and the Fates sent me.”

“Do you think that I will help you because you are kin to my goddess? I have not forgotten—it was her kin that nearly destroyed me.” There was a definite hiss of anger to the voice now.

“No. I don’t expect you to help me because Athena is my sister. I hope that you will help me because a good, innocent woman is being forced to suffer and die for the capriciousness of a god. Andromeda is kind, and smart, and loyal. She has dreams for a future, for a family, that will be ripped away tomorrow at dawn if we do nothing. She is willing to walk into the ocean—into the mouth of a monster—to keep the people of our city safe. I haven’t come here for myself. I’ve come for Andromeda, and I’ll pay any price you set so long as you will save her.”

“Would you look into my eyes?”

His heart shivered beneath his ribs, then steadied at the thought of Andromeda’s careless smile. When he spoke, it was with firm conviction. “I will. So long as you promise to save her.”

Was that a soft sigh he heard, or simply the distant whistling of wind far behind him at the mouth of the cave? “And what if my price was that you could never look upon her again? Could never touch her or speak her name? What if I asked you to turn your back on her and walk away forever?”

“That’s the same bargain; you’ve only dressed it up in different words. And my answer is still yes.”

“You are young, and a fool, to think of love and death in such terms. Idealistic. Naïve.”

“I’m also bad at bluffing and really gullible.”

“You love this woman enough to sacrifice yourself in her place, an offering upon the altar?”

“I would trade places with her in a heartbeat.”

The pause stretched on long enough for Perseus to begin worrying about the time. In the darkness, with only the beam of his flashlight, it was hard to gauge how many minutes or hours had passed. It could still be morning, or it could be closer to midday. It would take several hours to climb down and get back to the road. A couple more to return to the Lito, to take a plane back to the island. The ticking of the countdown clock was almost deafening by now.

“I want to look at you,” the sibilant voice finally said. “Keep your eyes tightly closed—your life depends upon it.”

He lowered the shield as the doorknob rattled. The hinges squeaked slightly. There was a smell of incense, the heat of candles or torches or lanterns upon his face, the flickering of yellow light casting tremulous shadows over his eyelids. He could feel her just before him, sense her movements as she circled him in silence. No, not silence—there was a faint hissing, like air escaping from a dozen tiny vents.

“You come with a shield—but I see no sword. No weapon.”

“I’m not here to hurt you or threaten you.”

“But I’m a monster. Surely they told you that.”

“The only monster I’ve been told about is the Kraken. The only thing I would offer violence to is that. I didn’t want to come here—”

“Afraid of me, were you?”

“Well, yes,” he answered honestly, addressing the air blindly. “But I also didn’t want to disturb you. Obviously you want the world to leave you alone. I know how rude it is, for someone to just blunder in and demand something from you.”

“…That shield once belonged to my goddess. She used to carry it into battle. I know she lent it, afterwards, to those heroes she thought worthy. Her champions. She was selective—not everyone could bear such armor. A warrior could withstand any blast, any strike, behind that shield. She must have a great amount of faith in you, to let you carry it.”

In spite of everything else running through his head and coursing through his veins in that moment, he did feel a small glow of pride. Athena—a goddess; a sister—saw something in him that was as valorous as the heroes of old. Hephaestus had offered him the shield, yes, but Athena had stood by with a secret smile as he tried it on for size.

“Could I…” he began hesitantly.

“What?”

“See you?”

“Is your curiosity so bad you’re willing to risk your life?”

“I just like to look at the people I’m talking to. And the shield…”

“Very well.”

Shield very carefully raised, Perseus cracked open his eyes. The woman standing before him was not terrible, or frightening, or monstrous. She was lithe in build, of average height, with a dark olive complexion burnished to a gleaming bronze through the shield. She had a long, thin nose. Black, thick eyebrows above eyes that must be equally dark, but that shone with a strange cat-like reflection in equal parts silver and green. And her shoulder-length hair curled and twisted around her oval face—not in mere curls, he realized with a second glance, but because the thin strands were in fact tiny vipers twining sinuously into an impossibly cohesive whole. Occasionally one hissed softly, flicking out a miniscule forked tongue.

Despite the unearthly eyes and reptilian hair, she was dressed like an average woman one might meet at the corner café. A loose-fitting red sweater. Blue jeans. Tennis shoes. If she threw a scarf around her hair and slipped on a pair of smoked glasses, people would pass her on the street without a backwards glance. She was still beautiful; still a woman.

“Thank you,” he said, closing his eyes and lowering the shield.

“You’re the only man to look upon me—and live—in centuries.”

“I’m honored,” he replied earnestly.

“…Thank you for asking for permission.”

“Of course.”

