The thing is, Cameron never wanted to die.
Was he reckless? Fuck yeah, he was. Even before his parents died, before mourning made him even stupider than he was before, he took chances he shouldn’t have. Drove too fast, drank too much, mouthed off to the wrong people. But none of it ever felt fatal - none of it made him think “well, this could be it, my last hurrah.” All this shit? This was living.
Everyone else was dying. Sitting in their classrooms, in cubicle farms, in beige houses and sterile churches - that was the slow slide into the afterworld. They were all the same, just dolls with slightly different faces and numbers carved into their feet, like the dolls his mother kept on immaculate shelves in the spare bedroom. Maybe someone out there was collecting all the normal people. Not God - he gave up on the idea of a big-G God a long damned time ago - but there had to be something else out there, someone who queued all these sheep up and displayed them like a prize.
Not him. Fuck that someone, anyway.
(He didn’t really believe in any gods, not really, not until he walked underground and heard Marian’s voice - or no, not Marian’s, it wasn’t her, it was more than her … it was her, like she was always meant to be. She was always more than him. He was always hers. He put himself on the goddamned shelf.)
Becoming a god was a little anticlimactic. Marian - the Morrigan - told him that it was an indescribable experience. “Suddenly, you’re not alone in your head,” she said, as they approached Ananke’s door. “You have all this experience, all this knowledge in your head, and you have no idea what to do with it, but then you do, and you’ll never be the same.”
Either she was talking out of her ass, or this Ananke was lying through her old lady teeth, because Cameron didn’t feel shit. There was no knowledge, no company in his brain. Ananke put the whammy on him, he fell for what felt like forever, and now he had a headache. That was it. Except for a pretty awesome new leather jacket, but that wasn’t exactly what was promised.
“So …” he said, looking at the two women before him. “Is something else supposed to happen? Because I don’t feel any different.”
Marian looked at Ananke. The old bitch shrugged. “There’s never been a Baphomet before. I can’t tell you how you should feel.”
“So I’m one of a kind. Okay, I can deal with that.”
But Ananke was done talking to him. “I’ve done what you asked. He belongs to you.”
Something twisted in his stomach. “Fuck that, I don’t belong to anyone.”
It wasn’t Marian who answered - not the Morrigan, not anyone he recognized. It was a woman with bright red hair and a razor-sharp smile, standing in the place where, just an instant earlier, a woman who looked like Marian had stood. “You’re ours now, boy, and don’t you forget it.”
He could only sing when he was with her. Alone, his voice was only Cameron’s, vaguely in tune and not magical at all. He was only Baphomet when he was with the Morrigan.
He could kill her for that.
Most people would probably guess that his least favorite was Badb. They’d be wrong.
Gentle Annie wigged him the fuck out. Especially when she appeared in his bed, moments after Marian - not entirely the Morrigan, a glimmer of herself - finished coming all over his face.
“You miss them, pretty boy, and you miss her. You miss you. I wish I could give you back.” Annie stroked his bare shoulder. “You don’t belong here. You’re people, and we’re not.”
“Fuck you,” he snarled, pulling away and sitting up in the bed, “I deserve to be a god as much as you do.”
“No one deserves Ananke-god-delusion. Least of all, you.”
Deep down, he understood what she was trying to say. (He thought, anyway.) But pity is worse than dying. “You’re three buckets of crazy, and ugly besides. If I’d have known I’d get you, I never would have taken off my pants.”
It’s not his best work, but it’s good enough to bring out Badb. Fury and pain, those he could deal with.
Performing together was better than sex. Better than any drug, better than anything he’d ever felt.
It was also the worst feeling in the world, because he could never forget that the power wasn’t his. Everything he was, everything he could do, it all belonged to the Morrigan, in whichever goddamned face she decided to show that day. Sure, he had some nifty tricks. He could set things on fire. He could make ghosts dance their incorporeal heads off. He could do all sorts of destructive things, self and otherwise.
He couldn’t create. He couldn’t inspire anyone, not even himself. Not without her.
But fuck if their combined power didn’t take his breath away. To look around whatever grimy tunnel they’d staked out and see the faces - blown pupils, mouths open, just open vessels begging them to fill them up with truth. They had the truth, probably more truth than any of those other assholes. He and the Morrigan, they knew death. There was no sugar coating it, death was coming for everyone. Forgetting it was a fool’s game. No, the trick was to remember it. To stick your hand in the air, make a rude gesture at whoever happened to be watching from above, and have a good time anyway. Because maybe tomorrow, it’d all be over.
People left their performances knowing their own mortality. But they left knowing that, if a bus ran them over on the way home, at least they spent their last moments having a really fucking good time.
He wished he was having a better time.
The graveyard had finally reclaimed his parents’ plots; grass grew over the small mounds of dirt that, just last year, had been shoveled over their caskets. Each one had a small bouquet of garden flowers leaning against the headstones. His grandparents’ doing, he supposed. He hadn’t talked to them since … well, since.
Nor had he talked to his parents. “Even if I did bring you out,” he said, lighting a cigarette, “you couldn’t talk to me, so what the fuck’s the point? Not that I want to hear what you have to say about any of this. Your sister, though,” he continued, pointing at his father’s headstone, “she got herself on the BBC to talk about me. Called me ‘a perpetual bad seed,’ stupid cunt. Like she saw me more than twice a year, and only then if she wasn’t off fucking her boss in France for Easter.”
“Ah, fuck this,” he sighed, standing up. “Neither of you care about anything any more, because you’re dead, and there’s nothing after. Unless you’re a god, I guess. A real one. Who knows if Baphomet will come back next time? I wonder,” he mused, turning away and facing the quiet street, “if there is another Baphomet, will I come back? I don’t know how any of this bullshit works. Probably not,” he decided. “No Marian, no Cameron, no Baphomet. Just a lot of pretentious god-like jackasses.”
He pulled the small doll out of his pocket - it had been in his pocket the night Marian came to him, the Morrigan claiming her prize. He remembered it always sitting crooked on the end of one of his mother’s shelves, no matter how many times she tried to line it up with the rest of the collection. “Don’t know why I held onto this thing,” he muttered. “It’s creepy as fuck.”
Its porcelain head made a satisfying grinding noise underneath his boot heel.
Someone would eventually come along and find the defaced headstone - the one next to his parents, with a new inscription burned over the old one. Cameron - dead of stupidity. Maybe his aunt could get another five minutes on the telly out of that one.
“Do you remember how we met?”
The voice was Marian’s - not the Morrigan’s. So, he slid his glasses down his nose and looked at her. “The comic book store by your parents’ house. You tore the clerk a new asshole when he tried to pull that fake geek girl shit on you.”
“You didn’t say anything.”
“What, and ruin such a fabulous tirade? It was the best entertainment I’d had in weeks.”
“And that’s why I fucked you that night.” She smiled, a quiet, private thing. It looked more human than he’d seen on her since before all this god fuckery. “You knew when to keep your mouth shut.”
“There’s a first time for everything, I guess.”
He blinked, and piles of black hair turned into rough stubble. The eyes that looked back at him were kind, and made his blood run cold. “And a last.”
Maybe Inanna was right. Maybe he’d never really lived.
He walked away from the blaring sirens, and the smell of charred flesh, and forced himself to smile. “Everyone has to start somewhere, right?”