Medusa’s story is short. She grows. She learns to laugh and run, the skirt of her peplos whipping behind her through the grove.
Crowley watches her sprint from his perch in an olive tree. He makes quick work plucking the fruit, his hands deft as he balances his body between the branches. Eneas walks by, chuckling low as Medusa runs past him.
“How old is she now, Anatola? Six? Seven?” he says, shouting from the ground.
“She’d tell you seven-and-a-quarter.”
Eneas laughs, resting his hands on his hips. “I better not forget.” He’s grey around the edges, hands sturdy but not as nimble as they used to be. When Crowley first moved out here, he gave him a job, taking pity on him for being husbandless with a newborn. He himself lost two sons in the Trojan War, and the olive grove will go to the next oldest daughter instead, an unorthodox approach. Crowley approves.
“She’s gotten to be quite the polite little girl.”
“Thank you, Eneas.”
Medusa has gotten much better about her thrall after a long summer of tantrums. Crowley followed her around, snapping his fingers to prevent the humans from doting on her every whim. She’s learning ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ instead, always mindful of her parent who has a knack for popping out of nowhere. Intelligent and quick, she runs between the straight rows of trees, popping olives in her mouth and spitting out the pits. She’s got a bit of snake in her, the way she slithers up trees to the very tallest branches. Corelie, Eneas’ wife, used to fret when she was a toddler, taking to climbing as easily as running and walking.
In the mornings, she sits with Crowley while he brushes out his hair. She giggles when he flips his head to the side, a spill of red waves covering her face. In the polished obsidian mirror, Medusa pretends his hair is her own, framing her face and posing.
He catches her sometimes rubbing her naked head, frowning at her reflection.“Μαμά, where’s my hair?” she asks often. The answer never satisfies her. He doesn’t know why, after seven years, it still hasn’t grown.
“Do you need hair?” he asks. “What’s wrong with you now?”
“Epifania says I’m ugly.”
“Epifania is a year younger than you and half as smart.”
Medusa crosses her arms and tucks her chin, swinging kicking the legs of her chair. She lets her voice deepen and rumble, the candle flames flickering. “I want to have hair!
Crowley hisses and then tuts, waving a hand at the nearby candles. The flames blow out. He learned his lesson once when she was very young after a squalling tantrum over sweets that resulted in a small fire. “That doesn’t work in this house,” he says, and then when he sees her hiccup, blinking her eyes, he slides off his chair and cups her face in his hands, wiping at her tears.
In the last seven years, she’s stretched out. She’s tall and unruly and fairer in skin than the locals. She sticks out amongst the other children. “Meadow, I don’t know why you don’t have hair.”
She sniffs and straightens up, lifting her head high despite the trembling lower lip. “I think we should go to Aphrodite’s temple. She’ll give me what I want.”
“We’re not travelling all the way to Corinth.” He shudders. “I hate boats, and the gods never listen.”
Medusa frowns and picks at her breakfast, bread dipped in oil. “Epifania says if you don’t believe in the gods you go to Hades.”
Lately, all he hears is, ‘Epifania said this, and Epifania said that.’ It’s wearying. “I didn’t say I didn’t believe in the gods. I just don’t believe they’ll respond.” He returns to finish his hair, making quick work of it. “Especially not Aphrodite.”
“Because you’re more beautiful than Aphrodite. You put her to shame. There’s nothing more she could give you.”
She smiles in front of the mirror, wide and toothy, then tilts her head back to look up her nostrils. “One day, when my hair comes in, I’m going to be more powerful than a goddess.”
Crowley hisses. If only she knew. “You already are, Meadow.”
Corelie runs into him one morning on the way to the market, her cart full of fresh-picked olives and jars of tapenade. Crowley likes her. She’s wise and weathered, always kind to Medusa, and is often his first source of rumours around town. “Good morning, Anatola. Have you heard about the new teacher coming to town? He’s coming by way of Athens," she says as she abandons her cart on the side of the road, excited. Crowley appreciates Athens for its beauty and commitment to arts and culture, but he can’t imagine why an Athenian would travel out here. “What’d bring such a man to the outskirts of Sparta?”
She gives him a knowing look and elbows him. “Perhaps Hymenaeus will bless you with a husband.”
He rolls his eyes. Medusa is nearing eight, and the townspeople have opinions about him walking around in his mourning dress still, shifting from pity to impatience. He shuffles his feet and adjusts his peplos.
Corelie, who spends her summer days teaching Medusa how to pit and mash olives, who takes her for walks along the river banks to gather bouquets of hyacinth, says, “And perhaps it’s time to send Medusa to school.”
