angie | the sleeper has awakened (zombres) wrote in the_lito,
angie | the sleeper has awakened

on route 66; an artemis & circe 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.)


on route 66, an artemis & circe mythfic.
{filled commission for lindsay (rowofstars) ♥}
in the immediate aftermath of the pact, artemis has to escape for a while and circe comes along for the ride.
when the pair stop at a remote diner they find that some things haven't changed.

She can feel it now, like the ghost of an old pain beneath her skin. Where the German bullets tore through her side only weeks before. It’s new and frightening and overwhelming and she knows now why humans devote so much of their precious time to distractions. Why they constantly move and give themselves over to physical pleasure with abandon—once you can hear the ticking of your death, you begin to frantically search for earplugs. (2,885 words)

The windows are down. The night air rushing through the car is cool and damp. A band plays, tinny and soft, on the radio. The highway stretches out dark and empty before the dim beams of the headlights. In the seat beside her Circe sleeps, elbow propped up on the window ledge.

It’s perfect. Or as perfect as something can get in this flawed mortal world where everything—from the grass beside the road to the mechanical components beneath the hood; from the coyote howling on the horizon to the stars high above—is steadily marching towards death.

She can feel it now, like the ghost of an old pain beneath her skin. Where the German bullets tore through her side only weeks before. It’s new and frightening and overwhelming and she knows now why humans devote so much of their precious time to distractions. Why they constantly move and give themselves over to physical pleasure with abandon—once you can hear the ticking of your death, you begin to frantically search for earplugs.

When she first heard it, no amount of pragmatic logic could quench the fizzing panic coursing through her remade bones. The Pact had given them mostly mortal brains and sensation; but their divine essence, their immortal core, was intact. Their bodies were more susceptible—to heat, to cold, to hunger: to all elements that were once entirely inconsequential—but still fundamentally indestructible.

Reminding herself of this, repeatedly, did no good. She felt as if she would explode; self-combust; fly out the window of her new, tastefully decorated apartment. In desperation, she threw whatever was at hand into a bag and ran down the massive staircase until she reached the garage. Chose a vehicle at random, a glossy red thing with swooping lines and highly polished chrome. Her brother’s latest plaything, no doubt. Slammed the automobile into drive. Squealed towards the road.

She had almost made good her escape when a voice had shouted her name. Without thinking, in pure reflex, her foot stomped the brake pedal. Because it was a voice that was directly hardwired into her brain; it belonged to the one person she loved unconditionally. The one person she would do anything for.

And that’s why Circe sits in the passenger seat. There have been few questions thus far. Words are often unnecessary between them. And does it really matter where they’re going? They know what they’re leaving behind and in this moment, in this space, getting away is more important that getting to.

Call it a mid-life crisis. After a millennia of knowing exactly who, exactly what, she is, Artemis suddenly finds herself lost and drifting. How to reconcile what was with what is and what could be? How to go from the embodiment of virginal strength and independent womanhood to a life of schedules, apartments, practical footwear, and parking meters? To mortal, physical demands when before she had limitless power and scope? And in this immediate aftermath of brutal war, with most of the world rebuilding and everyone grieving, how can anyone be expected to keep their balance? Land on their feet? Walk on with a smile and a swing in their step?

Even goddesses need adjustment periods.

It’s a quarter past eight in the morning when she pulls the car into the diner’s parking lot. Parks it beside a rusting pick-up truck, seemingly the only other vehicle in this remote, dusty, lonely town off Route 66.

“Why are we stopping here?” Circe asks, wrinkling her nose.

“Because my stomach’s been yelling at me for the last fifty miles. Be thankful you don’t have to experience hunger pangs.” Artemis stamps down the jealousy such a thought evokes; this truly is a strange new world, one where the distant branches of the family have almost more power, unshackled by the terms of the Pact. Circe’s magic is not hampered by the distractions of the physical world; she is still focused and pure and wholly untouched by death.

The dented bell hanging above the door clangs pathetically. The woman wiping down the peeling counter glances up. “Sit wherever ya like,” she says in the croaky voice of a habitual smoker. There are bruised circles beneath her eyes. Her dishwater blonde braid is falling apart. It’s clear she’s finishing a night shift; she probably spent the last eight hours serving greasy fried eggs and half-burnt toast to passing truckers. “Coffee?”

“Yes, please,” Artemis says. She’s never had coffee. But if she’s going to live in this world, she supposes she should start trying everything in it.

“Only got regular—we don’t bother with decaf around here.”

“That’s fine.”

The plastic imitation leather on the seats is cracked. Long strips of silver tape cover the sharpest edges. Circe gives her a silent look that speaks volumes as they sit down.

The waitress moves slowly, as if her joints are bothering her, and leans heavily against their table with one hand as she pours from the pot into Artemis’ ceramic mug. “Passing through?” she asks. “You ladies look far too glam to be staying long in this backwater hellhole. We’re nothing but a flyspeck on the map. Off to anywhere special?”