He sensed that she was inwardly debating: weighing his story against her continued solitude, her devotion to her goddess with the cause of this obviously chosen hero, her own history with the future that awaited Andromeda. She had listened to him. She had not immediately condemned him to death. And she had even granted him a privilege no other man had had since she had been so terribly wronged. He hoped so fervently that his teeth began aching from the tightening of his jaw.

“Very well, Perseus, brother of Athena. I will go with you to kill the Kraken. For Andromeda’s sake. And because you asked when other men would have assumed or demanded. Come inside. Have something to drink while I prepare.”

There was something embarrassingly awkward about walking with a giant golden shield held over your face. But the last thing he wanted to do now was blunder blindly forward and break anything in her home—or set fire to her rugs by knocking over a giant candle. The interior was, like the woman herself, not what could have been expected. It reminded him of the Lito in some indefinable way; perhaps it was how the air seemed to hum at an almost audible frequency, like a living creature deep in sleep. Or perhaps it was in the unusual juxtaposition of the ancient—the black and red clay vases standing on plinths and tables; the preponderance of candles and woven rugs carpeting the floor—with the distinctly modern. The place had noticeably been wired with electricity (the candles were more for ambiance than lighting), there was a plush armchair positioned in front of a coffee table, and in one corner stood an expensive-looking potter’s wheel.

“Have a seat,” she said. “I don’t often entertain…”

She offered him a cup of tea. “I never much liked Thetis,” she said, selecting a black headscarf from a nearby hook on the wall and winding it carefully around her serpentine tresses. “Barely more than a Nereid, yet always affecting such airs and graces. She had a terrible temper, too, as I recall. And vain as a cat. You can be sure: no one’s ever deserved half as bad of a curse as she’s meted out.”

“Athena said you still serve as her priestess, give her tributes and praises,” Perseus said, swallowing the hot tea in big, hasty gulps. “What else do you do way up here?”

“I’m an artist,” she said. “I work mostly with clay: pottery, sculpture, carvings. I tell the world my goddess’ stories, so they’ll never forget her. I’m quite popular. And I consult with museums via the Internet. Write about the sacred feminine and the intersection of faith and feminism. And I read a lot—the current technology is quite extraordinary. So many people and cultures and periods, all connected through a series of tubes and wires and sparks of energy. Incredible. It’s almost better than the magic my lady could perform, back before…”

She zipped up a nondescript gray jacket, tucking a roll of linen bandaging into her pocket. “Alright. Let’s go.”

Rather than head back to the front door, she lead him to another through the kitchen that opened up onto a dimly lit, steep stairwell. “You don’t think I scale the mountain every time I come home, do you?” she said, lifting one eloquent eyebrow.

“I guess I just assumed you never left.”

“I’m not a prisoner here—this is a sanctuary. Although… I haven’t actually stepped foot outside in…” She hesitated. “Well, it’s been a few decades. And this will be the first time without Athena or her sisters beside me. Mostly I stay here and they bring the world to me—or the parts of it worth knowing, anyway. You should go first; it’ll be easier if you put your shield on your back and hold onto the railing, given how steep it is. Just don’t look back. Keep your eyes straight ahead.”

As she suggested, he slung the shield over his shoulder and started down, eyes firmly focused on each next step as his foot descended.

“So those black and red vases—did you make all of those?”

“…Yes, I did.”

“How long does it take you to make one?”

“Several days. The clay has to cure, then there’s the glazing, and there are three steps to the firing process.”

“Wow—that’s an impressive amount of patience.”

After a moment’s silence, she said, “And what do you do, Perseus? When you’re not trying to save cities from gigantic sea beasts?”

“I work at a garage, fixing cars and bikes. And in the mornings I work on the docks, helping fishermen unload their catches.”

“That must not leave a lot of time for much of anything else.”

“Well, I’ve got to pay my way. I’m okay with hard work; I find it rewarding. And I have enough time for my friends—for Andy. That’s enough for me. I don’t have especially big dreams.”

“You don’t want to conquer the world? Have fame, power, so much money you never have to bat an eye at a price tag?”

He couldn’t stop himself from snorting. “And what would I do with all of that? If I can cover my needs and take care of my own, then I’m good. I mean, sure: it’d be nice to have the money to buy a nicer place for my mom, so she wouldn’t have to work odd-jobs every day. Maybe help Dictys pay for a new boat, and give Thallo and Cicely the money to cover the hospital bills when the baby comes—”

“You speak only of giving others money and goods. Is there nothing you would get for yourself? Nothing you want?”

“…But all of that would be what I’d want? Being able to help my family and friends—what more could a guy ask for?”

“And the girl you love, what would you give her if you could?”