“Girls can’t go to school,” he protests, not that he’s against educating her. He’d just rather keep her at home because of her unusual talents.
“I bet this new young teacher will make an exception. Your daughter is extraordinarily bright, and it’s not like there are many other children out here who would attend his classes.”
It does raise questions. Medusa is the youngest child in the district besides a newborn on the other side of the olive groves. The other children are much older, already put to work in the fields, especially for the summer and fall harvests. Affluent kids go to school, not farmhands. “We’ll see,” he says, curious about the outsider.
Crowley reaches the grove and wraps his hands. Medusa, who’d run off ahead, is already there, sampling the tapenade as Eneas scoops it into jars for tomorrow’s market.
“Eneas is going to let me run the olive press today!” she says, by way of greeting.
“Just the little one, mind you,” Eneas says.
Medusa has olive on her face and oil all over her hands. She wipes it on her peplos while Crowley huffs. He hands her a basket. “Can you climb that tree for me? I think I’m too big to get up there.”
“But the press, Μαμά!”
Once she scurries away, Crowley settles himself at the large press, a heavy circular stone set in a basin with a wooden crank. He begins to turn it over, enjoying the heavy work. Eneas often comments on his strength for being a woman, and Crowley tamps down a sarcastic remark about the benefits of demonic power. Instead, he says, “Corelie told me about the new teacher in town.”
Eneas hums. “He was scouting out property a few days ago, hired those Pagonis boys to build him a small house down by the wheat fields. A philosopher, they told me.”
Crowley grimaces. A philosopher loves two things, rhetoric and the sound of their own voice. “Why here, of all places?”
“Not sure. Gods know we need some fresh blood around here. Stavros has gone and built a shrine to Ares.”
“To end the war or to continue it?”
Eneas shoots him a look. “What do you think?”
Spartans love their wars. Love their victories. But there are some like Eneas and Corelie who have suffered from it too much from warfare, losing their two sons. “I think it’s needless and senseless,” Crowley says. “She’s just a pretty face.” He means Helen. He means Paris who stole her from the Greeks. He means he’s sorry for the wreckage he wrought on this land. He touches Eneas’ gnarled hand. “I’ll go fetch Meadow and start picking.”
“Thank you, my girl. You’ve been a blessing these past few years.”
He bites down on a hiss.
At home, Crowley pours himself a heavy cup of wine and rubs at his face, weary from having to cast glamours all day to hide his unusual eyes. He looks over at Medusa, curled up under a pile of heavy wool skins despite the heat of summer. He hardly sleeps these days, looking behind him at all times for any signs of Hell. He’s been slacking on temptations, but it’s challenging to foment unrest and dissent in such a small community without it coming back to him, and he can’t just leave her here while he goes off elsewhere. She’d be left defenceless. The fact that he hasn’t heard any complaints from his superiors surprises him, and he wonders if Lilith has been keeping them off his back. It’s a strange thought having an ally so powerful and very much unlike himself.
Still, he’s suspicious, so he keeps his ear to the ground for information about the new philosopher in town and watches the progress being made to his home. It’s a small space for one, smaller even than his house for him and Medusa. It’s a walk across the groves to get there, mostly blocked by rows of trees.
“What do you think?” he asks Medusa over dinner. “Do you want to go to school?”
She makes a face and crams a piece of her bread in her mouth. “Boys go to school.”
“You can do anything you want,” he tells her. “Anything in the world.”
She chews in thoughtful silence for a moment, mulling over his words. “Can I have hair?” she asks, voice flat as she pokes at the rest of her meal.
“No, Meadow. Not that.”
The next morning they walk to Eneas’ grove together, hand in hand. Medusa likes it when he picks her up and swings her in the air. She’s grown tall and waifish, not quite settled into her feet and hands yet, but he’s strong enough to scoop her up like a bundle of straw.
“Again, Μαμά! Please!”
Their usual walk takes twenty minutes as she has to stop and inspect every snail and beetle they come across. She collects several twigs and a few exciting rocks which she will later abandon behind the shed in favour of crushing olives with her bare feet.
At this late hour, Crowley’s surprised to find the grove empty and the mill unattended. He realises they never crossed paths with Corelie on the way to the market either. It’s odd. His pupils widen and his tongue slits, tasting the air. He feels static in the atmosphere, the sting of ozone.
“Stay by me,” he says, grabbing Medusa’s arm, stilling her. She looks up at his face and slows when she sees his thin expression, tight and cautious.
They walk to the front of Eneas’ house and find the door swung open. It’s not unusual for the season. The weather is warm and the breeze light and salty from the surrounding sea. He hears rising voices from the back room and scoops Medusa up in his arms, peering around corners with caution as he follows the noise.
