It's raining when Gaia lands in London, a fine mist blowing around her, gathering in the curls of her hair like dew on the grass.
(In her dreams, there's always bright sunlight, filtering through the sheets tangled around them, touching off the gold in his hair, warming her almost as much as his mouth against her skin, his hands between-
She hadn't managed to sleep much on the plane.)
It ought to feel cleaner, the way it hits her face and gathers like tears; it ought to feel easier, now that she's half a world away from him.
When the bus pulls to a stop, she looks out of the window into the dreary morning and spots a greengrocer's; she finds herself staring at the bright green of apples, the taste in her mouth turning sour, and her eyes sting until she looks away.
Instead, she swipes a thumb over her phone and checks her email.
look, it happened, and we can't deny that even if we wanted to. you can't run from it.
not that i'm saying i'd want to deny it or anything.
not unless you did.
no, screw it, even -if- you did. you can run all you like, but its never going to go away. trust me on that if nothing else.
All from email@example.com. She briefly wonders how the fuck he's gotten hold of her email before deciding Zeb's probably fallen victim to his fucked up power, and hesitates, thumb over the delete symbol.
Somewhere in the depths of her mind, the corners that don't belong entirely to her anymore, Idunn stretches and whispers and wants, and she can't do it, she just can't.
“Fuck's sake, girl,” she says quietly, probably making the people around her think she's mental, “you can leave him on the other side of the planet, but you can't delete a fucking email?”
Instead, she hits reply, and types, Your tongue isn't that amazing, you know. And 'abj', really? How long did you giggle like a 12 year old when you thought of that one, you dick? I should have guessed that's the height of your wit.
I know I can't get rid of you. You're inside me every minute, whether I want it or not, and I hate it. That's why I ran.
She never means to press send, she tells herself, not really. Instead she hits save, and stares at the little (1) in her drafts folder until her phone goes dark.
For weeks, every time she gets an email, her throat carries a knot and her heart jumps like she's some ridiculous lovesick girl, instead of a capable young woman getting on with a new life.
He doesn't do it again, and she almost forgets to remember.
ok look, i'll stop this anytime you ask me to, i swear, because contrary to certain people's expectations, i do know the meaning of the word stop. until then...
thought this might amuse you: my dickhead brothers poured a bucket of ice down my pants tonight in public, which, let me tell you, was totally undeserved. i think my dick might have frostbite, it's worse than being in norway. wish you were here.
btw don't go to norway. trust me.
At first, she doesn't know what to think – it's been almost two months, long enough for her to have found a place at a hospital and a tiny flat where the heat never seems to work right. Long enough for her to have gotten used to the way everything tastes faintly of apples.
Not quite long enough to get used to the way people react to her now, like they're a bunch of little kids and she's the sweets shop. Or the grown up version of that, at least. Gaia's pretty certain she's had more offers to screw since she's arrived in London than she's ever had her whole life up til now.
(“I am not your wife,” she said, as vicious as she could while he was hard inside her and her whole body was screaming for more of him, for this to never, ever stop.
“Fuck no,” he agreed, his fingers digging into her hips like a punishment for even saying the word, until she was sure there'd be bruises she'd have to explain to Axl.
I hate you, she thought, and kept on thinking it like a mantra straight through her world coming apart around her.
She didn't even realize she'd been saying it out loud until she felt his mouth against her shoulder. “I know,” he said, and kept on saying it while he brushed her hair back from the sticky skin at her neck and pressed his lips there, almost like he had a right to; like he gave a fuck about her.)
No, you deserved it, she writes back, and watches the little number turn to (2).
She ignores that one line, as if she hadn't read it at all, as if she hadn't wanted to type So do I.
thought about making a trip to europe today, but even after what she assures me was thorough searching, dawn can't find my passport. i bet mike stole it, that cock. makes me feel like a bloody criminal.
you're probably enjoying this.
in other news, i was totally amazing the other day and took care of a rather nasty bit of religious type business, shall we say. to no ones surprise, i got absolutely no credit for it, which is total bullshit even if i'm plenty used to it by now. always coming up short, thats me.
well, not always, if you know what i mean, and i think you do.
have you noticed your powers getting stronger lately, by any chance? not that i know what the fuck your powers even are, but youre clever enough to have figured it out by now.
