"In a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind
That our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds..."
Death Cab for Cutie, What Sarah Said
I don't think it really would have made a difference to Gunnar if he'd known what was going to happen. He's that kind of guy, I think. From what I remember.
But there's a lot I don't remember because of the Well.
It's funny what just a few seconds in the Well of Mnemosyne will do to your head. It was the hardest on Gunnar, it looks like. I don't remember ever seeing him shake like that, not when his mom got kidnapped or when the giants had his dad so whatever is in his head must be pretty awful.
Um, so... Only four of us went into the Vault. Gunnar, Brendan, Harlan and I went through. Gunnar gave Hades the last four of the five golden apples we'd gotten so that we could go in.
Nate was still with ghost-hero and boat-woman. Kas just decided not to go into the Vault. She didn't like the idea that she'd have to do whatever Hades said when he called in a favor, and Hades made us swear some oath before he'd let us in the Vault.
I swore his oath knowing full well that I probably won't like what he tells me to do, and when I tell him just where he can shove his fucking orders it's probably going to hurt.
It's probably going to hurt, and it's probably also not going to stop me.
Harlan will probably just talk his way out of it, and I don't know yet what Gunnar's plan is.
If Gunnar has a plan. Probably, I mean, he usually has one these days.
Brendan probably has one too, since he also agreed to the oath Hades asked us to swear.
Shit, I hope they've got plans. Only one of us really needs to go running around without a plan.
So, yeah, Gunnar, Brendan, Harlan and I sauntered our bad selves into the Vault and went bobbing for memory apples. All of maybe three seconds later, I came back up with holes in my head, Gunnar came up looking shaky, Harlan decided not to do that again, and Brendan looked mildly confused.
Then Gunnar and I put our heads in a second time and I got even more holes in my head, replaced by memories that aren't mine and one that was Gunnar's which gives me a migraine because holy fuck he has so much going on in his head.
Brendan tried again too, but I don't think he came up with anything. He certainly didn't swish his hair back declaring that his intellect had saved the day.
He does that sometimes.
If Brendan or Harlan forgot anything, it doesn't seem to have been that important. I mean, they know their names and our names and they act like they remember what we were doing here.
Gunnar though... I think he's a little messed up. I didn't really know that while we were still in Hades. He hid it pretty well and it wasn't messing with him physically, just his head. I don't have any mental instability senses. And I don't have Gunnar senses so I didn't pick up on how messed up he was. Is. Will be for a while.
Gunnar waited to mention it until after we’d made it out, when we decided to compare notes and make sure nothing really, really, super important was missing.
Hey, guess what. We've both got super-important things missing. But hey, true to how we usually roll, I've got some of his missing stuff and he's got some of mine. He doesn’t seem to think I should want it back, though.
The only thing I really want back is my memory of our wedding. I feel like I should remember how this ring got on my finger. The one my dad gave us, I mean. I remember how the other one got there.
I put this ring on after the wedding. I gave Gunnar the ring I'd made for him, with the cheesy "Until Ragnarok, at Least" inscription on the inside of it, and he gave me the ring I wear now, with some cute quip about how most girls aren't so lucky to get two wedding rings from a guy.
And it's true. Hell, most girls aren't lucky enough to get one. I am lucky.
I didn't say it then. I probably should have. There's lots of things I haven't said but probably should. Um... I should work on that.
Anyway, I don't remember... Anything.
I don't remember planning it which leaves me with a lot of very large gaps during which I hope nothing too terribly important happened, and I don't remember anything that actually happened that day.
I want to be pissed about that, I feel like I should be pissed about that, but the way Gunnar described it, it sounded like a massive fucking headache, anyway.
Um, a massive headache that was totally worth it!
Shit I hope Gunnar never reads this, that sounded kinda bad.
Gunnar, if you're reading this, I'm sure I would say it was worth it if I could remember it.
Also, if you're reading this, stop it. I sound like a fucking nutcase in this thing.
I lost other stuff too. I don't remember my mom dying.
I don't remember how we got the ghost who's waiting for me in Greece.
I don't remember how I got my Purple Heart.
I don't remember half of what happened in Niflheim.
I don't remember a lot of what happened in Guinnee (though I do remember getting a small amount of satisfaction from telling Victor's ghost that he was a dick, repeatedly).
It's because of the well. The Well of Memory.
The Well of Memory, v. 2.0, is in the Vault of Hades. We didn't get to the Vault until after we stared into the abyss and met Perseus. Not in the abyss, he was in the Tower. And we saw where the Furies live. And talked to the Furies. And talked to one of Ixion's simulacra. And saved the woman stuck inside from suffocation and cut her out of the metal skeleton encasing her and freed her from the fate of being Hades' new ferryman and investigated the theft of Cerberus and apparently forgot several hours of our lives and in case I haven't said it lately since my memory's a little fuzzy: Fuck titans.
Fuck titans and fuck the Darkness and fuck gods who keep secrets and fuck this whole fucking mess.
Anyway, back to the Well.
I went in twice and came out with someone else's thoughts in my head, and they weren't even the thoughts I wanted. Except for Gunnar's memories they were all silly stuff that happens all the time. To humans, to mortals, I mean.
People die. People fall in debt, people fall in and out of love. These are all inherent to the human condition, but each one felt like it was the end of the world.