He finds Eneas and Corelie sitting at their table, laughing along with a stranger whose voice is musical and bright. Crowley recognises the slope of those round shoulders and remembers the flex of muscle underneath. He knows that tuft of white hair and expressive hands, can calculate the exact radius of his lilting grin.
Crowley would turn around if he could, but Corelie catches sight of him and says, “Oh! Anatola! You’re here!” She looks outside at the rising sun and stands in a hurry. “I was going to say you’re early, but it’s us who are late!” She begins to gather her things for the market. “We just got so caught up talking to our new neighbour.”
Said neighbour turns to see the newcomer and stops, mouth opening in surprise as he inhales a sharp breath. “Crow -- er --”
“Anatola,” he corrects, pressing Medusa to his chest with a fierce grip. If it hurts her, she says nothing, burying her face in his neck. “And you are?”
“Azarias,” Eneas says. “He’s the new philosopher.” He comes around the table and pats Medusa’s back with a shaky hand. “And this little one will be his new student.”
Aziraphale blinks and clicks his mouth shut. Then he notices the child for the first time. “Oh. You have a son.”
Muffled in his neck, Medusa protests. “I’m a girl,” she says, her voice pitching high. She grabs Crowley’s hand to hide her hairless head, ashamed.
“Oh, oh dear. I’m terribly sorry,” Aziraphale says just as Crowley sets her down.
Corelie grabs her satchel and comes around to peck her husband on the cheek, then Crowley. “I’m off to the markets. A pleasure to meet you, Azarias.”
“Me too!” Medusa says and slips out behind her.
“Is it alright if she goes with you?” he asks, but they’re both out the door before he can finish his sentence. Then he turns to Aziraphale, fixing his gaze left of his ear. “She’s just shy.”
“She’s… a child,” Aziraphale says, surprised. His initial guardedness has morphed into surprise. He looks up at Crowley, searching.
Crowley clasps his hands in front of his waist, mindful that he’s a widow in front of a man of position in addition to being a demon before an angel. The other thing -- the thing they’ve been in the past together -- he doesn’t dwell on. He doesn't begin to know where to look, avoiding Aziraphale's wide eyes.
“I’ll be at the mill,” Eneas says and pats him on the shoulder. “Do you need anything, dear?”
“No, I should follow you out. Work to do and all,” he says, voice hoarse and chest beating. He turns to Aziraphale and nods before darting out the door.
He finds the highest tree he can see in the furthest of the corner of the grove and climbs up, agile and swift. He hangs the bucket on a branch and bangs his forehead on the trunk, hissing slow deep breaths.
It’s been over seven years since he’s seen Aziraphale. And maybe -- maybe -- Crowley had come back to Sparta in hopes of running into him, but confronted with the reality, Aziraphale before him, he’s terrified. The only small comfort he has is the fact that the angel was just as surprised to see him. It means Heaven hasn’t found out about his little indiscretion, yet. That doesn’t mean they won’t, he knows. After all, the angel’s first alliance is to Above, and he and Crowley hadn’t parted on the best of terms.
But Crowley can’t leave. If it were just him, alone in a grove in the outskirts of Sparta of all places, he’d bolt in an instant. Poof. Gone. Αντιο σας. But Medusa needs this place. She has a home and doting almost-grandparents and security from the suspicion of the city-state. She’s safe.
And then there's the look on Aziraphale's face, burned into his mind, mouth open in surprise and what Crowley imagines is hurt. What does he even tell Aziraphale about her? So sorry I didn’t tell you. I woke up to you naked, panicked, and then got pity-fucked by an incubus?
It’s the blessed angel’s fault this all happened anyway. Aziraphale had been the one who wanted to meet those years before, the one who paired their usual quips and barbs with red wine. He was the one who looked flushed and glassy-eyed, tempting and temptable at the same time. Crowley hadn't meant to kiss him, not really, but they'd both been drunk. What does it mean that they had the power to sober up but chose not to, barrelling on that night, too frenzied and hurried to unwrap the metres of linen fabric comprising their togas, too stupid-drunk to miracle their clothes away? Instead, they'd rutted together, hiking up their garments until their flesh met, slick with precome and sweat, nothing left between them but the incomprehensibly fond words caught in the back of Crowley's throat until he came keening, cock pressed against that soft flesh, mouth hot against the angel's throat.
In the morning, he'd woken up, smothered by the cloying dread that Aziraphale would turn over and look at him in disgust. At best, the angel would have smote him. At worst, he would have been kind and told him it was a mistake. He left, too much of a coward to find out which option Aziraphale would choose.