(sex. i meant sex. i swear, i never came so hard in my life as i did with you.)
It seems like anybody who has the slightest interest in women hits on her now, which makes going out with her new mates kind of a chore.
“Wish I had your luck with men,” Jess says, after she's managed to chase off the fourth guy who's come up to her that night.
“Trust me, you really don't,” Gaia says, spinning her empty shot glass between her fingers, impatient for the next one already because tequila is one of the few drinks that apparently even Idunn can't make apple flavored. “It's like starring in the worst romantic comedy ever.”
The next time she hears, “Buy you a drink?” it's with a lazy kiwi accent, and her heart nearly stops dead. When she turns, it's just close enough to be all wrong; hair a shade off, a bit too tall, not as handsome by half.
Wait, where the fuck did that last thought come from?
“Sorry,” she says, and throws back her next shot. “I'm married.”
On her other side, Jess laughs. “Good one, that. You ought to get a ring.”
“Yeah,” she says, and waits for Jess to turn away before she lets her smile drop, staring at her empty glass like it could tell her why that had come out of her mouth when it hadn't been what she meant at all, why even here, her life keeps going on as if she hasn't always got a say in it.
You stole my soul from me, she writes later, tucked away in a dim corner. But it isn't true – or if it is, it isn't true enough, isn't true in the right way – so it sits with the rest, increasing the number of things going unsaid, one by one.
She already knows from a wide range of experience that it's never as good as it was with him; all sex with anyone else does is take off the edge, and remind her of exactly what her stubborn, god-cursed heart craves.
did i ever tell you about how ty's house burnt down? well, it totally did, though seeing as how it doesn't much impact me, i cant say i paid much attention. he works for your little mate stacey now, pedaling around town on a bike dressed in spandex. you wouldnt believe the jokes i get out of it.
anyhow i forget what the point of that was. probably something about how ty is sad and lonely and not a little pathetic, and the exact opposite of me, who is none of those things.
sometimes i wonder if you even read these things. or if youre ever coming back.
She's on a break at the hospital when she reads that one, and it's enough that she makes a face at her phone. At least here she's doing some good; she's not sure, but patients seem to heal faster on her ward. They're happier with her around, and some days that's almost enough to make up the bit of longing that's got her hollowed out at the core.
Don't be a dipshit, Anders, she writes. You don't wonder that, and if you do, you shouldn't be telling me.
She hesitates, then adds, I'd come back if you asked me to.
He never will, and she knows it.
theres still days i cant get you out of my head, which isnt fair at all. after you left my bed smelled like you for days. it fucking drove me nuts, being able to smell your cunt right there.
this is right about where ty'd tell me thats not very poetic and i am yet again a wanker.
hows this – someone told me once we're all made of stars or some crap. sounded like bullshit to me, but i bet you are.
ever dream youre a better version of yourself? wish i was sometimes.
yeah, you can ignore that last email. how high was i last night? stars, wtf.
Sometimes in her dreams she's someone else, a tall, willowy girl with red curls and dark eyes.
See, the girl says, don't you remember this, my love?
There's always a man there too, lying with her in an orchard, a guy who's basically a bigger, bearded version of Anders.
Tell me a story, she says, and not-quite-Anders looks up at her like she's all there is in the world, like he could lose himself inside her and be happy for it. Like he loves her.
Don't you remember? the girl says again, and Gaia's not sure anymore, even in sleep, if she's talking to him or to Gaia herself.
She wakes up feeling hungover, wrung out, and groans in the dark. “Fuck off, Idunn.” The taste of apples lingers in her mouth, the feel of Bragi's hands still scorched across her body.
She doesn't want to remember, not that.
Later, when she reads Anders' latest messages at work, her head pounds with remembering.
Why didn't you just wash the sheets, idiot? she writes. And they aren't better versions of us. They're just eternal ones, who still don't understand how to be human and think they can just come through and fuck up everything they touch.
When she gets off work, she heads for the bar across the street, where there's a bartender who looks like Jesus, if Jesus had been a hipster who curled the ends of his mustache.
Hipsters have never exactly been her thing, but she takes him home anyhow. His skin matches hers, and he's lean and wiry and dark in all the right places, and doesn't remind her of anyone but himself.
