Astoria: In Chaos – Part Three

DAY 9

Agent Mann knocked twice on the outside of Cyprin’s door before entering. Therein sat not only the child of Aphrodite, but also Hades.

“Agent Schmit has regained consciousness,” she reported, closing the door behind her. “He’s still a bit shaken up, but was able to give me a general idea of what happened.”

“And an explanation for Miss Fujiwara’s presence?” Cyprin prompted, and Agent Mann inclined her head.

“According to Aiden,” she began, dropping some of her formality, “Minotaur had him at a complete disadvantage, and Miss Fujiwara appeared out of nowhere to draw attention away.”

“That doesn’t explain why she was there,” Cyprin pointed out, touching their chin thoughtfully.

“Given her penchant for sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, I think the explanation is relatively obvious,” Hades weighed in.

“You think she was snooping?” Agent Mann queried. “After we ransacked her office?”

“I heard she was quite upset,” Cyprin added, but Hades was shaking his head.

“She’s driven,” he declared. “Hydra was right about her not letting go. It’s perfectly within her character to sneak into a crime scene under cover of darkness.”

“But to consciously put herself in Minotaur’s path?” Cyprin asked. “That’s bold.”

“She’s nothing if not that,” Agent Mann agreed a little wryly. “Footage on her phone clearly captured Minotaur’s aura attacking Aiden, so she definitely saw far more than we wanted her to; whether she remembers it or not, we’ll have to wait until she wakes up.”

“She’s still unconscious?” Hades frowned.

“Doctor Phelps said it was precautionary because of some brain swelling,” Agent Mann explained. “It’s better if she is kept in an induced coma until it goes down, less chance of permanent brain damage.”

“So there’s a chance she won’t remember anything,” Cyprin postulated, and Agent Mann gestured in the affirmative.

“Or worse.”

“Hmmm,” Cyprin sighed, saddened despite the fact Miho had been a pain in the ass.

Hades then stood, the air about him suddenly colder.

“I’m going to interrogate Minotaur myself,” he announced, and Agent man did her best not to cringe.

She was glad she wasn’t Minotaur.

DAY 17

 

Over a week later, Agent Mann – Jazz – was called to the HERA infirmary where Miho had spent the time since her encounter in an induced coma. Finally, MRI results indicated the swelling had gone down enough for it to be safe for her to be allowed to wake.

When she did, Jazz was surprised to find her uncharacteristically subdued. The doctors advised Jazz it would take some time to discover if Miho had suffered any permanent damage from her head injury, and while Jazz nodded, she saw something in Miho’s eyes that better explained her silence.

“Sir,” Jazz greeted, meeting Hades’ approach outside Miho’s room.

“How is she?” he enquired first, and Jazz had to smile a little.

Though they had been trying to prevent the woman from discovering the true nature of HERA and indeed the world of gods and monsters, Hades’ first question was not about what Miho had seen or heard, but rather about her wellbeing.

That was just the way Hades was.

“Physically it looks like she has full function,” Jazz reported. “Dr. Phelps has said she might, at the mildest, suffer some memory loss which might be a silver lining.”

“But?” Hades prompted, knowing Jazz well enough to see there was an unspoken exception.

“But, I think she remembers everything perfectly,” Jazz filled in. “I can see it turning over and over in her mind just behind the mask of stoicism she’s keeping plastered on her face. She might be a tougher nut to crack than Minotaur.”

“That fool knew only that he was encouraged by Zeus to embark upon some random destruction, but never thought to ask why,” Hades reported, shaking his head a little.

“Even if Fujiwara doesn’t have memory loss, there’s nothing to stop her pretending she has,” Jazz pointed out.

“No,” Hades disagreed, looking to the door. “She won’t lie.”

“Oh?” Jazz said.

“Something Agent Genever mentioned,” Hades mused thoughtfully.

“Mieke Genever from Research and Development?” Jazz asked, for the two were acquainted through the other agent’s breakthroughs in aura marble technology. “Mm, well I suppose if Fujiwara won’t talk to you, she might talk to her friend… uh, not that I don’t think you couldn’t get her to talk.”

“It’s fine,” Hades assured, dismissing Jazz with the hand he pressed against the door to Miho’s room.

Therein was light and airy, but the woman in the bed seemed to be sleeping; not that there was anything else for her to do. A nurse looked up from where she was taking notes on a chart, and quickly got to her feet when she noted who had entered.

“Sir,” she acknowledged in a flustered rush –after all, not everyone got to see, let alone speak with a god.

“Is Miss Fujiwara fit enough for a conversation?” he asked quietly, and though the nurse nodded, it was Miho who answered.

“I’m fine,” she declared, her voice still a little raspy from intubation.

Exiting, the nurse closed Miho and Hades in, and the god moved to sit on the side Miho was facing.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, settling in his chair and leaning back.

It took an almost uncomfortable amount of time for her to answer, though she peered at him the entire time.

“Fine,” she repeated, searching, searching, Hades could feel her gaze digging into his skin.

Expecting as much, Hades continued unperturbed.

“Do you remember what happened to you?”

Again there was a long silence and her stare, broken by far too few blinks.

“A part of me wants to tell you I don’t,” she responded finally, a heavy, conflicted sigh. “I think I could pull off a fairly convincing case of amnesia.”

“But you won’t,” Hades noted, watching her struggle.

“Uh, when your own principles come back to bite you,” she grumbled irritably, then slowly began to shift in bed toward a sitting position.

When she winced, Hades grabbed an additional pillow that was wedged between the bed and set of drawers, and tucked it behind her, one large but gentle hand on her back carefully lowering her against it. He felt her tense, saw her flinch but try to hide it in the stubborn set of her jaw and reactive hostility in those hazel eyes.

“We recovered your cell phone from the scene,” Hades told her, returning to his seat, crossing one leg over the other. “Despite dropping it and smashing the screen, you managed to capture most of what went on.”

“But you want me to tell you what I think I saw,” Miho filled in with a severe frown. “How about you come clean? I hate making assumptions.”

“Yet you assumed I and my agents were the bad guys,” he pointed out, but Miho was quick to retort.

“No, I judged you as bad guys for what I observed, and that was covering something up,” she asserted. “Something that nearly got me killed, hell I don’t even know if Agent Schmit survived.”

“He did, in no small part thanks to your intervention,” Hades informed her, but despite his acknowledgement of her efforts, Miho was unmoved.

“Quit misdirecting, Hades,” she hissed, grimacing again. “Tell me what I saw, what I felt – I am tired of conjecture and this stupid sematic game. Minotaur, a man but… what was the orange bull I saw? The power that launched a car, that put holes like that in solid concrete.”

“What you saw was Minotaur’s aura,” Hades explained finally, “the godly part of the monster.”

Slowly Miho inhaled and then released the breath.

“Minotaur, as in the result of Pasiphae’s bestial affair with Poseidon’s bovine gift to King Minos, Minotaur?” she questioned slowly.

“Not my brother’s finest moment,” Hades admitted seriously.

“So this… Minotaur, HERA that he mentioned, the Grand Olympus and you… you’re telling me you are actually the Hades, God of the Underworld?”

The slight incline of his head caused Miho to straighten a little more; despite what she had seen, there was still incredulity in her eyes.

“Prove it,” she demanded curtly.