How to put it into words when he had never been the most eloquent of speakers? How to tell a stranger everything he had learned in the last several weeks: that Andromeda came from privilege but has always felt imprisoned by it. How she has grown up with everything money could buy but what she wants most is something it can’t: to be with someone who sees her for who she is, and not just for what her family has been. That her family has always offered her the world on a silver plate—and that that’s too much, too overwhelming, nothing that she’s ever asked for. That all she wants is a house of her own, a space to call hers, and to share it with someone who means something to her and isn’t simply there for a paycheck. She wants intimacy, not opulence. Sincerity, not flattery. Something earthy and real and maybe a little gritty; not shining and gleaming and elegant.

As he hurried down the treacherously steep stairs, he fully realized the truth: Andromeda most wanted exactly what he could give her.

“I’d give her me. My time. My focus. My attention. My support. I’d listen to her—for so long people have dictated to her, rather than hear what she really wants. I’d be there for her. Respect her thoughts and feelings; show her that they matter, that they’re important, that she has the right to control her own life and make her own decisions.”

“…Andromeda is a lucky woman—”

He never heard the rest; his foot slipped off the next step and he fell down the stairs, the flashlight smashing against the wall, the shield sending up sparks as it scraped over rock.



*****




Perseus tried to open his eyes. There was something bound over them; his eyelids scraped against fabric. He reached up an aching arm—

“Don’t!” a familiar voice ordered sharply. He felt a hand press against his forehead; another grabbed his wrist. “I’ve blindfolded you. As a precaution.”

“What…”

“You fell down the staircase. Do you remember? I was sure you were dead—anyone else would’ve broken their neck, bashed their skull in.”

“So I’m okay?”

“You’ve got a nasty concussion and you’re black and blue all over from bruises, but I don’t think you’ve any broken bones. None that I can find, anyway. How does your chest feel? Your stomach? Can you breathe alright? Any sharp pains in your abdomen?”

He hesitated, trying to take stock. He ached terribly all over, but there was nothing that felt too sharp or numb, and he could breathe deeply without too much effort. “…I think I’m okay.”

“By the Goddess; if you weren’t the son of Zeus, that would’ve been the end of you. I’d burn some incense in thanks, if I were you.”

Perseus pushed himself up gingerly, wincing at his protesting muscles. Sparse, sere grass rustled beneath his palms and legs; he could feel dirt against his fingers and a breeze over his flushed cheeks. “We’re outside?”

“Yes—you fell almost to the bottom and I dragged you out.”

“I’m going to take the blindfold off,” he said, hearing her shift to turn away from him. He blinked furiously until his eyes focused properly; he looked to the west, where the sun had almost sunk beneath the horizon. “Oh my God,” he whispered. “We don’t have any time left.”

“How did you get here?”

“A bike—Hephaestus lent it to me.” He forced himself to his feet, wheezing in pain. The shield lay close by, beside his backpack; he picked the latter up first, rummaging through the smashed contents while desperation clawed at his insides. He finally found it at the very bottom: the cell phone Athena had handed him before he and Thallo had set off. It was wet from the cracked water bottle, but seemed to be otherwise intact. He opened the contacts list—how many other phones in the world had such a powerful list of numbers programmed into them?—and hit send.

“Yes?”

“Athena, I don’t know what to do,” he blurted out. “There’s not enough time—I can’t get back to the airport—Thetis will send the Kraken at dawn—what can I do?”

“Take a deep breath,” the goddess ordered firmly. “Is Medusa there? Has she agreed to help?”

“Yes.”

“Then there’s no reason to panic.”

“But the island is hours away—”

“Stop panicking. Immediately. I’m putting Hephaestus on the line.”

“Perseus?”

“Yeah?”

“On the motorcycle I gave you there is a green button beside the fuel gage. You’ll need to hold on tightly before you press it—make sure everything’s as strapped down as you can make it; you won’t want anything flying off. And if your father asks about it, draw a convenient blank. The skies are his territory; I don’t want him thinking I’m trying to encroach. Got it?”

“Not really, Uncle Heph.”

“You will after you press the button.”

“Is it some sort of booster? A nitrous injector?”

“Something like that. Your sister is sending you a guide to keep you on course. Don’t despair just yet, boy—have a little faith.”

“Alright. Okay. I’ll try. Thanks, Uncle Heph.”

“Good luck, Perseus.”

The motorcycle was right where he’d left it, parked beside a tree not far from the road. Before they climbed on, Medusa took the linen bandage that had served as his blindfold and carefully wrapped it around her own eyes, lest they pass anyone on the highway. He offered her his helmet, but she waved it away: “My hair wouldn’t stand for that.” She also fixed the shield onto her back before—after a moment of hesitant trepidation—she climbed onto the bike behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“I’m sorry,” he said, understanding her reticence to put her body so close to his. “But you’ll want to hold on tight.”

His finger was hovering over the green button when a loud screech rent the early evening air. He looked up to see a small owl, its white feathers liberally flecked with brown, yellow eyes enormous in such a rounded face, hovering overhead. It had an expressive little face, with clear white ‘eyebrow’ feathers swooping above its eyes.