He hides in the tree for the rest of the morning and waits for Corelie and Medusa to return from the markets. Upon their return, he miracles a bucket full of the ripest, roundest olives and dumps them in Eneas’ lap, bundling Medusa in one swift motion.
He takes in her splotchy face and the way that she rubs at her puffy eyes. “Are you all right, Meadow?"
She’s quiet, which isn’t unusual, but she has a pinched look about herself. She folds her arms over her chest and sucks in a shaky breath, fighting off a fresh wave of tears.
“Really, Medusa, it’s fine,” Corelie tells her and cups the back of her head.
Medusa lifts the skirt of her peplos and reveals her knee, covered in blood but already scabbing and shiny. “I broke a jar,” she says.
“No harm was done,” Corelie reiterates. “She slipped and fell on the spilt oil though. There was quite a fuss. Good thing that nice teacher was there. He scooped her right up and kissed her scrape all better.” Crowley bristles. “She was positively star-struck by him. I think she might have a bit of a crush.”
He tuts and hoists her up on his narrow hip, pressing a kiss to her temple. “Off we go. We’d better clean it at home.”
Medusa grimaces as he jostles her and tries to squirm out of his hold. “It really hurts.”
“I know, Meadow.”
There's a pause and then she peeks up at him from behind her hand, the pain forgotten for a moment. “Do you know what would help?” she asks, always the opportunist.
He anticipates her answer before he asks. “What's that?”
“A spoon of custard,” she says, eyes wide and guileless.
“A spoon of custard, please.” Behind his back, he snaps his fingers, ensuring there’s a jar in the ground cellar. “We better be quick. It might be too hot out for it to keep.”
In front of them, Eneas and Corelie share a look, sweet and doting, and all of Crowley shivers. He nods to them both, using Medusa as a shield between him and them, and turns to leave.
He takes her to the stream out back and cleans off the blood, careful not to disturb the healing scabs. In the process, he lifts the skirt of her peplos and stops when he sees the patch of scales on the back of her thigh, creeping down to the inside of her knee. They’re spreading. At every change of the seasons, she starts to itch and dry out. Under every shed there are new, glittering black scales eking out territory on the expanse of her leg.
He hesitates for a moment, then pats the wound dry and wraps it in linen, procuring the little jar of custard he miracled from Stavros’ farm into their cellar. They eat it with their fingers. After, Medusa grows tired, propped against his chest in the sunshine. He wraps her bare head with the rest of the linen to keep it from burning and then reclines in the grass.
Just for a moment, he closes his eyes and snaps his fingers, freezing time. It’s a frivolous, wasteful little miracle that he doesn’t indulge in often, but he knows she’s changing. Whatever the future brings, these quiet moments will be few and far between the older she gets.
Aziraphale finds them just before sundown as they’re loping back inside. He’s waiting in front of their small house, his hands fiddling with his gold ring. Crowley watches him debate whether to turn around and leave. He knows that face so well, can read his thoughts as clear as day. Then Medusa shouts, “Teacher!”
It startles them both. Crowley hasn’t ever heard her shout like that before, quiet as she is. She decides for them both whether Aziraphale should stay as she wiggles out of Crowley’s arm and runs to greet him, slapping his stomach to get his attention.
She pulls up the hem of her peplos and shows him her knee. “Μαμά fixed it for me!”
“Did she?” Aziraphale asks, voice coloured with delight. He leans down so they’re at eye level. “Did you tell her thank you?”
Crowley lingers several paces back and pastes on a smile when Medusa turns and says, “Thank you, Μαμά! Can he stay for dinner?”
Aziraphale protests. “Oh, I don’t mean to impose. I just wanted to… to…” He trails off.
Crowley walks past them both and opens the door, gesturing inside. “Come on, Meadow. Angel.”
They lock eyes for a brief second before Aziraphale looks down and mutters, “Well, all right,” and steps inside.
Medusa beams. She’s usually shy about the townspeople, keeping them at arm’s length. She’s self-conscious about her looks and nervous about strangers. She gets her standoffish disposition from Crowley, and like him, she takes to Aziraphale in an instant. “Sometimes Μαμά has custard she steals from Stavros’ farm --”
“Meadow,” he warns.
“What? He’s a meanie anyway. And Corelie buys me bread at the market.”
“Spoiled,” Crowley mutters but leads them into the kitchen. He excuses himself out back to the cellar where he takes a moment to gather his wits, hands shaking. Aziraphale is here; he chose to walk into his home, he reminds himself. The cool dirt walls of the cellar are calming and he steadies himself, taking a second to smooth the wrinkles from his peplos.