People, mortals anyway, generally didn’t speak to him like that, and Hades found himself caught somewhere between affronted and intrigued. He wasn’t sure how he’d react in her position, but to challenge the God of the Underworld to prove his identity true was not something he’d request.

“Here is neither the place, nor is it the…” he began, but Miho cut him off.

“Agent Schmit was trying to stop Minotaur,” she interjected, “told him to co-operate, so I can safely deduce his job was to find out what was going on – a law-keeper, even if outside traditional channels, and as your obvious subordinate, he must have been acting on your orders.”

“That sounds suspiciously like an assumption, Miss Fujiwara,” Hades observed.

“Don’t Miss Fujiwara me,” she glowered, hands gripping tight, angry fistfuls of the stiff white sheet that covered her body. “Unless you’re actually planning to kill me for discovering your secrets, which seems unlikely given I woke up in the first place, your best bet to keep me from exposing you and yours to the hungry public, is full disclosure.”

“HERA is an agency responsible for ensuring godly monsters such as Minotaur, and other influences of divine origin, do not have an impact upon the mortals of Earth, that they never have to carry the burden of knowing such things even exist.”

“Good job,” Miho threw in pithily, but instantly bit her lower lip when Hades narrowed his eyes at her.

Suddenly he felt much larger than she knew him to be, his presence expanding and pressing her into silence again.

“Usually mortals settle for the most logical answer, not what they perceive to be fantastical,” Hades expounded, eyes narrowing further. “Usually.”

“I’m… not sorry,” Miho scowled, but she couldn’t meet his gaze now. “What gives you the right to decide for people what they can handle?”

“Aside from being a top tier god?” Hades replied, one eyebrow twitching the moment he spoke – he could hear undertones of Zeus in his own statement.

“As yet unproven,” Miho put in, but still didn’t lift her eyes.

“I have no need to prove anything to you,” he told her, and Miho’s response was to throw off the sheet and swing her legs over the edge. “Miss Fu…”

Hands flat on the squishy mattress, Miho placed her bare feet to the white linoleum floor, ignoring the sudden cold that tickled a line down her spine where the gown hung open.

“What are you doing?” Hades frowned, rising and moving around the bed to intercept her.

“If there are no answers here, I’m leaving,” she announced bluntly, shuffling a little to one side as she tested the strength of her legs.

“You are still recovering from cranial trauma,” Hades argued, not touching her until – when she attempted to step around him – she teetered too far to the left and her knees buckled.

“This…” Miho hissed out, her breathing labored and her eyes rolling. “… this is, it’s unlawful… imprisonme…”

“Be quiet,” Hades growled, lifting her easily and lying her back down on the bed before pressing the call button. “You are going to do yourself more of an injury.”

Through mere slivers tried to focus on Hades’ face, to muster up an expression of fierceness and defiance that might provoke him into providing the proof she’d asked for, but her vision remained hazy and her head swam.

When a nurse, quickly followed by Dr. Phelps entered, Hades explained her dizzy spell – and when Miho finally came good, the God of the Underworld was gone, replaced instead by Agent Schmit.

 DAY 24

Sulkily, Miho remained under observation – not really against her will – but she wasn’t particularly happy about it.

Agent Schmit and Mann visited frequently, and during that time both made their own attempts to convince her staying quiet about what she’d witnessed was in the best interests of everyone. In response, she asked them to explain how lies were better, and finally Jazz lost her temper.

“Does your self-righteousness know any boundary?”

Where she sat by the window, Miho’s expression stiffened.

“Excuse me?”

“No,” Jazz retorted. “You have no idea the dangers HERA protects people from.”

“Of course I don’t,” Miho volleyed, hackles rising. “But not for a lack of trying.”

“You’re just a petulant child rebelling against parents who know better.”

“I don’t know you,” Miho spat. “Who are you to decide what I need to be protected from like, like I’ve not capacity to make judgements for myself?”

About half way through her ragey rhetoric, the door opened and Hades stepped in.

Jazz straightened, but Miho seemed to be winding up for ‘The Rant, Part Two’, though she stalled when Hades spoke her name.

“Dr. Phelps has cleared you for release,” he declared. “Please get dressed; I’d like you to come with me.”

“Where?” Miho queried suspiciously.

“Olympus,” Hades replied, and Miho blinked.

“Bullshit,” she dropped.

“You’re going to regret being so disrespectful,” Jazz muttered quietly, and Miho shot her a dirty look.

“You wanted to know, here is your chance,” Hades pointed out.  “But for that you’ll have to trust me.”

For a moment Miho was clearly thinking things over, until she finally nodded.

“Okay,” she conceded more calmly. “But I make no promises about non-disclosure.”

“Understood,” Hades agreed, and though she was still wary of the reporter, Jazz added no protest.

One of the suits Miho had already encountered was in the foyer of the Grand Olympian, when she entered with Hades on one side and Jazz on the other. Resisting the urge to comment, Miho simply smiled pleasantly.

“Pardon us agents,” Hades greeted as he was waved through security. “This underworld princess would like to take Miss Fujiwara on a tour.”

Rather than cringe at his recollection of ‘the foyer incident’, Miho smirked at Hades.

“You should run with that,” she chirped, but her eyes were everywhere, not missing a single surface as they continued into the building.

On their way to a very specific elevator, Miho asked every question that popped into her mind, and with openness that surprised Jazz, Hades answered graciously. When they reached a pair of golden doors, Jazz excused herself, leaving Miho and Hades to proceed alone.

“Just to clarify,” Miho ventured, feeling uncertain butterflies storm in the swirl of her stomach, “Olympus isn’t a metaphor for the place you dispose of people who meddle, is it?”

“It’s a little late for that query, isn’t it?” Hades smiled, allowing her to ponder this for a moment before allaying her concern. “But no, Olympus is quite literally the home of the gods.”

“Quite literally,” she scoffed.

“I don’t recall laughing at your home,” Hades mused, not bothered, just making a point.

“I just find it, well not amusing – odd maybe – that of all the supposed religions that exist and have existed throughout history, that of the Ancient Greeks turns out to be the one.”

“Religion has never been about what is actual,” Hades said, motioning to the elevator’s interior as the doors peeled open, “but rather what people need to feel secure with their place in the world.”

“Among other things,” Miho added, an edge to her tone as she stepped confidently into the lift, regardless of how nervous she might actually have been feeling.

“Not much of a believer?” he queried, stepping in beside her, his arm brushing against hers in the relatively small confines.

Miho shifted sideways a little, and turned her body to face him as the doors closed. Hades noticed now, there was significantly more caution in her body language, though he knew she knew it was well and truly too late to put up a fight if things went sour.

Lucky for her, Hades honestly meant her no harm.

“Self-delusion is not conducive to positive personal growth,” she stated assuredly, but the moment she met his gaze he saw her body tense a little more. “Anyway… elevator?”

“Yes?”

“You ride an elevator to get from Earth to Olympus?” she clarified. “What did you do before elevators were invented?”

At this Hades chuckled, and it was clear from her expression that Miho was caught a little off guard by how warm a sound it was.

“The gods do not require such a conduit to move between worlds,” he explained, keeping his eyes fixed on hers, trapping her there whether she liked it or not. “Mortals, however, demi-gods and godly monsters, are not equipped to travel without. Ultimately, it’s convenient given where HERA is located.”