“An owl?” Medusa asked.

“Yes.”

“Then it comes from Athena—they have always been her messengers and totems.”

“Guess that’s our guide,” he said. “Alright. Hang on…”

Perseus pressed the button.

He had expected to shoot off down the road at dangerous speeds. So when the motorcycle promptly took off in an entirely different direction—not forward but straight up—he couldn’t help but shout in surprise.

“We just left the ground, didn’t we?”

“Sort of, yeah.”

“So we’re on a flying motorcycle?”

“Sort of, yeah.”

“Alright then.”

“I’ve had dreams like this.”

“Just remember this isn’t a dream—I don’t really fancy falling off this thing because you get careless.”

“Oh, trust me: I’m not about to be careless. Not with dawn no more than eight hours away…”

As they shot off after the tiny owl, which was flying far faster than any normal animal ever could, the ground below became nothing more than a brown and green blur. Wind tore at their clothes and threatened to rip Medusa’s headscarf away; only the linen blindfold she’d so carefully knotted kept it in place. And while it was chilled up here, and Perseus had to squint to see at all, it wasn’t so much terrifying as exhilarating. A part of him had always craved adventure and excitement; it was just too bad it had come with such a price. Perhaps when all of this was over and Andy was safe he could convince Uncle Heph to let him take this out for another spin to properly enjoy it…



*****




Andromeda sat on the oyster beach with her knees drawn up under her chin. The lapping waves crested at her feet, sending swirls of gray foam over the toes of her sneakers. In deference to the early morning chill, she had pulled a sweatshirt on over her plain t-shirt—she may have come here to face death, but there was no sense in being uncomfortable as she waited for its approach.

She looked out over the white-capped waves to where the line between the ocean and the sky was just beginning to brighten gold and red. She felt oddly at peace. Since the night of the election the world had assumed a nightmarish quality. The rest of the city had gone about its business in blissful ignorance of the doom that hung over it. A doom only she could prevent. Her mother had fallen into an almost coma-like state, barely conscious and oblivious to her father’s tears. And while her father sat beside Cassiopeia’s bed, she wandered the house aimlessly as if she had already become a ghost, staring at the fancy trappings of their wealth with blind eyes, wondering just where Perseus was. What he was doing. Praying that he wasn’t putting himself in danger for her sake.

Last night her mother had woken from her trance only to launch herself into an alarming fit of hysterics. She had screamed of a woman in black, a woman with ice in her eyes, blaming her for everything. Accused her of casting spells over her, of driving her mad with jealousy and spite. Andromeda had fled the house with her mother’s screams still ringing in her ears.

But as soon as she’d reached the beach, a soothing tranquility had fallen over her. It was as if Perseus was sitting beside her, radiating his calm, dependable strength. This was where she had always felt free, where she had always been herself and nothing but, where she had been truly happy.

It was almost fitting: if fate decided this was where she should die.

The phone in her pocket rang. She looked at the screen with trepidation, afraid it was her father. She wouldn’t be able to ignore the call but then it didn’t feel right, either—saying goodbye to him over a phone. They had already had a long conversation where he had pleaded, she had refused to yield, and it had ended with tears and resignation on both sides.

It wasn’t her father. It was Thallo. Heart leaping into her throat, sure it was a call about Perseus, she hit ACCEPT with a shaking finger. “Yes?”

“Andy, where are you?”

“Why? What is it?”

“Cicely and I have been looking for you. Where are you? I promised Perse we’d be there with you.”

“Why aren’t you with him?” she demanded. “Why are you back in town without him? Where is he?”

“He’s on his way, Andy, I swear he’s on his way. He sent me ahead.”

“You shouldn’t come,” she said thickly, tears beginning to sting her eyes. They had been such good friends to her. And while a part of her wanted to see them, wanted them there whatever happened, another knew that was selfish. They were being good friends by wanting to support her—she had to be just as good by turning them away. No one should have to watch someone they care about die. Especially not in the way she was about to… “I don’t want you to see—Cicely needs to be home, where it’s safe. Think about the baby.”

“God damn it!” There was further, muffled swearing. “Andy, you don’t have to face this alone.”

“I won’t,” she said firmly, swallowing her doubt and fear. “Perseus is coming. He’ll be here. I have faith. Thank you, Thallo. For being such a good friend. Give Cicely my love, too.”

She dropped the phone into the sand and watched the dawning of the third day.



*****




Perseus had always liked watching the sun rise; even as a child he would wake up early just to walk along the beach with Dictys and admire the way dawn painted the sky. The beauty of it always suggested that the day would be full of promise and opportunity; it put him in an optimistic mood, made him ready to face whatever came next with a smile.