“Just driving for the sake of driving,” Artemis says. It’s clear this woman is tired and disillusioned with life; everything from the way she holds herself to the way she speaks tells a story of disappointment and resignation. Artemis wonders if she’ll ever feel similarly—perhaps in a few decades or centuries, once the raw edges of the Pact have been rubbed smooth, she’ll become bored and disaffected, too. Humanity can be so tedious, after all.

“Phew, wish I had the money to spare on that sort of gasoline,” the waitress replies. “If I did, I’d have put this place in my rearview long ago. What can I get you ladies?”

Artemis glances blindly at the syrup-sticky menu. She has no idea what a normal meal is—what goes with what, what flavors will clash too much. All she knows is that her stomach has become an aching knot. That her body requires food. “How about the number 5?”

“All that just for you? Must be awfully hungry—but then I’ve seen little things put away more than grown men sometimes. And for you, sweetie?”

“Nothing, thank you.”

She drums a finger impatiently against the table. It’s an exquisite kind of torture, waiting for food when you’re already hungry. She’ll have to be more careful in the future. Plan ahead. Anticipate her new body’s needs. Tartarus, how much time will she waste now simply on these kinds of rituals?

“Dearest,” Circe says softly, laying a hand over hers and stilling the restless finger. “Try to relax. You’re practically shaking with tension.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just…” She sighs.

“Everything is different now,” Circe says. “I know. But I know as a distant observer—for you, it’s like a whole new battlefield, isn’t it? You can’t even feel safe or comfortable in your own head and body. I’m so sorry—that Zeus would put you through this—”

“He didn’t force me to sign the Pact,” she interrupts, half-surprised at her own vehemence. “…Far be it from me to come to my father’s defense, but what he decided… This is how it has to be. We’ve been fading for centuries, Circe. You don’t know—living on your island down here, away from Olympus. This last war almost destroyed us, immortality or no. We had to change. Or else we’d… disappear. By Elysian, we’ve become nothing more than fairy tales down here! Overshadowed by newer, more omnipotent gods…”

Circe bites her lip. She can’t argue with that; she was never a true goddess, never required sacrifices and tribute for her strength. She has always stood completely apart: from those on Olympus and from mankind on earth. She is her own source of strength. And how can she judge Artemis for her decision, given such alternatives? Her anger should be directed at mankind for having fallible hearts and short memories; Artemis would never have had to accept this hellish bargain otherwise.

The waitress returns before Artemis starts tapping her foot, loaded tray balanced on one arm. She lays down what seems to be a dozen plates, full of steaming scrambled eggs, sizzling bacon and thinly sliced ham, crispy hashbrowns and buttered toast, a bowl of chopped fruit and stack of golden pancakes. “Syrup’s by the napkins. So’s the ketchup. Refill on the coffee?”

“Yes, please, thank you,” Artemis says, staring at everything with gaping eyes. The scents are overwhelming. Her mouth is watering and she snatches up the knife and fork the moment the waitress turns away. She can hardly choose, finally deciding on shoveling in mass, mixed forkfuls.

She still remembers the taste of the Ambrosia, the sweet purity of it over her tongue, widely regarded as the most delicious concoction in the universe. But the memory of Ambrosia is a paltry, unsatisfying thing compared to fresh eggs and warm ham. It’s the first meal she’s eaten in her new life and it almost makes it all worth it. It’s reassuring: the negative sensations may be heightened for her now, but so too are the pleasurable ones.

When she wipes a smear of syrup from her chin and glances up it’s to find Circe grinning at her with undisguised delight. “You should try some,” she urges, mopping up runny egg with a sliver of toast. “It’s incredible.”

“No, I wouldn’t dare deprive you of the joy. Doubt it would taste half so good in my mouth, anyway.”

Artemis is finishing the last of her hashbrowns and her third cup of coffee when the conversation at the only other occupied table draws their attention. The man in the cowboy hat—no doubt the owner of the pick-up outside—slams his glass down with a short bark of, “Quit your whining! I don’t have the patience for it today!”

The young, blonde woman sitting across from him is in obvious distress, tears pooling in her eyes. Dressed in a red gingham dress that’s far too faded to be anything but a hand-me-down, she’s very pretty in a freckly farmgirl way, and couldn’t be more than twenty. She’s also obviously and painfully pregnant, a hand rubbing quick circles over her swollen stomach. “Please, Sam,” she pleads. “I think it’s time—”

“And I think the hospital’s twenty miles away and I’ve got to get to work. You call your daddy and have him come get you—I can’t afford to lose the shift. Trish,” he calls to the waitress glaring at him behind the counter. “I’m leaving the money on the table—you keep giving me that fucking look and I’m taking the fifty cents I was gonna leave for your tip.”

He adjusts his hat and slides out of the booth, stomping to settle his boots properly before heading for the door.

Only to find the way blocked by Circe.

“Pardon, miss,” he says shortly, side-stepping.