“Which brings me to my next question – why New York? Why the States? Astoria is nice enough I guess but, isn’t it a little bit odd for something with roots so far away?”

“There are reasons,” Hades answered, but did not elaborate.

Instead, he inclined his head toward the doors, that a second later opened.

The full light of afternoon met them, along with the sound of moving water somewhere nearby, and the call of bird definitely not heard in Astoria. Motionless, Miho just stared, attempting to reconcile her ingrained skepticism with what she was seeing with her own eyes.

“Welcome to Olympus,” Hades smiled, stepping out but looking back when Miho didn’t follow.

Even HERA agents were astounded and sometimes overwhelmed when first seeing the home of the gods, and for many the wonder endured – so Hades was not surprised by Miho’s reaction. Patiently he waited, studying her.

Despite her question about being killed off for interfering, she hadn’t really asked what his endgame was; either she had given him the trust he’d asked for, or was so zealous in her pursuit for the truth behind HERA’s involvement in Minotaur’s destructive rampage, that she was willing to bet even her life on it.

“Shall we?” he prompted finally, extending a hand toward her, and in a daze Miho exited the elevator and reached to take it.

Then stopped. Blinked. Returned her hand to her side.

“You need not be so guarded, Miss Fujiwara,” he told her, lowering his hand with a smile Miho actually thought seemed a little sad.

“You don’t get to hold a girl’s hand when you’re still referring to her by her surname,” Miho sniffed, for some reason feeling the need to offer him a wry grin.

“May I call you Miho?” he enquired, and again Miho was stunned by his manner.

“You are not what I envisioned for the God of the Underworld,” she exhaled, scrutinising him, perplexed.

“Because mortals fear what they don’t understand,” he explained with a shrug, but he stepped closer to her as he did. “They can’t see beyond the veil of death, and because of who and what I am and represent, by association that fear is transferred to me. People make, assumptions.”

“Hm, fair point,” she acknowledged, but her words felt a little sluggish falling off her tongue.

“How about you, Miho?” he then questioned, looking into her face, now no more than an arm’s length away. “Are you afraid of death?”

Her lips pursed. She wanted to look away – not because her answer was yes and not because she was fearful of him per se. In self-defense she reached for humour.

“With that hair to greet me on the other side?”

But her voice was a little breathless.

“Not likely.”

“You’re more than a little obsessed with my hair,” he chuckled, given her an easy way out.

“I’d like to see you as a brunette,” she smirked, clutching the life-line he’d thrown.

“Oh no,” Hades laughed. “Persephone convinced me to do that for Halloween one year, and it looked ridiculous.”

“Would you dye it if I promised to keep your secret?” she ventured, and Hades raised an eyebrow.

“That’s your price?”

“No,” she shrugged. “I was just wondering how attached you were to the mauve.”
“Olympus spreads out before you, and it’s my hair you want to talk about,” he chortled, and in response, Miho tilted her head, peering at him almost curiously. “What?”

“You know, if people could see you, hear you laugh like that, there’d be a lot less fear in the world,” she told him, serious once more.

“Your opinion of me has changed that much?”

Again she found his eyes inescapable, until the call of a beautiful white peacock started her back to her senses – and she didn’t answer his question.

Instead she walked slowly away from the elevator to the edge of the platform upon which they stood. Or rather it wasn’t so much a platform as it was an island floating in a bright sky streaked with pastel wisps of cloud. Beyond, other levitating land masses housed grand structures in the style of ancient Greece, littered with marble columns and grand statues amid lush garden and waterfalls of indeterminate origin.

“This is real?” she exhaled. “You didn’t just, spike my cordial?”

“It’s real, Miho,” Hades smiled at her back. “Let me show you around my home.”

Ever so lightly he touched her shoulder, and when she turned he extended his hand once more. This time, however, though she was still obviously hesitant, she took the offering and allowed her fingers to be gently enclosed by his.

As they walked the winding paths, Hades gave her the TL:DR about the actual role of the gods, including his own work, but Miho sensed there was a great deal he was leaving out.

“And this is the entrance to my estate,” he announced when they passed through a pair of grand gates leading up to his abode.

“Palatial,” Miho commented almost absently, for she was too distracted drinking in her surroundings, trying to memorise every fine detail.

“What’s this?” came a female voice at the top of the rise, just shy of the Grecian manor’s front doors.

It was the twitch of Hades’ grip on her hand though, that snapped Miho’s head to the only other person they’d seen so far.

“You haven’t brought a woman home since,” the cheerful voice continued, and Miho met the owner’s bright green eyes, “well, since me, and I don’t count.”

Slowly, Hades’ fingers uncurled, and after clearing his throat, Hades made introductions.

“A reporter?” Persephone blinked, looking from Miho back to her uncle.

“Despite HERA’s efforts to keep her out of it,” he explained, “Miho is largely responsible for Minotaur’s capture.”

“Hades must trust you a great deal to bring you to Olympus,” Persephone nodded, all the while maintaining a stunning smile. “Most HERA agents never get an invite.”

“I’m not sure about that,” Miho replied, “but, I am very grateful for the opportunity.”

“I was just on my way to speak with Poseidon,” Persephone said, shifting her gaze back to Hades, “but I could eat first and go later if you want me to whip up something for you and your lady friend.”

The edge to her tone was teasing, and Miho was surprised to find a little more colour blossom in Hades’ cheeks.

“Oh, I like her,” Miho grinned, and Hades clicked his tongue.

“Ganging up on me is absolutely not allowed,” he frowned, but this only made Persephone laugh.

“Come on, Miho,” she prompted, stepping forward and taking Miho’s hand – at least Hades had asked, but there was absolutely nothing threatening about her, “I make the best salads in all of Olympus.”

Someone should have told Persephone you don’t make friends with salad, but Miho did not protest, allowing herself to be dragged into the mansion with Hades trailing behind.

True to her word, Persephone produced the most delicious meal Miho had ever had, even though it was salad. She found herself incredibly comfortable with the goddess, whose friendly manner and complete lack of agenda let Miho drop her guard, just a little. Occasionally, however, she would feel Hades’ amethyst gaze grazing her, and though this was not threatening in and of itself, it left Miho wondering what it was he was trying to figure out… other than whether she actually planned to publish an exposé.

He insisted his niece leave the washing up for him to do, and before Miho knew it, she was standing in the kitchen beside him drying dishes.

“As if all this isn’t surreal enough,” she huffed, mostly to herself, “here I am doing to dishes with death incarnate.”

“It wasn’t initially on the itinerary,” he admitted, passing her the last plate. “But Persephone is…”

“Your personal chef?” Miho put in.

“Not far off to be honest,” he conceded, “not that I can’t…”

“Nanny?” Miho amended.

“Okay, that is going a little too far,” Hades frowned, and there was even the hint of a pout which Miho found hilarious.

“Oh no, you seem to me like the kind to over work – see getting in the way of my job at every turn – and forget to take care of himself. I bet she even irons your shirts.”

“She does no… ah… well maybe she did this one,” he scowled, and Miho found it… adorable.

“I wish you’d let me interview you, take pictures,” she sighed. “You would make my career… well you would if I actually had one.”

“No,” he told her flatly, a large chunk of humour disappearing from his tone.

“Ugh!” Miho grunted, stomping around the counter. “You’re only showing me all of this because you know if I run this fantasy without solid evidence even the crackpot conspiracy theorist will laugh at me.”

