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the one who sings in the dead of night

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They say goddesses are born, not made.

That isn't precisely accurate.

Apotheosis knows no gender, after all, and legends all over the world are filled with men becoming gods. Heroes who undertake great quests, bravery rewarded by immortality and destinies written in the stars, waiting to be fulfilled. True, it is difficult for a man to become a god. Becoming a goddess is different, and people don't like to talk about it much.

It's easy, actually. There's a trick to it.

You do it or you die.

It involves blood and sacrifice. You can't just slay a dragon or beat an army to become a goddess. You have to give up a part of yourself, and you can't give it freely. Survival is part of apotheosis too.

Her apotheosis was a flint-eyed old man and his bed at thirteen. He'd wanted a beautiful young virgin to deflower, like in the stories, and she just so happened to fit the bill. All the rest was simply details, i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed. She'd been delivered to his home, plied with alcohol that she'd learn to like the taste of, and tumbled into a cavernous, inescapable bed.

It takes a girl to be frightened and in pain. It takes a woman to bear that pain. It takes a goddess to channel that pain into something beyond anger or revenge. To transform loss into gain, virginity into motherhood. To shape her son into a perfect weapon against his father.

(And it isn't the first time a girl has been stolen from paradise, defiled by a covetous man, and remade herself into something to be feared, is it? If her name were not Gillian, but Kore, would it have been easier to understand?)

A girl becomes a woman, a woman becomes a queen, a queen becomes a goddess. That's also how these stories work.

She thinks she will rule forever in that kingdom by the sea. Have a few years with her son (and there is nothing divine in him, because war taketh away far more than it giveth), and take revenge on the men who had victimized her. She is no goddess of prophecy, and so cannot see the day that her son will march off to his death. If she were, she would know the inevitability of it, see the part she has played in it.

She is a goddess of tears, of wronged women, of revenge. She is the burn of nails down tender flesh and the sweet kiss of a blade you won't see coming. She holds the sea in her eyes and flames in her heart, and men will beat themselves bloody on her shores.

She has no mercy left to give.

~~~

The stories would have you believe that apotheosis is a one-time thing. You walk through the fire, drown in the sea, whatever manner you choose, and if you survive, you're a god forever.

It doesn't work like that. Power, real power, does not come with a guidebook. It is not explained to a girl who is not much more than a child, nor is it adaptable to every challenge she faces. She must learn, and learn quickly. For what use is power if there is ignorance or fear bound in it?

After she loses her son and gains a crown, she seeks out others like her. Gods are drawn to each other in the way that human lovers are, fulfill a need in each other like oxygen. She has gone all her immortal life without that spark, that bond, that only another of her kind can provide. She doesn't know what's missing, but she's felt it ever since that first aching morning of new divinity in bloodstained sheets.

She finds what she's looking for in a soft-voiced, richly-clothed man from New York. She'd felt an echo in his boy, but all of Charlie's fire was mortal-bright. He's a sharp, ambitious boy and she doesn't have to be a prophet to know he'll be something special someday. But there's smudges on him, frustrating hints at something more that she won't be able to put a name to until she meets Arnold Rothstein.

He is everything she is not. He is a god of gambling, of sky-high odds and sucker's bets. He was forged in the clamor of the racetrack and breathes in the rattle of coins through a slot machine. He is the pure joy of winning, the sure clack of a cue ball breaking the rack, the logical progression of numbers in infinite combinations.

He brings order to her chaos and she provides action to his planning.

She wants to watch the world burn, and he wants to rule it.

They hold the fate of a nation in the palms of their hands and while she would toss it aside, he sees the cards falling into place.

She expects to bed him as leverage, or destiny, or even sheer boredom. Sex is a tool she has learned to wield to get what she wants, and he would hardly be the worst man she's ever lain with. His cruelty - which he has, he must have, because fortune cuts both ways - is focused, diamond-sharp, could easily be turned toward her. It would even be a balance, of sorts, since there are many women he has wronged (and one in particular who looks at her from behind a gilded cage and a wedding ring).

She doesn't expect gentleness.

She can rage against him, a storm-tossed sea, and he can contain her. She can burn with the strength of a thousand fires, and he will cool her. She can lose herself in drink and drugs and other men, and he will kiss her mouth and call her home. She can sink into herself, into that quiet subterranean place where no one can hurt her, and he will wait at the top to lift her out.

But they do not love each other. They cannot love each other. Love needs trust, and neither of them have ever truly trusted anyone.

~~~

How does it end?

In a more romantic story, where there is room for sweetness and mercy and where weakness doesn't get you killed, they could be legend. Names preserved in the book of love. In a darker story, a tale told to frighten and caution, they would tear each other apart. A warning against two powers colliding. In other stories, they might never have met at all.

In this story, though, where apotheosis is a process, it could not end any other way. Their stories have been told before; innocence torn, kingship attained.

It works in reverse.

And so one day in 1928, she walks into the penthouse of the Park Central, high above his city, and tells him "all reigns end".

"Not just yet," he responds.

But this exchange is the beginning of the end, because his sins are adding up, and she can smell the finality to him. There is a woman lying dead in an apartment he paid for, and another he loves too desperately to set free, and a third he's going to ruin if he's given the chance. There are too many debts piling up and not enough profit to balance the scales. There are boys he's thrown out on their own, and while she tries not to involve herself in that part of his life, she's fond of Charlie and she can't help but hear the ring of betrayal when he and Meyer talk about the Bankroll. Perhaps not just wronged women anymore, she thinks, and pulls him to the bed.

It is not gentle, not this time, and she glories in the passion she's finally, after all this time, set free in him. He is not careful or considerate, does not pay heed to the bruises he raises on her hips or the set of his teeth in her shoulder. It is sweat and sin, pain and penance, and she thinks they could destroy the world in such a state.

He burns, and it's not the candleflame-bright way she does for him, it's a sudden strike of lightning setting an entire forest ablaze. All his precision-honed calm shattered, lines of numbers and odds and angles ripped open until the heart of him is revealed. For the first time, she sees terror in him - though it is, of course, her due - and she cannot pity him.

Together, they burn his heart.

(Apotheosis, you recall, is an ongoing process requiring unwilling sacrifice. For while she was Kore and became Persephone, there is yet another face she wears, and that is Adrastaea.)

It is not as difficult as you may think. There's a trick to it. You do it or you die.

And he dies.