She lies in bed that night with dry eyes, watching the stars through the gap in her curtains, and Idunn leaves her alone.
so, interesting day all round here – did you know there's some kind of party planning goddess who throws parties its impossible not to go to? even when they're bloody fancy dress and you've got a million things you'd rather be doing?
i made a very attractive cop though, let me tell you. bet you wish you could have seen it.
turns out our dad was in town, hence all the fuss. he's still a gigantic fucking prick like he always was, and from what I hear hes already shot through again. no loss there. i know you won't believe it, but he's even more of a cock than me, i swear.
in better news, we played some backyard cricket and i totally kicked ass.
oh, and olaf was dressed as some kind of freaky purple squid. no idea what the fuck that was about. miss you.
Turns out hipster Jesus's actual name is David, and one night he tells her about growing up in Israel, and about how his mother was killed by a stray rocket and his father got harder and harder, until he ran and didn't look back.
“My parents died when I was a baby,” she says, but she leaves out the rest; that they were murdered, that their murderer adopted her, that her whole life had been some kind of freakshow lie.
She doesn't mention that they were gods, either. Sometimes she watches him and thinks he might understand, that maybe there's something more behind the way he looks at her; after all, he's from a land where gods and prophets walked the earth too.
Later, she leans her head against the chill of her window, watching as night fades up into the last dead hour of morning.
Her breath gathers on the glass until the city's lost in a fog of her own making; like life, she thinks. She couldn't possibly get further from New Zealand, but it's still there, clouding over her brain, refusing to heal.
She glances back at her bed, at the tousled mess of dark hair across the pillows, and knows he'd never understand, no matter how much she wanted. Can't force some things. Michele'd always been fond of talking about how love was a bitch, but Gaia knows better than anybody that it's destiny who's the real psycho cunt.
Instead, she turns her back, leaving him to sleep, and picks up her phone.
so apparently i'm working in politics now. would tell you more but its all very hush-hush still, bigtime stuff.
well, bigtime for auckland. so, not very.
to be honest (i know, me being honest? thats an appalling thought, isn't it) i'm not entirely sure i've got the skillset for this. ever feel like you're wandering around in a fog and you're not quite sure how you even got into it?
nevermind, of course you wouldn't. you were always better than me, a fact which no one ever tired of reminding me.
ps you weren't better at everything, let's make that clear right now.
She smiles in spite of herself, and writes back: When did I become your therapist, dickhead? Also, there are totally things I am way better at, and you know it, saving it with the others.
When she looks up again, the glass is clear, and the city's coming to life.
so i might have done something terrifically fucking stupid tonight. scratch that, it was definitely fucking stupid. my one revenue stream has flown out the door and its very possible a madman wants to kill me and destroy everything i love.
not gonna lie, it was also a total power rush and i'd do it again in a heartbeat.
ever read the myth about idunn and loki? she should have listened to her exceedingly intelligent husband and run right the fuck the other way the minute she saw that prick coming.
dont let colin gunderson near your apples, is what i'm saying. just in case. and no, even i don't know what apples could possibly be a euphemism for there. if you ever figure that out, let me know, alright? i hate not knowing shit.
“Your tea is always so amazing,” her mate Annie tells her. “I love the whole apple-cinnamon thing, where do you get it?”
Gaia shrugs, too occupied with her phone to even think of trying to explain. Oh, it's because i'm cursed with this goddess inside me who makes me want all the wrong things and attract all the wrong people, and on top of it, makes everything I touch taste of fucking apples. Annie's willing to believe a lot of shit, but even she's probably got limits.
(“So what exactly do I taste of?” she asked him, with her knees hooked over his shoulders and his fingers splayed warm and heavy on her thighs.
“Apples,” he said, stubble scraping her skin like penance. “And spice. Nice and warm.”
“I should have fucking guessed,” she said, and Anders grinned and reapplied himself, fingers sliding up inside her, working his tongue over her clit, until she couldn't possibly have said anything more.)
What the fuck did you do? she writes back, though from what Axl and the girls had told her about Colin Gunderson, he'd probably had whatever it was coming. Still, it was just like Anders and his stupid big mouth to go off and probably get himself set on fire. Thanks for the warning, I guess?