I guess, for these people, it was.
I remember having a failed marriage and deciding to drown my sorrows in cupcakes. I don't really like cupcakes, and I certainly don't have a failed marriage. But I did in this memory. I was someone who baked to kill the pain of watching my ex with his new wife.
I, Laurel Esparza, do not bake. It is part of the natural order of things. Something usually combusts when I go into the kitchen for anything besides a cup of tea. I set a microwave on fire once. Nevermore was impressed.
I remember that I lost my life savings to "some wily cutpurse," as I remembered it, and ended up taking to the bank a coinpurse filled with rocks. I kinda sympathize with that, except the wily cutpurse was Ixion and he was enough of a dick that I didn't even get a bag full of rocks. I got my astrolabe rolled into the fucking Bay. Dick.
I remember being young, having lost my mother and being afraid of my drunken father who was going to lose his job and then we'd be homeless.
Except I have lost all of my money. I did have an absentee father, I am homeless. I got over it.
Apparently that's what I do. Not so much the mere mortals.
I guess that kinda puts things in perspective, showing me exactly what's at stake if we fail to figure out what's happening with the Darkness. These people need some serious help if all it takes to make them fall apart is some wily cutpurse and a plate of cupcakes. The memories are petty and not terribly significant.
The people they used to belong to are, though. And that's why I need to puzzle out this Darkness bullshit. I need to know what Kane is up to. If we don't figure out how to stop it all of these petty mortal memories, and the precious mortals to whom they belong, will all just cease to be.
So now I feel even more like going to Duat is the right thing for me to do. Marie has to know something useful, and if I'm lucky (or unlucky) enough to meet any gods while I'm there, maybe they can help me make sense of what I've seen in Hades.
Maybe they can tell me how to stop it, where to look, what to do next.
The last memory I gained from the Well wasn't petty, and it wasn't from a mortal.
In the last memory that wasn't mine, I was seeing through Gunnar's eyes. I didn't realize it right away, then I actually bothered to recognize the people who were around in the memory. All of the Band, and me - and it's weird seeing myself through someone else's eyes.
I was smelling through Gunnar's nose, hearing with his ears and I had all of the thoughts in my head that belonged to him.
His mind is... dizzying. It's too full, it's too strong, it's... It's incredible, is what it is.
If I ever needed proof that Gunnar is way smarter than I am, I have it now. Just trying to focus on his memory makes me feel like I've got an afterburn on my retinas, like when you look at the sun.
His memory started in what I thought was just gibberish. Something he was reviewing, symbols and sounds that were rolling around in his head and it took me a long time just to sort them out so I could focus on them long enough to realize that it was Japanese. We were all walking towards the giants and he was drilling himself on Hiragana and Katakana. Both of them, simultaneously. At the same time he was taking in our surroundings, running through different "oh shit" scenarios in his head, and then there was something about numbers that I just couldn't understand. I hadn't yet realized what a genius Gunnar is turning into, but the strings of numbers and formulae reinforced it.
Math is so not my thing.
Trying to make sense of any of it was like trying to grab at one fish in an overstocked fish tank, there were too many of them and they were all slippery and I couldn't get a good grasp on anything. Just trying to take it all in made me feel like my brain was about to tell me to go fuck myself and take a nice leisurely walk out of my head through my ears.
It got a little better when I just focused the memory on the giants. He could smell them before I could even see them, and I am so ridiculously glad that I don't smell the way he does, because they did not smell good.
It's like... Okay, they're frost giants, so of course they smell cold.
Cold has a smell. It's the same smell as when you stick your head in an ice box.
I mean, if you do that.
Okay, I do that.
Well, I did, back when I had a house that had a freezer that I could open up and smell. I used to like the smell of ice, when it was more of a novelty, back before Niflheim and the Jotun Mountains.
But the giants, they didn't just smell like ice, they smelled like trees too. Aspen.
And body odor.
Oh my gods.
Massive, gargantuan amounts of body odor. It's like someone rubbed an old Christmas tree on a mound of rotten onions and covered it all in ice cubes made from gym-sock tea and spoiled curry.
I'm not sure why Gunnar doesn't throw up more often, I don't know how he was able to stomach the smell. He could smell everyone else, too. Aftershave, shampoo, skin. He probably could have told you which smell belonged to which person. I can't, the smells are all unfamiliar to me.
And then there was the way everything looked. Everything was so clear and so sharp. Like it was made out of perfect, pure crystal. The colors were brighter, the sounds were louder. He doesn't just hear footsteps in the crunching snow, but he hears each divet of each shoe sinking individually. He hears heartbeats and breaths and the whispering of hair against hair just in the movement created by a footstep. His memory isn't the same as my memories. Mine feel jumpy in comparison. Like, my head doesn't flow from second to second with clear transitions. My memories jump, like the transitions in dreams.
The editing sucks.
But Gunnar, he's amazing. He remembers everything. The tents outside the cave. The exact pitch of the Jotuns' voice. The shade of their skin, the texture of their hair. Every word they said, and the way they sounded when they said it. Every word we said.
It was a jumble, but I got a good sense of what he was feeling, too. He was angry, much moreso than I'd picked up on. Annoyed too, at that woman named Sedna. Angry that his father had been tricked, even if Utgard-Loki said that Heimdall shot first. Well, not shot.