But today…

“We’re almost there,” he shouted back over the roar of the engine and the whistling of the wind. “I can almost see our beach—”

And then he saw something else. A wave was rolling towards the shore, and this was no normal swell. There was something large and mottled green behind it, propelling it. Spiny dorsal ridges surfaced from the water. It rose alarmingly quickly, foam and spray glistening across ridged scales pebbled like a crocodile’s hide, seawater streaming from a gaping mouth stolen from an immense angler fish. The Kraken truly lived up to the term monster; but save for the crashing of the waves around it, it was silent. There was no bellow, no roar, no unearthly shriek to pierce the dawn air and announce its arrival. The effect was terrifyingly eerie.

Down below, Andromeda watched it approach with numb horror. She stood at the tide line as the rushing water swamped over her, speeding past her legs and drenching her thoroughly with brine. Her eyes had fixed upon that terrible hooked jaw rife with needle-like fangs. She found herself praying her heart would fail before she reached those teeth. That the clawed, webbed hands moments away from scooping her up would simply crush the life from her.

Then the rumble of a engine made her look away from her oncoming death. Up to where—impossibly; miraculously—Perseus hovered astride a gleaming motorcycle. He was shouting something; at her or at the creature, she couldn’t be sure, and then a woman sitting behind him did something—pulled something away from her face, a thin pale strip of fabric fluttering away in the breeze—

And the Kraken reached forward and smashed them from the sky. As casually as a man swatting a fly.

Andromeda screamed, jolted from her silent paralysis, as the motorcycle disappeared beneath the waves.






Perseus struggled towards the surface; the problem lay in deciding which way was up. He’d bitten his tongue hard and his mouth was full of blood and seawater. The ocean churned around him, chaotic and wild. He couldn’t see, the salt burning his eyes, and scrabbled for anything solid. His hand struck something metal—the shield, floating just above his head. It gave him direction, and he broke the surface beside it with a strangled gasp for air.

There was no sign of Medusa.

The motorcycle had sunk like a stone.

The Kraken loomed over him.

And on the beach stood a desolate figure screaming his name.

“Andy!” he cried, clinging to the floating shield, body afire with pain and exhaustion. He forced his legs and arms into motion, swimming for shore with every ounce of his reserves. He had to be with her, beside her—they had to face this doom together if there was no other hope.

What happened next was so incongruous he almost choked on a mouthful of sewater: a white horse burst from the waves to his left, the massive wings on its shoulders narrowly missing him as they beat powerfully, lifting the animal up and away from the Kraken. In the next moment, Medusa surfaced with a splutter, her serpentine hair covering her face. Perseus turned away so quickly his neck burned.

“Perseus, don’t look!” she gasped out frantically in warning.

“I’m not!” he shouted back, focus wholly on Andromeda again, who was rushing into the water towards him, struggling against the waves that kept sweeping her back to shore. “It’s behind us!”

“Make for the beach! Don’t look back, whatever you do! Don’t look back!”

He somehow managed to summon a burst of energy that carried him into the shallows. Tossing aside the shield, he threw his arms around Andromeda and sank to his knees. She sobbed against his neck, her fingertips digging into his shoulders.

“It’s okay,” he managed to whisper hoarsely, hugging her so tightly she could scarcely breathe. “It’s gonna be okay. I brought help.”

“Look at me, creature!” A voice screamed harshly. Andromeda opened her eyes and stared over Perseus’ shoulder at the bedraggled woman standing unsteadily in the surf. She had her arms spread wide, her back to the beach as she stared brazenly up at the monster now only feet away. Its shadow fell over them, blotting out the sun. “Take a good hard look! I remember your maker—and he couldn’t destroy me! I was powerful then and I am powerful now! I will show you what happens when you try to destroy a woman!”

From where Andromeda kneeled on the beach, wrapped in Perseus’ arms, it was like watching divine intervention in action. The Kraken’s massive head swung down, its bulbous black eyes fixing upon the defiant woman, and then it stiffened. The eyes turned white and opaque, as if it had suddenly gone blind—but it did not stop there. The face began to blanch, then the neck and chest, until the entire creature stood like a horrific statue, as white and unmoving as carved marble.

And then came the tremor, the rumble of some far distant earthquake, and cracks began to appear. Radiating from its legs, they spread in a swift cobweb. In seconds the Kraken began to flake apart, then shake apart, and suddenly the sun was hot on her face and blinding her eyes as the monster dissolved into the ocean, melting away as if it had been nothing more than an awful nightmare.

Then the woman turned. Still dazzled by the bright sunlight, Andromeda could swear her eyes were glowing. Her face was badly bruised, her bottom lip split, and there was a dreadful gash across her chest. She smiled, and Andromeda thought that in that moment there had never been a more beautiful woman—not even the snakes in her hair spoiled her radiance.

And then the woman’s legs gave out beneath her and she crumpled into the foamy surf.



*****




Medusa woke to darkness.

