Itty bitty bunny dropping from the sky
Running in the moonlight, talons passing by
Hide inside your burrow, warm under the snow
Making lots of bunnies for when the flowers grow…
Preying eyes watch from behind a massive stone garuda, complete with menacing beak and flaming eyes, standing three tiers high in the abandoned alleyway temple and a bit to the far corner of the alley where a hooded figure in tight-fitting clothing is speaking to another hooded figure – currently sans hood – in a beautifully tailored cape that barely stands out less than the white-haired head currently topping it. But that is all right. They are alone, for the moment.
Well, not entirely alone.
As the conversation reaches its end and Three Rats’ very own goddess of death turns to leave, a shadow detaches itself from the darkness of the elaborate building and stalks, quiet and slender, out of hiding. The woman in tight leather has walked past it already, swift, bound for the rooftops. Furred paws tread soundlessly despite the weight they carry, climbing up, up over the building, toward the nightly sky. And then it is leaping, its form gliding smoothly through the air, wings cutting through the breeze like blades cutting through silk. Watching.
The nimble body moving swiftly, alleyway to corner to shady street, hooded head hiding long locks of silken white hair and pale flesh. Like a winter hare.
Itty bitty bunny, huntsman cocked his bow
Bunny was so pretty, huntsman let it go…
He should not be doing this, should not interfere. But that has never stopped him before.
“You truly should mind your words, Lady Alma” he says as he lands just behind her with barely a tap of his paw pads against the macadame street. “They can sound so different from what they mean.”
She turns around calmly, seemingly unimpressed by the full bulk of his leonine body. “What’s this, Geryon? Since when do you spy on my conversations?”
“Spy?” Geryon asks, not without a certain level of resentment at the accusation. He folds his wings and sits on his haunches to preen a rebellious feather. “Nasty habit. One never knows what unhealthy things one might uncover. No, I was merely asked to make sure you do not collapse or get dragged away into the darkness on your way back to the station and I couldn’t help but overhear your little…exchange.”
Those lovely hypnotic eyes widen and soften just a little before they narrow at the veiled meaning of his words. “Gwydion asked you to follow me. For my sake.”
Geryon merely shrugs. “He may be an idiot but he is an idiot in love, after all.” Which is just another blow to the intelligence of that foolish god. “Congratulations, lady. You have managed to leave him jealous, something I personally never thought I’d see. But then, I never thought I’d see him in a stable relationship with anyone other than himself.”
A good many things set mortals and divines apart other than longevity, faster healing and the occasional ability that no mortal should possess, not even mages. Gods stand out even when they don’t mean to stand out and mortals, no matter how used to godly convivium, cannot help but react with anything from awe to repulse to their presence. It is not just the looks – mortals on the Insula will look like pretty much anything, depending on their ward of origin – but also the way they stand, the way the world stands around them. How the air turns cooler or warmer, the sun shines brighter or fades a little. Simple things. Tiny things. Things the gods do not notice, things they cannot control. Things that mortals barely understand themselves, that they detect with a more primitive, less conscious part of their brains. Mortals are prey-folk to gods. And prey knows when a hunter approaches.
Prey can also tell when a hunter is weak. Again, it is the little things. Like the way light fades a little from luminescent eyes and the shadows draw nearer to draw a pale face in starker contrast. Sadness that reality is bending ever so slightly to convey.
“It seems it was not stable enough if he could not trust me enough to love him above any other god,” Alma says quietly.
“Have I mentioned he is an idiot?” Geryon replies, not without a hint of softness in his voice.
“Does he happen to agree with you?” she retorts dryly.
Geryon locks eyes with her, the softness that was in them just a moment ago gone at her misplaced anger. “Must I quote him word for word?” he says humorlessly. He knows she can see his face better than he can see hers. Damn his eagle eyes not made for this gloom. “My dearest lady, this is Dion. If you want perfection, a trained monkey would probably be a better pick.”
And probably write you some lovely poetry if enough bananas are involved.
“But he does love you, for all his sins,” the gryphon adds, shaking his head in empathetic frustration. An image of Dion sitting distraught, his back against the door, eyes darkened with misery and self-loathing flashes before his eyes. The last time Geryon had seen the god curled up like a wounded beast, human eyes had gazed upon his friend. And even then, Dion had not looked even marginally as defeated as he has for the past three days. “Would he have done anything remotely as stupid as what he did if he did not love you? I have never seen him as heartbroken as he is right now.” He raises a conciliatory paw. “Granted, he deserves to be.”