Mostly he was relieved when it was all over, relieved that as far as we could tell, it wasn't a double-cross. Though, if it was a double-cross and neither Gunnar nor Heimdall could pick up on it, we were probably way too screwed for words.
I am not capable of seeing the world like that. My brain just will not hold that many details all at once.
It's weird having seen the proof of just how much stronger he is, how much more he can take in. How perfectly he remembers.
I can't hold onto it all. The sharpness of his memory has already started to diminish. It's like... my mind dulls it and it can't keep its edge. I wish I could remember it all the way it was the first time, just to know how the world looks when he's looking at it.
The things he notices, the thoughts he thinks. I love having the chance to see things from his perspective, migraines and all. I can't keep it all together, though. I keep losing bits of it.
When I first got his memory in my head I wanted to pull away from the Well. I wanted to come up whimpering and whining like I did as a kid when I got soap in my eyes - which actually does nothing for headaches.
It's just too much to take in all at once. Sensory overload.
Though, there is something to be said for the conspicuous lack of Nevermore.
Anyway, um… I think Gunnar got it worse.
He threw up right after he pulled his head out of the well. Violently.
There's not a lot you can do for someone who's on all fours puking up a lung.
I rubbed his back while he barfed.
"Oh, gods," He groaned. He looked like shit. There was... there is something wrong with his head and I don't know how to fix it.
Not yet. I'll think of something. I'll lose another limb, if I have to.
"I found it. I have it. I don't want it, but I have it." He sounded about like he looked. I can't imagine ever getting used to him sounding like that.
He's fucking Super-Gunnar. He's not supposed to get sick, he's not supposed to look so... shaken.
So sad and awful and hurt. He's really not supposed to get hurt cleaning up my messes.
He's just doing all sorts of things he isn't supposed to.
Gonna have to talk to him about that.
He was trembling a little when he asked me to stay back as the others left the Vault. He said we needed to talk when we got out of Hades. And right after he said that, he quirked his head like he was listening for something.
Then everyone else in the Vault heard what he heard; a screeching and a tearing and a I-don't-know-how-to-describe-it kind of sound. It sounds about like what you would expect an end of the world to sound like. Some of us (named Nevermore) were staring into the abyss again, trying to see what was happening, because I guess that sounds like a good idea to a bird.
There was something flying around out there, I couldn't see it but after Jormungandr went swimming by through Acheron I figured that was the sign that the time of dragons had begun.
Someone asked if this was the start of Ragnarok.
Hades said no, this was not the beginning of Gunnar's apocalypse. Like it's not going to affect Hades. Like the god was able to just completely ignore the fact that Jormungandir, the World-Fucking-Serpent, just went surfing through his river.
And Jormungandr was supposed to have been sleeping beneath the ocean, which might mean he was comatose beneath the Drowned Road which means it was in the Guinnee area. So a Norse monster sleeping under the Loa underworld goes surfing through the Greek river of the dead.
But yeah, Hades probably has it figured out. The Aesir's apocalypse can't possibly affect anyone else. Nothing is really connected and the Dodekatheon will probably just sail right through Ragnarok untouched.
And I'm the blue ribbon pig at the Podunk County Fair.
Anyways, Hades went running for his castle and some helmet showed up on his head. It kinda looked like the one Camila wore sometimes. Maybe they know the same smith.
Uh, and as Hades was running he apparently decided that being in his realm meant we were his to order around.
No, that's not quite right. I think he probably decided that the second we showed up. I just can't remember being right since I went staring off into the abyss. But it probably happened.
Anyway, so we go to deal with what he's yelling about and we find ants and shadow and end up climb-falling down this massive chain to that island he wouldn't tell us about and Nate flew a pterodactyl. Or something.
We found blood when we got to the bottom, lots of blood and dead shadow ants. The blood smelled like... nothing I've ever smelled before. Earthy. Old.
We followed the trail of blood to a stone dome that Gunnar just sort of stepped through, and then I got that feeling that Gunnar was about to get hurt by something big and stoney. I showed up next to him just in time to hear him hit the floor. I guess I overreacted.
But when I lit up like a light bulb so I could see in this darkness – I am starting to become less and less fond of the dark – we found another guy there. He was big, and he wasn’t wearing much and he was hurt really badly.
I did that thing where I'm all singleminded and focused on not letting someone die. I did everything I could do, and some things I didn't know I could do until that moment. Like the whole “lighting up” thing. That was new, for all the good it did.
The end result was a tired medical cliché: “I did everything I could, but...”
I don’t like watching people die. I like even less not being able to watch people die. I wasn’t able to stay with this guy. We had to turn and run.
But at least he waited to die until after he’d told us his story. First, he helped Gunnar and I get out of his house after a brief game of charades.
I had raised an axe tentatively, the injured guy raised his hands together to form a circle, telling me there was no way I could dig under it.
Then we realized Harlan could talk to him, and the guy told Harlan a story.
It's a long story, and I don't understand all of it. I don't remember all of it. It had a lot to do with dragons, which are not high on the list of things which interest me.
Basically, I think, things are about to get bad and we're supposed to protect humanity. Kind of. We aren't supposed to speak for them, at least not when it comes to negotiating with the dragons.