It took her a moment to realize this was due to the blindfold rather than the fact that she had finally entered the Underworld. The sharp pain in her chest had abated, replaced with a dull, throbbing ache beneath tight bandages. She was lying in what felt like her own bed, in clean, dry clothes, and someone was sitting beside her with her hand held in theirs.

“My lady?”

There was a soft rustle of fabric. The hand tightened around her fingers. “Yes. I’m here.”

“How are they?”

“Very well. They’ve both been keeping a steady vigil—I just sent them away to eat and sleep, lest they find themselves in sickbeds of their own. You have two very grateful and devoted friends now, I daresay.”

“Can I take off the blindfold?”

“Not quite yet, dearest. Morpheus has been checking on your progress—he’ll be in shortly for another dose of medicine. You’re a tricky patient, you know. No simple blood transfusions for you. I had to find uncultured antivenom, which is no mean feat.” After a thoughtful beat, Athena went on. “I’m very proud of you. Thank you for helping my brother in his hour of need. You were magnificent.”

Medusa was silent in her bed.

It wasn’t every day that a goddess gave such praises.



*****




It was a busy week.

“We have to wait until Medusa’s feeling better,” Andromeda said firmly two days later, bare legs tucked beneath her on his sagging, second-hand loveseat. There wasn’t enough room for them both to sit on it comfortably, so he was sprawled across the floor, head resting against the edge of the cushion next to her knee.

“Of course,” he agreed vehemently.

“Hopefully your bruises will be better by then, too.”

“Why’s that so important?”

“Well, I’d hate if we looked back at all of the photos and you seemed like you were two steps away from death. Not the most auspicious of looks to start a marriage off with. Think of what the kids’ll say.” She started to blush brilliantly when her brain caught up with what her mouth had just said.

“Kids…” he echoed with a sloppy grin, twisting to look up at her. When she only grinned in reply he set down his longneck and pulled himself up, scooping her into his arms and kissing her thoroughly through her giggles. “I promise,” he said between smooches. “To walk the floorboards with them every night when they fuss. And distract them when they’re teething. And take them to school every morning. And let you sleep in whenever you want…”

“Easy promises to make now,” she laughed, tickling him. “We haven’t even started on the first one yet.”

“What a wonderful suggestion,” he murmured, kissing her neck in a way that gave her a delicious flutter in her throat.

It was a suggestion that was going to have to wait, though—a moment later Perseus’ phone started buzzing. It was Thallo, calling from the hospital. Cecily had gone into labor an hour ago. They grabbed their shoes and were out the door almost before he’d finished speaking.

I’ve been doing an awful lot of crying this week, Andromeda thought several hours later, when Thallo finally called them into the room to get their first look at the newest addition to the family. But at least this time they’re happy tears.

“Andy, Perse, I’d like you to meet our son,” Thallo announced with audible pride, rocking the small blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms. Cecily, pale and tired but still beaming with joy in the bed beside him, squeezed Andromeda’s hand as they leaned in to admire the red, wrinkled face topped in a soft blue cap.

“I can see you in him,” Andromeda told Cicely.

“Thank God for that,” Perseus quipped lightly. “Be a shame if he took after his ugly mook of a dad.”

“I’d punch you if I wasn’t holding a newborn,” Thallo scowled.

“What name did you decide on?” Andromeda asked.

Thallo and Cicely exchanged a knowing look. “Well, we thought long and hard and discussed it for ages,” Thallo began. “And we decided that the best thing to do would be to start him off right, with a really good, solid name. Something powerful and meaningful, you know? So we decided to name him after the best man we’ve ever known.”

“His name is Perseus,” Cicely said, her smile broadening when the shock fully registered on Perseus’ face. “And we’d really like you to be godfather. And Andy to be godmother.”

“Only fitting, right, considering you’re actually part-god?” Thallo joked, biting the edge of his lip in an effort to mask the deeper emotions playing across his face.

Perseus was speechless for some time, clenching his jaw and blinking at the tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. He started nodding, still not quite trusting his voice. Finally he unfolded his arms with a shaky smile. “Can I hold him?”

Watching Perseus cradle the infant, raw emotion in his eyes and a smile curving his lips, made something tighten to the point of pain in Andromeda’s chest. In that instant, she could see their entire future roll out before her: he would keep every promise he had made in jest; he would look at every one of their children with that same awe and unabashed love; he would laugh and smile and support and protect with the brilliant, burning passion he had shown on the beach. He was the only man she’d ever wanted, and he was hers just as much as she was his.

Maybe it didn’t really matter if those bruises were gone by the time they walked into the church. Maybe that would just make the stories they could tell the kids all the better.






When several people reported seeing a flying horse wandering along the beach outside the city, Poseidon went to investigate. He found it eventually, grazing at an abandoned children’s park. Halter in one hand and a tempting carrot in the other, he approached it carefully.