“That isn’t the only reason,” he smirked, the tables turned. “You are talented at what you do,” he went on, folding the tea-towel over a rail and moving across the open space to large glass doors that looked out over the expanse of his estate, “you must be to be standing here now.”

Miho’s brow twitched and she approached him.

“Okay, so I’m talented,” she agreed, and had been set to go on when Hades’ hand was held out to her for the third time that day.

“Let’s continue the tour,” he said with a smile, and with another sigh Miho agreed, pushing the dull throb behind her eyes to the very back of her focus.

After drinking in the sights for quite some time, Hades stopped beside an immaculate, sparkling pool, and suggested they rest for a while.

“It’s not as if taking a leisurely stroll through heaven is especially taxing,” Miho told him, but Hades narrowed his eyes on her knowingly.

“You’ve been grimacing on and off since lunch,” he argued sternly.

“It’s just a headache, Hades,” she scoffed, but sat when he guided her to an intricately carved stone bench at the water’s edge.

“A headache is not just a headache, when you’ve recently been in a coma.”

“An induced coma,” she nit-picked, but had unconsciously begun massaging her left temple.

“I think it’s time I returned you to Earth,” he decided, but before he could draw her back to her feet, there was a thunderous, roaring explosion somewhere in the distance.

“Hades?” Miho gasped.

“Stay here,” he told her gravely – but that was never going to happen.

“No way,” she protested, doing her best to keep up with the cracking pace he set, running up the sloping path toward a plume of smoke staining the now otherwise flawless sky.

She trailed him by some distance, but caught up to find him – among others for whom she had no name – gaping at the collapsed and smoldering side of what looked to Miho like some sort of atrium.

The gods seemed to be in a state of shock.

“Hades, there are people in there,” Miho hissed, staring forward like she meant to jump into the flaming rubble.

But Hades caught her arm in an iron grip and jerked her back.

“Do not move from this spot,” he commanded, a sound like she had never heard from him, one that indeed rooted her to the ground.

She could them only watch as he took control over the scene, directing those around him to attend to all facets of this event they seemed to be having difficulty processing. Miho also tried to fathom the situation – was this an intentional attack on Olympus? Terrorism on Earth seemed an almost daily occurrence, but this place of divinity she thought should have been exempt from such human failings.

A panicked sniffle-sob to her left drew Miho’s attention from the chaos to a small, distraught figure. She looked maybe five or six, but Miho had no idea how gods aged – all she knew, was the apparent child was frantically searching the carnage and looked about ready to dive into the fire.

“Hey,” Miho frowned, when the little girl shuffled forward, “no no, you can’t go in there.”

“My mother is in there!” the child exclaimed, wide eyes a blur with terror.

“Hades will… do something,” Miho assured, but she couldn’t really be sure at all.

All she could do was crouch and try to offer the girl some comfort, not that she was especially good with children.

Then something appeared Miho couldn’t quite reconcile.

Fire, destruction, mayhem, injury and death she could understand, it was all just another day at the office, but the figure that came stumbling from the building’s ruined husk was not just a victim.

When the child let out an alarmed scream, Miho reflexively swept her up, and drew back from the horror that shambled in their direction.

“Don’t look,” Miho hissed, pressing the girl’s face into her shoulder protectively as she retreated.

The woman, Miho assumed she was a woman, looked broken: one leg twisted at an unnatural angle, part of a jagged bone protruding from the side of her neck that lolled to the side as if lacking support – and her eyes wept an oily blackness that dribbled down her cheeks and dripped from her chin.

Shaking, Miho peered around for something she could use as a weapon, settling on a somewhat charred shard of wood that she awkwardly scooped up from the ground.

“I don’t know what this is,” she forced out breathlessly, her mouth dry. “But you need to just… just stop and…”

But discoloured fingers clawed forth, forcing Miho to bat the hand away with her makeshift club.

“Seriously!” Miho barked, quickly placing her ward on the ground behind her and gripping her weapon with both hands. “I will fuck you up… more.”

It sneered, the zombiesque woman, and a rasping, rancid chuckle emerged through lips slick with gore before she lurched her Miho.

The sound of wood connecting with soft flesh and surprisingly brittle bone caught Miho completely off guard, the upward swing she landed against the underside of the ‘woman’s’ chin, substantial enough to knock her attacker down. She followed through with a wide swipe to her left, collecting a second monstrous figure attempting to get at the child who clung hysterically to the back of Miho’s pants.

No time to process.

No time to question.

Miho just acted on instinct, until the rush of a snarling purple shape flashed around her, great, glowing scythe decimating the threats her reach. And she shivered against the cold that touched her skin but left it unmarked, the power that made her feel dizzy but left her and the child unharmed.

Panting, Miho dropped to her knees to embrace the child again, looking up as the reaper receded to reveal Hades had been behind it.

“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice deep with grim concern.

“All right, yes. Okay? No,” she breathed, stroking the little girl’s hair. “What the hell is going on? Zombies?”

“That is an excellent question to which I do not currently have an answer,” he responded on the very edge of a growl that made Miho want to cower, even if the ire was not directed at her.

“Uncle!” Persephone called, rushing up as she shook her head in disbelief.

“Take Miho back to the estate,” he instructed sharply, and Persephone urged Miho to her feet without further question.

“Where’s Peitho?” Persephone rushed, glancing from the girl still wrapped around Miho, to her uncle.

Hades’ indicated one of the bodies now motionless where he’d cut it down, and Persephone’s eyes grew wide.

“Go now,” he prompted a little more firmly. “Take Symphonia with you.”

With a decisive nod, Persephone urged Miho into motion, and reluctantly complied, scowling over Symphonia’s head ad Hades as she did.

He spared her one more glance and a nod before turning back to the confounding scene.

In silence Miho sat, idly stroking the hair of the little girl – Symphonia – who had finally fallen asleep with her head in Miho’s lap. Processing what she had seen and done proved an even bigger challenge than accepting Olympus and the Greek pantheon.

Persephone pottered around nervously, glancing toward the entrance foyer every now and then. Olympus had fallen eerily quiet – even the birds and insects seemed to have recognised the gravity of what had occurred, the abnormality, and the cost.

“Can I get you a drink?” Persephone asked Miho, leaning a little over the back of the couch.

“That’s the fourth time you’ve asked,” Miho smiled thinly over her shoulder. “Maybe you should have one, a strong one.”

“Maybe,” Persephone nodded, moving around to sit opposite Miho. “I just can’t believe what I saw.”

“You and me both,” Miho agreed. “I…”

She lowered her voice so as not to wake the child.

“… Gods… can they actually die?”

Solemnly, Persephone sighed.

“We can,” she replied. “Our souls get reincarnated, we can be reborn, but it’s… difficult.”

“Symphonia’s mother?” Miho prompted.

“Yeah, she will… I think… I mean I’ve never seen a god turned into…”

“… a zombie?” Miho put in, and Persephone cringed. “That’s what they were, right? But how? What power is strong enough to do that to a god?”

“In honesty, I don’t know,” Persephone admitted, slouching.

Both women straightened however, Persephone jumping to her feet, when the sound of the front doors opening and closing heralded Hades’ return.

His face was weary, smudged with soot, his clothing just as grubby with one sleeve torn.