And war is coming (except for the part where war is here. But apparently this is a different one, or a different part of the same one. I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing). And dragons used to be bad, but then they made some deal with the humans and now the dragons and the humans are supposed to be friends, at least when it comes to standing against the Titans.
Except the dragons are cowards, and they withdrew from Midgar partially so that they didn't have to stand up to the titans. Or something like that.
Then he told us to run, so he could die. He said he knew he was going to, and that a group of scions would come find him and that he was supposed to tell us his story and give us something. Well, two somethings. One is a dagger that was supposed to have belonged to Marduk, and the other is... a thing. We don't know what it is, we don't know what it does so it's not a really great lead.
Well, it's supposed to be used to end the fighting and preserve the world so it can be born again. Which is... vague and not really all that helpful. Not yet.
Anyway, then the darkness started spreading and the ants kept coming, and on our way out Hades gave me a note from my dad and we had to haul ass out of there.
It was when we'd gotten out, and when the dragon went away that Gunnar and I got a chance to talk. I'd mentioned when Hades was done and we had Marie's memories that I was going to go to Duat, and now shit was hitting the fan and if Gunnar was going to run off talking to dragons I didn't just want to leave him alone, and I didn't want to just leave Nate and Harlan and Kas and Brendan, so I did what I do when I'm confused and a little scared. I turned to Gunnar.
"Okay, you’re smart, what the fuck do I do?" It really was supposed to be a compliment, I'm just bad at them.
"Uh-er-I…" He stopped and rubbed his temples with his fingers. “You go meet with the dragon in Saudi Arabi, then go to Duat, I guess.”
I didn't really like that answer. "What if going to Saudi Arabia makes me too late to take Azzeza to Duat? What if it’s closed then, and I never get the chance to take her there? I mean… are the dragons really our problem? You heard Harlan’s giant-guy and dragon translation. We aren’t allowed to speak for the humans."
“Yeah, but frankly humans don’t have anyone to speak for them either. I mean, there is no unified human government or other representative body, and even if we pretended the United Nations did fit that description, it still has its own problems. I mean, this whole crap about negotiating between two different species as though they are each, as a species, a single unified body is simply ridiculous. But then I guess this isn’t the time for that kind of nonsense. Look, if you think that the more urgent thing for you to do is to go to Duat, I certainly won’t fault you for it. All we really seem to need is enough people to get the word out that there’s going to be a meeting and all the Dragon princes need to show up before the whole world just ends up flooded with murderous territorial dragons. Not to mention someone or someones to get together some conglomeration of representatives - most of whom will probably vehemently hate each other - into a room to meet with beings they were probably unaware even existed prior to the very encounter in which they will meet nine of them." When he finally finished spouting that rather long, and swiftly-conveyed torrent of information he took in a very long breath. "But yeah, if you think you should go, honey, then go ahead to Duat. This is something you’ve been promising to do for a while - and on two accounts. I know how important your promises are to you, and I’d never ask you to risk breaking one of them."
I frowned. If anyone could convince me not to go just by asking, it would be Gunnar and the way he'd said the first thing made it sound like that was the more important. Like I should know that it was more important.
It just didn’t feel more important. I had made a promise to go to Duat, and I don’t want to be the type of woman who makes a promise and only plans to follow it until something else comes up. You know, like a wedding vow or something.
“Yeah… Fuck, I don’t know,” I scratched my head. “I mean, if the darkness is taking underworlds over, maybe it isn’t even safe to take her there, and maybe the darkness won’t touch Duat. We don’t know where it’s going, and we don’t know what happens once the darkness does take over, and it’s not like we can ask now… And I don’t know how good I’m going to be at helping negotiations or dealing with politics or any of that bullshit. I certainly am not a fan of the idea of negotiating with anything scaled, since they’ve all been kinda pissy so far.” I was doing a fantastic job of talking myself out of dealing with any dragons. Plus, I really believe that if I am not supposed to go to Duat, then I won’t be able to. Fate will put me where it wants me, no matter what direction I am trying to go.
Gunnar was trying to be reassuring, I think. “"Yeah, well the titan of light is supposed to be the major opponent of the Pesedjet right? So maybe Soku-no-kumi will avoid that one for a while for fear of encroaching on other titanic territory… But, I mean, I can’t really say."
"That’s the problem with this whole fucking thing," I groaned in frustration. "Nobody’s giving us enough information and now that we really need it, I can’t even go bitch at them for keeping us in the dark… Ugh. I just worry what might happen to you guys if I go.” I paused and gave him a very serious look and said in a very serious voice, “If you think you’ll need me, I’ll stay."
He gave me a sideways grin, the kind that makes me think of explosions and shrapnel. "We’ve managed to make it through a lot so far. You have something you need to do. I understand, and so do the others. I even think Kassandra has been thinking about trying to go with you."
I wasn't so sure about the others understanding, but I was glad to hear that Gunnar did. The thought of Kas coming worried me a little, though. Well, worried me and relieved me. The backup would be nice, and Kas could probably survive okay, but more than being backup she would probably be a reason for me to be brave. I’m always braver when I’m protecting someone. Brave or stupid, take your pick.
But it would divert some of my attention away from Azzeza.