“Unusual horse, isn’t it?” a voice said behind him. There was a young man standing beside the swings, wearing grease-stained jeans and a t-shirt that did little to hide his muscular physique. Or the patchwork of vivid bruises and welts covering his arms and neck. He also had a very familiar chin and brow.

“You must be Perseus,” Poseidon said. “I’m your uncle, Poseidon.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Perseus said quietly, face somber and remote. “You know, it was the strangest thing: I was there when this horse first appeared. It burst straight out of the ocean. Right after the Kraken struck Medusa. After it nearly killed her.”

Poseidon hesitated, visibly discomfited. “When a mortal has been touched by the divine, sometimes there are unusual… side effects. Medusa’s blood is very potent—it can create all sorts of things.”

Perseus said nothing. He walked past his uncle and straight up the winged horse, who looked up curiously and watched him approach without a hint of fear. Perseus reached out and scratched the whiskery chin, patting the firm, warm shoulder just beneath the wing joint. The horse whickered softly, brushing its velvety lips over his arm. “If you ever touch a woman again without her express permission,” Perseus said quietly to the man behind him. “I’ll put you in a full body cast. I don’t give a fuck if you’re a god or my uncle. I don’t care if you’re drunk or have some other bullshit excuse. And I’d very much like to never see you again.”

Without another word, Perseus walked away, leaving the winged horse to his blank-faced uncle.







The next day, Perseus went to see a different uncle for a far different reason.

“Uncle Heph, I want you to meet my fiancée, Andromeda,” he announced.

“This is most certainly a pleasure,” Hephaestus said with a smile—it only widened when Andromeda stooped slightly to hug him properly. “A pleasure indeed, to be able to put a face to the name. Have a seat,” he added, gesturing to the couch with one crutch. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“Oh please, let me help,” Andromeda said quickly, hurrying ahead of him into the kitchen. “What can I get started? Tea? Coffee?”

“My dear girl, I am more than capable of putting the kettle on,” Hephaestus said gently, shooing her away with a wave of his hand. “And I so rarely get to play the host—indulge me, please.”

The tea kettle had just begun to whistle when there was a gentle knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” Perseus said helpfully as Hephaestus turned off the burner. “Good afternoon,” he said politely to the petite blonde at the door. There were pink flower buds woven into the braided circlet over her brow. “We haven’t been introduced yet. I’m Perseus.”

“Oh, yes! I should’ve guessed,” the woman said, blushing slightly, the same hue as her flowers. “I’m Hestia—I suppose I’m another one of your aunts. Our family tree is so confusing, though… Is Hephaestus in? I’ve already checked his workshop.”

“I’m here,” he called softly from the kitchen where he was dropping teabags into mugs. “Come in, Hestia. What can I do for you?”

“Well, Persephone and I were just doing some baking,” she said hesitantly, standing awkwardly before him in the elegantly decorated kitchen. “And I thought you might like some fresh scones and muffins. I remembered you were fond of blueberries…” She held out a fragrant basket, her blush deepening.

“Thank you,” he said earnestly, taking the basket. “Very kind of you. Would you like to stay for some tea? We were just going to chat a while.”

“Oh. …Isn’t Aphrodite home?”

A shadow flickered across his face. His smile became somewhat fixed in place. “No, she’s tied up with work all evening,” he said finally, a bit stiffly. “Please, stay. It’s the perfect opportunity for you to get to know the new additions to the family.”

“…Alright. Thank you.”

Andromeda had watched the entire exchange from her perch on the couch and was rather thoughtful when they settled into their own chairs after dispensing the hot mugs of tea and still-warm-from-the-oven pastries.

“Now, tell us all of the dramatic details,” Hephaestus encouraged after they were comfortable. “It’s been some years since we’ve had such a shake-up around here. I tire of the petty gossip and rivalries—nothing beats a true heroic quest.”

It was late when they finally stood to leave. Andromeda was already terribly fond of both Hephaestus and Hestia, who were quite alike in their quiet kindness. Both had been perfect listeners, gasping at all the right places. When Perseus had begun apologizing for the destruction of the motorcycle Hephaestus had lent him, offering to repay him its value or work off the debt with odd jobs, the god would hear nothing of it.

“Easily replaceable,” the mechanic had said firmly. “Scraps of metal. You, dear boy, and this lovely lady are worth a thousand such trinkets. Let’s not speak of it again. Although…”

He stood awkwardly, hobbling over to a nearby bookcase where an envelope lay on a small shelf. “While you’re here, now’s as good a time as any to give you your wedding present. I’m not one for pomp and circumstance, myself. I have a hard time standing on ceremony—which is my way of forewarning you I may not make it to your nuptials. Not because I don’t want to be there, of course, but because…” He trailed off uncertainly, and Andromeda felt a twinge of sadness sparked by the melancholic slump of his shoulders. She may not be familiar with chronic pain and disability herself, but she could empathize. What a toll a normal day must take on him…

“We understand,” she spoke up quickly. “Going through all of the motions is tiring for anyone, even if you’re only sitting in a pew.” Perseus squeezed her hand, grateful she had understood and spoken for the pair of them.