Almost without her telling them to, her fingers type out, And don't do anything else stupid, okay? and she hits save as quickly as possible, before they hit send by accident.
so, i'm not dead yet, not that you were worried or anything.
weird shit going on here lately – seems you goddesses get to have all the fun in life. remember that stick i went all the fucking way to norway to get, and then had to break out of customs after the new zealand government so rudely confiscated it? well it does fuck all for us gods, but for you ladies? all kinds of good shit. micheles totally exploiting it, but so long as I can exploit it along with her, its all good in the end. call it a finders fee.
on second thought, you probably never saw the stupid stick and have no idea what i'm talking about, so nevermind. stay away from norway.
still cant find my bloody passport.
Jess and Annie drag her on a trip across the Channel, and when they hit up Amsterdam, she smokes enough pot to forget Anders hasn't sent her a message in over a week. It's not that she cares, really, and if anyone ought to be able to talk themselves out of shit, it'd be Anders, but some stupid nagging twinge still has her checking her phone so often Jess confiscates it.
They take the train to Copenhagen after that, and travel north until she can see Sweden across the water.
Her email alert goes off while she's standing there, the cold breeze whipping around her, as close to the lands of the Norse gods as she's ever been.
She ignores the urge to squeeze her eyes shut when she sees it's from him, and breathes deep enough that the tightness in her throat dissolves almost before it forms. For once you're right, I have no idea what the fuck you're talking about, she writes. But I'm glad you're not dead yet. Sort of, at least.
The girls ask if she wants to venture across the water, but even the bits of her that are Idunn have nothing but apathy for the land in the distance, and she says no.
so this week was full of mike being a dick as usual. in more entertaining news, my idiot grandfather got my best and only employee totally stoned off his pot cookies (heres a tip, if olaf ever offers you baked goods, say no unless you want to be baked yourself), which would have been funny if ty hadn't managed to decide it was all somehow my fault for not being in the office to watch her. i'm her boss, not a babysitter. if it was my job to keep track of everywhere she goes and protect her from everything, she'd be my girlfriend, not his.
not that I have a girlfriend. or want one. at all.
She downloads one of those travel apps, and spends more time than she should looking up flights to Auckland.
“You should go for a visit,” David tells her, when he catches a glimpse of it over her shoulder in bed. “Might do you good, you seem distracted lately.”
She thinks about everything that would wait for her there; thinks about that last line of Anders' last email and what the fuck it was supposed to mean, thinks about David pressed up warm and comfortable and human at her back, not perfect but still here and safe and happy to be with her just because she's Gaia, not some kind of mystical fucking magnet he's got no choice but to want.
(“You never kiss me.” Anders' blankets felt too thin, clutched between her fingers, like he'd be able to see right through them if he turned his head. But he was staring up at the ceiling, same as her; if he'd ever looked her in the eyes she didn't know, since hers had stayed closed.
“Shit no. And you don't want me to.”
She hadn't asked if he wanted to; there wasn't an answer he could give that wouldn't make her feel worse, one way or another.
She waited, but he never offered.)
“No,” she says, switching her phone off with a definitive click. “I can't go back.”
His emails stop coming quite so frequently after that, and it's easier to tell herself that she doesn't care.
the universe has been good to me lately. cant tell you exactly how, but suffice it to say my life looks to be on a upswing for once and several items have been checked off my wishlist.
of course, i do still have unfufilled business i'd like to attend to.
i've been thinking about you lately. well, someone asked me about you, but i would have been anyhow. though i'm only saying this because i'm 100% convinced you never read any of this bullshit. this probably isn't even your actual email.
any chance you might be coming home soon? though, on second thought, that might make things a bit more complicated than they need to be. nevermind.
She snorts when she reads that one over breakfast, wondering if Anders really thinks he's all that irresistible, even to her, that she couldn't possibly see him reaching out and not respond.
That's one thing life with Bryn had made her very, very good at – repressing her desire to play with other kids, to leave the island, to make a life that belonged to her and wasn't molded into anybody else's ideas of how life should be lived. She knew all about sacrifice, all the ways the balance between people could so easily get tipped, until you've given so much you forget how to take.
And of course, there's always people like Anders, who are the exact opposite.
I can't belong to you, she writes. That can't be my life.
She wonders if this is how it was in Asgard, too, if Bragi wandered off reciting poetry to all the hot goddesses and Idunn's lot was to sit in her garden and wait.