"Right. I’m not sure… If she comes too, that’s three people I have to look out for and while the extra eyes might be nice I don’t know how good I’ll be at watching over another body." I bounced on the balls of my feet, feeling almost like there was a scream of frustration building up in me. "But I guess I’m gonna try, because I don’t really know how not to… And I guess that if you guys really do need me, I’ll find a way to get to you." And I would. If he needed me, if any of them needed me, I'd be there.
I sighed, more than a little tired. "I’ll just figure out how to be everywhere, and that should solve all our problems, right?"
"Right," He smiled at me, the kind of smile that makes his eyes look brighter, if you see him smile like that while he’s not wearing sunglasses. Then he looked thoughtful for a moment, and the smile slipped a little.
"There’s something else we need to talk about before anything else happens though. Mnemosyne really screwed with our heads. At least, with mine. I can tell that there are a lot of things I’ve forgotten, and I refuse to let that go by without rectification. I wa-" he paused. He shuddered and started over.
"I’m pretty sure that you are the strongest person I have ever known, and I think you needed to know that. One of the memories you left behind in the well ended up in my head, and… yeah. I don’t think I would have survived that if it happened to me."
"Hnh," I frowned, chewing on my lower lip. I’m not particularly fond of the idea of Gunnar not surviving something, and I really wasn’t fond of the idea of him carrying around a memory that belonged in my head of something he didn’t think he’d have survived.
"So that’s where that went,” I tried to lighten the mood, which is also something I am not good at. “I’m uh… I’m sorry."
I don't know if that was the right thing to say but I obviously needed to say something. Whatever was in his head kinda freaked him out, and it made me sad for him that it was my fault. I felt guilty, even though I had no idea what he was even talking about.
"What uh… what are you talking about? I mean, I’ve got a few things missing." I felt like I should have been angrier. Not at him, of course. Just… at everything that had happened to us. Instead I was just tired. It was just hard to be angry when I was this confused and conflicted.
"Uh, er, right. Do you remember, when you came back from Afghanistan?"
I had to think really hard, but I kinda remembered it. Or, I remembered stuff that referenced it. I remember the Purple Heart, and the sessions with Dr. Thrace who told me I was uncooperative, stubborn, evasive, and kind of a bitch. I remembered the wounds which turned into scars which made me self-conscious and weird. That was about it. I didn’t remember how I got them, or talking about how I got them, or really anything more specific than: I went to Afghanistan and I came back damaged.
I shrugged at him. "Um… I remember being in a hospital for a while before I came back to the States, and not really being all that happy about it." Being stuck in bed sucked. Having messed up ribs sucked. "And I remember meeting with some touchy feely quack lady who told me I wasn’t trying hard enough and I remember telling her to go fuck herself, and I remember that’s why I keep writing in that journal I have but now it seems a little silly." It does seem silly. And a little unnecessary. But I guess it might be helpful if I go staring into any more abysses, or fishing in any more memory wells.
Gunnar was quiet for a second. "Yeah, I remember why. I remember how you got the injuries you were in the hospital for - I remember why you had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - I… yeah. It was pretty nasty, and just the fact that you lived through it both mentally and physically is a lot more impressive than pretty much anything else I’ve experienced."
I blinked at him. Super Gunnar, my hero, probably the closest thing to a superhero I’ll ever know, was telling me that I was impressive and strong. That he knew what I’d been through because it was in his head, and that he didn’t think he could take it.
“Oh. Um… I’m sorry,” I repeated, a little softer. I winced a little, and I wished I knew how to make it better for him. That’s a wish I make kind of often. “It’s not really fair that I get that sorta weight lifted off of me, and then you get to be the one who carries it. That really sucks.” Laurel Esparza, the master of understatement.
“Are you… okay?” It was a dumb question. He had a memory in his head of an event which had fucked me up for the larger part of a decade on top of carrying around Marie’s memories. Of course he was not fucking okay.
He scratched his head. “Yeah. It’s not as bad as Marie’s memories.” He was lying to me, which made me feel like shit. I remember just the dreams of Marie’s existence. Well, the nightmares. I remember waking up and running to the bathroom, vomiting from the pain and the disgust. It was hard to imagine what was worse than that.
“Anyways,” Gunnar was merciful and changed the subject before I started getting queasy. “I want to make sure there’s nothing major that I don’t remember, and vice-versa. Especially about us. I mean, like… why did we have those golden apples again? I mean, we went and stole them from a dragon… because… because…”
My eyes got wide and as soon as I started talking I was almost shouting. I know better. I know he can hear me just fine. “Because you lost thirty years of your life when we got tricked by Pan into helping him stab Kairos! Holy shit, you don’t remember that? Do you remember the Garden? Cuz I can give you the cliff’s notes, if you want.”
He shook his head. “I remember the Garden,” which we later realized was halfway right. He remembered us talking about going to the Garden. He didn’t really remember us actually talking to the dragon. “I even remember Pan being a dick… and Kairos… I just don’t… don’t remember being old. I remember the boys… seeing that other one… with the blue and purple hair… and future Gair… I guess it happened during that. … We don’t have any kids I’ve forgotten have we?”
I answered him all out of sequence. I think I was still just a little ticked about the whole "making out with someone who wasn't me" thing. I nodded. “Good, cuz I would hate for you to have forgotten how fucking awesome I was playing fetch with Ladon, and how I totally kept my temper in check and didn’t even threaten to cut any of the Hesperides in half after that one…” I realized I was being a little petty, and jealous, and we didn’t have time for me to be either. “Um, sorry, I digress.”