“Yes, well,” he went on roughly. “Consider this a gift that’s been a long time coming. Twenty-two birthdays rolled into one, with a little extra as a wedding present.”

Perseus opened the envelope and stared blankly at the check inside. “…Uncle Heph, I think you added a few too many zeros on this,” he said faintly.

“Nope. If anything, I think I was a bit stingy,” he retorted with a warm smile. “A young man like you, Perseus, shouldn’t have to slave away all day the way you do. You should have more time to spend with your wife. Get in a few more adventures; though hopefully they’re not quite so dramatic as this last was. With that, you could start a garage of your own. Set your own hours. Undercharge deserving people and do some good in that city of yours.”

Perseus couldn’t think of anything to say, so he just hugged him tightly, lifting him off his crutches. Hephaestus chuckled and patted his back awkwardly. “You’re a good boy,” he said fondly after he’d been set down. “You’re a mark worth leaving on this planet. If you need anything—anything at all—you just ask, alright? We might not all of us look after our own, but I’ll do my best.”

“And the same goes for me,” Hestia said shyly. “Even if you only need an ear to talk to, I’ll be here. I’m always here.”

In the elevator, Andromeda couldn’t stop smiling. It all felt too good to be true, especially after the terror on the beach. Perhaps she’d actually died there along the tide line, and this was all just a marvelous dream in heaven. If so, she was fine with never waking up. “They’re wonderful,” she said. “I’m so glad you’ve found your family, Perse.”

“Just wish it had happened another way,” he said softly.

“Hey,” she said, turning his face with a finger against his chin. “Don’t. It was worth it, in the end. Just focus on that.”

He nodded slowly, bridging the gap between them for a kiss.

A moment later the box shuddered to a stop, the door dinging loudly before sliding open. They stepped out into the marble and gold entranceway that made her feel tiny and insignificant, as if the building had eyes that were staring intently down at her. They crossed the floor quickly, both disquieted by that watchful presence.

“Perseus?”

The deep voice checked them in mid-step. They turned together, hands linked, to see a tall, dark man standing halfway up the first turn of the staircase. His black suit was perfectly pressed and expensively tailored, perfectly fitted across his broad shoulders. Several days’ worth of stubble darkened his chin and cheeks. A large gold watch flashed at his wrist as he started down towards them.

Perseus knew who he was immediately. It was in the uncertain harmonics of his voice. The thunderous concern in his eyes and the furrow in his brow. A brow that was very familiar—he saw it every day in the mirror, after all. Didn’t everyone say he had his brow and chin? “Hello, Father.”

Zeus hesitated on the last step. “I apologize. For not introducing myself earlier. For not…” He didn’t finish the sentence. There were so many ways it could end, after all. For not being there from the beginning. For not knowing anything about you. For not helping you save the woman beside you, even though it was my actions that led to your predicament in the first place… “Congratulations,” he said instead after an uncomfortable pause. “Athena told me of your impending nuptials.”

“Thank you,” Perseus said stiffly.

A large part of him didn’t want anything to do with this stranger; he had Dictys, after all, who had always been a father to him in every meaning of the word. He had never wanted for this man. And he was a grown man now, with a family of his own—what need did he have for Zeus? From everything he’d heard, it wasn’t as if he was someone who could teach him anything worthwhile, who would even be all that interested in being a part of his life.

And yet…

“We’ll send you an invitation,” he said, surprising Andromeda, Zeus, and—yes—even himself. “If you’d be interested in attending. No pressure if you’re too busy or don’t care to, of course.”

“No, I— Thank you,” he said clumsily, the world’s richest and most influential man, a literal god, abruptly tongue-tied. “I’d be honored. Thank you.”

Perseus nodded shortly, turning back towards the front door.

“Perseus?” Zeus called quickly.

He hesitated.

“…This place is always open to you, as it is to anyone in the family. Remember that. The Lito is here for you.”

“I’ll remember that,” he said quietly. “Thank you.”

But as they stepped through the door, he couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. A nice place to visit, perhaps, he thought. To see Uncle Heph and Athena and my aunts. And the Fates—can’t forget about them and our deal. But the Lito is definitely not a place I could ever call home. I’m only partly god, after all. A little house down by the sea, not far from a garage, with room for the kids to play—that’s the spot for me.

Tightening his hold on Andromeda’s hand, Perseus ran for his bike with a laugh.


Tags: fiction, multi-character, ship: perseus/andromeda
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