“If you think you’re going to walk out of here,” she replies coldly, the warning rumblings of an impending avalanche beneath her words, “You’re a fool.”

Artemis knows where this will end. And she isn’t about to stop it; the fear and pain on the girl’s face, his dismissal of her very real, very pressing needs—the man is only getting what he deserves. Besides: why waste another second of thought on him when the girl is so very clearly in labor? Decades may have passed since the last time she served as the goddess of childbirth, but she has forgotten nothing. This is a duty she’s been called on to perform time and time again. She hurries past the imminent explosion and helps ease the girl into a more comfortable position.

“Excuse me?” The man looks up fully into Circe’s face and sees the barely contained rage there. “What is your problem, bitch? I don’t know you from Eve.”

“The girl—pregnant with your child, I assume—is in need of attention, not cruel disregard. If you had a shred of decency in your soul you would help her, not scold her.”

“Listen, woman—who the fuck are you to preach at me? I’ve got a job to do, okay? Keeps money in my pocket, which is only gonna be emptier when the brat arrives. This is part of what being a woman is; childbirth and all that shit is just your kind’s lot in life. Ain’t my fault she chose today. She can just call her daddy to come out and take her ass to the hospital. Now step out of the way before I move you.”

“Men—constantly proving me right.” There’s a strange light in her eyes, like the unearthly glow of St. Elmo’s fire hovering over doomed ships, and as she lifts her hand her dark lips pull back in a feral smile that is far too predatory and hungry on a human face. In that moment the veneer of woman peels away to reveal the divine form beneath, too sharp and bright for a mortal to look upon without falling to their knees in agony and awestruck fear.

The snap of her fingers is almost anticlimactic. And the man writhing at her feet begins to shriek in pain—

until his shrieks become inhuman squeals—

until the clothes are rent and torn and falling away—

until only a dumb beast remains, snuffling with a wet snout at the chipped tile of the floor, cloven hooves clacking in a frantic counterpoint to the waitress’ scream.

“Stop,” Circe commands, and the waitress freezes, her mouth snapping shut. “I merely made the exterior reflect the interior. Don’t waste time on pity for him—rather, give the girl your focus.”

The woman stares, torn between horror and understanding, balancing on the edge of a faint. It’s the usual response when one of them reveals their full power in front of mortals; either the brain shuts down in a panic of incomprehension or the knees fold in abject devotion.

“Am I dying?” the girl asks Artemis in a dull, flat voice. Sweat is beading on her forehead and her eyes bulge with pain.


“I’m hallucinating then.”

“Focus on breathing,” Artemis says in a soothing voice, pressing a hand against the feverish forehead.

“Are you angels? God finally heard my prayers and sent you to help me? It’s been so hard,” she whispers, tears trickling down her cheeks. “When I married him he was so nice and sweet—but then I found out the baby was coming and he got all cold. Hasn’t said two kind words to me since. Only complains about how expensive I am, how I’m a weight around his ankle, how this damn baby is gonna make life even harder. Some days I don’t even wanna get up outta bed I feel so rotten and useless. What am I supposed to do? I feel like I’m drowning.”

“Calm yourself. Take a deep, deep breath. Relax. Think of nothing but your baby. Focus on having this baby.”

The waitress, moving in herky-jerky spurts, calls the operator and asks for an ambulance. As the minutes tick by, Artemis calms the young mother with soft words and a soothing touch.

By the time the ambulance arrives it’s already over; the baby girl lies swaddled in a towel in her mother’s arms. Memories have become rather hazy. The pig and discarded clothes have disappeared. Artemis accepts the girl’s heartfelt thanks, washes her hands in the industrial sink, and insists on paying their tab before leaving.

Back in the car, they drive in silence until they’re two towns over.

“Will it be permanent?” Artemis asks finally.

“No. In a couple days, maybe a week, he’ll wake up next to a trough. He’ll remember everything, though, and people will think him crazy when he talks about it. And he’ll think twice about treating women so callously in the future. What parting gifts did you leave the new mother?”

“If he tries to go home to her, he’ll have a hard time getting a foot in the door. I may have boosted her resolve a bit. And she’ll find she has the wherewithal now to make a stand for her own good; and for the baby’s, too. Might be that she picks up stakes and tries a life somewhere new soon.”

Artemis relaxes in her seat, enjoying the feel of the warm leather against her back and legs. Funny, what a difference a day can make. Only a handful of hours ago she was nothing but a welter of confusion and emotions, unsure of her place in this changing world. And now…

Now she’s more comfortable in her new skin. She knows she can still make a difference; can still influence and help mankind. Before, she never could have fully understood that poor girl’s pain and plight; now, she can feel the sharp edges of that desperation and empathize, bond, connect in a way that unlocks the sliver of eternity buried beneath her breast.

Living in this world will be exhausting and frustrating: that she knows. But the trick, it seems, lies in using her newfound humanity to access her divinity. She has become a glorious paradox.

She can’t wait to get started.

Tags: fiction, ship: circe & artemis
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