I started over. “Yeah. You were in a real funk about it, which I get. I got older too, but not the way you did.” I got quieter, more serious. “You aged like… thirty years in the blink of an eye. It slowed you down, and it made you a little… I dunno. Different.” I shrugged and I fidgeted. I had been doing so well, I had been making sense and mostly staying on topic and then I started thinking about how I felt watching him get older and of course I started rambling because apparently I still remember how to do <em>that</em>.
“Not that you weren’t you, you just weren’t the same you… Is this making sense? I mean, I can show you, if you want. It was even freakier than holding our kids while they aged ten years a minute after they were born.” Kids, right. He had asked about kids. Stay on topic, Laurel. “And the only kids we have… that I know about, that are ours, rather than the ones we’ve taken it upon ourselves to protect, are Alex and Erik, and they’re with Jack. As far as I remember.”
I think he was a little relieved. Um, not that we didn’t have more kids, but that we didn’t have more kids that he had managed to forget about.
He nodded. “Yeah. That’s what I remember too. Okay, let’s just go through everything important we remember, in order, since we met. That way between the two of us we should be able to fill all the holes in for each other. Also, I need to tell Harlan about the time he saved a Senator’s daughter from some crazed Spanish kidnappers - but that’s for after we’ve been able to straighten things out.”
I made a weird face at the idea of Harlan doing anything too heroic, but let it go. He probably has it in him, when he’s not making psychologically damaged young adults fall in love with him. “Okay,” I took a breath. “So we almost got married in Vegas and then you and Jack threw Canopus off a building, after you screamed for it to eat you. Which was really dumb.”
“Yeah, hind-sights’ 20/20,” he started, but then paused. And he made a face, and then told me about how he didn’t remember the fight with Canopus.
Not a great sign that he doesn't remember the first thing I start talking about.
So I explained the Canopus thing, and the stupid Jackson Donald name and the cult and the trash-frog, which was kind of a waste of breath because he remembered all of that. Then I reminded him about the show we went to see, Pangyrjklfdjsal-something, and the sacrifice onstage, and the lots of other stuff that he said he remembered until I got to the part with Kane.
The night Victor popped into Gunnar’s hotel room, where he remembered letting me crash, and Victor was expecting we'd surrender all of our relics and weapons and just let Kane become a god with the Black Feather Shroud. That part Gunnar had forgotten. The whole, “zombie viking uprising” thing was kind of memorable to me, even though I was really busy being arrested by Nate at the time.
The next thing he didn’t remember after that was when we got all the kids away from the Order, which we found because Horus and the Baron missed their kids.
So I fixed that with a minimal amount of rambling.
“Dude, that’s where we found my sister. And Carmen hit on Nate, and Camila was there, I guess that was before she went all murder-happy with the god-types.” That got a funny look from him, which elicited the explanation that Camila “killed” Mannanan Mac Lir. He was just as unsettled the second time.
“And you shot a priest holding a grenade,” I said very critically, going back to telling him about the Order. “Or maybe you shot the grenade. You walked away picking shrapnel out of your face, and probably would have died if I hadn’t done that Die-Hard thing on you before you shot the grenade. Which was also dumb.” I stuck my tongue out at him.
He didn't argue that it was dumb. He just grunted a little, and waited for me to keep going. “Hmph. Okay.”
“But,” I said in a placating fashion, “you stopped doing stuff that was kinda dumb after we went to Helheim, and I’m a little fuzzy on how some of it happened, but I remember you stuffing some c4 into the chest cavity of a dragon, and Harlan pulled me back, then you were smacking at me with your trenchcoat like I was on fire, then you were kinda mopey and you freaked and buried some explosives in the snows of Helheim. Niflheim. Too-fucking-cold-heim. Oh, and in case you forgot, Harlan walked around the second half of that trip carrying a giant’s testicle. I haven’t teased him about that lately…” I looked back over my shoulder to try to see Harlan, but turned back to Gunnar pretty quickly.
He looked kinda confused. “I… tried to put out fires on you with my trenchcoat? Weird.”
Yeah. Weird. Weird was the same fucking thing I thought when it happened. “Yeah. But I wasn’t on fire. And then you were mad at Harlan but you never told me why, so I can’t help you there,” I shrugged.
“Huh, okay,” spake Gunnar the verbose.
“Um... and then next was...” and I rambled for a bit, actually kind of enjoying the chance to tell him how awesome he had been, until I got to the next thing he didn't remember, which was under the water outside Jersey.
I helped him as much as I could, but bits of that were missing from my mind, too. “I remember we were in the water,” I squinted while I spoke. Squinting helps me remember. “And Brendan waved Harlan and I through, then I was on the floor of our sub and I think you hugged Kas? I don’t remember what for.”
He didn't look thrilled. "Yeah… I remember… the submarine… and one of the ghosts possessed one of the boys before they were even born, and I was able to sort of twist my own legend around to exorcise him. It was a little odd. But yeah, I don’t remember what happened after that before getting on the sub. I’ll have to ask one of the others."
Yeah, the whole possession thing had managed to slip my mind. Funny, I would expect to remember being fucking terrified while one of my babies was possessed in the womb, but I didn't.