Trapped beneath Symphonia, Miho could only crane her neck and frown, looking him over for injury.

Wordlessly, Persephone questioned him with her eyes.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, and there was real pain in his voice that burrowed toward Miho’s heart. “But, we lost eleven.”

“What kills eleven gods?” Miho whispered.

“Could it have been…” Persephone began, but seemed fearful of continuing.

“No,” Hades dropped definitively. “Zeus may be acting like our enemy, but I cannot believe he would attack Olympus like this, not do that to his own people.”

“Zeus, is your enemy?” Miho exclaimed, and Symphonia stirred a little. “No, no, just stay asleep,” Miho soothed, carefully inching out from under the girl so she could scrutinize Hades after this new revelation. “Hades, what the hell is going on?”

It was unnerving seeing such a man sigh.

“I can explain it,” Persephone piped up, but Hades shook his head.

“No, I want you to take Symphonia to Aphrodite,” he declared, drawing in a bracing breath. “Peitho was her attendant.”

Sadly, Persephone nodded, moved over to the sleepy child and lifted her into a draping carry.

“Wait, will Persephone be safe going out on her own?” Miho scowled. “What if there are more of those… things?”

“I’ll be fine,” Persephone asserted with a reserved smile. “And Uncle will keep you safe.”

In the wake of her departure, Hades and Miho remained standing, still, strained.

Olympus was his home, and god or not, Miho had to think he was deeply affected by what had happened.

“Why don’t you get cleaned up?” Miho offered finally. “I could make some tea or… juice? It’s about dinner time if you’re hungry? You must be exhausted.”

Hades opened his mouth, but closed it without saying anything – then offered her a resigned nod. She hadn’t expected that.

With no idea what to make, Miho poked awkwardly around the kitchen after Hades had disappeared, trying to find various utensils. She found the refrigerator an amazing place, filled with fresh produce that made Miho wonder where Olympus’ farms were. The process of cooking allowed her to distance herself from the tangle of thoughts that threatened to engulf her. In fact, she was so focused, she didn’t even notice Hades had returned until he placed himself in her path.

“Jesus!” she exclaimed when she turned and crashed into his chest.

With one hand Hades’ caught the bowl she nearly dropped, and the other took her arm to steady her.

“No, just Hades,” he corrected, fashioning a mild smile.

Despite herself, Miho blushed. The scent from his freshly washed body, its warmth, and seeing him in casual attire, did something to her she hadn’t expected.

“I… didn’t know what you liked,” she admitted, swallowing as his touch lingered a little before he stepped away. “So, I just… I doubt it’ll be anywhere close to Persephone’s meals.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he responded, heading to one end of the kitchen and opening a door. “I appreciate your efforts.”

For a moment he disappeared again, and when he emerged it was with a bottle in each hand.

“Red or white?”

“Well I was about to grill this fish I found,” Miho replied. “Not sure what type of fish it is, but it looks fresh enough so, white?”

“White it is,” he decided, placing the red aside and removing the cork of the white.

After all that had happened, there was a strange normality to preparing for a shared meal, in being offered a glass of wine in the evening.

But they didn’t toast, to crystal clinking together, and Hades frowned, finally raising his glass.

“To the ones I lost today,” he said solemnly, his eyes focused elsewhere for a moment before he looked into Miho’s face through the pale, golden liquid.

“May they find their way home before long,” Miho added with equal reverence, and she felt the weight of his gaze intensify, watching her as he took a sip. “So, take a seat while I cook the fish.”

“Can I help?” he asked, at which Miho couldn’t help but laugh.

“Would Persephone let you help?” she levelled.

“This is my house you realise,” he pointed out, actually amused.

“Just sit down and let me get on with it,” she huffed, and actually gave him a light shove to get him moving.

Chuckling and moved as far as the other side of the island counter, and sat on a stool.

“After what you’ve seen, I owe you an explanation,” he said after the initial sizzle of the fish on the grill had died back.

“Eh,” she shrugged, glancing back over her shoulder with a smirk. “Don’t worry about it.”

“What?” he blinked in surprise, glass stalling half way to his mouth.

Again, Miho shrugged.

“It’s fine,” she reinforced. “Just enjoy your wine and your dinner.”

Though he could obviously keep talking, the way Miho turned back around to focus on the fish was a clear message to take her suggestion. It puzzled him greatly, that she – in pursuit of answers- would turn down the very chance to get them.

“You’ll get wrinkles if you keep frowning like that,” Miho snickered, though she hadn’t looked at him.

“Pardon me for feeling a little bewildered,” he replied. “Are you finished learning about this hidden world you’ve finally discovered?”

“Of course not,” she scoffed, taking the thin fish fillets off the heat and putting the pan on the marble countertop. “Now just isn’t the right time.”

“Hmm,” he mused, watching as she plated up their meal.

It was pleasant, and though Miho had a million more questions than she’d had earlier in the day, Hades’ pain was evident, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. It was commendable of him to still be willing to talk after some of his people had been killed… and not just killed.

“Is your head still bothering you?” Hades asked as he picked up her empty plate.

“Hm?”

“You were frowning,” he added, carrying the dishes to the kitchen.

“Nope,” she exhaled, a breath that turned into a yawn, and she rested her head on the back of her chair.

“Tired clearly,” Hades smiled. “I could take you back, but perhaps it would be better if you stayed here the night.”

This caused one of Miho’s eyebrows to lift, and immediately Hades rushed to elaborate.

“I have many guest rooms,” he explained, and Miho grinned wickedly as he blushed.

“Disappointed,” she sighed airily, but her teasing was ruined by another yawn. “Looks like we’ll just have to be quick.”

“I’ll get you a towel and something to wear,” he chuckled.

In a lavish guest room – truly the type of fairytales – Miho sprawled out on the massive bed – a bed so comfortable it felt like she was floating. But she just stared at the softly draped canopy as the world churned in her mind, over and over without rest.

Two worlds.

The things she’d seen defied logic, and yet logic told her all she’d ever needed was first hand proof to believe in something – there was no such thing as ‘can’t be’, but rather ‘I’ve just not discovered it yet’, but everything she’d witnessed that day overloaded her brain.

When she finally struggled into slumber, it was troubled. Darkness lurched at her from all directions, rotting hands infested with pestilence, grabbed from her body and dug in jagged fingernails. No matter how she screamed and tried to fight the monsters off, help seemed so distant – the shape of Hades and the purple reaper she’d seen but once, for some reason holding back.

It had been dark for hours, when she finally wrested free of sleep’s fearful embrace. She woke to find herself in a tangle of soft blankets, gripping her pillow that would moist with tears. Desperately trying to catch her breath, she rocked into a sitting position and put her feet to the floor. It’s stability helped to calm the raging of her pulse, and dispel the storm clouds still clinging to her skin.

“You’re not a kid,” she muttered angrily at herself, scrubbing her cheeks and eyes before smoothing back her hair.

After a few minutes of contemplating going back to sleep – then deciding not to – Miho checked she wasn’t being indecent in the t-shirt Hades had lent her, she exited the guest room and headed to the main area.

She was surprised to still find Hades up, paperwork spread across the dining table. When she appeared he looked up, even before she’d entered his peripheral vision, and frowned a little.

“Can’t sleep?” he questioned, and Miho shook her head, looking a little sheepish.