Tell me a story, her mind whispers, and she can't tell anymore if it's Gaia or Idunn talking; if her voice sounds like longing or if it's just pathetic.
story's over, apple chick.
see you next time around.
It's waiting there for her when she wakes up for an early shift, and she stares at it so long she ends up running late, with no time for breakfast.
She blames her empty stomach and the bitterness of the hospital's wretched coffee for the gnawing in her gut, for the way her world feels like it's fragmenting, tiny pieces dropping away around her.
Her phone sits in her locker until lunch; when she manages to get her fingers to work properly and checks it, her mailbox remains stubbornly blank, but there is a message from Zeb – Zeb who she'd given her new number to under pain of serious maiming, telling him it was for absolute emergencies only – and suddenly she's twitchier than ever.
They found her. For real this time. You might want to come home.
For a minute, she can't breathe properly.
Why? she types back, praying Zeb's still awake and he hasn't let his phone die. What's going to happen?
You won't be a god anymore, pops up on the screen, followed by, Which would probably be ok with you, except everyone you know who isn't also a god will forget you.
She laughs, right there in the cafeteria, an awful, half strangled kind of laugh, because yes, of course that's how it works. She's going to get exactly what she's wanted for months, at the cost of her entire life. One last gift of the goddess in her blood.
Tmrw morning. So, 12ish hours at most? Good luck with life and all. You know, in case I never see you again.
It's all too much, and the screen's blurry in front of her no matter how many times she blinks.
You will, you egg. Ta, she types back, because there's nothing else to say.
When it happens, she's somewhere over the middle of America, on her way to a layover and a plane that'll take her over the Pacific in Los Angeles.
There's just enough warning beforehand, a kind of foreboding that leaves her chilled and shaking with adrenaline, murmurs of what she supposes is some kind of Norse language echoing through her mind in a strange woman's voice.
She manages to get to the lavatory in time, and it's there, in a tiny airplane bathroom reeking of chemicals, that Idunn is finally forced from her, pulled out to fly, all green and white light, through the ceiling and away.
In the humming chaos of LAX, she logs into her email.
You were wrong, she writes. I read every fucking word. Was that the best you could do?
She hits send, and watches the long thread in her drafts file disappear like her goddess spirit into the ether, leaving her a little less.
are you saying i'm a shit storyteller?
New Zealand still feels like home; the Auckland traffic, the wait to catch the ferry to Waiheke, the force of Bryn's hug when she knocks on his door and says, “I didn't know where else to go.”
She still doesn't, even after she's slept for what feels like three days.
Anders' latest email doesn't really help.
(“I thought you'd talk more,” she said, because maybe it would all hurt less if she could lay the blame on him, or at least listen to him talk enough that maybe she'd come to hate the sound of his voice.
“Do you really want me to?”
“Well, you are supposed to be the god of poetry. The myths I read said you're meant to tell me a story,” she said. “A story that never ends.”
He didn't answer her for a long minute, long enough that she bothered to look at him, at the way his lashes looked stark against his skin, the way his throat worked as he swallowed, before he finally opened his eyes and said, “Yeah, well, everything ends. And the myths are all bullshit anyhow, don't read that crap.”
The bed felt cold when he left it, and empty.)
She thinks for a long time, fingers hovering. In the end she just writes, Wasn't much of an ending. I think you could have done better.
When she picks up her phone again, it's to call Stacey; even now, some things still seem inevitable, and these are the only people left to either version of her, Gaia or the goddess she used to be.
i could, if youd give me a chance. but we both know you won't.
This time, she doesn't reply.
Three weeks later, she finally sees him, at a party full of former gods in a house that's pristine and full of white and hard angles and is so totally suited to Michele.
The evening's been confusing enough, what with seeing Axl again and finding that the blonde he's with apparently wasn't the Frigg (she's the blonde with Mike, and Gaia doesn't bother asking how that came about), but some goddess named Saga who hadn't even known she was a goddess; at least not until the day everyone forgot who the fuck she was mid-morning.
And then there's Anders. “Don't think he knew you were coming back,” he says, sliding up next to her where she's watching Axl and his mystery chick.
Gaia shrugs, and tries not to look at him. “I didn't tell him. It's probably for the best anyhow.”