And then, as I imagine it must look to someone who can't see ghosts, I looked like I was about to beat Gunnar within an inch of his life. I wasn’t failing terribly at abusing my husband. Really I was swatting at Nevermore, who was trying to squawk into Gunnar's ear about letting me die and not taking care of me and liking the Cubs.
“Uh…” I glared at the air by Gunnar. “Apparently I died. But I got better, obviously.”
Gunnar blinked. “Wow. I… would have been completely useless in that situation. I imagine Kassandra helped get you… better.” He could have said, “not dead anymore,” and it wouldn’t have bothered me. Though, I guess maybe it bothered him. “Explains the hugging you witnessed.”
I shrugged, kinda bewildered that I could forget about dying, and apparently getting my babies killed in the process. “Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, I’ll have to ask someone what exactly happened there. But at least there weren’t any snakes. That I remember. And really, I’m surprised you didn’t say anything in Hades when fucking Jormungandr showed up.”
“Huh? Why would I? I mean, it’s a big deal and all but…”
“Uh…” I just stared at him for a second. If I hadn't seen him put his head in the Well, if I didn't know what that place could do you your mind, I'd have thought he was just fucking with me or something. I knew better, though. “Okay…”
So I had to remind him that he fucking hates snakes. I told him about how so many of our encounters involved things with scales, like Canopus and company, and couldn't help but think how weird it was that something like that could just slip his mind.
“…Wow. I’m… that’s an odd trend to forget.” Great minds and such.
“Oh and there was the basilisk in the desert when we went to rescue Horace from those angel things. Forgot that one. That’s where you got those boots. And that cloak you almost never wore at first because you thought it would make people look at you funny.” Because a guy wearing sunglasses at two in the morning never gets any funny looks, I guess.
“Wait no,” I corrected myself, “That was a Lindwurm. Vegas.”
At this point he was just nodding, trying to take in as much information as he could, which I knew was a lot. He didn't have to focus all of his attention on me, but I couldn’t bring myself to mind.
“You practically jumped right on top of it,” I kept on with obvious disapproval in my voice, “and it tried to take a chunk out of you. It turned part of you to stone and…” I closed my eyes briefly. It was my turn to shudder a little. “I’ve never heard anyone scream like that. That time, it was my turn to be dumb, cuz then I ran right up to it so I could heal you, and I didn’t even close my eyes because I didn’t think of it.
And after getting past the basilisk, that’s where we found Horace Farrow, where Pan was keeping him hostage and using him to keep those angel things dormant or docile or something. We had to leave,” I looked at the ground and paused for a second. Almost a year later and it still pisses me off. “The only reason Horace got out was because I prayed to my dad about the army Pan was building, and a little after that Horace showed up at our doorstep. Well, it was still just my doorstep then, that was before we…”
I fingered the wedding band and engagement ring Gunnar had given me, making a face that was probably a little sad and a little sorry. “I don’t remember getting married.”
"What? Oh jeeze, okay.” He took a breath and just started talking. “So you had to spend days getting ready in the whole Greek tradition, and then because Aphrodite’s a bitch she refused to give you her blessing - not that you needed it, if you ask me - and then at the wedding my dad gave your dad a herd of golden yaks that were herded up I-35 by a pack of dwarves in broad daylight. One of the furies wrote “Murderer” on your forehead, some jealous boyfriend of Nate’s wife - then girlfriend - brought the press ‘round to harass everyone and I only narrowly avoided assaulting some mortals. Oh, and since Hera demanded to perform the ceremony she had us do a ritual where we let our blood out together and swore never to be unfaithful. Seemed a little unnecessary to me, but I’m pretty sure she used a power over us so that we’ll incur some number of years of bad luck if we break it - or something like that."
I blinked, and waited for part of that to sink in, sound normal, or otherwise make sense. Then I gave up on that and just started asking questions. “Wait, why did Aphrodite refuse to give me her blessing??” For a second I was scared that, being a goddess of love, maybe Aphrodite had determined I didn't really love Gunnar, or some equally implausible bullshit.
“Well Aphrodite’s a giant hypocrite and refused you her blessing because you weren’t a virgin.”
I made one of those “are you fucking kidding me” faces, and wondered if I'd looked as pissed the first time this all happened.
Whatever. Next question.
“Hera performed the ceremony??” It seems like meeting the Queen of the Gods (of my pantheon) should be something I would remember, especially if she had deigned to do me the honor of performing my wedding ceremony – and I was probably supposed to see it as an honor, rather than an inconvenience or her butting in. But that wasn't really what I cared about.
“Did my dad make it?” And then before Gunnar could answer either question, I remembered the part where he said something about mortals and assault. “Why were you going to assault mortals?”
He answered my questions in the order I'd asked them, because he's cool like that. “Yeah, Hera basically just walked in and had some of her people start re-decorating and told us she was doing the ceremony. And yeah, your father was there. Actually the guest list was kind of star-studded. Zeus, Hera, Artemis, Frigg, Odin, Heimdall, Apollo, and Dionysus - as The Situation.” He let me goggle for a moment over all the gods I could no longer remember meeting. And over Dionysus being The Situation.
“Oh, and I almost assaulted the news crews that Nate’s not-friend dragged along. I swear, those people don’t understand the meaning of ‘private’ and ‘go the fuck away.’”