“Nightmares,” she explained awkwardly. “I can’t stop everything spinning in my brain.”

“Unsurprising,” he nodded, scraping his chair back softly and getting to his feet. “Why don’t you get comfortable on the couch?”

Without protest, Miho moved over to the comfy looking sofa and flopped down. She zoned out almost immediately, losing sight of the room for a wash of blurry, high speed thoughts and images that tried to drag her back into fear, until a sweet smell assailed her nose.

“Hot chocolate?” Miho blinked, staring at the steaming mug Hades was holding out to her from behind the sofa. “Not something I thought a health nut like you would have handy; I’ve seen what’s in your fridge.”

“It’s organic, fair trade cocoa,” he replied with a wry grin, and with his own mug in hand, sat down next to her. “So, what’s bothering you the most? Maybe those answers you refused earlier will help quieten your mind.”

DAY 25

Miho didn’t know how long they talked, nor did she remember when it was she fell asleep. All she knew, was that eventually light tickled her face. She was warm, and snuggled, enveloped and protected by a sense of complete safety she didn’t want to disturb.

Finally, when she stretched a little, something moved beneath her, and she opened her eyes. What she saw was Hades’ sleeping face not far from her own. His arms were draped around her, hands resting in her lower back, and she laid against his chest, formerly with her head tucked beneath his chin.

“How did…” she began, and that was all it took for Hades’ eyelids to slowly peel back.

“Good morning,” he smiled softly, such a gentle expression Miho was caught completely off guard. “I suppose we fell asleep.”

As much was obvious.

Miho remembered him telling her about the search for Hera, about Zeus’ obsession with finding Hera and how it all blew up after the fake was revealed. The pantheon ended up broken, split, a dangerous schism that could well have been the route of what had happened the day before.

Now, Hades’ didn’t seem at all abashed by their circumstances, nor did he remove his arms.

“This looks cosy,” came a suspicious voice from the other side of the room, and Miho lifted her head a little to see Persephone enter.

“Oh, this isn’t, this isn’t what it looks like!” Miho rushed, wriggling, and with a chuckle Hades sat up and unfurled his arms.

He did not, however, rush to move away from her, though his cheeks had become a little pink.

“I just…” Miho began again, but Hades put his hand on her shoulder, even while she hurried to pull his t-shit over her hips.

“It’s okay,” he assured her, then rose. “Yesterday was pretty trying.”

“Is that your shirt?” Persephone wondered, and Hades responded honestly.

“I didn’t think you’d approve of me rummaging through your drawers,” he answered.

“Clearly you didn’t have the same issue about rummaging through hers,” Persephone grinned, and Miho’s eyes stretched wide.

“Wait, that isn’t what happened at all,” she argued, standing up while clinging to the hem of her modesty.

“I don’t disapprove,” Persephone teased, moving over into the kitchen area. “He looks good on you.”

“Okay, that’s quite enough,” Hades finally intervened, running his fingers through his hair.

“Oh god,” Miho exhaled in embarrassment, hand over her face, while Persephone continued to laugh.

“You’re not tired of saying that yet?” the goddess added, and Hades very nearly face palmed.

Giggling, Persephone opened the fridge.

“Why don’t you two take a shower while I fix breakfast?”

“I’m fine,” Miho said quickly. “But I will go put my clothes on.”

Swiftly she scurried back to her guest room, aware of two gazes following her.

“Spill it,” Persephone urged, leaning over the counter at her uncle.

“There is nothing to spill,” he assured her. “Understandably she had difficulties sleeping so…”

“… you gave her a hand? Or something else?”

“Don’t be vulgar,” he chided, settling on a barstool. “I explained how things came to be the way they are now, and what might have been the cause of yesterday’s destruction. But, I would much rather know the facts.”

“Unfortunately I have some more bad news,” Persephone said, finally getting serious. “Erinyes is missing.”

“Missing, or defected?” Hades sought in clarification, his expression filling with shadow.

“Hard to say at the moment,” Persephone sighed. “All we know is she wasn’t among the dead.”

Generally quite calm and in control of his emotions, Hades’ irritation actually bubbled to the surface.

“Zeus needs to stop this madness,” he growled, his fist balled on the benchtop.

In the doorway, Miho paused mid-step as a wave of powerful, negative vibes expanded from where Hades sat.

“Bad news?” she ventured, remaining where she was, and Hades inhaled a sharp breath to reign in his annoyance.

“Could be,” he conceded. “Sorry.”

“No, no, don’t apologise,” she said, moving slowly over to the counter. “Now I’ve a better picture of what’s really going on, I get the stakes are high. I don’t suppose you could call a truce with Zeus, to talk things over?”

Then her eyes cut to Persephone.

“It just occurred to me that Zeus is your father,” Miho noted.

“He is,” she sighed, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to excuse him for behaving like a thug,” Persephone replied gruffly. “If he is responsible for what happened yesterday, I…”

Her entire body seemed to tense, her brow gathering low between her eyes in a knot.

“I don’t know if I can forgive him,” she finished.

“Persephone is above reproach,” Hades vouched with a curt nod.

“Okay,” Miho accepted, sitting on the stool next to Hades. “So what happens now?”

“We eat,” Persephone declared, trying to lift the mood.

“Then I return you to Earth so I can deal with this mess,” Hades added.

“Just like that?” Miho blinked. “Down the elevator, out the building and goodbye?”

“Maybe a kiss,” Persephone put in, but Miho shook her head.

“Not what I meant,” she explained with a frown. “Now I know all this, how am I supposed to just, go back to ‘normal’ without even knowing how this ends?”

“It’ll be better if you do,” Hades responded, but Miho wasn’t having it, turning her body to him.

“There you go making decisions for me again,” she scowled. “I’m old enough and ugly enough to look after myself.”

“Oh?” he voiced in challenge, also swiveling to face her. “Is that why you were thrashing around and crying in your sleep?”

“I was and you didn’t wake me?” she volleyed, and Persephone took a step back.

“Uh, I don’t want to get in the way of a lover’s tiff, so I’ll just…”

“We are not,” Miho snapped most definitively.

“This isn’t up for debate,” Hades told her, and ambiguity remained about what exactly wouldn’t be debated.

“Fine, then take me back now,” Miho hissed, getting to her feet.

“For someone claiming to be old enough to take care of herself, you sure are acting like a petulant child,” Hades judged, his voice taking on a colder edge.

“Then allow me to get the hell out of your way,” Miho asserted, and began to stalk toward the front door.

“Wow,” Persephone dropped. “You sure know how to pick the feisty ones.”

“Apparently,” Hades sighed, exasperation written all over his face as he began after Miho. “I will be back shortly.”

Miho was surprised there was no further lecture from Hades, especially as they rode the elevator down in silence. He also said nothing about non-disclosure or confidentiality, and simply saw her to the collection of her handbag, then to the foyer of the Grand Olympian.

“Please stay out of HERA’s way, Miss Fujiwara,” he said finally, his voice even and firm, “for your own safety.”

“Sure thing, Reverend Hades,” she dismissed, waving over her shoulder and strutting out of the building like a boss… only to back very quickly back inside. “Zombie!”

The guards looked to Hades, but when the top tier god took Miho’s shoulder and shoved her behind him, the other agents leapt into action.

“Stay here,” Hades rumbled, following his agents onto the street, but Miho was already digging around in her bag for her phone.