Alma tilts her head, looking at him quizzically. “I did not expect you to side with me on this.”
“That makes two of us,” Geryon mutters.
He truly had not expected it, truth be told. The idea of his friend being romantically involved with a death goddess with a tendency for getting in trouble with the powers that be had not exactly set well with Geryon in the beginning and he is still honestly not sure how he personally feels about Alma. Maybe because they have never quite shared more than a few cordial sentences at any given time – and perhaps the way Geryon has so far steered clear from the goddess’ attention in order to avoid the less-than-comfortable subject of her two oldest daughters currently being his lovers – he has so far failed to either dislike or esteem Alma’s personality. But the fact is that Dion had somehow fallen helplessly in love with her – to the point where he had wavered the possibility of returning to his life in the First Ring to stay with her and her brood in this Hell-hole – and that the god’s relationship with Alma had so far resulted in a happier, calmer, more centered version of Dion. Geryon often teased his friend for having become a puppy to the lovely-looking, more-than-potentially dangerous goddess but the truth was that he could not help but be somewhat grateful for the anchoring pillar that Dion’s romance with Alma had become.
Something he would, of course, readily deny under oath if anyone were ever to ask.
So when he saw what Dion had done to sabotage himself in fear of failing any other way, he had immediately sided with Alma. It had been enough for Geryon to know what would happen next, on seeing that invitation for a New Year’s ride in a lunar barge with some goddess, after hearing Cherry’s sobbed retelling of what had happened after Tulip had innocently told Dion about the kiss between Alma and Mister I-Cut-Myself-Shaving. And he is truly shamed and regretful that he did not foresee that Dion would go immediately to Alma’s room after returning from his escapade. That is what one gets for assuming a friend is intelligent enough to shower before talking to his girlfriend, after spending all night with some random goddess.
And maybe that is why he is currently sticking his big beak where it doesn’t belong. “Though your whole kind makes my feathers stand on end, I will admit that – strictly in the quality of Gwydion’s closest friend and personal conscience and in no way romantically interested on him now or ever – you make him happy. Truly happy.” He sighs in sheer desperation to get his point across. “His face lights up when he sees you. How could you two ever think no one would notice you’re together?”
The shadows around them grow a deeper shade of dark once again. Alma looks away from him, sadness returned to her voice, thick and heavy. “We are not together now.”
“Oh, fairy gold!” Geryon hisses pouncing toward her, making her step back reflexively and stare at him wide-eyed. “Give him half a chance and he will be dragging his pathetic little rear at your feet to beg forgiveness. And he has only to whimper a little before you break and take him back.”
You know you want to break. Just break already.
Much to his surprise, she snorts. “You have an interesting vision of your closest friend.”
“I know who he’s been for the last few years, lady,” Geryon replies, trying to remain unphased by her uncooperativeness. “And I don’t think he likes that person all that much anymore. But old habits die hard.”
He cannot help but lower his eyes and sigh at that thought. He too is prey to old habits, old fears, and he dreads Dion’s failure just about as much as he fears his own. A hand lightly touches his head, stroking the short feathers on his forehead. He looks up at the soft, eerie glow of Alma’s eyes. “I suppose they do,” she says. “You are a good friend, Geryon. He is blessed to have you.”
“Would you mind telling him that every now and again?” he mutters. “He would probably turn me into something nasty if he knew of this conversation but it pains me to watch him wallowing in self-loathing.”
“I am not exactly throwing parties myself,” Alma replies, lowering herself to a crouching position. He can see her face more clearly now, the track of a wandering tear shining with a wet hue on her left cheek. She absently strokes his cheeks, looking somewhere beyond him, through him. “I don’t enjoy this pain. This…emptiness.”
He has to resist a sudden, irrational urge to lie down and raise his leg for a belly rub. Mind of the topic, furball! “Which begs the question: If you are miserable and he is miserable and patching things up would leave you both happy again, what exactly are you waiting for?”
The petting stops. Alma rises to her feet, hand wiping her face. “Maybe we’re both just terrible at this dating thing,” she says, not without a hint of humor.
“Wisest thing I’ve heard out of any you on this whole matter, my lady,” he notes, turning and waiting for her to adjust her gait to his so that the two walk side by side.
“I would not take it to heart if you called me by my name, Geryon,” she says, looking down at him. “After all, I’m pretty sure you have just gotten away with calling me a fool a couple of times during this conversation.”
Geryon looks up at her with his very best look of feigned shock. “Who? Me? Calling you a fool? Never!”