“You didn't answer my last email,” he says abruptly, though when she turns to him, he isn't even looking at her.
Because I don't need you, she wants to say. I don't need her, I don't need this thing between us, not any of it. Instead, she looks at his bent head, at the way his hair's grown longer than she remembers, and what comes out is, “Sorry, did I hurt your feelings or something?”
“I was wounded to the core,” he says, finally focusing on her. “Couldn't get out of bed for a week. You know how seriously I take crap like that.”
She rolls her eyes. “Well, I hope you've gotten over your heartbreak.” The stupid thing is, she almost wishes he wasn't joking; standing this close to him, it's like Idunn's still with her, humming with joy.
“The offer still stands, you know,” he says. “I honestly didn't think it would when I saw you again, but...” For a second, he leans into her, mouth close to her ear, and she wonders if this is an old habit, if she's about to hear the ghost of Bragi or some shit. Instead, there's just, “Later, apple chick,” warm against her ear, and the feel of his hand, brushing against the small of her back like a brand.
Three hours later, she's at his door, and it all feels so fucking familiar she could vomit – the buzzing in her blood when she rings the bell, the shadows over his face when he opens the door.
“I have a name,” she says, pushing past him.
“Yes,” he says slowly, closing the door and watching her like he suspects she might have lost it, which is possible, because why else would she even be here? “I am aware of that.”
“You never said it,” she says, half afraid her voice will break and humiliate her before she can finish. “I'm not Idunn. I'm not your apple chick.”
“I know.” He's still watching her carefully, leaning on the back of the couch while she tries to resist the urge to close the gap between them, and somehow stands still, with the bench at her back. “And I'm not Bragi, so why are you here?”
There are too many answers to know where to start with that; because he's still like a lodestone, pulling her in, because she can't imagine going back, because there's still some little bit of a goddess lodged where she doesn't belong. Because Gaia wanted to be here. “Do you ever feel like you've been struggling against a tide for so long that now that it's gone, you don't have the energy to go on without it?”
“That's the difference between you and me,” he says, moving past her, reaching for the open bottle of wine that's probably a permanent feature of his place. “I only bothered trying to fight it once, and that didn't end so well.”
She laughs, even though nothing about this is funny in the slightest, and there's still that hollow place somewhere inside her where Idunn used to live that's left her lighter, unmoored. “Told you I was better at some things.”
Anders smiles at that, and pours her a glass of wine. “I don't have anywhere else to go,” she admits, and when she curls her fingers around the stem of the glass, his don't let go, his thumb stroking across her knuckles.
“Look,” he says, and it's ridiculous, the way her heart still leaps when she meets his eyes, because this was really meant to have gone, “we had a crappy beginning last time. And a crappy end, actually. Maybe it's better if we just...don't.”
In a way, that's what decides her. The Anders she remembers, the one who dragged Axl out to meet up with skanky girls and brought him back totally pissed every weekend, the one who'd sexted her a dozen times in a few hours, would never have turned down a willing woman; of that she's sure. That, and his hand is still wrapped around hers, holding on like he's bonded to her. “Or maybe we should just start again at the beginning,” she says, and takes a deep breath. “Hi, Anders. I still think you're a prick, but maybe a prick with some decent qualities buried deep down somewhere.”
She watches close enough that she sees it, the second he breaks, the second he gives in to the mess of what's left of them, the wreckage Bragi and Idunn left to wash up on their shores. It feels like coming home when he moves and puts his arms around her; a home that's got some decorating issues and isn't quite what she'd ever had in mind, maybe, but still, one where she belongs. “And you're still drippy and entirely too earnest,” he says, “but it's oddly attractive.”
“There's that silver tongue again,” she says, wondering if Bragi and Idunn are watching them from wherever it is they've fucked off to; if they are, they're probably laughing at how long it's taken, at how hard they've struggled against this. Maybe the gap between destiny and choice had grown narrower, while she was off trying to live her life. Maybe she'd forced it to be. Maybe it always had been, and she'd just refused to see.
“Oh, I'll show you silver-tongued, Gaia,” Anders says, and when he kisses her, she doesn't care about any of it, right or wrong or who either of them used to be or might become.
He doesn't taste of apples. For now, that's enough.