She’d left it on, and it was flat, much to her disgust, but that meant her entire focus then went to the scene unfolding on the street.

Several corpse-like figures were approaching the building, but that wasn’t even the beginning of the horror, for strapped to each were vests looking to Miho very much like explosives.

“Get back!” Miho shouted, as a number of people just going about their business, approached along the footpath. “Go, go! There’s a bomb!”

In a city that had already experienced the pain of terrorism, the ‘b word’ had an immediate effect. The people turned on their tails and ran, screaming and shouting at others to clear the street.

Gun shots popped, as agents fired upon the walking dead, while Hades’s reaper aura swept across the now otherwise empty street, collecting the bodies before smothering the explosions that burst forth from the fallen emissaries of destruction.

“Hades!” Miho shrieked, dashing from the store front she’d been hiding in, collecting a metal waste bin as she did.

Which she pitched at the legs of the much faster moving creature that had slipped in behind the agents on its way to the foyer. When the bin connected, the zombie stumbled and fell, given Hades – who had turned to Miho’s call – enough time to sprint and slide in front of her, putting his aura between them.

The explosion tore into the Grand Olympian’s fascia, sending concrete rubble flying, but there was no one left in the foyer to be injured, and the other HERA agents were well out of range. For seconds after the sound of the blast dissipated, Hades remained hunched over and around Miho, who only opened her eyes when her ears stopped ringing.

“That was reckless,” he rumbled, but his arms tightened a little before he straightened.

“But effective,” Miho exhaled, wobbling a little and resting back against Hades who hadn’t moved away.

“Hurt?” he scowled over her shoulder.

“Nope,” she managed, trying to catch her breath and quell the trembling of her body.

Damage to the building did little to quell the involuntary shaking of her limbs. While it all could have been much worse if the blast had detonated inside the foyer, the building now looked like it needed a dentist. HERA agents began cautiously emerging through the jagged cavity, and still Hades held Miho.

“You can let go of me now,” she whispered, as someone called out to Hades.

Flipping a switch, Hades’ expression hardened and he finally stepped away from Miho’s side to begin delegating responsibility for the scene.

Focusing on getting a grip, Miho moved herself out of the way as the street was cordoned off and nearby buildings were evacuation.

As she calmed, words joined together, linking into sentences and paragraphs, pages of cogent story that would absolutely sell/

“Hey!” came an assertive female exclamation, and for a second, Miho wondered if she had spoken aloud without consciously thinking.

“Is there a reason you’re ignoring this badge?”

“This falls outside your jurisdiction, Ma’am,” a straight-faced HERA agent outside the barrier responded – also familiar to Miho.

Without really thinking she might not be allowed back in, Miho stepped out to inspect the gathering crowd, and the one belonging to the loudest voice of all. “And who exactly are you?” the smartly dressed woman demanded, an NYPD badge dangling around her neck. “You sound just like me,” Miho chuckled, drawing the attention of both the woman, and the agent she’d been sparring with. “They’re trained to be that annoying.” “Are you?” the police officer volleyed.

“A reporter,” Miho answered pleasantly, offering the other woman her hand. “Miho Fujiwara, at your service.”

The eyes of the HERA agent narrowed.

“Oh relax Agent Eyeballs,” she grinned, waving her other hand at the man. “You’ve got bigger things to worry about right now than me and my blabbermouth.

When the police officer’s hand made contact with Miho’s, Miho looked back to her brightly.

“Detective Yashitori, Narumi,” the officer greeted, some of her steam escaping in the face of Miho’s unbothered expression.

“Pleasure to meet you, Detective,” she smiled, and turned her back to the HERA agent, subtly encouraging Narumi to do the same.

Conspiratorially, she leaned a little closer to Narumi and dropped her voice, well aware the Agent Scrutiny was watching and listening still.

“Just quietly, they do have jurisdiction, and no, they aren’t going to share much more about how.”

“And you know this how?” Narumi enquired, studying Miho just as closely.

“Oh,” Miho smirked, then raised her voice a little. “I’m sleeping with one of their commanders.”

Yeah, that broke Agent Voyeur’s calm, and he blinked like Miho had just thrown cold water in his face.

“Miss Fujiwara,” he growled.

“Nope,” she sniffed, dismissing him with another wave, linking arms with the somewhat bewildered detective, and urging her into a walk. “I am in desperate need of coffee,” she declared. “And you look like you could use one too.”

Somehow, Narumi’s frustration had evaporated – something about Miho’s manner managed to carry her away. But that wasn’t the only thing. She was a detective, and an observant one. Even as she had argued with Agent Stoicism, she’d spied Miho emerge from within the blocked off area, and her familiar way of speaking with ‘those in charge’ suggested she knew more than most of the morbidly curious crowd.

So she went along.

Not far away, in a cafe Miho had only been in once before, Miho placed a ‘cup of Joe’ in front of Detective Yashitori, just as Hades had done with her. And it wasn’t lost on her how similar the circumstance were – except Narumi had yet to call her ridiculous names or make commentary on her hair.

Before Miho could speak, Narumi took the initiative, just in case the other woman’s purpose was to cover for the suits.

“So, if I can’t get to the crime scene, what am I supposed to put in my report?” she asked, her voice a little edged. “It’s kind of difficult to investigate when some people, somehow apparently have every right not to let me in. My boss is going to love this; I can hear him right now.”

“I bet he sounds a good deal like me,” Miho responded, calm in the face of Narumi’s slight irritation.

Narumi suddenly superimposed Miho’s face over Kirisawa’s, and her annoyance wavered just slightly. What Miho’s assertion also did, was further reinforce the woman who she’d so willingly left a crime scene with, knew something, and had once been in a position of frustration also.

“So, I’m listening,” Narumi prompted, blowing the steam over the top of her mug.

Nodding, Miho chewed on the inside of her cheek thoughtfully.

Here was a cop. Clearly one driven enough to push back at obstructions preventing her from getting to the facts.

The easy answer was, tell a lie to protect the best interests of the masses – and Now Miho sat in his seat.

“So, the Greek pantheon is real, though right now it’s fractured thanks to Zeus being a dick. Now bomb wielding zombies are attacking both Olympus and Earth,” Miho heard herself prattle.

“Well, if I’m honest – and I like to be honest – there isn’t a lot I can tell you,” Miho admitted finally. “And if I feed you the lines they fed me, then you’d be just as dissatisfied as I was.”

“So, you could always try telling me the truth,” Narumi suggested critically.

“Believe me, I want to,” Miho sighed.

“But?” Narumi insisted.

“Well, if your imagination is anything like mine, you have a pretty vivid idea of what might happen,” Miho nodded slowly.

“And your boyfriend?”

“Boyfriend?”

“The commander? He wouldn’t protect you if you say, happened to accidentally let slip a few details?”

“Oh riiiiight,” Miho chuckled. “I never said he was my boyfriend.”

“But you’re sleeping with him?”

“Slept with him, yes, quite fitfully actually,” Miho revealed emphatically. “The guy made for a surprisingly comfortable mattress considering all the lumps and… bulges.”

At this, Narumi blushed a little despite herself, perhaps drawn to the sudden image of someone she knew with bits and pieces in all the right places.

“Mhmm, Detective Yashitori, I do believe you’re imagining something pretty lewd,” Miho grinned, offering her a wink. “Someone special in your life? Yes?”