I had to giggle a little at the last, because even if I couldn't remember it, I could imagine that much perfectly. “Yeah, you’ve uh… you’ve got a way with words. That’s awesome that your dad was there, too, and Odin. Did we get any cool gifts? I think I remember a blender, but…” I shrugged. It was a nice blender.
Gunnar nodded. “Yeah, Artemis gave us an astrolabe that’s pretty awesome, and enormous… Frigg gave you a prophetic vision of our future together,” and he described to me the plains of fire and the ice giants and the four cribs and Nate losing a hand and Gunnar himself standing in the mouth of what I guess was Jormungandr. Is. Will be. Whatever.
“… and… I think that was more-or-less it. The blender was from Ciara.”
I miss Ciara. She knows how to make something bleed.
I wanted to ask him a lot more about the wedding, I wanted him to tell me everything like who wore what and who said what and I wanted to hear everything from his point of view but even I realized we were running short on time and we had much more pressing shit to do. Pressing shit that was going to take me who-knew-how-far away for who-knew-how long, and if the pressing shit he needed to go do happened to go really, really wrong and I couldn't get there when they needed me...
I took a deep breath.
“So I planned a wedding I don’t remember and it doesn’t matter because my plans pretty much didn’t matter since you said Hera redecorated and I got married with the fucking word “murderer” on my forehead. I bet your mom loved that,” I rolled my eyes, wincing. I do remember being pissed at the Furies, but I get pissed at a lot of people. “Y’know… Maybe it’s for the best that I forgot that. It sounds really aggravating and like it probably made me a nervous wreck. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry for any bullshit I put you through that I don’t remember.” And anyway, the ceremony itself wasn’t really the part that was important. It didn't matter how the wedding happened, really. It matters that it happened.
But there was something important that I needed to say, something I'd wanted to make sure he understood for a while, now.
“Um… I feel like I’m a little bit better off, though.” The words I wanted to say were, I am going to be okay, but I’m glad you were so cool as to be with me when I was not okay. I almost got there, I think.
“Some of the stuff I don’t remember apparently made me a bit of a head case, enough so that I was always really worried you would take off running when you realized how damaged I was.” It was a really stupid worry, stupid on like… eight different counts.
“But you didn’t, and that was really awesome of you. So you talk about me being strong, and all this time I’ve been marveling at you being…” I had to pause to find the right word. There were a couple that would have worked. “Insane” was one of them, but I went for something just a little bit gentler. “I dunno, maybe just crazy, enough to stick with me.” There was a point there, and I was trying really hard to make sure I didn't just wander around it. I just wanted him to know how much it meant to me, how much he meant to me, and just how grateful I was for him having made me so much better off than I used to be and giving me a reason to keep getting better, honing my skills and whatever. I wanted him to know in case all of my plans went to shit and I didn’t make it out of Duat. Except I’m bad at this.
“So thanks,” I finally managed to get the words out. “In case I didn’t ever say it before, or I don’t get to say it later, thanks. I don’t think I’d be where I am now if it weren’t for you. You give me a million reasons to be better at everything, to be stronger and good at protecting people – and somehow you still manage to find all the trouble I can’t fix. Like old age. I mean, the apples were just a temporary fix for that and I’m still working on the more long-term fix. But I’ll figure it out, because it’s for you. Just like I learned how to fucking teleport because I thought you were in trouble.”
Shit. It wasn't quite coming out right.
I frowned but kept talking. I guess I needed to keep talking because if I stopped talking I would start thinking – and it is pretty obvious that I do not do both tasks simultaneously. I really didn't wanna do that right now, I didn't wanna think about just how long I might be gone and just how soon that was going to have to happen.
"There was a point in there somewhere… Oh. Um… We don’t have a whole lot of time right now. So while I want to keep trying to fill in all the holes in your memory, and mine - like I would love to remember whether I was actually there with my mom when she died - there’s other shit we have to be doing. And while I would love to just look you in the eyes and say, “Fuck dragons and Titans, let’s go get a room,” I realize I have no money and a metric fuck tonne of responsibilities to be taking care of. Like what Odin said to go do, and maybe figuring out how to stop what we saw happening in Hades, especially now that my mom is down there in the darkness and I don’t know if she’ll be okay, or any of the other souls, and I don’t have all the time in the world to spend figuring it out while everything else goes dark. And you’ve got dragons to go talk to, because for some reason I don’t really understand, you seem to want to go do that.
So the point is, when I get back - because I am fucking coming back, - I want a vacation.” I said a silent prayer to the gods that I didn’t just lie to my husband. “Hell, I’ll settle just for <em>a day</em> off. I don’t care how we manage it, but my request is you, me, and a room containing nothing but a big bed and a full size bar stocked with nothing but whiskey. Now I gotta go learn Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics."
Gunnar just smiled at me and said, “It’s not like it’s been a one-sided thing, if it weren’t for you I would still be a hot-headed dunce who was better at getting himself nearly killed than he was at really helping anyone out. I mean, without you a lot of what I’ve been through probably would have changed me for the worse, and in a fairly serious degree. So, if the point you lost was an ‘I love you,’ then let me just say ‘I love you too’ - despite the incredibly cheesy phrasing.”
That wasn't what I was trying to say, actually.
I was trying to say goodbye.
But yeah, “I love you” worked, too.