He returns with a stronger resolve and the makings of dinner, unwrapping cured pork and tearing it with his hands. He sets it on the table with crusty bread and tapenade from the grove. “It’s not much but…”
Aziraphale smiles, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “It’s lovely, thank you.”
Crowley swallows down the reflexive don't behind his teeth.
“I really didn’t mean to intrude," Aziraphale says. "I just thought -- well -- the oliver said your daughter is interested in lessons.” He stutters over ‘daughter’ and swallows, pursing his lips. “And we should catch up.”
Crowley’s face darkens, and he drops his food back on his plate. “Meadow, go to bed.”
“If you want lessons, go to bed. I need to speak to the tutor. Take your plate with you.”
She grumbles under breath and snatches her plate off the table. On her way to her room, she looks over her shoulder and gives Aziraphale a little wave.
The second she’s out of sight, he hisses through his teeth, “Oh, you want to catch up? Why are you even here, angel? Hmm? Keeping tabs on me?”
“What? No! I am here with no ulterior motive,” Aziraphale says, affronted. “And -- and you were the one who left. I woke up to… to… madness.” Aziraphale grips the wool fabric of his himation and wrings it in his hands. He takes a deep breath and then lifts his chin, voice full of steel. “I was furious with you, Crowley. You single-handedly started a massacre.”
“It wasn’t single-handed!” Crowley shouts. Then he snarls under his breath, mindful of Medusa in the other room, and swallows down his anger.
Crowley picks up his bread again, then sets it down, going for his cup instead. He lets the silence hang between them, debating over how much he should say. What would Aziraphale do if he told him about Hell’s machinations? And he’s not ready to get into Lilith and how she bought Helen’s soul, cascading Crowley’s simple temptation into a full-blown war. After a beat, he says, “It wasn’t single-handed. There were… multiple strings being pulled that I didn’t know about."
When Aziraphale speaks next, it comes out soft, a little wrenching, like maybe he’s missed Crowley just as much in the last seven years. “It doesn’t matter. I went to look for you the next day, but you were gone. You just… up and left.”
“I was discorporated.”
“Oh! Oh, goodness.”
“Took me months to get back, and I decided I needed a change of scenery.” Crowley pauses, unsteady and uncertain. Aziraphale has set him off-kilter and off-step. He was meant to be righteous. He was meant to be furious. “You still haven’t explained what you’re doing here now, in this region. There’s no need for a teacher out here. You know that.”
And Aziraphale, who loves rhetoric and thrives in Athens, who is quick-witted and clever with his words, full of pride though he can never see it, fumbles for the right words. “Maybe I’m looking for a change of scenery too, or maybe I’ve been sent on a mission by God.”
Crowley laughs. It comes from deep within. It’s hoarse and bitter and fills his mouth with bile. They can never be honest with each other, not really, not when they're bound to opposite sides. “Which of the gods sent you?”
“The Almighty, of course.”
He shakes his head. “Look around you, angel. There is no Almighty here.”
“Then who do you pray to?”
It’s a cruel question. They both know it. Crowley believes in a higher power. They come from the same maker after all. The difference is that he doesn’t believe in forgiveness, sacrifice, and repentance. There’s no coming back for him. “I don’t need the gods. I have myself.”
“She’s a demon.”
She doesn’t know that, of course. Crowley makes every attempt to give her a normal childhood. He’s careful with his miracles, teaches her to eat and work and learn like the humans. She’s already different enough, and he sees it take its toll on her.
Aziraphale folds his hands and places them on the table, resolute. “She’s eager to learn; I’ll grant you. She’d flourish under the right tutelage.” Just like that, their previous conversation ends, and they’re back to playacting, the widow and the philosopher.
“It’s not the done thing for little girls.”
“Since when do you do the ‘done thing’?”
“Fine. Rhetoric, logic, history, and economics,” Crowley says, counting on his fingers. He doesn’t dwell on what this means, letting Aziraphale into his little play-pretend life, greedy to be around him. “Language and culture. That’s it. No talk about religion or the gods.”
“Arguably, that’s part of Greek culture.”
“Fine, but there will be no talk about Her."
“She deserves to understand where she comes from,” Aziraphale says. Then he pauses, looking up at Crowley from under his lashes, tentative and uncertain. “Where does she come from, Crowley?”
Crowley shakes his head, pressing his lips in a thin line. He's exhausted, every nerve in his body alight, torn between alert and desire, suspicion and longing. “I’ve said my piece and no more. It’s getting late.”
There’s no wine to be had, no laughter, and curious glances. They do not brush their hands together nor smile. Crowley ushers Aziraphale to the exit and locks up after he leaves, resting his head against the door.