“Mhmm, Detective Yashitori, I do believe you’re imagining something pretty lewd,” Miho grinned, offering her a wink. “Someone special in your life? Yes?”

Being relatively good at reading people, Miho could see the answer written on Narumi’s face, though the detective quickly covered it up and refocused.

“I suppose I should expect a reporter to be pretty good at misdirection,” she smiled thinly. “Though isn’t your job usually revealing the truth, rather than covering it up?”

For a few seconds she allowed this question to hover, before she spoke again, leaning forward on the table a little.

“Which begs many questions, including why would a reporter be so subversive? Perhaps to protect the commander she is sleeping with?”

“Subversive is an awfully strong word,” Miho grinned, rather enjoying the verbal game of cat and mouse. “As for someone I might be protecting, which it’s entirely within the realm of possibility, that wouldn’t really speak very well of me would it? I mean, several explosions just chewed a chunk out of a New York building – that’s a little bigger than just me and my beloved, right?”

“Right,” Narumi nodded, not so much enjoying the banter as trying to dig her way through Miho’s wall of words. “But I don’t know you, so you could very well be that kind of person.”

“Please, I’m nothing like Agent Pokerface,” Miho scoffed. “I’m pretty sure they are required to take classes in speaking in monotone, and their P.T. involved toning facial muscles so they don’t ever smile.”

“But not you?”

“Nope, I am soooo not on the payroll,” Miho chuckled.

“But you’re toe the line,” Narumi asserted, rather than questioned, and she watched as Miho shifted a little in her seat, a sign – perhaps- this idea didn’t sit well.

“You want to know what’s going on behind the curtain, Detective?” Miho exhaled, leaning back in her seat, poking at her mug idly.

“Obviously,” Narumi responded. “That is my job.”

“Mm,” Miho murmured. “Would you still be pushing to know if it wasn’t your job?”

Narumi took a moment to consider this question. It all came back to why she became a police officer in the first place, what she stood for.

“Yes,” she answered finally, a definite nod added for emphasis – and Miho smiled a knowing and somehow conflicted smile.

There was so much of herself in the other woman it was painful to watch. It was like staring into the not so distant past, observing herself tread the same path of frustration and irritation, facing the same hurdles – only now she was Agent Mann and Hades.

That stung.

“You know what they often say about the Internet, Detective?” Miho posed rhetorically, for she clearly meant to continue. “What has been seen cannot be unseen? I imagine in your line of work, you’ve witnessed many things you wish you could scrub from your memory.”

“That doesn’t mean the reason behind why I saw it doesn’t make it worth the price,” Narumi argued, and she believed it, Miho could see she believed it.

“I understand,” she said, trying not to be patronising. “Things explode, and the protectors of the city don their capes to protect the innocent.”

“I prefer a badge to a cape,” Narumi interjected a little dryly.

“Well I don’t have either,” Miho pointed out a little wryly, “and you know, I thought complete and utter transparency in everything was the only way to be fair, to be equitable – because you and I both know, knowledge is power.”

Waiting for her continue, Narumi pursed her lips expectantly.

“But in recent days I’ve learned, power isn’t everything,” Miho explained, but frowned as she heard her own voice.

“You’re conflicted,” Narumi observed.

“Oh yeah,” Miho laughed, a slightly bitter sound. “It’s crazy how quickly things can change, especially to things you thought were set in stone. Beliefs ingrained in me by my parents, by my environment, by the world and all its perils.”

“Perils like explosions on busy public streets in broad daylight?” Narumi offered.

“Exactly,” Miho confirmed. “All the scary stuff we assume will be less scary when we know the reason why – and I hate assumptions.”

“Then that’s another thing we have in common,” Narumi encouraged.

“But I was wrong,” Miho admitted, internally cringing. “There are some things in the world, the universe, that I am, that others are, better off not knowing, will be happier not knowing.”

“But who are you to make that judgement?” Narumi very nearly growled. “You said it yourself, you don’t have a badge – I’m at least authorised to protect the public. What gives you the right? What gives your shady friends in the suits the right to get in the way of what should be the jurisdiction of NYPD?”

A sigh drew both their attention to a new arrival not far from their table.

Jazz’s expression said, ‘Oh gods, they’re multiplying’.

“Uh oh, hand caught in the cookie jar,” Miho quipped, but Narumi was instantly scowling at the new arrival.

She didn’t recognise her, but Miho’s comment and her mode of dress suggested she was very much a part of the ‘group’ who apparently thought they had all rights to obstruct police business. Staying quiet on the matter simply wasn’t her style.

“Whatever this organisation of yours is – and it’s certainly not a publicly known or acknowledged institution – I’m going to give you some advice, take it even as a warning if you like,” she declared, standing to make more of a point.

Jazz didn’t move, allowing the officer to continue.

“Even if you are influential enough to convince my superiors to turn a blind eye,” Narumi continued, and Miho watched on, her expression also falling into something bland, “you’re sadly mistaken if you believe the echoes of terrorism will be ignored by not only the NYPD, but also the FBI. We answer to the public, even if you…”

She cast a glance at Miho.

“… and your lackies, don’t.”

Ouch, talk about a slap in Miho’s face, but Narumi wasn’t about to let it go. She might have been relatively calm during her conversation with Miho, but the suit really pissed her off.

“I understand,” Jazz replied calmly, “and you are absolutely right.”

“But,” Miho added in helpfully.

“But,” Jazz said, her lips a sour line of disapproval as her eyes flitted to Miho, then back to Narumi, “I suggest you speak with your superiors before you kick up too much more of a fuss. It’ll save you a lot of time and energy that you could be expending helping the people of New York where we can’t.”

“Well, it’s hard to know where that would be,” Narumi began, smirking though there was certainly no smile in her eyes, “when I don’t know where exactly your jurisdiction starts and ends, isn’t it?”

Desperately she fought the urge of her hands to plant on her hips.

“Apparently, I didn’t get the memo.”

“Yeah, that happens,” Miho put in… yeah, so helpful.

“If you would prefer to talk to my superior, then I’m sure he’d be happy to find the time to detail you an explanation about law, and lawsuits. To whom should he address it?”

“She’s Agent Mann,” Miho answered, and Jazz shut her eyes for a second to keep from snapping, but Miho just grinned cheekily and also got to her feet. “She loves getting mail. Want her email too?”

“Seriously?” Jazz sighed sharply.

“How did you even know I was here?” Miho queried, though she didn’t seem awfully bothered.

“I’m psychic,” Jazz answered, and given what Miho did know, she couldn’t be sure Jazz was joking. “Your favourite commander is looking for you.”

“Of course he is,” Miho beamed, but she was honestly a little hmm, not scared, but certainly apprehensive, given if Jazz had come to fetch her on Hades’ request or order, and he knew she had wandered off with a cop, she might very well be in for a talking to.

Or a spanking.

Hopefully a spanking?

“Well it was lovely to meet you, Detective Yashitori,” Miho smile brightly, offering Narumi her hand again, but this time there was a business card in it.

Still, Narumi’s temper was still agitated, so though she shook Miho’s hand and took the card, she failed to manage a convincing reciprocal expression.

Jazz, on the other hand, scowled as Narumi inspected the card, while Miho sidled up to her.

“Okay, I’m good to go.”

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